Poems (3)

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A DEAD YEAR.

 

I TOOK a year out of my life and story—
    A dead year, and said, 'I will hew thee a tomb!
"All the kings of the nations lie in glory;"
    Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
Swathed in linen, and precious unguents old;
Fainted with cinnabar, and rich with gold.

    'Silent they rest, in solemn salvatory,
Sealed from the moth and the owl and the
            flittermouse—
                    Each with his name on his brow.
    "All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Every one in his own house:"
                    Then why not thou?

 

'Year,' I said, 'thou shalt not lack
Bribes to bar thy coming back;
Doth old Egypt wear her best
In the chambers of her rest?
Doth she take to her last bed
Beaten gold, and glorious red?
Envy not! for thou wilt wear
In the dark a shroud as fair;
Golden with the sunny ray
Thou withdrawest from my day;
Wrought upon with colours fine
Stolen from this life of mine:
Like the dusty Libyan kings,
Lie with two wide-open wings
On thy breast, as if to say,
On these wings hope flew away;
And so housed, and thus adorned,
Not forgotten, but not scorned,
Let the dark for evermore
Close thee when I close the door;
And the dust for ages fall
In the creases of thy pall;
And no voice nor visit rude
Break thy sealèd solitude.'

 

    I took the year out of my life and story?
The dead year, and said, 'I have hewed thee a tomb!
    "All the kings of the nations lie in glory,"
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem,
            Sure thou didst reign like them.'
So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary,
                    According to my vow;
For I said, 'The kings of the nations lie in glory,
                    And so shalt thou!'

 

'Rock,' I said, 'thy ribs are strong,
That I bring thee guard it long;
Hide the light from buried eyes—
Hide it, lest the dead arise.'
'Year,' I said, and turned away,
'I am free of thee this day;
All that we two only know,
I forgive and I forego,
So thy face no more I meet
In the field or in the street.'

Thus we parted, she and I;
Life hid death, and put it by;
Life hid death, and said, 'Be free!
I have no more need of thee.'
No more need!   O mad mistake,
With repentance in its wake!
Ignorant, and rash, and blind,
Life had left the grave behind;
But had locked within its hold
With the spices and the gold,
All she had to keep her warm
In the raging of the storm.

Scarce the sunset bloom was gone,
And the little stars outshone,
Ere the dead year, stiff and stark,
Drew me to her in the dark;
Death drew life to come to her,
Beating at her sepulchre,
Crying out, 'How can I part'
With the best share of my heart?
Lo, it lies upon the bier,
Captive, with the buried year.
O my heart!'   And I fell prone,
Weeping at the sealèd stone;
'Year among the shades,' I said,
'Since I live, and then art dead,
Let my captive heart be free
Like a bird to fly to me.'
And I stayed some voice to win,
But none answered from within;
And I kissed the door—and night
Deepened till the stars waxed bright;
And I saw them set and wane.
And the world turned green again.

'So,' I whispered, 'open door,
I must tread this palace floor—
Sealèd palace, rich and dim.
Let a narrow sunbeam swim
After me, and on me spread
While I look upon my dead;
Let a little warmth be free
To come after; let me see
Through the doorway, when I sit
Looking out, the swallows flit,
Settling not till daylight goes;
Let me smell the wild white rose,
Smell the woodbine and the may;
Mark, upon a sunny day,
Sated from their blossoms rise
Honey-bees and butterflies.
Let me hear, O! let me hear,
Sitting by my buried year,
Finches chirping to their young,
And the little noises flung
Out of clefts where rabbits play,
Or from falling water-spray;
And the gracious echoes woke
By man's work: the woodman's stroke,
Shout of shepherd, whistlings blithe,
And the whetting of the scythe;
Let this be, lest, shut and furled
From the well-belovèd world,
I forget her yearnings old,
And her troubles manifold,
Strivings sore, submissions meet,
And my pulse no longer beat,
Keeping time and bearing part
With the pulse of her great heart.

So! swing open door, and shade
Take me, I am not afraid,
For the time will not be long;
Soon I shall have waxen strong—
Strong enough my own to win
From the grave it lies within.'

And I entered.   On her bier
Quiet lay the buried year;
I sat down where I could see
Life without and sunshine free,
Death within.   And I between,
Waited my own heart to wean
From the shroud that shaded her
In the rock-hewn sepulchre—
Waited till the dead should say,
'Heart, be free of me this day'—
Waited with a patient will—
AND I WAIT BETWEEN THEM STILL.

