A Hidden Life
Proudly the youth, sudden with manhood crowned,
Went walking by his horses, the first time,
That morning, to the plough. No soldier gay
Feels at his side the throb of the gold hilt
(Knowing the blue blade hides within its sheath,
As lightning in the cloud) with more delight,
When first he belts it on, than he that day
Heard still the clank of the plough-chains against
His horses' harnessed sides, as to the field
They went to make it fruitful. O'er the hill
The sun looked down, baptizing him for toil.
A farmer's son, a farmer's grandson he;
Yea, his great-grandsire had possessed those fields.
Tradition said they had been tilled by men
Who bore the name long centuries ago,
And married wives, and reared a stalwart race,
And died, and went where all had followed them,
Save one old man, his daughter, and the youth
Who ploughs in pride, nor ever doubts his toil;
And death is far from him this sunny morn.
Why should we think of death when life is high?
The earth laughs all the day, and sleeps all night.
The daylight's labour and the night's repose
Are very good, each better in its time.
The boy knew little; but he read old tales
Of Scotland's warriors, till his blood ran swift
As charging knights upon their death-career.
He chanted ancient tunes, till the wild blood
Was charmed back into its fountain-well,
And tears arose instead. That poet's songs,
Whose music evermore recalls his name,
His name of waters babbling as they run,
Rose from him in the fields among the kine,
And met the skylark's, raining from the clouds.
But only as the poet-birds he sang-
From rooted impulse of essential song;
The earth was fair-he knew not it was fair;
His heart was glad-he knew not it was glad;
He walked as in a twilight of the sense-
Which this one day shall turn to tender morn.
Long ere the sun had cleared the feathery tops
Of the fir-thicket on the eastward hill,
His horses leaned and laboured. Each great hand
Held rein and plough-stilt in one guiding grasp-
No ploughman there would brook a helper. Proud
With a true ploughman's pride-nobler, I think,
Than statesman's, ay, or poet's, or painter's pride,
For little praise will come that he ploughs well-
He did plough well, proud of his work itself,
And not of what would follow. With sure eye,
He saw his horses keep the arrow-track;
He saw the swift share cut the measured sod;
He saw the furrow folding to the right,
Ready with nimble foot to aid at need:-
Turning its secrets upward to the sun,
And hiding in the dark the sun-born grass,
And daisies dipped in carmine, lay the tilth-
A million graves to nurse the buried seed,
And send a golden harvest up the air.
When the steep sun had clomb to his decline,
And pausing seemed, at edge of slow descent,
Upon the keystone of his airy bridge,
They rested likewise, half-tired man and horse,
And homeward went for food and courage new.
Therewith refreshed, they turned again to toil,
And lived in labour all the afternoon;
Till, in the gloaming, once again the plough
Lay like a stranded bark upon the lea,
And home with hanging neck the horses went,
Walking beside their master, force by will:
Then through the lengthening shades a vision came.
It was a lady mounted on a horse,
A slender girl upon a mighty steed,
That bore her with the pride horses must feel
When they submit to women. Home she went,
Alone, or else her groom lagged far behind.
Scarce had she bent simple acknowledgment
Of the hand in silent salutation lifted
To the bowed head, when something faithless yielded:
The saddle slipped, the horse stopped, and the girl
Stood on her feet, still holding fast the reins.
Three paces bore him bounding to her side;
Her radiant beauty almost fixed him there;
But with main force, as one that grapples fear,
He threw the fascination off, and saw
The work before him. Soon his hand and knife
Had set the saddle firmer than before
Upon the gentle horse; and then he turned
To mount the maiden. But bewilderment
A moment lasted; for he knew not how,
With stirrup-hand and steady arm, to throne,
Elastic, on her steed, the ascending maid:
A moment only; for while yet she thanked,
Nor yet had time to teach her further will,
About her waist he put his brawny hands,
That all but zoned her round; and like a child
Lifting her high, he set her on the horse;
Whence like a risen moon she smiled on him,
Nor turned aside, although a radiant blush
Shone in her cheek, and shadowed in her eyes.
And he was never sure if from her heart
Or from the rosy sunset came the flush.
Again she thanked him, while again he stood
Bewildered in her beauty. Not a word
Answered her words that flowed, folded in tones
Round which dissolving lambent music played,
Like dropping water in a silver cup;
Till, round the shoulder of the neighbouring hill,
Sudden she disappeared. And he awoke,
And called himself hard names, and turned and went
After his horses, bending like them his head.
Ah God! when Beauty passes from the door,
Although she came not in, the house is bare:
Shut, shut the door; there's nothing in the house!
Why seems it always that she should be ours?
A secret lies behind which thou dost know,
And I can partly guess.
But think not then,
The holder of the plough sighed many sighs
Upon his bed that night; or other dreams
Than pleasant rose upon his view in sleep;
Nor think the airy castles of his brain
Had less foundation than the air admits.
But read my simple tale, scarce worth the name,
And answer, if he had not from the fair
Beauty's best gift; and proved her not, in sooth,
An angel vision from a higher world.
Not much of her I tell. Her glittering life,
Where part the waters on the mountain-ridge,
Ran down the southern side, away from his.
It was not over-blessed; for, I know,
Its tale wiled many sighs, one summer eve,
From her who told, and him who, in the pines
Walking, received it from her loving lips;
But now she was as God had made her, ere
The world had tried to spoil her; tried, I say,
And half succeeded, failing utterly.
Fair was she, frank, and innocent as a child
That looks in every eye; fearless of ill,
Because she knew it not; and brave withal,
Because she led a simple country life,
And loved the animals. Her father's house-
A Scottish laird was he, of ancient name-
Was distant but two miles among the hills;
Yet oft as she had passed his father's farm,
The youth had never seen her face before,
And should not twice. Yet was it not enough?
The vision tarried. She, as the harvest moon
That goeth on her way, and knoweth not
The fields of corn whose ripening grain she fills
With strength of life, and hope, and joy for men,
Went on her way, and knew not of the virtue
Gone out of her; yea, never thought of him,
Save at such times when, all at once, old scenes
Return uncalled, with wonder that they come.
