Jean Ingelow.

Poems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I online

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Building rooks far distant were.
Scarce at all would speak the rills,
And I saw the idle hills,
In their amber hazes deep,
Fold themselves and go to sleep,
Though it was not yet high noon.

Silence? Rather music brought
From the spheres! As if a thought,
Having taken wings, did fly
Through the reaches of the sky.
Silence? No, a sumptuous sigh
That had found embodiment,
That had come across the deep
After months of wintry sleep,
And with tender heavings went
Floating up the firmament.

"O," I mourned, half slumbering yet,
"'Tis the voice of _my_ regret, -
_Mine!_" and I awoke. Full sweet
Saffron sunbeams did me greet;
And the voice it spake again,
Dropped from yon blue cup of light
Or some cloudlet swan's-down white
On my soul, that drank full fain
The sharp joy - the sweet pain -
Of its clear, right innocent,
Unreprovéd discontent.

How it came - where it went -
Who can tell? The open blue
Quivered with it, and I, too,
Trembled. I remembered me
Of the springs that used to be,
When a dimpled white-haired child,
Shy and tender and half wild,
In the meadows I had heard
Some way off the talking bird,
And had felt it marvellous sweet,
For it laughed: it did me greet,
Calling me: yet, hid away
In the woods, it would not play.
No.

And all the world about,
While a man will work or sing,
Or a child pluck flowers of spring,
Thou wilt scatter music out,
Rouse him with thy wandering note,
Changeful fancies set afloat,
Almost tell with thy clear throat,
But not quite, - the wonder-rife,
Most sweet riddle, dark and dim,
That he searcheth all his life,
Searcheth yet, and ne'er expoundeth;
And so winnowing of thy wings,
Touch and trouble his heart's strings.
That a certain music soundeth
In that wondrous instrument,
With a trembling upward sent,
That is reckoned sweet above
By the Greatness surnamed Love.

"O, I hear thee in the blue;
Would that I might wing it too!
O to have what hope hath seen!
O to be what might have been!

"O to set my life, sweet bird,
To a tune that oft I heard
When I used to stand alone
Listening to the lovely moan
Of the swaying pines o'erhead,
While, a-gathering of bee-bread
For their living, murmured round,
As the pollen dropped to ground,
All the nations from the hives;
And the little brooding wives
On each nest, brown dusky things,
Sat with gold-dust on their wings.
Then beyond (more sweet than all)
Talked the tumbling waterfall;
And there were, and there were not
(As might fall, and form anew
Bell-hung drops of honey-dew)
Echoes of - I know not what;
As if some right-joyous elf,
While about his own affairs,
Whistled softly otherwheres.
Nay, as if our mother dear,
Wrapped in sun-warm atmosphere,
Laughed a little to herself,
Laughed a little as she rolled,
Thinking on the days of old.

"Ah! there be some hearts, I wis,
To which nothing comes amiss.
Mine was one. Much secret wealth
I was heir to: and by stealth,
When the moon was fully grown,
And she thought herself alone,
I have heard her, ay, right well,
Shoot a silver message down
To the unseen sentinel
Of a still, snow-thatchéd town.

"Once, awhile ago, I peered
In the nest where Spring was reared.
There, she quivering her fair wings,
Flattered March with chirrupings;
And they fed her; nights and days,
Fed her mouth with much sweet food,
And her heart with love and praise,
Till the wild thing rose and flew
Over woods and water-springs,
Shaking off the morning dew
In a rainbow from her wings.

"Once (I will to you confide
More), O once in forest wide,
I, benighted, overheard
Marvellous mild echoes stirred,
And a calling half defined,
And an answering from afar;
Somewhat talkéd with a star,
And the talk was of mankind.

"'Cuckoo, cuckoo!'
Float anear in upper blue:
Art thou yet a prophet true?
Wilt thou say, 'And having seen
Things that be, and have not been,
Thou art free o' the world, for naught
Can despoil thee of thy thought'?
Nay, but make me music yet,
Bird, as deep as my regret,
For a certain hope hath set,
Like a star; and left me heir
To a crying for its light,
An aspiring infinite,
And a beautiful despair!

"Ah! no more, no more, no more
I shall lie at thy shut door,
Mine ideal, my desired,
Dreaming thou wilt open it,
And step out, thou most admired,
By my side to fare, or sit,
Quenching hunger and all drouth
With the wit of thy fair mouth,
Showing me the wishéd prize
In the calm of thy dove's eyes,
Teaching me the wonder-rife
Majesties of human life,
All its fairest possible sum,
And the grace of its to come.