 

    I take the year back to my life and story
The dead year, and say, 'I will share in thy tomb.
    "All the kings of the nations lie in glory;"
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom!
They reigned in their lifetime with sceptre and
            diadem,
                        But then excellest them;
For life doth make thy grave her oratory,
                    And the crown is still on thy brow;
"All the kings of the nations lie in glory"
                    And so dost thou.'

 

_____________________

 
REFLECTIONS.
──◊──

Written for THE PORTFOLIO SOCIETY, July 1862.
──◊──

Looking over a Gate at a Pool in a Field.

 


WHAT change has made the pastures sweet
And reached the daisies at my feet,
    And cloud that wears a golden hem?
This lovely world, the hills, the sward—
They all look fresh, as if our Lord
    But yesterday had finished them.

And here's the field with light aglow;
How fresh its boundary lime-trees show,
    And how its wet leaves trembling shine!
Between their trunks come through to me
The morning sparkles of the sea
    Below the level browsing line.

I see the pool more clear by half
Than pools where other waters laugh
    Up at the breasts of coot and rail.
There, as she passed it on her way,
I saw reflected yesterday
    A maiden with a milking-pail.

There, neither slowly nor in haste,
One hand upon her slender waist,
    The other lifted to her pail,
She rosy in the morning light,
Among the water-daisies white,
    Like some fair sloop appeared to sail.

Against her ankles as she trod,
The lucky buttercups did nod.
    I leaned upon the gate to see:
The sweet thing looked, but did not speak;
A dimple came in either cheek,
    And all my heart was gone from me.

Then, as I lingered on the gate,
And she came up like coming fate,
    I saw my picture in her eyes—
Clear dancing eyes, more black than sloes,
Cheeks like the mountain pink, that grows
    Among white-headed majesties.

I said, 'A tale was made of old
That I would fain to thee unfold;
    Ah! let me—let me tell the tale.'
But high she held her comely head;
'I cannot heed it now,' she said,
    'For carrying of the milking-pail.'

She laughed.   What good to make ado?
I held the gate, and she came through,
    And took her homeward path anon.
From the clear pool her face had fled;
It rested on my heart instead,
    Reflected when the maid was gone.

With happy youth, and work content,
So sweet and stately on she went,
    Right careless of the untold tale.
Each step she took I loved her more,
And followed to her dairy door
    The maiden with the milking-pail.


II


For hearts where wakened love doth lurk,
How fine, how blest a thing is work!
    For work does good when reasons fail—
Good; yet the axe at every stroke
The echo of a name awoke—
    Her name is Mary Martindale.

I'm glad that echo was not heard
Aright by other men: a bird
    Knows doubtless what his own notes tell;
And I know not, but I can say
I felt as shame-faced all that day
    As if folks heard her name right well.

And when the west began to glow
I went—I could not choose but go—
    To that same dairy on the hill;
And while sweet Mary moved about
Within, I came to her without,
    And leaned upon the window-sill.

The garden border where I stood
Was sweet with pinks and southernwood
    I spoke—her answer seemed to fail:
I smelt the pinks—I could not see;
The dusk came down and sheltered me,
    And in the dusk she heard my tale.

And what is left that I should tell?
I begged a kiss, I pleaded well:
    The rosebud lips did long decline;
But yet I think, I think 't is true,
That, leaned at last into the dew
    One little instant they were mine.

O life! how dear thou hast become:
She laughed at dawn, and I was dumb,
    But evening counsels best prevail.
Fair shine the blue that o'er her spreads,
Green be the pastures where she treads,
    The maiden with the milking-pail!

 

_____________________

 
THE LETTER L.

ABSENT.


WE sat on on grassy slopes that meet
    With sudden dip the level strand;
The trees hung overhead—our feet
                Were on the sand.

Two silent girls, a thoughtful man,
    We sunned ourselves in open light,
And felt such April airs as fan
                The Isle of Wight;

And smelt the wall-flower in the crag
    Whereon that dainty waft had fed,
Which made the bell-hung cowslip wag
                Her delicate head;

And let alighting jackdaws fleet
    Adown it open-winged, and pass
Till they could touch with outstretched feet
                The warmèd grass.

The happy wave ran up and rang
    Like service bells a long way off,
And down a little freshet sprang
                From mossy trough,

And splashed into a rain of spray,
    And fretted on with daylight's loss,
Because so many blue-bells lay
                Leaning across.

Blue martins gossiped in the sun,
    And pairs of chattering daws flew by,
And sailing brigs rocked softly on
                In company.

Wild cherry boughs above us spread
    The whitest shade was ever seen,
And flicker, flicker, came and fled
                Sun spots between.

Bees murmured in the milk-white bloom
    As babes will sigh for deep content
When their sweet hearts for peace make room,
                As given, not lent.

