Jean Ingelow.

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

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Ah! the playtime she has known,
While her goldilocks grew long,
Is it like a nestling flown,
Childhood over like a song?
Yes, the boy may clear his brow,
Though she thinks to say him nay,
When she sighs, "I cannot now -
Come again some other day."

"Hold! there," he cried, half angry with himself;
"That ending goes amiss:" then turned again
To the old argument that we had held -
"Now look you!" said my brother, "You may talk
Till, weary of the talk, I answer 'Ay,
There's reason in your words;' and you may talk
Till I go on to say, 'This should be so;'
And you may talk till I shall further own
'It _is_ so; yes, I am a lucky dog!'
Yet not the less shall I next morning wake.
And with a natural and fervent sigh,
Such as you never heaved, I shall exclaim
'What an unlucky dog I am!'" And here
He broke into a laugh. "But as for you -
You! on all hands you have the best of me;
Men have not robbed _you_ of your birthright - work,
Nor ravaged in old days a peaceful field,
Nor wedded heiresses against their will,
Nor sinned, nor slaved, nor stooped, nor overreached,
That you might drone a useless life away
'Mid half a score of bleak and barren farms
And half a dozen bogs."
"O rare!" I cried;
"His wrongs go nigh to make him eloquent:
Now we behold how far bad actions reach!
Because five hundred years ago a Knight
Drove geese and beeves out from a Franklin's yard
Because three hundred years ago a squire -
Against her will, and for her fair estate -
Married a very ugly red-haired maid,
The blest inheritor of all their pelf,
While in the full enjoyment of the same,
Sighs on his own confession every day.
He cracks no egg without a moral sigh,
Nor eats of beef, but thinking on that wrong;
Then, yet the more to be revenged on them,
And shame their ancient pride, if they should know,
Works hard as any horse for his degree,
And takes to writing verses."
"Ay," he said,
Half laughing at himself. "Yet you and I,
But for those tresses which enrich us yet
With somewhat of the hue that partial fame
Calls auburn when it shines on heads of heirs,
But when it flames round brows of younger sons,
Just red - mere red; why, but for this, I say,
And but for selfish getting of the land,
And beggarly entailing it, we two,
To-day well fed, well grown, well dressed, well read,
We might have been two horny-handed boors -
Lean, clumsy, ignorant, and ragged boors -
Planning for moonlight nights a poaching scheme,
Or soiling our dull souls and consciences
With plans for pilfering a cottage roost.

"What, chorus! are you dumb? you should have cried,
'So good comes out of evil;'" and with that,
As if all pauses it was natural
To seize for songs, his voice broke out again:

Coo, dove, to thy married mate -
She has two warm eggs in her nest:
Tell her the hours are few to wait
Ere life shall dawn on their rest;
And thy young shall peck at the shells, elate
With a dream of her brooding breast.

Coo, dove, for she counts the hours,
Her fair wings ache for flight:
By day the apple has grown in the flowers,
And the moon has grown by night,
And the white drift settled from hawthorn bowers,
Yet they will not seek the light.

Coo, dove; but what of the sky?
And what if the storm-wind swell,
And the reeling branch come down from on high
To the grass where daisies dwell,
And the brood beloved should with them lie
Or ever they break the shell?

Coo, dove; and yet black clouds lower,
Like fate, on the far-off sea:
Thunder and wind they bear to thy bower,
As on wings of destiny.
Ah, what if they break in an evil hour,
As they broke over mine and me?

What next? - we started like to girls, for lo!
The creaking voice, more harsh than rusty crane,
Of one who stooped behind us, cried aloud
"Good lack! how sweet the gentleman does sing -
So loud and sweet, 'tis like to split his throat.
Why, Mike's a child to him, a two years child -
Chrisom child."
"Who's Mike?" my brother growled
A little roughly. Quoth the fisherman -
"Mike, Sir? he's just a fisher lad, no more;
But he can sing, when he takes on to sing,
So loud there's not a sparrow in the spire
But needs must hear. Sir, if I might make bold,
I'd ask what song that was you sung. My mate,
As we were shoving off the mackerel boats,
Said he, 'I'll wager that's the sort o' song
They kept their hearts up with in the Crimea,'"

"There, fisherman," quoth I, "he showed his wit,
Your mate; he marked the sound of savage war -
Gunpowder, groans, hot-shot, and bursting shells,
And 'murderous messages,' delivered by
Spent balls that break the heads of dreaming men."

