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THE VILLAGE WIFE'S LAMENT

POETICAL WORKS OF MAURICE HEWLETT

A Masque of Dead Florentines
Pan and the Young Shepherd: a pastoral
Artemision
The Agonists: a trilogy
Helen Redeemed and other Poems
Gai Saber: Tales and Songs
The Song of the Plow
Peridore and Paravail
The Village Wife's Lament




THE VILLAGE WIFE'S LAMENT

BY

MAURICE HEWLETT



LONDON

MARTIN SECKER
LONDON: MARTIN SECKER (LTD) 1918




I


i

O what is this you've done to me,
Or what have I done,
That bare should be our fair roof-tree,
And I all alone?
'Tis worse than widow I become
More than desolate,
To face a worse than empty home
Without child or mate.

'Twas not my strife askt him his life
When it was but begun,
Nor mine, I was a new-made wife
And now I am none;
Nor mine that many a sapless ghost
Wails in sorrow-fare -
But this does cost my pride the most,
That bloodshedding to share.

Image of streaming eyes, tear-gleaming,
Of women foiled and defeat,
I am like Christ shockt out of dreaming,
Showing His hands and feet;
Showing His feet and hands to God,
Saying, "Are these in vain?
For men I have trod the sorrowful road,
And by them I am slain."

Seeing I have a breast in common,
I must share in that shame,
Since from the womb of some poor woman
Each evil one came -
Every hot and blundering thought,
Every hag-rid will,
And every haut king pride-distraught
That drove men out to kill.

A woman's womb did fashion him,
Her bosom was his nurse,
And many women's eyes are dim
To see their sons a curse.
Had I the wit some women have
To one such I would say,
"Think you this love the good Lord gave
Is yours to take away?"

O Hand divine that for a sign
Didst bend the rose-red bow,
Betokening wrath was no more Thine
With man's Cain-branded brow -
What now, O Lord, shouldst Thou accord
To such a shameful brood?
A bow as crimson as the sword
Which men have soakt in blood.


ii

I cannot see the grass
Or feel the wind blowing,
But I think of brother and brother
And hot blood flowing.

The whole world akin,
And I, an alien,
Walk branded with the sin
And the blood-guilt of men.

And often I cry
In my sharp distress,
It were better to die
Than know such bitterness.


iii

The Lord of Life He did ordain
How this world should run,
That Love should call thro' joy and pain
Two natures to be one;
Now jags across the high God's plan
Division like a scar,
For this is true, that He made man,
But man made war.

Had men the dower of teeth and claws
And not a grace beside them?
Were they given wit to know the laws
And hard hearts to outride them?
What drove them turn the sweet green earth
Into a puddle of blood?
What drove them drown our simple mirth
In salt tear-flood?

Has man been lifted up erect,
A lord of life and death,
His world's elect, and his brow deckt
With murder for a wreath?
What shall be done with such an one,
And whither he be hurl'd?
The Lord let crucify His Son -
Who gibbetted His world?


iv

Be it Pole Star or Southern Cross
That shelters me or you,
The same things are gain and loss,
And the same things true:
The home-love, the mother-love,
The old, old things;
The lad's love of maiden's love
That gives a man wings,

And makes a maid stand still, afraid
Lest it were all a dream
That he do think himself apaid
If she be all to him.
The arching earth has no more worth
Than this, to love, to wed,
To serve the hearth, to bring to birth,
To win your children's bread.


v

The bee pills nothing for himself,
Loading with gold his thigh,
The martin twittering, at his shelf,
Glancing from the sky
Not greedy ease make slaves of these;
Nor yet endures the cow,
Her failing knees and agonies
For price of joy I vow.