Soon was she orphaned of her sheltering hills,
And rounded with dead glitter, not the shine
Of leaves and waters dancing in the sun;
While he abode in ever breaking dawns,
Breathed ever new-born winds into his soul;
And saw the aurora of the heavenly day
Still climb the hill-sides of the heapy world.
Again I say, no fond romance of love,
No argument of possibilities,
If he were some one, and she sought his help,
Turned his clear brain into a nest of dreams.
As soon he had sat down and twisted cords
To snare, and carry home for household help,
Some woman-angel, wandering half-seen
On moonlight wings, o'er withered autumn fields.
But when he rose next morn, and went abroad,
(The exultation of his new-found rank
Already settling into dignity,)
Behold, the earth was beautiful! The sky
Shone with the expectation of the sun.
Only the daisies grieved him, for they fell
Caught in the furrow, with their innocent heads
Just out, imploring. A gray hedgehog ran,
With tangled mesh of rough-laid spikes, and face
Helplessly innocent, across the field:
He let it run, and blessed it as it ran.
Returned at noon-tide, something drew his feet
Into the barn: entering, he gazed and stood.
For, through the rent roof lighting, one sunbeam
Blazed on the yellow straw one golden spot,
Dulled all the amber heap, and sinking far,
Like flame inverted, through the loose-piled mound,
Crossed the keen splendour with dark shadow-straws,
In lines innumerable. 'Twas so bright,
His eye was cheated with a spectral smoke
That rose as from a fire. He had not known
How beautiful the sunlight was, not even
Upon the windy fields of morning grass,
Nor on the river, nor the ripening corn!
As if to catch a wild live thing, he crept
On tiptoe silent, laid him on the heap,
And gazing down into the glory-gulf,
Dreamed as a boy half sleeping by the fire-
Half dreaming rose, and got his horses out.
God, and not woman, is the heart of all.
But she, as priestess of the visible earth,
Holding the key, herself most beautiful,
Had come to him, and flung the portals wide.
He entered: every beauty was a glass
That gleamed the woman back upon his view.
Shall I not rather say: each beauty gave
Its own soul up to him who worshipped her,
For that his eyes were opened now to see?
Already in these hours his quickened soul
Put forth the white tip of a floral bud,
Ere long to be a crown-like, aureole flower.
His songs unbidden, his joy in ancient tales,
Had hitherto alone betrayed the seed
That lay in his heart, close hidden even from him,
Yet not the less mellowing all his spring:
Like summer sunshine came the maiden's face,
And in the youth's glad heart the seed awoke.
It grew and spread, and put forth many flowers,
Its every flower a living open eye,
Until his soul was full of eyes within.
Each morning now was a fresh boon to him;
Each wind a spiritual power upon his life;
Each individual animal did share
A common being with him; every kind
Of flower from every other was distinct,
Uttering that for which alone it was-
Its something human, wrapt in other veil.
And when the winter came, when thick the snow
Armed the sad fields from gnawing of the frost,
When the low sun but skirted his far realms,
And sank in early night, he drew his chair
Beside the fire; and by the feeble lamp
Read book on book; and wandered other climes,
And lived in other lives and other needs,
And grew a larger self by other selves.
Ere long, the love of knowledge had become
A hungry passion and a conscious power,
And craved for more than reading could supply.
Then, through the night (all dark, except the moon
Shone frosty o'er the heath, or the white snow
Gave back such motes of light as else had sunk
In the dark earth) he bent his plodding way
Over the moors to where the little town
Lay gathered in the hollow. There the student
Who taught from lingering dawn to early dark,
Had older scholars in the long fore-night;
For youths who in the shop, or in the barn,
Or at the loom, had done their needful work,
Came gathering there through starlight, fog, or snow,
And found the fire ablaze, the candles lit,
And him who knew waiting for who would know.
Here mathematics wiled him to their heights;
And strange consent of lines to form and law
Made Euclid a profound romance of truth.
The master saw with wonder how he seized,
How eagerly devoured the offered food,
And longed to give him further kinds. For Knowledge
Would multiply like Life; and two clear souls
That see a truth, and, turning, see at once
Each the other's face glow in that truth's delight,
Are drawn like lovers. So the master offered
To guide the ploughman through the narrow ways
To heights of Roman speech. The youth, alert,
Caught at the offer; and for years of nights,
The house asleep, he groped his twilight way
With lexicon and rule, through ancient story,
Or fable fine, embalmed in Latin old;
Wherein his knowledge of the English tongue,
Through reading many books, much aided him-
For best is like in all the hearts and tongues.
At length his progress, through the master's pride
In such a pupil, reached the father's ears.
Great gladness woke within him, and he vowed,
If caring, sparing might accomplish it,
He should to college, and there have his fill
Of that same learning.
To the plough no more,
All day to school he went; and ere a year,
He wore the scarlet gown with the closed sleeves.
Awkward at first, but with a dignity
Soon finding fit embodiment in speech
And gesture and address, he made his way,
Unconscious all, to the full-orbed respect
Of students and professors; for whose praise
More than his worth, society, so called,
To its rooms in that great city of the North,
Invited him. He entered. Dazzled at first
By brilliance of the shining show, the lights,
The mirrors, gems, white necks, and radiant eyes,
He stole into a corner, and was quiet
Until the vision too had quieter grown.
Bewildered next by many a sparkling word,
Nor knowing the light-play of polished minds,
Which, like rose-diamonds cut in many facets,
Catch and reflect the wandering rays of truth
As if they were home-born and issuing new,
He held his peace, and silent soon began
To see how little fire it needs to shimmer.
Hence, in the midst of talk, his thoughts would wander
Back to the calm divine of homely toil;
While round him still and ever hung an air
Of breezy fields, and plough, and cart, and scythe-
A kind of clumsy grace, in which gay girls
Saw but the clumsiness-another sort
Saw the grace too, yea, sometimes, when he spoke,
Saw the grace only; and began at last,
For he sought none, to seek him in the crowd,
And find him unexpected, maiden-wise.
