While ripening corn grew thick and deep,
And here and there men stood to reap,
One morn I put my heart to sleep,
And to the lanes I took my way.
The goldfinch on a thistle-head
Stood scattering seedlets while she fed;
The wrens their pretty gossip spread,
Or joined a random roundelay.
On hanging cobwebs shone the dew,
And thick the wayside clovers grew;
The feeding bee had much to do,
So fast did honey-drops exude:
She sucked and murmured, and was gone,
And lit on other blooms anon,
The while I learned a lesson on
The source and sense of quietude.
For sheep-bells chiming from a wold,
Or bleat of lamb within its fold,
Or cooing of love-legends old
To dove-wives make not quiet less;
Ecstatic chirp of wingèd thing,
Or bubbling of the water-spring,
Are sounds that more than silence bring
Itself and its delightsomeness.
While thus I went to gladness fain,
I had but walked a mile or twain
Before my heart woke up again,
As dreaming she had slept too late;
The morning freshness that she viewed
With her own meanings she endued,
And touched with her solicitude
The natures she did meditate.
“If quiet is, for it I wait;
To it, ah! let me wed my fate,
And, like a sad wife, supplicate
My roving lord no more to flee;
If leisure is—but, ah! ’tis not—
’Tis long past praying for, God wot;
The fashion of it men forgot,
About the age of chivalry.
“Sweet is the leisure of the bird;
She craves no time for work deferred;
Her wings are not to aching stirred
Providing for her helpless ones.
Fair is the leisure of the wheat;
All night the damps about it fleet;
All day it basketh in the heat,
And grows, and whispers orisons.
“Grand is the leisure of the earth;
She gives her happy myriads birth,
And after harvest fears not dearth,
But goes to sleep in snow-wreaths dim.
Dread is the leisure up above
The while He sits whose name is Love,
And waits, as Noah did, for the dove,
To wit if she would fly to him.
“He waits for us, while, houseless things,
We beat about with bruisèd wings
On the dark floods and water-springs,
The ruined world, the desolate sea;
With open windows from the prime
All night, all day, He waits sublime,
Until the fulness of the time
Decreed from His eternity.
“Where is OUR leisure?—give us rest.
Where is the quiet we possessed?
We must have had it once—were blest
With peace whose phantoms yet entice.
Sorely the mother of mankind
Longed for the garden left behind;
For we prove yet some yearnings blind
Inherited from Paradise.”
“Hold, heart!” I cried; “for trouble sleeps;
I hear no sound of aught that weeps;
I will not look into thy deeps—
I am afraid, I am afraid!”
“Afraid!” she saith; “and yet ’tis true
That what man dreads he still should view—
Should do the thing he fears to do,
And storm the ghosts in ambuscade.”
“What good?” I sigh. “Was reason meant
To straighten branches that are bent,
Or soothe an ancient discontent,
The instinct of a race dethroned?
Ah! doubly should that instinct go
Must the four rivers cease to flow,
Nor yield those rumors sweet and low
Wherewith man’s life is undertoned.”
“Yet had I but the past,” she cries,
“And it was lost, I would arise
And comfort me some other wise.
But more than loss about me clings:
I am but restless with my race;
The whispers from a heavenly place,
Once dropped among us, seem to chase
Rest with their prophet-visitings.
“The race is like a child, as yet
Too young for all things to be set
Plainly before him with no let
Or hindrance meet for his degree;
But nevertheless by much too old
Not to perceive that men withhold
More of the story than is told,
And so infer a mystery.
“If the Celestials daily fly
With messages on missions high,
And float, our masts and turrets nigh,
Conversing on Heaven’s great intents;
What wonder hints of coming things,
Whereto man’s hope and yearning clings,
Should drop like feathers from their wings
And give us vague presentiments?
“And as the waxing moon can take
The tidal waters in her wake,
And lead them round and round to break
Obedient to her drawings dim;
So may the movements of His mind,
The first Great Father of mankind,
Affect with answering movements blind,
And draw the souls that breathe by Him.
“We had a message long ago
That like a river peace should flow,
And Eden bloom again below.
We heard, and we began to wait:
Full soon that message men forgot;
Yet waiting is their destined lot,
And waiting for they know not what
They strive with yearnings passionate.
“Regret and faith alike enchain;
There was a loss, there comes a gain;
We stand at fault betwixt the twain,
And that is veiled for which we pant.