And we saw on: we said no word,
    And one was lost in musings rare,
One buoyant as the waft that stirred
                Her shining hair.

His eyes were bent upon the sand
    Unfathomed deeps within them lay.
A slender rod was in his hand—
                A hazel spray.

Her eyes were resting on his face,
    As shyly glad, by stealth to glean
Impressions of his manly grace
                And guarded mien;

The mouth with steady sweetness set,
    And eyes conveying unaware
The distant hint of some regret
                That harboured there.

She gazed, and in the tender flush
    That made her face like roses blown?
And in the radiance and the hush,
                Her thought was shown.

It was a happy thing to sit
    So near, nor mar his reverie;
She looked not for a part in it,
                So meek was she.

But it was solace for her eyes,
    And for her heart, that yearned to him,
To watch apart in loving wise
                Those musings dim.

Lost—lost, and gone!   The Pelham woods
    Were full of doves that cooed at ease;
The orchis filled her purple hoods
                For dainty bees.

He heard not; all the delicate air
    Was fresh with falling water-spray:
It mattered not—he was not there,
                But far away.

Till with the hazel in his hand,
    Still drowned in thought, it thus befell;
He drew a letter on the sand—
                The letter L.

And looking on it, straight there wrought
    A ruddy flush about his brow;
His letter woke him: absent thought
                Rushed homeward now.

And half-abashed, his hasty touch
    Effaced it with a tell-tale care,
As if his action had been much,
                And not his air.

And she? she watched his open palm
    Smooth out the letter from the sand,
And rose, with aspect almost calm,
                And filled her hand

With cherry bloom, and moved away
    To gather wild forget-me-not,
And let her errant footsteps stray
                To one sweet spot,

As if she coveted the fair
    White lining of the silver-weed,
And cuckoo-pint that shaded there
                Empurpled seed.

She had not feared, as I divine,
    Because she had not hoped.   Alas!
The sorrow of it! for that sign
                Came but to pass;

And yet it robbed her of the right
    To give, who looked not to receive,
And made her blush in love's despite
                That she should grieve.

A shape in white, she turned to gaze;
    Her eyes were shaded with her hand,
And half-way up the winding ways
                We saw her stand.

Green hollows of the fringèd cliff,
    Red rocks that under waters show;
Blue reaches, and a sailing skiff,
                Were spread below.

She stood to gaze, perhaps to sigh,
    Perhaps to think; but who can tell,
How heavy on her heart must lie
                The letter L!

__________________


She came anon with quiet grace;
    And 'What,' she murmured, 'silent yet!
He answered, ' 'T is a haunted place,
                And spell-beset.

'O speak to us, and break the spell!
    'The spell is broken,' she replied.
'I crossed the running brook, it fell,
                It could not bide.

'And I have brought a budding world,
    Of orchis spires and daisies rank,
And ferny plumes but half uncurled,
                From yonder bank;

'And I shall weave of them a crown,
    And at the well-head launch it free,
That so the brook may float it down,
                And out to sea.

'There may it to some English hands
    From fairy meadow seem to come;
The fairyest of fairy lands—
                The land of home.'

'Weave on,' he said, and as she wove
    We told how currents in the deep,
With branches from a lemon grove,
                Blue bergs will sweep.

And messages from shipwrecked folk
    Will navigate the moon-led main,
And painted boards of splintered oak
                Their port regain.

Then floated out by vagrant thought,
    My soul beheld on torrid sand
The wasteful water set at nought
                Man's skilful hand,

And suck out gold-dust from the box,
    And wash it down in weedy whirls,
And split the wine-keg on the rocks,
                And lose the pearls.

'Ah! why to that which needs it not,'
    Methought, 'should costly things be given?
How much is wasted, wrecked, forgot,
                On this side heaven!'

So musing, did mine ears awake
    To maiden tones of sweet reserve,
And manly speech that seemed to make
                The steady curve

Of lips that uttered it defer
    Their guard, and soften for the thought:
She listened, and his talk with her
                Was fancy fraught.

'There is not much in liberty'—
    With, doubtful pauses he began;
And said to her and said to me,
                'There was a man—

'There was a man who dreamed one night
    That his dead father came to him;
And said, when fire was low, and light
                Was burning dim—

' "Why vagrant thus, my sometime pride,
    Unloved, unloving, wilt thou roam?
Sure home is best!"   The son replied,
                "I have no home."

' "Shall not I speak?" his father said,
    "Who early chose a youthful wife,
And worked for her, and with her led
            My happy life.

' "Ay, I will speak, for I was young
    As thou art now, when I did hold
The prattling sweetness of thy tongue
                Dearer than gold;

' "And rosy from thy noonday sleep
    Would bear thee to admiring kin,
And all thy pretty looks would keep
                My heart within.

