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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 46
page: 47

BOOK III.

  • THE deepest grief the human heart can know
  • Writes not its impress on an altered brow,
  • Assumes no outward character, nor wears
  • Before observant eyes the trace of tears.
  • page: 48
  • Thus William Herbert met the world again,
  • And mixed in all the wonted ways of men,
  • Unchanged in things that common friends would mark;
  • Yet altered was that world to him, and dark.
  • One bitter drop mixed with his daily cup,
  • One spring of life—the sweetest—all dried up.
  • As yields the leading branch of goodly tree
  • Unto the cankerworm, so yielded he;
  • All its fresh boughs but that, still green and gay,
  • That one consumed by premature decay.
  • Thus he went forth again, and bought, and sold,
  • And gained new influence, and amassed more gold;
  • For all things prospered with him, and he grew
  • A man of weight amongst the simple few,
  • Seared it might be in heart, yet upright, kind, and true.
  • And round his hearth a fairy band was seen
  • Of infant loveliness, or on the green
  • Sporting beneath the apple-boughs, where oft
  • Was heard the cuckoo's voice, or dove's more soft,
  • page: 49
  • Or on the flowery bank, or in the dell,
  • Where rippling streams were wont to sink and swell.
  • A lovely band they were, and full of glee,
  • Rich in the bloom of untamed infancy.
  • Sweet liberty 'twas yet their bliss to boast,
  • No native tone, no inborn gladness lost
  • Thought was just leading through their infant minds
  • That endless clue that human knowledge winds,
  • While vague conclusions, such as nature draws,
  • Awoke some glimmerings of effect and cause.
  • But feeling, in her wayward wild career,
  • Had far outstripped stern wisdom, even here.
  • For theirs were looks of beauty flashing bright,
  • And waves of raven-hair as dark as night,
  • And wreathing curls around their brows of snow,
  • And rosy smiles that quickly come and go,
  • With some faint touch of mournfulness the while,
  • As if those fair lips might not always smile;
  • And the deep shadow of their soft dark eyes
  • More of tenderness than men deem wise.
page: 50
  • Henry, the oldest, and the only son,
  • His race of classic lore had just begun.
  • The reverend pastor of a neighbouring church
  • Deigned to conduct his mind in its research;
  • And well he taught his daily tasks, and heard
  • His pupil parse, and construe every word.
  • But had he watched him more, that reverend man
  • Would much have marvelled, one who learned to scan
  • Should learn to moralize almost as soon,
  • And pause as oft to gaze upon the moon
  • With mournful eye half dimmed by gathering tears,
  • And brow of thought too earnest for his years.
  • Yes, it was sad, yet beautiful to see
  • How learned that boy deep sorrow's mystery,
  • Dreaming of his lost mother and her grave,
  • Till memory's tide swept o'er him like a wave,
  • And all things present vanished from his view,
  • While fancy framed a world less cold and true.
page: 51
  • Whence came such thoughts? He had been taught to plough,
  • To ride, to measure land, to reap, and sow,
  • And once he loved the farmer's life so free,
  • And nothing but a farmer's boy would be.
  • Yet lately had he looked on rustic toil
  • With something haughty on his brow the while,
  • Deeming such occupation mean, compared
  • With reading Virgil, or the Grecian bard.
  • Whence came such thoughts? There was a secret store,
  • A precious pile of circulating lore
  • Brought by his aunt from the next market town;
  • And every week a fresh supply came down.
  • These had he found, and greedily devoured,
  • While the sweet poison o'er his bosom poured.
  • Here had he learned what time could ne'er unteach,
  • By all that sage might say, or pastor preach;
  • And, absent, moody, dreamer as he was,
  • His aunt looked on, nor knew to check the cause.
page: 52
  • Matilda Herbert was more fair than wise,
  • She had not dim, but undiscerning eyes.
  • Books were to her amusement, nothing more,
  • To kill the weary time she read them o'er.
  • So that a maiden loved, a hero bled,
  • Enough for her, the volume soon was read.
  • She had been trained in city schools, and thought
  • Good manners should at any price be bought,
  • Good clothing and good looks beyond even these,
  • Nor failed good furniture her eye to please.