"What a difference! Why of late
All sweet music used to say,
'She will come, and with thee stay
To-morrow, man, if not to-day.'
Now it murmurs, 'Wait, wait, wait!'"


A RAVEN IN A WHITE CHINE.

I saw when I looked up, on either hand,
A pale high chalk-cliff, reared aloft in white;
A narrowing rent soon closed toward the land, -
Toward the sea, an open yawning bight.

The polished tide, with scarce a hint of blue,
Washed in the bight; above with angry moan
A raven, that was robbed, sat up in view,
Croaking and crying on a ledge alone.

"Stand on thy nest, spread out thy fateful wings,
With sullen hungry love bemoan thy brood,
For boys have wrung their necks, those imp-like things,
Whose beaks dripped crimson daily at their food.

"Cry, thou black prophetess! cry, and despair,
None love thee, none! Their father was thy foe,
Whose father in his youth did know thy lair,
And steal thy little demons long ago.

"Thou madest many childless for their sake,
And picked out many eyes that loved the light.
Cry, thou black prophetess! sit up, awake,
Forebode; and ban them through the desolate night"

Lo! while I spake it, with a crimson hue
The dipping sun endowed that silver flood,
And all the cliffs flushed red, and up she flew,
The bird, as mad to bathe in airy blood.

"Nay, thou mayst cry, the omen is not thine,
Thou aged priestess of fell doom, and fate.
It is not blood: thy gods are making wine,
They spilt the must outside their city gate,

"And stained their azure pavement with the lees:
They will not listen though thou cry aloud.
Old Chance, thy dame, sits mumbling at her ease,
Nor hears; the fair hag, Luck, is in her shroud.

"They heed not, they withdraw the sky-hung sign,
Thou hast no charm against the favorite race;
Thy gods pour out for it, not blood, but wine:
There is no justice in their dwelling-place!

"Safe in their father's house the boys shall rest,
Though thy fell brood doth stark and silent lie;
Their unborn sons may yet despoil thy nest:
Cry, thou black prophetess! lift up! cry, cry!"


THE WARBLING OF BLACKBIRDS.

When I hear the waters fretting,
When I see the chestnut letting
All her lovely blossom falter down, I think, "Alas the day!"
Once with magical sweet singing,
Blackbirds set the woodland ringing,
That awakes no more while April hours wear themselves away.

In our hearts fair hope lay smiling,
Sweet as air, and all beguiling;
And there hung a mist of bluebells on the slope and down the dell;
And we talked of joy and splendor
That the years unborn would render,
And the blackbirds helped us with the story, for they knew it well.

Piping, fluting, "Bees are humming,
April's here, and summer's coming;
Don't forget us when you walk, a man with men, in pride and joy;
Think on us in alleys shady,
When you step a graceful lady;
For no fairer day have we to hope for, little girl and boy.

"Laugh and play, O lisping waters,
Lull our downy sons and daughters;
Come, O wind, and rock their leafy cradle in thy wanderings coy;
When they wake we'll end the measure
With a wild sweet cry of pleasure,
And a 'Hey down derry, let's be merry! little girl and boy!'"


SEA-MEWS IN WINTER TIME.

I walked beside a dark gray sea.
And said, "O world, how cold thou art!
Thou poor white world, I pity thee,
For joy and warmth from thee depart.

"Yon rising wave licks off the snow,
Winds on the crag each other chase,
In little powdery whirls they blow
The misty fragments down its face.

"The sea is cold, and dark its rim,
Winter sits cowering on the wold,
And I beside this watery brim,
Am also lonely, also cold."

I spoke, and drew toward a rock,
Where many mews made twittering sweet;
Their wings upreared, the clustering flock
Did pat the sea-grass with their feet.

A rock but half submerged, the sea
Ran up and washed it while they fed;
Their fond and foolish ecstasy
A wondering in my fancy bred.

Joy companied with every cry,
Joy in their food, in that keen wind,
That heaving sea, that shaded sky,
And in themselves, and in their kind.

The phantoms of the deep at play!
What idless graced the twittering things;
Luxurious paddlings in the spray,
And delicate lifting up of wings.

Then all at once a flight, and fast
The lovely crowd flew out to sea;
If mine own life had been recast,
Earth had not looked more changed to me.

"Where is the cold? Yon clouded skies
Have only dropt their curtains low
To shade the old mother where she lies
Sleeping a little, 'neath the snow.

