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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 267

BOOK XII.

  • SINCE the sad hour of parting with his child,
  • Seldom the sorrow-stricken father smiled;
  • Yet was not sadness all the shade that threw
  • Across his manly brow a graver hue.
  • page: 268
  • Something there was, more deep, but more resigned
  • Than grief, that pains and agitates the mind—
  • A holier calm to all his feelings given,
  • A firmer confidence and faith in Heaven.
  • He was an altered man; but less in word
  • Than thought; for rarely was he heard
  • To tell of changes wrought upon his heart.
  • Enough for him, to choose that better part—
  • Enough for him, to seek that service sweet
  • Blessed by the Saviour, when with spotless feet
  • He came and trod the thorny ways of earth—
  • Enough for him, at last to feel the worth
  • Of heavenly things. The rest might pass away.
  • His strength was now sufficient for the day;
  • And troubles, once so grievous to endure,
  • Now harmed him not, his peace was too secure.
  • And sorely needed was this heavenly calm,
  • With all it yields, of healing, and of balm.
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  • For thickly came the trials of each hour,
  • While o'er his earthly course dark shadows seemed to lower.
  • Yet did not all despond. A few there were
  • Who cast away the burden of their care,
  • When summer smiled, and purple meadows threw,
  • Over the sunny slope a richer hue.
  • And spread the cheering influence far and wide,
  • Like the soft swell of some long-wished-for tide.
  • For smiling nature, like a welcome guest,
  • With joy enlivened many a drooping breast:
  • And hope revived, when harvest once again
  • Waved her wide banner o'er the golden plain.
  • And now the reapers hasten to the field,
  • Stoop to their toil, or resolutely wield
  • The sweeping scythe; and with a rushing sound
  • Thick waves of yellow grain fall to the ground.
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  • 'Tis merry then to hear the jocund laugh,
  • To see the noontide groups that smile, and quaff
  • The foaming flask beneath the hawthorn-tree,
  • Or where the flowery bank invites the bee.
  • 'Tis merry then, through England's fruitful land
  • To see the gathering of troop, and band,
  • Not for the fatal field of deadly war;
  • But the deep call of plenty, from afar
  • Bringing the homeless to the social board—
  • The hungry to the feast—the starving horde
  • From the far boundary of Hibernia's shore.
  • To taste of joy, and feel their cup run o'er.
  • Such was the scene which met the farmer's gaze,
  • And to remembrance brought his early days.
  • Such was the scene; and he could feel again
  • The joy of harvest; while the peopled plain
  • Rang with the shouts, and echoed with the glee—
  • The genuine burst of nature's revelry.
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  • Such was the scene. Bright mornings glided on,
  • And through unclouded azure sailed the sun.
  • But ere the fulness of his noontide heat,
  • There fell, at times, a light and drizzling wet,
  • That hung in pearly drops on leaf and spray,
  • And scarce was gone before the noon of day.
  • There was no wind—not even a breath to blow,
  • And shake the moisture from the bending bough.
  • And time passed on, and still the white mists fell,
  • And deeper lay on shady bank, and dell;
  • Till scarce the sunbeams in their midday blaze
  • From their far height could glimmer through the haze;
  • While loitering labourers watched, and waited, still
  • To see the vapours vanish from the hill;
  • Or nearer outline of the leafy wood;
  • Or even the trees, that in the hedge-row stood;
  • Or passing traveller; or horse, that trod
  • With sounding footfall on the pebbly road.
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  • Yet vain their wish; for nature seemed to sleep:
  • Her misty curtain drawn, so soft, and deep.
  • And all grew still—around—above—beneath—
  • Silent, and stirless, as the realm of death.
  • “Oh, blessed breeze! when wilt thou rise again?
  • Come back, and sweep this ruin from the plain.
  • Wake, howling storm—come, billowy blast, and roar!
  • And let us hear the stir of life once more.”
  • Such was the prayer that dwelt on Henry's tongue.