A call above the spell of love,
A crying and a need
To make two one, the fruit whereof
To nurture and to feed;
To brood, to hoard, to spend as rain
Virtue and tears and blood;
To get that you may give amain -
Of such is parenthood.


vi

I chose a heart out of a hundred
To nest my own heart in;
To have that plunder'd, and two hearts sunder'd -
Who had heart for the sin?
What woman's son that saw but one
Such sanctuary waste
Could set his lips like ironstone
And raven broadcast?

What harm did we to any man
That now I must moan?
We did but follow Nature's plan
And cleave to our own;
For Life it teaches you but this:
Seek you each other;
Rise up from your clasp and kiss,
A father and a mother.

O piety of hand and knee,
Of lips and bow'd head!
O ye who see a soul set free -
Free, when the heart is dead!
There is no rest but in the grave;
Thither my wasted eyes
Turn for the only home they have,
Where my true love lies.

There alongside his clay-cold corse
I pray that mine may rest;
I'll warm him with my lover's force
And feed him at my breast:
I'll nurse him as I nurst his child,
The child he never saw,
The stricken child that never smil'd.
And scarce my milk could draw.

Poor girls, whose argument's the same
For seeking or denying,
Who kiss to shield yourselves from blame,
And kiss for justifying;
How am I better now or worse,
Beguiler or beguiled,
Who crave to nurse a clay-cold corse,
And kiss a dead child?


vii

O I was shap't in comeliness,
My face was fashion'd fair,
My breath was sweet, I used to bless
The treasure of my hair;
A many prais'd my body's grace,
And follow'd with the eye
My faring in the village ways,
And I knew why.

Love came my way, fire-flusht and gay,
Where I did stand:
"This is the day your pride to lay
Under a true man's hand."
I bow'd my head to hear it said
In words of long ago;
For ever since the world was made
Our lot was order'd so.

And I was bred in pious bed,
Brought up to be good:
Respect yourself, my mother said,
And rule your own mood.
Fend for yourself while you're a may,
And keep your own counsel,
And pick at what the neighbours say
As a bird picks at groundsel.

But Love said Nay to Watch and Pray
When the birds were singing,
And taught my heart a roundelay
Like the bells a-ringing;
And so blindfast I ran and cast
My treasure on the gale -
Would the storm-blast had snapt the mast
Before I fared to sail!




II


i

Now that the Lord has open'd me
The evil with the good,
I am as one wise suddenly
Who never understood.
I see the shaping of my days
From the beginning,
When, a young child, I walkt the ways
And knew nought of sinning.

I see how Nature ripen'd me
Under sun and shower,
As she ripens herb and tree
To bud and to flower.
As she ripens herb and tree
Unto flowering shoot,
So it was she ripen'd me
That I might fruit.

I see - alas, how should I not,
With all joy behind? -
How that in love I was begot
And for love design'd.
Consentient, my mother lent,
Blessing, who had been blest,
That fount unspent, my nourishment,
Which after swell'd my breast.


ii

I learned at home the laws of Earth:
The nest-law that says,
Stray not too far beyond the hearth,
Keep truth always;
And then the law of sip and bite:
Work, that there may be some
For you who crowd the board this night,
And the one that is to come.

The laws are so for bird and beast,
And so we must live:
They give the most who have the least,
And gain of what they give.
For working women 'tis the luck,
A child on the lap;
And when a crust he learn to suck,
Another's for the pap.


iii

I know 'tis true, the laws of Life
Are holy to the poor:
Cleave you to her who is your wife,
Trust you in her store;
Eat you with sweat your self-won meat,
Labour the stubborn sod,
And that your heat may quicken it,
Wait still upon God.

Hallow with praise the wheeling days
Until the cord goes slack,
Until the very heartstring frays,
Until the stiffening back
Can ply no more; keep then the door,
And, thankful in the sun,
Watch you the same unending war
Ontaken by your son.


iv

Who is to know how she does grow
Or how shapes her mind?
The seasons flow, not fast or slow,
We cannot lag behind.
The long winds blow, a tree lies low
That was an old friend:
The winter snow, the summer's glow -
Shall these things have an end?

