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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

George Meredith 1828–1909

The Spirit of Shakespeare


THY greatest knew thee, Mother Earth; unsour’d

He knew thy sons. He prob’d from hell to hell

Of human passions, but of love deflower’d

His wisdom was not, for he knew thee well.

Thence came the honey’d corner at his lips,

The conquering smile wherein his spirit sails

Calm as the God who the white sea-wave whips,

Yet full of speech and intershifting tales,

Close mirrors of us: thence had he the laugh

We feel is thine; broad as ten thousand beeves

At pasture! thence thy songs, that winnow chaff

From grain, bid sick Philosophy’s last leaves

Whirl, if they have no response—they enforced

To fatten Earth when from her soul divorced.

How smiles he at a generation rank’d

In gloomy noddings over life! They pass.

Not he to feed upon a breast unthank’d,

Or eye a beauteous face in a crack’d glass.

But he can spy that little twist of brain

Which mov’d some weighty leader of the blind,

Unwitting ’t was the goad of personal pain,

To view in curs’d eclipse our Mother’s mind,

And show us of some rigid harridan

The wretched bondmen till the end of time.

O liv’d the Master now to paint us Man,

That little twist of brain would ring a chime

Of whence it came and what it caus’d, to start

Thunders of laughter, clearing air and heart.