by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
First Publication: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 157-163.
PLOUGH, vessel, plough the British main,
Seek the free ocean's wider plain;
Leave English scenes and English skies,
Unbind, dissever English ties;
Bear me to climes remote and strange,
Where altered life, fast-following change,
Hot action, never-ceasing toil,
Shall stir, turn, dig, the spirit's soil;
Fresh roots shall plant, fresh seed shall sow,
Till a new garden there shall grow,
Cleared of the weeds that fill it now,–
Mere human love, mere selfish yearning,
Which, cherished, would arrest me yet.
I grasp the plough, there's no returning,
Let me, then, struggle to forget.
But England's shores are yet in view,
And England's skies of tender blue
Are arched above her guardian sea.
I cannot yet Remembrance flee;
I must again, then, firmly face
That task of anguish, to retrace.
Wedded to home–I home forsake,
Fearful of change–I changes make;
Too fond of ease–I plunge in toil;
Lover of calm–I seek turmoil:
Nature and hostile Destiny
Stir in my heart a conflict wild;
And long and fierce the war will be
Ere duty both has reconciled.
What other tie yet holds me fast
To the divorced, abandoned past?
Smouldering, on my heart's altar lies
The fire of some great sacrifice,
Not yet half quenched. The sacred steel
But lately struck my carnal will,
My life-long hope, first joy and last,
What I loved well, and clung to fast;
What I wished wildly to retain,
What I renounced with soul-felt pain;
What–when I saw it, axe-struck, perish–
Left me no joy on earth to cherish;
A man bereft–yet sternly now
I do confirm that Jephtha vow:
Shall I retract, or fear, or flee ?
Did Christ, when rose the fatal tree
Before him, on Mount Calvary ?
'Twas a long fight, hard fought, but won,
And what I did was justly done.
Yet, Helen ! from thy love I turned,
When my heart most for thy heart burned;
I dared thy tears, I dared thy scorn–
Easier the death-pang had been borne.
Helen ! thou mightst not go with me,
I could not–dared not stay for thee !
I heard, afar, in bonds complain
The savage from beyond the main;
And that wild sound rose o'er the cry
Wrung out by passion's agony;
And even when, with the bitterest tear
I ever shed, mine eyes were dim,
Still, with the spirit's vision clear,
I saw Hell's empire, vast and grim,
Spread on each Indian river's shore,
Each realm of Asia covering o'er.
There, the weak, trampled by the strong,
Live but to suffer–hopeless die;
There pagan-priests, whose creed is Wrong,
Extortion, Lust, and Cruelty,
Crush our lost race–and brimming fill
The bitter cup of human ill;
And I–who have the healing creed,
The faith benign of Mary's Son;
Shall I behold my brother's need
And, selfishly, to aid him shun ?
I–who upon my mother's knees,
In childhood, read Christ's written word,
Received his legacy of peace,
His holy rule of action heard;
I–in whose heart the sacred sense
Of Jesus' love was early felt;
Of his pure full benevolence,
His pitying tenderness for guilt;
His shepherd-care for wandering sheep,
For all weak, sorrowing, trembling things,
His mercy vast, his passion deep
Of anguish for man's sufferings;
I–schooled from childhood in such lore–
Dared I draw back or hesitate,
When called to heal the sickness sore
Of those far off and desolate ?
Dark, in the realm and shades of Death,
Nations and tribes and empires lie,
But even to them the light of Faith
Is breaking on their sombre sky:
And be it mine to bid them raise
Their drooped heads to the kindling scene,
And know and hail the sunrise blaze
Which heralds Christ the Nazarene.
I know how Hell the veil will spread
Over their brows and filmy eyes,
And earthward crush the lifted head
That would look up and seek the skies;
I know what war the fiend will wage
Against that soldier of the cross,
Who comes to dare his demon-rage,
And work his kingdom shame and loss.
Yes, hard and terrible the toil
Of him who steps on foreign soil,
Resolved to plant the gospel vine,
Where tyrants rule and slaves repine;
Eager to lift Religion's light
Where thickest shades of mental night
Screen the false god and fiendish rite;
Reckless that missionary blood,
Shed in wild wilderness and wood,
Has left, upon the unblest air,
The man's deep moan–the martyr's prayer.
I know my lot–I only ask
Power to fulfil the glorious task;
Willing the spirit, may the flesh
Strength for the day receive afresh.
May burning sun or deadly wind
Prevail not o'er an earnest mind;
May torments strange or direst death
Nor trample truth, nor baffle faith.
Though such blood-drops should fall from me
As fell in old Gethsemane,
Welcome the anguish, so it gave
More strength to work–more skill to save.
And, oh ! if brief must be my time,
If hostile hand or fatal clime
Cut short my course–still o'er my grave,
Lord, may thy harvest whitening wave.
So I the culture may begin,
Let others thrust the sickle in;
If but the seed will faster grow,
May my blood water what I sow !
What ! have I ever trembling stood,
And feared to give to God that blood ?
What ! has the coward love of life
Made me shrink from the righteous strife ?
Have human passions, human fears
Severed me from those Pioneers,
Whose task is to march first, and trace
Paths for the progress of our race ?
It has been so; but grant me, Lord,
Now to stand steadfast by thy word !
Protected by salvation's helm,
Shielded by faith–with truth begirt,
To smile when trials seek to whelm
And stand 'mid testing fires unhurt !
Hurling hell's strongest bulwarks down,
Even when the last pang thrills my breast,
When Death bestows the Martyr's crown,
And calls me into Jesus' rest.
Then for my ultimate reward–
Then for the world-rejoicing word–
The voice from Father–Spirit–Son:
" Servant of God, well hast thou done !"