  • Impatient of delay, and bold, and young,
  • He would have dared the tempest in its wrath,
  • And watched the lightning shoot across his path;
  • Rather than this slow fate—this silent doom
  • Closing around him, like the fabled tomb—
  • The iron grave that narrowed every night,
  • And yet so slowly, as to mock the sight.
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  • Yet neither prayer impatient could prevail,
  • Nor louder murmuring wake the silent gale.
  • And o'er the steaming earth it soon was found
  • Fresh grain was vegetating on the ground;
  • And from the matted sheaves young shoots of green.
  • Springing to life, in rapid growth, were seen.
  • “It is enough!” the farmer inly sighed;
  • “I have borne much, and have been sorely tried;
  • But now I know—and, what is more—I feel
  • I have no power to judge of human weal,
  • Or what is ultimately best for man.
  • Enough, that this is heavenly Wisdom's plan.”
  • And meekly did he watch the ruin spread,
  • Nor word of question, or complaint, he said.
  • While others sank beneath the general gloom.
  • His smile was brightest. While they paced the room
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  • With restless step, and brow of anxious care,
  • He kindly soothed, and bade them not despair.
  • Though his the trial—his the real loss,
  • It seemed as if he scarcely felt the cross;
  • So sure he was that Heaven in mercy sent
  • This stroke, and would, if needed, still relent.
  • Yet was the sorrow great—the ruin wide.
  • Broad fields of wasted grain on every side
  • Lay blackening in the farmer's weary sight.
  • Till, when the morning dawned, he wished for night,
  • When darkness o'er the world her curtain drew,
  • And hid the desolation from his view.
  • It was a year of suffering to the poor,
  • And loud their cries assailed the farmer's door
  • For cheaper bread; while angry tumult raged,
  • And rival parties fiery warfare waged.
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  • Britain was then no home of rest to those
  • Who sought a shelter for their secret woes.
  • And where her laden ships at anchor rode,
  • Hundreds embarked to seek that rest abroad.
  • Nor burdened parishes refused their aid.
  • Paupers, and people who had failed in trade,
  • Farmers, and labouring men, wives, children, too,
  • In crowded cabins sighed their last adieu
  • To English comfort—never found again
  • By those who sought their homes beyond the main.
  • What means the change in William Herbert's home?
  • Whence all the bustling throngs that crowding come,
  • And force their presence into every spot
  • Where fancy leads them, whether asked, or not?
  • First, in the house, attraction seems to bring
  • The thickest concourse—talking—wondering—
  • Yet scarcely wondering either, for they shake
  • The sapient head, and sage conjectures make,
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  • And say they made them months—nay, years ago,
  • Upon the consequence of all this show—
  • This lavish waste—this freedom of expense,
  • So unbecoming to a man of sense.
  • Thus, while they talk, the speaker's eye perceives
  • The very table with its rosewood leaves
  • Long wished for, and the couches made to match.
  • Their cost is nothing. Other eyes may catch
  • Those envied objects, if he stays to doubt,
  • He sees the auctioneer, and calls him out;
  • And soon the goods, for others' use too dear,
  • Are made his own, and in his home appear.
  • One day was spent in stripping every room
  • Consigning all things to the general doom;
  • Rich beds, and costly curtains hung with taste,
  • Were soon torn down, and then as quickly cast
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  • Into their own allotment; while the crowd
  • Pressed closely in, and lavishly bestowed
  • Loud censure or loud praise on every hand,
  • But most on things they did not understand;
  • While some long treasured with peculiar care,
  • Weighed in the balance, were found wanting there.
  • It was a sickening sight to one whose eve
  • Gazed o'er the golden fields of memory;
  • And felt these trifles, by the crowd despised,
  • Linked with her treasures all too dearly prized.
  • Yet William Herbert stood amid the throng,
  • And talked with some, but seemed not to belong
  • To any. On his brow there was a look
  • Which curious trifling never yet could brook;
  • And many a tongue, as he drew near that day,
  • Was hushed, and many an idler turned away.
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  • One day passed over, and the second came,
  • And still the stir and tumult were the same.
