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PENDLE HILL:


A POEM.


BY
WILLIAM BILLINGTON.

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PRICE THREEPENCE
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BLACKBURN:
"THE TIMES" STEAM-PRINTING WORKS, CORPORATION STREET.

1876.
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PENDLE HILL.

Great Pendle Hill and Penyghent,
    And lofty Ingleborough,
Ye will not find three grander hills
    And trace old England thorough.

OLD RHYME.

 

The sun arose in mist, which soon gave way
To his bright beams that gild the mountain heather;
The sky was clear, betokening a day
Of heat excessive, and 'twas doubtful whether
The utmost breath of wind could waft a feather,
Or Shake the poplar's many-twinkling leaves,
So calm the morn was when we met together,
Beneath the Blackburn Station's humble eaves

Wrapped in that mystic robe, which faithful Friendship weaves.


The train arrived.—We in—with whistle shrill
With hollow snort and plunge the engine started,
While echo answered loud from Audley Hill;
With speed accelerated we departed;
From bridge to bridge we flew, like lightning darted
From cloud to cloud; and, while upon the road,
Our converse was most sweet and open-hearted,
For, every single soul threw down its load

Of cares, and flew upon the wings of mirth abroad,—


Till Nabb Hill's northern side—which Calder's waters
With deep, dark, winding swill do proudly lave,
Where oaks and elms, the mountain's giant daughters,
Bend their broad branches o'er the dashing wave,
And blithe king-fishers dip their plumage brave,
Disclosing hues of glossy green and gold—
Unto our eager eyes, in prospect gave
The ruins drear of Whalley Abbey old,

Which spoke to us of deeds that must remain untold.


For if the poet should turn antiquary
And bring such deeds of darkness forth to light,
Stale history would make my muse miscarry,
And that would be a pitiable plight
For me, as well as those for whom I write;
Hence we, with such dead subjects will dispense,
And seize on matter, much more pure and bright—
The meaning eye, the eye, the speaking countenance,

And all the social flow of female eloquence.


Yes! reader, let us leave off moralizing,
And with the rod of Reason crack the crown
Of Visions, on the wings of fancy rising—
Those Pictures of the Past that grimly frown
Athwart the Stream of Ages, which would drown
Our modest mirth, and dull our golden glee:—
Now, on the vale of Ribblesdale look down,
Where, grove and and mansion you may see,

With lordly Mytton, bounded by her rivers three.


But Clitheroe's ancient castle now appears
Which well deserves the tribute of a verse;
Its feudal form tells tales of other years
So sad and long, the muse may none rehearse—
Avaunt! let pomp and pageantry dispense,
By Fancy formed bright Reason's eye to blear—
Hark!   Hope, whose eye the Future's veil doth pierce,
Bids Patience smile and deem fair Freedom near,

And cries "Behold! the Past hath left a footprint here."


And now, the rattling engine has arrived
The ancient town of far-famed Clitheroe,
Where passengers, like swarms of bees unhived,
With noise and hustle bounding to and fro,
Make jarring music; some prepare to go
A journey, whilst the rest, returning home,
So elevated by the sights they saw,
Scarce condescend their dearest friends to "goam;"

Thus spreads the railway rage which makes the masses roam.


So we, amongst the rest, all hale and well,
And, arm in arm, went marching through the town,
In quest of some convenient hotel,
Where we might quench our thirst; and sitting down
Before a good substantial breakfast, crown
Our teasing appetites, and then prepare,
With firmness, to withstand the fiery frown
Of solar beams, which pierce the forehead bare,

As if Apollo shot red arrows through the air.


Eftsoons we sought and found a trusty friend,
Whose means, though small, did everything he could—
Prepared us food and drink, such as both lend
The palate pleasure, and supply the blood
With health and vigour; and we understood
Full well the value of his services,
When our parched lips bathed in a snowy flood
Of rich new milk, which far superior is

To juice of Tuscan grape, or China's beverage.


