Suffering unites all mortal flesh
A mystic bond of pain,
With little easement or surcease
From gods or men to gain.
It reigns coeval with the sway
Of sin upon the race;
A Job and a Prometheus bore
It written on their face.
Nor sex, nor age, nor rank exempts
From its conscriptive law;
None are too young to register,
The old may not withdraw.
But, added to this equal lot,
By all in common shared,
The potion of a special cup
For many is prepared.
No friend shall help thee when that cup
Is placed upon thy hand;
Suffering is self, and who shall self
Of others understand?
Nor shalt thou for thy brother’s sin
By sympathy atone;
And didst thou love him unto death,
His death he dies alone.
O captive soul, o lonely bird,
Is there no help for thee?
Must thou be like an animal
Caged with thy misery?
Listen, how from behind the bars,
Unopened ever so long,
A little throat pours note on note
To ease its pain in song.
What sings the bird within the cage,
That freedom never knew?
It sings the sunshine on the fields,
The sky’s unfathomed blue,
The woodland air, the blossoms fair,
The mating in the Spring,
As though it in the ether soared
With light up-carrying wing.
Or, if on a more plaintive note
For once its breath be spent,
’T is not a plaint born from restraint
Of own emprisonment,
But from what woe was long ago
Sore suffered, never sung;
Race-memories in the music wake,
The ages find their tongue.
So, if thy suffering make thee sing,
Let thine own narrow pain
But the light-touched-on prelude be
That opens larger strain;
A strain shall drown the sense of self
In the deep monotone
Of sorrow by the aeons sung,
Their immemorial moan,
The dirge the ancient wind doth play
On every ancient tree,
Which long before men sang the shore
Heard sing the restless sea.
Then shalt thou leave of things that grieve
The bitterness behind,
And for the tumult in thy breast
A great katharsis find.
Who thus can sing their suffering
Shall walk in company
With the sublime interpreters
Of God’s world-tragedy.
They know what neither wistful bird
Nor groaning beast can know:
The Prince of Pain with all his train
Is a thrice-vanquished foe.
They can, a paean on their lips,
The final onslaught meet,
Surpassing conquerors in the fight,
Of sufferers God’s elite.