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Commonplace by Constance Fenimore Woolson

My little girl is commonplace, you say?

Well, well, I grant it, as you use the phrase

Concede the whole; although there was a day

When I too questioned words, and from a maze

Of hairsplit meanings, cut with close-drawn line,

Sought to draw out a language superfine,

Above the common, scarify with words and scintillate with pen;

But that time's over—now I am content to stand with other men.

It's the best place, fair youth. I see your smile—

The scornful smile of that ambitious age

That thinks it all things knows, and all the while

It nothing knows. And yet those smiles presage

Some future fame, because your aim is high;

As when one tries to shoot into the sky,

If his rash arrow at the moon he aims, a bolder flight we see,

Though vain, than if with level poise it safely reached the nearest tree.

A common proverb that! Does it disjoint

Your graceful terms? One more you'll understand:

Cut down a pencil to too fine a point,

Lo, it breaks off, all useless, in your hand!

The child is fitted for her present sphere:

Let her live out her life, without the fear

That comes when souls, daring the heights of dread infinity, are tost,

Now up, now down, by the great winds, their little home for ever lost.

My little girl seems to you commonplace

Because she loves the daisies, common flowers;

Because she finds in common pictures grace,

And nothing knows of classic music's powers:

She reads her romance, but the mystic's creed

Is something far beyond her simple need.

She goes to church, but the mixed doubts and theories that thinkers find

In all religious truth can never enter her undoubting mind.

A daisy's earth's own blossom—better far

Than city gardener's costly hybrid prize:

When you're found worthy of a higher star,

'Twill then be time earth's daisies to despise;

But not till then. And if the child can sing

Sweet songs like "Robin Gray," why should I fling

A cloud over her music's joy, and set for her the heavy task

Of learning what Bach knew, or finding sense under mad Chopin's mask?

Then as to pictures: if her taste prefers

That common picture of the "Huguenots,"

Where the girl's heart—a tender heart like hers—

Strives to defeat earth's greatest powers' great plots

With her poor little kerchief, shall I change

The print for Turner's riddles wild and strange?

Or take her stories—simple tales which her few leisure hours beguile—

And give her Browning's _Sordello_, a Herbert Spencer, a Carlyle?

Her creed, too, in your eyes is commonplace,

Because she does not doubt the Bible's truth

Because she does not doubt the saving grace

Of fervent prayer, but from her rosy youth,

So full of life, to gray old age's time,

Prays on with faith half ignorant, half sublime.

Yes, commonplace! But if I spoil this common faith, when all is done

Can deist, pantheist or atheist invent a better one?

Climb to the highest mountain's highest verge,

Step off: you've lost the petty height you had;

Up to the highest point poor reason urge,

Step off: the sense is gone, the mind is mad.

"Thus far, and yet no farther, shalt thou go,"

Was said of old, and I have found it so:

This planet's ours, 'tis all we have; here we belong, and those are wise

Who make the best of it, nor vainly try above its plane to rise.

Nay, nay: I know already your reply;

I have been through the whole long years ago;

I have soared up as far as soul can fly,

I have dug down as far as mind can go;

But always found, at certain depth or height,

The bar that separates the infinite

From finite powers, against whose strength immutable we beat in vain,

Or circle round only to find ourselves at starting-point again.

If you must for yourself find out this truth,

I bid you go, proud heart, with blessings free:

'Tis the old fruitless quest of ardent youth,

And soon or late you will come back to me.

You'll learn there's naught so common as the breath

Of life, unless it be the calm of death:

You'll learn that with the Lord Omnipotent there's nothing commonplace,

And with such souls as that poor child's, humbled, abashed, you'll hide your face.