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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet—





          Upon a wild, wild ridge that bristled up
          From the white surf-lip of the garrulous shore,          
          Like some long sloping front of knaggled cloud
          Seen o’er the east i’th’ dawning dusk of eve;  
          There stood a dwelling, with a ledge of rock
          Rising above the northward gable in rude  
          Irregular grandeur like a pyramid: 
          A rustic cottage, quaint, yet pleasing, with  
          A certain vagrant beauty, not in art,
          With tiny vestibule, where, in the time
          Of flowers, gay wreaths of honey-suckles came  
          From the long wiry snakes that clasped it round
          And bloomed and shed a perfume on the wind,   
          That blew up rough and nauseous from the brine.
          Long leafless parasites webbed o’er the front,
          And fell around the windows and the doors,
          A cozy covert, where a skilful hand   
          Had realized the shapings of a mind   
          And thought refined, and warm with nature-love.
          Behind it rose a crooked mountain-ash,
          And hung its long loose tresses o’er the roof.
          About the front, that faced the tremulous sea,
          And all the thousand sunsets that were strung
          Upon the brow of ocean, like a wreath
          Of flashing topazes, along the course
          Of the departed gladiator years,
          Were slips of garden beds, and strings of walks,
          And gleaming rockeries, on terraces
          Amid the boulders, gay with unhewn slips
          Of many-coloured, half-transparent stones,
          Rude blocks of blue-lined quartz, and drift, and grit,
          And lumps of granulated dark conglomerate,
          And chips of marble clogged with fossil stems,
          And shards of porphyry, calcareous shale,
          And tall white spires of rock-salt crystalline;
          And squares of felspar, studding round the top,
          Like some embattled tower in miniature;
          And scatter’d all among, were curious waifs
          Washed up from ocean in his younger days:
          Smooth pied-ringed pebbles; crystals, where the sun
          Became an hundred stars; and shoals of shells
          Of every hue, and every shape and size;
          And straggling o’er and round about, thin strands
          Of creepers grew; and moss and lichen clung
          About the rugged bases of the stones;
          Ragg’d shreds of tangled sea-weed lay along,
          Coquetting with the amours of the breeze;
          And from the fissures, feathery fronds of ferns
          Streamed, dark and withered; and among the rocks
          That heaved above, great, gaunt, and ran out far,
          Uprose grey clumps of shrubs, with festooned webs
          Of dark green matted ivy, interwoven.
          Inside the cottage was a cozy room,
          Neat as a finch’s nest with feathers lined;
          Along the floor a spongy carpet lay;
          A fire glow’d brightly in the polish’d grate,
          And saw its flickering dance an hundred-fold
          In burnish’d rosewood, plate, and lacquered glass.
          A carved piano, with a gilded volume
          Upon its wreath-wrought rack, wide open braced
          On “Waves, be calm!” stood in an arched recess;
          And round the walls, in massy ebon frames,
          Were ’gravings from the marvellous picturings
          Of the old Masters!—saints, and martyr-scenes,
          Strange attitudes, and weird effects that strike
          The spirit dumb with awe; and everything
          Spoke but of comfort, peace, and competence.
          Beside the window looking towards the sea,
          A woman sat upon an afternoon
          Amid the flitting of the by-gone years.
          She gazed not on the fire or furniture,
          Not on the picturings, but far away;
          Away along the shimmering of the sea.
          Her hair, ’mid which still sprays of rose-light broke,
          Was coil’d and twisted deftly o’er her ears,
          And plaited in a little boss behind.
          Her lips were delicate as dew-dipp’d rose-leaves;
          Her face was round, and every lineament,
          Tho’ sharpen’d, was a slumbering beauty-line;
          A blue transparency lay on her brow;
          Her cheeks were white and saintly as the hue
          Of lilies drooping in the heat; and ’neath
          The arching of the eyebrows, slumber’d shades
          Of purple pencilings; within the wide,
          Brown, lash-laden eyes, the lustrous orange-light
          Lay soften’d, dusk’d, and solemnized, much like
          The twilight of a dim-glazed sanctuary;
          But sparkled in the upper rims of tears,
          That lay beneath the orbings of the eyes,
          And press’d to gather up and shed themselves:
          Soft, tender eyes, beneath whose tremulous gaze
          There was the undershade of suffering;
