Jean Ingelow.

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

. (page 9 of 18)
Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 9 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


To such as are despised He cometh down,
Stands at the door and knocks.

"Yet bear with me.
I have a message; I have more to say.
Shall sorrow win His pity, and not sin -
That burden ten times heavier to be borne?
What think you? Shall the virtuous have His care
Alone? O virtuous women, think not scorn.
For you may lift your faces everywhere;
And now that it grows dusk, and I can see
None though they front me straight, I fain would tell
A certain thing to you. I say to _you_;
And if it doth concern you, as methinks
It doth, then surely it concerneth all.
I say that there was once - I say not here -
I say that there was once a castaway,
And she was weeping, weeping bitterly;
Kneeling, and crying with a heart-sick cry
That choked itself in sobs - 'O my good name!
Oh my good name!' And none did hear her cry!
Nay; and it lightened, and the storm-bolts fell,
And the rain splashed upon the roof, and still
She, storm-tost as the storming elements -
She cried with an exceeding bitter cry,
'O my good name!' And then the thunder-cloud
Stooped low and burst in darkness overhead,
And rolled, and rocked her on her knees, and shook
The frail foundations of her dwelling-place.
But she - if any neighbors had come in
(None did): if any neighbors had come in,
They might have seen her crying on her knees.
And sobbing 'Lost, lost, lost!' beating her breast -
Her breast forever pricked with cruel thorns.
The wounds whereof could neither balm assuage
Nor any patience heal - beating her brow,
Which ached, it had been bent so long to hide
From level eyes, whose meaning was contempt.

"O ye good women, it is hard to leave
The paths of virtue, and return again.
What if this sinner wept, and none of you
Comforted her? And what if she did strive
To mend, and none of you believed her strife.
Nor looked upon her? Mark, I do not say,
Though it was hard, you therefore were to blame;
That she had aught against you, though your feet
Never drew near her door. But I beseech
Your patience. Once in old Jerusalem
A woman kneeled at consecrated feet,
Kissed them, and washed them with her tears.
What then?
I think that yet our Lord is pitiful:
I think I see the castaway e'en now!
And she is not alone: the heavy rain
Splashes without, and sullen thunder rolls,
But she is lying at the sacred feet
Of One transfigured.

"And her tears flow down,
Down to her lips, - her lips that kiss the print
Of nails; and love is like to break her heart!
Love and repentance - for it still doth work
Sore in her soul to think, to think that she,
Even she, did pierce the sacred, sacred feet.
And bruise the thorn-crowned head.

"O Lord, our Lord,
How great is Thy compassion. Come, good Lord,
For we will open. Come this night, good Lord;
Stand at the door and knock.

"And is this all? -
Trouble, old age and simpleness, and sin -
This all? It might be all some other night;
But this night, if a voice said 'Give account
Whom hast thou with thee?' then must I reply,
'Young manhood have I, beautiful youth and strength,
Rich with all treasure drawn up from the crypt
Where lies the learning of the ancient world -
Brave with all thoughts that poets fling upon
The strand of life, as driftweed after storms:
Doubtless familiar with Thy mountain heads,
And the dread purity of Alpine snows,
Doubtless familiar with Thy works concealed
For ages from mankind - outlying worlds,
And many moonèd spheres - and Thy great store
Of stars, more thick than mealy dust which here
Powders the pale leaves of Auriculas.
This do I know, but, Lord, I know not more.
Not more concerning them - concerning Thee,
I know Thy bounty; where Thou givest much
Standing without, if any call Thee in
Thou givest more.' Speak, then, O rich and strong:
Open, O happy young, ere yet the hand
Of Him that knocks, wearied at last, forbear;
The patient foot its thankless quest refrain,
The wounded heart for evermore withdraw."

I have heard many speak, but this one man -
So anxious not to go to heaven alone -
This one man I remember, and his look,
Till twilight overshadowed him. He ceased.
And out in darkness with the fisherfolk
We passed and stumbled over mounds of moss,
And heard, but did not see, the passing beck.
Ah, graceless heart, would that it could regain
From the dim storehouse of sensations past
The impress full of tender awe, that night,
Which fell on me! It was as if the Christ
Had been drawn down from heaven to track us home,
And any of the footsteps following us
Might have been His.




A WEDDING SONG.


