The Two Spirits (1855) by Adelaide Anne Procter

Last night, when weary silence fell on all,
And starless skies arose so dim and vast,
I heard the Spirit of the Present call
Upon the sleeping Spirit of the Past.
Far off and near, I saw their radiance shine,
And listened while they spoke of deeds divine.

The Spirit of the Past.

My deeds are writ in iron;
My glory stands alone;
A veil of shadowy honour
Upon my tombs is thrown;
The great names of my heroes
Like gems in history lie;
To live they deemed ignoble,
Had they the chance to die!

The Spirit of the Present.

My children, too, are honoured;
Dear shall their memory be
To the proud lands that own them;
Dearer than thine to thee;
For, though they hold that sacred
Is God’s great gift of life,
At the first call of duty
They rush into the strife!

The Spirit of the Past.

Then, with all valiant precepts
Woman’s soft heart was fraught;
“Death, not dishonour,” echoed
The war-cry she had taught.
Fearless and glad, those mothers,
At bloody deaths elate,
Cried out they bore their children
Only for such a fate!

The Spirit of the Present.

Though such stern laws of honour
Are faded now away,
Yet many a mourning mother,
With nobler grief than they,
Bows down in sad submission:
The heroes of the fight
Learnt at her knee the lesson,
“For God and for the Right!”

The Spirit of the Past.

No voice there spake of sorrow:
They saw the noblest fall
With no repining murmur;
Stern Fate was lord of all.
And when the loved ones perished,
One cry alone arose,
Waking the startled echoes,
“Vengeance upon our foes!”

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The Spirit of the Present.

Grief dwells in France and England
For many a noble son;
Yet louder than the sorrow,
“Thy will, Oh God, be done!”
From desolate homes is rising
One prayer, “Let carnage cease!
On friends and foes have mercy,
Oh Lord, and give us peace!”

The Spirit of the Past.

Then, every hearth was honoured
That sent its children forth,
To spread their country’s glory,
And gain her south or north.
Then, little recked they numbers,
No band would ever fly,
But stern and resolute they stood
To conquer or to die.

The Spirit of the Present.

And now from France and England
Their dearest and their best
Go forth to succour freedom,
To help the much oppressed;
Now, let the far-off Future
And Past bow down to-day,
Before the few young hearts that hold
Whole armaments at bay.

The Spirit of the Past.

Then, each one strove for honour,
Each for a deathless name;
Love, home, rest, joy, were offered
As sacrifice to Fame.
They longed that in far ages
Their deeds might still be told,
And distant times and nations
Their names in honour hold.

The Spirit of the Present.

Though nursed by such old legends,
Our heroes of to-day
Go cheerfully to battle
As children go to play;
They gaze with awe and wonder
On your great names of pride,
Unconscious that their own will shine
In glory side by side!

Day dawned; and as the Spirits passed away,
Methought I saw, in the dim morning grey,
The Past’s bright diadem had paled before
The starry crown the glorious Present wore.

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