          Of plaintive helplessness, and hope, and dread,
          That haunts one like a mournful questioning
          Which delicate women have, when cherishing
          Within their inner life a second life.
          Beside her, on a velvet-cushion’d couch,
          Lay scattered, long white linen baby-robes,
          Lace-fringed, be-stringed, and ’broider’d up the front.
          One finger like a gnomon, marked a spot
          Upon a map spread loosely o’er a stand,
          On which she leant her elbow.
          Still gazed she o’er the shimmering of the sea.
          North-west, a great grey shank of piled-up rocks,
          Immense, irregular, and here and there
          Snow-mottled ’mongst the shadows of the cliffs,
          And flanked with tufts of broom, whose fibrous claws
          Clasped tightly round the rifted blocks, leaned out
          Like the enormous shoulder of the land
          Down bent in muscular attitude to meet
          The feverish pushing of the imperious sea,
          Afar into the wildly lungeing waves.
          Away to southward bent the freckled coast
          Its corrugated forehead to the waves,
          Who kissed it now,—now spat upon it in wrath.
          And by the sinuous shore where villages
          Of low white cottages, and masts, and nets,
          And groups of children racing on the sands;
          And quaint, grey fishmen, straggling to and fro,
          Or baling boats that grated on the strand,
          Or floating far along the shivering light.
          The sun poured o’er the southern occident
          A yellow, dense, mist-mingled lake of flame;
          Soft clouds above broke up and widened out
          To south and north in tattered demi-rings,
          That caught and held the light in nets of fringe.
          The long, still stretch stooped sloping to the beach,
          Whose thin white line ran stark and bald before
          The molten roll of liquid brass beyond.
          The scattered groups of grim and naked trees
          Furred with a flossy shag of spangled rime,
          Stood up like rabbled cordage ’gainst the sky;
          And low in mouths of grots, and at the foot
          Of jutting crags, lay little rims of lakes,
          Frost-bound, opaque, and stony-browed; while wide
          Along the still horizon heaved the grand,
          Sublime, un-iced, untrammelled ocean-soul
          Beneath the fondling of the mirrored heavens.
          Even thus like little lakes are little minds,
          Numbed into stony-death by frost-tongued woe;
          While mighty minds roll on for ever, calm,
          Unchilled, unshackled, by an adverse fate,
          Reflecting evermore the light of God—
          The soul’s unchangeable, eternal sky!
          The woman dropped her cheek upon her palm
          And gazed along the shimmering of the sea.
          Twelve moons and eight had run their orbits round
          Since she had sauntered up a winding path
          That wriggled ’mongst the hillocks and the rocks,
          Through rude ravines a mile or so, and came
          At length unto an inland village, with a Church,
          A dialled steeple, and a chime of bells;—
          Since she had sauntered by the side of one
          Erect and firm, and glorious in the strength
          Of manhood—pure, developed, and complete;
          And leaned upon an arm that well might bear;
          And looked upon a forehead and a face
          Serene and noble as the brow of faith;
          And seen the wonder through the eyes of one
          Who loved the very ground she trod upon.
          Her brow had on a wreath of blossoms then,
          And moved she in a cloud of snowy silk,
          Like to a star amid a vapour-flake;
          And down behind her to the puny feet,
          Yclad in softest velvet, hung a veil;
          And fluttered in the breeze that laughed along
          The dancing plumage of the sea. Anon
          In little pauses, when the breeze had wrought
          Itself into a breathless ecstasy
          Of mirth, and e’en perforce must stop for breath,
          Came to their ears a stanza of the bells;
          And there had been a scattering of flowers,
          And grey old clouts thrown loose along their wake;
          A tingling finger wore a new donned ring,
          And they had kissed her much and named her “bride.”
          He led her to his cottage home; and there
          A grey-hair’d woman, beautiful in age,
          With eyes of peace—the outlets of a soul
          Whose every base inclining was subdued,
          With many thousand mingling autographs
          Of holy thoughts and doings on her brow;
          A woman eager-lipped came to the door—
          The bridegroom called her “mother,”—came and stood
          And gazed upon the rose-faced bride a bit,
          Then took her in her arms and to her heart,
          And kissed her everywhere about her face,
          And loosed her arms, and strained her close again,
