A Bush Study, A La Watteau

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See the smoke-wreaths how they curl so lightly skyward
From the ivied cottage nestled in the trees:
Such a lovely spot—I really feel that I would
Be happy there with children on my knees.

No, you wouldn’t. These are merely idle fancies
Of a gentleman much given to day-dreams.
These chimneys always smoke, and, then the chance is
You would have a scolding wife and babe that screams.

Ah! but look! just there, above that lowly cottage,
Birds are flitting in the sunlight clear and pure;
And the three-score years and ten—man’s poor allottage—
Might be passed away with pleasure there, I’m sure.

Now, pray listen, oh, vain wanderer from the city,
And look bravely up and meet my searching eyes:
Would you give up all your town life, bright and witty,
Just because the cottage smoke curls to the skies?

I regret to find you’re one of those young ladies—
Pet productions of this artificial age:
Rural solitude to you is simply Hades,
And your paradise the ballroom or the stage.

Yes, forsooth! and why? Because, my airy dreamer,
I can use my eyes as well as gaily dance—
See the Husband, Wife, the Lover, Dupe and Schemer,
All whirling past and weaving a romance.

You think, then, Miss, such dreadful social questions
Are like cards, designed to pass away the time;
Do you not perceive that all these pseudo-Christians
Are but moths that flutter round the candle Crime?

At the play, too, where I oft with dear mamma go,
There’s the drama being acted in the boards;
And Othello, Desdemona, and Iago
In the boxes, p’raps, without the paint and swords.

Well, that may be, but the life of show and fashion
You so prize above the simple joys around,
Is all false; more noble manhood and true passion
In the daily lives of rustics may be found.

Think you then that those who dwell in rural places
Are quite free from every evil thought and deed?
Pray speak unto the swain who hither paces
With slow steps, as though in pain, across the mead.

If you will not sneer, I’ll ask him for his story;
But expect not that his daily life shall be
Full of famous deeds; he careth not for glory,
But lived by honest labour, pure and free.

Speak on; speak! and let me hear this modern idyll
From the lips of yonder heavy-footed swain;—
By-the-bye, his wild, erratic sort of sidle
Seems to indicate that he the bowl doth drain.

Hush—he’ll overhear….O tell me, gentle cottar,
Dwellest thou here remote from carking care and strife?

What’s that to you? Are you a bloated squatter?
Better clear, old man [hic] ’companied by your wife.

Thou mistakest me, thou toil-worn man and humble;
I own no lands where graze the peaceful sheep.
Thou art stirred with deep emotion, and dost mumble—
Speak up bravely, brother man, and do not weep.

Hot to-day, guv’nor; let’s go and have a liquor;
Lady take anything?—Bless you I can pay—
Haven’t had one yet, and nothing makes me sicker
Than abstaining altogether such a day.

Shearing sheep is dry work,
Kissing girls is sly work;
But drinking deep is my work;
So, let’s drink, boys, drink!

Come, Mabel, come. He is worse than Turk or Bulgar,
And his presence doth the very air pollute.

Well, I must confess he is a trifle vulgar;
But what you say now, my dreamer?

I am mute.

© Arthur Patchett Martin