—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet - 1880 Edition—
There she sat beside the window,
With the curtains drawn away,
Looking out into the glory,
Of the fast declining day;
Over blocks of busy factories,
Over vast and grinning tiles,
Over stacks of belching chimnies,
Over tiers of sooty tiles,
Far athwart the pale horizon,
Where the sunbeams, lingering still,
Wrought a crown of transient glory
On each dim far distant hill;
Swept the dreamy eyes the welkin,
While the milky sun-lit hue
Slowly melted from the grandeur
Of the deeper, darker blue;
Watched the fleecy cloud-wraiths floating
Calm and spirit-like to rest,
In their white and shining raiment,
In the haven of the west,
Up into the quiet chamber
From the wide and busy street,
Sounds of rumbling wheels, commingling
With the tramp of hasty feet;
And the hum of many voices,
And the vacant laugh uprose
From the throng of hardy toilers
Hastening home to court repose.
But she heard them not, and scarcely
Saw the radiant cloudlets glide,
Like the angel, Hope, for ever
Pointing towards the shining side.
She was dreaming, fondly dreaming,
Dreams of beauty, one by one,
Scenes embalmed by weeping memory
Faded with the past and gone,
She was far from noisy cities,
Free as Fancy’s airy wing,
Roaming ’mid the blossomed woodlands
Such a wild and elfish thing;
Or with golden head uncovered
Basking in the shady nook;
Weaving crowns of ferns and foxgloves,
Throwing pebbles in the brook,
Tossing hay in bleaching meadows,
Pulling Hero’s shaggy locks,
Culling flowers from mossy ruins,
Climbing ledges of the rocks,
Darting through the sloping garden,
Chasing pussy here and there,
Stealing like the radiant sunbeam,
Bright and smiling everywhere;
Sitting on the beach at sunset
On a loving father’s knee,
Listening to his tales of fairies
And the wonders of the sea.
She was in her little chamber,
Kneeling by the bedside there,
With a fond face bending o’er her
Listening to her evening prayer;
And she felt again the pressure
And the thrill of long ago,
When that tender mother laid her
On her pillow, white as snow—
Drew the curtains closely round her,
Shutting out the fading light,
Pressed a kiss upon her forehead,
Softly breathed a fond good-night.
But those days of love and sunshine
Waxed to weeks, and months, and years,
And a cloud of blackest sorrow
Rose at last, surcharged with tears.
For that pure and gentle mother
Laid her loving sway aside,
Sank, when Autumn leaves were falling,
’Neath affliction’s hand and died
And the world became so dreary
When that wasted form was laid
In her snow-white robe to slumber
’Neath the yew tree’s dusky shade.
But the cold and sombre Winter
Slowly, slowly passed away,
And sweet Spring, with shower and sunshine,
Lengthened out the transient day.
Then she wandered, sad and listless,
Through the blushing fields and bowers,
Courting Nature’s smiles and kisses,
While she stole her fairest flowers.
Wandered to the silent graveyard,
Knelt beside the naked mound,
Dropped a tear or two, and scattered
Nature’s treasures all around;
Darker, darker, fell the shadow,
For her father grew less kind,
And another claimed the title
Which the noble dead resigned.
And she did not treat her kindly,
As the sainted one had done;
So the cloud fell darker—denser,
As the months and years rolled on.
Then at twilight oft she rambled
Where the larch and willow wave;
Sat beneath the shady yew tree
On a lone and silent grave;
Not alone, for oft another
Came that lowly seat to share—
Came to gaze upon those features
Which he thought divinely fair;
Left the gambols of the village,
Stole away from scenes of toil,
Came to cheer the grieving maiden,
Came to win a grateful smile.
He was one of Nature’s nobles,
Though his face was bronzed and flecked;
Though his form was not in gaudy
Or in costly robes bedecked;
And his heart was brave and tender,
Free from sorrow, free from guile;
She could read it in the sun-light
Of a broad and happy smile;
In the flashing and the glowing
Of those deep, magnetic eyes,
Never shrinking, never flinching,
Clear as Summer’s liquid skies,
Strength and energy and daring
In that stalwart form were met;
Truth and honour on that forehead,
Like the seal of God, were set.
