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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet - 1870 Edition—





          “To-day, our obituary readers will find
          A name—Thomas String—not unknown to his kind,
          And ’twill be remembered, we doubt not, by those
          Who’ve read us through twenty long summers and snows,
               That some of his rude, plaintive snatches of rhyme
          Appeared, years ago, in our “nook for the muse,”
               And excited no little surprise at the time.
          As far as we know he was born in the west,
               Of poor, toiling folk, in a tenement mean,
          Whose shelter he left, in a mood of unrest,
               Whilst still very young, for the world he’d not seen.
          He wandered afar in most pitiful plight,
               And earned a scant living in various ways;
          Won food for the raw, hungry stomach by light,
          Sought food for the soul from his books in the night,
               Gained knowledge of life in its stubbornest phase.
          He published, it may be a decade ago,
               A volume of scraps, with indifferent success,
          Which brought him the semblance of fame—but a show—
          Which faded, and left him more bitter and low,
               Proportioned to the height of his sudden access.
          Not much of his subsequent path can we trace;
               But few in the districts he haunted have known him;
          He passed like a cloud-shadow o’er the earth’s face;
               He had not a friend, at least none that would own him.
          A character changeful, erratic as wind,
          And strangely anomalous e’en for his kind,
               Wild, sensitive, bitter, exulting, and grieving.
          We think that no person of taste is so blind
               As to read his rough scraps without talent perceiving.
          A lover of Nature, akin to her moods;
          A power-spirit chained to a spirit that broods;
          A wide scope of vision, a child-like simplicity,
          E’en such was the man that among us has passed,
               So thoroughly human, unnoticed for years;
          Gone home to his grave! and the proud world that cast
               But hardly a crust to him, reapeth no tears.
          Much genius he had, which we deem might have shone—
               Chaste powers, which we feel might have raised him to fame—
          Had fate been propitious; had fortune but thrown
               One ray of her star in the scale of his claim.”

                              (From the “LYNX” a month afterwards).

          “We are glad to inform our subscribers to-day
          That Sir Hodge Poyson, Baronet, writes us to say
          That seeing our notice, a short time ago,
          Of the life of poor String, and his troubles and knell,
          Deeply pained and amazed, he determined to go
          To the scene of the conflict, to earth out and know
          The deep yearnings and sorrows, and all that befell
          The true ‘Bard of the Sad,’ and his merits as well.
          The gentleman laudably strives to pourtray
          The strange scenes that he witnessed, and goes on to say,
          ‘In the hole where he crept with his pain and his pride,
          Mournful song-scraps were littered on every side;
          I read the damp slips till my eyes were tear-blind.
          ’Neath the couch where he wrestled with hunger, and died,
          In a dirty, damp litter of mouldering straw,
          Stood a rude alder box, which when opened, supplied
          Such proofs of a vastly superior mind,
          As filled me with anguish and wonder and awe.
          And sitting up there, in the fast fading glow,
          I thought that there was but one act we might do
          For the man who has lived for us, toiled for us, wept for us,
          Borne our contumely, caught for us, kept for us,
          Fondly embalming their voices and themes,
          Star-dawnings of beauty, emotions, and dreams;
          Frost-waifs, that i’ th’ living eluded and slipped;
          Entwinings, that Time in his transit had stripped from us.
          For the man whose heart broke in the effort of giving—
          Yet, spurned like a dog from the land of the living,
          Too late for our pity—one justice alone
          On the long trampled list still remained; and that one
          Is to lustre his sky in the set of his sun,
          Is to rescue his works from the terrible jaw
          Of impatient Decay, and Oblivion’s maw.
          Therefore, seeing my role, I determined to bring
               Out the works (in two vols.), with a portrait complete;
          With an essay prefixed, and a life of poor “String,”
               And can promise my readers a marvellous treat.’

          We doubt not subscriptions will speedily flow
               (See advertisement elsewhere) from those who admire
          The conflicts of genius, have pity for woe,
               Or tremble and throb with the beat of the lyre.
          When ready the vols. will be duly announced,
          And a suitable critique, in passing, pronounced.
          We scarcely need say that no pains will be spared
          To render them ample, success to secure.
          The surplus, if any, will go to procure
          A suitable mark for the grave of the bard.”