' "Then after, 'mid thy young allies—
    For thee ambition flushed my brow—
I coveted the schoolboy prize
                Far more than thou.

' "I thought for thee, I thought for all
    My gamesome imps that round me grew
The dews of blessing heaviest fall
                Where care falls too.

' "And I that sent my boys away,
    In youthful strength to earn their bread,
And died before the hair was grey
                Upon my head—

' "I say to thee, though free from care,
    A lonely lot, an aimless life,
The crowning comfort is not there—
                Son, take a wife."

' "Father beloved," the son replied,
    And failed to gather to his breast,
With arms in darkness searching wide,
                The formless guest.

' "I am but free, as sorrow is,
    To dry her tears, to laugh, to talk;
And free, as sick men are, I wis*
                To rise and walk.

' "And free, as poor men are, to buy
    If they have nought wherewith to pay;
Nor hope, the debt before they die,
                To wipe away.

' "What 'vails it there are wives to win,
    And faithful hearts for those to yearn,
Who find not aught thereto akin
                To make return?

' "Shall he take much who little gives,
    And dwells in spirit far away,
When she that in his presence lives,
                Doth never stray,

' "But waking, guideth as beseems
    The happy house in order trim,
And tends her babes; and sleeping, dreams
                Of them, and him?

O base, O cold," '—while thus he spake
    The dream broke off, the vision fled;
He carried on his speech awake
                And sighing said—

' "I had—ah happy man!—I had
    A precious jewel in my breast,
And while I kept it I was glad
                At work, at rest!

' "Call it a heart, and call it strong
    As upward stroke of eagle's wing;
Then call it weak, you shall not wrong
                The beating thing.

' "In tangles of the jungle reed,
    Whose beats are lit with tiger eyes,
In shipwreck drifting with the weed,
                'Neath rainy skies,

' "Still youthful manhood, fresh and keen,
    At danger gazed with awed delight,
As if sea would not drown, I ween,
                Nor serpent bite.

"I had—ah happy! but 'tis gone,
    The priceless jewel; one came by,
And saw and stood awhile to con
                With curious eye,

' "And wished for it, and faintly smiled
    From under lashes black as doom,
With subtle sweetness, tender, mild,
                That did illume

' "The perfect face, and shed on it
    A charm, half feeling, half surprise,
And brim with dreams the exquisite
                Brown blessèd eyes.

' "Was it for this, no more but this,
    I took and laid it in her hand,
By dimples ruled, to hint submiss,
                By frown unmanned?

' "It was for this—and O farewell
    The fearless foot, the present mind,
And steady will to breast the swell
                And face the wind!

' "I gave the jewel from my breast,
    She played with it a little while
As I sailed down into the west,
                Fed by her smile;

"Then weary of it—far from land,
    With sigh as deep as destiny,
She let it drop from her fair hand
                Into the sea

' "And watched it sink; and I—and I,—
    What shall I do, for all is vain?
No wave will bring, no gold will buy,
                No toil attain;

' "Nor any diver reach to raise
    My jewel from the blue abyss;
Or could they, still I should but praise
                Their work amiss.

' "Thrown, thrown away!   But I love yet
    The fair, fair hand which did the deed:
That wayward sweetness to forget
                Were bitter meed.

' "No, let it lie, and let the wave
    Roll over it for evermore;
Whelmed where the sailor hath his grave—
                The sea her store.

' "My heart, my sometime happy heart!
    And O for once let me complain,
I must forego life's better part—
                Man's dearer gain.

' "I worked afar that I might rear
    A peaceful home on English soil;
I laboured for the gold and gear—
                I loved my toil.

"For ever in my spirit spake
    The natural whisper, 'Well 'twill be
When loving wife and children break
                Their bread with thee!'

' "The gathered gold is turned to dross,
    The wife hath faded into air,
My heart is thrown away, my loss
                I cannot spare.

' "Not spare unsated thought her food—
    No, not one rustle of the fold,
Nor scent of eastern sandalwood,
                Nor gleam of gold;

' "Nor quaint devices of the shawl,
    Far less the drooping lashes meek;
The gracious figure, lithe and tall,
                The dimpled cheek;

' "And all the wonders of her eyes,
    And sweet caprices of her air,
Albeit, indignant reason cries,
                "Fool! have a care.

' "Fool! join not madness to mistake:
    Thou knowest she loved thee not a whit;
Only that she thy heart might break—
                She wanted it,

' "Only the conquered thing to chain
    So fast that none might set it free,
Nor other woman there might reign
                And comfort thee.

