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

George Meredith 1828–1909

The Two Masks


MELPOMENE among her livid people,

Ere stroke of lyre, upon Thaleia looks,

Warn’d by old contests that one museful ripple,

Along those lips of rose with tendril hooks,

Forbodes disturbance in the springs of pathos,

Perchance may change of masks midway demand,

Albeit the man rise mountainous as Althos,

The woman wild as Cape Leucadia stand.

For this the Comic Muse exacts of creatures

Appealing to the fount of tears: that they

Strive never to outleap our human features,

And do Right Reason’s ordinance obey,

In peril of the hum to laughter nighest.

But prove they under stress of action’s fire

Nobleness, to that test of Reason highest,

She bows: she waves them for the loftier lyre.