Jean Ingelow.

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

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Then pushed her hands into the warm dry sand,
And thought the earth was happy, and she too
Was going round with it in happiness,
That holiday. "What was it that she said?"
Quoth Gladys, cogitating; "they were kind,
The words that woman spoke. She does not know!
'Her greater for their less,' - it makes me laugh, -
But yet," sighed Gladys, "though it must be good
To look and to admire, one should not wish
To steal THEIR virtues, and to put them on,
Like feathers from another wing; beside,
That calm, and that grave consciousness of worth,
When all is said, would little suit with me,
Who am not worthy. When our thoughts are born,
Though they be good and humble, one should mind
How they are reared, or some will go astray
And shame their mother. Cain and Abel both
Were only once removed from innocence.
Why did I envy them? That was not good;
Yet it began with my humility."

But as she spake, lo, Gladys raised her eyes,
And right before her, on the horizon's edge,
Behold, an island! First, she looked away
Along the solid rocks and steadfast shore,
For she was all amazed, believing not,
And then she looked again, and there again
Behold, an island! And the tide had turned,
The milky sea had got a purple rim,
And from the rim that mountain island rose,
Purple, with two high peaks, the northern peak
The higher, and with fell and precipice,
It ran down steeply to the water's brink;
But all the southern line was long and soft,
Broken with tender curves, and, as she thought,
Covered with forest or with sward. But, look!
The sun was on the island; and he showed
On either peak a dazzling cap of snow.
Then Gladys held her breath; she said, "Indeed,
Indeed it is an island: how is this,
I never saw it till this fortunate
Rare holiday?" And while she strained her eyes,
She thought that it began to fade; but not
To change as clouds do, only to withdraw
And melt into its azure; and at last,
Little by little, from her hungry heart,
That longed to draw things marvellous to itself,
And yearned towards the riches and the great
Abundance of the beauty God hath made,
It passed away. Tears started in her eyes,
And when they dropt, the mountain isle was gone;
The careless sea had quite forgotten it,
And all was even as it had been before.

And Gladys wept, but there was luxury
In her self-pity, while she softly sobbed,
"O, what a little while! I am afraid
I shall forget that purple mountain isle,
The lovely hollows atween her snow-clad peaks,
The grace of her upheaval where she lay
Well up against the open. O, my heart,
Now I remember how this holiday
Will soon be done, and now my life goes on
Not fed; and only in the noonday walk
Let to look silently at what it wants,
Without the power to wait or pause awhile,
And understand and draw within itself
The richness of the earth. A holiday!
How few I have! I spend the silent time
At work, while all THEIR pupils are gone home,
And feel myself remote. They shine apart;
They are great planets, I a little orb;
My little orbit far within their own
Turns, and approaches not. But yet, the more
I am alone when those I teach return;
For they, as planets of some other sun,
Not mine, have paths that can but meet my ring
Once in a cycle. O, how poor I am!
I have not got laid up in this blank heart
Any indulgent kisses given me
Because I had been good, or yet more sweet,
Because my childhood was itself a good
Attractive thing for kisses, tender praise,
And comforting. An orphan-school at best
Is a cold mother in the winter time
('Twas mostly winter when new orphans came),
An unregarded mother in the spring.

"Yet once a year (I did mine wrong) we went
To gather cowslips. How we thought on it
Beforehand, pacing, pacing the dull street,
To that one tree, the only one we saw
From April, - if the cowslips were in bloom
So early; or if not, from opening May
Even to September. Then there came the feast
At Epping. If it rained that day, it rained
For a whole year to us; we could not think
Of fields and hawthorn hedges, and the leaves
Fluttering, but still it rained, and ever rained.

"Ah, well, but I am here; but I have seen
The gay gorse bushes in their flowering time;
I know the scent of bean-fields; I have heard
The satisfying murmur of the main."

The woman! She came round the rock again
With her fair baby, and she sat her down
By Gladys, murmuring, "Who forbade the grass
To grow by visitations of the dew?
Who said in ancient time to the desert pool,
'Thou shalt not wait for angel visitors
To trouble thy still water?' Must we bide
At home? The lore, beloved, shall fly to us
On a pair of sumptuous wings. Or may we breathe
Without? O, we shall draw to us the air
That times and mystery feed on. This shall lay
Unchidden hands upon the heart o' the world,
And feel it beating. Rivers shall run on,
Full of sweet language as a lover's mouth,
Delivering of a tune to make her youth
More beautiful than wheat when it is green.

