Jean Ingelow.

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

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Knowledge ordained to live! although the fate
Of much that went before it was - to die,
And be called ignorance by such as wait
Till the next drift comes by.

O marvellous credulity of man!
If God indeed kept secret, couldst thou know
Or follow up the mighty Artisan
Unless He willed it so?

And canst thou of the Maker think in sooth
That of the Made He shall be found at fault,
And dream of wresting from Him hidden truth
By force or by assault?

But if He keeps not secret - if thine eyes
He openeth to His wondrous work of late -
Think how in soberness thy wisdom lies,
And have the grace to wait.

Wait, nor against the half-learned lesson fret,
Nor chide at old belief as if it erred,
Because thou canst not reconcile as yet
The Worker and the word.

Either the Worker did in ancient days
Give us the word, His tale of love and might;
(And if in truth He gave it us, who says
He did not give it right?)

Or else He gave it not, and then indeed
We know not if HE is - by whom our years
Are portioned, who the orphan moons doth lead,
And the unfathered spheres.

We sit unowned upon our burial sod
And know not whence we come or whose we be,
Comfortless mourners for the mount of God,
The rocks of Calvary:

Bereft of heaven, and of the long-loved page
Wrought us by some who thought with death to cope.
Despairing comforters, from age to age
Sowing the seeds of hope:

Gracious deceivers, who have lifted us
Out of the slough where passed our unknown youth.
Beneficent liars, who have gifted us
With sacred love of truth!

Farewell to them: yet pause ere thou unmoor
And set thine ark adrift on unknown seas;
How wert thou bettered so, or more secure
Thou, and thy destinies?

And if thou searchest, and art made to fear
Facing of unread riddles dark and hard,
And mastering not their majesty austere,
Their meaning locked and barred:

How would it make the weight and wonder less,
If, lifted from immortal shoulders down,
The worlds were cast on seas of emptiness
In realms without a crown.

And (if there were no God) were left to rue
Dominion of the air and of the fire?
Then if there be a God, "Let God be true,
And every man a liar."

But as for me, I do not speak as one
That is exempt: I am with life at feud:
My heart reproacheth me, as there were none
Of so small gratitude.

Wherewith shall I console thee, heart o' mine.
And still thy yearning and resolve thy doubt?
That which I know, and that which I divine,
Alas! have left thee out.

I have aspired to know the might of God,
As if the story of His love was furled,
Nor sacred foot the grasses e'er had trod
Of this redeemèd world: -

Have sunk my thoughts as lead into the deep,
To grope for that abyss whence evil grew,
And spirits of ill, with eyes that cannot weep,
Hungry and desolate flew;

As if their legions did not one day crowd
The death-pangs of the Conquering Good to see!
As if a sacred head had never bowed
In death for man - for me;

Nor ransomed back the souls beloved, the sons
Of men, from thraldom with the nether kings
In that dark country where those evil ones
Trail their unhallowed wings.

And didst Thou love the race that loved not Thee,
And didst Thou take to heaven a human brow?
Dost plead with man's voice by the marvellous sea?
Art Thou his kinsman now?

O God, O kinsman loved, but not enough!
O man, with eyes majestic after death,
Whose feet have toiled along our pathways rough,
Whose lips drawn human breath!

By that one likeness which is ours and Thine,
By that one nature which doth hold us kin,
By that high heaven where, sinless, Thou dost shine
To draw us sinners in,

By Thy last silence in the judgment-hall,
By long foreknowledge of the deadly tree,
By darkness, by the wormwood and the gall,
I pray Thee visit me.

Come, lest this heart should, cold and cast away,
Die ere the guest adored she entertain -
Lest eyes which never saw Thine earthly day
Should miss Thy heavenly reign.

Come, weary-eyed from seeking in the night
Thy wanderers strayed upon the pathless wold,
Who wounded, dying, cry to Thee for light,
And cannot find their fold.

And deign, O Watcher, with the sleepless brow,
Pathetic in its yearning - deign reply:
Is there, O is there aught that such as Thou
Wouldst take from such as I?

Are there no briers across Thy pathway thrust?
Are there no thorns that compass it about?
Nor any stones that Thou wilt deign to trust
My hands to gather out?

O if Thou wilt, and if such bliss might be,
It were a cure for doubt, regret, delay -
Let my lost pathway go - what aileth me? -
There is a better way.

