Edith Nesbit

15 August 1858 – 4 May 1924 / Kennington / Surrey / England

At The Feast

EVOLVING, changing, onwards still we press--
We must advance, invent, construct, possess;
No matter what a price we have to pay,
We must obtain perfection, and no less--
Perfection in our luxuries, the hours,
Fulfilled of sweetness, must be slaves of ours;
Our air be rich with music and soft light,
And all our halls be odorous with flowers.
How our least want may best be satisfied,
How not a pleasure may be left untried;
How to appease each longing and desire,
This we have learned, and something else beside.
Yes, we have learned to know, and not to shrink
From knowing, to what depths our brothers sink;
And we have learned the lesson 'not to feel,'
And we have learned the lesson 'not to think.'
We must have learned it; otherwise, to-night,
When, sped by wine and feasting, time takes flight,
When perfect music searches for our soul,
And all these flowers unfold for our delight,
We should not hear the music, but, instead,
Hear that wild, bitter, heart-sick cry for bread,
And in the lamps that light our lavish feast,
Should see but tapers burning for the dead.
We should not see the myriad blossoms waste,
The bloom of them would be thrust back, displaced
By the white faces of the starving children--
Wasted and wan, who might have been flower-faced.
Oh, not to think! To think and not to care!
Oh, woman hearts, still do these flowers seem fair?
Can music drown the little piteous voices?
Can you not see the little faces there?
For 'faring sumptuously every day,'
For raiment soft and music on our way,
We give--the tortured lives of little children:
For such a purchase, what a price to pay!
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