This etext was prepared from the 1919 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com.
TIME'S LAUGHINGSTOCKS AND OTHER VERSES
by Thomas Hardy
Preface TIME'S LAUGHINGSTOCKS - The Revisitation A Trampwoman's Tragedy The Two Rosalinds A Sunday Morning Tragedy The House of Hospitalities Bereft John and Jane The Curate's Kindness The Flirt's Tragedy The Rejected Member's Wife The Farm-Woman's Winter Autumn in King's Hintock Park Shut out that Moon Reminiscences of a Dancing Man The Dead Man Walking MORE LOVE LYRICS - 1967 Her Definition The Division On the Departure Platform In a Cathedral City "I say I'll seek Her" Her Father At Waking Four Footprints In the Vaulted Way In the Mind's Eye The End of the Episode The Sigh "In the Night She Came" The Conformers The Dawn after the Dance The Sun on the Letter The Night of the Dance Misconception The Voice of the Thorn From Her in the Country Her Confession To an Impersonator of Rosalind To an Actress The Minute before Meeting He abjures Love A SET OF COUNTRY SONGS - Let me Enjoy At Casterbridge Fair: I. The Ballad-Singer II. Former Beauties III. After the Club Dance IV. The Market-Girl V. The Inquiry VI. A Wife Waits VII. After the Fair The Dark-eyed Gentleman To Carrey Clavel The Orphaned Old Maid The Spring Call Julie-Jane News for Her Mother The Fiddler The Husband's View Rose-Ann The Homecoming PIECES OCCASIONAL AND VARIOUS - A Church Romance The Rash Bride The Dead Quire The Christening A Dream Question By the Barrows A Wife and Another The Roman Road The Vampirine Fair The Reminder The Rambler Night in the Old Home After the Last Breath In Childbed The Pine Planters The Dear One We Knew She Hears the Storm A Wet Night Before Life and After New Year's Eve God's Education To Sincerity Panthera The Unborn The Man He Killed Geographical Knowledge One Ralph Blossom Soliloquizes The Noble Lady's Tale Unrealized Wagtail and Baby Aberdeen: 1905 George Meredith, 1828-1909 Yell'ham-wood's Story A Young Man's Epigram on Existence
In collecting the following poems I have to thank the editors and proprietors of the periodicals in which certain of them have appeared for permission to reclaim them.
Now that the miscellany is brought together, some lack of concord in pieces written at widely severed dates, and in contrasting moods and circumstances, will be obvious enough. This I cannot help, but the sense of disconnection, particularly in respect of those lyrics penned in the first person, will be immaterial when it is borne in mind that they are to be regarded, in the main, as dramatic monologues by different characters.
As a whole they will, I hope, take the reader forward, even if not far, rather than backward. I should add that some lines in the early-dated poems have been rewritten, though they have been left substantially unchanged.
T. H. September 1909.
As I lay awake at night-time In an ancient country barrack known to ancient cannoneers, And recalled the hopes that heralded each seeming brave and bright time Of my primal purple years,
Much it haunted me that, nigh there, I had borne my bitterest loss—when One who went, came not again; In a joyless hour of discord, in a joyless-hued July there - A July just such as then.
And as thus I brooded longer, With my faint eyes on the feeble square of wan-lit window frame, A quick conviction sprung within me, grew, and grew yet stronger, That the month-night was the same,
Too, as that which saw her leave me On the rugged ridge of Waterstone, the peewits plaining round; And a lapsing twenty years had ruled that—as it were to grieve me - I should near the once-loved ground.
Though but now a war-worn stranger Chance had quartered here, I rose up and descended to the yard. All was soundless, save the troopers' horses tossing at the manger, And the sentry keeping guard.
Through the gateway I betook me Down the High Street and beyond the lamps, across the battered bridge, Till the country darkness clasped me and the friendly shine forsook me, And I bore towards the Ridge,
With a dim unowned emotion Saying softly: "Small my reason, now at midnight, to be here . . . Yet a sleepless swain of fifty with a brief romantic notion May retrace a track so dear."
Thus I walked with thoughts half-uttered Up the lane I knew so well, the grey, gaunt, lonely Lane of Slyre; And at whiles behind me, far at sea, a sullen thunder muttered As I mounted high and higher.
Till, the upper roadway quitting, I adventured on the open drouthy downland thinly grassed, While the spry white scuts of conies flashed before me, earthward flitting, And an arid wind went past.
Round about me bulged the barrows As before, in antique silence—immemorial funeral piles - Where the sleek herds trampled daily the remains of flint-tipt arrows Mid the thyme and chamomiles;
And the Sarsen stone there, dateless, On whose breast we had sat and told the zephyrs many a tender vow, Held the heat of yester sun, as sank thereon one fated mateless From those far fond hours till now.
Maybe flustered by my presence Rose the peewits, just as all those years back, wailing soft and loud, And revealing their pale pinions like a fitful phosphorescence Up against the cope of cloud,
Where their dolesome exclamations Seemed the voicings of the self-same throats I had heard when life was green, Though since that day uncounted frail forgotten generations Of their kind had flecked the scene. -
And so, living long and longer In a past that lived no more, my eyes discerned there, suddenly, That a figure broke the skyline—first in vague contour, then stronger, And was crossing near to me.
Some long-missed familiar gesture, Something wonted, struck me in the figure's pause to list and heed, Till I fancied from its handling of its loosely wrapping vesture That it might be She indeed.
'Twas not reasonless: below there In the vale, had been her home; the nook might hold her even yet, And the downlands were her father's fief; she still might come and go there; - So I rose, and said, "Agnette!"
With a little leap, half-frightened, She withdrew some steps; then letting intuition smother fear In a place so long-accustomed, and as one whom thought enlightened, She replied: "What—THAT voice?—here!"
"Yes, Agnette!—And did the occasion Of our marching hither make you think I MIGHT walk where we two—' "O, I often come," she murmured with a moment's coy evasion, "('Tis not far),—and—think of you."
Then I took her hand, and led her To the ancient people's stone whereon I had sat. There now sat we; And together talked, until the first reluctant shyness fled her, And she spoke confidingly.
"It is JUST as ere we parted!" Said she, brimming high with joy.—"And when, then, came you here, and why?" "—Dear, I could not sleep for thinking of our trystings when twin-hearted." She responded, "Nor could I.
"There are few things I would rather Than be wandering at this spirit-hour—lone-lived, my kindred dead - On this wold of well-known feature I inherit from my father: Night or day, I have no dread . . .
"O I wonder, wonder whether Any heartstring bore a signal-thrill between us twain or no? - Some such influence can, at times, they say, draw severed souls together." I said, "Dear, we'll dream it so."
Each one's hand the other's grasping, And a mutual forgiveness won, we sank to silent thought, A large content in us that seemed our rended lives reclasping, And contracting years to nought.
Till I, maybe overweary From the lateness, and a wayfaring so full of strain and stress For one no longer buoyant, to a peak so steep and eery, Sank to slow unconsciousness . . .
How long I slept I knew not, But the brief warm summer night had slid when, to my swift surprise, A red upedging sun, of glory chambered mortals view not, Was blazing on my eyes,
From the Milton Woods to Dole-Hill All the spacious landscape lighting, and around about my feet Flinging tall thin tapering shadows from the meanest mound and mole-hill, And on trails the ewes had beat.
She was sitting still beside me, Dozing likewise; and I turned to her, to take her hanging hand; When, the more regarding, that which like a spectre shook and tried me In her image then I scanned;
That which Time's transforming chisel Had been tooling night and day for twenty years, and tooled too well, In its rendering of crease where curve was, where was raven, grizzle - Pits, where peonies once did dwell.
She had wakened, and perceiving (I surmise) my sigh and shock, my quite involuntary dismay, Up she started, and—her wasted figure all throughout it heaving - Said, "Ah, yes: I am THUS by day!
"Can you really wince and wonder That the sunlight should reveal you such a thing of skin and bone, As if unaware a Death's-head must of need lie not far under Flesh whose years out-count your own?
"Yes: that movement was a warning Of the worth of man's devotion!—Yes, Sir, I am OLD," said she, "And the thing which should increase love turns it quickly into scorning - And your new-won heart from me!"
Then she went, ere I could call her, With the too proud temper ruling that had parted us before, And I saw her form descend the slopes, and smaller grow and smaller, Till I caught its course no more . . .
True; I might have dogged her downward; - But it MAY be (though I know not) that this trick on us of Time Disconcerted and confused me.—Soon I bent my footsteps townward, Like to one who had watched a crime.
Well I knew my native weakness, Well I know it still. I cherished her reproach like physic-wine, For I saw in that emaciate shape of bitterness and bleakness A nobler soul than mine.
Did I not return, then, ever? - Did we meet again?—mend all?—Alas, what greyhead perseveres! - Soon I got the Route elsewhither.—Since that hour I have seen her never: Love is lame at fifty years.
A TRAMPWOMAN'S TRAGEDY (182-)
From Wynyard's Gap the livelong day, The livelong day, We beat afoot the northward way We had travelled times before. The sun-blaze burning on our backs, Our shoulders sticking to our packs, By fosseway, fields, and turnpike tracks We skirted sad Sedge-Moor.
Full twenty miles we jaunted on, We jaunted on, - My fancy-man, and jeering John, And Mother Lee, and I. And, as the sun drew down to west, We climbed the toilsome Poldon crest, And saw, of landskip sights the best, The inn that beamed thereby.
For months we had padded side by side, Ay, side by side Through the Great Forest, Blackmoor wide, And where the Parret ran. We'd faced the gusts on Mendip ridge, Had crossed the Yeo unhelped by bridge, Been stung by every Marshwood midge, I and my fancy-man.
Lone inns we loved, my man and I, My man and I; "King's Stag," "Windwhistle" high and dry, "The Horse" on Hintock Green, The cosy house at Wynyard's Gap, "The Hut" renowned on Bredy Knap, And many another wayside tap Where folk might sit unseen.
Now as we trudged—O deadly day, O deadly day! - I teased my fancy-man in play And wanton idleness. I walked alongside jeering John, I laid his hand my waist upon; I would not bend my glances on My lover's dark distress.
Thus Poldon top at last we won, At last we won, And gained the inn at sink of sun Far-famed as "Marshal's Elm." Beneath us figured tor and lea, From Mendip to the western sea - I doubt if finer sight there be Within this royal realm.
Inside the settle all a-row - All four a-row We sat, I next to John, to show That he had wooed and won. And then he took me on his knee, And swore it was his turn to be My favoured mate, and Mother Lee Passed to my former one.
Then in a voice I had never heard, I had never heard, My only Love to me: "One word, My lady, if you please! Whose is the child you are like to bear? - HIS? After all my months o' care?" God knows 'twas not! But, O despair! I nodded—still to tease.
