The Oxen


















Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   "Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
   To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years!  Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   "Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

I knew a Lady (Club Song)

















I knew a lady when the days
   Grew long, and evenings goldened;
   But I was not emboldened
By her prompt eyes and winning ways.

And when old Winter nipt the haws,
   "Another's wife I'll be,
   And then you'll care for me,"
She said, "and think how sweet I was!"

And soon she shone as another's wife:
   As such I often met her,
   And sighed, "How I regret her!
My folly cuts me like a knife!"

And then, to-day, her husband came,
   And moaned, "Why did you flout her?
   Well could I do without her!
For both our burdens you are to blame!"

The Sergeant's Song (1803)























When Lawyers strive to heal a breach,
And Parsons practise what they preach;
Then Little Boney he'll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
   Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lorum,
   Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay!

When Justices hold equal scales,
And Rogues are only found in jails;
Then Little Boney he'll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
   Rollicum-rorum, &c.

When Rich Men find their wealth a curse,
And fill therewith the Poor Man's purse;
Then Little Boney he'll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
   Rollicum-rorum, &c.

When Husbands with their Wives agree,
And Maids won't wed from modesty;
Then Little Boney he'll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
   Rollicum-rorum, tol-tol-lorum,
   Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay!

1878.

Published in "The Trumpet-Major," 1880.

A Two-Years' Idyll


















     [Image: Picnicking on Plymouth Breakwater in the early 1900s]

Yes; such it was;
   Just those two seasons unsought,
Sweeping like summertide wind on our ways;
      Moving, as straws,
   Hearts quick as ours in those days;
Going like wind, too, and rated as nought
   Save as the prelude to plays
   Soon to come--larger, life-fraught:
      Yes; such it was.

      "Nought" it was called,
   Even by ourselves--that which springs
Out of the years for all flesh, first or last,
      Commonplace, scrawled
   Dully on days that go past.
Yet, all the while, it upbore us like wings
   Even in hours overcast:
   Aye, though this best thing of things,
      "Nought" it was called!

      What seems it now?
   Lost:  such beginning was all;
Nothing came after:  romance straight forsook
      Quickly somehow
   Life when we sped from our nook,
Primed for new scenes with designs smart and tall . . .
  --A preface without any book,
   A trumpet uplipped, but no call;
      That seems it now.

The Unborn















I rose at night, and visited
   The Cave of the Unborn:
And crowding shapes surrounded me
For tidings of the life to be,
Who long had prayed the silent Head
   To haste its advent morn.

Their eyes were lit with artless trust,
   Hope thrilled their every tone;
"A scene the loveliest, is it not?
A pure delight, a beauty-spot
Where all is gentle, true and just,
   And darkness is unknown?"

My heart was anguished for their sake,
   I could not frame a word;
And they descried my sunken face,
And seemed to read therein, and trace
The news that pity would not break,
   Nor truth leave unaverred.

And as I silently retired
   I turned and watched them still,
And they came helter-skelter out,
Driven forward like a rabble rout
Into the world they had so desired
   By the all-immanent Will.

1905.

"I was the Midmost"
















I was the midmost of my world
   When first I frisked me free,
For though within its circuit gleamed
   But a small company,
And I was immature, they seemed
   To bend their looks on me.

She was the midmost of my world
   When I went further forth,
And hence it was that, whether I turned
   To south, east, west, or north,
Beams of an all-day Polestar burned
   From that new axe of earth.

Where now is midmost in my world?
   I trace it not at all:
No midmost shows it here, or there,
   When wistful voices call
"We are fain!  We are fain!" from everywhere
   On Earth's bewildering ball!

The Wedding Morning






















   Tabitha dressed for her wedding:-
   "Tabby, why look so sad?"
"--O I feel a great gloominess spreading, spreading,
   Instead of supremely glad! . . .

   "I called on Carry last night,
   And he came whilst I was there,
Not knowing I'd called.  So I kept out of sight,
   And I heard what he said to her:

   "'--Ah, I'd far liefer marry
   YOU, Dear, to-morrow!' he said,
'But that cannot be.'--O I'd give him to Carry,
   And willingly see them wed,

   "But how can I do it when
   His baby will soon be born?
After that I hope I may die.  And then
   She can have him.  I shall not mourn!'