When I was young I used to think
I should not taste of death;
And now I faint to reach the brink,
And grudge my every breath
That streameth to the utter air
Leaving me to my tears
And outlook bare, with eyes astare
Upon the creeping years.


v

That little old house that seems to stoop
Yellow under thatch,
Like a three-sided chicken-coop,
Where, if you watch,
You'll see the starlings go and come
All a spring morn -
Half of that is my old home
Where I was born.

One half a little old cottage
The five of us had,
Five tall sisters in a cage
With our Mother and Dad.
Alice she was the eldest one,
Then Mary, and then me,
And then Fanny, and little Joan,
The last-born was she.

Never a boy that liv'd to grow
Did our mother carry;
She us'd to wonder how she'd do
With five great girls to marry.
But once I heard her say to Dad,
A chain of pretty girls
Made out her neck the comelier clad
Than diamonds or pearls.


vi

How we did do on Father's money
Is more than I can tell:
There was the money from the honey,
And Mother's work as well;
For she did work with no more rest
Than the buzzing bees,
And the sight I knew and lov'd the best
Was Mother on her knees.

When we were fed and clean for school,
Out Mother goes,
Rinsing, rubbing, her hands full
Of other people's clothes.
If there's one thought above another
Sets my heart singing,
It's thinking of my little sweet Mother,
Her arms full of linen.

And yet she rul'd her house and all
Us girls within it;
There was no meal but we could fall
To it at the minute;
Thing there was none, said, thought or done,
But she must know it,
Nor any errand to be run
But she made us go it.

She with her anxious, watchful glance,
Blue under her glasses,
Was meat and drink and providence
To us five lasses.
Out she fetcht from hidden stores
White frocks for Sundays,
And always nice clean pinafores
Against school, Mondays.

She and Dad were little people,
But most of us were tall,
And I shot up like Chichester steeple;
Fan, she was small.
You never saw a kinder face
Or met with bluer eyes:
If ever there was a kissing-case
On her mouth it lies.


vii

When I was old enough for skipping
My school days began;
By Mary's side you'd see me tripping -
I was baby then.
A B C and One-two-three
Were just so much Greek;
But I could read, it seems to me,
As soon as I could speak.

Before I knew how fast I grew
I was the tallest there;
Before my time was two-thirds thro'
I must plait my hair;
Before our Alice took a place
And walkt beside her fancy,
I had on my first pair of stays
And saw myself Miss Nancy.

And then goodbye to form and desk
And sudden floods of noise
When fifteen minutes' fun and frisk
Make happy girls and boys.
As shrill as swifts in upper air
Was our young shrillness:
'Twas joy of life, 'twas strength to fare
Broke the morning stillness.

I see us flit, as here I sit
With wet-fring'd eyes,
And never rime or reason to it -
Like a maze of flies!
The boys would jump and catch your shoulder
Just for the fun of it -
They tease you worse as you grow older
Because you want none of it.

I hear them call their saucy names -
Mine was Maypole Nance;
I see our windy bickering games,
Half like a dance;
The opening and closing ring
Of pinafored girls,
And the wind that makes the cheek to sting
Blowing back their curls!

There in the midst is Sally Waters,
As it might be I,
With the idle song of Sons and Daughters
Drifting out and by
Sons and daughters! Break, break,
Heart, if you can -
How have they taught us treat sons and daughters
Since I began?


viii

There is a bank that always gets
The noon sun full;
There we'd hunt for violets
After morning school.
White and blue we hunted them
In the moss, and gave them,
Dropping-tir'd and short in stem,
To Mother. She must have them.

Primrose-mornings in the copse,
Autumn berrying
Where the dew for ever stops,
And the serrying,
Clinging shrouds of gossamers
Glue your eyes together;
Gleaning after harvesters
In the mild blue weather -

Life so full of bud and blossom,
Fallen like a tree!
Who gave me a woman's bosom -
And who has robb'd me?