  • But now the stables and the cattle-yard
  • Attract attention, and invite regard;
  • And knowing judges, in that glorious field
  • Their rival powers of eloquence may wield.
  • Some stroke the graceful neck of high-bred steed,
  • Or try the chaise-horse at his utmost speed;
  • While others feel the fleecy backs of sheep,
  • Or praise the slender neck, and shoulder deep.
  • Next to the fold repair the busy throng,
  • By the meek heifer, tell her lineage long,
  • Pronounce, upon the ruminating cow,
  • Sentence authoritative, sage, and slow;
  • Nor know, nor ask, what feels the farmer then,
  • While pass, from stall to shed, these learned men.
  • Hard had it been for such to know the mood
  • Of William Herbert, as he silent stood
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  • Gazing—no busy meddler questioned why;
  • But gazing still, when all had passed him by—
  • For there were names prolonged amongst his herds
  • Through many generations—sacred words—
  • Mary, and Lucy—well could he recall
  • How, when, and where, they had been given to all;
  • And childish fancy had been pleased to hear
  • Strange application of those names so dear;
  • And one had smiled, who ne'er would smile again.
  • Away! away! ye bitter thoughts of pain!
  • That thrilling touch the spell of memory broke,
  • And from his dream of by-gone days he woke.
  • On the third morning met that crowd again,
  • Trampling the garden walks—the grassy plain
  • That used to lie, in velvet beauty green,
  • The Grecian portal and tall trees between.
  • And now they search around, and drag to view
  • All implements of husbandry; all new,
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  • And rare inventions, framed by modern skill,
  • The earth to pulverize, the drain to fill.
  • Wagons, and carts, and carriages were there,
  • Curious machines, contrived the roots to tear
  • Of poisonous weeds; besides all patent tools
  • That e'er were formed on scientific rules.
  • Yet few there were amid that wondering throng
  • Who knew how much of science might belong
  • To such familiar purpose; or the use
  • Of those strange things that ignorance might abuse.
  • And great the loss that consequently fell
  • Upon this property, though loved so well,
  • And bought so eagerly each part had been;
  • Now cast aside, like things that scarce were seen.
  • And calmly William Herbert watched the whole,
  • Yet felt those weary days of trial roll
  • Like troubled waters o'er his sinking soul.
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  • He was alone, for younger hearts had been
  • Less patient, or less firm, to bear that scene.
  • Henry was busy at the neighbouring port,
  • Where they were both accustomed to resort
  • To sell their produce; but his errand now
  • Cast a far different look upon his brow.
  • Martha had kindly offered to the rest
  • Her hospitable home, where many a guest
  • Found peace and comfort. Could they ask for more?
  • Blessing was hers, in basket and in store,
  • For she had followed, not her woman's whim,
  • Nor fashion's ignis fatuus, vague, and dim;
  • But justice first had ruled with equal sway
  • Her guarded conduct, through each untried way;
  • Then generous feeling, with exhaustless store,
  • Followed, and strewed with flowers her pathway o'er.
  • This was the real luxury of life
  • To her, the recompense for all its strife.
  • And she had pleaded with her father oft
  • By strongest argument, persuasion soft,
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  • And all the touching eloquence of love,
  • Now in his trying hour, to let her prove
  • The blest experience of a real friend;
  • Through life's decline her kindness to extend;
  • As he had cherished her in early youth,
  • To guard his hoary hairs with tenderness and truth.
  • It might not be. He smiled, and shook his head.
  • “My child, I have another path to tread—
  • A sterner path; yet willingly I go.
  • Stay not my steps, and check thy tears of woe.
  • Though waves may flow between us, deep, and wide,
  • Nor time, nor space, affection can divide.
  • The same eternal Father will look down
  • Upon us both, our separate bliss to crown;
  • And prayer will find us at the mercy-seat,
  • Morning and evening, in communion sweet.”
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  • Matilda Herbert, when retrenchment threw
  • Its chains around her, quietly withdrew,
  • And left a home ill suited to her taste,
  • For one, by greater elegancies graced.