What though unmarked the happy workman toil,
And break unthanked of man the stubborn clod?
It is enough, for sacred is the soil,
Dear are the hills of God.

Far better in its place the lowliest bird
Should sing aright to Him the lowliest song,
Than that a seraph strayed should take the word
And sing His glory wrong.

Friend, it is time to work. I say to thee,
Thou dost all earthly good by much excel;
Thou and God's blessing are enough for me:
My work, my work - farewell!




REQUIESCAT IN PACE!


My heart is sick awishing and awaiting:
The lad took up his knapsack, he went, he went his way;
And I looked on for his coming, as a prisoner through the grating
Looks and longs and longs and wishes for its opening day.

On the wild purple mountains, all alone with no other,
The strong terrible mountains he longed, he longed to be;
And he stooped to kiss his father, and he stooped to kiss his mother,
And till I said, "Adieu, sweet Sir," he quite forgot me.

He wrote of their white raiment, the ghostly capes that screen them,
Of the storm winds that beat them, their thunder-rents and scars,
And the paradise of purple, and the golden slopes atween them,
And fields, where grow God's gentian bells, and His crocus stars.

He wrote of frail gauzy clouds, that drop on them like fleeces,
And make green their fir forests, and feed their mosses hoar;
Or come sailing up the valleys, and get wrecked and go to pieces,
Like sloops against their cruel strength: then he wrote no more.

O the silence that came next, the patience and long aching!
They never said so much as "He was a dear loved son;"
Not the father to the mother moaned, that dreary stillness breaking:
"Ah! wherefore did he leave us so - this, our only one."

They sat within, as waiting, until the neighbors prayed them,
At Cromer, by the sea-coast, 'twere peace and change to be;
And to Cromer, in their patience, or that urgency affrayed them,
Or because the tidings tarried, they came, and took me.

It was three months and over since the dear lad had started:
On the green downs at Cromer I sat to see the view;
On an open space of herbage, where the ling and fern had parted,
Betwixt the tall white lighthouse towers, the old and the new.

Below me lay the wide sea, the scarlet sun was stooping,
And he dyed the waste water, as with a scarlet dye;
And he dyed the lighthouse towers; every bird with white wing swooping
Took his colors, and the cliffs did, and the yawning sky.

Over grass came that strange flush, and over ling and heather,
Over flocks of sheep and lambs, and over Cromer town;
And each filmy cloudlet crossing drifted like a scarlet feather
Torn from the folded wings of clouds, while he settled down.

When I looked, I dared not sigh: - In the light of God's splendor,
With His daily blue and gold, who am I? what am I?
But that passion and outpouring seemed an awful sign and tender,
Like the blood of the Redeemer, shown on earth and sky.

O for comfort, O the waste of a long doubt and trouble!
On that sultry August eve trouble had made me meek;
I was tired of my sorrow - O so faint, for it was double
In the weight of its oppression, that I could not speak!

And a little comfort grew, while the dimmed eyes were feeding,
And the dull ears with murmur of water satisfied;
But a dream came slowly nigh me, all my thoughts and fancy leading
Across the bounds of waking life to the other side.

And I dreamt that I looked out, to the waste waters turning,
And saw the flakes of scarlet from wave to wave tossed on;
And the scarlet mix with azure, where a heap of gold lay burning
On the clear remote sea reaches; for the sun was gone.

Then I thought a far-off shout dropped across the still water -
A question as I took it, for soon an answer came
From the tall white ruined lighthouse: "If it be the old man's daughter
That we wot of," ran the answer, "what then - who's to blame?"

I looked up at the lighthouse all roofless and storm-broken:
A great white bird sat on it, with neck stretched out to sea;
Unto somewhat which was sailing in a skiff the bird had spoken,
And a trembling seized my spirit, for they talked of me.

I was the old man's daughter, the bird went on to name him;
"He loved to count the starlings as he sat in the sun;
Long ago he served with Nelson, and his story did not shame him:
Ay, the old man was a good man - and his work was done."

The skiff was like a crescent, ghost of some moon departed,
Frail, white, she rocked and curtseyed as the red wave she crossed,
And the thing within sat paddling, and the crescent dipped and darted,
Flying on, again was shouting, but the words were lost.

I said, "That thing is hooded; I could hear but that floweth
The great hood below its mouth:" then the bird made reply.
"If they know not, more's the pity, for the little shrew-mouse knoweth,
And the kite knows, and the eagle, and the glead and pye."