' "Robbed, robbed of life's illusions sweet;
    Love dead outside her closèd door,
And passion fainting at her feet
                To wake no more;

' "What canst then give that unknown bride
    Whom thou didst work for in the waste,
Ere fated love was born, and cried—
                Was dead, ungraced?

' "No more but this, the partial care,
    The natural kindness for its own,
The trust that waxeth unaware,
                As worth is known:

' "Observance, and complacent thought
    Indulgent, and the honour due
That many another man has brought
                Who brought love too.

' "Nay, then, forbid it Heaven!" he said,
    "The saintly vision fades from me;
O bands and chains!   I cannot wed—
                I am not free." '

With that he raised his face to view;
    'What think you,' asking, 'of my tale?
And was he right to let the dew
                Of morn exhale,

'And burdened in the noontide sun,
    The grateful shade of home forego—
Could he be right—I ask as one
                Who fain would know?'

He spoke to her and spoke to me,
    The rebel rose-hue dyed her cheek;
The woven crown lay on her knee;
                She would not speak.

And I with doubtful pause—averse
    To let occasion drift away—
I answered—'If his case were worse
                Than word can say,

'Time is a healer of sick hearts,
    And women have been known to choose,
With purpose to allay their smarts,
                And tend their bruise,

'These for themselves.   Content to give,
    In their own lavish love complete,
Taking for sole prerogative
                Their tendance sweet.

'Such meeting in their diadem
    Of crowning love's æthereal fire,
Himself he robs who robbeth them
                Of their desire.

'Therefore the man who, dreaming, cried
    Against his lot that evensong,
I judge him honest, and decide
                That he was wrong.'

'When I am judged, ah may my fate,'
    He whispered, 'in thy code be read!
Be thou both judge and advocate.'
                Then turned, he said—

'Fair weaver!' touching, while he spoke,
    The woven crown, the weaving hand,
'And do you this decree revoke,
                Or may it stand?

'This friend, you ever think her right—
    She is not wrong, then?'   Soft and low
The little trembling word took flight:
                She answered, 'No.'


*  ED.—'wis': verb (archaic) meaning to think; to suppose; to imagine;
       — used chiefly in the first person singular present tense, I wis.


THE LETTER L.

PRESENT.


A meadow where the grass was deep,
    Rich, square, and golden to the view,
A belt of elms with level sweep
                About it grew.

The sun beat down on it, the line
    Of shade was clear beneath the trees;
There, by a clustering eglantine,
                We sat at ease.

And O the buttercups! that field
    O' the cloth of gold, where pennons swam—
Where France set up his lilied shield,
                His oriflamb,

And Henry's lion-standard rolled:
    What was it to their matchless sheen,
Their million million drops of gold
                Among the green!

We sat at ease in peaceful trust,
    For he had written, 'Let us meet;
My wife grew tired of smoke and dust,
                And London heat,

'And I have found a quiet grange,
    Set back in meadows sloping west,
And there our little ones can range
                And she can rest.

'Come down, that we may show the view,
    And she may hear your voice again,
And talk her woman's talk with you
                Along the lane.'

Since he had drawn with listless hand
    The letter, six long years had fled,
And winds had blown about the sand,
                And they were wed.

Two rosy urchins near him played,
    Or watched, entranced, the shapely ships
That with his knife for them he made
                Of elder slips.

And where the flowers were thickest shed,
    Each blossom like a burnished gem,
A creeping baby reared its head,
                And cooed at them.

And calm was on the father's face,
    And love was in the mother's eyes;
She looked and listened from her place,
                In tender wise.

She did not need to raise her voice
    That they might hear, she sat so nigh;
Yet we could speak when 't was our choice,
                And soft reply.

Holding our quiet talk apart
    Of household things; till, all unsealed,
The guarded outworks of the heart
                Began to yield;

And much that prudence will not dip
    The pen to fix and send away,
Passed safely over from the lip
                That summer day.

'I should be happy,' with a look
    Towards her husband where he lay,
Lost in the pages of his book,
                Soft did she say.

'I am, and yet no lot below
    For one whole day eludeth care;
To marriage all the stories flow,
                And finish there:

'As if with marriage came the end,
    The entrance into settled rest,
The calm to which love's tossings tend,
                The quiet breast.

'For me love played the low preludes,
    Yet life began but with the ring,
Such infinite solicitudes
                Around it cling.

'I did not for my heart divine
    Her destiny so meek to grow;
The higher nature matched with mine
                Will have it so.

'Still I consider it, and still
    Acknowledge it my master made,
Above me by the steadier will
                Of nought afraid.

'Above me by the candid speech;
    The temperate judgment of its own:
The keener thoughts that grasp and reach
                At things unknown.

