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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet - 1880 Edition—








          September o’er, the memoral hills had spread
          Their fan-like wings, and the wide expanse
          Smiled in luxury and opulence
          Of wide abundance, and undiminished charms.—
          A full-flushed matron in the prime of life,
          With will unbroken, and serene of brow,
          With spirit light, and flippant as a maid’s,
          With now and then a mood of soberness,
          As dreaming of the future and the past.
          The tinge of Autumn had not mellowed yet;
          The vision of the landscape, and red fruit
          Still hung amid the clustering foliage;
          The fields along the slopes are wreathed with corn;
          The rivulets were shadow-haunted still;
          The sunset, like a holy Holocaust,
          By myriad Nature offered to its God,
          With hands uplifted, and adoring eyes
          ’Neath ocean brows of lofty lustrous calm,
          Burned on the unhewn altar of the west,
          And peer above huge coils of flossy clouds
          Irradiate, with the all-pervading flame,
          Like coloured wreaths of incense curled on haze.
          The wrinkled hills, coeval with the sun,
          The ocean and the stars, serene as when
          Primeval forests sobbed around them, shone
          Intensely bright, transfigured in the glory.
          Long rafts of level lights stretched wide and far
          From height to height along the Penine hills;
          The valleys lay beneath them in a glow
          Of softer radiance, and above the sky
          Dozed in a calm of cherub slumberings;
          A little stir of humourous voiceless wind,
          Enough to set the brooks a-tittering,
          Involved the hills in trembling courtesings,
          And stately rows of wigged and powdered trees,
          And multiplied the thousand ripples on
          The aftermath, and pounced with gay caress
          On daises white, and shy-coquette of flowers
          That, giggling, lowered and dipped their pretty heads,
          As country maids when rifled of a kiss.
          Beside a cottage roofed with homely thatch,
          Beneath a canopy of sycamores;—
          A lordly row, that hung their shadow o’er
          Across a patch, where, in the dawn of Spring,
          A fairy family of snow-drops grew—
          A young man sat upon a mossy stone,
          Worn were his shoes and thread-bare were his robes;
          His puny limbs were thin and delicate;
          Upon the silence of his quiet brow
          A shadow hung, and ’neath the widening eyes
          The dark insignia of the sorrow-hand,
          That never comes but leaves a mournful trace
          Which no one may mistake, were charactered,
          Around the chastened lips, a sensitive
          Quick tremour ran, and ’neath the seedy vest
          A hungry heart beat with a quickened pace;
          But triumph on the brow sat sunning now.
          Tho’ tears were in the eyes—the thirsty eyes—
          That dwell upon the glory of the sunset,
          And thitherward the hands were tightly clasp’d;
          Within the soul a calm exultant swell—
          The consciousness of kinship with the grand,
          The lofty, the sublime of earth and heaven;
          The spirit glorying o’er the power, the grasp
          Of mind to feel and to appreciate
          The glorious amid the beautiful of God.
          And tears within the eyes—the shadow mist
          That ever haunts the Summer bright of earth,
          The weary droppings of despair o’er all
          The futile struggles to expand the thoughts
          That pant for utterance; the impulses,
          The mysteries of all we see and feel,
          But never, never, never may express.
          Anon the sun blaze sunk away and died,
          And while the gloaming faded on the hills,
          A change came o’er the form that sat amid
          The shading of the sycamore. The mind
          Came back from wandering in the nature world,
          And preyed upon itself; the yearning eyes
          Turned from the outer to the inner world;
          The tinkling sound of clogged and busy feet;
          The clink of pans and pails, commingled with
          The turning of a churn within the cot;
          The gabble of the fowls, while fluttering
          Away to roost; the herd-boy’s shout; the sound
          Of lowing kine, returning udder-eased
          With empty duds, to dance the fields again.
          The distant rumble of the homeward wain,
          And all the hundred sounds of country life,
          Rose with a chastened harmony upon
          The lazy air, and played upon the ear,
          And lightly touched his senses, but awoke
          No perturbation, check, or dissonance
          Within the mind: they were so usual:
          And it, accustomed to their atmosphere,
          Had grown impregnable: they had stripped off
          Their individuality, and become
          An element of silence; or more like
          A soft accompaniment unto a song.
          There while the glory sank and died; he dreamed:—
          “A laden packman on the road at night
          Pauses upon the summit of a hill,
          And drops his load, and seats himself thereon,
          And doffs his hat, and wipes his streaming brow,
          And gazes back far down the dusty road:—
          Afar the city nestles in the vale;
          The flashing lights are moving everywhere,
          And double rows of lamps, like tiny stars,
          Run blinking here and there; and dreamily
          The vision traces, long and listening,
          The avenue of lights through which he came.
          And nearer still, the dusky solemn trees
          And blocks of cottages that rise
          Dimseen, and mark the nearer torturous road—
          And to his ear comes floating mellowly,
          The mazy hum of many broken sounds
          From the far city, inarticulate;
          No sounds defined—mixed—softened down
          Into an indistinguishable, low
          Dull monotone.” I, like that traveller,
          Pause on the rugged way, beneath the night,