And he stooped to whet his beak on the stones of the coping;
And when once more the shout came, in querulous tones he spake,
"What I said was 'more's the pity;' if the heart be long past hoping,
Let it say of death, 'I know it,' or doubt on and break.

"Men must die - one dies by day, and near him moans his mother,
They dig his grave, tread it down, and go from it full loth:
And one dies about the midnight, and the wind moans, and no other,
And the snows give him a burial - and God loves them both.

"The first hath no advantage - it shall not soothe his slumber
That a lock of his brown hair his father aye shall keep;
For the last, he nothing grudgeth, it shall nought his quiet cumber,
That in a golden mesh of HIS callow eaglets sleep.

"Men must die when all is said, e'en the kite and glead know it,
And the lad's father knew it, and the lad, the lad too;
It was never kept a secret, waters bring it and winds blow it,
And he met it on the mountain - why then make ado?"

With that he spread his white wings, and swept across the water,
Lit upon the hooded head, and it and all went down;
And they laughed as they went under, and I woke, "the old man's daughter."
And looked across the slope of grass, and at Cromer town.

And I said, "Is that the sky, all gray and silver-suited?"
And I thought, "Is that the sea that lies so white and wan?
I have dreamed as I remember: give me time - I was reputed
Once to have a steady courage - O, I fear 'tis gone!"

And I said, "Is this my heart? if it be, low 'tis beating
So he lies on the mountain, hard by the eagles' brood;
I have had a dream this evening, while the white and gold were fleeting,
But I need not, need not tell it - where would be the good?

"Where would be the good to them, his father and his mother?
For the ghost of their dead hope appeareth to them still.
While a lonely watch-fire smoulders, who its dying red would smother,
That gives what little light there is to a darksome hill?"

I rose up, I made no moan, I did not cry nor falter,
But slowly in the twilight I came to Cromer town.
What can wringing of the hands do that which is ordained to alter?
He had climbed, had climbed the mountain, he would ne'er come down.

But, O my first, O my best, I could not choose but love thee:
O, to be a wild white bird, and seek thy rocky bed!
From my breast I'd give thee burial, pluck the down and spread above thee;
I would sit and sing thy requiem on the mountain head.

Fare thee well, my love of loves! would I had died before thee!
O, to be at least a cloud, that near thee I might flow,
Solemnly approach the mountain, weep away my being o'er thee,
And veil thy breast with icicles, and thy brow with snow!




SUPPER AT THE MILL.


_Mother._
Well, Frances.

_Frances._
Well, good mother, how are you?

_M._ I'm hearty, lass, but warm; the weather's warm:
I think 'tis mostly warm on market days.
I met with George behind the mill: said he,
"Mother, go in and rest awhile."

_F._ Ay, do,
And stay to supper; put your basket down.

_M._ Why, now, it is not heavy?

_F._ Willie, man,
Get up and kiss your Granny. Heavy, no!
Some call good churning luck; but, luck or skill,
Your butter mostly comes as firm and sweet
As if 'twas Christmas. So you sold it all?

_M._ All but this pat that I put by for George;
He always loved my butter.

_F._ That he did.

_M._ And has your speckled hen brought off her brood?

_F._ Not yet; but that old duck I told you of,
She hatched eleven out of twelve to-day.

_Child._ And, Granny, they're so yellow.

_M._ Ay, my lad,
Yellow as gold - yellow as Willie's hair.

_C._ They're all mine, Granny, father says they're mine.

_M._ To think of that!

_F._ Yes, Granny, only think!
Why, father means to sell them when they're fat.
And put the money in the savings-bank,
And all against our Willie goes to school:
But Willie would not touch them - no, not he;
He knows that father would be angry else.

_C._ But I want one to play with - O, I want
A little yellow duck to take to bed!

_M._ What! would ye rob the poor old mother, then?

_F._ Now, Granny, if you'll hold the babe awhile;
'Tis time I took up Willie to his crib.
_[Exit FRANCES._

[_Mother sings to the infant_.]

Playing on the virginals,
Who but I? Sae glad, sae free,
Smelling for all cordials,
The green mint and marjorie;
Set among the budding broom,
Kingcup and daffodilly;
By my side I made him room:
O love my Willie!

