Saturday, March 07, 2009

of labour you shall find the sum

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
        Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
         From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
         A roof for when the slow, dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
         You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
         Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
         They will not keep you waiting at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
         Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
         Yea, beds for all who come.
This is Uphill by Christina Georgina Rossetti, from the Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900, ed. by Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford, 1919). It is the fifth poem that Lawrence wrote out in his pocket book of blank pages. He had kept this edition of the OBEV with him throughout his wartime experiences, during the time he became known as Lawrence of Arabia.

This poem is not easy to see with fresh eyes; it is not easy to hear in it the singing that Lawrence said he found in the poems he transcribed. Still, Rossetti was a musical poet and her verses have come down to us in lieder and carol (a personal favorite, In the Bleak Midwinter, is hers).

It seems to be the touchstone of an un-nuanced despairing hope, and a weak hope at that, with its pathetic close — "beds for those who seek"? Whether by intention or not, it brings home the desperate hardships of peoples' lives in the nineteenth century, where the promised release from the struggles to make ends meet, from the frequent mourning lives cut short, and from illness, disappointment, and unfulfillment is simply rest. Rossetti herself may have wished for no more, that and the comfort of remembrance:
Remember me when I am gone away,
       Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
       Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
{ — first stanza of her poem, Remember, which — as if to prove that she can indeed sing — has been set to music.}


Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900

The Lied and Art Song Texts Page

Biography: Christina Rossetti


Tess3 said...

Thank you for your posts! It`s so interesting to read the poems Lawrence wrote out in his pocket book

Jeff said...

I'm happy to hear you like them!