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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 182
page: 183

BOOK IX.

  • WELL hath the preacher in his wisdom said
  • That “all is vanity”—mankind misled
  • By seeming good that ends in real pain;
  • Their toil vexatious, and their labour vain.
  • page: 184
  • Preachers less wise take up the strain, and say,
  • “Renounce the world, cast all its cares away,
  • Its wealth, its glory, and its joy despise,
  • Or deem them only dangers in disguise.”
  • Then speaks philosophy with like disdain
  • Of sensual pleasure, and of sordid gain;
  • Nor these alone. The same untiring theme,
  • Adorned in verse, or fabled in a dream,
  • Thrills many a bosom with poetic fire,
  • And wakes the music of the maiden's lyre.
  • Throughout the land, wherever truth is taught,
  • In every place where human throngs resort,
  • Or in the peaceful chamber of repose,
  • Around the social hearth at evening's close,
  • Beneath the low-roofed cottage in the glen,
  • Or where the author plies his weary pen,
  • This language still salutes the listening ear—
  • “This world is worthless—we but pilgrims here!”
  • page: 185
  • United in this sentiment, we see
  • Poet, and sage, and moralist agree.
  • No voice uplifted to refute the fact,
  • Experience too, least willing to retract,
  • All are agreed—the self-same truth we hear,
  • And ask—what can we less—“Are all sincere?”
  • What can we less, when he who first believed
  • This solemn truth, and o'er its import grieved—
  • When he, appointed by Divine command
  • To raise the noblest work of human hand,
  • Wisdom his birthright, and his lineage pure,
  • His sceptre stedfast, and his kingdom sure—
  • When he could range the bound of earthly bliss,
  • To make the fulness of enjoyment his;
  • Could lay his heavenly-gifted birthright down,
  • To deck with borrowed gems his princely crown;
  • Could bow his regal head at last, and fall
  • A captive slave in pleasure's fatal thrall;
  • page: 186
  • Draining the lowest dregs of luxury's cup,
  • Drinking its bitterest draught of poison up.
  • Are there not those who preach this truth even now,
  • And yet before the same false idol bow?—
  • More pure, more lawful in their soul's desire,
  • But not less prone to offer up strange fire?—
  • Who call the world contemptible, and mean,
  • Yet on its flowery bosom love to lean?
  • And not the preacher only, but the sage,
  • And the stern satirist who condemns the age,
  • The sentimentalist, and poet too,
  • Have they not all one secret end in view?
  • To please the grovelling world they so despise,
  • To hide their faults and frailties from her eyes?
  • Whate'er betide their happiness the while,
  • To court her favour, and secure her smile?
page: 187
  • Yes; and this lovely isle, from shore to shore,
  • Beats with the tumult—echoes with the roar—
  • The strife of hand—the mastery of mind—
  • Conflicting interests in one combat joined,
  • To gain the eminence of worldly fame,
  • And from the dust of earth create a name.
  • Else why the pallid cheek, the sunken eye,
  • The sleepless hours of feverish agony,
  • The midnight watch, the care-distracted brow,
  • The weary step, the burning tears that flow,
  • The draught impure, drained only to destroy
  • Pain's ceaseless pang, or wake some dream of joy?
  • Why the mute anguish of enduring years
  • That in more slow but certain form appears,
  • The unkind reproach that love so fain would spare,
  • Wrung from the restless impulse of despair?
  • The severed links of friendship rudely torn,
  • The averted look—the ingratitude—the scorn?
  • page: 188
  • All, all that misery o'er life's path has hurled
  • Endured in willing slavery to the world?