"Like me, love me, girl o' gowd,"
Sang he to my nimble strain;
Sweet his ruddy lips o'erflowed
Till my heartstrings rang again:
By the broom, the bonny broom,
Kingcup and daffodilly,
In my heart I made him room:
O love my Willie!

"Pipe and play, dear heart," sang he,
"I must go, yet pipe and play;
Soon I'll come and ask of thee
For an answer yea or nay;"
And I waited till the flocks
Panted in yon waters stilly,
And the corn stood in the shocks:
O love my Willie!

I thought first when thou didst come
I would wear the ring for thee,
But the year told out its sum,
Ere again thou sat'st by me;
Thou hadst nought to ask that day
By kingcup and daffodilly;
I said neither yea nor nay:
O love my Willie!

_Enter_ GEORGE.

_George_. Well, mother, 'tis a fortnight now, or more,
Since I set eyes on you.

_M._ Ay, George, my dear,
I reckon you've been busy: so have we.

_G._ And how does father?

_M._ He gets through his work.
But he grows stiff, a little stiff, my dear;
He's not so young, you know, by twenty years
As I am - not so young by twenty years,
And I'm past sixty.

_G._ Yet he's hale and stout,
And seems to take a pleasure in his pipe;
And seems to take a pleasure in his cows,
And a pride, too.

_M._ And well he may, my dear.

_G._ Give me the little one, he tires your arm,
He's such a kicking, crowing, wakeful rogue,
He almost wears our lives out with his noise
Just at day-dawning, when we wish to sleep.
What! you young villain, would you clench your fist
In father's curls? a dusty father, sure,
And you're as clean as wax.
Ay, you may laugh;
But if you live a seven years more or so,
These hands of yours will all be brown and scratched
With climbing after nest-eggs. They'll go down
As many rat-holes as are round the mere;
And you'll love mud, all manner of mud and dirt,
As your father did afore you, and you'll wade
After young water-birds; and you'll get bogged
Setting of eel-traps, and you'll spoil your clothes,
And come home torn and dripping: then, you know,
You'll feel the stick - you'll feel the stick, my lad!

_Enter FRANCES._

_F._ You should not talk so to the blessed babe -
How can you, George? why, he may be in heaven
Before the time you tell of.

_M._ Look at him:
So earnest, such an eager pair of eyes!
He thrives, my dear.

_F._ Yes, that he does, thank God
My children are all strong.

_M._ 'Tis much to say;
Sick children fret their mother's hearts to shreds,
And do no credit to their keep nor care.
Where is your little lass?

_F._ Your daughter came
And begged her of us for a week or so.

_M._ Well, well, she might be wiser, that she might,
For she can sit at ease and pay her way;
A sober husband, too - a cheerful man -
Honest as ever stepped, and fond of her;
Yet she is never easy, never glad,
Because she has not children. Well-a-day!
If she could know how hard her mother worked,
And what ado I had, and what a moil
With my half-dozen! Children, ay, forsooth,
They bring their own love with them when they come,
But if they come not there is peace and rest;
The pretty lambs! and yet she cries for more:
Why the world's full of them, and so is heaven -
They are not rare.

_G._ No, mother, not at all;
But Hannah must not keep our Fanny long -
She spoils her.

_M._ Ah! folks spoil their children now;
When I was a young woman 'twas not so;
We made our children fear us, made them work,
Kept them in order.

_G._ Were not proud of them -
Eh, mother?

_M._ I set store by mine, 'tis true,
But then I had good cause.

_G._ My lad, d'ye hear?
Your Granny was not proud, by no means proud!
She never spoilt your father - no, not she,
Nor ever made him sing at harvest-home,
Nor at the forge, nor at the baker's shop,
Nor to the doctor while she lay abed
Sick, and he crept upstairs to share her broth.

_M._ Well, well, you were my youngest, and, what's more
Your father loved to hear you sing - he did,
Although, good man, he could not tell one tune
From the other.

_F._ No, he got his voice from you:
Do use it, George, and send the child to sleep.

_G._ What must I sing?

_F._ The ballad of the man
That is so shy he cannot speak his mind.

_G._ Ay, of the purple grapes and crimson leaves;
But, mother, put your shawl and bonnet off.
And, Frances, lass, I brought some cresses in:
Just wash them, toast the bacon, break some eggs,
And let's to supper shortly.

[_Sings._]

My neighbor White - we met to-day -
He always had a cheerful way,
As if he breathed at ease;
My neighbor White lives down the glade,
And I live higher, in the shade
Of my old walnut-trees.