But oftener far they sought him than they found,
For seldom was he drawn away from toil;
Seldomer stinted time held due to toil;
For if one night his panes were dark, the next
They gleamed far into morning. And he won
Honours among the first, each session's close.
Nor think that new familiarity
With open forms of ill, not to be shunned
Where many youths are met, endangered much
A mind that had begun to will the pure.
Oft when the broad rich humour of a jest
With breezy force drew in its skirts a troop
Of pestilential vapours following-
Arose within his sudden silent mind
The maiden face that once blushed down on him-
That lady face, insphered beyond his earth,
Yet visible as bright, particular star.
A flush of tenderness then glowed across
His bosom-shone it clean from passing harm:
Should that sweet face be banished by rude words?
It could not stay what maidens might not hear!
He almost wept for shame, that face, such jest,
Should meet in his house. To his love he made
Love's only worthy offering-purity.
And if the homage that he sometimes met,
New to the country lad, conveyed in smiles,
Assents, and silent listenings when he spoke,
Threatened yet more his life's simplicity;
An antidote of nature ever came,
Even Nature's self. For, in the summer months,
His former haunts and boyhood's circumstance
Received him to the bosom of their grace.
And he, too noble to despise the past,
Too proud to be ashamed of manly toil,
Too wise to fancy that a gulf gaped wide
Betwixt the labouring hand and thinking brain,
Or that a workman was no gentleman
Because a workman, clothed himself again
In his old garments, took the hoe, the spade,
The sowing sheet, or covered in the grain,
Smoothing with harrows what the plough had ridged.
With ever fresher joy he hailed the fields,
Returning still with larger powers of sight:
Each time he knew them better than before,
And yet their sweetest aspect was the old.
His labour kept him true to life and fact,
Casting out worldly judgments, false desires,
And vain distinctions. Ever, at his toil,
New thoughts would rise, which, when God's night awoke,
He still would seek, like stars, with instruments-
By science, or by truth's philosophy,
Bridging the gulf betwixt the new and old.
Thus laboured he with hand and brain at once,
Nor missed due readiness when Scotland's sons
Met to reap wisdom, and the fields were white.
His sire was proud of him; and, most of all,
Because his learning did not make him proud:
He was too wise to build upon his lore.
The neighbours asked what he would make his son:
“I'll make a man of him,” the old man said;
“And for the rest, just what he likes himself.
He is my only son-I think he'll keep
The old farm on; and I shall go content,
Leaving a man behind me, as I say.”
So four years long his life swung to and fro,
Alternating the red gown and blue coat,
The garret study and the wide-floored barn,
The wintry city and the sunny fields:
In every change his mind was well content,
For in himself he was the growing same.
In no one channel flowed his seeking thoughts;
To no profession did he ardent turn:
He knew his father's wish-it was his own.
“Why should a man,” he said, “when knowledge grows,
Leave therefore the old patriarchal life,
And seek distinction in the noise of men?”
He turned his asking face on every side;
Went reverent with the anatomist, and saw
The inner form of man laid skilful bare;
Went with the chymist, whose wise-questioning hand
Made Nature do in little, before his eyes,
And momently, what, huge, for centuries,
And in the veil of vastness and lone deeps,
She labours at; bent his inquiring eye
On every source whence knowledge flows for men:
At some he only sipped, at others drank.
At length, when he had gained the master's right-
By custom sacred from of old-to sit
With covered head before the awful rank
Of black-gowned senators; and each of those,
Proud of the scholar, was ready at a word
To speed him onward to what goal he would,
He took his books, his well-worn cap and gown,
And, leaving with a sigh the ancient walls,
Crowned with their crown of stone, unchanging gray
In all the blandishments of youthful spring,
Chose for his world the lone ancestral farm.
With simple gladness met him on the road
His gray-haired father-elder brother now.
Few words were spoken, little welcome said,
But, as they walked, the more was understood.
If with a less delight he brought him home
Than he who met the prodigal returned,
It was with more reliance, with more peace;
For with the leaning pride that old men feel
In young strong arms that draw their might from them,
He led him to the house. His sister there,
Whose kisses were not many, but whose eyes
Were full of watchfulness and hovering love,
Set him beside the fire in the old place,
And heaped the table with best country-fare.
When the swift night grew deep, the father rose,
And led him, wondering why and where they went,
Thorough the limpid dark, by tortuous path
Between the corn-ricks, to a loft above
The stable, where the same old horses slept
Which he had guided that eventful morn.
Entering, he saw a change-pursuing hand
Had been at work. The father, leading on
Across the floor, heaped high with store of grain
Opened a door. An unexpected light
Flashed on him cheerful from a fire and lamp,
That burned alone, as in a fairy-tale:
Behold! a little room, a curtained bed,
An easy chair, bookshelves, and writing-desk;
An old print of a deep Virgilian wood,
And one of choosing Hercules! The youth
Gazed and spoke not. The old paternal love
Had sought and found an incarnation new!
For, honouring in his son the simple needs
Which his own bounty had begot in him,
He gave him thus a lonely thinking space,
A silent refuge. With a quiet good night,
He left him dumb with love. Faintly beneath,
The horses stamped, and drew the lengthening chain.
Three sliding years, with slowly blended change,
Drew round their winter, summer, autumn, spring,
Fulfilled of work by hands, and brain, and heart.
He laboured as before; though when he would,
And Nature urged not, he, with privilege,
Would spare from hours of toil-read in his room,
Or wander through the moorland to the hills;
There on the apex of the world would stand,
As on an altar, burning, soul and heart-
Himself the sacrifice of faith and prayer;
Gaze in the face of the inviting blue
That domed him round; ask why it should be blue;
Pray yet again; and with love-strengthened heart
Go down to lower things with lofty cares.
When Sundays came, the father, daughter, son
Walked to the church across their own loved fields.
It was an ugly church, with scarce a sign
Of what makes English churches venerable.
Likest a crowing cock upon a heap
It stood-but let us say-St. Peter's cock,
Lacking not many a holy, rousing charm
For one with whose known self it was coeval,
Dawning with it from darkness of the unseen!