Then up he sprung, and with his knife - And with his knife He let out jeering Johnny's life, Yes; there, at set of sun. The slant ray through the window nigh Gilded John's blood and glazing eye, Ere scarcely Mother Lee and I Knew that the deed was done.
The taverns tell the gloomy tale, The gloomy tale, How that at Ivel-chester jail My Love, my sweetheart swung; Though stained till now by no misdeed Save one horse ta'en in time o' need; (Blue Jimmy stole right many a steed Ere his last fling he flung.)
Thereaft I walked the world alone, Alone, alone! On his death-day I gave my groan And dropt his dead-born child. 'Twas nigh the jail, beneath a tree, None tending me; for Mother Lee Had died at Glaston, leaving me Unfriended on the wild.
And in the night as I lay weak, As I lay weak, The leaves a-falling on my cheek, The red moon low declined - The ghost of him I'd die to kiss Rose up and said: "Ah, tell me this! Was the child mine, or was it his? Speak, that I rest may find!"
O doubt not but I told him then, I told him then, That I had kept me from all men Since we joined lips and swore. Whereat he smiled, and thinned away As the wind stirred to call up day . . . - 'Tis past! And here alone I stray Haunting the Western Moor.
NOTES.—"Windwhistle" (Stanza iv.). The highness and dryness of Windwhistle Inn was impressed upon the writer two or three years ago, when, after climbing on a hot afternoon to the beautiful spot near which it stands and entering the inn for tea, he was informed by the landlady that none could be had, unless he would fetch water from a valley half a mile off, the house containing not a drop, owing to its situation. However, a tantalizing row of full barrels behind her back testified to a wetness of a certain sort, which was not at that time desired.
"Marshal's Elm" (Stanza vi.) so picturesquely situated, is no longer an inn, though the house, or part of it, still remains. It used to exhibit a fine old swinging sign.
"Blue Jimmy" (Stanza x.) was a notorious horse-stealer of Wessex in those days, who appropriated more than a hundred horses before he was caught, among others one belonging to a neighbour of the writer's grandfather. He was hanged at the now demolished Ivel-chester or Ilchester jail above mentioned—that building formerly of so many sinister associations in the minds of the local peasantry, and the continual haunt of fever, which at last led to its condemnation. Its site is now an innocent-looking green meadow.
THE TWO ROSALINDS
The dubious daylight ended, And I walked the Town alone, unminding whither bound and why, As from each gaunt street and gaping square a mist of light ascended And dispersed upon the sky.
Files of evanescent faces Passed each other without heeding, in their travail, teen, or joy, Some in void unvisioned listlessness inwrought with pallid traces Of keen penury's annoy.
Nebulous flames in crystal cages Leered as if with discontent at city movement, murk, and grime, And as waiting some procession of great ghosts from bygone ages To exalt the ignoble time.
In a colonnade high-lighted, By a thoroughfare where stern utilitarian traffic dinned, On a red and white emblazonment of players and parts, I sighted The name of "Rosalind,"
And her famous mates of "Arden," Who observed no stricter customs than "the seasons' difference" bade, Who lived with running brooks for books in Nature's wildwood garden, And called idleness their trade . . .
Now the poster stirred an ember Still remaining from my ardours of some forty years before, When the selfsame portal on an eve it thrilled me to remember A like announcement bore;
And expectantly I had entered, And had first beheld in human mould a Rosalind woo and plead, On whose transcendent figuring my speedy soul had centred As it had been she indeed . . .
So; all other plans discarding, I resolved on entrance, bent on seeing what I once had seen, And approached the gangway of my earlier knowledge, disregarding The tract of time between.
"The words, sir?" cried a creature Hovering mid the shine and shade as 'twixt the live world and the tomb; But the well-known numbers needed not for me a text or teacher To revive and re-illume.
Then the play . . . But how unfitted Was THIS Rosalind!—a mammet quite to me, in memories nurst, And with chilling disappointment soon I sought the street I had quitted, To re-ponder on the first.
The hag still hawked,—I met her Just without the colonnade. "So you don't like her, sir?" said she. "Ah—I was once that Rosalind!—I acted her—none better - Yes—in eighteen sixty-three.
"Thus I won Orlando to me In my then triumphant days when I had charm and maidenhood, Now some forty years ago.—I used to say, COME WOO ME, WOO ME!" And she struck the attitude.
It was when I had gone there nightly; And the voice—though raucous now—was yet the old one.—Clear as noon My Rosalind was here . . . Thereon the band withinside lightly Beat up a merry tune.
A SUNDAY MORNING TRAGEDY (circa 186-)
I bore a daughter flower-fair, In Pydel Vale, alas for me; I joyed to mother one so rare, But dead and gone I now would be.
Men looked and loved her as she grew, And she was won, alas for me; She told me nothing, but I knew, And saw that sorrow was to be.
I knew that one had made her thrall, A thrall to him, alas for me; And then, at last, she told me all, And wondered what her end would be.
She owned that she had loved too well, Had loved too well, unhappy she, And bore a secret time would tell, Though in her shroud she'd sooner be.
I plodded to her sweetheart's door In Pydel Vale, alas for me: I pleaded with him, pleaded sore, To save her from her misery.
He frowned, and swore he could not wed, Seven times he swore it could not be; "Poverty's worse than shame," he said, Till all my hope went out of me.
"I've packed my traps to sail the main" - Roughly he spake, alas did he - "Wessex beholds me not again, 'Tis worse than any jail would be!"
- There was a shepherd whom I knew, A subtle man, alas for me: I sought him all the pastures through, Though better I had ceased to be.
I traced him by his lantern light, And gave him hint, alas for me, Of how she found her in the plight That is so scorned in Christendie.
"Is there an herb . . . ?" I asked. "Or none?" Yes, thus I asked him desperately. "—There is," he said; "a certain one . . . " Would he had sworn that none knew he!
"To-morrow I will walk your way," He hinted low, alas for me. - Fieldwards I gazed throughout next day; Now fields I never more would see!
The sunset-shine, as curfew strook, As curfew strook beyond the lea, Lit his white smock and gleaming crook, While slowly he drew near to me.
He pulled from underneath his smock The herb I sought, my curse to be - "At times I use it in my flock," He said, and hope waxed strong in me.
"'Tis meant to balk ill-motherings" - (Ill-motherings! Why should they be?) - "If not, would God have sent such things?" So spoke the shepherd unto me.
That night I watched the poppling brew, With bended back and hand on knee: I stirred it till the dawnlight grew, And the wind whiffled wailfully.
"This scandal shall be slain," said I, "That lours upon her innocency: I'll give all whispering tongues the lie;" - But worse than whispers was to be.
"Here's physic for untimely fruit," I said to her, alas for me, Early that morn in fond salute; And in my grave I now would be.
- Next Sunday came, with sweet church chimes In Pydel Vale, alas for me: I went into her room betimes; No more may such a Sunday be!
"Mother, instead of rescue nigh," She faintly breathed, alas for me, "I feel as I were like to die, And underground soon, soon should be."
From church that noon the people walked In twos and threes, alas for me, Showed their new raiment—smiled and talked, Though sackcloth-clad I longed to be.
Came to my door her lover's friends, And cheerly cried, alas for me, "Right glad are we he makes amends, For never a sweeter bride can be."
My mouth dried, as 'twere scorched within, Dried at their words, alas for me: More and more neighbours crowded in, (O why should mothers ever be!)
"Ha-ha! Such well-kept news!" laughed they, Yes—so they laughed, alas for me. "Whose banns were called in church to-day?" - Christ, how I wished my soul could flee!
"Where is she? O the stealthy miss," Still bantered they, alas for me, "To keep a wedding close as this . . ." Ay, Fortune worked thus wantonly!
"But you are pale—you did not know?" They archly asked, alas for me, I stammered, "Yes—some days-ago," While coffined clay I wished to be.
"'Twas done to please her, we surmise?" (They spoke quite lightly in their glee) "Done by him as a fond surprise?" I thought their words would madden me.
Her lover entered. "Where's my bird? - My bird—my flower—my picotee? First time of asking, soon the third!" Ah, in my grave I well may be.
To me he whispered: "Since your call—" So spoke he then, alas for me - "I've felt for her, and righted all." - I think of it to agony.
"She's faint to-day—tired—nothing more—" Thus did I lie, alas for me . . . I called her at her chamber door As one who scarce had strength to be.
No voice replied. I went within - O women! scourged the worst are we . . . I shrieked. The others hastened in And saw the stroke there dealt on me.
There she lay—silent, breathless, dead, Stone dead she lay—wronged, sinless she! - Ghost-white the cheeks once rosy-red: Death had took her. Death took not me.
I kissed her colding face and hair, I kissed her corpse—the bride to be! - My punishment I cannot bear, But pray God NOT to pity me.
THE HOUSE OF HOSPITALITIES
Here we broached the Christmas barrel, Pushed up the charred log-ends; Here we sang the Christmas carol, And called in friends.
Time has tired me since we met here When the folk now dead were young, Since the viands were outset here And quaint songs sung.
And the worm has bored the viol That used to lead the tune, Rust eaten out the dial That struck night's noon.
Now no Christmas brings in neighbours, And the New Year comes unlit; Where we sang the mole now labours, And spiders knit.
Yet at midnight if here walking, When the moon sheets wall and tree, I see forms of old time talking, Who smile on me.
In the black winter morning No light will be struck near my eyes While the clock in the stairway is warning For five, when he used to rise. Leave the door unbarred, The clock unwound, Make my lone bed hard - Would 'twere underground!
When the summer dawns clearly, And the appletree-tops seem alight, Who will undraw the curtain and cheerly Call out that the morning is bright?
When I tarry at market No form will cross Durnover Lea In the gathering darkness, to hark at Grey's Bridge for the pit-pat o' me.
When the supper crock's steaming, And the time is the time of his tread, I shall sit by the fire and wait dreaming In a silence as of the dead. Leave the door unbarred, The clock unwound, Make my lone bed hard - Would 'twere underground!
JOHN AND JANE
He sees the world as a boisterous place Where all things bear a laughing face, And humorous scenes go hourly on, Does John.
They find the world a pleasant place Where all is ecstasy and grace, Where a light has risen that cannot wane, Do John and Jane.
They see as a palace their cottage-place, Containing a pearl of the human race, A hero, maybe, hereafter styled, Do John and Jane with a baby-child.
They rate the world as a gruesome place, Where fair looks fade to a skull's grimace, - As a pilgrimage they would fain get done - Do John and Jane with their worthless son.
THE CURATE'S KINDNESS A WORKHOUSE IRONY
I thought they'd be strangers aroun' me, But she's to be there! Let me jump out o' waggon and go back and drown me At Pummery or Ten-Hatches Weir.
I thought: "Well, I've come to the Union - The workhouse at last - After honest hard work all the week, and Communion O' Zundays, these fifty years past.
"'Tis hard; but," I thought, "never mind it: There's gain in the end: And when I get used to the place I shall find it A home, and may find there a friend.
