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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—



by H.W. Foster









          The summer’s day lies sickening in the west
          Upon a citrine couch of melting blooms;
          No breath of air, or fringe of cloud upheaves
          One long-line ripple on the ether calm.
          The heat is sobering, mellowing; and the cool
          Comes filtering o’er the eastern mountains, from
          The balmy breathings of the dawning eve.
          The tingling mists, dissolving, mingling, deepening
          Rise up—  like blushes on a maiden’s face,
          Upturned amid the moonlight, glowing with
          Her lover’s parting kiss: whose form she sees,
          With something of a sadness, fading in
          The dusk — amid the vales, to bid the sun,
          Earth’s lover-face, good-night.
                                         A murmurous sound
          Of eddying voices, and the rumbling roll
          Of toil and traffic from the city world
          Float up, and clamour lazily amid
          The thickening air.
                                         A plastic form, with eye
          Of slumberous fire, and broad and brooding brow,
          And floating webs of brown and glossy curls,
          Strolls ’neath dim cypress-shaded avenues,
          And twines among grey monuments and tombs,
          And enters through a grand cathedral door;
          And pauses reverently, and gazes long,
          Awe-wrapt, upon the vast, magnific pile;
          Around the cavernous nave, adown the long
          Dim-lustred chancel, where a mystic flush
          Of variegated light pervades, cast through
          The Saviour, saint, and scene-limned glass, that fills
          The web-arched, scalloped, many-mullioned windows,
          And wanders with a step subdued adown
          The grey-’lumed aisles, beneath huge canopies,
          Agape to catch and toss from nook to nook
          The faintest sound; climbs lightly to the grand
          High-vaulted choir, and sinks from sight beyond
          A crimson curtain, crown and cross emblazed.
                    Anon, a sound—a breath—a sob—a strain—
          Soft as the dawn-sigh on the coppice leaves
          Breaks forth and trembles like a distant moan,
          And swells into a gush of tremulous jets
          Like to the sear-wind ’mongst the autumn days,
          And bursts at length in one harmonic roll
          Like to the storm-wind wrestling with the waves—
          A throbbing tide that fills the echoing choir,
          And sweeps its bounds, and leaps in billows huge
          Along the dusky cavities and domes,
          Till all the hungry space is thrilled and gorged
          With one weird, frantic torrent-tide of sound.
                    Outside, a wan, decrepit, blind, bowed man
          Sits shaking on an almost sunken mound,
          Deep in the shadow of a flaunting tomb.
          All suddenly a wee wind-mercury
          Wafts to his ears a rumour of the sound;
          He lifts his thin white head and hearkens, still,
          Then gathers up his form and totters forth,
          And with his iron-shod staff creeps feeling up
          The gravelled path, beneath the vestibule,
          And thence into the huge-ribbed tenement,
          Where throbs the music like a mighty soul
          Apant for immortality, and drops
          Upon an oaken bench that skirts the wall,
          Shrinks softly farther, farther, from the draught,
          Slopes dreamily his staff, and piles his hands
          Atop, and droops his furrowed cheek thereon,
          And listens, listens.
                              And now the prelude ends;
          And from the massy pipes the master-hand
          Draws forth the occult power and wonderment,
          The madness and the mystery of music;
          At first, a soft, sweet quivering of weak
          And infant tones, and then a turbulent gush
          Like glorious youth wind-beating on the hills;
          Anon, a strong calm roll of dauntless might
          Like manhood majesty; a throb of pain,
          Of desolation, hunger, grief, despair,
          A home-sick murmuring of weariness,
          A brief temptation, struggle, feverish,
          A holy swell of firm, heroic will,
          A passionate burst of lofty eloquence,
          A grieved complaint, a yearning humanness,
          A pleading moan, a wailing trouble-prayer,
          A storm of passion wrestling terrible,
          A cry of agony, intense and wild,
          A gasp of pitifulness, a sob of death,
          A trumpet-crash of triumph-ecstasy!
          The master-soul has burst the manacles
          Of its long incarnation, and has leaped
          With falcon-wing to its own element,
          And revels there exultant; even as
          A bird escaped anew the fancier's toils;
          Thought, memory, are carried off and lost
          In the storm-harmony; while on and on
          The tempest sweeps, till all the depths and heights
          And torrent-rolls of fever-life have found
          An utterance.
                                        Incessantly the rush,
          The panting, fluctuating cataract
          Sweeps through the thrilling minster, vault, and dome;
          And twists and doubles ’neath the gothic spans,
          And twirls and eddies round and round, and up
          The many-pillared piers and pedestals,
          And tall and massy columns; chuckling wild
          In echoing crypt and niche, recess and nook;
          And leaps and dances through the clamouring space:
          Into the dusky transepts, everywhere;
          Rushes and meets, and clashing, twirls along;
          And wriggles up the zigzag architraves,
          The fluted buttresses, and pilasters;
          Among rare ornament and tracery;
          And swarms along the transoms huge and carved,
          And plays upon the sculptured draperies,
          The statues, worship-faces, finials,
          The spiral volutes, scrolls, and mimic urns;
          And touches lightly, still recumbent forms,
          White marble hands clasped over marble breasts;
          And kisses fearfully white lips and eyes,
          And throbless brows that sleep unconsciously
          In all the rigid peace of sepulture:
          And breaks away and skims along the aisles,
          As sensible unto the ear as is
          The street-lights lingering quiver to the eye!
          The old man listens, and the shrivelled face
          Grows strangely fresh again: the cold hard lines
          Depart: a nervous tremor runs around
          The thin seared lips; the sightless balls roll up
          And round, e’en as the eye-balls work beneath
          The half-closed lids of one a-dream; and great
          White globes of tears slide off and dash upon
          The bony fingers, all a-twitch with nerve.
          But suddenly the chant is hush'd; and through
          The vacuous pause the echoes rush and clasp
          And wild and frantic-eyed swoop here and there
          Sink down to faint vociferations; melt,
          Dissolve, and swooning, die away, away!
          The old man lifts his white head with a start,
          And, sighing low, sings in his soul a song:—