  • 'Twas then arranged, to spare all needless pain,
  • That Helen with her sister should remain;
  • Yet sore the conflict to her generous breast
  • Before she yielded, or believed it best.
  • And all the while these mournful plans were laid,
  • Emma bemoaned her fate, and would have stayed
  • With her young babe, but that some sense prevailed
  • Of common duty. So she sate, and wailed,
  • And wore away each day with vain complaint,
  • Deaf to all reason, and beyond restraint.
  • And now when April skies again looked bright,
  • And bursting buds just opening to the sight
  • Spotted the spray with little gems of green,
  • And here the yellow daffodil was seen,
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  • And there the primrose, with her moonlight hue,
  • Spread her pale stars of beauty to the view;
  • A lonely man, in musing posture, stood,
  • His shoulder leaning on the knotted wood
  • That formed, in days gone by, a garden bower,
  • Wreathed all around with many a lovely flower.
  • He gazes on the walks, the trees, the grass;
  • And musing still, uncounted moments pass.
  • Lost in his dream, he has begun to bind
  • The broken stems of ivy, and to wind
  • The wandering honeysuckle round the tree,
  • Where once its odorous garlands hung so free.
  • Why fall those branches from his drooping hand?
  • At once he seems to feel, and understand
  • Such task is vain; for never more to him
  • Shall bloom those flowers, or wave that leafy stem.
  • He passes from the garden to the hall,
  • But will not enter, since he may not call
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  • That home his own. He hastens through the yard,
  • Where stranger voices from the door are heard,
  • And the new occupants seem all alive,
  • Like restless bees, rejoicing in their hive.
  • He looked not back; it was enough to know
  • That they were strangers, and that he must go.
  • Yet did he linger where no eye could see
  • Along the silent fields, beneath the tree
  • He planted in his youth, when life was fair,
  • And his smooth brow was all untouched by care.
  • What sound is that which bursts upon his ear?
  • What footsteps bound along the hedge-row near?
  • His favourite horse, the one he loved to ride
  • In the short heyday of his worldly pride.
  • “Go, happy steed!” he said, and stroked its mane.
  • “Go, happy steed, to yon green fields again.
  • My noble friend—the last to meet me here,
  • Haste thee away! I have no words of cheer.”
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  • It seemed as if the ungrateful creature knew.
  • Back from the fence his noble neck he drew,
  • Tossed his proud head, and bounding o'er the sward,
  • Spurned with disdain all token of regard.
  • And now the farmer reached the shady lane,
  • And saw the village spire, and heard again
  • Its chiming bells, that struck upon his ear
  • Like voices loved in childhood, and still dear.
  • It was the sunset hour, and evening threw
  • O'er every western slope a golden hue,
  • While village labourers, wending slowly home,
  • Sought their own cottage, ere the twilight gloom.
  • And ere that hour, had William Herbert found
  • One lowly spot of consecrated ground
  • To him most sacred, where a peaceful mound
  • More newly made, beside a greener grave,
  • Taught him how vain was human help to save.
  • To these he came; with reverential tread.
  • How did he long to bear away his dead
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  • To that far home his weary age was seeking,
  • Longer to keep the bond that fast was breaking.
  • Here then he leaned upon his staff, and stood,
  • Till the grey mist obscured the distant wood;
  • And wished to go, but could not break away
  • From those low graves, beside his path that lay.
  • The sun went down that night in cold grey clouds,
  • And widely spread the gloom, that often shrouds
  • Spring's welcome form, and dims her cheerful smile,
  • Hiding her beauty from our sea-girt isle.
  • Bleak was the gale, when morning woke again,
  • From the north-east; and o'er the grassy plain,
  • And growth of early plants, a blight was blown,
  • While nature wore an aspect sere and brown.
  • But neither northern blast, nor blight, nor cold,
  • Could stay the lapse of tide and time, nor hold
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  • Back from the sinking heart its dreary doom:
  • The hour approached, and deeper grew the gloom.