          And called her “child;” and said, ’twixt little sobs,
          “She had a daughter now to bless her age,
          Who never had one of her own, except—”
          And here she stopped and sobbed, “for just one day;
          Her only solace hitherto had been
          That great rough boy,” and here she glanced aside
          With sly content and wept for love or joy,
          Or in remembrance of her own young days.
          And joy was in that cottage; day, without
          One softening night; calm sunshine and no cloud.
          Old haggard Time put off his seams, and took
          A youthful semblance; and with ringling locks
          Down which the golden sunsets ran, and brow
          Fair as the sunrise on the morning hills,
          When May-day garlands tremble; and with eyes
          Struck dim-bright with an inward, untold bliss,
          Told out the tale of days that round the year
          With youth’s impetuous haste; slipping the hours
          Swift through his limber fingers, as a maid
          Bent ’fore the Virgin’s shrine, slips rosary beads
          While dreaming of a young-browed masculine saint.
          It happened that there came a certain day when he,
          The husband of a twelvemonth, bade farewell
          To those he cherished; and, with eyes tear-dewed,
          But purpose-strong and resolute of will,
          And firm of soul to follow Duty’s lead,
          Went with the Bible in his hand, which oft
          He oped and read for strengthening the words,
          “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
          And with a comrade, who had none to leave
          Behind to mourn him dearer than a friend,
          Sailed from the shadows of the rocks, and passed,
          And died away into the mist, where stoops
          The sky to kiss the ocean’s pouting lip.
          The ship sailed on, nor met with one mishap.
          The ocean glided from beneath, the sky
          And sun rose hotter o’er their heads.
          One day while driftiog o’er the line, they stood
          Upon the rifted deck and, dazzled, watched
          The burning incandescence lie along
          The vast profound of waters. Not one throb
          Of air broke up the surface into waves;
          Only a solemn heaving, and a low,
          Strange, moaning sound; the great white sheet of fire
          Lay prone along, unbroken, like a sea
          Of crystal oil. Strange fishes glided slow,
          With great grey sides, and dazed and dreamy eyes,
          Beneath the surface radiance, and at times
          Upheaved a sluggish eddy ’neath the keel.
          The laggard sails hung idly round the masts,
          The sailors lounged half-roasted in the shade.
          Around the ringéd base of blazoned sky
          A purple circle, like a nimbus, glowed.
          The comrade from beneath the awning stepped.
          ’Twas but a moment, yet the sun looked down
          With awful eye upon his upraised brow,
          And smote him to the planks.
                                                             One day and night
          He raved and writhed in frenzied agony,
          And knew not of his pain, and never spake
          Coherently again, but sank and died.
          And o’er the shrouded form, low words of hope
          And prayer were uttered in the cool of day;
          And bald old ocean tomb’d another form
          Amid the caverns of his treasured waifs—
          ’Neath coral eaves where sea-nymphs twist their hair.
          The ship sailed on: the missionary mourned
          In ten-fold loneliness his comrade’s fate.
          There came a day, swift dawning, when they dropp’d
          The intrepid wanderer and his little all
          Upon an island in the southern seas,
          And sailed the ship into the mist again.
          The lonely being on the untried shore
          Stood still with hands clasp’d, sending o’er the surge
          The sadness of his eyes, until the ship
          Sank into a speck of rising cloud; and then
          Low bent him by the juggling surf, and prayed
          Until the sweat dropped from his eyebrows’ fringe:
          Then rose and passed among the torrent wilds;
          And found an uncouth horde of naked men,
          Who formed a circle round, and yelled, and leaped,
          Now closed, now menaced; and at last, in awe,
          Came kneeling down and grovelling at his feet;
          And on them like a fascination fell
          The influence of his loftier intellect,
          His breadth of soul; the exaltation of
          His great humanity imbued with truth,
          Expanded, knowledge-deepened, God-impressed.
          He knelt, bare-browed, and raised his hands toward heaven;
          Then passed among them fearless for himself.
          With simple remedies he soothed their sick,
          And taught them how to hide their nakedness;
          Began to gather symbols for the sounds
          They uttered; and to build a hut of stakes.