"What else? - (O, none shall envy her!) The rain
And the wild weather will be most her own,
And talk with her o' nights; and if the winds
Have seen aught wondrous, they will tell it her
In a mouthful of strange moans, - will bring from far,
Her ears being keen, the lowing and the mad
Masterful tramping of the bison herds,
Tearing down headlong with their bloodshot eyes,
In savage rifts of hair; the crack and creak
Of ice-floes in the frozen sea, the cry
Of the white bears, all in a dim blue world
Mumbling their meals by twilight; or the rock
And majesty of motion, when their heads
Primeval trees toss in a sunny storm,
And hail their nuts down on unweeded fields.
No holidays," quoth she; "drop, drop, O, drop,
Thou tirèd skylark, and go up no more;
You lime-trees, cover not your head with bees,
Nor give out your good smell. She will not look;
No, Gladys cannot draw your sweetness in,
For lack of holidays." So Gladys thought,
"A most strange woman, and she talks of me."
With that a girl ran up; "Mother," she said,
"Come out of this brown bight, I pray you now,
It smells of fairies." Gladys thereon thought,
"The mother will not speak to me, perhaps
The daughter may," and asked her courteously,
"What do the fairies smell of?" But the girl
With peevish pout replied, "You know, you know."
"Not I," said Gladys; then she answered her,
"Something like buttercups. But, mother, come,
And whisper up a porpoise from the foam,
Because I want to ride."

Full slowly, then,
The mother rose, and ever kept her eyes
Upon her little child. "You freakish maid,"
Said she, "now mark me, if I call you one,
You shall not scold nor make him take you far."

"I only want, - you know I only want,"
The girl replied, "to go and play awhile
Upon the sand by Lagos." Then she turned
And muttered low, "Mother, is this the girl
Who saw the island?" But the mother frowned.
"When may she go to it?" the daughter asked.
And Gladys, following them, gave all her mind
To hear the answer. "When she wills to go;
For yonder comes to shore the ferry boat."
Then Gladys turned to look, and even so
It was; a ferry boat, and far away
Reared in the offing, lo, the purple peaks
Of her loved island.

Then she raised her arms,
And ran toward the boat, crying out, "O rare,
The island! fair befall the island; let
Me reach the island." And she sprang on board,
And after her stepped in the freakish maid
And the fair mother, brooding o'er her child;
And this one took the helm, and that let go
The sail, and off they flew, and furrowed up
A flaky hill before, and left behind
A sobbing snake-like tail of creamy foam;
And dancing hither, thither, sometimes shot
Toward the island; then, when Gladys looked,
Were leaving it to leeward. And the maid
Whistled a wind to come and rock the craft,
And would be leaning down her head to mew
At cat-fish, then lift out into her lap
And dandle baby-seals, which, having kissed,
She flung to their sleek mothers, till her own
Rebuked her in good English, after cried,
"Luff, luff, we shall be swamped." "I will not luff,"
Sobbed the fair mischief; "you are cross to me."
"For shame!" the mother shrieked; "luff, luff, my dear;
Kiss and be friends, and thou shalt have the fish
With the curly tail to ride on." So she did,
And presently a dolphin bouncing up,
She sprang upon his slippery back, - "Farewell,"
She laughed, was off, and all the sea grew calm.

Then Gladys was much happier, and was 'ware
In the smooth weather that this woman talked
Like one in sleep, and murmured certain thoughts
Which seemed to be like echoes of her own.
She nodded, "Yes, the girl is going now
To her own island. Gladys poor? Not she!
Who thinks so? Once I met a man in white,
Who said to me, 'The thing that might have been
Is called, and questioned why it hath not been;
And can it give good reason, it is set
Beside the actual, and reckoned in
To fill the empty gaps of life.' Ah, so
The possible stands by us ever fresh,
Fairer than aught which any life hath owned,
And makes divine amends. Now this was set
Apart from kin, and not ordained a home;
An equal; - and not suffered to fence in
A little plot of earthly good, and say,
'Tis mine'; but in bereavement of the part,
O, yet to taste the whole, - to understand
The grandeur of the story, not to feel
Satiate with good possessed, but evermore
A healthful hunger for the great idea,
The beauty and the blessedness of life.

"Lo, now, the shadow!" quoth she, breaking off,
"We are in the shadow." Then did Gladys turn,
And, O, the mountain with the purple peaks
Was close at hand. It cast a shadow out,
And they were in it: and she saw the snow,
And under that the rocks, and under that
The pines, and then the pasturage; and saw
Numerous dips, and undulations rare,
Running down seaward, all astir with lithe
Long canes, and lofty feathers; for the palms
And spice trees of the south, nay, every growth,
Meets in that island.