  • Nor came from far or near that welcome sound
  • That hope foretells, amid despair profound—
  • Some tidings strange, that will not let us go,
  • Though all things tend to one sad point of woe—
  • Some spell around our parting footsteps cast—
  • Some voice to bid us stay, even at the last.
  • Is it, that from the fairy tales of youth,
  • We learn this lesson, rather than from truth?
  • Or that the human heart would surely break,
  • Did no such false delusive promise speak?
  • Yet so it is; and Emma watched the hour
  • Come hastening on, and still believed some power
  • In heaven or earth would keep her from the sea,
  • Whose dreary waters heaved so gloomily.
  • Poor child! there might be weakness in her fear;
  • Yet of all cruelties e'er practised here,
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  • 'Tis not the least, to drag from social ease
  • From warm security, and pride, and peace,
  • Across the main, such feeble things as these,
  • And hope to see them bear their share of toil,
  • When planted in a strange, uncultured soil.
  • And Henry saw the injustice—felt the wrong.
  • What could he more? His arm was firm, and strong,
  • He would defend her from all touch of harm,
  • And she must learn to meet the wind and storm.
  • With other thoughts, he had enough to bear;
  • It was his chosen duty to prepare
  • All needful things—a task that suited best
  • The ardent impulse of his manly breast.
  • Nor his alone the effort. Many more
  • Were gathering there, to leave their native shore.
  • But they were poor, and hardy—trained to toil,
  • And ignorant, too, how many a billowy mile
  • Would stretch between them and their native isle.
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  • These are the men whose interest bids them go,
  • Bids them escape from penury and woe.
  • They heed not labour. Their untiring arms
  • Pine for the exercise that cheers, and warms.
  • They ask but food—food of the simplest kind,
  • And natural rights, to keep the upright mind
  • From servile fear, from base unmanly art,
  • And agonizing doubts that rend the heart.
  • These are the men who should be free to eat
  • The bread of peace by industry made sweet;
  • And when their country sends them o'er the main,
  • Hers is the loss, but theirs the greater gain.
  • The hour approached; and busy hands were there,
  • And all had much to do, and much to bear,
  • The weak to comfort, and the old to leave,
  • Yet scarce a moment to look back or grieve.
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  • Fair rosy girls, the wives of yesterday,
  • Gathered, and stowed their little wealth away,
  • In that small cabin, where the matron sate
  • With her poor babes, all ignorant of their fate.
  • And still the aged parent came to see,
  • With tears renewed, that scene of misery;
  • And friends flocked in, to make confusion worse,
  • And more confounded; till, with accents hoarse,
  • The impatient captain bade them all depart:
  • No time had he for sorrows of the heart.
  • The hour approached; and Emma's faith grew faint,
  • And faint alike her accents of complaint.
  • Her lip was pale, and quivering, and her hand
  • Relaxed its hold, when Henry's firm command
  • Bade her prepare; for he had tried all power
  • Of kindness to console her till that hour.
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  • And now, while fled the life-blood from her cheek,
  • And sank her voice as if no more to speak,
  • He pressed one kiss of pity on her lip,
  • And bore her senseless to the heaving ship,
  • Placed her upon a couch with gentlest care,
  • And called on Phebe to attend her there.
  • Worse yet remained; for stronger hearts had now
  • To meet the trial, and to bear the blow.
  • All had been calm until the parting scene,
  • And great the strife to bear that hour had been;
  • But lovely cheeks had lost their rosy bloom,
  • And restless feet paced through the silent room
  • On fancied errand; though all things were done
  • By Martha's watchful care long since begun.
  • It was in vain to linger: time stayed not,
  • And would have told the hour, had they forgot;
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  • But every moment seemed their last on earth,
  • Counted, and valued now by tenfold worth.
  • A sad procession through the streets they passed,
  • No wandering look on either side was cast;
  • And Henry waited in the tossing boat,
  • While the rude sailor strained his lusty throat
  • With shouts that vainly bade them hasten on,
  • To leave the shore before the tide was gone.
