Life’s Ladder

As Algy explored the harbour at low tide, he found many unusual perches, of which some were better adapted to the needs of a fluffy bird than others… He was particularly interested to discover that, at intervals along the great wall which contained the sea when the tide came in, wooden structures with multiple perches had been provided – presumably to suit the different levels the water might reach – and he wondered how the humans could make use of them. For fluffy birds, at least, they only provided a moderate level of comfort, but as Algy perched on one of the lower levels of such a structure, he found that a poem he had once read came to mind, and he wondered whether it might perhaps provide an explanation:

Unto each mortal who comes to earth
A ladder is given by God at birth,
And up this ladder the soul must go,
Step by step, from the valley below;
Step by step to the center of space
On this ladder of lives to the starting place.

In time departed, which yet endures,
I shaped my ladder and you shaped yours,
Whatever they are, they are what we made,
A ladder of light or a ladder of shade;
A ladder of love or a hateful thing,
A ladder of strength or a wavering string,
A ladder of gold or a ladder of straw –

If toil and trouble and pain are found
Twisted and corded to form each round,
If rusted iron or moldering wood
Is the fragile frame, you must make it good
You must build it over and fashion it strong,
Though the task be as hard as your life is long;
For up this ladder the pathway leads
To earthly pleasures and spirit needs,
For all that may come in another way
Shall be but illusion and will not stay.

[Algy is quoting parts of the poem Life’s Ladder by the late 19th/early 20th century American writer Ella Wheeler Wilcox.}