—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—
(SONGS OF THE SHADOWS.)
“What happy moments did I count!
Blessed was I then, all bliss above!
Now, for this consecrated fount
Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,
What have I? shall I dare to tell?
A comfortless and hidden WELL.”— Wordsworth.
She came amid the calm of autumn days,
Came from her distant home among the hills,
To spend a tiny sheaf of days with us.
Her parents and our parents, in the days
When they were young and newly gone to house,
Had been near neighbours, and the closest friends;
Had parted later, where their roads diverged,
In mutual confidence, esteem, regret.
And now she came with kindly messages
And warm remembrances from them to us,
In token that the past was unforgot.
’Twas many a day since we had met; and each
Was changed. We scarce were more than children then,
And now, well, we were changed: the world was changed.
We each had grown into another sphere,
Bounded by other skies, and lit by suns
Of different hues; and life had changed its shape.
She had grown beautiful; her woman-form
Was rounded into perfect symmetry.
Her face was soft, and fair, and delicate,
And constantly reminded one of music;
For ever as the eye gazed, on the heart
Arose a sense of harmonies; a swell
Of soft refrains, that thrilled one as they died.
But oh! her glory was the flood of hair
That gushing o’er her shoulders, shrouded her.
No line was on her forehead, and no shade
Touched with a saddening, sobering influence
The laughter of her life; so far, indeed,
As human eye might penetrate the show.
We liked her from the first, and those to me
Were blessèd days. The intercourse with true
And tender womanhood has been the one
Green grove of palms in all my desert life!
One other round of hours remained to us
Yet, ere the confluence of our lives and thoughts
Should separate and grow distinct again;
When on an afternoon we sallied out
Among the browning fields, adown dim lanes,
Beneath the ragged shade of chastened trees,
To view the scenery, and drink into
Our hearts the Nature-spirit felt o’er all:
For we were kindred in our Nature-love.
It was a calm; the winds were bridled up.
A film of mistiness, indefinite,
Paled the wide azure of the strandless heavens.
The sun, enthroned amid a cloudless sphere,
Trailed o’er the western heights his regal robe.
A valley lay before us, prone and mute,
Too happy in the luxury of peace
For voice or breath, or music’s gayer charm:
A valley fair, with outlets ’mongst the hills,
Sun-touched, and flushed with amber radiance,
Caught from the flood of yellow, glamouring
The blenching sycamores, and tempered with
The wild black lustreing of Bradshaw Edge.
Beyond, a solemn wave of shaggy heights,
Crowned with the tuft of Roches, glimmered red.
We talked of all the wonder of the world;
Bewailed the narrowness of human ken;
Pictured the might-be from the known-to-be;
Pushed off Conjecture’s shallop on the surge—
The vast, dumb, unrevealed that round us lies!
Clomb from the inanimate far up the scale
To the divine; and felt a lifting up
I spoke of all the undertones
Of sad humanity; the current-beats
That underlie the surface, bland and calm.
I said, “No home arises ’mid these vales,
No hearth gleams brightly; but around it grow
Romances strange, that interweave and mix
Like circles on a pond beneath the rain,
And yet are separate, and spread distinct,
And die away, as they had never been:
In these is much of joy, and much of good,
An under-shade of wrong, and sin, and blame,
And much of voiceless sorrow nobly borne.”
“Ah, painful is the school of discipline!”
She answered with a sudden change of tone;
“Yet sorrow is a tutor wonderful!
Our life is like a tiny shallow stream,
Until the storm-rack wear it deeper, wider.
We know not life, nor aught of human nature
Until the probe has pierced our heart of hearts,
And then we come to know what living means:
Our view is circumscribed, until the winds
Roll off the morning mists that hide the heavens:
Ah, sorrow is a blessing in disguise!”
I stared into the chaste, unfurrowed face
In utter wonderment; and silently
We sauntered back into the house again.
But when the light lay swimming, mantling on
The margins of the hills, and o’er the pond
The swallow glided with a homeward wing;
When all the air was quivering with the chant
Of vesper bells; and the wild melody
Was dying out serenely towards the west;
We sat beside the window.
I had read
One of Buchanan’s thrilling melodies;
And while its flood of lofty tenderness,
Its soul of pitying, sorrowing sympathy,
Its plaintive cry of human pathos, knit
Our spirits in a strange affinity,
I said, “You spoke of sorrow; you, so fresh,
And erst so buoyant; from whose life, I dreamed,
No shadow-hand, as yet, had snatched the charm,
The fond illusive phantasy of youth,
That fades too soon! Dare you not trust me then?
Won’t you believe me true, and open up
That hidden chamber of your heart to me?”
She paused a moment, and the hot pink blood
Ran up her temples, dyed her cheeks and neck,
Then answered meekly, looking down the while:
“Three years gone by, a cousin came to us.
His health was shaken by the years of stern,
Unflinching study he had passed; and he
Had fled the city world, to search among
Our Hebe-haunted hills for vigour new.
He was a noble, manly youth; had all
The attributes of woman’s hero-dreams.
His lofty intellect unveiled for me
The world whose name was wonder, and the sky
That domed the flight of mind; a realm, to me,
Of utter glory, dreamed of—never seen.
We were together much; were friends at first:
And, last, were more.
Ah! I was very young;
I should not be, I think, so foolish now.
Well, it is past and gone!
He went away,
To mix again with college life and scenes.
As time went on, I knew and felt the change.
I never blamed him once; ’twas all my fault,
I owned it in my deepest bitterness!
He was ambitious; full of lofty aims;
I, but a simple girl; I should have known
‘The eagle mates not with the dove.’
Came off with honours manifold; is now
A clergyman. He writes to me, and we
Are friends, are friends,” she echoed; paused and dropped
Her hands, that trembled o’er the embroidery
(Until the needle-point had pierced the skin)
Upon her lap. Her face sank lower and lower,
And such a storm of agonizing sobs
Burst from the heavings of the o’ercharged breast
As I had never witnessed; have not since,
Through all the bitter scenes my eyes have met.
“Ah!” thought I, “never bosom shrined a heart
More true and tender.”
Silently I laid
My two warm hands on hers, and held them there
Till she had grown more calm; then, bending, said,
“I, too, have suffered much; I feel for you.”
She raised her head, and for a moment each
Looked through the sense of seeing to the heart.
She went her way, back to the old, brown hills.
The days went on; but, often as we met,
There was a something in the clasp of hands,
A quiver in the cadence of the voice,
A language in the motion of the lip
The world could not discern ; a tacit bond
Our souls could feel, but never comprehend;
A deeper looking through the upper show
Into the heart.
We knew not how or why,
But we were kin for ever after that.
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