          Bless thee, my harp, thou wert true to me ever:
               Soft while I weep o’er thee, kiss thee, and waken
          All the sad, sweet things that murmur and quiver!
               True to me still, though of all else forsaken!
          No more I strike for the far generations,
               Lost to the hope of fame, glory, or pelf;
          And the wild songs that I sang for the nations
               Now in my sadness I wail to myself.
          Still are ye dear, O my only-begotten.
               Born in the travail and pulse of my heart,
               Sown in my soul, of my being a part.
          Ah! but ’tis sad to be quite, quite forgotten,
          Sad unto one who has wrestled and striven,
               Lived in the life of the world as I have;
          Sad unto one who has gotten and given
               To the cold world the new voices I gave.
          Ah! I am tired of the ebbing and flowing,
                    The coming and going,
                    The seeking and seeing,
          The trouble of effort, the fever of being.
          And what is the wonder? I’m utterly beat.
                    Soon ’twill be over—
                    Oblivion will cover—
          Rest cometh after the toil and the heat.


          Soft—let us raise him, nor yield to the shrinking;
               Ah! it is sad to have never a dear one;
          Sad to depart in the night to my thinking,
               Up in a garret, with nobody near one!
          Have we no feelings as women and mothers?
          Arn’t we, from Adam, all sisters and brothers?
          Have we not, all of us, weans of our own?
               True, they have each a true friend and a home, too;
          We know they ARE cared for—have been in the gone—
               But know not, alas! as yet, what they may come to.
          Let us be kind, then; they are where he’s gone to—
          Do as we’d wish our own weans to be done to!
          Stay, what is this ’neath his hand on his breast?
          How stiff the long fingers! ’Tis rumpled and creased!
          Long lines all awry, blotted, jumbled, and stark!
          Poor fellow! ay, true, it was done in the dark.
          “Ah me, for a mother’s fond hand for a little—
                    That tender retriever!
          Oh, love for the soothing of woman to quiet
                    This burning and fever.
          Ah, dying is bitter in darkness and hunger,
                    When lonely I wis;
          I dreamed not in days that have summered and fallen
                    Of coming to this!
          But patience, take courage, my spirit, trust calmly,
                    Be firm in assurance:
          Learn bravely this last and most difficult lesson
                    Of lofty endurance.
          The sin shadows shift and the mist films are breaking,
                    The vision grows clearer;
          New gleams of the beautiful come, and for ever
                    The wonder draws nearer!
          I hate not the world, have no wound nor one memory
                    Of wrong that I cherish:
          I censure no longer; grown wiser, the race that
                    Have left me to perish
          I pity them even, and grieve for the shackles
                    That earthward have bound them,
          While all the wide ocean of Truth throbs in beauty
                    Undreamed of around them.
          I grudge not the labour, the sweat, and excitement,
                    Since all that I knew
          And felt in my heart of the truthful, and trembled,
                    I find to be true;
          Since all the fierce throes of my being, the yearning,
                    The passion that fed me,
          The impulse of beauty, the instincts I followed
                    Have never misled me,
          Since all the misgivings that clogged me, the doubts of
                    The truth of my mission,
          The tauntings and lashings, the ghoul eye of darkness,
                    Have fled like a vision;
          And all the great hem’sphere I dreamed of and fought for
                    With restless commotion,
          From which came but glimpses, as weeds to Columbus,
                    Along the drear ocean;
          And all the grand system of wisdom, the workings,
                    Inweaving agreeing,
          The goal of my yearnings I groped for in blindness
                    Grow clear to my seeing.
          The soul cannot rise from the base to the noble
                    By pausing and thinking,
          Nor grow to the triumph, and clasp the great mystery
                    By suddenly drinking
          One draught of the pure. It must grow from a point, and
                    With constant endeavour,
          Rise upwards in circles expanding and growing
                    To Godward for ever.
          Ah, well! for my soul, if’t has strung every chord of
                    The harp that was given;
          Ah, well! if each string will respond to my touch mid
                    The quiring of heaven,
          Still shift the dim shadows, and the mist films are breaking,
                    The vision grows clearer;
          New gleams of the beautiful come, and for ever
                    The wonder draws nearer.”

          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


               Excellent Father! benignant Sire!
          Calm on Thy throne, high, solemn, and eterne,
          What myriads of Thy marvellous works around Thee burn.
               My soul, uplifted with a great desire,
               Would rise to Thee, be filled, and then expire.
               O, the rapt worships trembling on my tongue!
               O, the vast yearnings quivering into song!
               When shall I lose this sense of prisoned feet?
               When shall I rise to Thee and grow complete?

          O Font of Wisdom! centre, source, and spring,
          Of Being vast! Thou Good of everything!
          Thy hand hath strung with luminous films the night.
          Our day—the night of Thee, who art the Light of light,
          Hath ordered all things, great and small, to be
          A gradual ladder leading up to Thee.

          The god-like soul—as water, prisoned deep
          From sources high, doth heave and pant to leap
          To its own level—wrestles with its chain,
          Its cell, ribbed clay, until the light it gain—
          The level of its own divinity attain.