  • Go, search the hovel by the mountain-side,
  • Pierce the low depths, where cheerless miners glide;
  • Sail with the wave-worn seaman o'er the deep,
  • And watch the money-laden merchant's sleep;
  • Go through the lovely homes that grace our land,
  • By the soft bed of sated luxury stand,
  • Explore the camp, the court, the green recess,
  • The seat of toil, the bower of idleness,
  • Mark every eye, examine every heart,
  • And say if half the bitterest tears that start,
  • And more than half the deadly guilt that stains
  • Our fertile soil, and desolates our plains,
  • Spring not from love of gold, or dread of shame,
  • From fear to lose, or hope to gain a name.
page: 189
  • Oh, could we always feel, as some have felt
  • On the bold mountain's brow, when vapours melt,
  • And fleecy clouds are floating far away,
  • And the green earth sleeps in the light of day,
  • Or seems to sleep, for stillness reigns around,
  • And in the vault of heaven, its blue profound
  • Looks nearer; while we stand beneath the skies,
  • Too firm to fall, too weak, alas! to rise.
  • Yet can we gaze from that far height, and see
  • How insignificant each tower, and tree,
  • Each home, and hamlet, scattered o'er the plain,
  • Each lake, and landmark, scarcely known again.
  • But we descend, and as the vale below
  • Nears to our sight, familiar objects grow;
  • The forest throws its branches to the sky,
  • The tower resumes its ancient dignity,
  • The lake spreads wide her bosom to the gale,
  • The lofty beacon warns the distant sail,
  • The hamlet holds a hundred human souls,
  • And that green smiling home our destiny controls.
page: 190
  • 'Tis thus we stand beside the bed of death,
  • Watching the awful scene, with scarce a breath,
  • A word, a movement, or a secret thought,
  • Not with some high and holy purpose fraught.
  • Then wakes the voice of conscience, lulled before,
  • Then opens wide the everlasting door,
  • Revealing all the light to mortals given,
  • While truth stands forth, clad in the robes of heaven.
  • Then melts the world away, and the world's care,
  • And fade her garlands that once looked so fair:
  • Her powers, her dignities, are nothing then,
  • Ashes her gold, and fools her mighty men.
  • And shall we, having felt all this, return,
  • And on the altar of her worship burn
  • Our very hearts? Yet one thing let us learn
  • If we have fallen into the common snare,
  • Let us, from others who are captive there,
  • Withhold the stern rebuke, the harsh reproof,
  • The unchristian scorn that bids them stand aloof,
  • page: 191
  • For having missed, not having sought, the end
  • To which we still our strenuous efforts bend.
  • The farmer saw his error, all too late
  • To check the evil, or arrest his fate;
  • Fool that he was, with the first favouring gale
  • To launch his bark, and hoist his swelling sail;
  • To trust the billows of that treacherous sea—
  • The smiling ocean of prosperity;
  • Whose shores are strewn with many a noble wreck
  • Whose shining waters lave the shattered deck,
  • And hide within their secret depths beneath
  • The rocks of ruin, and the caves of death.
  • Fool that he was. He saw his error now,
  • He felt it too, if truth was on his brow,
  • And strove by manly effort to repair
  • All that was lost—all that remained, to spare.
  • page: 192
  • Yet while his pleasant home looked smiling still,
  • And guests flocked in, his spacious rooms to fill,
  • While his wide table scarce could hold them all,
  • Or hurrying servants answer to their call,
  • While forth they roamed to see the lovely grounds,
  • To praise the farmer's taste, and stroke his hounds,
  • To enjoy his fruit, and loiter all day long
  • The garden-walks and rosy bowers among,
  • To say, if happiness e'er lived on earth,
  • It must in some such lovely scene have birth;
  • Truth bids us tell, that all things were not quite
  • So fair as those which met the stranger's sight.
  • No; there was many a cloudy brow behind
  • Those lovely scenes, and many an anxious mind,
  • And many a consultation how to bear,
  • Or how retrench, the expenses of the year.
  • One blamed another: William Herbert thought
  • The wines too costly that his sister bought;
  • And she, retorting like her mother Eve,
  • O'er the great house at length began to grieve.
page: 193
  • But Henry trembled most, with secret fear,
  • Whene'er this war of words he chanced to hear;
  • For Emma's sacred name his aunt would blend
  • With tones that little sweetness seemed to lend.