So that woman ran
The boat ashore, and Gladys set her foot
Thereon. Then all at once much laughter rose;
Invisible folk set up exultant shouts,
"It all belongs to Gladys"; and she ran
And hid herself among the nearest trees
And panted, shedding tears.

So she looked round,
And saw that she was in a banyan grove,
Full of wild peacocks, - pecking on the grass,
A flickering mass of eyes, blue, green, and gold,
Or reaching out their jewelled necks, where high
They sat in rows along the boughs. No tree
Cumbered with creepers let the sunshine through,
But it was caught in scarlet cups, and poured
From these on amber tufts of bloom, and dropped
Lower on azure stars. The air was still,
As if awaiting somewhat, or asleep,
And Gladys was the only thing that moved,
Excepting, - no, they were not birds, - what then?
Glorified rainbows with a living soul?
While they passed through a sunbeam they were seen,
Not otherwhere, but they were present yet
In shade. They were at work, pomegranate fruit
That lay about removing, - purple grapes,
That clustered in the path, clearing aside.
Through a small spot of light would pass and go,
The glorious happy mouth and two fair eyes
Of somewhat that made rustlings where it went;
But when a beam would strike the ground sheer down,
Behold them! they had wings, and they would pass
One after other with the sheeny fans,
Bearing them slowly, that their hues were seen,
Tender as russet crimson dropt on snows,
Or where they turned flashing with gold and dashed
With purple glooms. And they had feet, but these
Did barely touch the ground. And they took heed
Not to disturb the waiting quietness;
Nor rouse up fawns, that slept beside their dams;
Nor the fair leopard, with her sleek paws laid
Across her little drowsy cubs; nor swans,
That, floating, slept upon a glassy pool;
Nor rosy cranes, all slumbering in the reeds,
With heads beneath their wings. For this, you know,
Was Eden. She was passing through the trees
That made a ring about it, and she caught
A glimpse of glades beyond. All she had seen
Was nothing to them; but words are not made
To tell that tale. No wind was let to blow,
And all the doves were bidden to hold their peace.
Why? One was working in a valley near,
And none might look that way. It was understood
That He had nearly ended that His work;
For two shapes met, and one to other spake,
Accosting him with, "Prince, what worketh He?"
Who whispered, "Lo! He fashioneth red clay."
And all at once a little trembling stir
Was felt in the earth, and every creature woke,
And laid its head down, listening. It was known
Then that the work was done; the new-made king
Had risen, and set his feet upon his realm,
And it acknowledged him.

But in her path
Came some one that withstood her, and he said,
"What doest thou here?" Then she did turn and flee,
Among those colored spirits, through the grove,
Trembling for haste; it was not well with her
Till she came forth of those thick banyan-trees,
And set her feet upon the common grass,
And felt the common wind.

Yet once beyond,
She could not choose but cast a backward glance.
The lovely matted growth stood like a wall,
And means of entering were not evident, -
The gap had closed. But Gladys laughed for joy:
She said, "Remoteness and a multitude
Of years are counted nothing here. Behold,
To-day I have been in Eden. O, it blooms
In my own island."

And she wandered on,
Thinking, until she reached a place of palms,
And all the earth was sandy where she walked, -
Sandy and dry, - strewed with papyrus leaves,
Old idols, rings and pottery, painted lids
Of mummies (for perhaps it was the way
That leads to dead old Egypt), and withal
Excellent sunshine cut out sharp and clear
The hot prone pillars, and the carven plinths, -
Stone lotus cups, with petals dipped in sand,
And wicked gods, and sphinxes bland, who sat
And smiled upon the ruin. O how still!
Hot, blank, illuminated with the clear
Stare of an unveiled sky. The dry stiff leaves
Of palm-trees never rustled, and the soul
Of that dead ancientry was itself dead.
She was above her ankles in the sand,
When she beheld a rocky road, and, lo!
It bare in it the ruts of chariot wheels,
Which erst had carried to their pagan prayers
The brown old Pharaohs; for the ruts led on
To a great cliff, that either was a cliff
Or some dread shrine in ruins, - partly reared
In front of that same cliff, and partly hewn
Or excavate within its heart. Great heaps
Of sand and stones on either side there lay;
And, as the girl drew on, rose out from each,
As from a ghostly kennel, gods unblest,
Dog-headed, and behind them winged things
Like angels; and this carven multitude
Hedged in, to right and left, the rocky road.

