― 135 ―

Faces in the Street.

They lie, the men who tell us in a loud decisive tone
That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown,
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street—
Drifting past, drifting past,
To the beat of weary feet—
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care;
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet,
In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street—
Drifting on, drifting on,
To the tread of listless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky,
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet,
Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street—
Flowing in, flowing in,
To the beating of their feet—
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

  ― 136 ―
The human river dwindles when 'tis past the hour of eight,
Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
But slowly drag the moments, whilst, beneath the dust and heat,
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street—
Grinding flesh, grinding bone,
Yielding scarce enough to eat—
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
Tells of the city's unemployed upon his weary beat—
Drifting round, drifting round,
To the scrape of restless feet—
Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.

And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
Then, flowing past my window, like a tide in its retreat,
Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street—
Ebbing out, ebbing out,
To the drag of tired feet,
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.

And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day's sad pages end,
For while the short “large hours” towards the longer “small hours” trend,
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street—

  ― 137 ―
Sinking down, sinking down,
Battered wreck by tempests beat—
A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street.

But, ah! To dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet,
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street—
Rotting out, rotting out,
For lack of air and meat—
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.

I wonder would the avarice of wealthy men endure
Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor?
Ah! Mammon's slaves, your knees shall knock, your hearts in terror beat,
When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street!
The wrong things and the bad things
And the sad things that we meet
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street.

I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still,
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me—the shadows of those faces in the street,
Flitting by, flitting by,
Flitting by with noiseless feet,
And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street.

Once I cried: “Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
Now show me in a vision, for the wrongs of Earth, a cure.”

  ― 138 ―
And lo! with shops all shuttered, I beheld a city's street,
And in the waning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
Coming near, coming near,
To a drum's dull distant beat,
And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street.

And, like a swollen river that has bursted bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all!
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution's heat!
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street
Pouring on, pouring on,
To a drum's loud threatening beat,
And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.

And so 'twill be while e'er the world goes rolling round its course,
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse,
But not until a city feels red revolution's feet
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street—
The dreadful everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that great mill for human bones—the city's cruel street