"What ails the world?" the poet cried;
"And why does death walk everywhere?
And why do tears fall anywhere?
And skies have clouds, and souls have care?"
Thus the poet sang, and sighed.
For he would fain have all things glad,
All lives happy, all hearts bright;
Not a day would end in night,
Not a wrong would vex a right --
And so he sang -- and he was sad.
Thro' his very grandest rhymes
Moved a mournful monotone --
Like a shadow eastward thrown
From a sunset -- like a moan
Tangled in a joy-bell's chimes.
"What ails the world?" he sang and asked --
And asked and sang -- but all in vain;
No answer came to any strain,
And no reply to his refrain --
The mystery moved 'round him masked.
"What ails the world?" An echo came --
"Ails the world?" The minstrel bands,
With famous or forgotten hands,
Lift up their lyres in all the lands,
And chant alike, and ask the same
From him whose soul first soared in song,
A thousand, thousand years away,
To him who sang but yesterday,
In dying or in deathless lay --
"What ails the world?" comes from the throng.
They fain would sing the world to rest;
And so they chant in countless keys,
As many as the waves of seas,
And as the breathings of the breeze,
Yet even when they sing their best --
When o'er the list'ning world there floats
Such melody as 'raptures men --
When all look up entranced -- and when
The song of fame floats forth, e'en then
A discord creepeth through the notes --
Their sweetest harps have broken strings,
Their grandest accords have their jars,
Like shadows on the light of stars,
And somehow, something ever mars
The songs the greatest minstrel sings.
And so each song is incomplete,
And not a rhyme can ever round
Into the chords of perfect sound
The tones of thought that e'er surround
The ways walked by the poet's feet.
"What ails the world?" he sings and sighs;
No answer cometh to his cry.
He asks the earth and asks the sky --
The echoes of his song pass by
Unanswered -- and the poet dies.