"Life there will be better than t'other. For peace is assured. THE MEN IN ONE WING AND THEIR WIVES IN ANOTHER Is strictly the rule of the Board."
Just then one young Pa'son arriving Steps up out of breath To the side o' the waggon wherein we were driving To Union; and calls out and saith:
"Old folks, that harsh order is altered, Be not sick of heart! The Guardians they poohed and they pished and they paltered When urged not to keep you apart.
"'It is wrong,' I maintained, 'to divide them, Near forty years wed.' 'Very well, sir. We promise, then, they shall abide them In one wing together,' they said."
Then I sank—knew 'twas quite a foredone thing That misery should be To the end! . . . To get freed of her there was the one thing Had made the change welcome to me.
To go there was ending but badly; 'Twas shame and 'twas pain; "But anyhow," thought I, "thereby I shall gladly Get free of this forty years' chain."
I thought they'd be strangers aroun' me, But she's to be there! Let me jump out o' waggon and go back and drown me At Pummery or Ten-Hatches Weir.
THE FLIRT'S TRAGEDY (17—)
Here alone by the logs in my chamber, Deserted, decrepit - Spent flames limning ghosts on the wainscot Of friends I once knew -
My drama and hers begins weirdly Its dumb re-enactment, Each scene, sigh, and circumstance passing In spectral review.
- Wealth was mine beyond wish when I met her - The pride of the lowland - Embowered in Tintinhull Valley By laurel and yew;
And love lit my soul, notwithstanding My features' ill favour, Too obvious beside her perfections Of line and of hue.
But it pleased her to play on my passion, And whet me to pleadings That won from her mirthful negations And scornings undue.
Then I fled her disdains and derisions To cities of pleasure, And made me the crony of idlers In every purlieu.
Of those who lent ear to my story, A needy Adonis Gave hint how to grizzle her garden From roses to rue,
Could his price but be paid for so purging My scorner of scornings: Thus tempted, the lust to avenge me Germed inly and grew.
I clothed him in sumptuous apparel, Consigned to him coursers, Meet equipage, liveried attendants In full retinue.
So dowered, with letters of credit He wayfared to England, And spied out the manor she goddessed, And handy thereto,
Set to hire him a tenantless mansion As coign-stone of vantage For testing what gross adulation Of beauty could do.
He laboured through mornings and evens, On new moons and sabbaths, By wiles to enmesh her attention In park, path, and pew;
And having afar played upon her, Advanced his lines nearer, And boldly outleaping conventions, Bent briskly to woo.
His gay godlike face, his rare seeming Anon worked to win her, And later, at noontides and night-tides They held rendezvous.
His tarriance full spent, he departed And met me in Venice, And lines from her told that my jilter Was stooping to sue.
Not long could be further concealment, She pled to him humbly: "By our love and our sin, O protect me; I fly unto you!"
A mighty remorse overgat me, I heard her low anguish, And there in the gloom of the calle My steel ran him through.
A swift push engulphed his hot carrion Within the canal there - That still street of waters dividing The city in two.
- I wandered awhile all unable To smother my torment, My brain racked by yells as from Tophet Of Satan's whole crew.
A month of unrest brought me hovering At home in her precincts, To whose hiding-hole local story Afforded a clue.
Exposed, and expelled by her people, Afar off in London I found her alone, in a sombre And soul-stifling mew.
Still burning to make reparation I pleaded to wive her, And father her child, and thus faintly My mischief undo.
She yielded, and spells of calm weather Succeeded the tempest; And one sprung of him stood as scion Of my bone and thew . . .
But Time unveils sorrows and secrets, And so it befell now: By inches the curtain was twitched at, And slowly undrew.
As we lay, she and I, in the night-time, We heard the boy moaning: "O misery mine! My false father Has murdered my true!"
She gasped: yea, she heard; understood it. Next day the child fled us; And nevermore sighted was even A print of his shoe.
Thenceforward she shunned me, and languished; Till one day the park-pool Embraced her fair form, and extinguished Her eyes' living blue.
- So; ask not what blast may account for This aspect of pallor, These bones that just prison within them Life's poor residue;
But pass by, and leave unregarded A Cain to his suffering, For vengeance too dark on the woman Whose lover he slew.
THE REJECTED MEMBER'S WIFE
We shall see her no more On the balcony, Smiling, while hurt, at the roar As of surging sea From the stormy sturdy band Who have doomed her lord's cause, Though she waves her little hand As it were applause.
Here will be candidates yet, And candidates' wives, Fervid with zeal to set Their ideals on our lives: Here will come market-men On the market-days, Here will clash now and then More such party assays.
And the balcony will fill When such times are renewed, And the throng in the street will thrill With to-day's mettled mood; But she will no more stand In the sunshine there, With that wave of her white-gloved hand, And that chestnut hair.
THE FARM-WOMAN'S WINTER
If seasons all were summers, And leaves would never fall, And hopping casement-comers Were foodless not at all, And fragile folk might be here That white winds bid depart; Then one I used to see here Would warm my wasted heart!
One frail, who, bravely tilling Long hours in gripping gusts, Was mastered by their chilling, And now his ploughshare rusts. So savage winter catches The breath of limber things, And what I love he snatches, And what I love not, brings.
AUTUMN IN KING'S HINTOCK PARK
Here by the baring bough Raking up leaves, Often I ponder how Springtime deceives, - I, an old woman now, Raking up leaves.
Here in the avenue Raking up leaves, Lords' ladies pass in view, Until one heaves Sighs at life's russet hue, Raking up leaves!
Just as my shape you see Raking up leaves, I saw, when fresh and free, Those memory weaves Into grey ghosts by me, Raking up leaves.
Yet, Dear, though one may sigh, Raking up leaves, New leaves will dance on high - Earth never grieves! - Will not, when missed am I Raking up leaves.
SHUT OUT THAT MOON
Close up the casement, draw the blind, Shut out that stealing moon, She wears too much the guise she wore Before our lutes were strewn With years-deep dust, and names we read On a white stone were hewn.
Step not out on the dew-dashed lawn To view the Lady's Chair, Immense Orion's glittering form, The Less and Greater Bear: Stay in; to such sights we were drawn When faded ones were fair.
Brush not the bough for midnight scents That come forth lingeringly, And wake the same sweet sentiments They breathed to you and me When living seemed a laugh, and love All it was said to be.
Within the common lamp-lit room Prison my eyes and thought; Let dingy details crudely loom, Mechanic speech be wrought: Too fragrant was Life's early bloom, Too tart the fruit it brought!
REMINISCENCES OF A DANCING MAN
Who now remembers Almack's balls - Willis's sometime named - In those two smooth-floored upper halls For faded ones so famed? Where as we trod to trilling sound The fancied phantoms stood around, Or joined us in the maze, Of the powdered Dears from Georgian years, Whose dust lay in sightless sealed-up biers, The fairest of former days.
Who now remembers gay Cremorne, And all its jaunty jills, And those wild whirling figures born Of Jullien's grand quadrilles? With hats on head and morning coats There footed to his prancing notes Our partner-girls and we; And the gas-jets winked, and the lustres clinked, And the platform throbbed as with arms enlinked We moved to the minstrelsy.
Who now recalls those crowded rooms Of old yclept "The Argyle," Where to the deep Drum-polka's booms We hopped in standard style? Whither have danced those damsels now! Is Death the partner who doth moue Their wormy chaps and bare? Do their spectres spin like sparks within The smoky halls of the Prince of Sin To a thunderous Jullien air?
THE DEAD MAN WALKING
They hail me as one living, But don't they know That I have died of late years, Untombed although?
I am but a shape that stands here, A pulseless mould, A pale past picture, screening Ashes gone cold.
Not at a minute's warning, Not in a loud hour, For me ceased Time's enchantments In hall and bower.
There was no tragic transit, No catch of breath, When silent seasons inched me On to this death . . .
- A Troubadour-youth I rambled With Life for lyre, The beats of being raging In me like fire.
But when I practised eyeing The goal of men, It iced me, and I perished A little then.
When passed my friend, my kinsfolk Through the Last Door, And left me standing bleakly, I died yet more;
And when my Love's heart kindled In hate of me, Wherefore I knew not, died I One more degree.
And if when I died fully I cannot say, And changed into the corpse-thing I am to-day;
Yet is it that, though whiling The time somehow In walking, talking, smiling, I live not now.
MORE LOVE LYRICS
In five-score summers! All new eyes, New minds, new modes, new fools, new wise; New woes to weep, new joys to prize;
With nothing left of me and you In that live century's vivid view Beyond a pinch of dust or two;
A century which, if not sublime, Will show, I doubt not, at its prime, A scope above this blinkered time.
- Yet what to me how far above? For I would only ask thereof That thy worm should be my worm, Love!
16 WESTBOURNE PARK VILLAS, 1867.
I lingered through the night to break of day, Nor once did sleep extend a wing to me, Intently busied with a vast array Of epithets that should outfigure thee.
Full-featured terms—all fitless—hastened by, And this sole speech remained: "That maiden mine!" - Debarred from due description then did I Perceive the indefinite phrase could yet define.
As common chests encasing wares of price Are borne with tenderness through halls of state, For what they cover, so the poor device Of homely wording I could tolerate, Knowing its unadornment held as freight The sweetest image outside Paradise.
W. P. V., Summer 1866.
Rain on the windows, creaking doors, With blasts that besom the green, And I am here, and you are there, And a hundred miles between!
O were it but the weather, Dear, O were it but the miles That summed up all our severance, There might be room for smiles.
But that thwart thing betwixt us twain, Which nothing cleaves or clears, Is more than distance, Dear, or rain, And longer than the years!
ON THE DEPARTURE PLATFORM
We kissed at the barrier; and passing through She left me, and moment by moment got Smaller and smaller, until to my view She was but a spot;
A wee white spot of muslin fluff That down the diminishing platform bore Through hustling crowds of gentle and rough To the carriage door.
Under the lamplight's fitful glowers, Behind dark groups from far and near, Whose interests were apart from ours, She would disappear,
Then show again, till I ceased to see That flexible form, that nebulous white; And she who was more than my life to me Had vanished quite . . .
We have penned new plans since that fair fond day, And in season she will appear again - Perhaps in the same soft white array - But never as then!
- "And why, young man, must eternally fly A joy you'll repeat, if you love her well?" —O friend, nought happens twice thus; why, I cannot tell!
IN A CATHEDRAL CITY
These people have not heard your name; No loungers in this placid place Have helped to bruit your beauty's fame.
The grey Cathedral, towards whose face Bend eyes untold, has met not yours; Your shade has never swept its base,
Your form has never darked its doors, Nor have your faultless feet once thrown A pensive pit-pat on its floors.
Along the street to maids well known Blithe lovers hum their tender airs, But in your praise voice not a tone.