  • Thus she looked down upon the farmer's home,
  • And deemed it much to quit the town, and come
  • To scenes so humble, rustic, and obscure,
  • Which, but for novels, she could ne'er endure.
  • Still she was kind, and had the heart to love
  • Sweet children, if they would but learn to move
  • Softly and gracefully, and curtsy low,
  • And go about as well-bred children go.
  • 'Twas in such teaching, here she found a band
  • Of idle rebels under her fair hand.
  • page: 53
  • Nature was yet too strong within their hearts,
  • For all to learn at once their different parts,
  • And scorn crept in sometimes, and marred the rule
  • She sought to establish in her polished school;
  • And they rushed forth, when hours of play came round,
  • Like pent-up torrents, with such bursts of sound
  • From silvery voices, and such laughter wild,
  • As left small hope to make them soft or mild.
  • Martha, the oldest girl, with auburn hair
  • In close crisp curls around her cheek so fair,
  • Rosy, and dimpled o'er with smiles of glee,
  • The worst of all that rebel band was she.
  • For if one moment she looked grave or shy,
  • Some frolic fun flashed from her hazel eye,
  • Or mimic majesty set forth the grace
  • With which her aunt embellished all her ways.
  • Yet was she grave sometimes—by Henry's side,
  • And to be near him was her joy and pride;
  • page: 54
  • Grave—for deep earnest love is ever so,
  • And she had learned this tenderest love to know.
  • To share his sport was bliss enough for her,
  • Yet much she strove his sorrows too to share;
  • And oft would check her mirth, to think, and pause,
  • But ne'er could fully comprehend their cause.
  • The world to her was all so fair and bright,
  • Its petty cares so transient and so light;
  • No thought had she for maladies of mind,
  • While those she loved were happy, good, and kind.
  • Thus when her brother's moody fit came on,
  • And she beheld him wandering all alone,
  • She ran to join him, that he might not be
  • So lonely, and so wrapt in mystery.
  • Then would she tell him sportive tales, and gay,
  • And try to win him to his favourite play,
  • Till he became a wiser, happier boy,
  • And smiled again with gratitude and joy.
page: 55
  • Thus the twain roamed together through the fields,
  • Reaping the golden fruit that nature yields
  • From summer flowers, and leaves, and murmuring rills,
  • And purple tints upon the distant hills;
  • From all things pure, and beautiful, and bright,
  • Reaping a perfect harvest of delight.
  • Lucy was next in age, too young to roam
  • Wide as they wandered from their father's home;
  • Too delicate her frame, too slightly cast,
  • To bear the roughness of a single blast.
  • She was a tall pale girl, with thoughtful eyes,
  • Of that dark blue we gaze on with surprise
  • To find them not more dark, so deep the shade
  • By the soft waving of their lashes made.
  • Her forehead was like moonlight, high, and fair,
  • Gleaming beneath the shadow of her hair—
  • Cloud-coloured hair, that floated round her brow
  • Like fleecy vapours over hills of snow,
  • page: 56
  • Her mother's smile she wore, her look of truth,
  • With all the touching tenderness of youth,
  • And something mournful too beyond her years,
  • That almost moved the observant eye to tears.
  • She was a calm, sweet child, like a young dove
  • Pining at heart for its lost mother's love;
  • Love was her element, nor could she live
  • Without this richest of all boons to give.
  • She would have loved her aunt, and often tried,
  • When evening came, to nestle to her side;
  • Till quick repulse forbade the child to press
  • So closely as to spoil her silken dress.
  • Then would she sit apart, and wait, and watch
  • Some glimpse of her dear father's form to catch,
  • Or run to meet him with extended arms,
  • And that fond look the lonely heart that warms.
  • She was so like her mother. He could bear
  • To meet each day's returning weight of care;
  • But he was melted by this tenderness,
  • And almost wished the child would love him less.
  • page: 57
  • Still would he press her kindly to his breast,
  • And on his bosom lay her head to rest,
  • Smooth her soft hair, and kiss her gentle brow,
  • Wishing she ne'er might live his grief to know.
