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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—





          I sat beside the window, sad and still,
               The gauzy curtains round about me fell,
          I looked away o’er misty vale and hill,
               O’er silent field and forest, rock and dell;
          Night’s mystic spirit held my soul in thrall,
               A shadowy presence filled the azure void,
          A solemn quietude pervaded all,
               And there was—rest—
                                                            Rest in the eventide.

          I wiped my tear-stained eyes, and gazed and gazed;
               A torrent-gush of moonlight burst around;
          Night’s solemn brow grew bright, the river blazed,
               And floods of glory filled the vast profound;
          The village roofs, the church, the tombs, the spire,
               The landscape stretching out on every side,
          The charmed hills lay steeped in milky fire,
               And there was rest—
                                                            Rest in the eventide.

          And not one pinion clove the dreaming air,
               And not one footfall from the street uprose;
          The amorous radiance trembled everywhere,
               And never a sound disturbed the mute repose.
          The sad earth turned her wan face to the night
               To woo the rest which garish day denied;
          The pitying sister bathed her brow with light,
               And bade her rest—
                                                            Rest in the eventide.

          The rapt effulgence, sleeping white and calm,
               The slumb’rous presence clasping earth and skies,
          Fell on my troubles like a healing balm,
               Or the soul-shadowings of pitying eyes.
          The billowy surge of sorrow ceased to roll,
               Upon my cheeks the scalding grief-drops dried,
          A holy thrill of peace enwrapt my soul,
               And there was rest—
                                                            Rest at the eventide.

          I turned my eyes away, and rose and crept
               Up to the curtained couch with bated breath,
          Where two wan beings knelt and sadly wept
               O’er one who slept the still pale sleep of death.
          One hour agone the weary wheels had ceased,
               Hope, fear, uncertainty were laid aside;
          The panting, toiling spirit was released,
               And there was rest—
                                                            Rest in the eventide.

          I drew the white sheet slowly, slowly down,
               A rigid object met my yearning sight;
          A round, fair head, with tresses golden brown
               Streaming profusely o’er a pillow white;
          A still, white face with lips all mutely closed,
               Thin hands stretched meekly down on either side,
          A waxen breast that motionless reposed
               In marble rest—
                                                            Rest at the eventide.

          And can this be, I thought, the hand I grasped,
               The form that learned to love me long ago;
          Is this the being which my glad arms clasped?
               These—these the lips that, smiling, thrilled me so?
          Are these the eyes that wept whene’er I wept?
               This the chaste breast that with me grieved and joyed?
          This the sole head that on my bosom slept?
               The fairest, best!
                                                            My love—one year my bride!

          Back o’er my soul the old mad yearning rushed,
               I strained the limp form fiercely to my breast;
          Adown my cheeks, on hers, a torrent gushed,
               And on the cold, cold lips my own I pressed;
          I called on her with each endearing name,
               But still no answering touch, no voice replied;
          Unbroken was the charm, and still the same
               That icy rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide.

          And yet, how lifelike seemed that quiet face!
               The golden glory slumb’ring ’mongst the hair,
          Each feature chiselled with divinest grace,
               Each outline, graven on my heart, was there:
          And yet, ’twas only fairest moulded clay,
               The trammel which the soul had cast aside;
          The glory and the light had passed away,
               And there was rest—
                                                            Rest at the eventide.

          And can this marble-like, this placid form,
               This mass of earth, I mused, of fairest mould,
          Have once withstood the brunt of Sorrow’s storm?
               Basked in the sunshine; shivered in the cold?
          Have once been torture-wrung and passion-swayed,
               Crossed, tempted, buffeted, afflicted, tried?
          This mute frail form in cerements white arrayed,
               Proving the rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide?

          Ah, yes! the tempest-rack had o’er it passed,
               And passion fierce had held a brief, dark sway;
          Affliction too had racked, but only cast
               A chaster glory round the drooping clay,
          But wrought a tinge of sadness on that brow,
               But made her tenderer and more human-eyed,
          But scourged that marble breast, so peaceful now
               In painless rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide.