So many lads and lasses small,
To feed them all, to clothe them all,
Must surely tax his wit;
I see his thatch when I look out,
His branching roses creep about,
And vines half smother it.

There white-haired urchins climb his eaves,
And little watch-fires heap with leaves,
And milky filberts hoard;
And there his oldest daughter stands
With downcast eyes and skilful hands
Before her ironing-board.

She comforts all her mother's days,
And with her sweet obedient ways
She makes her labor light;
So sweet to hear, so fair to see!
O, she is much too good for me,
That lovely Lettice White!

'Tis hard to feel one's self a fool!
With that same lass I went to school -
I then was great and wise;
She read upon an easier book,
And I - I never cared to look
Into her shy blue eyes.

And now I know they must be there
Sweet eyes, behind those lashes fair
That will not raise their rim:
If maids be shy, he cures who can;
But if a man be shy - a man -
Why then the worse for him!

My mother cries, "For such a lad
A wife is easy to be had
And always to be found;
A finer scholar scarce can be,
And for a foot and leg," says she,
"He beats the country round!

"My handsome boy must stoop his head
To clear her door whom he would wed."
Weak praise, but fondly sung!
"O mother! scholars sometimes fail -
And what can foot and leg avail
To him that wants a tongue?"

When by her ironing-board I sit,
Her little sisters round me flit,
And bring me forth their store;
Dark cluster grapes of dusty blue,
And small sweet apples bright of hue
And crimson to the core.

But she abideth silent, fair,
All shaded by her flaxen hair
The blushes come and go;
I look, and I no more can speak
Than the red sun that on her cheek
Smiles as he lieth low.

Sometimes the roses by the latch
Or scarlet vine-leaves from her thatch
Come sailing down like birds;
When from their drifts her board I clear,
She thanks me, but I scarce can hear
The shyly uttered words.

Oft have I wooed sweet Lettice White
By daylight and by candlelight
When we two were apart.
Some better day come on apace,
And let me tell her face to face,
"Maiden, thou hast my heart."

How gently rock yon poplars high
Against the reach of primrose sky
With heaven's pale candles stored!
She sees them all, sweet Lettice White;
I'll e'en go sit again to-night
Beside her ironing-board!

Why, you young rascal! who would think it, now?
No sooner do I stop than you look up.
What would you have your poor old father do?
'Twas a brave song, long-winded, and not loud.

_M._ He heard the bacon sputter on the fork,
And heard his mother's step across the floor.
Where did you get that song? - 'tis new to me.

_G._ I bought it of a peddler.

_M._ Did you so?
Well, you were always for the love-songs, George.

_F._ My dear, just lay his head upon your arm.
And if you'll pace and sing two minutes more
He needs must sleep - his eyes are full of sleep.

_G._ Do you sing, mother.

_F._ Ay, good mother, do;
'Tis long since we have heard you.

_M._ Like enough;
I'm an old woman, and the girls and lads
I used to sing to sleep o'ertop me now.
What should I sing for?

_G._ Why, to pleasure us.
Sing in the chimney corner, where you sit,
And I'll pace gently with the little one.

[_Mother sings._]

When sparrows build, and the leaves break forth,
My old sorrow wakes and cries,
For I know there is dawn in the far, far north,
And a scarlet sun doth rise;
Like a scarlet fleece the snow-field spreads,
And the icy founts run free,
And the bergs begin to bow their heads,
And plunge, and sail in the sea.

O my lost love, and my own, own love,
And my love that loved me so!
Is there never a chink in the world above
Where they listen for words from below?
Nay, I spoke once, and I grieved thee sore,
I remember all that I said,
And now thou wilt hear me no more - no more
Till the sea gives up her dead.

Thou didst set thy foot on the ship, and sail
To the ice-fields and the snow;
Thou wert sad, for thy love did not avail,
And the end I could not know;
How could I tell I should love thee to-day,
Whom that day I held not dear?
How could I know I should love thee away
When I did not love thee anear?

We shall walk no more through the sodden plain
With the faded bents o'erspread,
We shall stand no more by the seething main
While the dark wrack drives overhead;
We shall part no more in the wind and the rain,
Where thy last farewell was said;
But perhaps I shall meet thee and know thee again
When the sea gives up her dead.


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Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 2 of 18)