And its low mounds of monumental grass
Were far more solemn than great marble tombs;
For flesh is grass, its goodliness the flower.
Oh, lovely is the face of green churchyard
On sunny afternoons! The light itself
Nestles amid the grass; and the sweet wind
Says, I am here,-no more. With sun and wind
And crowing cocks, who can believe in death?
He, on such days, when from the church they Came,
And through God's ridges took their thoughtful way,
The last psalm lingering faintly in their hearts,
Would look, inquiring where his ridge would rise;
But when it gloomed or rained, he turned aside:
What mattered it to him?
And as they walked
Homeward, right well the father loved to hear
The fresh rills pouring from his son's clear well.
For the old man clung not to the old alone,
Nor leaned the young man only to the new;
They would the best, they sought, and followed it.
“The Pastor fills his office well,” he said,
In homely jest; “-the Past alone he heeds!
Honours those Jewish times as he were a Jew,
And Christ were neither Jew nor northern man!
He has no ear for this poor Present Hour,
Which wanders up and down the centuries,
Like beggar-boy roaming the wintry streets,
With witless hand held out to passers-by;
And yet God made the voice of its many cries.
Mine be the work that comes first to my hand!
The lever set, I grasp and heave withal.
I love where I live, and let my labour flow
Into the hollows of the neighbour-needs.
Perhaps I like it best: I would not choose
Another than the ordered circumstance.
This farm is God's as much as yonder town;
These men and maidens, kine and horses, his;
For them his laws must be incarnated
In act and fact, and so their world redeemed.”
Though thus he spoke at times, he spake not oft;
Ruled chief by action: what he said, he did.
No grief was suffered there of man or beast
More than was need; no creature fled in fear;
All slaying was with generous suddenness,
Like God's benignant lightning. “For,” he said,
“God makes the beasts, and loves them dearly well-
Better than any parent loves his child,
It may be,” would he say; for still the may be
Was sacred with him no less than the is-
“In such humility he lived and wrought-
Hence are they sacred. Sprung from God as we,
They are our brethren in a lower kind,
And in their face we see the human look.”
If any said: “Men look like animals;
Each has his type set in the lower kind;”
His answer was: “The animals are like men;
Each has his true type set in the higher kind,
Though even there only rough-hewn as yet.
The hell of cruelty will be the ghosts
Of the sad beasts: their crowding heads will come,
And with encircling, slow, pain-patient eyes,
Stare the ill man to madness.”
When he spoke,
His word behind it had the force of deeds
Unborn within him, ready to be born;
But, like his race, he promised very slow.
His goodness ever went before his word,
Embodying itself unconsciously
In understanding of the need that prayed,
And cheerful help that would outrun the prayer.
When from great cities came the old sad news
Of crime and wretchedness, and children sore
With hunger, and neglect, and cruel blows,
He would walk sadly all the afternoon,
With head down-bent, and pondering footstep slow;
Arriving ever at the same result-
Concluding ever: “The best that I can do
For the great world, is the same best I can
For this my world. What truth may be therein
Will pass beyond my narrow circumstance,
In truth's own right.” When a philanthropist
Said pompously: “It is not for your gifts
To spend themselves on common labours thus:
You owe the world far nobler things than such;”
He answered him: “The world is in God's hands,
This part of it in mine. My sacred past,
With all its loves inherited, has led
Hither, here left me: shall I judge, arrogant,
Primaeval godlike work in earth and air,
Seed-time and harvest-offered fellowship
With God in nature-unworthy of my hands?
I know your argument-I know with grief!-
The crowds of men, in whom a starving soul
Cries through the windows of their hollow eyes
For bare humanity, nay, room to grow!-
Would I could help them! But all crowds are made
Of individuals; and their grief and pain,
Their thirst and hunger-all are of the one,
Not of the many: the true, the saving power
Enters the individual door, and thence
Issues again in thousand influences
Besieging other doors. I cannot throw
A mass of good into the general midst,
Whereof each man may seize his private share;
And if one could, it were of lowest kind,
Not reaching to that hunger of the soul.
Now here I labour whole in the same spot
Where they have known me from my childhood up
And I know them, each individual:
If there is power in me to help my own,
Even of itself it flows beyond my will,
Takes shape in commonest of common acts,
Meets every humble day's necessity:
-I would not always consciously do good,
Not always work from full intent of help,
Lest I forget the measure heaped and pressed
And running over which they pour for me,
And never reap the too-much of return
In smiling trust and beams from kindly eyes.
But in the city, with a few lame words,
And a few wretched coins, sore-coveted,
To mediate 'twixt my cannot and my would,
My best attempts would never strike a root;
My scattered corn would turn to wind-blown chaff;
I should grow weak, might weary of my kind,
Misunderstood the most where almost known,
Baffled and beaten by their unbelief:
Years could not place me where I stand this day
High on the vantage-ground of confidence:
I might for years toil on, and reach no man.
Besides, to leave the thing that nearest lies,
And choose the thing far off, more difficult-
The act, having no touch of God in it,
Who seeks the needy for the pure need's sake,
Must straightway die, choked in its selfishness.”
Thus he. The world-wise schemer for the good
Held his poor peace, and went his trackless way.
What of the vision now? the vision fair
Sent forth to meet him, when at eve he went
Home from his first day's ploughing? Oft he dreamed
She passed him smiling on her stately horse;
But never band or buckle yielded more;
Never again his hands enthroned the maid;
He only worshipped with his eyes, and woke.
Nor woke he then with foolish vain regret;
But, saying, “I have seen the beautiful,”
Smiled with his eyes upon a flower or bird,
Or living form, whate'er, of gentleness,
That met him first; and all that morn, his face
Would oftener dawn into a blossomy smile.
And ever when he read a lofty tale,
Or when the storied leaf, or ballad old,
Or spake or sang of woman very fair,
Or wondrous good, he saw her face alone;
The tale was told, the song was sung of her.
He did not turn aside from other maids,
But loved their faces pure and faithful eyes.
He may have thought, “One day I wed a maid,
And make her mine;” but never came the maid,
Or never came the hour: he walked alone.