          My life drags o’er me in a great distress;
          Earth’s brutal current-tides around me press:
          The rage of pride—the froth of littleness—
          Hate swells and deepens—hope grows less and less—
          Vice spreads her gay enchantments to my view—
          Hot passion piles my veins with fiery dew—
          Fate conjures dawnings deep that threat to gulph—
          Hardships grow monstrous—doth press me hard;
          My soul cries out in pain, but none regard.

          But ever and anon my thought escapes,
          Spurns the cold shackles that would prison it,
          Leaps to the light, moves o’er the wondrous shapes
          Wherein the marvel of Thy name is writ,
          And ever as their music dawns on me,
          My spirit trembling gropeth after thee.
          And if I from this yearning feel of wings,
          Deem Thou hast given the eagle’s majesty,
          And so essay to rise and soar and sing—as sing
          The morning larks: O not presumptuously,
          I am, though frail, thy own begotten: steady me.

          Sustain me through the first malignant rush
          Of shrivelled natures, scornful, mad to crush;
          While from me fades the din of earthly strife,
          And the new meanings gather o’er my life;
          While o’er the widening circles calm I move,
          With brow adoring lifted to Thy love.
          Bear me till all created things—earth, air, and seas,
          Their workings, powers, and properties
          Configured, pass before me; till all images,
          The parts revealing, links all agencies,
          Together fitting, make one awful whole—
          A royal garment, godhead for my soul.

          Hold thou my right hand, while around me break
          The illuminating radiance all objects take
          That unto thee approach; while clouds that scowled
          Above me erst, pass ’neath me golden-cowled—
          Give me to touch with trembling finger-tips
          The minor chords of thy stupendous lyre;
          Flow in my soul their harmony and fire,
          So all things pass to music on my lips;
          Hold me, till the warm skirting hazes, folds
          The charmèd in their glow of roseate gold;
          Till clothed in robes of Truth and Chastity,
          My being wholly moves to melody;
          Till from my soul the earth-shade softly goes,
          The damp weight drops, sweet dawns the mystery;
          The golden portals of the stars unclose,
          And my whole being grows absorbed in thee.



            When lost in dreams of twilight’s power,
                 The windings of a vale I trace,
            I caught her in a hazy bower,
                 With birch and willow interlaced.
            Around her feet the primrose shone,
                 The languorous boughs hung low with dews,
            She saw me not, but plaited on
                 A wilding wreath of many hues.

            Her robes were looped with garlands fair,
                 Her shaded eyes were full of dreams;
            Around her fell a glow of hair
                 That stirred like weeds in beds of streams.
            Her hand was rosy, fresh, and pure;
                 Her heart lay on her lips in smiles;
            Yet fire and yearning trembled sure
                 Beneath the bosom heaving whiles.

            And bluebells, violets, snowdrops white,
                 And wild rose, vetch, and lily chaste,
            And golden thyme, and daisies bright,
                 With laurel twined, her forehead graced;
            Her sandals green of woven moss,
                 With strings of berries red were tied;
            O, what a strange bright thing she was—
                 Too wildly fair for mortal bride.

            Amazed, I paused; then, smitten, dared
                 One hasty step: she fled in fright!
            I followed; ’passioned, and despaired
                 Beneath the day, beneath the night.
            A grand new radiance took the skies;
                 A fairer glory wrapt the earth;
            I saw all things with other eyes,
                 And wakened to a wider birth.

            I loved the hills she touched with light,
                 The glowing flowers that thronged her wake,
            The stream she strung to wild delight,
                 I loved all Nature for her sake!
            She dropped me here and there a flower,
                 But would not list my constant prayer;
            She coyly fled o’er field and moor;
                 I followed—followed everywhere.



          My soul, like the soul of a desolate woman
                    In barrenness pining,
          Burned aye with the fever and passion of grasping,
                    Conceiving, divining.
          Full of hope I pursued the dream-visions so fair,
                    Till the moment of grasping;
          Then to find them but clay of the common world, sank back
                     Despairing and gasping.
          I felt all the fever, the heat, and the stir of
                     The moulding and sowing,
          But came seeking fruit from my toil ere
                    My bud had done blowing.
          I hoped to lift high, like a beacon, a light
                    O’er humanity’s sea;
          To remain while the tide-waves of being rose, sank, and subsided,
                    And ’twas not to be.
          I dreamed that my voice down the chords of the ages
                    Should sweep some high theme;
          I dreamed I would shine like a star fixed in heaven,
                    And ’twas but a dream.
          And what if I grasped not the prize; if my soul grew enlarged,
                    My vision more wide,
          And my being more noble than theirs who disowned me,
                    And stung me with pride?




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