"Ay, ay, Sir!" quoth the fisherman. "Have done!"
My brother. And I - "The gift belongs to few
Of sending farther than the words can reach
Their spirit and expression;" still - "Have done!"
He cried; and then "I rolled the rubbish out
More loudly than the meaning warranted,
To air my lungs - I thought not on the words."

Then said the fisherman, who missed the point,
"So Mike rolls out the psalm; you'll hear him, Sir,
Please God you live till Sunday."
"Even so:
And you, too, fisherman; for here, they say,
You are all church-goers."
"Surely, Sir," quoth he,
Took off his hat, and stroked his old white head
And wrinkled face; then sitting by us said,
As one that utters with a quiet mind
Unchallenged truth - "'Tis lucky for the boats."

The boats! 'tis lucky for the boats! Our eyes
Were drawn to him as either fain would say,
What! do they send the psalm up in the spire,
And pray because 'tis lucky for the boats?

But he, the brown old man, the wrinkled man,
That all his life had been a church-goer,
Familiar with celestial cadences,
Informed of all he could receive, and sure
Of all he understood - he sat content,
And we kept silence. In his reverend face
There was a simpleness we could not sound;
Much truth had passed him overhead; some error
He had trod under foot; - God comfort him!
He could not learn of us, for we were young
And he was old, and so we gave it up;
And the sun went into the west, and down
Upon the water stooped an orange cloud,
And the pale milky reaches flushed, as glad
To wear its colors; and the sultry air
Went out to sea, and puffed the sails of ships
With thymy wafts, the breath of trodden grass:
It took moreover music, for across
The heather belt and over pasture land
Came the sweet monotone of one slow bell,
And parted time into divisions rare,
Whereof each morsel brought its own delight.

"They ring for service," quoth the fisherman;
"Our parson preaches in the church to-night."

"And do the people go?" my brother asked.

"Ay, Sir; they count it mean to stay away,
He takes it so to heart. He's a rare man,
Our parson; half a head above us all"

"That's a great gift, and notable," said I.

"Ay, Sir; and when he was a younger man
He went out in the lifeboat very oft,
Before the 'Grace of Sunderland' was wrecked.
He's never been his own man since that hour:
For there were thirty men aboard of her,
Anigh as close as you are now to me,
And ne'er a one was saved.
They're lying now,
With two small children, in a row: the church
And yard are full of seamen's graves, and few
Have any names.
She bumped upon the reef;
Our parson, my young son, and several more
Were lashed together with a two-inch rope,
And crept along to her; their mates ashore
Ready to haul them in. The gale was high,
The sea was all a boiling seething froth,
And God Almighty's guns were going off,
And the land trembled.

"When she took the ground,
She went to pieces like a lock of hay
Tossed from a pitchfork. Ere it came to that,
The captain reeled on deck with two small things,
One in each arm - his little lad and lass.
Their hair was long, and blew before his face,
Or else we thought he had been saved; he fell,
But held them fast. The crew, poor luckless souls!
The breakers licked them off; and some were crushed,
Some swallowed in the yeast, some flung up dead,
The dear breath beaten out of them: not one
Jumped from the wreck upon the reef to catch
The hands that strained to reach, but tumbled back
With eyes wide open. But the captain lay
And clung - the only man alive. They prayed -
'For God's sake, captain, throw the children here!'
'Throw them!' our parson cried; and then she struck
And he threw one, a pretty two years child;
But the gale dashed him on the slippery verge,
And down he went. They say they heard him cry.

"Then he rose up and took the other one,
And all our men reached out their hungry arms,
And cried out, 'Throw her! throw her!' and he did:
He threw her right against the parson's breast,
And all at once a sea broke over them,
And they that saw it from the shore have said
It struck the wreck, and piecemeal scattered it,
Just as a woman might the lump of salt
That 'twixt her hands into the kneading pan
She breaks and crumbles on her rising bread.

"We hauled our men in: two of them were dead -
The sea had beaten them, their heads hung down;
Our parson's arms were empty, for the wave
Had torn away the pretty, pretty lamb;
We often see him stand beside her grave:
But 'twas no fault of his, no fault of his.

"I ask your pardon, Sirs, I prate and prate,
And never have I said what brought me here.
Sirs, if you want a boat to-morrow morn,
I'm bold to say there's ne'er a boat like mine."

"Ay, that was what we wanted," we replied;
"A boat, his boat;" and off he went, well pleased.