Our homely meal despatch'd, we made a grave
And buried lazy Sluggishness therein;
Then, for our leader, took God-speed, that brave
And nimble racer that doth always win;
Thus did our tour pedestrian begin,
From Clitheroe Castle up to Pendle Hill;
For distance, cared we not one single pin,
When linked like Juno's swans, or better still,

Like Milton's thunderbolts, or ancient Jack and Gill.


The first thing that attracted curiosity
And put our our scientific powers in play,
The first, too, that arrested the velocity
Of our quick-moving footsteps by the way,
Was Nature's ample book, which open lay
Within the fossil, rocks of Coplow Delf,
Where shellfish, zoophyte, and the solid spray
Of stony waves, stiff, piled up, shelf, on shelf,

Looked like a sea turned marble by Medusa's self.


We climbed those wave-like rocks to get some fossils,
And found full many, some with forms complete.
Which well repaid us for the falls and jostles
With which we in obtaining them did meet;
And noble was the thought the feeling sweet
And pleasant, which our raptured spirits felt;
In truth, it was a philosophic treat,
On which the mind of Tyndall might have dwelt

And seen the waxen gods of Orthodoxy melt


Before the Sun of Science, whose full blaze
Beamed through the darkness of ten thousand years,
While Reason's convex mirror caught its rays
And burned the robe which Superstition wears;
Her lamb's wool vesture, too, whose loss unbares
Her bloody bosom and her sable heart—
Let no fanatic, full of holy fears,
Nor any pious pastor shrug and start

Lest Faith should thus be slain by Truth's creed-piercing dart.


Emerging from the delf, an exhalation
Seemed from the hollow earth's hot womb to rise,
Whose quivering glitter spread such a sensation
Of wonder, we could scarce believe our eyes;
'Twas smokeless, noiseless, colourless likewise—
Paler than moonbeams—dazzling as the sun—
More thin than air—more clear than summer skies—
Comparison on earth can not be won

For that most wondrous strange, and weird phenomenon.


Like the red-throated gape of on hyena
Whose marble teeth are stained with human blood,
Or, like the crater of the red volcano
When bubbling up its burning lava flood,
The lime-kiln did appear to those who stood,
Half-breathless, gazing down the dazzling brink,
Where solid rocks are molten down to mud,
Which no good man beholds, but he must think

About the bigot's hell, which fools to faith do link.


And so did we, but busy Recollection
Aroused us from our reverie, and full soon
Bade us be moving in the right direction
For Pendle, if we would enjoy the boon
That she grants to the eye, before the moon
Shot from the flaming axle of the sun,
Where old Hyperion, in meridian swoon,
Reels round the dome of heaven and doth run

His chariot to the west, where Night sits robed in dun.


A road that reached up to the constellations;
A pile of earth, that propped the firmament;
A landmark, for the sea-traversing nations;
A universe-o'erlooking battlement;
A fragment, which from heaven had been rent
In god-strife, or the germ of some new world,
Which, in almighty anger, had been sent,

On Titans bold with flags against the skies unfurled,—


Did Pendle seem to us, a few miles from it;
But, when arrived at the gigantic base
Of that dread mount, from what had seemed the summit,
A loftier hill its dome-like head did raise
Through the blue heavens; then, with blank amaze—
With speechless wonder—we beheld the scene!
E'en cattle stood contemplative to gaze,
As though endowed with reason they had been,

Where height had chanted the hill to blue from brightest green.


We breasted her steep brow, close by the side
Of one huge wall, which to the hill-top led;
We followed in the footsteps of our guide,
And by a well sat down to share our bread;
The cows, for coolness, to the rivers fled,
And, with their tails, lashed off the angry flies;
The sheep lay panting on their grassy bed,
Half roasted, and complained with bleating cries,

While liquid lightning rained down from the molten skies.


And as we sat upon that skyey mountain,
Though we few dainties had, we ate our fill,
And drank fresh water, from as pure a fountain
As ever was the parent of a rill;
While Fancy formed a bridge, from hill to hill,
And thought of the tremendous depths below,
Whose awful image haunts my memory still,
And still my mind its self its self doth overawe

By brooding o'er such thoughts, as none but poets know.