Meantime how fared the lady? She had wed
One of the common crowd: there must be ore
For the gold grains to lie in: virgin gold
Lies in the rock, enriching not the stone.
She was not one who of herself could be;
And she had found no heart which, tuned with hers,
Would beat in rhythm, growing into rime.
She read phantasmagoric tales, sans salt,
Sans hope, sans growth; or listlessly conversed
With phantom-visitors-ladies, not friends,
Mere spectral forms from fashion's concave glass.
She haunted gay assemblies, ill-content-
Witched woods to hide in from her better self,
And danced, and sang, and ached. What had she felt,
If, called up by the ordered sounds and motions,
A vision had arisen-as once, of old,
The minstrel's art laid bare the seer's eye,
And showed him plenteous waters in the waste;-
If the gay dance had vanished from her sight,
And she beheld her ploughman-lover go
With his great stride across a lonely field,
Under the dark blue vault ablaze with stars,
Lifting his full eyes to the radiant roof,
Live with our future; or had she beheld
Him studious, with space-compelling mind
Bent on his slate, pursue some planet's course;
Or reading justify the poet's wrath,
Or sage's slow conclusion?-If a voice
Had whispered then: This man in many a dream,
And many a waking moment of keen joy,
Blesses you for the look that woke his heart,
That smiled him into life, and, still undimmed,
Lies lamping in the cabinet of his soul;-
Would her sad eyes have beamed with sudden light?
Would not her soul, half-dead with nothingness,
Have risen from the couch of its unrest,
And looked to heaven again, again believed
In God and life, courage, and duty, and love?
Would not her soul have sung to its lone self:
“I have a friend, a ploughman, who is wise.
He knows what God, and goodness, and fair faith
Mean in the words and books of mighty men.
He nothing heeds the show of worldly things,
But worships the unconquerable truth.
This man is humble and loves me: I will
Be proud and very humble. If he knew me,
Would he go on and love me till we meet!”?
In the third year, a heavy harvest fell,
Full filled, before the reaping-hook and scythe.
The heat was scorching, but the men and maids
Lightened their toil with merry jest and song;
Rested at mid-day, and from brimming bowl,
Drank the brown ale, and white abundant milk.
The last ear fell, and spiky stubble stood
Where waved the forests of dry-murmuring corn;
And sheaves rose piled in shocks, like ranged tents
Of an encamping army, tent by tent,
To stand there while the moon should have her will.
The grain was ripe. The harvest carts went out
Broad-platformed, bearing back the towering load,
With frequent passage 'twixt homeyard and field.
And half the oats already hid their tops,
Their ringing, rustling, wind-responsive sprays,
In the still darkness of the towering stack;
When in the north low billowy clouds appeared,
Blue-based, white-crested, in the afternoon;
And westward, darker masses, plashed with blue,
And outlined vague in misty steep and dell,
Clomb o'er the hill-tops: thunder was at hand.
The air was sultry. But the upper sky
Was clear and radiant.
Downward went the sun,
Below the sullen clouds that walled the west,
Below the hills, below the shadowed world.
The moon looked over the clear eastern wall,
And slanting rose, and looked, rose, looked again,
And searched for silence in her yellow fields,
But found it not. For there the staggering carts,
Like overladen beasts, crawled homeward still,
Sped fieldward light and low. The laugh broke yet,
That lightning of the soul's unclouded skies-
Though not so frequent, now that toil forgot
Its natural hour. Still on the labour went,
Straining to beat the welkin-climbing heave
Of the huge rain-clouds, heavy with their floods.
Sleep, old enchantress, sided with the clouds,
The hoisting clouds, and cast benumbing spells
On man and horse. One youth who walked beside
A ponderous load of sheaves, higher than wont,
Which dared the lurking levin overhead,
Woke with a start, falling against the wheel,
That circled slow after the slumbering horse.
Yet none would yield to soft-suggesting sleep,
And quit the last few shocks; for the wild storm
Would catch thereby the skirts of Harvest-home,
And hold her lingering half-way in the rain.
The scholar laboured with his men all night.
He did not favour such prone headlong race
With Nature. To himself he said: “The night
Is sent for sleep; we ought to sleep in the night,
And leave the clouds to God. Not every storm
That climbeth heavenward overwhelms the earth;
And when God wills, 'tis better he should will;
What he takes from us never can be lost.”
But the father so had ordered, and the son
Went manful to his work, and held his peace.
When the dawn blotted pale the clouded east,
The first drops, overgrown and helpless, fell
On the last home-bound cart, oppressed with sheaves;
And by its side, the last in the retreat,
The scholar walked, slow bringing up the rear.
Half the still lengthening journey he had gone,
When, on opposing strength of upper winds
Tumultuous borne, at last the labouring racks
Met in the zenith, and the silence ceased:
The lightning brake, and flooded all the world,
Its roar of airy billows following it.
The darkness drank the lightning, and again
Lay more unslaked. But ere the darkness came,
In the full revelation of the flash,
Met by some stranger flash from cloudy brain,
He saw the lady, borne upon her horse,
Careless of thunder, as when, years agone,
He saw her once, to see for evermore.
“Ah, ha!” he said, “my dreams are come for me!
Now shall they have me!” For, all through the night,
There had been growing trouble in his frame,
An overshadowing of something dire.
Arrived at home, the weary man and horse
Forsook their load; the one went to his stall,
The other sought the haven of his bed-
There slept and moaned, cried out, and woke, and slept:
Through all the netted labyrinth of his brain
The fever shot its pent malignant fire.
'Twas evening when to passing consciousness
He woke and saw his father by his side:
His guardian form in every vision drear
That followed, watching shone; and the healing face
Of his true sister gleamed through all his pain,
Soothing and strengthening with cloudy hope;
Till, at the weary last of many days,
He woke to sweet quiescent consciousness,
Enfeebled much, but with a new-born life-
His soul a summer evening after rain.
Slow, with the passing weeks, he gathered strength,
And ere the winter came, seemed half restored;
And hope was busy. But a fire too keen
Burned in his larger eyes; and in his cheek
Too ready came the blood at faintest call,
Glowing a fair, quick-fading, sunset hue.