Yes! he often came at twilight,
Came at first with timid feet,
Ever longing for her presence,
Dreading still her form to meet;
And whene’er his eyes i’ th’ distance
Caught the gleam of snowy dress,
Or the waving of a ribbon,
Or the flutter of a tress.
Ah! his feet would pause a moment,
And his heart would throb again,
And the soul that laughed at danger
Owned itself a coward then;
And his face would glow with blushes
If she only looked or smiled,
And the hero in her presence
Was as docile as a child.
But as time went on, the blushes
And the shyness wore away,
For she grew to be the sunshine
And the glory of his day.
And if aught his footsteps hindered
She would grieve and wonder why,
For his presence filled her bosom
With a strange and secret joy,
For to him she told her troubles,
All the shadows that were cast
O’er the Spring-time of her being
From the present and the past;
And he strove to soothe and cheer her,
Spoke so fond1y—tenderly;
Satisfied her spirit’s yearning
With his honest sympathy;
Till they closer sat together
On that grassy grave alone;
Till the small white hand lay prisoned
Still and passive in his own;
Till his arm stole softly round her,
And his breath was on her cheek;
Till she felt the stout frame quiver,
But she could not—dared not speak,—
While he poured with strange vehemence
All his passion in her ears,
All his hopings and his yearnings,
All his doubtings, cares, and fears;
Till he sued to be the pilot
That should guide her through the strife;
Asked to have within his keeping
All her being, all her life;
Till her heart grew mutely happy,
And her spirit owned the spell,
For she knew his words were truthful,
And she felt she loved him well,
Till she could but creep more closely
To the haven of his breast;
Till her fair head graced his shoulder,
And his lips to hers were pressed;
And she listened while he builded
Fairy castles in the air,
Bright with sunbeams, gay with flow’rets,
Which together they would share;
While he talked of home and comfort,
Of the altar and the throne,
Of a shady vine-roofed cottage
When she came to be his own.
Sat they there till o’er them slowly,
Strange and sweet, an influence stole,
Till their tongues grew mute with rapture,
And they spoke but soul to soul;
Sat until the sunlight faded
And the shadows longer grew,
Till the night let fall her curtain,
And the stars came peeping through.
Homeward then beneath the larches,
Hand in hand they went their way,
Heeding not the darkness round them,
Dreaming only of the day,
Ah! how oft, in pensive twilight,
Through those blooming fields they roam,
Far adown the verdant valley,
Where the mimic cat’racts foam;
Followed joyously the windings
Of that shade becheckered stream,
Gathered flowers from dim recesses,
Watched the wavelets dance and gleam,
Or beneath a willow seated,
With her hand in his, he sang
(While weird echo wildly mocking
From each nook and cranny rang):
THE LOVER’S SONG.
“Oh! ye barren-hearted mortals,
Ye who breast the waves alone,
With no sunny smile to cheer you,
And no hand to clasp your own:
Ye, who sad and single~handed,
O’er life’s pathway tread,
Scorning flowers of rarest beauty,
Culling bitter weeds instead.
Oh! the barren waste grows fruitful,
And the desert blooms with flowers,
And the shadow yields to sunshine
’Neath a love as true as ours.
Oh! ye moping ones, who ever
Kneel at Mara’s bitter shrine,
Ever sit in fancied darkness,
Ever murmur and repine;
Ye who say the world is dreary,
Bounded by a stormy tide,
Ever gaze beyond the brightness
To the dark and gloomy side;
Oh! the barren waste grows fruitful,
And the desert blooms with flowers,
And the shadow yields to sunshine
’Neath a love as true as ours.
O! beneath a spreading chestnut,
In a shady, quiet spot,
Close beside a sparkling brooklet
Stands a vine-embowered cot;
And we’ll make it bright, my darling,
With the halo of our love;
O! we’ll make this earth a foretaste
Of the Paradise above.
For the barren waste grows fruitful,
And the desert blooms with flowers,
And the shadow yields to sunshine
’Neath a love as true as ours.”