  • Well was it then that gazing crowds stood by,
  • That seamen shouted, and that waves dashed high.
  • It seemed to stun the agony of heart
  • That William Herbert felt at last to part;
  • For Helen hung upon her father's neck,
  • Lost to all care her woman's tears to check;
  • And Martha's sobs of anguish came too near,
  • And too distinctly, to a parent's ear.
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  • Another hour, and from the heaving deck
  • No form is seen distinctly—not a speck
  • By which the vision of the aching eye
  • Its loved and lovely forms may yet descry.
  • But the long line of wave-resounding shore
  • Stretches away; and soon are seen no more
  • The gazing concourse on the peopled wharf,
  • The sturdy boatmen battling with the surf,
  • Deep-laden vessels resting on the tide,
  • And prouder galleys moored in stately pride.
  • The sun had sunk behind a dark grey cloud,
  • The waves heaved heavily, the winds blew loud,
  • And night came on, and still that fearless prow
  • Its pathway through the billows seemed to plough.
  • Cold dreary twilight clothed the earth and sea;
  • But not the nearer forms of misery.
  • For there were shrieking babes, untended all,
  • And wretched men, who answered not the call
  • page: 295
  • Of helpless wives. Most desolate of these
  • Was Emma, bending on her feeble knees,
  • Pleading, with all the eloquence of tears,
  • That Henry yet would spare her tender years,
  • Her gentle frame, and send her to the shore,
  • With her poor child, safe from the billows' roar.
  • Then did she pray for shelter from the storm,
  • And threw her arms around his manly forn.
  • “Spare me!” she cried; “my aching brow is bare,
  • And the rude gale plays wildly with my hair—
  • That flaxen hair, of which each separate tress
  • Thou oft hast counted in thy tenderness,
  • Deeming no beauty like the cheek that now
  • Leans on thy bosom pale as winter's snow.
  • Oh, shield me from the storm! Thou once wert kind—
  • Can fear or danger warp thy constant mind?”
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  • Why turns he not? That voice could once have won
  • His ear from music. Has its sweetness gone?
  • No; but he sees that distant line of shore,
  • And knows, and feels, he ne'er shall see it more—
  • That gentle slope—that range of wood-crowned hills—
  • He sees them all—his eye with anguish fills.
  • He had a Briton's heart, and loved the land—
  • The very soil on which he used to stand.
  • Proud of his country's noble name was he,
  • Proud of her laws, and boasted liberty;
  • And while he gazes through the gathering gloom,
  • Injustice seems to mingle with his doom.
  • “Fade faster yet, ungrateful shore!” he said;
  • “Behold my tears! the last for thee I shed.
  • Far—far I go, where unknown forests wave,
  • And ne'er return to ask thee for a grave.”
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  • Many and various were the minds that met
  • Upon that deck before the sun had set;
  • And varied still the groups that gathered there,
  • With every shade from sadness to despair.
  • But William Herbert sat apart from all;
  • Perchance to watch the billows swell and fall.
  • No; for his eye is stretch'd too far away,
  • And farther still his thoughts unbidden stray.
  • He sees again the cheerful hearth begin
  • Its smile of joy, as evening closes in;
  • The same dark evening—such there used to be,
  • When gleamed that light beneath the orchard tree:
  • And he was weary, and the cold wind blew,
  • But hearts were blending there, both warm and true.
  • “Oh, dream of blss! what dreary gulf has come
  • Between me, and this long-remembered home?
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  • I see my bower of peace and beauty gone.
  • Father, I bow—thy gracious will be done!
  • Through the short years this failing strength may last;
  • Teach me—oh, teach me to redeem the past.
  • Grant me to witness, through this changing scene,
  • Thy guiding light, the clouds of care between;
  • Thy shield of faith upon my lonely breast;
  • Thy gracious hand to lead me to my rest.
  • Then let the tempest roar, the billows heave,
  • I have no more a bower of peace to leave;
  • In distant wilds my weary steps may roam;
  • In realms of light I seek my only home.”
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