Before its hour, a biting frost set in.
It gnawed with icy fangs his shrinking life;
And that disease bemoaned throughout the land,
The smiling, hoping, wasting, radiant death,
Was born of outer cold and inner heat.
One morn his sister, entering while he slept,
Spied in his listless hand a handkerchief
Spotted with red. Cold with dismay, she stood,
Scared, motionless. But catching in the glass
The sudden glimpse of a white ghostly face,
She started at herself, and he awoke.
He understood, and said with smile unsure,
“Bright red was evermore my master-hue;
And see, I have it in me: that is why.”
She shuddered; and he saw, nor jested more,
But smiled again, and looked Death in the face.
When first he saw the red blood outward leap,
As if it sought again the fountain-heart
Whence it had flowed to fill the golden bowl,
No terror seized-an exaltation swelled
His spirit: now the pondered mystery
Would fling its portals wide, and take him in,
One of the awful dead! Them, fools conceive
As ghosts that fleet and pine, bereft of weight,
And half their valued lives: he otherwise;-
Hoped now, and now expected; and, again,
Said only, “I await the thing to come.”
So waits a child the lingering curtain's rise,
While yet the panting lamps restrained burn
At half-height, and the theatre is full.
But as the days went by, they brought sad hours,
When he would sit, his hands upon his knees,
Drooping, and longing for the wine of life.
For when the ninefold crystal spheres, through which
The outer light sinks in, are cracked and broken,
Yet able to keep in the 'piring life,
Distressing shadows cross the chequered soul:
Poor Psyche trims her irresponsive lamp,
And anxious visits oft her store of oil,
And still the shadows fall: she must go pray!
And God, who speaks to man at door and lattice,
Glorious in stars, and winds, and flowers, and waves,
Not seldom shuts the door and dims the pane,
That, isled in calm, his still small voice may sound
The clearer, by the hearth, in the inner room-
Sound on until the soul, fulfilled of hope,
Look undismayed on that which cannot kill;
And saying in the dark, I will the light,
Glow in the gloom the present will of God:
Then melt the shadows of her shaken house.
He, when his lamp shot up a spiring flame,
Would thus break forth and climb the heaven of prayer:
“Do with us what thou wilt, all-glorious heart!
Thou God of them that are not yet, but grow!
We trust thee for the thing we shall be yet;
We too are ill content with what we are.”
And when the flame sank, and the darkness fell,
He lived by faith which is the soul of sight.
Yet in the frequent pauses of the light,
When all was dreary as a drizzling thaw,
When sleep came not although he prayed for sleep,
And wakeful-weary on his bed he lay,
Like frozen lake that has no heaven within;
Then, then the sleeping horror woke and stirred,
And with the tooth of unsure thought began
To gnaw the roots of life:-What if there were
No truth in beauty! What if loveliness
Were but the invention of a happier mood!
“For, if my mind can dim or slay the Fair,
Why should it not enhance or make the Fair?”
“Nay,” Psyche answered; “for a tired man
May drop his eyelids on the visible world,
To whom no dreams, when fancy flieth free,
Will bring the sunny excellence of day.
'Tis easy to destroy; God only makes.
Could my invention sweep the lucid waves
With purple shadows-next create the joy
With which my life beholds them? Wherefore should
One meet the other without thought of mine,
If God did not mean beauty in them and me,
But dropped them, helpless shadows, from his sun?
There were no God, his image not being mine,
And I should seek in vain for any bliss!
Oh, lack and doubt and fear can only come
Because of plenty, confidence, and love!
Those are the shadow-forms about the feet
Of these-because they are not crystal-clear
To the all-searching sun in which they live:
Dread of its loss is Beauty's certain seal!”
Thus reasoned mourning Psyche. Suddenly
The sun would rise, and vanish Psyche's lamp,
Absorbed in light, not swallowed in the dark.
It was a wintry time with sunny days,
With visitings of April airs and scents,
That came with sudden presence, unforetold,
As brushed from off the outer spheres of spring
In the great world where all is old and new.
Strange longings he had never known till now,
Awoke within him, flowers of rooted hope.
For a whole silent hour he would sit and gaze
Upon the distant hills, whose dazzling snow
Starred the dim blue, or down their dark ravines
Crept vaporous; until the fancy rose
That on the other side those rampart walls,
A mighty woman sat, with waiting face,
Calm as that life whose rapt intensity
Borders on death, silent, waiting for him,
To make him grand for ever with a kiss,
And send him silent through the toning worlds.
The father saw him waning. The proud sire
Beheld his pride go drooping in the cold,
Like snowdrop on its grave; and sighed deep thanks
That he was old. But evermore the son
Looked up and smiled as he had heard strange news
Across the waste, of tree-buds and primroses.
Then all at once the other mood would come,
And, like a troubled child, he would seek his father
For father-comfort, which fathers all can give:
Sure there is one great Father in the world,
Since every word of good from fathers' lips
Falleth with such authority, although
They are but men as we! This trembling son,
Who saw the unknown death draw hourly nigher,
Sought solace in his father's tenderness,
And made him strong to die.
One shining day,
Shining with sun and snow, he came and said,
“What think you, father-is death very sore?”
“My boy,” the father answered, “we will try
To make it easy with the present God.
But, as I judge, though more by hope than sight,
It seems much harder to the lookers on
Than to the man who dies. Each panting breath
We call a gasp, may be in him the cry
Of infant eagerness; or, at worst, the sob
With which the unclothed spirit, step by step.
Wades forth into the cool eternal sea.
I think, my boy, death has two sides to it-
One sunny, and one dark-as this round earth
Is every day half sunny and half dark.
We on the dark side call the mystery death;
They on the other, looking down in light,
Wait the glad birth, with other tears than ours.”
“Be near me, father, when I die,” he said.
“I will, my boy, until a better Father
Draws your hand out of mine. Be near in turn,
When my time comes-you in the light beyond,
And knowing well the country-I in the dark.”