          But thirty days since first he trod the shore,
          When caine a dark malaria, and he fell
          Exceeding sick, and lay three days and nights
          Amid the heats and damps, and sank and died—
          Died with his clothes on, and his long hands locked
          Across the Bible spread upon his breast.
          The wild dark forms pressed round him silently,
          And while he suffered brought him shreds of flesh,
          Wild fruits, and draughts of lymph in cocoa-nut shells;
          And watched his spirit leap from out his eyes
          In brilliant flashes in the dawn of eve;
          And stood around, stone-still, for many an hour
          Amid the gloom-light, deeming that he slept,
          Till one stole up and touched the set, cold cheek,
          And tossed his arms and shrieked the fearfullest shriek,
          Caught up and echoed by an hundred throats,
          What time the sun blazed through the forest boughs.
          One day they danced the death-dance round the hut;
          Then in the sunset raised the unbending corse
          And bore it to the hoarsely-babbling shore,
          Far looking to the north, and found a spot
          Where, stealing from them in the twilight hours,
          In secret oft they watched him stand or kneel
          With quivering hands outstretched, and mournful eyes
          Wedged ’twixt the sky and ocean: while his lips
          Moved fitfully, but shaped no words in voice—
          And scooped a shallow grave, and laid him there,
          Hair loose and flowing, hands clasped, as he died;
          And heaped the dust that filled the mouth and eyes;
          And shrieked one wild, wild shriek, that smote the air,
          And woke the ravings of the rocks, and skimmed
          Along the terror-bristling waves, and died
          In one long lingering wail, and went their way.
                    The days seemed longer as they gathered o’er
          The cottage-dwelling by the mournful sea,
          The young wife grew to wander on the beach,
          Or by the window sit and watch the sea,
          And lose herself in dreamings of the time
          When she should dare the treacherous deep, and go
          Through storm and danger to the man she loved.
          One midnight, being restless, up she got
          And drew the curtain half-aside, and leaned
          Her head against the icy glass, and gazed
          Along the mummery of the solemn sea.
          The moon-white radiance sheeted all the stretch;
          The sky was cloudless, vacant-hued, and vast;
          Ten thousand million stars were on the sea.
          The moaning trouble of a restless wind
          Rose o’er the staring bluff, and came and went,
          And chafed the waters into crimp-line gleams
          Of quivering waves, that fluttered in the light
          Like plumage of a swan, when, in the sun,
          She shakes the April shower-drops from her down;
          A misty yellow splendour rose and fell,
          Now mixing with the moon-sheen, fading now.
                    And silently lower her forehead slid
                              Down the glaze of the dew-damp pane,
                    And heavier still on her arm she leant,
                    And lower and lower her shoulders bent,
                              And rose on her features a shadow of pain.
                    And deepened the strangeness the cliffs amid,
                              And softened the gloom round the ring of the main;
                    And ever the radiance came and went,
                    And lay on the moon-mist mingled and blent;
                              And ever the sobbings did burst and flit,
                    And came o’er the waters a marvellous stir
                    Of funeral music, that rose and fell
                    Like the saddening thrill of a muffled bell,
                                        Or mournfully sweet,
                                        Low, distant beat
                    Of a vast-stringed dulcimer;
                    And died up the sky with a passionate swell
                    That troubled the midnight, till it was spent;
                    And her features worked as if anguish smit,
                    And she stood as if ringed in the thrall of a spell.
          Anon, a mystic, tall, colossal form,
          Snow-sheeted, foam-draped, marvellously still,
          Seethed, like a spray-white fountain, slowly, slowly
          From the hushed awe-calm ocean, with the face
          And eyes of him she loved—a moment paused—
          Threw up long jets of arms, and swooned down back,
          And misted out along the lunar ridge.
          She started backward, deeming she had dozed,
          But in her heart there grew a bitter dread.
          The days went on, and sailed the swift-winged ships;
          And now she gazed along the sun-gleamed sea,
          And with a world of anguish sang a song;
          Sobbing down ’mongst the tears she sang this song:—