- Since nought bespeaks you here, or bears, As I, your imprint through and through, Here might I rest, till my heart shares The spot's unconsciousness of you!
"I SAY I'LL SEEK HER"
I say, "I'll seek her side Ere hindrance interposes;" But eve in midnight closes, And here I still abide.
When darkness wears I see Her sad eyes in a vision; They ask, "What indecision Detains you, Love, from me? -
"The creaking hinge is oiled, I have unbarred the backway, But you tread not the trackway; And shall the thing be spoiled?
"Far cockcrows echo shrill, The shadows are abating, And I am waiting, waiting; But O, you tarry still!"
I met her, as we had privily planned, Where passing feet beat busily: She whispered: "Father is at hand! He wished to walk with me."
His presence as he joined us there Banished our words of warmth away; We felt, with cloudings of despair, What Love must lose that day.
Her crimson lips remained unkissed, Our fingers kept no tender hold, His lack of feeling made the tryst Embarrassed, stiff, and cold.
A cynic ghost then rose and said, "But is his love for her so small That, nigh to yours, it may be read As of no worth at all?
"You love her for her pink and white; But what when their fresh splendours close? His love will last her in despite Of Time, and wrack, and foes."
When night was lifting, And dawn had crept under its shade, Amid cold clouds drifting Dead-white as a corpse outlaid, With a sudden scare I seemed to behold My Love in bare Hard lines unfold.
Yea, in a moment, An insight that would not die Killed her old endowment Of charm that had capped all nigh, Which vanished to none Like the gilt of a cloud, And showed her but one Of the common crowd.
She seemed but a sample Of earth's poor average kind, Lit up by no ample Enrichments of mien or mind. I covered my eyes As to cover the thought, And unrecognize What the morn had taught.
O vision appalling When the one believed-in thing Is seen falling, falling, With all to which hope can cling. Off: it is not true; For it cannot be That the prize I drew Is a blank to me!
Here are the tracks upon the sand Where stood last evening she and I - Pressed heart to heart and hand to hand; The morning sun has baked them dry.
I kissed her wet face—wet with rain, For arid grief had burnt up tears, While reached us as in sleeping pain The distant gurgling of the weirs.
"I have married him—yes; feel that ring; 'Tis a week ago that he put it on . . . A dutiful daughter does this thing, And resignation succeeds anon!
"But that I body and soul was yours Ere he'd possession, he'll never know. He's a confident man. 'The husband scores,' He says, 'in the long run' . . . Now, Dear, go!"
I went. And to-day I pass the spot; It is only a smart the more to endure; And she whom I held is as though she were not, For they have resumed their honeymoon tour.
IN THE VAULTED WAY
In the vaulted way, where the passage turned To the shadowy corner that none could see, You paused for our parting,—plaintively; Though overnight had come words that burned My fond frail happiness out of me.
And then I kissed you,—despite my thought That our spell must end when reflection came On what you had deemed me, whose one long aim Had been to serve you; that what I sought Lay not in a heart that could breathe such blame.
But yet I kissed you; whereon you again As of old kissed me. Why, why was it so? Do you cleave to me after that light-tongued blow? If you scorned me at eventide, how love then? The thing is dark, Dear. I do not know.
IN THE MIND'S EYE
That was once her casement, And the taper nigh, Shining from within there, Beckoned, "Here am I!"
Now, as then, I see her Moving at the pane; Ah; 'tis but her phantom Borne within my brain! -
Foremost in my vision Everywhere goes she; Change dissolves the landscapes, She abides with me.
Shape so sweet and shy, Dear, Who can say thee nay? Never once do I, Dear, Wish thy ghost away.
THE END OF THE EPISODE
Indulge no more may we In this sweet-bitter pastime: The love-light shines the last time Between you, Dear, and me.
There shall remain no trace Of what so closely tied us, And blank as ere love eyed us Will be our meeting-place.
The flowers and thymy air, Will they now miss our coming? The dumbles thin their humming To find we haunt not there?
Though fervent was our vow, Though ruddily ran our pleasure, Bliss has fulfilled its measure, And sees its sentence now.
Ache deep; but make no moans: Smile out; but stilly suffer: The paths of love are rougher Than thoroughfares of stones.
Little head against my shoulder, Shy at first, then somewhat bolder, And up-eyed; Till she, with a timid quaver, Yielded to the kiss I gave her; But, she sighed.
That there mingled with her feeling Some sad thought she was concealing It implied. - Not that she had ceased to love me, None on earth she set above me; But she sighed.
She could not disguise a passion, Dread, or doubt, in weakest fashion If she tried: Nothing seemed to hold us sundered, Hearts were victors; so I wondered Why she sighed.
Afterwards I knew her throughly, And she loved me staunchly, truly, Till she died; But she never made confession Why, at that first sweet concession, She had sighed.
It was in our May, remember; And though now I near November, And abide Till my appointed change, unfretting, Sometimes I sit half regretting That she sighed.
"IN THE NIGHT SHE CAME"
I told her when I left one day That whatsoever weight of care Might strain our love, Time's mere assault Would work no changes there. And in the night she came to me, Toothless, and wan, and old, With leaden concaves round her eyes, And wrinkles manifold.
I tremblingly exclaimed to her, "O wherefore do you ghost me thus! I have said that dull defacing Time Will bring no dreads to us." "And is that true of YOU?" she cried In voice of troubled tune. I faltered: "Well . . . I did not think You would test me quite so soon!"
She vanished with a curious smile, Which told me, plainlier than by word, That my staunch pledge could scarce beguile The fear she had averred. Her doubts then wrought their shape in me, And when next day I paid My due caress, we seemed to be Divided by some shade.
Yes; we'll wed, my little fay, And you shall write you mine, And in a villa chastely gray We'll house, and sleep, and dine. But those night-screened, divine, Stolen trysts of heretofore, We of choice ecstasies and fine Shall know no more.
The formal faced cohue Will then no more upbraid With smiting smiles and whisperings two Who have thrown less loves in shade. We shall no more evade The searching light of the sun, Our game of passion will be played, Our dreaming done.
We shall not go in stealth To rendezvous unknown, But friends will ask me of your health, And you about my own. When we abide alone, No leapings each to each, But syllables in frigid tone Of household speech.
When down to dust we glide Men will not say askance, As now: "How all the country side Rings with their mad romance!" But as they graveward glance Remark: "In them we lose A worthy pair, who helped advance Sound parish views."
THE DAWN AFTER THE DANCE
Here is your parents' dwelling with its curtained windows telling Of no thought of us within it or of our arrival here; Their slumbers have been normal after one day more of formal Matrimonial commonplace and household life's mechanic gear.
I would be candid willingly, but dawn draws on so chillingly As to render further cheerlessness intolerable now, So I will not stand endeavouring to declare a day for severing, But will clasp you just as always—just the olden love avow.
Through serene and surly weather we have walked the ways together, And this long night's dance this year's end eve now finishes the spell; Yet we dreamt us but beginning a sweet sempiternal spinning Of a cord we have spun to breaking—too intemperately, too well.
Yes; last night we danced I know, Dear, as we did that year ago, Dear, When a new strange bond between our days was formed, and felt, and heard; Would that dancing were the worst thing from the latest to the first thing That the faded year can charge us with; but what avails a word!
That which makes man's love the lighter and the woman's burn no brighter Came to pass with us inevitably while slipped the shortening year . . . And there stands your father's dwelling with its blind bleak windows telling That the vows of man and maid are frail as filmy gossamere.
THE SUN ON THE LETTER
I drew the letter out, while gleamed The sloping sun from under a roof Of cloud whose verge rose visibly.
The burning ball flung rays that seemed Stretched like a warp without a woof Across the levels of the lea
To where I stood, and where they beamed As brightly on the page of proof That she had shown her false to me
As if it had shown her true—had teemed With passionate thought for my behoof Expressed with their own ardency!
THE NIGHT OF THE DANCE
The cold moon hangs to the sky by its horn, And centres its gaze on me; The stars, like eyes in reverie, Their westering as for a while forborne, Quiz downward curiously.
Old Robert draws the backbrand in, The green logs steam and spit; The half-awakened sparrows flit From the riddled thatch; and owls begin To whoo from the gable-slit.
Yes; far and nigh things seem to know Sweet scenes are impending here; That all is prepared; that the hour is near For welcomes, fellowships, and flow Of sally, song, and cheer;
That spigots are pulled and viols strung; That soon will arise the sound Of measures trod to tunes renowned; That She will return in Love's low tongue My vows as we wheel around.
I busied myself to find a sure Snug hermitage That should preserve my Love secure From the world's rage; Where no unseemly saturnals, Or strident traffic-roars, Or hum of intervolved cabals Should echo at her doors.
I laboured that the diurnal spin Of vanities Should not contrive to suck her in By dark degrees, And cunningly operate to blur Sweet teachings I had begun; And then I went full-heart to her To expound the glad deeds done.
She looked at me, and said thereto With a pitying smile, "And THIS is what has busied you So long a while? O poor exhausted one, I see You have worn you old and thin For naught! Those moils you fear for me I find most pleasure in!"
THE VOICE OF THE THORN
When the thorn on the down Quivers naked and cold, And the mid-aged and old Pace the path there to town, In these words dry and drear It seems to them sighing: "O winter is trying To sojourners here!"
When it stands fully tressed On a hot summer day, And the ewes there astray Find its shade a sweet rest, By the breath of the breeze It inquires of each farer: "Who would not be sharer Of shadow with these?"
But by day or by night, And in winter or summer, Should I be the comer Along that lone height, In its voicing to me Only one speech is spoken: "Here once was nigh broken A heart, and by thee."
FROM HER IN THE COUNTRY
I thought and thought of thy crass clanging town To folly, till convinced such dreams were ill, I held my heart in bond, and tethered down Fancy to where I was, by force of will.
I said: How beautiful are these flowers, this wood, One little bud is far more sweet to me Than all man's urban shows; and then I stood Urging new zest for bird, and bush, and tree;
And strove to feel my nature brought it forth Of instinct, or no rural maid was I; But it was vain; for I could not see worth Enough around to charm a midge or fly,
And mused again on city din and sin, Longing to madness I might move therein!
16 W. P. V., 1866.
As some bland soul, to whom a debtor says "I'll now repay the amount I owe to you," In inward gladness feigns forgetfulness That such a payment ever was his due
(His long thought notwithstanding), so did I At our last meeting waive your proffered kiss With quick divergent talk of scenery nigh, By such suspension to enhance my bliss.
And as his looks in consternation fall When, gathering that the debt is lightly deemed, The debtor makes as not to pay at all, So faltered I, when your intention seemed
Converted by my false uneagerness To putting off for ever the caress.
W. P. V., 1865-67.
TO AN IMPERSONATOR OF ROSALIND
Did he who drew her in the years ago - Till now conceived creator of her grace - With telescopic sight high natures know, Discern remote in Time's untravelled space
Your soft sweet mien, your gestures, as do we, And with a copyist's hand but set them down, Glowing yet more to dream our ecstasy When his Original should be forthshown?