'But I look up and he looks down,
    And thus our married eyes can meet;
Unclouded his, and clear of frown,
                And gravely sweet.

'And yet, O good, O wise and true!
    I would for all my fealty,
That I could be as much to you
                As you to me;

And knew the deep secure content
    Of wives who have been hardly won,
And, long petitioned, gave assent,
                Jealous of none.

'But proudly sure in all the earth
    No other in that homage shares,
Nor other woman's face or worth
                Is prized as theirs.'

'I said; ' And yet no lot below
    For one whole day eludeth care.
Your thought.'   She answered, 'Even so,
                I would beware

'Regretful questionings; be sure
    That very seldom do they rise,
Nor for myself do I endure—
                I sympathise.

'For once'—she turned away her head,
    Across the grass she swept her hand'—
There was a letter once,' she said,
                'Upon the sand.'

'There was, in truth, a letter writ
    On sand,' I said, 'and swept from view;
But that same hand which fashioned it
                Is given to you.

'Efface the letter; wherefore keep
    An image which the sands forego?'
'Albeit that fear had seemed to sleep,'
                She answered low,

'I could not choose but wake it now;
    For do but turn aside your face,
A house on yonder hilly brow
                Your eyes may trace.

'The chestnut shelters it; ah me,
    That I should have so faint a heart!
But yestereve, as by the sea
                I sat apart,

'I heard a name, I saw a hand
    Of passing stranger point that way—
And will he meet her on the strand,
            When late we stray?

'For she is come, for she is there,
    I heard it in the dusk, and heard
Admiring words, that named her fairs
                But little stirred

'By beauty of the wood and wave,
    And weary of an old man's sway;
For it was sweeter to enslave
                Than to obey.'

—The voice of one that near us stood,
    The rustle of a silken fold,
A scent of eastern sandalwood,
                A gleam of gold!

A lady!   In the narrow space
    Between the husband and the wife,
But nearest him—she showed a face
                With dangers rife;

A subtle smile that dimpling fled,
    As night-black lashes rose and fell:
I looked, and to myself I said,
                'The letter L.'

He, too, looked up, and with arrest
    Of breath and motion held his gaze,
Nor cared to hide within his breast
                His deep amaze;

Nor spoke till on her near advance
    His dark cheek flushed a ruddier hue;
And with his change of countenance
                Hers altered too.

'Lenore!' his voice was like the cry
    Of one entreating; and he said
But that—then paused with such a sigh
                As mourns the dead.

And seated near, with no demur
    Of bashful doubt she silence broke,
Though I alone could answer her
                When first she spoke.

She looked: her eyes were beauty's own;
    She shed their sweetness into his;
Nor spared the married wife one moan
                That bitterest is.

She spoke, and lo, her loveliness
    Methought she damaged with her tongue;
And every sentence made it less,
                So false they rung.

The rallying voice, the light demand,
    Half flippant, half unsatisfied;
The vanity sincere and bland—
                The answers wide.

And now her talk was of the East,
    And next her talk was of the sea;
'And has the love for it increased
                You shared with me?'

He answered not, but grave and still
    With earnest eyes her face perused.
And locked his lips with steady will,
                As one that mused—

That mused and wondered.   Why his gaze
    Should dwell on her, methought, was plain;
But reason that should wonder raise
                I sought in vain.

And near and near the children drew,
    Attracted by her rich array,
And gems that trembling into view
            Like raindrops lay.

He spoke: the wife her baby took
    And pressed the little face to hers;
What pain soe'er her bosom shook,
                What jealous stirs

Might stab her heart, she hid them so,
    The cooing babe a veil supplied;
And if she listened none might know,
                Or if she sighed;

Or if forecasting grief and care
    Unconscious solace thence she drew,
And lulled her babe, and unaware
                Lulled sorrow too.

The lady, she interpreter
    For looks or language wanted none,
If yet dominion stayed with her—
                So lightly won;

If yet the heart she wounded sore
    Could yearn to her, and let her see
The homage that was evermore
                Disloyalty;

If sign would yield that it had bled,
    Or rallied from the faithless blow,
Or sick or sullen stooped to wed,
                She craved to know.

Now dreamy deep, now sweetly keen,
    Her asking eyes would round him shine;
But guarded lips and settled mien
                Refused the sign.

And unbeguiled and unbetrayed,
    The wonder yet within his breast,
It seemed a watchful part he played
                Against her quest.

Until with accent of regret
    She touched upon the past once more,
As if she dared him to forget
                His dream of yore.