We, too, rose up (the crimson in the sky
Flushing our faces), and went sauntering on,
And thought to reach our lodging, by the cliff.
And up and down among the heather beds,
And up and down between the sheaves we sped,
Doubling and winding; for a long ravine
Ran up into the land and cut us off,
Pushing out slippery ledges for the birds.
And rent with many a crevice, where the wind
Had laid up drifts of empty eggshells, swept
From the bare berths of gulls and guillemots.

So as it chanced we lighted on a path
That led into a nutwood; and our talk
Was louder than beseemed, if we had known,
With argument and laughter; for the path,
As we sped onward, took a sudden turn
Abrupt, and we came out on churchyard grass,
And close upon a porch, and face to face
With those within, and with the thirty graves.
We heard the voice of one who preached within,
And stopped. "Come on," my brother whispered me;
"It were more decent that we enter now;
Come on! we'll hear this rare old demigod:
I like strong men and large; I like gray heads,
And grand gruff voices, hoarse though this may be
With shouting in the storm."
It was not hoarse,
The voice that preached to those few fishermen
And women, nursing mothers with the babes
Hushed on their breasts; and yet it held them not:
Their drowsy eyes were drawn to look at us,
Till, having leaned our rods against the wall,
And left the dogs at watch, we entered, sat,
And were apprised that, though he saw us not,
The parson knew that he had lost the eyes
And ears of those before him, for he made
A pause - a long dead pause, and dropped his arms,
And stood awaiting, till I felt the red
Mount to my brow.
And a soft fluttering stir
Passed over all, and every mother hushed
The babe beneath her shawl, and he turned round
And met our eyes, unused to diffidence,
But diffident of his; then with a sigh
Fronted the folk, lifted his grand gray head,
And said, as one that pondered now the words
He had been preaching on with new surprise,
And found fresh marvel in their sound, "Behold!
Behold!" saith He, "I stand at the door and knock."

Then said the parson: "What! and shall He wait,
And must He wait, not only till we say,
'Good Lord, the house is clean, the hearth is swept.
The children sleep, the mackerel-boats are in,
And all the nets are mended; therefore I
Will slowly to the door and open it:'
But must He also wait where still, behold!
He stands and knocks, while we do say, 'Good Lord.
The gentlefolk are come to worship here,
And I will up and open to Thee soon;
But first I pray a little longer wait,
For I am taken up with them; my eyes
Must needs regard the fashion of their clothes,
And count the gains I think to make by them;
Forsooth, they are of much account, good Lord!
Therefore have patience with me - wait, dear Lord
Or come again?'
What! must He wait for THIS -
For this? Ay, He doth wait for this, and still,
Waiting for this, He, patient, raileth not;
Waiting for this, e'en this He saith, 'Behold!
I stand at the door and knock,'
O patient hand!
Knocking and waiting - knocking in the night
When work is done! I charge you, by the sea
Whereby you fill your children's mouths, and by
The might of Him that made it - fishermen!
I charge you, mothers! by the mother's milk
He drew, and by His Father, God over all.
Blessed forever, that ye answer Him!
Open the door with shame, if ye have sinned;
If ye be sorry, open it with sighs.
Albeit the place be bare for poverty,
And comfortless for lack of plenishing,
Be not abashed for that, but open it,
And take Him in that comes to sup with thee;
'Behold!' He saith, 'I stand at the door and knock.'

"Now, hear me: there be troubles in this world
That no man can escape, and there is one
That lieth hard and heavy on my soul,
Concerning that which is to come: -
I say
As a man that knows what earthly trouble means,
I will not bear this ONE - I cannot bear
This ONE - I cannot bear the weight of you -
You - every one of you, body and soul;
You, with the care you suffer, and the loss
That you sustain; you, with the growing up
To peril, maybe with the growing old
To want, unless before I stand with you
At the great white throne, I may be free of all,
And utter to the full what shall discharge
Mine obligation: nay, I will not wait
A day, for every time the black clouds rise,
And the gale freshens, still I search my soul
To find if there be aught that can persuade
To good, or aught forsooth that can beguile
From evil, that I (miserable man!
If that be so) have left unsaid, undone.