For, kindled by that animated eye, Whereto all fairnesses about thee brim, And by thy tender tones, what wight can fly The wild conviction welling up in him
That he at length beholds woo, parley, plead, The "very, very Rosalind" indeed!
8 ADELPHI TERRACE, 21st April 1867.
TO AN ACTRESS
I read your name when you were strange to me, Where it stood blazoned bold with many more; I passed it vacantly, and did not see Any great glory in the shape it wore.
O cruelty, the insight barred me then! Why did I not possess me with its sound, And in its cadence catch and catch again Your nature's essence floating therearound?
Could THAT man be this I, unknowing you, When now the knowing you is all of me, And the old world of then is now a new, And purpose no more what it used to be - A thing of formal journeywork, but due To springs that then were sealed up utterly?
THE MINUTE BEFORE MEETING
The grey gaunt days dividing us in twain Seemed hopeless hills my strength must faint to climb, But they are gone; and now I would detain The few clock-beats that part us; rein back Time,
And live in close expectance never closed In change for far expectance closed at last, So harshly has expectance been imposed On my long need while these slow blank months passed.
And knowing that what is now about to be Will all HAVE BEEN in O, so short a space! I read beyond it my despondency When more dividing months shall take its place, Thereby denying to this hour of grace A full-up measure of felicity.
HE ABJURES LOVE
At last I put off love, For twice ten years The daysman of my thought, And hope, and doing; Being ashamed thereof, And faint of fears And desolations, wrought In his pursuing,
Since first in youthtime those Disquietings That heart-enslavement brings To hale and hoary, Became my housefellows, And, fool and blind, I turned from kith and kind To give him glory.
I was as children be Who have no care; I did not shrink or sigh, I did not sicken; But lo, Love beckoned me, And I was bare, And poor, and starved, and dry, And fever-stricken.
Too many times ablaze With fatuous fires, Enkindled by his wiles To new embraces, Did I, by wilful ways And baseless ires, Return the anxious smiles Of friendly faces.
No more will now rate I The common rare, The midnight drizzle dew, The gray hour golden, The wind a yearning cry, The faulty fair, Things dreamt, of comelier hue Than things beholden! . . .
—I speak as one who plumbs Life's dim profound, One who at length can sound Clear views and certain. But—after love what comes? A scene that lours, A few sad vacant hours, And then, the Curtain.
A SET OF COUNTRY SONGS
LET ME ENJOY (MINOR KEY)
Let me enjoy the earth no less Because the all-enacting Might That fashioned forth its loveliness Had other aims than my delight.
About my path there flits a Fair, Who throws me not a word or sign; I'll charm me with her ignoring air, And laud the lips not meant for mine.
From manuscripts of moving song Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown I'll pour out raptures that belong To others, as they were my own.
And some day hence, towards Paradise, And all its blest—if such should be - I will lift glad, afar-off eyes, Though it contain no place for me.
AT CASTERBRIDGE FAIR
Sing, Ballad-singer, raise a hearty tune; Make me forget that there was ever a one I walked with in the meek light of the moon When the day's work was done.
Rhyme, Ballad-rhymer, start a country song; Make me forget that she whom I loved well Swore she would love me dearly, love me long, Then—what I cannot tell!
Sing, Ballad-singer, from your little book; Make me forget those heart-breaks, achings, fears; Make me forget her name, her sweet sweet look - Make me forget her tears.
These market-dames, mid-aged, with lips thin-drawn, And tissues sere, Are they the ones we loved in years agone, And courted here?
Are these the muslined pink young things to whom We vowed and swore In nooks on summer Sundays by the Froom, Or Budmouth shore?
Do they remember those gay tunes we trod Clasped on the green; Aye; trod till moonlight set on the beaten sod A satin sheen?
They must forget, forget! They cannot know What once they were, Or memory would transfigure them, and show Them always fair.
AFTER THE CLUB-DANCE
Black'on frowns east on Maidon, And westward to the sea, But on neither is his frown laden With scorn, as his frown on me!
At dawn my heart grew heavy, I could not sip the wine, I left the jocund bevy And that young man o' mine.
The roadside elms pass by me, - Why do I sink with shame When the birds a-perch there eye me? They, too, have done the same!
Nobody took any notice of her as she stood on the causey kerb, All eager to sell her honey and apples and bunches of garden herb; And if she had offered to give her wares and herself with them too that day, I doubt if a soul would have cared to take a bargain so choice away.
But chancing to trace her sunburnt grace that morning as I passed nigh, I went and I said "Poor maidy dear!—and will none of the people buy?" And so it began; and soon we knew what the end of it all must be, And I found that though no others had bid, a prize had been won by me.
And are ye one of Hermitage - Of Hermitage, by Ivel Road, And do ye know, in Hermitage A thatch-roofed house where sengreens grow? And does John Waywood live there still - He of the name that there abode When father hurdled on the hill Some fifteen years ago?
Does he now speak o' Patty Beech, The Patty Beech he used to—see, Or ask at all if Patty Beech Is known or heard of out this way? - Ask ever if she's living yet, And where her present home may be, And how she bears life's fag and fret After so long a day?
In years agone at Hermitage This faded face was counted fair, None fairer; and at Hermitage We swore to wed when he should thrive. But never a chance had he or I, And waiting made his wish outwear, And Time, that dooms man's love to die, Preserves a maid's alive.
A WIFE WAITS
Will's at the dance in the Club-room below, Where the tall liquor-cups foam; I on the pavement up here by the Bow, Wait, wait, to steady him home.
Will and his partner are treading a tune, Loving companions they be; Willy, before we were married in June, Said he loved no one but me;
Said he would let his old pleasures all go Ever to live with his Dear. Will's at the dance in the Club-room below, Shivering I wait for him here.
NOTE.—"The Bow" (line 3). The old name for the curved corner by the cross- streets in the middle of Casterbridge.
AFTER THE FAIR
The singers are gone from the Cornmarket-place With their broadsheets of rhymes, The street rings no longer in treble and bass With their skits on the times, And the Cross, lately thronged, is a dim naked space That but echoes the stammering chimes.
From Clock-corner steps, as each quarter ding-dongs, Away the folk roam By the "Hart" and Grey's Bridge into byways and "drongs," Or across the ridged loam; The younger ones shrilling the lately heard songs, The old saying, "Would we were home."
The shy-seeming maiden so mute in the fair Now rattles and talks, And that one who looked the most swaggering there Grows sad as she walks, And she who seemed eaten by cankering care In statuesque sturdiness stalks.
And midnight clears High Street of all but the ghosts Of its buried burghees, From the latest far back to those old Roman hosts Whose remains one yet sees, Who loved, laughed, and fought, hailed their friends, drank their toasts At their meeting-times here, just as these!
NOTE.—"The Chimes" (line 6) will be listened for in vain here at midnight now, having been abolished some years ago.
THE DARK-EYED GENTLEMAN
I pitched my day's leazings in Crimmercrock Lane, To tie up my garter and jog on again, When a dear dark-eyed gentleman passed there and said, In a way that made all o' me colour rose-red, "What do I see - O pretty knee!" And he came and he tied up my garter for me.
'Twixt sunset and moonrise it was, I can mind: Ah, 'tis easy to lose what we nevermore find! - Of the dear stranger's home, of his name, I knew nought, But I soon knew his nature and all that it brought. Then bitterly Sobbed I that he Should ever have tied up my garter for me!
Yet now I've beside me a fine lissom lad, And my slip's nigh forgot, and my days are not sad; My own dearest joy is he, comrade, and friend, He it is who safe-guards me, on him I depend; No sorrow brings he, And thankful I be That his daddy once tied up my garter for me!
NOTE.—"Leazings" (line 1).—Bundle of gleaned corn.
TO CARREY CLAVEL
You turn your back, you turn your back, And never your face to me, Alone you take your homeward track, And scorn my company.
What will you do when Charley's seen Dewbeating down this way? - You'll turn your back as now, you mean? Nay, Carrey Clavel, nay!
You'll see none's looking; put your lip Up like a tulip, so; And he will coll you, bend, and sip: Yes, Carrey, yes; I know!
THE ORPHANED OLD MAID
I wanted to marry, but father said, "No - 'Tis weakness in women to give themselves so; If you care for your freedom you'll listen to me, Make a spouse in your pocket, and let the men be."
I spake on't again and again: father cried, "Why—if you go husbanding, where shall I bide? For never a home's for me elsewhere than here!" And I yielded; for father had ever been dear.
But now father's gone, and I feel growing old, And I'm lonely and poor in this house on the wold, And my sweetheart that was found a partner elsewhere, And nobody flings me a thought or a care.
THE SPRING CALL
Down Wessex way, when spring's a-shine, The blackbird's "pret-ty de-urr!" In Wessex accents marked as mine Is heard afar and near.
He flutes it strong, as if in song No R's of feebler tone Than his appear in "pretty dear," Have blackbirds ever known.
Yet they pipe "prattie deerh!" I glean, Beneath a Scottish sky, And "pehty de-aw!" amid the treen Of Middlesex or nigh.
While some folk say—perhaps in play - Who know the Irish isle, 'Tis "purrity dare!" in treeland there When songsters would beguile.
Well: I'll say what the listening birds Say, hearing "pret-ty de-urr!" - However strangers sound such words, That's how we sound them here.
Yes, in this clime at pairing time, As soon as eyes can see her At dawn of day, the proper way To call is "pret-ty de-urr!"
Sing; how 'a would sing! How 'a would raise the tune When we rode in the waggon from harvesting By the light o' the moon!
Dance; how 'a would dance! If a fiddlestring did but sound She would hold out her coats, give a slanting glance, And go round and round.
Laugh; how 'a would laugh! Her peony lips would part As if none such a place for a lover to quaff At the deeps of a heart.
Julie, O girl of joy, Soon, soon that lover he came. Ah, yes; and gave thee a baby-boy, But never his name . . .
—Tolling for her, as you guess; And the baby too . . . 'Tis well. You knew her in maidhood likewise?—Yes, That's her burial bell.
"I suppose," with a laugh, she said, "I should blush that I'm not a wife; But how can it matter, so soon to be dead, What one does in life!"
When we sat making the mourning By her death-bed side, said she, "Dears, how can you keep from your lovers, adorning In honour of me!"
Bubbling and brightsome eyed! But now—O never again. She chose her bearers before she died From her fancy-men.
NOTE.—It is, or was, a common custom in Wessex, and probably other country places, to prepare the mourning beside the death-bed, the dying person sometimes assisting, who also selects his or her bearers on such occasions.
"Coats" (line 7).—Old name for petticoats.
NEWS FOR HER MOTHER
One mile more is Where your door is Mother mine! - Harvest's coming, Mills are strumming, Apples fine, And the cider made to-year will be as wine.
