Life, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia’s gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.
But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian’s perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.
Edith Wharton (1862 - 1937) (pictured) was a member of New York City's high society and is perhaps best known for her novels, among them The Age of Innocence. Reference to this and additional biographical information may be found here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/edith-wharton.
"Life" is a traditional Italian sonnet. The first stanza introduces the conceit of life as a marble block that is sculpted by each individual. Some sculpt to complete mundane activities, such as mending walls. Others sculpt themselves in order to attract a mate, hence the reference to Lesbia, Catullus' fictional inconstant lover. Reference to Catullus and Lesbia, including biographical information about the legendary Roman poet, has been made previously in Songs of Eretz and may be found here: http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-of-marriage-daybook-by-nicole.html.
The final stanza warns against wasting one's time in the pursuit of wild, unattainable dreams, which she compares to fragile porcelain or Parian [ref: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parian]. She further warns that time will inevitably overtake such individuals.
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