Our lives are short, our ten times seven;
We think the councils held in heaven
Sit long, ere yet that blissful leaven
Work peace amongst the militant.
“Then we blame God that sin should be;
Adam began it at the tree,
’The woman whom THOU gavest me;
And we adopt his dark device.
O long Thou tarriest! come and reign,
And bring forgiveness in Thy train,
And give us in our hands again
The apples of Thy Paradise.”
“Far-seeing heart! if that be all
The happy things that did not fall,”
I sighed, “from every coppice call
They never from that garden went.
Behold their joy, so comfort thee,
Behold the blossom and the bee,
For they are yet as good and free
As when poor Eve was innocent
“But reason thus: ’If we sank low,
If the lost garden we forego,
Each in his day, nor ever know
But in our poet souls its face;
Yet we may rise until we reach
A height untold of in its speech—
A lesson that it could not teach
Learn in this darker dwelling-place.
“And reason on: ’We take the spoil;
Loss made us poets, and the soil
Taught us great patience in our toil,
And life is kin to God through death.
Christ were not One with us but so,
And if bereft of Him we go;
Dearer the heavenly mansions grow,
HIS home, to man that wandereth.’
“Content thee so, and ease thy smart.”
With that she slept again, my heart,
And I admired and took my part
With crowds of happy things the while:
With open velvet butterflies
That swung and spread their peacock eyes,
As if they cared no more to rise
From off their beds of camomile.
The blackcaps in an orchard met,
Praising the berries while they ate:
The finch that flew her beak to whet
Before she joined them on the tree;
The water mouse among the reeds—
His bright eyes glancing black as beads,
So happy with a bunch of seeds—
I felt their gladness heartily.
But I came on, I smelt the hay,
And up the hills I took my way,
And down them still made holiday,
And walked, and wearied not a whit;
But ever with the lane I went
Until it dropped with steep descent,
Cut deep into the rock, a tent
Of maple branches roofing it.
Adown the rock small runlets wept,
And reckless ivies leaned and crept,
And little spots of sunshine slept
On its brown steeps and made them fair;
And broader beams athwart it shot,
Where martins cheeped in many a knot,
For they had ta’en a sandy plot
And scooped another Petra there.
And deeper down, hemmed in and hid
From upper light and life amid
The swallows gossiping, I thrid
Its mazes, till the dipping land
Sank to the level of my lane.
That was the last hill of the chain,
And fair below I saw the plain
That seemed cold cheer to reprimand.
Half-drowned in sleepy peace it lay,
As satiate with the boundless play
Of sunshine in its green array.
And clear-cut hills of gloomy blue,
To keep it safe rose up behind,
As with a charmèd ring to bind
The grassy sea, where clouds might find
A place to bring their shadows to.
I said, and blest that pastoral grace,
“How sweet thou art, thou sunny place!
Thy God approves thy smiling face:”
But straight my heart put in her word;
She said, “Albeit thy face I bless,
There have been times, sweet wilderness,
When I have wished to love thee less,
Such pangs thy smile administered.”
But, lo! I reached a field of wheat,
And by its gate full clear and sweet
A workman sang, while at his feet
Played a young child, all life and stir—
A three years’ child, with rosy lip,
Who in the song had partnership,
Made happy with each falling chip
Dropped by the busy carpenter.
This, reared a new gate for the old,
And loud the tuneful measure rolled,
But stopped as I came up to hold
Some kindly talk of passing things.
Brave were his eyes, and frank his mien;
Of all men’s faces, calm or keen,
A better I have never seen
In all my lonely wanderings.
And how it was I scarce can tell,
We seemed to please each other well;
I lingered till a noonday bell
Had sounded, and his task was done.
An oak had screened us from the heat;
And ’neath it in the standing wheat,
A cradle and a fair retreat,
Full sweetly slept the little one.
The workman rested from his stroke,
And manly were the words he spoke,
Until the smiling babe awoke
And prayed to him for milk and food.
Then to a runlet forth he went,
And brought a wallet from the bent,
And bade me to the meal, intent
I should not quit his neighborhood.
“For here,” said he, “are bread and beer,
And meat enough to make good cheer;
Sir, eat with me, and have no fear,
For none upon my work depend,
Saving this child; and I may say
That I am rich, for every day
I put by somewhat; therefore stay,
And to such eating condescend.”
We ate. The child—child fair to see—
Began to cling about his knee,
And he down leaning fatherly
Received some softly-prattled prayer;
He smiled as if to list were balm,
And with his labor-hardened palm
Pushed from the baby-forehead calm
Those shining locks that clustered there.