"The cold is not in crag, nor scar,
Not in the snows that lap the lea,
Not in yon wings that beat afar,
Delighting, on the crested sea;

"No, nor in yon exultant wind
That shakes the oak and bends the pine.
Look near, look in, and thou shalt find
No sense of cold, fond fool, but thine!"

With that I felt the gloom depart,
And thoughts within me did unfold,
Whose sunshine warmed me to the heart, -
I walked in joy, and was not cold.




LAURANCE.


I.

He knew she did not love him; but so long
As rivals were unknown to him, he dwelt
At ease, and did not find his love a pain.

He had much deference in his nature, need
To honor - it became him; he was frank,
Fresh, hardy, of a joyous mind, and strong, -
Looked all things straight in the face. So when she came
Before him first, he looked at her, and looked
No more, but colored to his healthful brow,
And wished himself a better man, and thought
On certain things, and wished they were undone,
Because her girlish innocence, the grace
Of her unblemished pureness, wrought in him
A longing and aspiring, and a shame
To think how wicked was the world, - that world
Which he must walk in, - while from her (and such
As she was) it was hidden; there was made
A clean path, and the girl moved on like one
In some enchanted ring.

In his young heart
She reigned, with all the beauties that she had,
And all the virtues that he rightly took
For granted; there he set her with her crown,
And at her first enthronement he turned out
Much that was best away, for unaware
His thoughts grew noble. She was always there
And knew it not, and he grew like to her
And like to what he thought her.
Now he dwelt
With kin that loved him well, - two fine old folk,
A rich, right honest yeoman, and his dame, -
Their only grandson he, their pride, their heir.

To these, one daughter had been born, one child,
And as she grew to woman, "Look," they said,
"She must not leave us; let us build a wing,
With cheerful rooms and wide, to our old grange;
There may she dwell, with her good man, and all
God sends them." Then the girl in her first youth
Married a curate, - handsome, poor in purse,
Of gentle blood and manners, and he lived
Under her father's roof, as they had planned.

Full soon, for happy years are short, they filled
The house with children; four were born to them.
Then came a sickly season; fever spread
Among the poor. The curate, never slack
In duty, praying by the sick, or worse,
Burying the dead, when all the air was clogged
With poisonous mist, was stricken; long he lay
Sick, almost to the death, and when his head
He lifted from the pillow, there was left
One only of that pretty flock: his girls,
His three, were cold beneath the sod; his boy,
Their eldest born, remained.

The drooping wife
Bore her great sorrow in such quiet wise,
That first they marvelled at her, then they tried
To rouse her, showing her their bitter grief,
Lamenting, and not sparing; but she sighed,
"Let me alone, it will not be for long."
Then did her mother tremble, murmuring out,
"Dear child, the best of comfort will be soon.
O, when you see this other little face,
You will, please God, be comforted."

She said,
"I shall not live to see it"; but she did, -
little sickly face, a wan, thin face.
Then she grew eager, and her eyes were bright
When she would plead with them: "Take me away,
Let me go south; it is the bitter blast
That chills my tender babe; she cannot thrive
Under the desolate, dull, mournful cloud."
Then all they journeyed south together, mute
With past and coming sorrow, till the sun,
In gardens edging the blue tideless main,
Warmed them and calmed the aching at their hearts,
And all went better for a while; but not
For long. They sitting by the orange-trees
Once rested, and the wife was very still:
One woman with narcissus flowers heaped up
Let down her basket from her head, but paused
With pitying gesture, and drew near and stooped,
Taking a white wild face upon her breast, -
The little babe on its poor mother's knees,
None marking it, none knowing else, had died.

The fading mother could not stay behind,
Her heart was broken; but it awed them most
To feel they must not, dared not, pray for life,
Seeing she longed to go, and went so gladly.

After, these three, who loved each other well,
Brought their one child away, and they were best
Together in the wide old grange. Full oft
The father with the mother talked of her,
Their daughter, but the husband nevermore;
He looked for solace in his work, and gave
His mind to teach his boy. And time went on,
Until the grandsire prayed those other two
"Now part with him; it must be; for his good:
He rules and knows it; choose for him a school,
Let him have all advantages, and all
Good training that should make a gentleman."