At Moonrise and Onwards

















      I thought you a fire
   On Heron-Plantation Hill,
Dealing out mischief the most dire
   To the chattels of men of hire
      There in their vill.

      But by and by
   You turned a yellow-green,
Like a large glow-worm in the sky;
   And then I could descry
      Your mood and mien.

      How well I know
   Your furtive feminine shape!
As if reluctantly you show
   You nude of cloud, and but by favour throw
      Aside its drape . . .

     -- How many a year
   Have you kept pace with me,
Wan Woman of the waste up there,
   Behind a hedge, or the bare
      Bough of a tree!

      No novelty are you,
   O Lady of all my time,
Veering unbid into my view
   Whether I near Death's mew,
      Or Life's top cyme!

A Maiden's Pledge (Song)

















I do not wish to win your vow
To take me soon or late as bride,
And lift me from the nook where now
I tarry your farings to my side.
I am blissful ever to abide
In this green labyrinth--let all be,
If but, whatever may betide,
You do not leave off loving me!

Your comet-comings I will wait
With patience time shall not wear through;
The yellowing years will not abate
My largened love and truth to you,
Nor drive me to complaint undue
Of absence, much as I may pine,
If never another 'twixt us two
Shall come, and you stand wholly mine.

The Voice of Things

















Forty Augusts--aye, and several more--ago,
   When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza'd like a multitude below
   In the sway of an all-including joy
      Without cloy.

Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
   When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
   At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
      Things that be.

Wheeling change has set me again standing where
   Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now--like a congregation there
   Who murmur the Confession--I outside,
      Prayer denied.

Penance
























"Why do you sit, O pale thin man,
   At the end of the room
By that harpsichord, built on the quaint old plan?
  --It is cold as a tomb,
And there's not a spark within the grate;
   And the jingling wires
   Are as vain desires
   That have lagged too late."

"Why do I?  Alas, far times ago
   A woman lyred here
In the evenfall; one who fain did so
   From year to year;
And, in loneliness bending wistfully,
   Would wake each note
   In sick sad rote,
   None to listen or see!

"I would not join.  I would not stay,
   But drew away,
Though the winter fire beamed brightly . . . Aye!
   I do to-day
What I would not then; and the chill old keys,
   Like a skull's brown teeth
   Loose in their sheath,
   Freeze my touch; yes, freeze."

A Meeting with Despair














As evening shaped I found me on a moor
   Which sight could scarce sustain:
The black lean land, of featureless contour,
   Was like a tract in pain.

"This scene, like my own life," I said, "is one
   Where many glooms abide;
Toned by its fortune to a deadly dun -
   Lightless on every side.

I glanced aloft and halted, pleasure-caught
   To see the contrast there:
The ray-lit clouds gleamed glory; and I thought,
   "There's solace everywhere!"

Then bitter self-reproaches as I stood
   I dealt me silently
As one perverse--misrepresenting Good
   In graceless mutiny.

Against the horizon's dim-discerned wheel
   A form rose, strange of mould:
That he was hideous, hopeless, I could feel
   Rather than could behold.

"'Tis a dead spot, where even the light lies spent
   To darkness!" croaked the Thing.
"Not if you look aloft!" said I, intent
   On my new reasoning.

 "Yea--but await awhile!" he cried.  "Ho-ho! -
   Look now aloft and see!"
I looked.  There, too, sat night:  Heaven's radiant show
   Had gone.  Then chuckled he.

The Wood Fire (A Fragment)

















"This is a brightsome blaze you've lit good friend, to-night!"
" --Aye, it has been the bleakest spring I have felt for years,
And nought compares with cloven logs to keep alight:
I buy them bargain-cheap of the executioners,
As I dwell near; and they wanted the crosses out of sight
By Passover, not to affront the eyes of visitors.

"Yes, they're from the crucifixions last week-ending
At Kranion.  We can sometimes use the poles again,
But they get split by the nails, and 'tis quicker work than mending
To knock together new; though the uprights now and then
Serve twice when they're let stand.  But if a feast's impending,
As lately, you've to tidy up for the corners' ken.