          For when the ocean boiled, the tempest raged,
               And clouds of horror did her bark o’erwhelm,
          She cried for help, and One the storm assuaged,
               Came o’er the plaint-wave and took the helm,
          And steered it safely o’er the treach’rous deep,
               And moored it firmly on that stormless side—
          (“For thus he giveth his beloved sleep”)—
               And there was rest—
                                                            Rest in the eventide.

          I knelt and moaned, “Oh! what is life to me
               Without the partner of my manhood’s choice?
          A lonely wanderer on the great rough sea,
               With no consoling hand, no cheering voice:
          Oh, take me too, dear Lord! and, free from care,
               Lay me to slumber sweetly by her side;
          In death, as life, unparted let me share
               With her the rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide.”

          In one wild quenchless agony of prayer
               The tempest sorrow of my life surged out,
          Its idol-dream, its anguish and despair,
               Its passion flame, its madness, sin, and doubt.
          Then came a gentle whisper, “Peace, be still.”
               A wondrous gladness filled my bosom’s void;
          A mystic calm, a hallowed strength of will,
               A gleam of rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide.

          Even so, oh Father! Marvellous, Infinite!
               Thy will be done; Thou judgest truest what is best.
          The idol from my heart Thou tookest, that I might
               Grope the darkness through for Thee my rest:
          So lead me on the shadow-land, till I
               Roam where the deathless evermore abide;
          And there with her, the lost, the found! enjoy
               That holiest rest—
                                                            Rest of the eventide.






            Go thy way, thou fortunate,
                 Hie thee from thy mother-lands,
            Get thee wealth, be wise and great,
                 Grave thy mark on richer strands;
            Seek beyond the great, wide sea—
            Calmly, closely, steadfastly—
                 But thou’lt never, never find,
            ’Mid the ravished beauty there,
            One wee face so lily fair,
            One pure heart that aye will be
            Fondly, truly, tenderly,
            Evermore as true to thee
                 As the one thou leav’st behind.

            Darker eyes may on thee shine,
                 Gaudier forms around thee start,
            Fiercer loves may seek to twine
                 Earthy tendrils round thy heart:
            In that flushed and ardent zone
            Hotter hands may clasp thy own,
                 But thou’lt never, never find
            One small hand so soft and white,
            One brown eye so full of light,
            One fond bosom that will be
            Bravely, purely, tenderly,
            Evermore as true to thee,
                 As the one thou leav’st behind.

            Get thee drunk with rich perfume,
                 And the spell of beauty blent;
            Bask amid the hectic bloom
                 Of the lucent orient;
            Search among the galaxy
            Of the gorgeous and the free,
                 But thou’lt never, never find
            One low promise half so sure,
            One affection half so pure,
            One fair being that will be
            Fondly, wholly, constantly,
            Aye so faithful unto thee,
                 As the one thou leav’st behind.

            Many a sun must rise and set,
            Many a buoyant heart forget,
                 Many a season bloom and fall,
            Ere again ye twain have met,
                 If again ye meet at all!
            But I trust that fate at last
            May reverse thy flying mast;
                 That, returning, thou may’st find
            Breathing still that bosom chaste,
            Though the snow be interlaced
            With the auburn in her hair,
            And her brow be seamed with care;
                 And that thou with passion kind
            Cherish her who aye will be,
            Fondly, truly, tenderly—
            Wheresoe’er thy steps may be,
            Near or far, on land or sea—
            Ever faithful unto thee—
                 Weeping lonely now behind!


[Note: ’Stanzas To———’  was published in The Staffordshire Sentinel on 2nd March, 1867.]






                 Ah me! What a dreary day!
                 Sad and deep the wind outside
                      Mutters many a low refrain,
                 Drifts the dead leaves far and wide,
                 Hurls the thick clouds ’cross the sky,
                 Scattering torrents in their train;
                 Drenching flowers that lowly lie;
                 And where’er my sad, sad eye
            Pierces, all is gloomy, damp, and drear,
            And no sound falls on my dreaming ear,
                 But the drip, drip of the rain,
                 And that weirdly low refrain,
            And, anon, an angry gust
                 Splashing ’gainst the window pane.

