A SELECTION OF GEORGE HEATH’S SHORTER POEMS
MINNIE, EDITH, AND LIZZIE.
Sunny-haired and bright-eyed maidens,
Brimming o’er with fun and frolic,
Gushing out with joyous laughter,
Singing, dancing ’mongst the flowers,
Ever radiant, ever happy.
All unconscious of the darkness,
Looming in the distant future,—
Ye are like a streamlet gushing
From the summit of a mountain,
Skipping over rocks and pebbles,
Dancing round in mazy eddies,
Laughing out in merry cascades,
Toying with the moss and flow’rets,
Frisking, sparkling in the sunshine,
Ever dancing, ever singing,
Ever gushing out with gladness,
Filling all around with music;
All unconscious of the valley,
Where its waters, darker, deeper,
Roll with low and mournful cadence
Through the sedges and the shadows,
Onward to the boundless Ocean.
I‘d scorn to swell the toady rout,
Or bow before the gilded elf;
I laugh at Fate, and sing and shout,
“The man’s the man he makes himself.”
I strike my breast—its ring is sound;
I feel my wrists—they’re shackle-free;
I look above, before, around,
And scoff the prate of Destiny.
I think my life—my nucleus lay,
And toil around it patiently;
The circle widens day by day;
The man’s the man he wills to be!
No golden key, no magic door,
No royal road for any man;
All naked born, the rich, the poor,
The autocrat, the plebeian.
I have no patience for the sect
Who dream of crowns, and covet thrones,
Yet sit and murmur, and expect
The world to lay them stepping-stones.
I love the man who bears his thews,
And lifts his form erect and free,
Trusts his own strength, his path pursues,
And makes him what he wills to be.
Am I not strong and hardy-faced?
Hath he not given a harp to me,
A soul to love and feel; and placed
Within me my eternity?
Have I not feet to climb the stair?
A mind to think, a brain to plan?
Have I not hands to do and dare?
Shall I not stand distinct a man?
O yes! I’ll live; not drift, not dream;
Fate, circumstance, my steeds shall be:
I’ll mould each moment to my schemes,
Becoming that I fancy me.
I’ll grasp the skirts of light, and link
A mortal to a heavenly goal;
Anoint my lips with truth, and drink
The universe into my soul;
I’ll sow a stream of radiance there,
A moon-track on the wrestling seas;
My songs shall bow the hearts of men,
As tempest winds bow forest trees;
I’ll lift my voice and send it far
Along thy shores, Eternity!
I’ll bare my forehead—shine a star—
The man’s the man he wills to be.
Sometimes when we have sped the downward course
With headlong foot, a sadder pause falls on
The fever of our spirits; e’en as one
Who wanders in the darkness; comes at length
Unto a chasm’s edge and knows it not,
But feels a sudden dread within his soul,
The presence of a danger which compels
The shuddering sense to check the giddy foot
Before the last, the fatal step is taken.
And the nereid willow, coyly
Dips her tresses in the stream,
While the silken sensuous waters
Trembles downward in a dream.
Did I dream that Summer twilight
Was a crisis to my fate,
That the currents thence diverging
Led to issues strange and great,
There are moments when we tremble
When we pause amid the strife;
When we feel our acts will influence
All the tenour of our life.
There are sudden branching currents
In our being’s headlong force,
Which, if entered, bear us softly
To a milder, calmer course;
To the realms where life is fullest,
Where our hope with fruitage teems;
Where our life sweeps grandly onward
’Neath the Summer of our dreams—
Which, if missed, are lost for ever,
Chancing never more, alack!
Prayer, or tear, can bring them back.
Hearts may break that know too late;
One false step may be as fatal
As the deadly hand of fate,
And the “might have been,” add poison
To the sting for ever lost!
O ye reft of love—of manhood,
O ye blinded, vexed and tossed.
I looked Death firmly in the face, and ceased
To start and tremble at the thought of him.
I reasoned with my coward faculties,
And quivered at the name, and conjured up
Before in array the figure Death,
In every possible shape, and drew a line
Round all his terrors and his properties,
And analysed, and pondered deep, and viewed
Them o’er in every aspect, till my mind,
Accustomed to their seeming, ceased to fear.
I chose the fearfullest of shapes, and reasoned thus:
“The worst, if it should come, is only so.
I’ll steel my soul to meet the most severe.
A thousand things may hap to soothe the blow,
Or may be change the current for a time.
There are full many chances in the lap
Of Providence: ’tis probable that I
Shall draw a blank; and yet ’tis possible
That I may draw a prize; I cannot tell:
I know not, but at least Death will but be
A visitor once; why should I die and die
A hundred deaths a week? I thought, I’ll work,
And do the little I may do while I can.
INSCRIPTION ON A RUDE STONE
A quiet youth in the valleys grew,
And thought o’er his being a mantle threw,
And dawned on his spirit a meaning new,
And he dreamed of a mission great and true;
But God, in His infinite wisdom, drew
A severing finger his projects through.
His life is a fragment—a broken clue—
His harp had a musical string or two,
The tension was great, and they sprang and flew,
And a few brief strains—a scattered few—
Are all that remain to mortal view
Of the marvellous song the young man knew.
O, ye who have feeling! a tear from you!
Rest, saddest of singers, in peace—adieu!