"Though only three were impaled, you may know it didn't pass off
So quietly as was wont?  That Galilee carpenter's son
Who boasted he was king, incensed the rabble to scoff:
I heard the noise from my garden.  This piece is the one he was on...
Yes, it blazes up well if lit with a few dry chips and shroff;
And it's worthless for much else, what with cuts and stains thereon."

At Tea


















The kettle descants in a cozy drone,
And the young wife looks in her husband's face,
And then at her guest's, and shows in her own
Her sense that she fills an envied place;
And the visiting lady is all abloom,
And says there was never so sweet a room.

And the happy young housewife does not know
That the woman beside her was first his choice,
Till the fates ordained it could not be so...
Betraying nothing in look or voice
The guest sits smiling and sips her tea,
And he throws her a stray glance yearningly.

I Look into my Glass























I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve;
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Seventy-four and Twenty




















Here goes a man of seventy-four,
Who sees not what life means for him,
And here another in years a score
Who reads its very figure and trim.

The one who shall walk to-day with me
Is not the youth who gazes far,
But the breezy wight who cannot see
What Earth's ingrained conditions are.

The Rambler



I do not see the hills around,
Nor mark the tints the copses wear;
I do not note the grassy ground
And constellated daisies there.

I hear not the contralto note
Of cuckoos hid on either hand,
The whirr that shakes the nighthawk's throat
When eve's brown awning hoods the land.

Some say each songster, tree, and mead -
All eloquent of love divine -
Receives their constant careful heed:
Such keen appraisement is not mine.

The tones around me that I hear,
The aspects, meanings, shapes I see,
Are those far back ones missed when near,
And now perceived too late by me!

The Old Gown (Song)



















I have seen her in gowns the brightest,
   Of azure, green, and red,
And in the simplest, whitest,
   Muslined from heel to head;
I have watched her walking, riding,
   Shade-flecked by a leafy tree,
Or in fixed thought abiding
   By the foam-fingered sea.

In woodlands I have known her,
   When boughs were mourning loud,
In the rain-reek she has shown her
   Wild-haired and watery-browed.
And once or twice she has cast me
   As she pomped along the street
Court-clad, ere quite she had passed me,
   A glance from her chariot-seat.

But in my memoried passion
   For evermore stands she
In the gown of fading fashion
   She wore that night when we,
Doomed long to part, assembled
   In the snug small room; yea, when
She sang with lips that trembled,
   "Shall I see his face again?"

The End of the Episode


   Indulge no more may we
In this sweet-bitter pastime:
The love-light shines the last time
   Between you, Dear, and me.

   There shall remain no trace
Of what so closely tied us,
And blank as ere love eyed us
   Will be our meeting-place.

   The flowers and thymy air,
Will they now miss our coming?
The dumbles thin their humming
   To find we haunt not there?

   Though fervent was our vow,
Though ruddily ran our pleasure,
Bliss has fulfilled its measure,
   And sees its sentence now.

   Ache deep; but make no moans:
Smile out; but stilly suffer:
The paths of love are rougher
   Than thoroughfares of stones.

On a Midsummer Eve


I idly cut a parsley stalk,
And blew therein towards the moon;
I had not thought what ghosts would walk
With shivering footsteps to my tune.

I went, and knelt, and scooped my hand
As if to drink, into the brook,
And a faint figure seemed to stand
Above me, with the bygone look.

I lipped rough rhymes of chance, not choice,
I thought not what my words might be;
There came into my ear a voice
That turned a tenderer verse for me.

On a discovered curl of hair















When your soft welcomings were said,
This curl was waving on your head,
And when we walked where breakers dinned
It sported in the sun and wind,
And when I had won your words of grace
It brushed and clung about my face.
Then, to abate the misery
Of absentness, you gave it me.

Where are its fellows now?  Ah, they
For brightest brown have donned a gray,
And gone into a caverned ark,
Ever unopened, always dark!

Yet this one curl, untouched of time,
Beams with live brown as in its prime,
So that it seems I even could now
Restore it to the living brow
By bearing down the western road
Till I had reached your old abode.

February 1913.

The Schreckhorn

















(With thoughts of Leslie Stephen)
(June 1897)
  
Aloof, as if a thing of mood and whim;
Now that its spare and desolate figure gleams
Upon my nearing vision, less it seems
A looming Alp-height than a guise of him
Who scaled its horn with ventured life and limb,
Drawn on by vague imaginings, maybe,
Of semblance to his personality
In its quaint glooms, keen lights, and rugged trim.