At last, the cliff, - and in the cliff a door
Yawning: and she looked in, as down the throat
Of some stupendous giant, and beheld
No floor, but wide, worn, flights of steps, that led
Into a dimness. When the eyes could bear
That change to gloom, she saw flight after flight,
Flight after flight, the worn long stair go down,
Smooth with the feet of nations dead and gone.
So she did enter; also she went down
Till it was dark, and yet again went down,
Till, gazing upward at that yawning door,
It seemed no larger, in its height remote,
Than a pin's head. But while, irresolute,
She doubted of the end, yet farther down
A slender ray of lamplight fell away
Along the stair, as from a door ajar:
To this again she felt her way, and stepped
Adown the hollow stair, and reached the light;
But fear fell on her, fear; and she forbore
Entrance, and listened. Ay! 'twas even so, -
A sigh; the breathing as of one who slept
And was disturbed. So she drew back awhile,
And trembled; then her doubting hand she laid
Against the door, and pushed it; but the light
Waned, faded, sank; and as she came within -
Hark, hark! A spirit was it, and asleep?
A spirit doth not breathe like clay. There hung
A cresset from the roof, and thence appeared
A flickering speck of light, and disappeared;
Then dropped along the floor its elfish flakes,
That fell on some one resting, in the gloom, -
Somewhat, a spectral shadow, then a shape
That loomed. It was a heifer, ay, and white,
Breathing and languid through prolonged repose.

Was it a heifer? all the marble floor
Was milk-white also, and the cresset paled,
And straight their whiteness grew confused and mixed.

But when the cresset, taking heart, bloomed out, -
The whiteness, - and asleep again! but now
It was a woman, robed, and with a face
Lovely and dim. And Gladys while she gazed
Murmured, "O terrible! I am afraid
To breathe among these intermittent lives,
That fluctuate in mystic solitude,
And change and fade. Lo! where the goddess sits
Dreaming on her dim throne; a crescent moon
She wears upon her forehead. Ah! her frown
Is mournful, and her slumber is not sweet.
What dost thou hold, Isis, to thy cold breast?
A baby god with finger on his lips,
Asleep, and dreaming of departed sway?
Thy son. Hush, hush; he knoweth all the lore
And sorcery of old Egypt; but his mouth
He shuts; the secret shall be lost with him,
He will not tell."

The woman coming down!
"Child, what art doing here?" the woman said;
"What wilt thou of Dame Isis and her bairn?"
(_Ay, ay, we see thee breathing in thy shroud, -
pretty shroud, all frilled and furbelowed._)
The air is dim with dust of spiced bones.
I mark a crypt down there. Tier upon tier
Of painted coffers fills it. What if we,
Passing, should slip, and crash into their midst, -
Break the frail ancientry, and smothered lie,
Tumbled among the ribs of queens and kings,
And all the gear they took to bed with them!
Horrible! Let us hence.

And Gladys said,
"O, they are rough to mount, those stairs"; but she
Took her and laughed, and up the mighty flight
Shot like a meteor with her. "There," said she;
"The light is sweet when one has smelled of graves,
Down in unholy heathen gloom; farewell."
She pointed to a gateway, strong and high,
Reared of hewn stones; but, look! in lieu of gate,
There was a glittering cobweb drawn across,
And on the lintel there were writ these words:
"Ho, every one that cometh, I divide
What hath been from what might be, and the line
Hangeth before thee as a spider's web;
Yet, wouldst thou enter thou must break the line,
Or else forbear the hill."

The maiden said,
"So, cobweb, I will break thee." And she passed
Among some oak-trees on the farther side,
And waded through the bracken round their bolls,
Until she saw the open, and drew on
Toward the edge o' the wood, where it was mixed
With pines and heathery places wild and fresh.
Here she put up a creature, that ran on
Before her, crying, "Tint, tint, tint," and turned,
Sat up, and stared at her with elfish eyes,
Jabbering of gramarye, one Michael Scott,
The wizard that wonned somewhere underground,
With other talk enough to make one fear
To walk in lonely places. After passed
A man-at-arms, William of Deloraine;
He shook his head, "An' if I list to tell,"
Quoth he, "I know, but how it matters not";
Then crossed himself, and muttered of a clap
Of thunder, and a shape in amice gray,
But still it mouthed at him, and whimpered, "Tint,
Tint, tint." "There shall be wild work some day soon,"
Quoth he, "thou limb of darkness: he will come,
Thy master, push a hand up, catch thee, imp,
And so good Christians shall have peace, perdie."

