Ambition and Art
I am the maid of the lustrous eyes
Of great fruition,
Whom the sons of men that are over-wise
Have called Ambition.
And the world’s success is the only goal
I have within me;
The meanest man with the smallest soul
May woo and win me.
For the lust of power and the pride of place
To all I proffer.
Wilt thou take thy part in the crowded race
For what I offer?
The choice is thine, and the world is wide —
Thy path is lonely.
I may not lead and I may not guide —
I urge thee only.
I am just a whip and a spur that smites
To fierce endeavour.
In the restless days and the sleepless nights
I urge thee ever.
Thou shalt wake from sleep with a startled cry,
In fright unleaping
At a rival’s step as it passes by
Whilst thou art sleeping.
Honour and truth shall be overthrown
In fierce desire;
Thou shalt use thy friend as a stepping-stone
To mount thee higher.
When the curtain falls on the sordid strife
That seemed so splendid,
Thou shalt look with pain on the wasted life
That thou hast ended.
Thou hast sold thy life for a guerdon small
In fitful flashes;
There has been reward — but the end of all
Is dust and ashes.
For the night has come and it brings to naught
Thy projects cherished,
And thine epitaph shall in brass be wrought —
“He lived, and perished.”
I wait for thee at the outer gate,
My love, mine only;
Wherefore tarriest thou so late
While I am lonely?
Thou shalt seek my side with a footstep swift;
In thee implanted
Is the love of Art and the greatest gift
That God has granted.
And the world’s concerns with its rights and wrongs
Shall seem but small things —
Poet or painter, or singer of songs,
Thine art is all things.
For the wine of life is a woman’s love
To keep beside thee;
But the love of Art is a thing above —
A star to guide thee.
As the years go by with the love of Art
Thou shalt end thy days with a quiet heart —
Thy work is finished.
So the painter fashions a picture strong
That fadeth never,
And the singer singeth a wond’rous song
That lives for ever.
Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896 [January 1896 reprinting of the October 1895 edition], pages 149-152
Previously published in: The Bulletin, 26 May 1894