Come up the broad river, the Thames, my Dane,
My Dane with the beautiful eyes!
Thousands and thousands await thee full fain,
And talk of the wind and the skies.
Fear not from folk and from country to part,
O, I swear it is wisely done:
For (I said) I will bear me by thee, sweetheart,
As becometh my father's son.

Great London was shouting as I went down.
"She is worthy," I said, "of this;
What shall I give who have promised a crown?
O, first I will give her a kiss."
So I kissed her and brought her, my Dane, my Dane,
Through the waving wonderful crowd:
Thousands and thousands, they shouted amain,
Like mighty thunders and loud.

And they said, "He is young, the lad we love,
The heir of the Isles is young:
How we deem of his mother, and one gone above,
Can neither be said nor sung.

"He brings us a pledge - he will do his part
With the best of his race and name;" -
And I will, for I look to live, sweetheart,
As may suit with my mother's fame.




THE FOUR BRIDGES.


I love this gray old church, the low, long nave,
The ivied chancel and the slender spire;
No less its shadow on each heaving grave,
With growing osier bound, or living brier;
I love those yew-tree trunks, where stand arrayed
So many deep-cut names of youth and maid.

A simple custom this - I love it well -
A carved betrothal and a pledge of truth;
How many an eve, their linkèd names to spell,
Beneath the yew-trees sat our village youth!
When work was over, and the new-cut hay
Sent wafts of balm from meadows where it lay.

Ah! many an eve, while I was yet a boy,
Some village hind has beckoned me aside,
And sought mine aid, with shy and awkward joy,
To carve the letters of his rustic bride,
And make them clear to read as graven stone,
Deep in the yew-tree's trunk beside his own.

For none could carve like me, and here they stand.
Fathers and mothers of this present race:
And underscored by some less practised hand,
That fain the story of its line would trace,
With children's names, and number, and the day
When any called to God have passed away.

I look upon them, and I turn aside,
As oft when carving them I did erewhile;
And there I see those wooden bridges wide
That cross the marshy hollow; there the stile
In reeds embedded, and the swelling down,
And the white road towards the distant town.

But those old bridges claim another look.
Our brattling river tumbles through the one;
The second spans a shallow, weedy brook;
Beneath the others, and beneath the sun,
Lie two long stilly pools, and on their breasts
Picture their wooden piles, encased in swallows' nests.

And round about them grows a fringe of reeds,
And then a floating crown of lily-flowers,
And yet within small silver-budded weeds;
But each clear centre evermore embowers
A deeper sky, where, stooping, you may see
The little minnows darting restlessly.

My heart is bitter, lilies, at your sweet;
Why did the dewdrop fringe your chalices?
Why in your beauty are you thus complete,
You silver ships - you floating palaces?
O! if need be, you must allure man's eye,
Yet wherefore blossom here? O why? O why?

O! O! the world is wide, you lily flowers,
It hath warm forests, cleft by stilly pools,
Where every night bathe crowds of stars; and bowers
Of spicery hang over. Sweet air cools
And shakes the lilies among those stars that lie:
Why are not ye content to reign there? Why?

That chain of bridges, it were hard to tell
How it is linked with all my early joy.
There was a little foot that I loved well,
It danced across them when I was a boy;
There was a careless voice that used to sing;
There was a child, a sweet and happy thing.

Oft through that matted wood of oak and birch
She came from yonder house upon the hill;
She crossed the wooden bridges to the church,
And watched, with village girls, my boasted skill:
But loved to watch the floating lilies best,
Or linger, peering in a swallow's nest;

Linger and linger, with her wistful eyes
Drawn to the lily-buds that lay so white
And soft on crimson water; for the skies
Would crimson, and the little cloudlets bright
Would all be flung among the flowers sheer down,
To flush the spaces of their clustering crown.

Till the green rushes - O, so glossy green -
The rushes, they would whisper, rustle, shake;
And forth on floating gauze, no jewelled queen
So rich, the green-eyed dragon-flies would break,
And hover on the flowers - aërial things,
With little rainbows flickering on their wings.

Ah! my heart dear! the polished pools lie still,
Like lanes of water reddened by the west,
Till, swooping down from yon o'erhanging hill,
The bold marsh harrier wets her tawny breast;
We scared her oft in childhood from her prey,
And the old eager thoughts rise fresh as yesterday.

To yonder copse by moonlight I did go,
In luxury of mischief, half afraid,
To steal the great owl's brood, her downy snow,
Her screaming imps to seize, the while she preyed
With yellow, cruel eyes, whose radiant glare,
Fell with their mother rage, I might not dare.