            “O! wherefore pauseth the lofty strain,
                 The triumph and ecstasy?
            Why sinketh my spirit to bonds again
                 From the transport of liberty?
            My soul is a-weary of waking gloom,
                 My limbs are with pain a-wrack:
            O waft me away on that strain once more,
                 Ah! tenderly waft me back!

            For I am a desolate, sear’d old man,
                 And dark as a dawnless sea;
            A stranger man in the world of men:
                 Alone in my misery!
            The scourge of care and the tooth of age
                 Have wrought on me many a track;
            I stand in the mirk of a vanished day,
                 O tenderly waft me back.

            The pure I loved, and the base I scorned
                 Have passed from the world and me;
            And I long for my home with a longing strange—
                 My home o’er the darkest sea:
            The further I go the sadder I am,
                 And the more I find I lack;
            My sun hath gone down on a northern night;
                 O tenderly waft me back!

            Away from the cold and the shadow’d now—
                 The nothingness, hunger, woe;
            Away from the weakness that rains with tears,
                 From all that ’tis pain to know:—
            Away to the haunts of the glorious hills
                 Where the winds of the roses smack,
            And the earth lies glad in a noontide glow;
                 O tenderly waft me back!

            Away to the time of my youth and might—
                 Of rapture and liberty,
            When the voices of nature were tropes of fun,
                 And the wild winds spirits of glee;
            When I breasted the trees and vanquished the nuts
                 In a brief and a bloodless strife;
            Imprisoned the bee in the foxglove bell,
                 And laugh’d in the face of life;

            When health gave my footsteps a lithesome ring,
                 My features a lustre bright;
            And the poet Hope gave me eyes and ears,
                 And loving—a bosom light:
            When life was the glimpse of a joy-wing’d hour,
                 The world—all I hoped or dream’d;
            When faces were minds, appearances truths,
                 And dewdrops the gems they seem’d.

            Away to the scene of my fair lad-love,
                 Whose features I most forget;
            But whose goodness and worth lay sweet on the years,
                 And gladden my memory yet.
            When my eyes were awake, and could drink the sky
                 And the grandeur-world’s great dower;
            When music to me was a worship-breath
                 A rapture, a tongue, a power!

            They say I’m a child, and I feel like a child,
                 Am weak as a child, ah me!
            O waft me away, to the brief bright sky
                 Of the life that I dream’d might be:
            There let me close up the weary lids,
                 Forgetting the now and then,
            And pass to the birth of a deathless life
                 From the sorrowful world of men.”

          The old man listens, but no more, no more
          The wonder-spirit flutters to his ear:
          Comes but the sound, by echo multiplied
          Into a troop of footsteps in the aisle.
          He drops his head, and, for a moment, sobs
          In quiet helplessness; then draws once, twice,
          His russet sleeve across his darkened eyes,
          And, rising, gropes his way and totters out
          Into the wide, cold world, beneath the night
          That melteth into dawn for him no more.




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