                              Dismantled, unleaved,
                              Begloomed, and bereaved,
          Wan Nature bends low o’er her dead, lorn and grieved,
                    Mournfully drooping, weeping, lone;
                    Uttering many a dreesome moan;
                    Aimlessly rocking to and fro,
                    To the stern wind’s mumbling flow,
          While the pelting drops of rain
                    On her palsied lips intone.

                    Choking gutter, belching drain,
                         Muddy pool and rindle swell
                    With the torrent-tears of rain,
                    Which the clouds, in grief and pain,
                         Weep o’er Nature in her dotage fell—
                         Shed in sympathy, and cannot quell!
                    And the landscape, bald and grey,
                    Sits and broods the livelong day;
                         Mopes beneath the eerie spell,
                              Which the sober,
                              Sere October
                    In the dripping air has hung,
                    Round the droning hills has flung.
                    Vanished is the gay sunshine,
                    Fled the song birds o’er the brine;
                              Insect hum
                              Is silent, dumb!
                    Hushed the murmur and the song:
                    Summer glories every one
                    All are buried, withered, gone!
          Faces are shadowed, erst sunny and glad,
          Moody, pre-occupied, peevish, or sad;
          The comfortless beggar limps shivering by;
          The flocks creep close to the sheltering side;
          The fowls, one-legged, in the warm nooks hide,
                         And each, with its head awry,
                         Watches, with bead-like eye,
          The huge clouds scud o’er the ink-black sky.
          And still the refrain of the wind, well-a-day!
          Moans low through the key-hole, and seemeth to say—
          “Thus all that is sunny is dashed with shade;
          And all that is earth-born is doomed to fade!”
                    Ah me! Alack! What a dreary day!







            Then the prickly balls are bursting
                 On the bending chestnut trees,
            When the sycamore is heavy
                 And the ash with clustering keys;
            When the fruit gleams ripe and luscious
                 From the nesting leaflets brown,
            I will meet thee when the moon-rays
                 Fire the mountain’s heathery crown.

            When the tall bents in the pastures
                 Bend o’er mushrooms rinsed with dew,
            When the faint winds carol lowly,
                 And the skies are softly blue;
            When the partridge ’mongst the grain shocks
                 Shrills her wildly piteous tone,
            Meet me ’neath the wind-strung alders
                 When the fields are silver-sown.

            Fear no ill; I could not wrong thee
                 Were my passions e’er so base;
            Innocence for shield thou wearest,
                 Guardian Trusting’s in thy face.
            ’Deed, I would not taint thy pure life
                 For a kingly robe and crown!
            Meet me, then, when haws, red-ripening,
                 Weigh the spiny branches down.

            Canst thou say I’ve ever wiled thee,
                 Ever called the hot blood o’er
            Cheek or brow, by word or gesture,
                 In our wooings heretofore?
            Nay; I see the trust-love misting
                 From those glowing eyes of brown:
            Meet me, then, when waters whisper,
                 And the acorns crackle down.

            How my miser heart bath doted
                 O’er those memories all and each!
            How I’ve blessed the starting coney
                 And the owlet’s awful screech,
            That they made thee shrink the closer
                 To my breast, my choice, my own!
            When the night was strange with voices,
                 And the earth had shapes unknown.

            Hail, September! mild September!
                 Choicest month of all the ring;
            Dearer to my hope than Summer,
                 Fairer to my thought than Spring.
            When I drop the year-long struggle,
                 Quit the black and noisy town
            For the wooing ’neath the alders,
                 When the stars are lustring down.

            Come, then, love; and harebells, nodding,
                 Drones and moths shall list our vows,
            And the sleepy sparrow roosting
                 ’Mong the holly’s berried boughs;
            Wine of love shall brim life’s goblet,
                 Mingling thine and mine, my own!
            We will quaff it deep i’th’ dew-light,
                 When the world is slumber-prone.




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