With that they parted from their boy, and lived
Longing between his holidays, and time
Sped; he grew on till he had eighteen years.
His father loved him, wished to make of him
Another parson; but the farmer's wife
Murmured at that: "No, no, they learned bad ways,
They ran in debt at college; she had heard
That many rued the day they sent their boys
To college"; and between the two broke in
His grandsire: "Find a sober, honest man,
A scholar, for our lad should see the world
While he is young, that he may marry young.
He will not settle and be satisfied
Till he has run about the world awhile.
Good lack, I longed to travel in my youth,
And had no chance to do it. Send him off,
A sober man being found to trust him with,
One with the fear of God before his eyes."
And he prevailed; the careful father chose
A tutor, young, - the worthy matron thought, -
In truth, not ten years older than her boy,
And glad as he to range, and keen for snows,
Desert, and ocean. And they made strange choice
Of where to go, left the sweet day behind,
And pushed up north in whaling ships, to feel
What cold was, see the blowing whale come up,
And Arctic creatures, while a scarlet sun
Went round and round, crowd on the clear blue berg.

Then did the trappers have them; and they heard
Nightly the whistling calls of forest-men
That mocked the forest wonners; and they saw
Over the open, raging up like doom,
The dangerous dust-cloud, that was full of eyes, -
The bisons. So were three years gone like one;
And the old cities drew them for a while,
Great mothers, by the Tiber and the Seine;
They have hid many sons hard by their seats,
But all the air is stirring with them still,
The waters murmur of them, skies at eve
Are stained with their rich blood, and every sound
Means men.
At last, the fourth year running out,
The youth came home. And all the cheerful house
Was decked in fresher colors, and the dame
Was full of joy. But in the father's heart
Abode a painful doubt. "It is not well;
He cannot spend his life with dog and gun.
I do not care that my one son should sleep
Merely for keeping him in breath, and wake
Only to ride to cover."
Not the less
The grandsire pondered. "Ay, the boy must WORK
Or SPEND; and I must let him spend; just stay
Awhile with us, and then from time to time
Have leave to be away with those fine folk
With whom, these many years, at school, and now,
During his sojourn in the foreign towns,
He has been made familiar." Thus a month
Went by. They liked the stirring ways of youth,
The quick elastic step, and joyous mind,
Ever expectant of it knew not what,
But something higher than has e'er been born
Of easy slumber and sweet competence.
And as for him, - the while they thought and thought
A comfortable instinct let him know
How they had waited for him, to complete
And give a meaning to their lives; and still
At home, but with a sense of newness there,
And frank and fresh as in the school-boy days,
He oft - invading of his father's haunts,
The study where he passed the silent morn -
Would sit, devouring with a greedy joy
The piled-up books, uncut as yet; or wake
To guide with him by night the tube, and search,
Ay, think to find new stars; then risen betimes,
Would ride about the farm, and list the talk
Of his hale grandsire.
But a day came round,
When, after peering in his mother's room,
Shaded and shuttered from the light, he oped
A door, and found the rosy grandmother
Ensconced and happy in her special pride,
Her storeroom. She was corking syrups rare,
And fruits all sparkling in a crystal coat.
Here after choice of certain cates well known,
He, sitting on her bacon-chest at ease,
Sang as he watched her, till right suddenly,
As if a new thought came, "Goody," quoth he,
"What, think you, do they want to do with me?
What have they planned for me that I should do?"

"Do, laddie!" quoth she faltering, half in tears;
"Are you not happy with us, not content?
Why would ye go away? There is no need
That ye should DO at all. O, bide at home.
Have we not plenty?"
"Even so," he said;
"I did not wish to go."
"Nay, then," quoth she,
"Be idle; let me see your blessed face.
What, is the horse your father chose for you
Not to your mind? He is? Well, well, remain;
Do as you will, so you but do it here.
You shall not want for money."
But, his arms
Folding, he sat and twisted up his mouth
With comical discomfiture.
"What, then,"
She sighed, "what is it, child, that you would like?"
"Why," said he, "farming."
And she looked at him,
Fond, foolish woman that she was, to find
Some fitness in the worker for the work,
And she found none. A certain grace there was
Of movement, and a beauty in the face,
Sun-browned and healthful beauty that had come
From his grave father; and she thought, "Good lack,
A farmer! he is fitter for a duke.
He walks; why, how he walks! if I should meet
One like him, whom I knew not, I should ask,
'And who may that be?'" So the foolish thought
Found words. Quoth she, half laughing, half ashamed,
"We planned to make of you - a gentleman."
And with engaging sweet audacity
She thought it nothing less, - he, looking up,
With a smile in his blue eyes, replied to her,
"And hav'n't you done it?" Quoth she, lovingly,
"I think we have, laddie; I think we have."