Ah! ’tis ever thine, “Life’s Spring-time,”
Ever thine, immortal youth,
To imagine scenes of beauty,
And to dream them fairest truth:
Thine to gaze adown life’s pathway,
O’er the rough and thorny part;
In the glow of light reflected
From the sunshine in thy heart,
Dreaming not of Summer’s fever,
Or of Winter’s chilly gust,
Gazing steadfastly right onward,
Meeting all with perfect trust.
O! thou ever blooming goddess,
Wherefore cheat thy subjects so;
Wherefore strew the path with blossoms
That will wither ere they blow?
Wherefore hide the darksome pitfalls,
Wherefore gild the hollow fruit,
Ever gleaming in the distance,
Mocking aye the vain pursuit?
Is it sweet to thee to see them
Fighting, groping blindly on,
With the darkness thick’ning round them,
All their dreams of beauty gone?
Is it sweet to see them yielding,
Own with many a bitter tear,
That their hopes were but delusions,
And their joys but transient here?
Ah, perchance thou lov’st to see them
Gazing, ever gazing back.
With a look so sad—so wistful—
To thy smooth and shining track.
Ah! thou know’st they will not hate thee
For thy bright—too brief deceit,
For the illusion, while it lasted,
O! ’twas sweet—intensely sweet!
Sitting there beside the window
She was beautiful to see,
Turning aye the gleaming circlet
Round her finger absently.
From the calm and classic forehead
O’er the shoulders white and bare,
Like a shower of golden sunlight
Fell the wavy, fluttering hair.
And her robe of snowy muslin
Plain in style, but pure and neat,
Fitting loosely to her figure
Closed around the fairy feet.
And her features, O! her features
Strangely beautiful were they,
For the flush of youthful vigour
And the smile had passed away.
And a still and marble whiteness
Overspread the saintly face
Where her hand of thought was slowly
Working many a silent trace,
And the calm sad eyes, so thrilling,
Still were inward, gazing back
Through the cloud-rack and the shadow
To “the smooth and shining track.”
“Ah!” she murmured, “all have fallen
Faded swiftly, one by one;
E’en my girlhood’s love has withered
And its object vanished—gone!
Though we thought, alas! that sooner
Than our love should change or pall
Sooner should the sun grow rayless,
Sooner should the heavens fall.
We who stood alone together
Mingling sweetly soul with soul,
Now are severed wide asunder—
Far apart as pole from pole.
Presently a brighter influence
Crossed the dream track of her life;
Up before her stole an object
Whisp’ring softly, “Darling wife.”
Manly arms were twined around her,
Tender lips to hers were pressed,
Quick the mists broke up and vanished
And she felt supremely blest,
As she whispered, “O my husband!
Welcome to my home and heart,”
While he stroked her hair and echoed,
“Never, never more to part,”
And her inmost soul exultant,
Low, re-echoed “Never more.”
Came a tap, and then a footstep,
And a maiden cross’d the floor,
Bowing, “Here’s a letter, madam:
’Twas for you the postman said.”
All at once the happy vision
Folded up its scroll and fled,
And she tore the missive open
Read it by the waning light,
“I am coming, Annie; meet me
By the river-side to-night.”
Not another word or token,
Not a sign, a mark, a name;
But she needed none, she knew it,
Knew from whom and whence it came.
“He is coming, O,” she murmur’d,
“Coming! coming home at last,”
And the weary weeping, waiting,
All will vanish with the past,
All those days and nights of watching,
With a sinking heart and frame,
List’ning for a well-known footstep,
And a form that never came—
As a dream will be forgotten
When his arms are round me flung
When he tells in honey’d accents
Why he stayed away so long,—
Calls me, once more, wife and darling,
(O! how sweet the title now,)”
Then she mused, while blushes faintly
Dyed the smooth, transparent brow.
Fell to strange and nervous musings
Looking o’er the dusky hill
Far into the future, dreaming
Of a title dearer still.
“Then,” she thought, “he’ll never leave me
Save from dawn to evenfall,
And his home will be the circle
Which contains his all in all.”
Day-dreams, O! ye mystic day-dreams,
How ye lead the soul away
From the turmoil of the present
To a calmer, brighter day,
O! what light, what glowing lustre
O’er the tiréd spirit streams
When the fair, but frail, enchantress
Wafts us through her realm of dreams.