  • Whether it was, that luxuries late enjoyed
  • By the stern order of the day destroyed,
  • Retrenching still against her secret mind,
  • Her goaded spirit had become less kind:
  • Or that the gentle Emma wore not now
  • The smile of peace that once adorned her brow,
  • But piqued and flattered by a tell-tale maid,
  • Against the aunt some lurking spleen betrayed.
  • Whate'er the cause, the consequence was sure,
  • Small hope remained that love could long endure
  • Between such hearts, perchance too much the same
  • In their weak points, to bear each other's blame.
  • 'Twas human nature, ever tried the most
  • By trifling things that no importance boast,
  • That spring from some small root of bitterness,
  • And still unchecked grow fruitful of distress.
page: 194
  • 'Twas different with the farmer, and his son;
  • A happier, nobler course had they begun.
  • Strength lies in union, and they owned the truth;
  • One had experience, and the other youth;
  • These well might serve the end they had in view,
  • If both to their best interests were true.
  • 'Twas pleasant then to see them range their fields,
  • Reaping the joy that smiling nature yields;
  • Scarce knew they more, for 'twas no fancied trial
  • That called their mutual strength to self-denial.
  • Their country groaned beneath a grievous load,
  • Care sighed at home, and hunger stalked abroad;
  • The slow reaction of that lingering war
  • Still sent its starving tribes from door to door,
  • And those who scarce their children's bread could buy
  • Must pay their mite, or let the paupers die.
  • One hope was left amid the general gloom—
  • Still plenty bloomed around the farmer's home,
  • His fields were green, his ripening harvest grew,
  • And waved in golden promise to his view.
page: 195
  • Nor were the sordid cares that pained his breast
  • All that disturbed the farmer's nightly rest.
  • In those still hours, when proud ambition sleeps,
  • And wounded conscience her lone vigil keeps,
  • The long, long midnight hours, when secret woes
  • Press on the soul that vainly seeks repose,
  • When truths unwelcome, that we scarce beheld
  • By day, stern darkness has revealed,
  • And spectres rise and swell upon the view,
  • In all their, naked hideousness, too true—
  • Spectres of thought, that might have flitted by
  • Unheeded, when the sun was in the sky,
  • And life and motion in the earth and air,
  • And smiling nature all around us fair:
  • But in those silent hours what worlds awake,
  • What shapes the monsters of our fancy take
  • What legions stand around our sleepless bed,
  • What voices speak from the long lost, or dead!
  • Making the stillness vocal, and the night
  • Peopled with forms, too fearful, or too bright.
page: 196
  • 'Twas in these hours that William Herbert felt
  • A strange vague tenderness his bosom melt.
  • While o'er the past he turned his lingering view,
  • And saw what time could never more renew.
  • Fair was the scene, but fast it fleeted by,
  • And left the present, all before his eye,
  • Instinct with life, too tangible and clear,
  • Naked, and stern, to waken aught but fear,
  • That to each thought a stern sharp outline gave;
  • Until the future came, like wave on wave
  • Of some vast ocean, rolling to the shore
  • Its world of waters with their billowy roar.
  • Here were the demons that awoke his dread.
  • The spectral host that stood around his bed
  • Lived in the future, came with every thought
  • That near his view that unknown future brought;
  • And asked, what conscience oft had asked before,
  • For whom he lived, for what increased his store?
  • page: 197
  • Nor his alone the sum of wasted hours,
  • Of time, of influence, and of mental powers,
  • Of all, entrusted to the use of man
  • For working out his heavenly Father's plan:
  • One thought there was prevailing o'er the rest,
  • With keener anguish rankling in his breast,
  • 'Twas of his children—how had he prepared
  • Their hearts and minds for what must now be shared
  • Amongst them all—that bitter joyless cup
  • That pride prepares—that misery must drink up?