Then gathering up the fragments of our feast,
Where maps and scraps, lay scattered on the ground,
Like giants with new wine, our strength increased,
Broad swamps and dykes were covered at a bound;
We ranged the heights of lofty Pendle round
Where, gleaming through the dim-blue atmosphere,
We saw a cirque of hills, whose heads were crowned
With cloudy diadems, and some did peer

Above the clouds, and bask in sunbeams pure and clear.


With Blackstone Edge, and Cribden, and the Pike
Of Rivington before us,—full in view.
Huge Hambledon heaved his broad back, which like
Some Titan's form its giant shadow threw
On village, and on valley; but the blue
Of heaven, through the white clouds of the north,
Was glinting glory down; where well we knew
Old Skiddaw and Helvellyn, glooming forth,

With Scawfell Pike, appeared the boundary of the earth.


The Ribble, like a silver serpent, wound
Her gleaming course down to the estuary
By rock and scar, her devious way she found;
Through holme and dingle, clough and rugged quarry—
Among the meads mid cornfields seemed to tarry,
As loth to leave their fair and flowery nooks,
And lingering long, as though she meant to marry
Those offspring of the hills, the bounding brooks,

In such romantic wise as rhymed in poets' books.


We stood tiptoe on Pendle's highest point
And gazed around, until the scanty breast
Could scarce contain the heart, that fluttered, buoy'nt,
And bounding seemed to fly, as though 't would nest
In heaven; then, converging toward the west;
And, quite fatigued—bathed in a hot deluge
Of sunbeams—soon, the rest sat down to rest,—
I laid me down and gave my face refuge

Beneath my hat, and slept; and lo! broad, black and huge,


I, dreaming, saw a pyramid arise
Spontaneous from the earth; its spire did make
A rent in the heaven's blue; and through the skies
The top gleamed like a tower through a lake;
Its weight did make the mighty Hill to shake,
And, trembling, rattle all her rocky bones;
Then, falling with the sound of an earthquake,
Or, like the rumbling of Jove's thunderstones,

Drew from the stars harsh echoes, loud as Titan's groans!


With that I started up in haste and heat,
And saw, ye gods! not Pendle Hill crushed flat!
Nor yet an earthquake gaping at my feet,
But horror seized my soul, my Sunday hat
Was running down the hill with swiftness that
Outsped the winds; yet I stood still and staunch—
My luckless luck the rest were laughing at—
Like some tall tree robbed of its topmost branch,

And saw my "bran-new" hat turned to an avalanche!


As soon as I'd recalled my wandering senses,
That is to say when I came to myself,
Despairing, I said to myself, "Ah! whence is
This calamity?   Some mountain elf,
Whose bower I've profaned—perhaps that delf
Was haunted by the ghost of ancient Ocean,
That guards it as a miser guards his pelf,
And, since I of its rights had got no notion,

Has thus endowed my hat with powers of locomotion."


"However, 'tis a marvellous affair!
My hat is gone, and, lest my head go next,
I'll follow altogether—say some prayer,
Or mutter to my God some holy text,
To keep at bay the spirit I have vexed—
The Queen of Pendle's witches, old and grim,
By whose dread power I may be unsexed,
Or, like a traitor vile, torn limb from limb,

Except, through supplication, I protected am by Him."


I called to my companions, one by one,
Besought their aid, for ills came on me thick;
I told them how my wretched tile had gone—
My hat, bewitched, had fairly "cut its stick;"
Some ran, but I crept cautious down the Nick
Of Pendle, and, when meeting at the foot,
Two things were there, that touched Mirth to the quick,
And shook the Tree of Laughter to its to root,

My locomotive hat, and Hindle's rock-rent boot.