The rosy mouth made fresh essay—
“O would he sing, or would he play?”
I looked, my thought would make its way—
“Fair is your child of face and limb,
The round blue eyes full sweetly shine.”
He answered me with glance benign—
“Ay, Sir; but he is none of mine.
Although I set great store by him.”
With that, as if his heart was fain
To open—nathless not complain—
He let my quiet questions gain
His story: “Not of kin to me,”
Repeating; “but asleep, awake,
For worse, for better, him I take,
To cherish for my dead wife’s sake,
And count him as her legacy.
“I married with the sweetest lass
That ever stepped on meadow grass;
That ever at her looking-glass
Some pleasure took, some natural care;
That ever swept a cottage floor
And worked all day, nor e’er gave o’er
Till eve, then watched beside the door
Till her good man should meet her there.
“But I lost all in its fresh prime;
My wife fell ill before her time—
Just as the bells began to chime
One Sunday morn. By next day’s light
Her little babe was born and dead,
And she, unconscious what she said,
With feeble hands about her spread,
Sought it with yearnings infinite.
“With mother-longing still beguiled,
And lost in fever-fancies wild,
She piteously bemoaned her child
That we had stolen, she said, away.
And ten sad days she sighed to me,
’I cannot rest until I see
My pretty one! I think that he
Smiled in my face but yesterday.’
“Then she would change, and faintly try
To sing some tender lullaby;
And ‘Ah!’ would moan, ’if I should die,
Who, sweetest babe, would cherish thee?’
Then weep, ’My pretty boy is grown;
With tender feet on the cold stone
He stands, for he can stand alone,
And no one leads him motherly.’
“Then she with dying movements slow
Would seem to knit, or seem to sew:
’His feet are bare, he must not go
Unshod:’ and as her death drew on,
‘O little baby,’ she would sigh;
’My little child, I cannot die
Till I have you to slumber nigh—
You, you to set mine eyes upon.’
“When she spake thus, and moaning lay,
They said, ’She cannot pass away,
So sore she longs:’ and as the day
Broke on the hills, I left her side.
Mourning along this lane I went;
Some travelling folk had pitched their tent
Up yonder: there a woman, bent
With age, sat meanly canopied.
“A twelvemonths’ child was at her side:
‘Whose infant may that be?’ I cried.
‘His that will own him,’ she replied;
‘His mother’s dead, no worse could be.’
’Since you can give—or else I erred—
See, you are taken at your word,’
Quoth I; ’That child is mine; I heard,
And own him! Rise, and give him me.’
“She rose amazed, but cursed me too;
She could not hold such luck for true,
But gave him soon, with small ado.
I laid him by my Lucy’s side:
Close to her face that baby crept,
And stroked it, and the sweet soul wept;
Then, while upon her arm he slept,
She passed, for she was satisfied.
“I loved her well, I wept her sore,
And when her funeral left my door
I thought that I should never more
Feel any pleasure near me glow;
But I have learned, though this I had,
’Tis sometimes natural to be glad,
And no man can be always sad
Unless he wills to have it so.
“Oh, I had heavy nights at first,
And daily wakening was the worst:
For then my grief arose, and burst
Like something fresh upon my head;
Yet when less keen it seemed to grow,
I was not pleased—I wished to go
Mourning adown this vale of woe,
For all my life uncomforted.
“I grudged myself the lightsome air,
That makes man cheerful unaware;
When comfort came, I did not care
To take it in, to feel it stir:
And yet God took with me his plan,
And now for my appointed span
I think I am a happier man
For having wed and wept for her.
“Because no natural tie remains,
On this small thing I spend my gains;
God makes me love him for my pains,
And binds me so to wholesome care
I would not lose from my past life
That happy year, that happy wife!
Yet now I wage no useless strife
With feelings blithe and debonair.
“I have the courage to be gay,
Although she lieth lapped away
Under the daisies, for I say,
‘Thou wouldst be glad if thou couldst see’:
My constant thought makes manifest
I have not what I love the best,
But I must thank God for the rest
While I hold heaven a verity.”
He rose, upon his shoulder set
The child, and while with vague regret
We parted, pleased that we had met,
My heart did with herself confer;
With wholesome shame she did repent
Her reasonings idly eloquent,
And said, “I might be more content:
But God go with the carpenter.”