And words of little weight let fall
    The fancy of the lower mind;
How waxing life must needs leave all
                Its best behind;

How he had said that 'he would fain
    (One morning on the halcyon sea)
That life would at a stand remain
                Eternally;

'And sails be mirrored in the deep,
    As then they were, for evermore,
And happy spirits wake and sleep
                Afar from shore:

'The well-contented heart be fed
    Ever as then, and all the world
(It were not small) unshadowèd
                When sails were furled.

'Your words'—a pause, and quietly
    With touch of calm self ridicule:
'It may be so—for then,' said he,
                'I was a fool.'

With that he took his book, and left
    An awkward silence to my care,
That soon I filled with questions deft
                And debonair;

And slid into an easy vein,
    The favourite picture of the year;
The grouse upon her lord's domain—
                The salmon weir;

Till she could feign a sudden thought
    Upon neglected guests, and rise,
And make us her adieux, with nought
                In her dark eyes

Acknowledging or shame or pain;
    But just unveiling for our view
A little smile of still disdain
                As she withdrew.

Then nearer did the sunshine creep,
    And warmer came the wafting breeze;
The little babe was fast asleep
                On mother's knees.

Fair was the face that o'er it leant,
    The cheeks with beauteous blushes dyed;
The downcast lashes, shyly bent,
                That failed to hide

Some tender shame.   She did not see;
    She felt his eyes that would not stir,
She looked upon her babe, and he
                So looked at her.

So grave, so wondering, so content,
    As one new waked to conscious life,
Whose sudden joy with fear is blent.
                He said, 'My wife.'

'My wife, how beautiful you are!'
    Then closer at her side reclined,
'The bold brown woman from afar
                Comes, to me blind.

'And by comparison, I see
    The majesty of matron grace,
And learn how pure, how fair can be
                My own wife's face:

'Pure with all faithful passion, fair
    With tender smiles that come and go;
And comforting as April air
                After the snow.

'Fool that I was! my spirit frets
    And marvels at the humbling truth,
That I have deigned to spend regrets
                On my bruised youth.

'Its idol mocked thee, seated nigh,
    And shamed me for the mad mistake,
I thank my God He could deny,
                And she forsake.

'Ah, who am I, that God hath saved
    Me from the doom I did desire,
And crossed the lot myself had craved,
                To set me higher?

'What have I done that He should bow
    From heaven to choose a wife for me?
And what deserved, He should endow
                My home with THEE?

'My wife!'   With that she turned her face
    To kiss the hand about her neck;
And I went down and sought the place
                Where leaped the beck—

The busy beck, that still would run
    And fall, and falter its refrain;
And pause and shimmer in the sun,
                And fall again.

It led me to the sandy shore,
    We sang together, it and I—
'The daylight comes, the dark is o'er,
                The shadows fly.'

I lost it on the sandy shore,
    'O wife!' its latest murmurs fell,
'O wife, be glad, and fear no more
                The letter L.'

_____________________

 
THE
HIGH TIDE ON THE COAST OF LINCOLNSHIRE
(1571.)


THE old mayor climbed the belfry tower,
    The ringers ran by two, by three;
'Pull, if ye never pulled before;
    Good ringers, pull your best,' quoth he
'Play uppe, play uppe, O Boston bells!
Ply all your changes, all your swells,
    Play uppe "The Brides of Enderby."

Men say it was a stolen tyde—
    The Lord that sent it, He knows all;
But in myne ears doth still abide
    The message that the bells let fall:
And there was nought of strange, beside
The flights of news and peewits pied
    By millions crouched on the old sea wall.

I sat and spun within the doore,
    My thread brake off, I raised myne eyes;
The level sun, like ruddy ore,
    Lay sinking in the barren skies
And dark against day's golden death
She moved where Lindis wandereth,
My sonne's faire wife, Elizabeth.

'Cusha!   Cusha!   Cusha!' calling,
Ere the early dews were falling,
Farre away I heard her sung.
'Cusha!   Cusha!' all along;
Where the reedy Lindis floweth,
        Floweth, floweth,
From the meads where melick groweth
Faintly came her milking song—

'Cusha!   Cusha!   Cusha!' calling,
'For the dews will soone be falling;
Leave your meadow grasses mellow,
        Mellow, mellow;
Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow;
Come uppe Whitefoot, come uppe Lightfoot
Quit the stalks of parsley hollow,
        Hollow, hollow;
Come uppe Jetty, rise and follow,
From the clovers lift your head;
Come uppe Whitefoot, come uppe Lightfoot,
Come uppe Jetty, rise and follow,
Jetty, to the milking shed.'

If it be long, ay, long ago,
    When I beginne to think howe long,
Againe I hear the Lindis flow,
    Swift as an arrowe, sharpe and strong;
And all the aire, it seemeth nice,
Bin full of floating bells (sayth shee),
That ring the tune of Enderby.