At his last change, when Life's dull coils unwind,
Will he, in old love, hitherward escape,
And the eternal essence of his mind
Enter this silent adamantine shape,
And his low voicing haunt its slipping snows
When dawn that calls the climber dyes them rose?

Looking at a Picture on an Anniversary


But don't you know it, my dear,
   Don't you know it,
That this day of the year
(What rainbow-rays embow it!)
We met, strangers confessed,
   But parted--blest?

Though at this query, my dear,
   There in your frame
Unmoved you still appear,
You must be thinking the same,
But keep that look demure
   Just to allure.

And now at length a trace
   I surely vision
Upon that wistful face
Of old-time recognition,
Smiling forth, "Yes, as you say,
   It is the day."

For this one phase of you
   Now left on earth
This great date must endue
With pulsings of rebirth? -
I see them vitalize
   Those two deep eyes!

But if this face I con
   Does not declare
Consciousness living on
Still in it, little I care
To live myself, my dear,
   Lone-labouring here!

Spring 1913.

Aberdeen (April:1905)


"And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times." - Isaiah xxxiii. 6.

I looked and thought, "All is too gray and cold
To wake my place-enthusiasms of old!"
Till a voice passed:  "Behind that granite mien
Lurks the imposing beauty of a Queen."
I looked anew; and saw the radiant form
Of Her who soothes in stress, who steers in storm,
On the grave influence of whose eyes sublime
Men count for the stability of the time.

Just the same




















I sat.  It all was past;
Hope never would hail again;
Fair days had ceased at a blast,
The world was a darkened den.

The beauty and dream were gone,
And the halo in which I had hied
So gaily gallantly on
Had suffered blot and died!

I went forth, heedless whither,
In a cloud too black for name:
- People frisked hither and thither;
The world was just the same.

Weathers


This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
   And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
   And nestlings fly:
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at "The Travellers' Rest,"
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
And citizens dream of the south and west,
   And so do I.

II

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
   And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
   And thresh, and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate-bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
   And so do I.

The Problem


   Shall we conceal the Case, or tell it -
      We who believe the evidence?
   Here and there the watch-towers knell it
      With a sullen significance,
Heard of the few who hearken intently and carry an eagerly upstrained
sense.

   Hearts that are happiest hold not by it;
      Better we let, then, the old view reign;
   Since there is peace in it, why decry it?
      Since there is comfort, why disdain?
Note not the pigment the while that the painting determines
humanity's joy and pain!

I was not he (song)

   I was not he--the man
Who used to pilgrim to your gate,
At whose smart step you grew elate,
   And rosed, as maidens can,
      For a brief span.

   It was not I who sang
Beside the keys you touched so true
With note-bent eyes, as if with you
   It counted not whence sprang
      The voice that rang . . .

   Yet though my destiny
It was to miss your early sweet,
You still, when turned to you my feet,
   Had sweet enough to be
      A prize for me!

To a well-named dwelling


Glad old house of lichened stonework,
What I owed you in my lone work,
   Noon and night!
Whensoever faint or ailing,
Letting go my grasp and failing,
   You lent light.

How by that fair title came you?
Did some forward eye so name you
   Knowing that one,
Sauntering down his century blindly,
Would remark your sound, so kindly,
   And be won?

Smile in sunlight, sleep in moonlight,
Bask in April, May, and June-light,
   Zephyr-fanned;
Let your chambers show no sorrow,
Blanching day, or stuporing morrow,
   While they stand.

Wagtail and Baby


A baby watched a ford, whereto
   A wagtail came for drinking;
A blaring bull went wading through,
   The wagtail showed no shrinking.

A stallion splashed his way across,
   The birdie nearly sinking;
He gave his plumes a twitch and toss,
   And held his own unblinking.

Next saw the baby round the spot
   A mongrel slowly slinking;
The wagtail gazed, but faltered not
   In dip and sip and prinking.

A perfect gentleman then neared;
   The wagtail, in a winking,
With terror rose and disappeared;
   The baby fell a-thinking.