Augusta Davies Webster

Here you will find the Long Poem An Inventor of poet Augusta Davies Webster

An Inventor

Not yet! 

I thought this time 'twas done at last, 
the workings perfected, the life in it; 
and there's the flaw again, the petty flaw, 
the fretting small impossibility 
that has to be made possible. 

To work! 
so many more months lost on a wrong tack; 
and months and months may so be lost again, 
who knows? until they swell a tale of years 
counted by failures. No time to sit down 
with folded arms to moan for the spent toil, 
for on, on, glide the envious treacherous hours 
that bring at last the night when none can work; 
and I'll not die with my work unfulfilled. 

It must perform my thought, it must awake, 
this soulless whirring thing of springs and wheels, 
and be a power among us. Aye, but how? 
There it stands facing me, compact, precise, 
the nice presentment of my long design, 
and what is it? an accurate mockery, 
and not my creature. Where's my secret hid, 
the little easy secret which, once found, 
will shew so palpable that the pleased world 
shall presently believe it always knew? 
Where is my secret? Oh, my aching brain! 
Good God, have all the anxious ponderings, 
all the laborious strain of hand and head, 
all the night watches, all the stolen days 
from fruitfuller tasks, all I have borne and done, 
brought me no nearer solving? 

Stolen days; 
yes, from the little ones and grave pale wife 
who should have every hour of mine made coin 
to buy them sunshine. Stolen; and they lack all 
save the bare needs which only paupers lack: 
stolen; and cheerlessly the mother sits 
over her dismal blinding stitchery, 
and no quick smile of welcome parts her lips, 
seeing me come; and quiet at their play 
the children crowd, cooped in the unlovely home, 
and envy tattered urchins out of doors 
their merry life and playground of the streets. 

Oh, if it were but my one self to spend! 
but to doom them too with me! Never a thought 
dawns first into the world but is a curse 
on the rash finder; part of heaven's fire 
filched to bestow on men, and for your pay 
the vulture at your heart. 

What should one choose? 
or is there choice? A madness comes on you, 
whose name is revelation: who has power 
to check the passion of it, who in the world? 
A revelation, yes; 'tis but a name 
for knowledge ... and there perishes free-will, 
for every man is slave of what he knows; 
it is the soul of him, could you quench that 
you leave the mere mechanic animal-- 
a sentient creature, true, and reasoning, 
(because the clockwork in it's made for that), 
but, like my creature there, its purport lacked, 
so but its own abortive counterfeit. 
We have our several purports; some to pace 
the accustomed roads and foot down rampant weeds, 
bearing mute custom smoothly on her course; 
some difficultly to force readier paths, 
or hew out passes through the wilderness; 
and some belike to find the snuggest place, 
and purr beside the fire. Each of his kind; 
but can you change your kind? the lion caged 
is still a lion, pipes us no lark's trills; 
drive forth the useful brood hen from the yard, 
she'll never learn the falcon's soar and swoop. 
We must abye our natures; if they fit 
too crossly to our hap the worse for us, 
but who would pray (say such a prayer could serve) 
"Let me become some other, not myself"? 

And yet, and yet--Oh, why am I assigned 
to this long maiming battle? Why to me 
this blasting gift, this lightning of the gods 
scorching the hand that wields it? why to me? 
A lonely man, or dandled in the lap 
of comfortable fortune, might with joy 
hug the strange serpent blessing; to the one 
it has no tooth, for gilded hands make gold 
of all they touch, the other ...... is alone, 
and has the right to suffer. Not for them 
is doubt or dread; but I--Oh little ones 
whose unsuspecting eyes pierce me with smiles! 
Oh sad and brooding wife whose silent hopes 
are all rebukes to mine! 

Come, think it out; 
traitor to them or traitor to the world; 
is that the choice? Why then, they are my own, 
given in my hand, looking to me for all, 
and, for my destined present to the world, 
being what it is, some one some fortunate day 
will find it, or achieve it; if the world wait... 
well, it has waited. Yet 'twere pitiful 
that still and still, while to a thousand souls 
life's irrecoverable swift to-day 
becomes the futile yesterday, the world 
go beggared of a birthright unaware, 
and, (as if one should slake his thirst with blood 
pricked from his own red veins, while at his hand 
lies the huge hairy nut from whose rough bowl 
he might quaff juicy milk and knows it not), 
spend out so great a wealth of wasted strength 
man upon man given to the imperious 
unnecessary lab