Alle fresh the level pasture lay,
    And not a shadowe mote be seene,
Save where full fyve good miles away
    The steeple towered from out the greene;
And lo! the great bell farre and wide
Was heard in all the country side
That Saturday at eventide.

The swanherds where their sedges are
    Moved on in sunset's golden breath,
The shepherde lads I heard afarre,
    And my sonne's wife, Elizabeth;
Till floating o'er the grassy sea
Came downe that kyndly message free,
The 'Brides of Mavis Enderby.'

Then some looked uppe into the sky,
    And all along where Lindis flows
To where the goodly vessels lie,
    And where the lordly steeple shows.
They sayde, 'And why should this thing be?
What danger lowers by land or sea?
They ring the tune of Enderby!

'For evil news from Mablethorpe,
    Of pyrate galleys warping down;
For shippes ashore beyond the scorpe,
    They have not spared to wake the towne:
But while the west bin red to see,
And storms be none, and pyrates flee,
Why ring "The Brides of Enderby"?'

I looked without, and lo! my sonne
    Came riding downe with might and main:
He raised a shout as he drew on,
    Till all the welkin rang again,
'Elizabeth!   Elizabeth!'
(A sweeter woman ne'er drew breath
Than my sonne's wife, Elizabeth.)

'The olde sea wall (he cried) is downe,
    The rising tide comes on apace,
And boats adrift in yonder towne
    Go sailing uppe the market-place.'
He shook as one that looks on death:
'God save you, mother!' straight he saith
'Where is my wife, Elizabeth?'

'Good sonne, where Lindis winds away,
    With her two bairns I marked her long;
And ere yon bells beganne to play
    Afar I heard her milking song.'
He looked across the grassy lea,
To right, to left, 'Ho Enderby!'
They rang 'The Brides of Enderby!'

With that he cried and beat his breast;
    For, lo! along the river's bed
A mighty eygre reared his crest,
    And uppe the Lindis raging sped.
It swept with thunderous noises loud;
Shaped like a curling snow-white cloud,
Or like a demon in a shroud.

And rearing Lindis backward pressed
    Shook all her trembling bankes amaine;
Then madly at the eygre's breast
    Flung uppe her weltering walls again.
Then bankes came downe with ruin and rout—
Then beaten foam flew round about—
Then all the mighty floods were out.

So farre, so fast the eygre drave,
    The heart had hardly time to beat,
Before a shallow seething wave
    Sobbed in the grasses at oure feet;
The feet had hardly time to flee
Before it brake against the knee,
And all the world was in the sea.

Upon the roofe we sate that night,
    The noise of bells went sweeping by
I marked the lofty beacon light
    Stream from the church tower, red and high—
A lurid mark and dread to see;
And awsome bells they were to mee,
That in the dark rang 'Enderby.'

They rang the sailor lads to guide
    From roofe to roofe who fearless rowed;
And I—my sonne was at my side,
    And yet the ruddy beacon glowed;
And yet he moaned beneath his breath,
O come in life, or come in death!
O lost! my love, Elizabeth.'

And didst thou visit him no more?
    Thou didst, thou didst, my daughter deare;
The waters laid thee at his doore,
    Ere yet the early dawn was clear
Thy pretty bairns in fast embrace,
The lifted sun shone on thy face,
Downe drifted to thy dwelling-place.

That flow strewed wrecks about the grass,
    That ebbe swept out the flocks to sea;
A fatal ebbe and flow, alas!
    To manye more than myne and mee:
But each will mourn his own (she saith).
And sweeter woman ne'er drew breath
Than my sonne's wife, Elizabeth.


I shall never hear her more
By the reedy Lindis shore,
'Cusha!   Cusha!   Cusha!' calling,
Ere the early dews be falling;
I shall never hear her song,
'Cusha!   Cusha!' all along
Where the sunny Lindis floweth,
            Goeth, floweth ;
From the meads where melick groweth,
When the water winding down,
Onward floweth to the town.

I shall never see her more
Where the reeds and rushes quiver,
            Shiver, quiver;
Stand beside the sobbing river,
Sobbing, throbbing, in its falling
To the sandy lonesome shore;
I shall never hear her calling,
Leave your meadow grasses mellow,
            Mellow, mellow;
Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow;
Come uppe Whitefoot, come uppe Lightfoot;
Quit your pipes of parsley hollow,
            Hollow, hollow;
Come uppe Lightfoot, rise and follow;
            Lightfoot, Whitefoot,
From your clovers lift the head;
Come uppe Jetty, follow, follow,
Jetty, to the milking shed.



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