O! we feel the tender presence
Of a hand in days of gone;
Hear again the voice’s music
Of a dear departed one.
Comes the sound of rain distilling
Through the verdant beechen trees,
Or the whispering hush at starlight,
Or the lull of sunset seas;
Or the straggling brooklet’s ripples
Or the twitter of a bird,
Heard with some sublime confession
Some intensely thrilling word;
Strangely sweet associations
Of a life for ever fled!
Scenes we thought we long had buried
With the unremembered dead!
Looks the young man gaily forward,
Picturing scenes of radiant bliss,
And the old man, glancing backward,
Blushes ’neath his love’s first kiss.
And the crime-empurpled exile
On a strange far distant shore
Lying ’neath the broad banana
Is a sinless child once more,
Playing by the low thatched cottage,
On his head a mother’s hand;
Ah! he sheds a tear while dreaming
Of the dear old native land!
And the sailor on the mast-head
While around him pants the wave,
And the soldier wounded—bleeding—
While beneath him yawns the grave;
Each forgets his toil and danger,
Skips the lapse of seathing foam,
Feels the joyous thrill of contact
With the loved ones of his home.
And the hearts that groan in travail
For their brother’s sins and woes,
And the grieved and weary-hearted—
They who languish for repose—
And the worn-thin arms stretched forward
Grappling fiercely with the night,
And the tear-stained eyes, intensely
Piercing forward towards the light;
And the restless, yearning spirit,
Panting with immortal quest,
Gain a brief glimpse of that higher,
Holier, purier life, the best.
Blessed day-dreams! happy visions!
Gilded fancies, dearly prized!
Scents of summer flowers, long faded,
Gleams of bliss unrealized!
Ah! dream on, unhappy women;
Thick around thee falls the gloom;
Go, as goes the lamb to slaughter,
Blythe and gay to meet thy doom.
On she donned her boots and bonnet
Round her shoulders pinn’d a shawl;
Fluttered down the dusky staircase;
Stood a moment in the hall;
Hurried out into the twilight,
Down the grim and dusky street,
Far away into the suburbs
Where the town and country meet.
Onward, onward through the valley,
While the keen and bracing air,
Raised a flush upon the wan cheeks,
Fluttered lightly ’mongst her hair;
Onward, till the river’s murmur,
Deepened to a thundering roar;
Till she saw the foam-wreathed wavelets
Lick the steep and sandy shore;
Onward, ’neath the sloping alders,
Till her distant piercing eye
Caught the outline of a figure
Limn’d against the dark-blue sky.
And a joyous thrill came o’er her,
For she knew that form—that gait!
And she hurried swiftly onward,
Full of hope, to meet her fate!
With a glowing smile she met him
Hid her face upon his breast,
Feeling like the storm-tossed sailor
When he hails a port of rest;
But no sweet responsive pressure
Met the pure and chaste advance;
No fond kisses thrilled her being;
Not a tender word or glance!
Only once his stern lips, coldly
Touched the forehead, snowy white,
When the pale, grieved face looked upward,
Beaming with the old love light.
Stepping lightly back, he muttered,
“It were better for our peace
If this foolish, childish folly,
All this mummery should cease.
I am tired to death of acting,
And my heart is sated quite,
So ’twere better far to tell you—
Tell you all the truth to-night.
Ah! the time I well remember,
In the evening’s golden glow,
When I first beheld you, seated
’Neath a yew tree bending low;
And your fresh and glorious beauty,
Bursting full upon my view,
Struck me,—thrilled me with a feeling
Strong and wild, as strange and new.
Oft I came, but found that only
From the altar’s sacred shrine
Could the fairest child of nature
And the wond’rous charms be mine.
Strange to say my frenzied fancy
Led my fickle heart astray,
Reason fled with calm reflection,
And mad passion ruled the day.
And you! you knew me high born,
Knew how low your own estate;
Knew that only with an equal
Could the heir of thousands mate!
Yet you yielded; evil moment!
Causing years of mad regret;
It were better, doubly better
Had we never, never met!