"So that when any risen from sunken wrecks,
Or rolled in by the billows to the edge
Of the everlasting strand, what time the sea
Gives up her dead, shall meet me, they may say
Never, 'Old man, you told us not of this;
You left us fisher lads that had to toil
Ever in danger of the secret stab
Of rocks, far deadlier than the dagger; winds
Of breath more murderous than the cannon's; wave
Mighty to rock us to our death; and gulfs,
Ready beneath to suck and swallow us in:
This crime be on your head; and as for us -
What shall we do? 'but rather - nay, not so,
I will not think it; I will leave the dead,
Appealing but to life: I am afraid
Of you, but not so much if you have sinned
As for the doubt if sin shall be forgiven.
The day was, I have been afraid of pride -
Hard man's hard pride; but now I am afraid
Of man's humility, I counsel you,
By the great God's great humbleness, and by
His pity, be not humble over-much.
See! I will show at whose unopened doors
He stands and knocks, that you may never says
'I am too mean, too ignorant, too lost;
He knocks at other doors, but not at mine.'

"See here! it is the night! it is the night!
And snow lies thickly, white untrodden snow,
And the wan moon upon a casement shines -
A casement crusted o'er with frosty leaves,
That make her ray less bright along the floor.
A woman sits, with hands upon her knees,
Poor tired soul! and she has nought to do,
For there is neither fire nor candle-light:
The driftwood ash lies cold upon her hearth,
The rushlight flickered down an hour ago;
Her children wail a little in their sleep
For cold and hunger, and, as if that sound
Was not enough, another comes to her,
Over God's undefiled snow - a song -
Nay, never hang your heads - I say, a song.
And doth she curse the alehouse, and the sots
That drink the night out and their earnings there,
And drink their manly strength and courage down,
And drink away the little children's bread,
And starve her, starving by the self-same act
Her tender suckling, that with piteous eye
Looks in her face, till scarcely she has heart
To work, and earn the scanty bit and drop
That feed the others?
Does she curse the song?
I think not, fishermen; I have not heard
Such women curse. God's curse is curse enough.
To-morrow she will say a bitter thing,
Pulling her sleeve down lest the bruises show -
A bitter thing, but meant for an excuse -
'My master is not worse than many men:'
But now, ay, now she sitteth dumb and still;
No food, no comfort, cold and poverty
Bearing her down.
My heart is sore for her;
How long, how long? When troubles come of God,
When men are frozen out of work, when wives
Are sick, when working fathers fail and die,
When boats go down at sea - then nought behoves
Like patience; but for troubles wrought of men
Patience is hard - I tell you it is hard.

"O thou poor soul! it is the night - the night;
Against thy door drifts up the silent snow,
Blocking thy threshold: 'Fall' thou sayest, 'fall, fall
Cold snow, and lie and be trod underfoot.
Am not I fallen? wake up and pipe, O wind,
Dull wind, and heat and bluster at my door:
Merciful wind, sing me a hoarse rough song,
For there is other music made to-night
That I would fain not hear. Wake, thou still sea,
Heavily plunge. Shoot on, white waterfall.
O, I could long like thy cold icicles
Freeze, freeze, and hang upon the frosty clift
And not complain, so I might melt at last
In the warm summer sun, as thou wilt do!

"'But woe is me! I think there is no sun;
My sun is sunken, and the night grows dark:
None care for me. The children cry for bread,
And I have none, and nought can comfort me;
Even if the heavens were free to such as I,
It were not much, for death is long to wait,
And heaven is far to go!'

"And speak'st thou thus,
Despairing of the sun that sets to thee,
And of the earthly love that wanes to thee,
And of the heaven that lieth far from thee?
Peace, peace, fond fool! One draweth near thy door
Whose footsteps leave no print across the snow;
Thy sun has risen with comfort in his face,
The smile of heaven, to warm thy frozen heart,
And bless with saintly hand. What! is it long
To wait, and far to go? Thou shalt not go;
Behold, across the snow to thee He comes,
Thy heaven descends, and is it long to wait?
Thou shalt not wait: 'This night, this night,' he saith,
'I stand at the door and knock.'

"It is enough - can such an one be here -
Yea, here? O God forgive you, fishermen!
One! is there only one? But do thou know,
O woman pale for want, if thou art here,
That on thy lot much thought is spent in heaven;
And, coveting the heart a hard man broke,
One standeth patient, watching in the night,
And waiting in the daytime.
What shall be
If thou wilt answer? He will smile on thee,
One smile of His shall be enough to heal
The wound of man's neglect; and He will sigh,
Pitying the trouble which that sigh shall cure;
And He will speak - speak in the desolate nigh
In the dark night: 'For me a thorny crown
Men wove, and nails were driven in my hands
And feet: there was an earthquake, and I died
I died, and am alive for evermore.