Panting I lay till her great fanning wings
Troubled the dreams of rock-doves, slumbering nigh,
And she and her fierce mate, like evil things,
Skimmed the dusk fields; then rising, with a cry
Of fear, joy, triumph, darted on my prey.
And tore it from the nest and fled away.

But afterward, belated in the wood,
I saw her moping on the rifled tree,
And my heart smote me for her, while I stood
Awakened from my careless reverie;
So white she looked, with moonlight round her shed.
So motherlike she drooped and hung her head.

O that mine eyes would cheat me! I behold
The godwits running by the water edge,
Tim mossy bridges mirrored as of old;
The little curlews creeping from the sedge,
But not the little foot so gayly light
O that mine eyes would cheat me, that I might! -

Would cheat me! I behold the gable ends -
Those purple pigeons clustering on the cote;
The lane with maples overhung, that bends
Toward her dwelling; the dry grassy moat,
Thick mullions, diamond-latticed, mossed and gray,
And walls bunked up with laurel and with bay.

And up behind them yellow fields of corn,
And still ascending countless firry spires,
Dry slopes of hills uncultured, bare, forlorn,
And green in rocky clefts with whins and briers;
Then rich cloud masses dyed the violet's hue,
With orange sunbeams dropping swiftly through.

Ay, I behold all this full easily;
My soul is jealous of my happier eyes.
And manhood envies youth. Ah, strange to see,
By looking merely, orange-flooded skies;
Nay, any dew-drop that may near me shine:
But never more the face of Eglantine!

She was my one companion, being herself
The jewel and adornment of my days,
My life's completeness. O, a smiling elf,
That I do but disparage with my praise -
My playmate; and I loved her dearly and long,
And she loved me, as the tender love the strong.

Ay, but she grew, till on a time there came
A sudden restless yearning to my heart;
And as we went a-nesting, all for shame
And shyness, I did hold my peace, and start;
Content departed, comfort shut me out,
And there was nothing left to talk about.

She had but sixteen years, and as for me,
Four added made my life. This pretty bird,
This fairy bird that I had cherished - she,
Content, had sung, while I, contented, heard.
The song had ceased; the bird, with nature's art,
Had brought a thorn and set it in my heart.

The restless birth of love my soul opprest,
I longed and wrestled for a tranquil day,
And warred with that disquiet in my breast
As one who knows there is a better way;
But, turned against myself, I still in vain
Looked for the ancient calm to come again.

My tired soul could to itself confess
That she deserved a wiser love than mine;
To love more truly were to love her less,
And for this truth I still awoke to pine;
I had a dim belief that it would be
A better thing for her, a blessed thing for me.

Good hast Thou made them - comforters right sweet;
Good hast Thou made the world, to mankind lent;
Good are Thy dropping clouds that feed the wheat;
Good are Thy stars above the firmament.
Take to Thee, take, Thy worship, Thy renown;
The good which Thou hast made doth wear Thy crown.

For, O my God, Thy creatures are so frail,
Thy bountiful creation is so fair.
That, drawn before us like the temple veil,
It hides the Holy Place from thought and care,
Giving man's eyes instead its sweeping fold,
Rich as with cherub wings and apples wrought of gold.

Purple and blue and scarlet - shimmering bells
And rare pomegranates on its broidered rim,
Glorious with chain and fretwork that the swell
Of incense shakes to music dreamy and dim,
Till on a day comes loss, that God makes gain,
And death and darkness rend the veil in twain.

* * * * *

Ah, sweetest! my beloved! each outward thing
Recalls my youth, and is instinct with thee;
Brown wood-owls in the dusk, with noiseless wing,
Float from yon hanger to their haunted tree,
And hoot full softly. Listening, I regain
A flashing thought of thee with their remembered strain.

I will not pine - it is the careless brook.
These amber sunbeams slanting down the vale;
It is the long tree-shadows, with their look
Of natural peace, that make my heart to fail:
The peace of nature - No, I will not pine -
But O the contrast 'twixt her face and mine!

And still I changed - I was a boy no more;
My heart was large enough to hold my kind,
And all the world. As hath been oft before
With youth, I sought, but I could never find
Work hard enough to quiet my self-strife,
And use the strength of action-craving life.

She, too, was changed: her bountiful sweet eyes
Looked out full lovingly on all the world.
O tender as the deeps in yonder skies
Their beaming! but her rosebud lips were curled
With the soft dimple of a musing smile,
Which kept my gaze, but held me mute the while.

