The Song of the Unsuccessful

Richard_Francis_Burton
Richard Francis Burton

We are the toilers from whom God barred
The gifts that are good to hold.
We meant full well and we tried full hard,
And our failures were manifold.

And we are the clan of those whose kin
Were a millstone dragging them down.
Yea, we had to sweat for our brother’s sin,
And lose the victor’s crown.

The seeming-able, who all but scored,
From their teeming tribe we come:
What was there wrong with us, O Lord,
That our lives were dark and dumb?

The men ten-talented, who still
Strangely missed of the goal,
Of them we are: it seems Thy will
To harrow some in soul.

We are the sinners, too, whose lust
Conquered the higher claims,
We sat us prone in the common dust,
And played at the devil’s games.

We are the hard-luck folk, who strove
Zealously, but in vain;
We lost and lost, while our comrades throve,
And still we lost again.

We are the doubles of those whose way
Was festal with fruits and flowers:
Body and brain we were sound as they,
But the prizes were not ours.

A mighty army our full ranks make,
We shake the graves as we go;
The sudden stroke and the slow heartbreak,
They both have brought us low.

And while we are laying life’s sword aside,
Spent and dishonored and sad,
Our epitaph this, when once we have died:
“The weak lie here, and the bad.”

We wonder if this can be really the close,
Life’s fever cooled by death’s trance;
And we cry, though it seem to our dearest of foes,
“God, give us another chance!”

Richard Francis Burton, 1821-1890

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