Mates

It boots not to retrace the path
To ages dim and hoar,
When Man, at the domestic hearth,
First learned the art of war,
And - since in battle one must fall -
Held his defeated spouse in thrall,
That she should fight no more;
And thereby doomed to sleep and sloth
Strength that in action strengthened both.

It boots not when the better day
First showed a glint of morn,
Nor whose the eye that, in its ray,
Saw Woman's chains outworn;
Nor which was first and which was last
When savage rivalry was past
And chivalry was born;
Enough for us that, free or pent,
Her primal treasure was misspent.

The waxing noontide sees them now
Joint sovereigns of the land,
No trace upon the gentler brow
Of the old helot brand.
Consenting that the right is right,
They walk as comrades - or they might -
For ever hand in hand.
Yet still a stronger leads and drags,
And still a weaker leans and lags.

Because we reap what we have sown,
And are as we were bred;
Because one passion, overgrown,
Since so long overfed,
Still works confusion to the scheme
Whereof both man and woman dream.
'T'is the unnumbered dead
That laid it on him for a curse,
And her, its immemorial nurse.

But, with these tyrants in the dust,
Why should their ghosts hold sway?
Cut the long entail of their lust,
Heirs of a cleaner day!
Lift the dead hand from living mind,
Break the old spells that bind and blind,
O Woman, far astray!
And march with Man the open road
Without a fetter or a load.

Our pioneer brothers can discern
The sunlit heights around;
We, that should likewise look and learn,
Keep eyes upon the ground;
And drug our feebleness with sweets
When needing tonic of strong meats;
And all our ways surround
With tangling trifles, gaud and toy,
That mock us with the name of joy.

What brains these fragile webs enmesh!
What soaring thought they tie!
What energies of soul and flesh
They still or stultify!
What wasted riches of the mind,
What wealth of genius, dumb and blind,
In shop and workroom lie,
While the great realms of life are stored
With such vast mystery unexplored!

Where were the sciences and arts
When men went plumed and curled?
Where were the brains, the hands, the hearts,
That now subdue the world -
The March of Progress, straight and true -
When men wore coats of every hue?
In childish swaddlings furled,
Their strength lay latent and unknown,
As ineffectual as our own.
Freed from this complicated coil
By mere vainglory spun,
Uprooted from this fruitless soil,
Unfed by rain or sun,
Where sleep the germs of noble deeds
In still unfructifying seeds,
Or leafage scarce begun -
This ash-heap of the poor and small
That chokes the greatness in us all -

Uplifted to the light - the place
Where Man his manhood found
When tyranny of silk and lace
No longer held him bound;
With eyes, from Fashion's witchcraft clear,
For Beauty, simple and sincere,
And, unbeguiled by sound
Of siren wooings, quiet ears
For the high message that he hears:

The swelling call to loftier life
That, like a distant bell,
Chimes through the traffic and the strife
Of those who buy and sell;
Through camp and temple, field and street,
The market where we game and cheat,
The home wherein we dwell: -
Here should we stand, as strong, as free,
For splendid enterprise as he.

To him no flowering parasite
That only sucks and clings
To drain and enervate and blight,
But impulse to his wings;
His mate in passion, mate in power,
His soul's wife, that for marriage dower
Exhaustless treasure brings -
The daily bread, the daily spur,
The day's reward for him - and her.

Like woodland creatures, that have willed
To pair by Nature's plan,
A woman finished and fulfilled
And a completed man;
To run together and abreast,
And side by side to fight or rest,
As when the world began;
Each bound to other, yet both free . . . .
It is not, but it ought to be.

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Ada Cambridge

Ada Cambridge, later known as Ada Cross, was an English-born Australian writer. more…

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"Mates" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 24 Feb. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/78/mates>.

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