"'I died for thee; for thee I am alive,
And my humanity doth mourn for thee,
For thou art mine; and all thy little ones,
They, too, are mine, are mine. Behold, the house
Is dark, but there is brightness where the sons
Of God are singing, and, behold, the heart
Is troubled: yet the nations walk in white;
They have forgotten how to weep; and thou
Shalt also come, and I will foster thee
And satisfy thy soul; and thou shall warm
Thy trembling life beneath the smile of God.
A little while - it is a little while -
A little while, and I will comfort thee;
I go away, but I will come again.'

"But hear me yet. There was a poor old man
Who sat and listened to the raging sea,
And heard it thunder, lunging at the cliffs
As like to tear them down. He lay at night;
And 'Lord have mercy on the lads,' said he,
'That sailed at noon, though they be none of mine!
For when the gale gets up, and when the wind
Flings at the window, when it beats the roof,
And lulls and stops and rouses up again,
And cuts the crest clean off the plunging wave.
And scatters it like feathers up the field,
Why, then I think of my two lads: my lads
That would have worked and never let me want,
And never let me take the parish pay.
No, none of mine; my lads were drowned at sea -
My two - before the most of these wore born.
I know how sharp that cuts, since my poor wife
Walked up and down, and still walked up and down.
And I walked after, and one could not hear
A word the other said, for wind and sea
That raged and beat and thundered in the night -
The awfullest, the longest, lightest night
That ever parents had to spend - a moon
That shone like daylight on the breaking wave.
Ah me! and other men have lost their lads,
And other women wiped their poor dead mouths,
And got them home and dried them in the house,
And seen the driftwood lie along the coast,
That was a tidy boat but one day back.
And seen next tide the neighbors gather it
To lay it on their fires.
Ay, I was strong
And able-bodied - loved my work; - but now
I am a useless hull: 'tis time I sank;
I am in all men's way; I trouble them;
I am a trouble to myself: but yet
I feel for mariners of stormy nights,
And feel for wives that watch ashore. Ay, ay!
If I had learning I would pray the Lord
To bring them in: but I'm no scholar, no;
Book-learning is a world too hard for me:
But I make bold to say, 'O Lord, good Lord,
I am a broken-down poor man, a fool
To speak to Thee: but in the Book 'tis writ,
As I hear say from others that can read,
How, when Thou camest, Thou didst love the sea,
And live with fisherfolk, whereby 'tis sure
Thou knowest all the peril they go through.
And all their trouble.
As for me, good Lord,
I have no boat; I am too old, too old -
My lads are drowned; I buried my poor wife;
My little lasses died so long ago
That mostly I forget what they were like.
Thou knowest, Lord; they were such little ones.
I know they went to Thee, but I forget
Their faces, though I missed them sore.
O Lord,
I was a strong man; I have drawn good food
And made good money out of Thy great sea:
But yet I cried for them at nights; and now,
Although I be so old, I miss my lads,
And there be many folk this stormy night
Heavy with fear for theirs. Merciful Lord,
Comfort them; save their honest boys, their pride,
And let them hear next ebb the blessedest,
Best sound - the boat-keels grating on the sand.
I cannot pray with finer words: I know
Nothing; I have no learning, cannot learn -
Too old, too old. They say I want for nought,
I have the parish pay; but I am dull
Of hearing, and the fire scarce warms me through.
God save me, I have been a sinful man -
And save the lives of them that still can work,
For they are good to me; ay, good to me.
But, Lord, I am a trouble! and I sit,
And I am lonesome, and the nights are few
That any think to come and draw a chair,
And sit in my poor place and talk a while.
Why should they come, forsooth? Only the wind
Knocks at my door, O long and loud it knocks,
The only thing God made that has a mind
To enter in.'

"Yea, thus the old man spake:
These were the last words of his aged mouth -
BUT ONE DID KNOCK. One came to sup with him,
That humble, weak, old man; knocked at his door
In the rough pauses of the laboring wind.
I tell you that One knocked while it was dark.
Save where their foaming passion had made white
Those livid seething billows. What He said
In that poor place where He did talk a while,
I cannot tell: but this I am assured,
That when the neighbors came the morrow morn,
What time the wind had bated, and the sun
Shone on the old man's floor, they saw the smile
He passed away in, and they said, 'He looks
As he had woke and seen the face of Christ,
And with that rapturous smile held out his arms
To come to Him!'

"Can such an one be here,
So old, so weak, so ignorant, so frail?
The Lord be good to thee, thou poor old man;
It would be hard with thee if heaven were shut
To such as have not learning! Nay, nay, nay,
He condescends to them of low estate;


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Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 8 of 18)