          And lower my load, and panting, gaze far back
          And see the visions that I had before,
          And mark them dusked and dimly; as appear
          Far distant objects in a morning fog;
          And hear soft shreds of sounds, all twin’d among,
          But soft and beautiful, as some low strain
          Waked from an organ in the twilight time
          By fingers giving scope to spirit dreams
          Within some vast, dimed, caverned emptyness
          Whose every cavity gives back its voice.
          How like a floating picture in a dream
          That little cottage, where my memory
          First caught a weak impression, seems. The low
          Long sunset light lies on it like a crown.
          The cottage nest, whose low and broad’ning eaves
          A man might almost reach with stretching up,
          With battered chimney pot obliquely perched
          Upon the gable, and a tutored plum
          Stretching above the roof for higher hold;
          The doorway and the tiny avenue
          O’er arched with tangled lobs of damson trees;
          The home-made patch; the long and narrow lane;
          The gossiping streamlet straggling by its side;
          The variegated holly in the corner
          Of the wee garden plot, where oft we lay,
          Perdu, or played at cows with coloured shreds—
          The flower-strewn, heart-shaped croft that lay below
          Beneath the shadows of tremendous trees;
          The miry ditch behind, upon whose bank
          The snowdrops come and then the primroses;
          The old gray Sunday-school, where the kind hand
          Of him whose goodness through the many years
          Has been my blessing, first conducted me.
          These, with a thousand other features, rise
          Before me, vaguely glimmering in the far
          Dim mellowed mistiness.
                                         Then comes the change.
          The scenes rise up distinctly, nearer, fixed
          In strange rays of light: a long, tall, gaunt,
          And barefaced cottage, whitewashed outwardly,
          A thin stark yew shoots up the front;
          Besides the door within the palisades
          Behind, a nook of garden, nestling warm
          Within a strong, high range of wall, or topped
          With lolling rhododendrons, lilacs grey,
          And long, lean slangs of ponds, o’ershadowed with
          Dark clumps of hollies, running two above
          And one below, besides an old bent road,
          And everywhere are undulating slopes,
          And belts of coppices, and meadow slips,
          And pleasant lanes, and little serpent paths,
          And humps of hills with face full of change—
          These form a dingle, fixed for a time
          Within my vision, changing constantly,
          In light and hue, but featured still the same
          While the wild panorama of the years—
          The season’s bannered dance; the stately face
          Of queenly day; the night’s stupendous march,
          Sublime with nature’s wonder-painting dews,
          And hoary frosts and snows, and biting storms:
          The rush and roar of winds; the tempest’s surge;
          The many shaped and many lustred clouds;
          The thunder’s awful talking, and the glimpse
          Of lightnings issuing in forked shafts
          From the black eaves of clouds; the calms,
          The hushings, wastings, and the whisperings;
          The glamours of great sunsets, and the wide
          Unequalled splendours of the dawn. The awe
          And erieness of spirit haunted twilight;
          The floods of sunlight on the leys and lawns;
          The marvellous night-shade weirdly alloyment;
          With breathings of the many-languaged stars,
          And all the manifold sublimity
          Of the wide universe, grew on my soul.
          A scene of wonderment and awfulness,
          That filled my thought with silentness before
          The unfathomable majesty, and wide
          And vast stupendousness of visible things,
          A feeling, or a reverence, or an awe
          Dropped on my spirit, and my lips were dumb,
          I wandered underneath all moods of skies,
          And haunted nature in her every phrase,
          And stood beneath the doming of the night
          When o’er the orient the queen of heaven
          Lay calm amid a sea of waveless film,
          And all the vast still roof of blue, the white
          Unnumbered multitude of panting stars
          Intensely throbbed; while mute around the earth
          Lay slumbering, and trouble, pain and toil,
          Grown dumb, bent o’er their wounds and died.
          And up the vales the mists rose spectrally,
          And on the hills the moon’s magnificence
          In webs of frosted silver, scattered lay.
          I flung myself upon the earth and kissed
          The hoary dews, and turned my face above
          And watched the meteors gliding to and fro
          And marked the shooting stars slip from their hold,
          And glide with sheeny tails athwart the abyss,
          And suddenly fade out and disappear.
          And there I lay, and shuddering, deemed that these
          Were worn out worlds whose sands of time had run,
          Whom God had summoned to the judgment bar.
          Unutterable thoughts rose on my soul.




The above terminates the poem to which the author has given the name of  “Invalid Poet.” The short life of affliction of George Heath, did not allow him to complete the undertaking, and consequently, like several of his other poems, it unfortunately remains a fragment. Amongst his manuscripts, however, are found lengthy passages which were evidently intended for the “Invalid Poet,” with intervening suggestions for further poetic manipulation. These passages, in the order in which they appear, afford a good conception of what the poem if it had been finished, was designed to be, and as they comprise some of the finest thoughts he has anywhere penned, and indicate the opening of a fresh and much richer poetic vein, it would be doing an injustice alike to his memory and the public to withhold them from publication.




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