Then Gladys was so frightened, that she ran,
And got away, towards a grassy down,
Where sheep and lambs were feeding, with a boy
To tend them. 'Twas the boy who wears that herb
Called heart's-ease in his bosom, and he sang
So sweetly to his flock, that she stole on
Nearer to listen. "O Content, Content,
Give me," sang he, "thy tender company.
I feed my flock among the myrtles; all
My lambs are twins, and they have laid them down
Along the slopes of Beulah. Come, fair love,
From the other side the river, where their harps
Thou hast been helping them to tune. O come,
And pitch thy tent by mine; let me behold
Thy mouth, - that even in slumber talks of peace, -
Thy well-set locks, and dove-like countenance."

And Gladys hearkened, couched upon the grass,
Till she had rested; then did ask the boy,
For it was afternoon, and she was fain
To reach the shore, "Which is the path, I pray,
That leads one to the water?" But he said,
"Dear lass, I only know the narrow way,
The path that leads one to the golden gate
Across the river." So she wandered on;
And presently her feet grew cool, the grass
Standing so high, and thyme being thick and soft.
The air was full of voices, and the scent
Of mountain blossom loaded all its wafts;
For she was on the slopes of a goodly mount,
And reared in such a sort that it looked down
Into the deepest valleys, darkest glades,
And richest plains o' the island. It was set
Midway between the snows majestical
And a wide level, such as men would choose
For growing wheat; and some one said to her,
"It is the hill Parnassus." So she walked
Yet on its lower slope, and she could hear
The calling of an unseen multitude
To some upon the mountain, "Give us more";
And others said, "We are tired of this old world:
Make it look new again." Then there were some
Who answered lovingly - (the dead yet speak
From that high mountain, as the living do);
But others sang desponding, "We have kept
The vision for a chosen few: we love
Fit audience better than a rough huzza
From the unreasoning crowd."

Then words came up:
"There was a time, you poets, was a time
When all the poetry was ours, and made
By some who climbed the mountain from our midst.
We loved it then, we sang it in our streets.
O, it grows obsolete! Be you as they:
Our heroes die and drop away from us;
Oblivion folds them 'neath her dusky wing,
Fair copies wasted to the hungering world.
Save them. We fall so low for lack of them,
That many of us think scorn of honest trade,
And take no pride in our own shops; who care
Only to quit a calling, will not make
The calling what it might be; who despise
Their work, Fate laughs at, and doth let the work
Dull, and degrade them."

Then did Gladys smile:
"Heroes!" quoth she; "yet, now I think on it,
There was the jolly goldsmith, brave Sir Hugh,
Certes, a hero ready-made. Methinks
I see him burnishing of golden gear,
Tankard and charger, and a-muttering low,
'London is thirsty' - (then he weighs a chain):
''Tis an ill thing, my masters. I would give
The worth of this, and many such as this,
To bring it water.'

"Ay, and after him
There came up Guy of London, lettered son
O' the honest lighterman. I'll think on him,
Leaning upon the bridge on summer eves,
After his shop was closed: a still, grave man,
With melancholy eyes. 'While these are hale,'
He saith, when he looks down and marks the crowd
Cheerily working; where the river marge
Is blocked with ships and boats; and all the wharves
Swarm, and the cranes swing in with merchandise, -
'While these are hale, 'tis well, 'tis very well.
But, O good Lord,' saith he, 'when these are sick, -
I fear me, Lord, this excellent workmanship
Of Thine is counted for a cumbrance then.
Ay, ay, my hearties! many a man of you,
Struck down, or maimed, or fevered, shrinks away,
And, mastered in that fight for lack of aid,
Creeps shivering to a corner, and there dies.'
Well, we have heard the rest.

"Ah, next I think
Upon the merchant captain, stout of heart
To dare and to endure. 'Robert,' saith he,
(The navigator Knox to his manful son,)
'I sit a captive from the ship detained;
This heathenry doth let thee visit her.
Remember, son, if thou, alas! shouldst fail
To ransom thy poor father, they are free
As yet, the mariners; have wives at home,
As I have; ay, and liberty is sweet
To all men. For the ship, she is not ours,
Therefore, 'beseech thee, son, lay on the mate
This my command, to leave me, and set sail.
As for thyself - ' 'Good father,' saith the son;
'I will not, father, ask your blessing now,
Because, for fair, or else for evil, fate
We two shall meet again.' And so they did.
The dusky men, peeling off cinnamon,
And beating nutmeg clusters from the tree,
Ransom and bribe contemned. The good ship sailed, -
The son returned to share his father's cell.

"O, there are many such. Would I had wit
Their worth to sing!" With that, she turned her feet,
"I am tired now," said Gladys, "of their talk
Around this hill Parnassus." And, behold,
A piteous sight - an old, blind, graybeard king

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