  • Vain wish! In lieu of the sad tears he shed
  • Alone, at midnight, by her infant bed,
  • He should have taught her lips the words of prayer,
  • And shielded his sweet flower by more than mortal care.
  • Helen, the youngest, who shall paint her form?
  • What line so delicate, what tints so warm,
  • As those that marked, in childhood's happy time,
  • Her beaming beauty ere it reached its prime?
  • Health never glowed beneath a fairer cheek,
  • Nor deeper blushes feeling's power could speak,
  • Nor Grecian sculptor e'er portrayed a face
  • More perfect in its symmetry and grace.
  • Her brow was queen-like, and her raven hair
  • In glossy bands lay smoothly parted there,
  • page: 58
  • Save when the unconquered impulse of her will
  • Sent her young steps careering o'er the hill,
  • Free as the wandering winds, for none could say,
  • With hope to be obeyed, “here should they stay.”
  • Her lips were like a Hebe's, but her eye—
  • 'Twas there her beauty's witchery seemed to lie—
  • Deep, dark, intelligent, with such a blaze
  • Of living light as mocked the observer's gaze.
  • High was her intellect, her genius bold
  • Had been imperious, had her heart been cold;
  • And none had hoped her haughty soul to tame,
  • Save for the fleeting blush, that went and came,
  • And mist of girlish tears, that often showed
  • Her heart was yet more feminine than proud.
  • Music to her was rapture. Not a flower
  • Bloomed on earth's bosom, but it had the power
  • To move her soul to gladness, and her hand,
  • Quick in its imitative art, she could command
  • To do whate'er her fertile fancy planned.
page: 59
  • Who could behold her with a parent's love,
  • Nor deem her born all rustic cares above?
  • Proud was her lady-aunt to show the child,
  • Nor with less pride her father looked, and smiled;
  • Yet something touched his heart with secret fear
  • That all these gifts'might prove her greater snare.
  • How could he save her? Sometimes he would check
  • The impetuous pride that raised her haughty neck,
  • Sometimes would harshly speak, and sternly look,
  • Or meet her quick success with cold rebuke.
  • But he forgot there was one only cure,
  • One only antidote both safe and sure;
  • For human weakness, or for human pride,
  • Through this world's wilderness, one only guide.
  • Thus they grew up around him, fair, and free,
  • Like flowers of summer round some goodly tree.
  • Nor knew he then, or cared not, if he knew,
  • How full of weeds the soil in which they grew.
  • page: 60
  • He saw their bright luxuriance. Would it last?
  • Would their green stems break with the autumn blast?
  • He asked not, for his bosom's grief had grown
  • A sort of listless, melancholy tone,
  • Pervading life, and thus the world passed by,
  • Its lights and shades unnoticed by his eye.
  • Yet were not all things quite indifferent grown;
  • One spring of feeling closed, its force was thrown
  • Into another channel, most extreme
  • In its wide difference from his early dream.
  • When o'er his path the light of life had set,
  • Deep in his heart he nursed each fond regret,
  • Too sacred to bring forth to public gaze;
  • And thus he walked in his accustomed ways,
  • And mixed with other men, and bought, and sold,
  • Forcing his mind to calculate his gold:
  • And there arose a sort of inward joy
  • From out such calculations, that would buoy
  • page: 61
  • His spirit up; until at length he deemed
  • His life less wearisome than once it seemed.
  • It was a stirring time in Britain then,
  • War was abroad, and all true Englishmen
  • Were called to nerve themselves in heart, or hand,
  • To vindicate their laws, or guard their land.
  • And over this green isle of beauty came
  • The war-trump, and the scarlet vest of fame,
  • The prancing charger, and the rattling drum,
  • Breaking our rural silence with the hum
  • Of stranger voices, and of restless feet,
  • That trod our village pathways like a street.
  • Then ran the village maid all unabashed
  • To see the glittering arms, that gleamed, and clashed,
  • While rustic youths forsook the tardy plough,
  • The soldier's nobler exercise to know.
page: 62
  • It was a stirring time for Britain then;
  • The conqueror's hostile fleet was on the main,
  • Invasion threatened, and the eastern shore
  • With many a tented field was studded o'er.