              “O would that I were there,
                   Away beyond the sea,
              Among the hills of the summer isle
                   Where sleepeth he lonelily!
              Ah, me! but one hour, one hour
                   To sit on that one dear mound,
              Where the note of the mocking-bird
                   Awakens the echoes round,
              Like the muttering in a dream
                   Of the slumbering Oread-sound.

              “To dream on that wee ridge,
                   By wild bloomed weed o’er-topped,
              Where never a sigh was heaved,
                   And never a tear was dropped;
              Where standeth a tamarind tree
                   That watches alone, alone,
              And the shadows brokenly lie
                   On a grave without a stone;
              And the wild beasts prowl and lurk
                   Where sleepeth my own, my own;

              “Ah, God! my heart is sad
                   To think on that lone grave,
              Where roameth the savage horde,
                   And the waters sob and lave;
              Where lieth the long, cragged shore,
                   And flitteth the swift sea-mew
              O’er billows alight with foam,
                   Not changing, but ever new;
              And the breath of a breeze is fanning
                   A sky that is ever blue.

              “To think that never a word
                   From Christian lips should fall,
              That never a heart should stoop
                   O’er the grave at his funeral;
              And never a kindred foot
                   By the rude-cast heap should stand,
              And never a love should breathe a prayer,
                   And never a fond white hand
              Should plant a flower, and never a tear
                   Make spot on the loamy sand.

              “I dream when I would not dream;
                   I weep though I know ’tis wrong,
              To picture that single grave
                   The desolate lands among.
              I know not if the pangs
                   Of death were agony:
              If his faith was firm; or if he yearned
                   For a grave in his own country;
              Or if he wept for the love I gave,
                   And hungered in heart for me.

              “He seems so utterly severed
                   From all he loved the best!
              O tender, tender showers,
                   And balm-winged winds and flowers
              Sweet, soothe him in his rest.
                   Could I only lie and kiss
                   That desolate grave unkissed,
              The savage might come in his wrath
                   And do me to death if he list,
              If he only would bury me there,
                   Though none in the nations wist.”

          The darkness gathered, and the woman toiled,
          And cried in woman’s bitterest agony.
          The midnight came; she tossed her arms and moaned
          And turned her head about and babbled much
          In low delirium of “the lonely grave.”
          Those round her looked on one another pained,
          And held their hearts, and uttered ’neath their breath,
          “Poor thing she rambles!”
                                                            Darkly dawned the morn:
          The lovely limbs round-modelled, beautiful,
          And eloquent as heart-full tears on cheeks
          Of virgin youth—lay straight beneath the sheet,
          That settled silently, and out-lined forth
          Their marble fulness and exquisite curves,
          And fair, limp hands were on her bosom crossed:
          The light stole up, and looked about the eyes
          For its old mirror; but the blue-shot lids
          Were hooded down; the long brown lashes made
          Dark raylings on her cheeks. The lips were close,
          The long hair lay about the pillow loose,
          All o’er her shoulders, down each side her face,
          About her breast. A woman wrung her hands,
          And swayed her form—tear-dry, without a moan.
          Two days stole on; and then a shrouded mite—
          Soft, bald, white head, blue face, faint lines of eyes,
          Shut-up, wee dot of mouth drawn close, like faint,
          Pink-petalled daisy when the dews have fallen—
          They brought and laid beside the woman form;
          And over them the huge Eternity,
          Broken for a moment by the bubble, Time,
          Stretched its infinitude of firmament,
          Horizonless for evermore for them:
          And Silence, hand-in-hand with heaven-eyed Peace,
          Knelt by the shrine of Innocence in death.
          A week: and ’neath the shadow of the Church
          Another grave had risen; where careless feet
          Would tread unthinkingly on summer eves.
          A weakly woman went in dawn of spring,
          And bent above the grave—veil-screened, and wept;
          And sowed a ring of seeds about its head.
          But when the seeds had grown a crown of flowers
          There rose another grave beside the first;
          The bells chimed sadly and the day went out.
          Another fond romance had dropped from earth;
          Tossed down among the myriad faded wreaths,
          And bays, and garlands of the time complete.
          Another circle clasped—a bond complete
          In that calm region some folks deem so far,
          But which, methinks at times, is very near;
          Where desert wastes, or sweeps of angry seas
          Can separate no more the vital loves—
          For soul is love in essence—of the true.
          And other feet were on the rock-fringed path,
          And other voices in the trellised cot,
          And other eyes upon the crimson wave;
          And other objects gathered on the shore,
          And laughed, and wept, and died; and others came.
          And still the surge of being swept, altho’
          The generations rose and seared and dropped,
          Like leaves about an hundred-summered oak.
          And nature aye completed and renewed
          Herself. The sky was changing, yet for aye
          Unchanged, and still the glory lay upon
          The world in wonder, music, mystery—
          Sealed symbols! ’gainst which many a spirit beat
          Its frail life out, vain-striving to unlock
          And let the revelation in upon
          The insatiate soul, and barely struck one clue!
          The ocean fell to wrath and calmed again;
          And tossed its surf-white wrinkles up the shore
          What time the moon was circled in its noon.
          The days came up the east and so the nights:
          And time went on and evermore went on,
          And notched his progress on the western line
          In golden sunsets down behind the wave.




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