A cast of bees, a slowly moving wain,
The scent of bean-flowers wafted up a dell,
Blue pigeons wheeling over fields of grain,
Or bleat of folded lamb, would please her well;
Or cooing of the early coted dove; -
She sauntering mused of these; I, following, mused of love.

With her two lips, that one the other pressed
So poutingly with such a tranquil air,
With her two eyes, that on my own would rest
So dream-like, she denied my silent prayer,
Fronted unuttered words and said them nay,
And smiled down love till it had nought to say.

The words that through mine eyes would clearly shine
Hovered and hovered on my lips in vain;
If after pause I said but "Eglantine,"
She raised to me her quiet eyelids twain,
And looked me this reply - look calm, yet bland -
"I shall not know, I will not understand."

Yet she did know my story - knew my life
Was wrought to hers with bindings many and strong
That I, like Israel, served for a wife,
And for the love I bare her thought not long,
But only a few days, full quickly told,
My seven years' service strict as his of old.

I must be brief: the twilight shadows grow,
And steal the rose-bloom genial summer sheds,
And scented wafts of wind that come and go
Have lifted dew from honeyed clover-heads;
The seven stars shine out above the mill,
The dark delightsome woods lie veiled and still.

Hush! hush! the nightingale begins to sing,
And stops, as ill-contented with her note;
Then breaks from out the bush with hurried wing.
Restless and passionate. She tunes her throat,
Laments awhile in wavering trills, and then
Floods with a stream of sweetness all the glen.

The seven stars upon the nearest pool
Lie trembling down betwixt the lily leaves,
And move like glowworms; wafting breezes cool
Come down along the water, and it heaves
And bubbles in the sedge; while deep and wide
The dim night settles on the country side.

I know this scene by heart. O! once before
I saw the seven stars float to and fro,
And stayed my hurried footsteps by the shore
To mark the starry picture spread below:
Its silence made the tumult in my breast
More audible; its peace revealed my own unrest.

I paused, then hurried on; my heart beat quick;
I crossed the bridges, reached the steep ascent,
And climbed through matted fern and hazels thick;
Then darkling through the close green maples went
And saw - there felt love's keenest pangs begin -
An oriel window lighted from within -

I saw - and felt that they were scarcely cares
Which I had known before; I drew more near,
And O! methought how sore it frets and wears
The soul to part with that it holds so dear;
Tis hard two woven tendrils to untwine,
And I was come to part with Eglantine.

For life was bitter through those words repressed,
And youth was burdened with unspoken vows;
Love unrequited brooded in my breast,
And shrank, at glance, from the beloved brows:
And three long months, heart-sick, my foot withdrawn,
I had not sought her side by rivulet, copse, or lawn -

Not sought her side, yet busy thought no less
Still followed in her wake, though far behind;
And I, being parted from her loveliness,
Looked at the picture of her in my mind:
I lived alone, I walked with soul oppressed,
And ever sighed for her, and sighed for rest.

Then I had risen to struggle with my heart.
And said - "O heart! the world is fresh and fair,
And I am young; but this thy restless smart
Changes to bitterness the morning air:
I will, I must, these weary fetters break -
I will be free, if only for her sake.

"O let me trouble her no more with sighs!
Heart-healing comes by distance, and with time:
Then let me wander, and enrich mine eyes
With the green forests of a softer clime,
Or list by night at sea the wind's low stave
And long monotonous rockings of the wave.

"Through open solitudes, unbounded meads,
Where, wading on breast-high in yellow bloom,
Untamed of man, the shy white lama feeds -
There would I journey and forget my doom;
Or far, O far as sunrise I would see
The level prairie stretch away from me!

"Or I would sail upon the tropic seas,
Where fathom long the blood-red dulses grow,
Droop from the rock and waver in the breeze,
Lashing the tide to foam; while calm below
The muddy mandrakes throng those waters warm,
And purple, gold, and green, the living blossoms swarm."

So of my father I did win consent,
With importunities repeated long,
To make that duty which had been my bent,
To dig with strangers alien tombs among,
And bound to them through desert leagues to pace.
Or track up rivers to their starting-place.

For this I had done battle and had won,
But not alone to tread Arabian sands,
Measure the shadows of a southern sun,
Or dig out gods in the old Egyptian lands;
But for the dream wherewith I thought to cope -
The grief of love unmated with love's hope.