III


i

When from the folds the shepherd comes
At the shut of day,
The fires are lit in valley homes,
The smoke blue and grey -
So still, so still! - hangs o'er the thatch;
So still the night falls,
My love might know me at the latch
By my heart-calls.

And hear you me, my love, this night
Where Grief and I are set?
And look you for the beacon light,
And can you see it yet?
Or is the sod too deep, my love,
Which they piled over you?
Or are you bound in sleep, my love,
Lying in the dew?


ii

When I was done with schooling days,
Turn'd sixteen,
My mother found me in a place
My own bread to win.
I had not been a month in place,
A month from the start,
When there show'd grace upon my face
That smote a man's heart.

Tho' I was young and full of play,
As full as a kitten,
I knew to reckon to a day
When his heart was smitten.
You'll pick my logic all to holes,
But here's my wonder:
It is that God should knit two souls,
And men tear them asunder.

For we were knit, no doubt of it,
I as well as he;
I peered in glass, my eyes were lit
After he'd lookt at me.
I knew not why my heart was glad,
Or why it leapt, but so 'tis,
The sharpest, sweetest pang I've had
Was when he took notice.

And 'tis not favour makes a lad
To a girl's mind,
But 'tis himself makes good of bad,
Or her stone-blind.
And men may cheer at tales of wars,
But every girl knows
What makes her eyes to shine like stars
And her face a rose.


iii

No word he said, but turned his head
After he'd lookt at me;
I coloured up a burning red,
Setting the cloth for tea.
The board was spread with cakes and bread
For farmer in his sleeves,
For mistress and the shepherd Ted;
They talkt of hogs and theaves -

But nothing ate I where I sat,
So bashful as I was,
But kept my eyes upon my plate
And pray'd the minutes pass.
Tic-toc, tic-toc from great old clock,
The long hand did creep;
And every stroke in my heart woke
Nature out of her sleep.

So once, they tell, did Gabriel
Name a young Maid
For honour and a miracle,
And few words she said;
But things have changed a wondrous deal
Since she was nam'd,
If to her room she did not steal
As if she were asham'd;

And there upon her bed to sit
Astare, as I guess,
Watching her fingers weave and knit,
Bedded in her dress,
A-thinking thoughts in her young mind
Too wild for tears to gain,
As when the roaring North-West wind
Gives no time to the rain.


iv

Give thanks, you maids, that there's your work
To keep your heart and head
From thoughts that lurk in them who shirk
Their daily round to tread.
But she goes bold who feels the hold
And colour of her love
Laid on her task like water-gold
From the lit sky above.


v

I rose with early morning light,
The meadows grey with rime,
To set the kitchen fire, and dight
The room for breakfast-time;
Or make the beds, or rinse and scour,
And all the while
A singing heart, a face aflower,
And secret smile.

So 'twas with me week in, week out,
And no more to be said;
A moment's look, a hint of doubt,
A half-turn of the head.
I had my hands as full as full,
And full of work was he -
But I learn'd in another school
After he'd lookt at me.


vi

In summer time of flowers and bees
And flies on the pane,
Before the sun could gild the trees
Or set afire the vane,
Down I must go upon my knees,
Or ply the showering mop;
Then feed the chicken, ducks and geese,
And milk the last drop.

On winter mornings dark and hard,
White from aching bed,
There were the huddled fowls in yard
All to be fed.
My frozen breath stream'd from my lips,
The cows were hid in steam;
I lost sense of my finger-tips
And milkt in a dream.

My drowsy cheek fast to her side,
The pail below my arm,
My thought leapt what might me betide,
And soon I was warm.
For that gave me a beating heart
And made me hot thro',
As when you reckon, with a start,
Someone speaks of you.


vii

And all my years of farm-service
There was no dismay,
But men and maids knew nought amiss
With their work or play;
But grew amain like tree or beast,
Labouring out their lives
Till sap and milk fill'd spine and breast,
And ripen'd men and wives.