Yet, not viewing What's a-doing Here around Is it thrills me, And so fills me That I bound Like a ball or leaf or lamb along the ground.
Tremble not now At your lot now, Silly soul! Hosts have sped them Quick to wed them, Great and small, Since the first two sighing half-hearts made a whole.
Yet I wonder, Will it sunder Her from me? Will she guess that I said "Yes,"—that His I'd be, Ere I thought she might not see him as I see!
Old brown gable, Granary, stable, Here you are! O my mother, Can another Ever bar Mine from thy heart, make thy nearness seem afar?
The fiddler knows what's brewing To the lilt of his lyric wiles: The fiddler knows what rueing Will come of this night's smiles!
He sees couples join them for dancing, And afterwards joining for life, He sees them pay high for their prancing By a welter of wedded strife.
He twangs: "Music hails from the devil, Though vaunted to come from heaven, For it makes people do at a revel What multiplies sins by seven.
"There's many a heart now mangled, And waiting its time to go, Whose tendrils were first entangled By my sweet viol and bow!"
THE HUSBAND'S VIEW
"Can anything avail Beldame, for my hid grief? - Listen: I'll tell the tale, It may bring faint relief! -
"I came where I was not known, In hope to flee my sin; And walking forth alone A young man said, 'Good e'en.'
"In gentle voice and true He asked to marry me; 'You only—only you Fulfil my dream!' said he.
"We married o' Monday morn, In the month of hay and flowers; My cares were nigh forsworn, And perfect love was ours.
"But ere the days are long Untimely fruit will show; My Love keeps up his song, Undreaming it is so.
"And I awake in the night, And think of months gone by, And of that cause of flight Hidden from my Love's eye.
"Discovery borders near, And then! . . . But something stirred? - My husband—he is here! Heaven—has he overheard?" -
"Yes; I have heard, sweet Nan; I have known it all the time. I am not a particular man; Misfortunes are no crime:
"And what with our serious need Of sons for soldiering, That accident, indeed, To maids, is a useful thing!"
Why didn't you say you was promised, Rose-Ann? Why didn't you name it to me, Ere ever you tempted me hither, Rose-Ann, So often, so wearifully?
O why did you let me be near 'ee, Rose-Ann, Talking things about wedlock so free, And never by nod or by whisper, Rose-Ann, Give a hint that it wasn't to be?
Down home I was raising a flock of stock ewes, Cocks and hens, and wee chickens by scores, And lavendered linen all ready to use, A-dreaming that they would be yours.
Mother said: "She's a sport-making maiden, my son"; And a pretty sharp quarrel had we; O why do you prove by this wrong you have done That I saw not what mother could see?
Never once did you say you was promised, Rose-Ann, Never once did I dream it to be; And it cuts to the heart to be treated, Rose-Ann, As you in your scorning treat me!
Gruffly growled the wind on Toller downland broad and bare, And lonesome was the house, and dark; and few came there.
"Now don't ye rub your eyes so red; we're home and have no cares; Here's a skimmer-cake for supper, peckled onions, and some pears; I've got a little keg o' summat strong, too, under stairs: - What, slight your husband's victuals? Other brides can tackle theirs!"
The wind of winter mooed and mouthed their chimney like a horn, And round the house and past the house 'twas leafless and lorn.
"But my dear and tender poppet, then, how came ye to agree In Ivel church this morning? Sure, there-right you married me!" - "Hoo-hoo!—I don't know—I forgot how strange and far 'twould be, An' I wish I was at home again with dear daddee!"
Gruffly growled the wind on Toller downland broad and bare, And lonesome was the house and dark; and few came there.
"I didn't think such furniture as this was all you'd own, And great black beams for ceiling, and a floor o' wretched stone, And nasty pewter platters, horrid forks of steel and bone, And a monstrous crock in chimney. 'Twas to me quite unbeknown!"
Rattle rattle went the door; down flapped a cloud of smoke, As shifting north the wicked wind assayed a smarter stroke.
"Now sit ye by the fire, poppet; put yourself at ease: And keep your little thumb out of your mouth, dear, please! And I'll sing to 'ee a pretty song of lovely flowers and bees, And happy lovers taking walks within a grove o' trees."
Gruffly growled the wind on Toller Down, so bleak and bare, And lonesome was the house, and dark; and few came there.
"Now, don't ye gnaw your handkercher; 'twill hurt your little tongue, And if you do feel spitish, 'tis because ye are over young; But you'll be getting older, like us all, ere very long, And you'll see me as I am—a man who never did 'ee wrong."
Straight from Whit'sheet Hill to Benvill Lane the blusters pass, Hitting hedges, milestones, handposts, trees, and tufts of grass.
"Well, had I only known, my dear, that this was how you'd be, I'd have married her of riper years that was so fond of me. But since I can't, I've half a mind to run away to sea, And leave 'ee to go barefoot to your d-d daddee!"
Up one wall and down the other—past each window-pane - Prance the gusts, and then away down Crimmercrock's long lane.
"I—I—don't know what to say to't, since your wife I've vowed to be; And as 'tis done, I s'pose here I must bide —poor me! Aye—as you are ki-ki-kind, I'll try to live along with 'ee, Although I'd fain have stayed at home with dear daddee!"
Gruffly growled the wind on Toller Down, so bleak and bare, And lonesome was the house and dark; and few came there.
"That's right, my Heart! And though on haunted Toller Down we be, And the wind swears things in chimley, we'll to supper merrily! So don't ye tap your shoe so pettish-like; but smile at me, And ye'll soon forget to sock and sigh for dear daddee!"
PIECES OCCASIONAL AND VARIOUS
A CHURCH ROMANCE (MELLSTOCK circa 1835)
She turned in the high pew, until her sight Swept the west gallery, and caught its row Of music-men with viol, book, and bow Against the sinking sad tower-window light.
She turned again; and in her pride's despite One strenuous viol's inspirer seemed to throw A message from his string to her below, Which said: "I claim thee as my own forthright!"
Thus their hearts' bond began, in due time signed. And long years thence, when Age had scared Romance, At some old attitude of his or glance That gallery-scene would break upon her mind, With him as minstrel, ardent, young, and trim, Bowing "New Sabbath" or "Mount Ephraim."
THE RASH BRIDE AN EXPERIENCE OF THE MELLSTOCK QUIRE
We Christmas-carolled down the Vale, and up the Vale, and round the Vale, We played and sang that night as we were yearly wont to do - A carol in a minor key, a carol in the major D, Then at each house: "Good wishes: many Christmas joys to you!"
Next, to the widow's John and I and all the rest drew on. And I Discerned that John could hardly hold the tongue of him for joy. The widow was a sweet young thing whom John was bent on marrying, And quiring at her casement seemed romantic to the boy.
"She'll make reply, I trust," said he, "to our salute? She must!" said he, "And then I will accost her gently—much to her surprise! - For knowing not I am with you here, when I speak up and call her dear A tenderness will fill her voice, a bashfulness her eyes.
So, by her window-square we stood; ay, with our lanterns there we stood, And he along with us,—not singing, waiting for a sign; And when we'd quired her carols three a light was lit and out looked she, A shawl about her bedgown, and her colour red as wine.
And sweetly then she bowed her thanks, and smiled, and spoke aloud her thanks; When lo, behind her back there, in the room, a man appeared. I knew him—one from Woolcomb way—Giles Swetman—honest as the day, But eager, hasty; and I felt that some strange trouble neared.
"How comes he there? . . . Suppose," said we, "she's wed of late! Who knows?" said we. - "She married yester-morning—only mother yet has known The secret o't!" shrilled one small boy. "But now I've told, let's wish 'em joy!" A heavy fall aroused us: John had gone down like a stone.
We rushed to him and caught him round, and lifted him, and brought him round, When, hearing something wrong had happened, oped the window she: "Has one of you fallen ill?" she asked, "by these night labours overtasked?" None answered. That she'd done poor John a cruel turn felt we.
Till up spoke Michael: "Fie, young dame! You've broke your promise, sly young dame, By forming this new tie, young dame, and jilting John so true, Who trudged to-night to sing to 'ee because he thought he'd bring to 'ee Good wishes as your coming spouse. May ye such trifling rue!"
Her man had said no word at all; but being behind had heard it all, And now cried: "Neighbours, on my soul I knew not 'twas like this!" And then to her: "If I had known you'd had in tow not me alone, No wife should you have been of mine. It is a dear bought bliss!"
She changed death-white, and heaved a cry: we'd never heard so grieved a cry As came from her at this from him: heart-broken quite seemed she; And suddenly, as we looked on, she turned, and rushed; and she was gone, Whither, her husband, following after, knew not; nor knew we.
We searched till dawn about the house; within the house, without the house, We searched among the laurel boughs that grew beneath the wall, And then among the crocks and things, and stores for winter junketings, In linhay, loft, and dairy; but we found her not at all.
Then John rushed in: "O friends," he said, "hear this, this, this!" and bends his head: "I've—searched round by the—WELL, and find the cover open wide! I am fearful that—I can't say what . . . Bring lanterns, and some cords to knot." We did so, and we went and stood the deep dark hole beside.
And then they, ropes in hand, and I—ay, John, and all the band, and I Let down a lantern to the depths—some hundred feet and more; It glimmered like a fog-dimmed star; and there, beside its light, afar, White drapery floated, and we knew the meaning that it bore.
The rest is naught . . . We buried her o' Sunday. Neighbours carried her; And Swetman—he who'd married her—now miserablest of men, Walked mourning first; and then walked John; just quivering, but composed anon; And we the quire formed round the grave, as was the custom then.
Our old bass player, as I recall—his white hair blown—but why recall! - His viol upstrapped, bent figure—doomed to follow her full soon - Stood bowing, pale and tremulous; and next to him the rest of us . . . We sang the Ninetieth Psalm to her—set to Saint Stephen's tune.
THE DEAD QUIRE
Beside the Mead of Memories, Where Church-way mounts to Moaning Hill, The sad man sighed his phantasies: He seems to sigh them still.
"'Twas the Birth-tide Eve, and the hamleteers Made merry with ancient Mellstock zest, But the Mellstock quire of former years Had entered into rest.
"Old Dewy lay by the gaunt yew tree, And Reuben and Michael a pace behind, And Bowman with his family By the wall that the ivies bind.
"The singers had followed one by one, Treble, and tenor, and thorough-bass; And the worm that wasteth had begun To mine their mouldering place.
"For two-score years, ere Christ-day light, Mellstock had throbbed to strains from these; But now there echoed on the night No Christmas harmonies.
"Three meadows off, at a dormered inn, The youth had gathered in high carouse, And, ranged on settles, some therein Had drunk them to a drowse.
"Loud, lively, reckless, some had grown, Each dandling on his jigging knee Eliza, Dolly, Nance, or Joan - Livers in levity.
