But One Talent

A poem

Ye who yourselves of larger worth esteem
Than common mortals, listen to my dream,
And learn the lesson of life’s cozening cheat,
              The coinage of conceit.

— The angel, guardian of my youth and age,
Spread out before me an account-book’s page,
Saying, “This column marks what thou dost owe, —
              The gain thou hast to show.

“Spirit,” I said, “I know, alas! too well
How poor the tale thy record has to tell.
Much I received, — the little I have brought
              Seems by its side as naught.

“Five talents, all of Ophir’s purest gold,
These five fair caskets ranged before thee hold;
The first can show a few poor shekel’s gain,
              The rest unchanged remain.

“Bringing my scanty tribute, overawed,
To Him who reapeth where He hath not strawed,
I tremble like a culprit when I count
              My whole vast debt’s amount.

“What will He say to one from whom were due
Ten talents, when he comes with less than two?
What can I do but shudder and await
              The slothful servant’s fate?”

— As looks a mother on an erring child,
The angel looked me in the face and smiled:
“How couldst thou, reckoning with thyself, contrive
              To count thy talents five?

“These caskets which thy flattering fancies gild
Not all with Ophir’s precious ore are filled;
Thy debt is slender, for thy gift was small:
              One talent, — that was all.

“This second casket, with its grave pretence,
Is weighty with thine IGNORANCE, dark and dense,
Save for a single glowworm’s glimmering light
              To mock its murky night.

“The third conceals the DULNESS that was thine.
How could thy mind its lack of wit divine?
Let not what Heaven assigned thee bring thee blame;
              Thy want is not thy shame.

“The fourth, so light to lift, so fair to see,
Is filled to bursting with thy VANITY,
The vaporous breath that kept they hopes alive
              By counting one as five.

“These held but little, but the fifth held less, —
Only blank vacuum, naked nothingness,
An idiot’s portion. He who gave it knows
              Its claimant nothing owes.

“Thrice happy pauper he whose last account
Shows on the debtor side the least amount!
The more thy gifts, the more thou needs must pay
              On life’s dread reckoning day.”

— Humbled, not grieving to be undeceived,
I woke, from fears of hopeless debt relieved:
For sparing gifts but small returns are due, —
              Thank Heaven I had so few!