What call had we to think of war,
We growing things?
What need had we to reckon o'er
Misdoubts or threatenings?
A soldier-lad in his red coat
Show'd up then as he past
Like a lamplighted fishing-boat
Lonely in the vast.

An aeroplane in middle sky
Might bring us to our doors,
To see her like a dragon-fly
Droning as she soars.
Long before you see her come
You can hear her throbbing,
Far, far away like a distant drum,
Near, like a thresher sobbing.

Ah, in those days of wonderment,
Wonder and delight,
No thought we spent what murder meant,
Horror in the night;
Or how a hidden dreadful plan
Like a fingering weed
Was growing up in the mind of man
From a fungus-seed!




IV


i

Out of the clear how shrewdly blows
The North-West wind!
Free as he goes, how brave he shows,
The sun seems blind!
The shadows fleet upon the grass
Where the kestrels hover -
What leagues of sorrow they must pass
Before they shroud my lover!

Half-naked now, confronting cold,
The tall trees shiver,
Each with its pool of pallid gold
Draining down to the river.
'Tis now when fret of winter wet
Warns the year she is old,
And she casts robe and coronet,
That I would loosen hold.


ii

Our lives creep on to change at last,
And change is sudden coming;
Rooted you see yourself and fast,
And then be sent roaming.
When I was come to twenty years,
Home for a spell,
Mother she brought a flush of tears
With what she had to tell.

There was a fine new place for me
Forty miles away -
And where my dream of what might be
One fine day?
The farmer's wife she kiss'd me kindly
When I was paid;
But Ted and I said Goodbye blindly,
And no more said.

No word between us of the thought
That fill'd four years,
No fond look caught by eyes well taught,
Tho' thick with tears!
'Twas Goodbye, Nance, and Goodbye, Ted,
And just a clasp of the hand:
Maybe I'll write, he might have said
For me to understand.

But poor people have need to work
Whether merry or sad,
Whatever groping thought do lurk,
Whatever dreams they've had!
I went my way and he kept his,
I to the county town,
He in a row of cottages
Below the hump-backt down.


iii

A town-bred girl, her hair in curl
And apron edged with lace,
She took me in, my head awhirl,
To my new place.
And there the five of us must hive
In that warm shutter'd house,
And keep our honesty alive
With none to counsel us.

The master and the mistresses,
What were they but strangers?
'Twas no part of their businesses
To think of servants' dangers.
They sneer at us, and we at them,
Life sunders where the stairs are:
But are the things that they condemn
In us much worse than theirs are?


iv

'Twas busy now I had to be,
And keep myself neat,
Dress in my new black gown by tea,
And streamer'd cap to it.
The brisk young men were plenty enough,
And talk about them plenty
Among us maids! No other stuff
Contents the tongue at twenty.

But Mother's words came back to me,
Told when I was little:
Mind you, the tongue's your only key,
And what it guards is brittle.
Love is the best; let go the rest,
But hold him by the wing
Until he's plumaged for the test -
Then let him soar and sing.

I took no harm of all their talk -
All talkt the same -
Tho' more than one askt me to walk
When my Sunday came;
But I held fast the dream I'd had
In the old farm,
And saw myself beside my lad,
My hand on his arm.


v

A year went on, and twenty-one
Saw me discarded.
They laught at me for constancy
Ne'er to be rewarded.
Then came a warm, still day of May
And brought me a letter.
I blusht so red, the cook she said,
Lucky man to get her!

At half-past three he came for me;
I dared not speak;
But there was all he need to see
Flaming in my cheek.
What better has the best of us
If kind Heaven grant her
A glowing hearth, a little house,
And a good man to want her?

In the soft shrouding clinging mist
His strong arms held me.
Our lips kept tryst, and long we kiss'd;
His great love fill'd me.
Sweet is the warmth of summer weather,


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