  • He saw with all a parent's partial view
  • Their lovely forms, their gentle ways, and knew
  • How dear to them the luxuries of life,
  • How harsh and cruel all its sordid strife!
  • And while his own forebodings told their doom,
  • And the storm hastened on, with gathering gloom,
  • He would have shielded them from that dark hour,
  • Even with his life, had Heaven bestowed the power.
page: 198
  • He once had thought that Lucy was secure
  • From the stern fortune that he must endure,
  • And scarcely heeded, if endured alone
  • But o'er her path strange mystery had been thrown;
  • And there were rumours of her changeful mind,
  • Though once she seemed so faithful, and so kind.
  • Oft had he thought, if Lucy ever loved,
  • The depth of woman's feeling would be proved
  • In her calm suffering, and her sweet content,
  • And the strong faith to woman's purpose lent,
  • Bearing her up above the ills of life,
  • Beyond its follies, and beyond its strife.
  • But he was startled from this dream, to find
  • Her fondest hopes so willingly resigned,
  • The strictest, coolest calculations, made
  • By a young, generous, self-devoted maid;
  • All things considered duly, and at last
  • A total blank upon her future cast
  • By her own will—affection thrown aside,
  • As nothing, in the scale with worldly pride.
  • page: 199
  • Prudence was well, but Eustace was not poor,
  • He had enough their comfort to ensure;
  • And Lucy, once so lowly, meek, and mild—
  • He could not understand his favourite child.
  • Yet did he fondly call her to his side,
  • And half in play her fickle purpose chide,
  • “I thought,” he said, “your love had been more true;
  • My own kind Lucy, this is not like you.“
  • She would have answered, but her voice seemed gone,
  • And in her drooping eye the bright tears shone;
  • While her pale lip with silent anguish stirred,
  • And strife of soul, but still no voice was heard.
  • Did willing sacrifice e'er look like this?
  • Alas! we hardly know what anguish is,
  • Until the stricken heart is called to give
  • Its idols up, and still to feel, and live.
page: 200
  • “Father,” she said, at last, “I cannot bear
  • Your censure, and your kindness ill can spare.
  • But trust me for awhile—time yet may show
  • I have done wisely, though you doubt me now.”
  • “Nay, Lucy, not your wisdom, but your love—
  • I knew a soul that would have soared above
  • This worthless world, and made its home of rest
  • Within the shelter of one faithful breast.
  • It was your mother's, Lucy, and I dreamed
  • Yours was the same, but such it only seemed.”
  • Harsh words, that pierced her gentle bosom through.
  • What could the helpless, feeble sufferer do?
  • She threw her arms around her father's neck,
  • And sobbed aloud, as if her heart would break.
  • “Spare me!” she cried, “Oh spare me yet awhile!
  • Smile on me, father, as you used to smile.
  • I have no power the real truth to show,
  • But I am very wretched—this I know!”
page: 201
  • “The real truth!” said William Herbert; “Why
  • Allow such mystery in the case to lie?
  • If I could think that he had been to blame,
  • The world should know it and his reverend name
  • Bear such a stain as time could ne'er wash out.”
  • “Father,” said Lucy, “entertain no doubt
  • Of his integrity; whate'er you see
  • Or hear of blame, it rests alone with me.
  • Yet smile, dear father, as you did before,
  • And speak as kindly; it will all pass o'er:
  • I am not changed—not altered in my heart,
  • I still can act a faithful daughter's part;
  • And time, that breaks so many bonds, shall prove
  • How true I am to you-how tender in my love.”
  • Again she pressed her lips upon his brow,
  • While o'er his cheek he felt her warm tears flow.
  • “It is enough,” he said, “I ask no more;
  • May pitying heaven thy cheerfulness restore.