  • Dire were the tidings brought by every post,
  • Of troops surrendering, and of armies lost;
  • Yet woke the war-cry from beleagured ground,
  • And bloody field, with glory in its sound,
  • And gentle eyes awhile forgot to weep,
  • So strong the patriot call—so loud and deep.
  • And Britain answered from her northern dales,
  • Her peaceful hamlets, and her southern vales;
  • Her yeoman bands forsook their flocks, and rose
  • With sword in hand, to guard their country's cause.
  • The w aving plume, the glittering helm and spear,
  • With bold defiance of all doubt and fear,
  • Dazzling the wary, deafening the distressed,
  • Stunning the voice of pity in the breast;
  • Till war became a sort of demon-god,
  • And men could bleed and worship under his fierce rod.
page: 63
  • Nor was it glory's brazen voice alone
  • That drowned the notes of pity's feebler tone,
  • Keen avarice, too, with tearless eye, looked on.
  • And men who would have mourned a single death,
  • A single wound, if near their native hearth,
  • Grew callous to the groans of thousands, where
  • The fiend of battle drove his blood-stained car.
  • That battle-field was distant, and that groan
  • Came not across the deep—was not their own.
  • But all their own the yellow grain that grew
  • Deepening in golden beauty to their view,
  • Their own the wealth that British produce made,
  • While ports were closed, and strict embargoes laid
  • On importations from the hostile shore.
  • And thus their greedy gains they counted o'er,
  • Blessing themselves for prosperous men in trade,
  • Because they doubled what they once had made;
  • While breathing sometimes just a passing sigh,
  • For those who fought abroad, and needs must die.
page: 64
  • Was William Herbert such a man as these?
  • Why question we? Our simple tale agrees
  • With other tales of human nature told,
  • How grows the insidious love and thirst of gold.
  • Yet let us vindicate his name again,
  • From taint of avarice, that foulest stain.
  • He was no miser, but he knew that wealth
  • Though it could neither purchase life, nor health,
  • Nor peace of mind—could purchase good esteem
  • Before the world, could make the humble seem
  • Exalted, and the silent sufferer blest,
  • Softening the pillow of the sore distressed.
  • Thus, though he truly grieved such tales to hear
  • Of wide destruction from the fields of war,
  • Yet fired with that old-fashioned patriot zeal,
  • That but for one dear spot of earth can feel,
  • Deeming each Frenchman too a deadly foe,
  • Created, formed, and fated to be so,
  • That death most glorious for one's country's good,
  • (That country England, always understood,)
  • page: 65
  • How could he, burning with this patriot fire,
  • A lower price for English grain desire?
  • No. He was like mankind. No whit more wise,
  • The specious seeming often mocked his eyes.
  • Then let us turn again to that fair page,
  • Where infancy was ripening into age
  • Around his hearth, and watch the tide of time
  • Flow brightly on, ere youth had reached its prime.
  • Oh, thou art beautiful, sweet spring of life!
  • Unsullied by disease, unworn by strife!
  • The heart yearns over thee, to keep thee pure,
  • That thy fresh loveliness may but endure,
  • That storms may never reach thee, nor the blight
  • Of sin or sorrow check thy blossoms bright.
  • The heart yearns over thee, for never more,
  • When once thy bloom is gone, can time restore
  • page: 66
  • The rose or lily to thy faded cheek,
  • Or wake thy voice in youth's glad tones to speak.
  • Couldst thou be ever thus, life were too fair,
  • This world too lovely, and too free from care.
  • By the clear light of thine unruffled brow,
  • Thy soft eyes gleaming under lids of snow,
  • The dewy freshness of thy lip, thy hair
  • Floating and free, unsilvered o'er by care,
  • Thy sportive step, thy dimpling smile, thy song,
  • The silvery tones that to thy voice belong,
  • But, most of all, by thy strong power to trust,
  • To admire and vindicate whate'er is just,
  • By all the golden hopes that bloom in youth,
  • And by thy love, unshaken as thy truth,
  • I would implore thee, ere that youth is past,
  • And thy frail bark on life's rough ocean cast,
  • To dedicate the gifts in childhood given,
  • With all their freshness and their bloom, to heaven.
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