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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘The Earthly Paradise’

By William Morris (1834–1896)


OF heaven or hell I have no power to sing;

I cannot ease the burden of your fears,

Or make quick-coming death a little thing,

Or bring again the pleasure of past years,

Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,

Or hope again for aught that I can say,

The idle singer of an empty day.

But rather, when aweary of your mirth,

From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh,

And, feeling kindly unto all the earth,

Grudge every minute as it passes by,

Made the more mindful that the sweet days die,—

Remember me a little then, I pray,

The idle singer of an empty day.

The heavy trouble, the bewildering care

That weighs us down who live and earn our bread,

These idle verses have no power to bear;

So let me sing of names rememberèd,

Because they, living not, can ne’er be dead,

Or long time take their memory quite away

From us poor singers of an idle day.

Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,

Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?

Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme

Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,

Telling a tale not too importunate

To those who in the sleepy region stay,

Lulled by the singer of an empty day.

Folks say, a wizard to a northern king

At Christmas-tide such wondrous things did show,

That through one window men beheld the spring,

And through another saw the summer glow,

And through a third the fruited vines arow,

While still, unheard, but in its wonted way,

Piped the drear wind of that December day.

So with this Earthly Paradise it is,

If ye will read aright, and pardon me,

Who strive to build a shadowy isle of bliss

Midmost the beating of the steely sea,

Where tossed about all hearts of men must be;

Whose ravening monsters mighty men shall slay,

Not the poor singer of an empty day.

From L’Envoi

HERE are we for the last time face to face,

Thou and I, Book, before I bid thee speed

Upon thy perilous journey to that place

For which I have done on thee pilgrim’s weed,

Striving to get thee all things for thy need.


Though what harm if thou die upon the way,

Thou idle singer of an empty day?

But though this land desired thou never reach,

Yet folk who know it mayst thou meet or death;

Therefore a word unto thee would I teach

To answer these, who, noting thy weak breath,

Thy wandering eyes, thy heart of little faith,

May make thy fond desire a sport and play,

Mocking the singer of an empty day.

That land’s name, say’st thou? and the road thereto?

Nay, Book, thou mockest, saying thou know’st it not;

Surely no book of verse I ever knew

But ever was the heart within him hot

To gain the Land of Matters Unforgot:

There, now we both laugh—as the whole world may,

At us poor singers of an empty day.

Nay, let it pass, and hearken! Hast thou heard

That therein I believe I have a friend,

Of whom for love I may not be afeard?

It is to him indeed I bid thee wend;

Yea, he perchance may meet thee ere thou end,

Dying so far off from the hedge of bay,

Thou idle singer of an empty day!

Well, think of him, I bid thee, on the road,

And if it hap that midst of thy defeat,

Fainting beneath thy follies’ heavy load,

My Master, GEOFFREY CHAUCER, thou do meet,

Then shalt thou win a space of rest full sweet;

Then be thou bold, and speak the words I say,

The idle singer of an empty day!…

Fearest thou, Book, what answer thou may’st gain,

Lest he should scorn thee, and thereof thou die?

Nay, it shall not be.—Thou may’st toil in vain,

And never draw the House of Fame anigh;

Yet he and his shall know whereof we cry,—

Shall call it not ill done to strive to lay

The ghosts that crowd about life’s empty day.

Then let the others go! and if indeed

In some old garden thou and I have wrought,

And made fresh flowers spring up from hoarded seed,

And fragrance of old days and deeds have brought

Back to folk weary,—all was not for naught.

No little part it was for me to play—

The idle singer of an empty day.