And many other things we need not mention
Contributed to swell the tide of fun;
The wit, the tact, the talent, the invention
Displayed by all, in jest, catch, rhyme or pun,
Made each soul seem a ray of satire's sun;
And, oft on me, the joke severely ran;
It sometimes made me silent as a nun,
Yet, ever and anon, my tongue began

To hanker after speech, in spite of blame or ban.


Not Butler, Byron, Burns, Pope, Swift, and Pinder,
All put together could have caused more mirth
Than Walker* did, when pride sought not to hinder
Or strangle native humour in its birth;
Of repartee with him there was no dearth;
He found a hole in everybody's sleeve;
The females feared his wit would "fire the earth,"
It sparkled so, its lightnings did bereave

Solemnity of life, and made dull Envy grieve.


Strange tales were told of witches, long ago—
Old Mother Demdike, whose unholy power
Caused inky floods from Pendle's breast to flow,
And filched the blush from many a human a flower;
Whose midnight orgies, held in Malkin Tower,
Threw blight on harvests—blanched the bloom of spring—
Made summer clouds withhold the fruitful shower,
While withered at her will each living thing—

All ale turned sour, cows dry, and cuckoos ceased to sing!"


Of Demdike's wrinked rival, Mother Chattox—
The abbot Paslew—the Dule-upo'-Dun—
The Pig bewitched—enchanted spades and mattocks—
The Dog Familiar and the Magic Gun;
Such webs were woven and such yarns were spun,
Of many a monk transformed into a tike,
And nymphs allured to fates they could not shun,—
Of faries, banshees, boggarts and the like,

All wound up with a song, "The Devil and little Mike."


We took the road to Clitheroe once more,
And just arrived in time to take our tea,
And visit the old Castle, when 'twas o'er;
And well the same did with my soul agree,
For often had my spirit yearned to see
And minutely inspect its ruins, too,
To tread the prison yard with footsteps free,—
To scale the battlements, as now I do,

And view those splintered gaps where Cromwell's balls swept
            through.


For even now, in thought, I tread the height
Of those time-smitten battlements which crown
That Gothic pile—those relics ruin-bright—
Those huge moss-mantled walls, whose sullen frown
Hangs like a thunder-cloud above the town.
As when some Alpine rock, reared to the sky,
Upon the petty hills looks proudly down,
Tall forests dwarfed to furze beneath it lie,

So, from this height, the farmstead dwindles to a sty.


What Form, upon the bosom of the wind,
Do I behold, with sable tresses streaming,
And frowning brows, that indicate a mind
Of pride and valour, whilst revenge is gleaming
From his red eyeballs, and the bright sun beaming
On his brass shield; he shakes his gory lance
In the fair face of Science; then, loud screaming,
Falls back, smit by the lightning of her glance;

She treads him down to death, but bids his slaves advance,—


Exclaiming "Lo! behold the tyrant slain!
The haughty king, through whom your sires have bled;
Through whom yourselves still clank the galling chain;
Through whom your mothers' tears have long been shed;
Through whom an age of slavery of hath sped
O'er your ancestors!   Fallen at your feet
Lies vulture-hearted Feudalism dead—
Fell Obloquy shall weave his winding sheet,

Whilst Freedom, son of Science, fills his vacant seat!"


And now the Vision vanishes from sight!
Harsh Reason rudely rings fair Fancy's knell—
As vanish all the pleasant dreams of night
At the hoarse clanging of the factory bell,
So flit those fairy forms, whose mystic spell
Hath held my heart in bondage, while my tongue
Spoke of things past as present; but, farewell!
Once more stern Reason bids me end my song;

To tell how we returned, would mar and make it long.


Yet, independent of the potent aid
Of fiction-loving Fancy, let me say,
A more delightful tour may not be made
Within the lapse of one bright summer's day;
Let all, whose English hearts would homage pay
To Nature in her naked majesty,
Repair to Pendle, and make no delay,
But, like the bard, proceed extempore,

And prove his rustic rhyme, no strained hyperbole.


* The late Edward Walker.

Ed.—See also John Critchley Prince's "Whittle Springs."

 



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