"Then," quoth he, "I may do what best I like;
It makes no matter. Goody, you were wise
To help me in it, and to let me farm;
I think of getting into mischief else!"
"No! do ye, laddie?" quoth the dame, and laughed.
"But ask my grandfather," the youth went on,
"To let me have the farm he bought last year,
The little one, to manage. I like land;
I want some." And she, womanlike, gave way
Convinced; and promised, and made good her word,
And that same night upon the matter spoke,
In presence of the father and the son.

"Roger," quoth she, "our Laurance wants to farm;
I think he might do worse." The father sat
Mute but right glad. The grandson breaking in
Set all his wish and his ambition forth;
But cunningly the old man hid his joy,
And made conditions with a faint demur.
Then pausing, "Let your father speak," quoth he;
"I am content if he is": at his word
The parson took him, ay, and, parson like,
Put a religious meaning in the work,
Man's earliest work, and wished his son God speed.


II.

Thus all were satisfied, and day by day,
For two sweet years a happy course was theirs;
Happy, but yet the fortunate, the young
Loved, and much cared-for, entered on his strife, -
A stirring of the heart, a quickening keen
Of sight and hearing to the delicate
Beauty and music of an altered world;
Began to walk in that mysterious light
Which doth reveal and yet transform; which gives
Destiny, sorrow, youth, and death, and life,
Intenser meaning; in disquieting
Lifts up; a shining light: men call it Love.

Fair, modest eyes had she, the girl he loved;
A silent creature, thoughtful, grave, sincere.
She never turned from him with sweet caprice,
Nor changing moved his soul to troublous hope,
Nor dropped for him her heavy lashes low,
But excellent in youthful grace came up;
And ere his words were ready, passing on,
Had left him all a-tremble; yet made sure
That by her own true will, and fixed intent,
She held him thus remote. Therefore, albeit
He knew she did not love him, yet so long
As of a rival unaware, he dwelt
All in the present, without fear, or hope,
Enthralled and whelmed in the deep sea of love,
And could not get his head above its wave
To reach the far horizon, or to mark
Whereto it drifted him.
So long, so long;
Then, on a sudden, came the ruthless fate,
Showed him a bitter truth, and brought him bale
All in the tolling out of noon.
'Twas thus:
Snow-time was come; it had been snowing hard;
Across the churchyard path he walked; the clock
Began to strike, and, as he passed the porch,
Half turning, through a sense that came to him
As of some presence in it, he beheld
His love, and she had come for shelter there;
And all her face was fair with rosy bloom,
The blush of happiness; and one held up
Her ungloved hand in both his own, and stooped
Toward it, sitting by her. O her eyes
Were full of peace and tender light: they looked
One moment in the ungraced lover's face
While he was passing in the snow; and he
Received the story, while he raised his hat
Retiring. Then the clock left off to strike,
And that was all. It snowed, and he walked on;
And in a certain way he marked the snow,
And walked, and came upon the open heath;
And in a certain way he marked the cold,
And walked as one that had no starting-place
Might walk, but not to any certain goal.

And he strode on toward a hollow part,
Where from the hillside gravel had been dug,
And he was conscious of a cry, and went
Dulled in his sense, as though he heard it not;
Till a small farmhouse drudge, a half-grown girl,
Rose from the shelter of a drift that lay
Against the bushes, crying, "God! O God,
O my good God, He sends us help at last."

Then looking hard upon her, came to him
The power to feel and to perceive. Her teeth
Chattered, and all her limbs with shuddering failed,
And in her threadbare shawl was wrapped a child
That looked on him with wondering, wistful eyes.

"I thought to freeze," the girl broke out with tears;
"Kind sir, kind sir," and she held out the child,
As praying him to take it; and he did;
And gave to her the shawl, and swathed his charge
In the foldings of his plaid; and when it thrust
Its small round face against his breast, and felt
With small red hands for warmth, - unbearable
Pains of great pity rent his straitened heart,
For the poor upland dwellers had been out
Since morning dawn, at early milking-time,
Wandering and stumbling in the drift. And now,
Lamed with a fall, half crippled by the cold,
Hardly prevailed his arm to drag her on,
That ill-clad child, who yet the younger child
Had motherly cared to shield. So toiling through
The great white storm coming, and coming yet.
And coming till the world confounded sat
With all her fair familiar features gone,
The mountains muffled in an eddying swirl,
He led or bore them, and the little one
Peered from her shelter, pleased; but oft would mourn
The elder, "They will beat me: O my can,
I left my can of milk upon the moor."


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Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 12 of 18)