  • page: 202
  • Come to my heart, beloved child, again,
  • Fain would I calm thy spirit, soothe thy pain;
  • And if I fail in aught, or seem unkind,
  • 'Twill be because I may not know thy mind,
  • And thus, from ignorance of its tenderest chord,
  • May grieve thy bosom by some careless word.”
  • He asked no more; no more did Lucy tell.
  • It was a theme on which no tongue could dwell
  • Unsanctioned; and at length it passed away,
  • Unravelled still—the mystery of a day.
  • Lucy had not so learned the will of heaven
  • As to believe her kindly feelings given
  • For single purpose—but to serve the end
  • Of making happy one peculiar friend.
  • Of her own mind she held such humble views,
  • That no exalted walk she dared to choose;
  • page: 203
  • But faith and charity might still be hers,
  • Though hope had seemed to vanish from her prayers;
  • And when she strove to look beyond the grave,
  • 'Twas but to say—“Almighty Father, save!
  • Rock of the perishing! I come to thee.
  • Strength of the feeble! stretch thy hand to me—
  • To me, the weakest of thy creatures—come
  • And bear me o'er these gloomy waters home!”
  • And with this simple trust, there came at length
  • A balm that gave her wounded spirit strength,
  • And she went forth again, at morn and eve,
  • Not in the solitude of woods to grieve;
  • But o'er life's path, with thorns so thickly strewn,
  • To seek for sorrow greater than her own;
  • To lift the latch where hopeless penury
  • Plies the dull task, and stills the infant cry;
  • To penetrate the dimly lighted room,
  • Where helpless suffering spreads a sombre gloom;
  • page: 204
  • To see the father on his dying bed,
  • And hear the mother wailing for her dead.
  • Nor idly came her faithful step to these,
  • Nor was her aim alone to soothe, or please:
  • But to instruct—to teach them to behold
  • With trusting eyes the sacred truths she told.
  • And oft her gentle voice was heard at eve,
  • When summer dews their silvery curtain weave,
  • From out the ivied porch, or lattice low,
  • Beside the bed of death—the couch of woe.
  • Reading, with serious tone, and lip of truth,
  • That holy book, the guide of age, and youth.
  • And those who saw her smile of sweetness there,
  • Or heard her breathe the very soul of prayer,
  • Deemed her most happy—thought the joy she bore
  • To others, was from her abundant store;
  • And the soft soothing of her tenderness,
  • From a young heart that never knew distress.
page: 205
  • Is it not thus that real mourners find
  • Heaven's own appointed solace for the mind?
  • And bearing comfort to the sore distressed,
  • Return with peace for their own wounded breast?
  • Yes; and these are the deepest mourners too,
  • Though to a higher, nobler impulse, true.
  • Theirs is the sympathy whose ceaseless flow
  • Springs from their own internal source of woe;
  • Theirs the great grief, in majesty sublime,
  • That bears them o'er the trifling things of time;
  • Theirs the true knowledge of what suffering is;
  • Else why that thirsting after heavenly bliss,
  • Which never yet inspired a child of earth,
  • Till burst that tide of woe that in the heart has birth.
  • The tears that fall beside the new-made grave,
  • The sable vestments, and deep pall, that wave
  • Around the funeral, all attract the eye,
  • And nature needs must weep for those who die.
  • page: 206
  • The loss of wealth, the sad reverse of fate,
  • That robs the rich man of his lordly state,
  • Are blazoned forth, and told by every tongue,
  • While sorrowing friends the mournful tale prolong.
  • All outward characters of human grief,
  • From human sympathy find some relief:
  • But there are griefs beyond all knowledge deep,
  • And pangs too keen for pity's eye to weep,
  • That live, and ache, within the folded heart,
  • When no one sees the bitter tear-drop start,
  • When smiles perchance flit o'er the weary brow,
  • And from the lip e'en tones of gladness flow.
  • Oh, how should years of agony like this
  • Be borne? and yet such agony there is!
  • It is that mercy bids the mourner come
  • And look, with eye of faith, beyond the tomb.
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