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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—





          I hear strange music in the trees;
          I see the mild melodious stir
          Of clouds and corn; can almost feel the breeze
          That waves the long bright films of gossamer,
          Running in tissue-strands from tree to tree;
          And the wild joy of living and expanding
               Comes from the outer-world to me;
          And all the radiance and the melody
                         Upon me lying,
          Moveth my spirit (as a summer wind
               Troubleth a weeping willow tress)
                         Unto a soft strange kind
          Of sadness, gladness, pain, and silentness,
                         Vague, mingled, undefined.
          For here I lie amid the stranding
          Of my life-hope; must leave behind
                         All that I see
          Of beautiful and grand; no more to be
          A portion of their life and poesy—
                         I am dying!
                    O wonderful Light! O Music marvellous!
                                   My soul hath dwelt with you.
                    O Beauty, heavenly Beauty! is it thus
                         That I must fade and pass away,
                                   While thou art ever new,
                                   Fresh-born, and sparkling as the dew?
                    O, I have felt a kinship with the grand,
                         The tender, the magnificent;
                                   Is ’t possible the hand
                    That once hath swept the mystic under-keys
                                   Of this vast instrument,
                                   Can perish utterly?
                                   Is ’t possible the night
                                   On which I enter now
                                        Will know no day?
                    Can that, that feels and utters all decay?
                                   O spirit, bend thy brow!
                                   O soul, sink on thy knees!
                                   Wait calmly till the light
                    Break on thy trembling, deep anxiety.
                                   Far, hid eternity!
                    What is thy shadow? what thy mystery?
                                   Most holy Book!
                    To which great earnest men have come
                         Through the long ages with their agonies
                         Of dark implorings, doubts, uncertainties,
                    And fierce upreachings of the spirit dumb,
                                             I cling to thee.
                                   O Spirit! dawn on me;
                    Unseal my inward seeing while I look!
                    My hands are clasped before me, and my eyes
                                             Are dim with prayer.
                                   Thou Man of Calvary!
                                   Thou of the fairest fair!
                    With the atoning blood on brow and side,
                         Come near, and let me kiss Thy feet,
                         Receive Thy holy chrism, and rise complete
                         Serene of soul, and pure, and pacified.
                         Smile on me till these achings feel Thy balm,
                         And my rocked soul is strong to wait
                                   Amid the darkness, and
                                             Be calm.






     There is a superstition current in North Staffordshire (if elsewhere, I am unacquainted with the fact) which holds—or did hold a generation back—that if a farmer, in sowing his yearly breadth, accidentally misses or overlooks one of the “butts,” a circumstance which occasionally happens, and does not perceive the omission till the absence of the green blade discovers the fact, it is a sure sign of a death in his household.
     The “butts,” in the North Staffordshire vernacular, are the long narrow ridges, or beds, thrown together by the plough, with separating furrows for the drainage on which the seed is sown.


            I was Teamsman for that year
                 Tho’ but slim and over-grown:
            Father did the sowing then.
                 All the yearly breadth was sown,

            Save an angle of a field,
                 Lately broken up from lea—
            That where stood the old sheepcote
                 By the lightning-splintered tree.

            Night was down upon us; yet
                 Father coughed and firked his beard;
            ’Twas not much—the mould was dry—
                 Seed was down—the team was geared.

            Then he skyward looked, where winds,
                 Clouds, and rain were gathering might—
            “Up, my lads!” he said; “we’ll do’t
                 Ere we stable for the night:

            “’Tis o’er late a week or more
                 Now—and every sign of rain;
            We may wish it done i’th’ morn,”
                 So we slapped to work again.

            Flew the harrows o’er the loam;
                 Flew the seed from flying fist.
            But when springing blades showed green
                 Then ’twas found a butt was missed!

            “I have farmed for forty year,
                 Sown my seed myself a score,”
            Said my father; “but I never,
                 Never played this game afore.”

            Then up spake a wrinkled crone,
                 “’Tis a deadly certain sign;
            There will be a death i’th’ house
                 Ere the Christmas berries shine.”

            Then the household laughed aloud,
                 Lightly chode the dame, and said
            “’Twas a weak old woman’s tale :”
                 But the woman shook her head.

            All the family after that
                 Scanned the butt with dubious eye,
            Felt a sinking at their hearts,
                 Probing not for reason why.

            Came disease when fields had flowers,
                 Breathed upon a lassie fair,
            Stole her music, laid her dead—
                 Dead among her glory hair!

            Bare and barren stretched the butt
                 Just as if the need were less;
            Dead and still our darling lay
                 With no want we might redress.

            Dropped the silence on the earth,
                 Came the ripeness to the corn;
            And the reapers went about,
                 And the crowded fields were shorn.

            Sadly eyed we all the butt,
                 Hinting never aught; and yet
            Through the years that barren butt
                 No one of us may e’er forget.




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