The days went by, until the tender green
Shone through the snow in patches. Then the hope
Of life, reviving faintly, stirred his heart;
For the spring drew him-warm, soft, budding spring,
With promises, and he went forth to meet her.
But he who once had strode a king on the fields,
Walked softly now; lay on the daisied grass;
And sighed sometimes in secret, that so soon
The earth, with all its suns and harvests fair,
Must lie far off, an old forsaken thing.
But though I lingering listen to the old,
Ere yet I strike new chords that seize the old
And lift their lost souls up the music-stair-
Think not he was too fearful-faint of heart
To look the blank unknown full in the void;
For he had hope in God-the growth of years,
Of ponderings, of childish aspirations,
Of prayers and readings and repentances;
For something in him had ever sought the peace
Of other something deeper in him still-
A faint sound sighing for a harmony
With other fainter sounds, that softly drew
Nearer and nearer from the unknown depths
Where the Individual goeth out in God:
The something in him heard, and, hearing, listened,
And sought the way by which the music came,
Hoping at last to find the face of him
To whom Saint John said Lord with holy awe,
And on his bosom fearless leaned the while.
As his slow spring came on, the swelling life,
The new creation inside of the old,
Pressed up in buds toward the invisible.
And burst the crumbling mould wherein it lay.
Not once he thought of that still churchyard now;
He looked away from earth, and loved the sky.
One earthly notion only clung to him:-
He thanked God that he died not in the cold;
“For,” said he, “I would rather go abroad
When the sun shines, and birds are singing blithe.-It
may be that we know not aught of place,
Or any sense, and only live in thought;
But, knowing not, I cling to warmth and light.
I may pass forth into the sea of air
That swings its massy waves around the earth,
And I would rather go when it is full
Of light, and blue, and larks, than when gray fog
Dulls it with steams of old earth winter-sick.
Now in the dawn of summer I shall die-
Sinking asleep ere sunset, I will hope,
And going with the light. And when they say,
'He's dead; he rests at last; his face is changed;'
I shall be saying: Yet, yet, I live, I love!'”
The weary nights did much to humble him;
They made the good he knew seem all ill known:
He would go by and by to school again!
“Father,” he said, “I am nothing; but Thou art!”
Like half-asleep, whole-dreaming child, he was,
Who, longing for his mother, has forgot
The arms about him, holding him to her heart:
Mother he murmuring moans; she wakes him up
That he may see her face, and sleep indeed.
Father! we need thy winter as thy spring;
We need thy earthquakes as thy summer showers;
But through them all thy strong arms carry us,
Thy strong heart bearing large share in our grief.
Because thou lovest goodness more than joy
In them thou lovest, thou dost let them grieve:
We must not vex thee with our peevish cries,
But look into thy face, and hold thee fast,
And say O Father, Father! when the pain
Seems overstrong. Remember our poor hearts:
We never grasp the zenith of the time!
We have no spring except in winter-prayers!
But we believe-alas, we only hope!-That
one day we shall thank thee perfectly
For every disappointment, pang, and shame,
That drove us to the bosom of thy love.
One night, as oft, he lay and could not sleep.
His spirit was a chamber, empty, dark,
Through which bright pictures passed of the outer world:
The regnant Will gazed passive on the show;
The magic tube through which the shadows came,
Witch Memory turned and stayed. In ones and troops,
Glided across the field the things that were,
Silent and sorrowful, like all things old:
Even old rose-leaves have a mournful scent,
And old brown letters are more sad than graves.
At length, as ever in such vision-hours,
Came the bright maiden, high upon her horse.
Will started all awake, passive no more,
And, necromantic sage, the apparition
That came unbid, commanded to abide.
Gathered around her form his brooding thoughts:
How had she fared, spinning her history
Into a psyche-cradle? With what wings
Would she come forth to greet the aeonian summer?
Glistening with feathery dust of silver? or
Dull red, and seared with spots of black ingrained?
“I know,” he said, “some women fail of life!
The rose hath shed her leaves: is she a rose?”
The fount of possibilities began
To gurgle, threatful, underneath the thought:
Anon the geyser-column raging rose;-
For purest souls sometimes have direst fears
In ghost-hours when the shadow of the earth
Is cast on half her children, and the sun
Is busy giving daylight to the rest.
“Oh, God!” he cried, “if she be such as those!-
Angels in the eyes of poet-boys, who still
Fancy the wavings of invisible wings,
But, in their own familiar, chamber-thoughts,
Common as clay, and of the trodden earth!-
It cannot, cannot be! She is of God!-
And yet things lovely perish! higher life
Gives deeper death! fair gifts make fouler faults!-
Women themselves-I dare not think the rest!”
Such thoughts went walking up and down his soul
But found at last a spot wherein to rest,
Building a resolution for the day.
The next day, and the next, he was too worn
To clothe intent in body of a deed.
A cold dry wind blew from the unkindly east,
Making him feel as he had come to the earth
Before God's spirit moved on the water's face,
To make it ready for him.
But the third
Morning rose radiant. A genial wind
Rippled the blue air 'neath the golden sun,
And brought glad summer-tidings from the south.
He lay now in his father's room; for there
The southern sun poured all the warmth he had.
His rays fell on the fire, alive with flames,
And turned it ghostly pale, and would have slain-
Even as the sunshine of the higher life,
Quenching the glow of this, leaves but a coal.
He rose and sat him down 'twixt sun and fire;
Two lives fought in him for the mastery;
And half from each forth flowed the written stream
“Lady, I owe thee much. Stay not to look
Upon my name: I write it, but I date
From the churchyard, where it shall lie in peace,
Thou reading it. Thou know'st me not at all;
Nor dared I write, but death is crowning me
Thy equal. If my boldness yet offend,
Lo, pure in my intent, I am with the ghosts;
Where when thou comest, thou hast already known
God equal makes at first, and Death at last.”
“But pardon, lady. Ere I had begun,
My thoughts moved toward thee with a gentle flow
That bore a depth of waters: when I took
My pen to write, they rushed into a gulf,
Precipitate and foamy. Can it be
That Death who humbles all hath made me proud?”