And now I would set reason in array,
Methought, and fight for freedom manfully,
Till by long absence there would come a day
When this my love would not be pain to me;
But if I knew my rosebud fair and blest
I should not pine to wear it on my breast.

The days fled on; another week should fling
A foreign shadow on my lengthening way;
Another week, yet nearness did not bring
A braver heart that hard farewell to say.
I let the last day wane, the dusk begin,
Ere I had sought that window lighted from within.

Sinking and sinking, O my heart! my heart!
Will absence heal thee whom its shade doth rend?
I reached the little gate, and soft within
The oriel fell her shadow. She did lend
Her loveliness to me, and let me share
The listless sweetness of those features fair.

Among thick laurels in the gathering gloom,
Heavy for this our parting, I did stand;
Beside her mother in the lighted room,
She sitting leaned her cheek upon her hand
And as she read, her sweet voice floating through
The open casement seemed to mourn me an adieu.

Youth! youth! how buoyant are thy hopes! they turn,
Like marigolds, toward the sunny side.
My hopes were buried in a funeral urn,
And they sprung up like plants and spread them wide;
Though I had schooled and reasoned them away,
They gathered smiling near and prayed a holiday.

Ah, sweetest voice! how pensive were its tones,
And how regretful its unconscious pause!
"Is it for me her heart this sadness owns,
And is our parting of to-night the cause?
Ah, would it might be so!" I thought, and stood
Listening entranced among the underwood.

I thought it would be something worth the pain
Of parting, to look once in those deep eyes,
And take from them an answering look again:
"When eastern palms," I thought, "about me rise,
If I might carve our names upon the rind,
Betrothed, I would not mourn, though leaving thee behind."

I can be patient, faithful, and most fond
To unacknowledged love; I can be true
To this sweet thraldom, this unequal bond,
This yoke of mine that reaches not to you:
O, how much more could costly parting buy -
If not a pledge, one kiss, or, failing that, a sigh!

I listened, and she ceased to read; she turned
Her face towards the laurels where I stood:
Her mother spoke - O wonder! hardly learned;
She said, "There is a rustling in the wood;
Ah, child! if one draw near to bid farewell,
Let not thine eyes an unsought secret tell.

"My daughter, there is nothing held so dear
As love, if only it be hard to win.
The roses that in yonder hedge appear
Outdo our garden-buds which bloom within;
But since the hand may pluck them every day,
Unmarked they bud, bloom, drop, and drift away.

"My daughter, my beloved, be not you
Like those same roses." O bewildering word!
My heart stood still, a mist obscured my view:
It cleared; still silence. No denial stirred
The lips beloved; but straight, as one opprest,
She, kneeling, dropped her face upon her mother's breast.

This said, "My daughter, sorrow comes to all;
Our life is checked with shadows manifold:
But woman has this more - she may not call
Her sorrow by its name. Yet love not told,
And only born of absence and by thought,
With thought and absence may return to nought."

And my belovèd lifted up her face,
And moved her lips as if about to speak;
She dropped her lashes with a girlish grace,
And the rich damask mantled in her cheek:
I stood awaiting till she should deny
Her love, or with sweet laughter put it by.

But, closer nestling to her mother's heart,
She, blushing, said no word to break my trance,
For I was breathless; and, with lips apart,
Felt my breast pant and all my pulses dance,
And strove to move, but could not for the weight
Of unbelieving joy, so sudden and so great,

Because she loved me. With a mighty sigh
Breaking away, I left her on her knees,
And blest the laurel bower, the darkened sky,
The sultry night of August. Through the trees,
Giddy with gladness, to the porch I went,
And hardly found the way for joyful wonderment.

Yet, when I entered, saw her mother sit
With both hands cherishing the graceful head,
Smoothing the clustered hair, and parting it
From the fair brow; she, rising, only said,
In the accustomed tone, the accustomed word,
The careless greeting that I always heard;

And she resumed her merry, mocking smile,
Though tear-drops on the glistening lashes hung.
O woman! thou wert fashioned to beguile:
So have all sages said, all poets sung.
She spoke of favoring winds and waiting ships,
With smiles of gratulation on her lips!

And then she looked and faltered: I had grown
So suddenly in life and soul a man:
She moved her lips, but could not find a tone
To set her mocking music to; began
One struggle for dominion, raised her eyes,
And straight withdrew them, bashful through surprise

The color over cheek and bosom flushed;


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 9 of 18)