"The taper flames and hearthfire shine Grew smoke-hazed to a lurid light, And songs on subjects not divine Were warbled forth that night.
"Yet many were sons and grandsons here Of those who, on such eves gone by, At that still hour had throated clear Their anthems to the sky.
"The clock belled midnight; and ere long One shouted, 'Now 'tis Christmas morn; Here's to our women old and young, And to John Barleycorn!'
"They drink the toast and shout again: The pewter-ware rings back the boom, And for a breath-while follows then A silence in the room.
"When nigh without, as in old days, The ancient quire of voice and string Seemed singing words of prayer and praise As they had used to sing:
"'While shepherds watch'd their flocks by night,' - Thus swells the long familiar sound In many a quaint symphonic flight - To, 'Glory shone around.'
"The sons defined their fathers' tones, The widow his whom she had wed, And others in the minor moans The viols of the dead.
"Something supernal has the sound As verse by verse the strain proceeds, And stilly staring on the ground Each roysterer holds and heeds.
"Towards its chorded closing bar Plaintively, thinly, waned the hymn, Yet lingered, like the notes afar Of banded seraphim.
"With brows abashed, and reverent tread, The hearkeners sought the tavern door: But nothing, save wan moonlight, spread The empty highway o'er.
"While on their hearing fixed and tense The aerial music seemed to sink, As it were gently moving thence Along the river brink.
"Then did the Quick pursue the Dead By crystal Froom that crinkles there; And still the viewless quire ahead Voiced the old holy air.
"By Bank-walk wicket, brightly bleached, It passed, and 'twixt the hedges twain, Dogged by the living; till it reached The bottom of Church Lane.
"There, at the turning, it was heard Drawing to where the churchyard lay: But when they followed thitherward It smalled, and died away.
"Each headstone of the quire, each mound, Confronted them beneath the moon; But no more floated therearound That ancient Birth-night tune.
"There Dewy lay by the gaunt yew tree, There Reuben and Michael, a pace behind, And Bowman with his family By the wall that the ivies bind . . .
"As from a dream each sobered son Awoke, and musing reached his door: 'Twas said that of them all, not one Sat in a tavern more."
- The sad man ceased; and ceased to heed His listener, and crossed the leaze From Moaning Hill towards the mead - The Mead of Memories.
Whose child is this they bring Into the aisle? - At so superb a thing The congregation smile And turn their heads awhile.
Its eyes are blue and bright, Its cheeks like rose; Its simple robes unite Whitest of calicoes With lawn, and satin bows.
A pride in the human race At this paragon Of mortals, lights each face While the old rite goes on; But ah, they are shocked anon.
What girl is she who peeps From the gallery stair, Smiles palely, redly weeps, With feverish furtive air As though not fitly there?
"I am the baby's mother; This gem of the race The decent fain would smother, And for my deep disgrace I am bidden to leave the place."
"Where is the baby's father?" - "In the woods afar. He says there is none he'd rather Meet under moon or star Than me, of all that are.
"To clasp me in lovelike weather, Wish fixing when, He says: To be together At will, just now and then, Makes him the blest of men;
"But chained and doomed for life To slovening As vulgar man and wife, He says, is another thing: Yea: sweet Love's sepulchring!"
A DREAM QUESTION
"It shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine." Micah iii. 6.
I asked the Lord: "Sire, is this true Which hosts of theologians hold, That when we creatures censure you For shaping griefs and ails untold (Deeming them punishments undue) You rage, as Moses wrote of old?
When we exclaim: 'Beneficent He is not, for he orders pain, Or, if so, not omnipotent: To a mere child the thing is plain!' Those who profess to represent You, cry out: 'Impious and profane!'"
He: "Save me from my friends, who deem That I care what my creatures say! Mouth as you list: sneer, rail, blaspheme, O manikin, the livelong day, Not one grief-groan or pleasure-gleam Will you increase or take away.
"Why things are thus, whoso derides, May well remain my secret still . . . A fourth dimension, say the guides, To matter is conceivable. Think some such mystery resides Within the ethic of my will."
BY THE BARROWS
Not far from Mellstock—so tradition saith - Where barrows, bulging as they bosoms were Of Multimammia stretched supinely there, Catch night and noon the tempest's wanton breath,
A battle, desperate doubtless unto death, Was one time fought. The outlook, lone and bare, The towering hawk and passing raven share, And all the upland round is called "The He'th."
Here once a woman, in our modern age, Fought singlehandedly to shield a child - One not her own—from a man's senseless rage. And to my mind no patriots' bones there piled So consecrate the silence as her deed Of stoic and devoted self-unheed.
A WIFE AND ANOTHER
"War ends, and he's returning Early; yea, The evening next to-morrow's!" - —This I say To her, whom I suspiciously survey,
Holding my husband's letter To her view. - She glanced at it but lightly, And I knew That one from him that day had reached her too.
There was no time for scruple; Secretly I filched her missive, conned it, Learnt that he Would lodge with her ere he came home to me.
To reach the port before her, And, unscanned, There wait to intercept them Soon I planned: That, in her stead, I might before him stand.
So purposed, so effected; At the inn Assigned, I found her hidden:- O that sin Should bear what she bore when I entered in!
Her heavy lids grew laden With despairs, Her lips made soundless movements Unawares, While I peered at the chamber hired as theirs.
And as beside its doorway, Deadly hued, One inside, one withoutside We two stood, He came—my husband—as she knew he would.
No pleasurable triumph Was that sight! The ghastly disappointment Broke them quite. What love was theirs, to move them with such might!
"Madam, forgive me!" said she, Sorrow bent, "A child—I soon shall bear him . . . Yes—I meant To tell you—that he won me ere he went."
Then, as it were, within me Something snapped, As if my soul had largened: Conscience-capped, I saw myself the snarer—them the trapped.
"My hate dies, and I promise, Grace-beguiled," I said, "to care for you, be Reconciled; And cherish, and take interest in the child."
Without more words I pressed him Through the door Within which she stood, powerless To say more, And closed it on them, and downstairward bore.
"He joins his wife—my sister," I, below, Remarked in going—lightly - Even as though All had come right, and we had arranged it so . . .
As I, my road retracing, Left them free, The night alone embracing Childless me, I held I had not stirred God wrothfully.
THE ROMAN ROAD
The Roman Road runs straight and bare As the pale parting-line in hair Across the heath. And thoughtful men Contrast its days of Now and Then, And delve, and measure, and compare;
Visioning on the vacant air Helmed legionaries, who proudly rear The Eagle, as they pace again The Roman Road.
But no tall brass-helmed legionnaire Haunts it for me. Uprises there A mother's form upon my ken, Guiding my infant steps, as when We walked that ancient thoroughfare, The Roman Road.
THE VAMPIRINE FAIR
Gilbert had sailed to India's shore, And I was all alone: My lord came in at my open door And said, "O fairest one!"
He leant upon the slant bureau, And sighed, "I am sick for thee!" "My lord," said I, "pray speak not so, Since wedded wife I be."
Leaning upon the slant bureau, Bitter his next words came: "So much I know; and likewise know My love burns on the same!
"But since you thrust my love away, And since it knows no cure, I must live out as best I may The ache that I endure."
When Michaelmas browned the nether Coomb, And Wingreen Hill above, And made the hollyhocks rags of bloom, My lord grew ill of love.
My lord grew ill with love for me; Gilbert was far from port; And—so it was—that time did see Me housed at Manor Court.
About the bowers of Manor Court The primrose pushed its head When, on a day at last, report Arrived of him I had wed.
"Gilbert, my lord, is homeward bound, His sloop is drawing near, What shall I do when I am found Not in his house but here?"
"O I will heal the injuries I've done to him and thee. I'll give him means to live at ease Afar from Shastonb'ry."
When Gilbert came we both took thought: "Since comfort and good cheer," Said he, "So readily are bought, He's welcome to thee, Dear."
So when my lord flung liberally His gold in Gilbert's hands, I coaxed and got my brothers three Made stewards of his lands.
And then I coaxed him to install My other kith and kin, With aim to benefit them all Before his love ran thin.
And next I craved to be possessed Of plate and jewels rare. He groaned: "You give me, Love, no rest, Take all the law will spare!"
And so in course of years my wealth Became a goodly hoard, My steward brethren, too, by stealth Had each a fortune stored.
Thereafter in the gloom he'd walk, And by and by began To say aloud in absent talk, "I am a ruined man! -
"I hardly could have thought," he said, "When first I looked on thee, That one so soft, so rosy red, Could thus have beggared me!"
Seeing his fair estates in pawn, And him in such decline, I knew that his domain had gone To lift up me and mine.
Next month upon a Sunday morn A gunshot sounded nigh: By his own hand my lordly born Had doomed himself to die.
"Live, my dear lord, and much of thine Shall be restored to thee!" He smiled, and said 'twixt word and sign, "Alas—that cannot be!"
And while I searched his cabinet For letters, keys, or will, 'Twas touching that his gaze was set With love upon me still.
And when I burnt each document Before his dying eyes, 'Twas sweet that he did not resent My fear of compromise.
The steeple-cock gleamed golden when I watched his spirit go: And I became repentant then That I had wrecked him so.
Three weeks at least had come and gone, With many a saddened word, Before I wrote to Gilbert on The stroke that so had stirred.
And having worn a mournful gown, I joined, in decent while, My husband at a dashing town To live in dashing style.
Yet though I now enjoy my fling, And dine and dance and drive, I'd give my prettiest emerald ring To see my lord alive.
And when the meet on hunting-days Is near his churchyard home, I leave my bantering beaux to place A flower upon his tomb;
And sometimes say: "Perhaps too late The saints in Heaven deplore That tender time when, moved by Fate, He darked my cottage door."
While I watch the Christmas blaze Paint the room with ruddy rays, Something makes my vision glide To the frosty scene outside.
There, to reach a rotting berry, Toils a thrush,—constrained to very Dregs of food by sharp distress, Taking such with thankfulness.
Why, O starving bird, when I One day's joy would justify, And put misery out of view, Do you make me notice you!
I do not see the hills around, Nor mark the tints the copses wear; I do not note the grassy ground And constellated daisies there.
I hear not the contralto note Of cuckoos hid on either hand, The whirr that shakes the nighthawk's throat When eve's brown awning hoods the land.
Some say each songster, tree, and mead - All eloquent of love divine - Receives their constant careful heed: Such keen appraisement is not mine.
The tones around me that I hear, The aspects, meanings, shapes I see, Are those far back ones missed when near, And now perceived too late by me!
NIGHT IN THE OLD HOME
When the wasting embers redden the chimney-breast, And Life's bare pathway looms like a desert track to me, And from hall and parlour the living have gone to their rest, My perished people who housed them here come back to me.
They come and seat them around in their mouldy places, Now and then bending towards me a glance of wistfulness, A strange upbraiding smile upon all their faces, And in the bearing of each a passive tristfulness.