For beneath these quiet alders,
Ere the rays of morning start
With yon speechless stars as witness,
We must part—for ever part!
Go your way, and ’mid the lowly
May you find a braver arm,
And a nobler heart to value
And your virtues shield from harm!”
Then he held his hand towards her,
Looked, and saw with grim surprise
O’er her face a death-like pallor,
But defiance in her eyes.
Ah! your marriage! prove it, Annie,
Trumpet to the world my name;
It was but a sham—a fiction!
’Twill but load your own with shame.”
Suddenly the arms were outstretched
Madly, pleadingly, until
Sank the wide distended eye-balls,
And the leaping pulse grew still,
And the white-lips only quivered
Ere all sense and reason left.
And she fell, as falls the tendril
When the sturdy larch is reft;
Standing there, a craven whiteness
O’er his fine, dark features spread;
O’er his frame a creeping terror,
In his breast an awful dread.
“Crushed and ruined! noble Annie!
Pure as is the font of day!
Cursed be the hour when passion
Led my better sense astray.”
For awhile he bent above her,
Cursing fate, when on his ear
Fell the distant sound of footsteps,
And he fled in haste and fear,
Softly sighed and moaned the breezes,
And the rivers thunder’d low!
And she lay there, white and rigid
Like a figure carved in snow.
(End of Part First.)
’Tis a building in a city
Modern, angular, and bare;
Cross with me the whitened doorstep
And ascend the ample stair;
Tread with silent steps the passage;
Let the weary-hearted rest;
Enter noiselessly the chamber
Looking out towards the west.
All is silent as the graveyard;
Gloom and darkness brood o’er all,
Save the first faint rays of dawning,
Struggling through the windows small,
On a plain but snowy pallet
Lies a prone and wasted form,
Bent and broken like a lily
In the thickness of the storm,
Through the long night, since the watchman
Found it lying still and low,
Where the alders bend in silence
And the river thunders low,
It had lain there mad with anguish
Tossing wildly to and fro,
Suffering nature’s sternest measures
And affliction’s recent throe!
Now it lies so still and peaceful
In the dawning, dim and grey,
That we scarce can deem it human,
Scarce believe it breathless clay,
But that now and then a spasm
Wrenches from the heart a moan;
Now and then she mutters something
In a wildly pleading tone,
Sunken are the cheeks, erst roses,
And the lips are bloodless-white,
And the forehead looks like marble
In the morning’s dusty light.
And the eyes so large, half open,
Gleam a wildly vacant stare
And the dusk of grey is blended
With the golden in her hair!
Is it? can it be the being
That we saw but yesterday?
Building gay and airy castles,
In the evening, calm and gay!
O! unyielding fate; how cruel
And how absolute thy power!
O! the foot how hard, how ruthless
That could crush so fair a flower!
By her side an old man seated
Still as figure cut in stone,
Touched her pulses with his fingers,
Held her hand within his own;
Bent his form, and worn and storm-wrapped
While as flaxen is his hair,
And his wan and furrowed features
Tell of sorrow and of care;
At his right, upon a table,
Lies a burly silver watch
Dealing time with calm precision,
Tick by tick, and notch by notch,
And a box, a spoon, a tea-cup,
Specs and nicknacks half a score,
And a case of labelled phials
At his left upon the floor.
And he sits there calm and silent,
And his eyes are dim with tears,
For his soul is mid the labyrinths
Of the sadly vanished years,
When another form and figure,
Crushed like this, before him lay,
One whose mortal long has mingled
With corruption, worms and clay!
Ah! he once was boyant hearted;
Once was happy, fair and young;
Once had been the village hero,
And the envied of the throng;
Master of a noble science;
Husband of a sweet, pure wife;
Earth to him was like an Eden;
Like a cloudless dream of life.
Years flew on and not a shadow
Damped their Summer’s day of love.
O! they almost had forgotten
Him who rules and reigns above,
He who gave those cherub beings
Crowding gayly round the hearth,
He who clothed them all with beauty,
Gave them innocence and mirth,
Time sped on, till lithesome Effie,
Fairest of the joyous band,
First sweet Spring of their union
Once the Queen of Baby-Land.