“Lady, thy loveliness hath walked my brain,
As if I were thy heritage bequeathed
From many sires; yet only from afar
I have worshipped thee-content to know the vision
Had lifted me above myself who saw,
And ta'en my angel nigh thee in thy heaven.
Thy beauty, lady, hath overflowed, and made
Another being beautiful, beside,
With virtue to aspire and be itself.
Afar as angels or the sainted dead,
Yet near as loveliness can haunt a man,
Thy form hath put on each revealing dress
Of circumstance and history, high or low,
In which, from any tale of selfless life,
Essential womanhood hath shone on me.”
“Ten years have passed away since the first time,
Which was the last, I saw thee. What have these
Made or unmade in thee?-I ask myself.
O lovely in my memory! art thou
As lovely in thyself? Thy glory then
Was what God made thee: art thou such indeed?
Forgive my boldness, lady-I am dead:
The dead may cry, their voices are so small.”
“I have a prayer to make thee-hear the dead.
Lady, for God's sake be as beautiful
As that white form that dwelleth in my heart;
Yea, better still, as that ideal Pure
That waketh in thee, when thou prayest God,
Or helpest thy poor neighbour. For myself
I pray. For if I die and find that she,
My woman-glory, lives in common air,
Is not so very radiant after all,
My sad face will afflict the calm-eyed ghosts,
Unused to see such rooted sorrow there.
With palm to palm my kneeling ghost implores
Thee, living lady-justify my faith
In womanhood's white-handed nobleness,
And thee, its revelation unto me.”
“But I bethink me:-If thou turn thy thoughts
Upon thyself, even for that great sake
Of purity and conscious whiteness' self,
Thou wilt but half succeed. The other half
Is to forget the former, yea, thyself,
Quenching thy moonlight in the blaze of day,
Turning thy being full unto thy God.
Be thou in him a pure, twice holy child,
Doing the right with sweet unconsciousness-
Having God in thee, thy completing soul.”
“Lady, I die; the Father holds me up.
It is not much to thee that I should die;
It may be much to know he holds me up.”
“I thank thee, lady, for the gentle look
Which crowned me from thine eyes ten years ago,
Ere, clothed in nimbus of the setting sun,
Thee from my dazzled eyes thy horse did bear,
Proud of his burden. My dull tongue was mute-
I was a fool before thee; but my silence
Was the sole homage possible to me then:
That now I speak, and fear not, is thy gift.
The same sweet look be possible to thee
For evermore! I bless thee with thine own,
And say farewell, and go into my grave-
No, to the sapphire heaven of all my hopes.”
Followed his name in full, and then the name
Of the green churchyard where his form should lie.
Back to his couch he crept, weary, and said:
“O God, I am but an attempt at life!
Sleep falls again ere I am full awake.
Light goeth from me in the morning hour.
I have seen nothing clearly; felt no thrill
Of pure emotion, save in dreams, ah-dreams!
The high Truth has but flickered in my soul-
Even at such times, in wide blue midnight hours,
When, dawning sudden on my inner world,
New stars came forth, revealing unknown depths,
New heights of silence, quelling all my sea,
And for a moment I saw formless fact,
And knew myself a living lonely thought,
Isled in the hyaline of Truth alway!
I have not reaped earth's harvest, O my God;
Have gathered but a few poor wayside flowers,
Harebells, red poppies, daisies, eyebrights blue-
Gathered them by the way, for comforting!
Have I aimed proudly, therefore aimed too low,
Striving for something visible in my thought,
And not the unseen thing hid far in thine?
Make me content to be a primrose-flower
Among thy nations, so the fair truth, hid
In the sweet primrose, come awake in me,
And I rejoice, an individual soul,
Reflecting thee-as truly then divine
As if I towered the angel of the sun.
Once, in a southern eve, a glowing worm
Gave me a keener joy than the heaven of stars:
Thou camest in the worm nearer me then!
Nor do I think, were I that green delight,
I would change to be the shadowy evening star.
Ah, make me, Father, anything thou wilt,
So be thou will it! I am safe with thee.
I laugh exulting. Make me something, God-
Clear, sunny, veritable purity
Of mere existence, in thyself content.
And seeking no compare. Sure I have reaped
Earth's harvest if I find this holy death!-
Now I am ready; take me when thou wilt.”
He laid the letter in his desk, with seal
And superscription. When his sister came,
He told her where to find it-afterwards.
As the slow eve, through paler, darker shades,
Insensibly declines, until at last
The lordly day is but a memory,
So died he. In the hush of noon he died.
The sun shone on-why should he not shine on?
Glad summer noises rose from all the land;
The love of God lay warm on hill and plain:
'Tis well to die in summer.
When the breath,
After a hopeless pause, returned no more,
The father fell upon his knees, and said:
“O God, I thank thee; it is over now!
Through the sore time thy hand has led him well.
Lord, let me follow soon, and be at rest.”
Therewith he rose, and comforted the maid,
Who in her brother had lost the pride of life,
And wept as all her heaven were only rain.
Of the loved lady, little more I know.
I know not if, when she had read his words,
She rose in haste, and to her chamber went,
And shut the door; nor if, when she came forth,
A dawn of holier purpose gleamed across
The sadness of her brow. But this I know,
That, on a warm autumnal afternoon,
When headstone-shadows crossed three neighbour graves,
And, like an ended prayer, the empty church
Stood in the sunshine, or a cenotaph,
A little boy, who watched a cow near by
Gather her milk where alms of clover-fields
Lay scattered on the sides of silent roads,
All sudden saw, nor knew whence she had come,
A lady, veiled, alone, and very still,
Seated upon a grave. Long time she sat
And moved not, weeping sore, the watcher said-
Though how he knew she wept, were hard to tell.
At length, slow-leaning on her elbow down,
She hid her face a while in the short grass,
And pulled a something small from off the mound-
A blade of grass it must have been, he thought,
For nothing else was there, not even a daisy-
And put it in a letter. Then she rose,
And glided silent forth, over the wall,
Where the two steps on this side and on that
Shorten the path from westward to the church.-
The clang of hoofs and sound of light, swift wheels
Arose and died upon the listener's ear.
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