"Do you uphold me, lingering and languishing here, A pale late plant of your once strong stock?" I say to them; "A thinker of crooked thoughts upon Life in the sere, And on That which consigns men to night after showing the day to them?"
"—O let be the Wherefore! We fevered our years not thus: Take of Life what it grants, without question!" they answer me seemingly. "Enjoy, suffer, wait: spread the table here freely like us, And, satisfied, placid, unfretting, watch Time away beamingly!"
AFTER THE LAST BREATH (J. H. 1813-1904)
There's no more to be done, or feared, or hoped; None now need watch, speak low, and list, and tire; No irksome crease outsmoothed, no pillow sloped Does she require.
Blankly we gaze. We are free to go or stay; Our morrow's anxious plans have missed their aim; Whether we leave to-night or wait till day Counts as the same.
The lettered vessels of medicaments Seem asking wherefore we have set them here; Each palliative its silly face presents As useless gear.
And yet we feel that something savours well; We note a numb relief withheld before; Our well-beloved is prisoner in the cell Of Time no more.
We see by littles now the deft achievement Whereby she has escaped the Wrongers all, In view of which our momentary bereavement Outshapes but small.
In the middle of the night Mother's spirit came and spoke to me, Looking weariful and white - As 'twere untimely news she broke to me.
"O my daughter, joyed are you To own the weetless child you mother there; 'Men may search the wide world through,' You think, 'nor find so fair another there!'
"Dear, this midnight time unwombs Thousands just as rare and beautiful; Thousands whom High Heaven foredooms To be as bright, as good, as dutiful.
"Source of ecstatic hopes and fears And innocent maternal vanity, Your fond exploit but shapes for tears New thoroughfares in sad humanity.
"Yet as you dream, so dreamt I When Life stretched forth its morning ray to me; Other views for by and by!" . . . Such strange things did mother say to me.
THE PINE PLANTERS (MARTY SOUTH'S REVERIE)
We work here together In blast and breeze; He fills the earth in, I hold the trees.
He does not notice That what I do Keeps me from moving And chills me through.
He has seen one fairer I feel by his eye, Which skims me as though I were not by.
And since she passed here He scarce has known But that the woodland Holds him alone.
I have worked here with him Since morning shine, He busy with his thoughts And I with mine.
I have helped him so many, So many days, But never win any Small word of praise!
Shall I not sigh to him That I work on Glad to be nigh to him Though hope is gone?
Nay, though he never Knew love like mine, I'll bear it ever And make no sign!
From the bundle at hand here I take each tree, And set it to stand, here Always to be; When, in a second, As if from fear Of Life unreckoned Beginning here, It starts a sighing Through day and night, Though while there lying 'Twas voiceless quite.
It will sigh in the morning, Will sigh at noon, At the winter's warning, In wafts of June; Grieving that never Kind Fate decreed It should for ever Remain a seed, And shun the welter Of things without, Unneeding shelter From storm and drought.
Thus, all unknowing For whom or what We set it growing In this bleak spot, It still will grieve here Throughout its time, Unable to leave here, Or change its clime; Or tell the story Of us to-day When, halt and hoary, We pass away.
I plodded to Fairmile Hill-top, where A maiden one fain would guard From every hazard and every care Advanced on the roadside sward.
I wondered how succeeding suns Would shape her wayfarings, And wished some Power might take such ones Under Its warding wings.
The busy breeze came up the hill And smartened her cheek to red, And frizzled her hair to a haze. With a will "Good-morning, my Dear!" I said.
She glanced from me to the far-off gray, And, with proud severity, "Good-morning to you—though I may say I am not YOUR Dear," quoth she:
"For I am the Dear of one not here - One far from his native land!" - And she passed me by; and I did not try To make her understand.
ONE WE KNEW (M. H. 1772-1857)
She told how they used to form for the country dances - "The Triumph," "The New-rigged Ship" - To the light of the guttering wax in the panelled manses, And in cots to the blink of a dip.
She spoke of the wild "poussetting" and "allemanding" On carpet, on oak, and on sod; And the two long rows of ladies and gentlemen standing, And the figures the couples trod.
She showed us the spot where the maypole was yearly planted, And where the bandsmen stood While breeched and kerchiefed partners whirled, and panted To choose each other for good.
She told of that far-back day when they learnt astounded Of the death of the King of France: Of the Terror; and then of Bonaparte's unbounded Ambition and arrogance.
Of how his threats woke warlike preparations Along the southern strand, And how each night brought tremors and trepidations Lest morning should see him land.
She said she had often heard the gibbet creaking As it swayed in the lightning flash, Had caught from the neighbouring town a small child's shrieking At the cart-tail under the lash . . .
With cap-framed face and long gaze into the embers - We seated around her knees - She would dwell on such dead themes, not as one who remembers, But rather as one who sees.
She seemed one left behind of a band gone distant So far that no tongue could hail: Past things retold were to her as things existent, Things present but as a tale.
May 20, 1902.
SHE HEARS THE STORM
There was a time in former years - While my roof-tree was his - When I should have been distressed by fears At such a night as this!
I should have murmured anxiously, "The pricking rain strikes cold; His road is bare of hedge or tree, And he is getting old."
But now the fitful chimney-roar, The drone of Thorncombe trees, The Froom in flood upon the moor, The mud of Mellstock Leaze,
The candle slanting sooty wick'd, The thuds upon the thatch, The eaves-drops on the window flicked, The clacking garden-hatch,
And what they mean to wayfarers, I scarcely heed or mind; He has won that storm-tight roof of hers Which Earth grants all her kind.
A WET NIGHT
I pace along, the rain-shafts riddling me, Mile after mile out by the moorland way, And up the hill, and through the ewe-leaze gray Into the lane, and round the corner tree;
Where, as my clothing clams me, mire-bestarred, And the enfeebled light dies out of day, Leaving the liquid shades to reign, I say, "This is a hardship to be calendared!"
Yet sires of mine now perished and forgot, When worse beset, ere roads were shapen here, And night and storm were foes indeed to fear, Times numberless have trudged across this spot In sturdy muteness on their strenuous lot, And taking all such toils as trifles mere.
BEFORE LIFE AND AFTER
A time there was—as one may guess And as, indeed, earth's testimonies tell - Before the birth of consciousness, When all went well.
None suffered sickness, love, or loss, None knew regret, starved hope, or heart-burnings; None cared whatever crash or cross Brought wrack to things.
If something ceased, no tongue bewailed, If something winced and waned, no heart was wrung; If brightness dimmed, and dark prevailed, No sense was stung.
But the disease of feeling germed, And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong; Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed How long, how long?
NEW YEAR'S EVE
"I have finished another year," said God, "In grey, green, white, and brown; I have strewn the leaf upon the sod, Sealed up the worm within the clod, And let the last sun down."
"And what's the good of it?" I said. "What reasons made you call From formless void this earth we tread, When nine-and-ninety can be read Why nought should be at all?
"Yea, Sire; why shaped you us, 'who in This tabernacle groan' - If ever a joy be found herein, Such joy no man had wished to win If he had never known!"
Then he: "My labours—logicless - You may explain; not I: Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess That I evolved a Consciousness To ask for reasons why.
"Strange that ephemeral creatures who By my own ordering are, Should see the shortness of my view, Use ethic tests I never knew, Or made provision for!"
He sank to raptness as of yore, And opening New Year's Day Wove it by rote as theretofore, And went on working evermore In his unweeting way.
I saw him steal the light away That haunted in her eye: It went so gently none could say More than that it was there one day And missing by-and-by.
I watched her longer, and he stole Her lily tincts and rose; All her young sprightliness of soul Next fell beneath his cold control, And disappeared like those.
I asked: "Why do you serve her so? Do you, for some glad day, Hoard these her sweets—?" He said, "O no, They charm not me; I bid Time throw Them carelessly away."
Said I: "We call that cruelty - We, your poor mortal kind." He mused. "The thought is new to me. Forsooth, though I men's master be, Theirs is the teaching mind!"
O sweet sincerity! - Where modern methods be What scope for thine and thee?
Life may be sad past saying, Its greens for ever graying, Its faiths to dust decaying;
And youth may have foreknown it, And riper seasons shown it, But custom cries: "Disown it:
"Say ye rejoice, though grieving, Believe, while unbelieving, Behold, without perceiving!"
- Yet, would men look at true things, And unilluded view things, And count to bear undue things,
The real might mend the seeming, Facts better their foredeeming, And Life its disesteeming.
(For other forms of this legend—first met with in the second century—see Origen contra Celsum; the Talmud; Sepher Toldoth Jeschu; quoted fragments of lost Apocryphal gospels; Strauss, Haeckel; etc.)
Yea, as I sit here, crutched, and cricked, and bent, I think of Panthera, who underwent Much from insidious aches in his decline; But his aches were not radical like mine; They were the twinges of old wounds—the feel Of the hand he had lost, shorn by barbarian steel, Which came back, so he said, at a change in the air, Fingers and all, as if it still were there. My pains are otherwise: upclosing cramps And stiffened tendons from this country's damps, Where Panthera was never commandant. - The Fates sent him by way of the Levant. He had been blithe in his young manhood's time, And as centurion carried well his prime. In Ethiop, Araby, climes fair and fell, He had seen service and had borne him well. Nought shook him then: he was serene as brave; Yet later knew some shocks, and would grow grave When pondering them; shocks less of corporal kind Than phantom-like, that disarranged his mind; And it was in the way of warning me (By much his junior) against levity That he recounted them; and one in chief Panthera loved to set in bold relief.
This was a tragedy of his Eastern days, Personal in touch—though I have sometimes thought That touch a possible delusion—wrought Of half-conviction carried to a craze - His mind at last being stressed by ails and age:- Yet his good faith thereon I well could wage.
I had said it long had been a wish with me That I might leave a scion—some small tree As channel for my sap, if not my name - Ay, offspring even of no legitimate claim, In whose advance I secretly could joy. Thereat he warned. "Cancel such wishes, boy! A son may be a comfort or a curse, A seer, a doer, a coward, a fool; yea, worse - A criminal . . . That I could testify!" "Panthera has no guilty son!" cried I All unbelieving. "Friend, you do not know," He darkly dropt: "True, I've none now to show, For THE LAW TOOK HIM. Ay, in sooth, Jove shaped it so!"
"This noon is not unlike," he again began, "The noon these pricking memories print on me - Yea, that day, when the sun grew copper-red, And I served in Judaea . . . 'Twas a date Of rest for arms. The Pax Romana ruled, To the chagrin of frontier legionaries! Palestine was annexed—though sullen yet, - I, being in age some two-score years and ten And having the garrison in Jerusalem Part in my hands as acting officer Under the Governor. A tedious time I found it, of routine, amid a folk Restless, contentless, and irascible. - Quelling some riot, sentrying court and hall, Sending men forth on public meeting-days To maintain order, were my duties there.