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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 66
page: 67

BOOK IV.

  • THE trees that flourished round the farmer's home
  • Were bright with verdure, and the gales that come
  • Laden with summer perfume, softly blew
  • And woke the early flowers 'mid summer dew.
  • page: 68
  • Green was the grassy plot before that door,
  • The sloping border richly spangled o'er;
  • For nice the eye that watched that garden now,
  • And choice the flowers her care had brought to blow.
  • While all within the rural dwelling too
  • Assumed a look less rustic, and more new.
  • For there were carpets wrought by foreign looms,
  • And costly curtains to the ancient rooms,
  • Save to one window, narrow-paned, and low,
  • Whose verdant screen was still allowed to grow.
  • There rose the cherry-tree with blossoms white,
  • Spreading its page of promise to the sight,
  • While on each side there grew a rosy bower.
  • With sweetbriar wakening to the balmy shower,
  • And darker jessamine its stars displayed,
  • Gleaming and twinkling through the leafy shade,
  • Like fairy moonlight; and above them all,
  • The ambitious ivy climbed along the wall.
  • Within that lattice low, a clustering vine
  • Was trained, and taught its tendrils green to twine
  • page: 69
  • Into a leafy canopy, and throw
  • Its soft cool shadow on the room below,
  • Tempering the noontide radiance of the sun,
  • When o'er that rustic roof his light was thrown.
  • It was a wide bow-window, never now
  • Hath modern taste a scene like that to show;
  • But such a scene for moonlight! There would come
  • Pale glancing beams into that ancient room,
  • With deepest shade from venerable trees
  • That slowly waved their branches in the breeze,
  • While over the green turf and silvery dew
  • Each stately stem a line of darkness threw.
  • And then the stillness! Not a sound was there,
  • But the low whisper of the evening air,
  • And shivering poplar, with its trembling leaves,
  • That oft a tale of midnight mystery weaves.
  • Who could have lingered long mid such a scene
  • Nor yet imagination's slave have been?
  • page: 70
  • Alas! there dwelt, within that charmed bower,
  • Hearts all too capable to feel her power.
  • Nor was it in this lovely room alone
  • That comfort reigned, or taste; for there was thrown
  • An air of beauty over every one:
  • Something that bade you welcome—woo'd your stay,
  • And seemed your lingering footsteps to delay;
  • Something that new-built rooms can never bring
  • With all their pomp of modern furnishing
  • To bear upon the feelings, or to pay
  • For half the pains it costs to make them gay.
  • Yet looked the aunt with discontented brow
  • Upon these pleasant rooms, they were so low.
  • It was no use to paper or to paint,
  • The walls were old, the mantel-pieces quaint,
  • The entrance mean; she never saw a door
  • That looked so like the master's being poor.
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  • Entrance was every thing. There was no space
  • To meet a guest with courtesy or grace,
  • No drawing-room! She really never knew
  • A house where comforts were so small and few.
  • “Comforts!” the farmer thought, “with all this stir
  • I see them not so plenteous as they were.
  • Yet be it so. These trifles touch not me,
  • So that the children and their aunt agree.”
  • For they would sometimes break from her control,
  • And tell him tales that vexed his very soul,
  • Of idle strife, in which they scarce were brought
  • At last to yield, and rarely deemed they ought.
  • Yet was each cause of contest so minute,
  • No sapient judge might settle the dispute.
  • Thus would they teaze the parent's spirit more,
  • Until, in hope some quiet to restore,
  • He sent his daughters to a distant school,
  • To learn submission to a wiser rule.
page: 72
  • But ere they went, a most important cause
  • For consultation, made the parties pause.
  • Where should they send them to? The aunt believed
  • Her brother oft in his sage views deceived.
  • Thus would she guide his judgment by her own,
  • That bright results her happier hopes might crown.
  • Good schools were all her theme. The farmer, too,
  • Sought a good school to send his daughters to.
  • But never yet was word less understood,
  • Than that plain word of simple meaning—good.
  • Good is to many what they most desire,
  • To others, only what will raise them higher.
  • And thus the aunt believed those schools were good,
  • Where vulgar persons never might intrude,
  • Where terms were high, and ladies all were taught
  • To sit, and stand, and curtsy as they ought,
  • To sing with skill, to touch the harp with grace,
  • To paint a landscape, or a human face,
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  • To speak Italian, French, and sometimes Greek,
  • To write in angles sharp, and lines oblique.
  • These were the schools Matilda Herbert meant
  • By good, and here the wondering girls were sent.
  • For she was one who brought her ends about,
  • By talking long, and wearing patience out;
  • And little knew her brother of the skill
  • To win or wind a woman to his will.
  • Thus inly wishing that her words would cease,
  • He oft resigned, for very love of peace.
  • And now, the girlish band of idlers gone,
  • The farmer turned for pleasure to his son.
  • He saw him grown a tall and comely youth,
  • His eye intelligent, and full of truth,
  • His step erect and bold, his noble face
  • And forehead high, adorned with manly grace;
  • And he would fondly call him to his side,
  • To give him counsel, with a secret pride,
  • page: 74
  • Even in the very faults he seemed to blame.
  • Labouring the young aspirant to reclaim
  • From love of vanities, and useless books,
  • But most from love of gentlemanly looks.
  • Then would he talk to him of fields of corn,
  • What hay must soon be mown, what sheep be shorn,
  • Bid him bestir himself amongst the men,
  • Their admiration and respect to gain,
  • Showing what farmers should be proud to show,
  • How much the master's abler hand can do.
  • Thus would he counsel, and the youth appeared
  • At times attentive to the truths he heard,
  • But oftener pleased with visions of his own,
  • While far away his wandering thoughts had flown.
  • He knew his father had an upright heart,
  • Wise, and well-meaning, in the humble part
  • He acted as a farmer, and a friend,
  • And sage advice in common things could lend;
  • page: 75
  • But did the parent e'er presume to say
  • The youthful dreamer idly spent his day,
  • Did he presume his pleasures to direct,
  • Call them expensive, or appear to expect
  • More actual service from his agile hand,
  • Then did the insulted boy indignant stand,
  • Demanding if his father wished to have
  • His son to be his servant, or his slave.
  • Yet was it youth's quick fire alone that woke
  • In Henry's breast, when thus his father spoke.
  • One moment, and the impetuous flame expired,
  • And he was all a parent's love desired,
  • Prompt to assist, and willing to obey,
  • Where'er affection pointed out the way;
  • But where he deemed the elder judgment erred,
  • Leaning to notions ignorant or absurd,
  • 'Twas there he stood his ground, as striplings can,
  • In all the incipient majesty of man.
page: 76
  • Oh, worst attendant on advancing mind
  • When children fail to speak in accents kind;
  • Fail to respect old age, or hoary hair,
  • Spurning the precepts of parental care,
  • Because the light of modern lore has shed
  • A fancied halo round the youthful head!
  • Could the fond mother, when she soothes her child
  • With patient brow, and voice so soft and mild,
  • Answering in gentle tones its fretful cry,
  • Singing, through midnight hours, its lullaby—
  • Or could the father, his strong heart subdued
  • To woman's weakness by its playful mood,
  • Yielding to love the time of needful rest,
  • That he may lull the prattler on his breast,
  • Watching the feverish tint upon its cheek,
  • With fears too anxious, heart too faint, to speak—
  • Feeling that this wide world, with all its wealth,
  • Has not one blessing like the hope of health
  • To that beloved child, that suffering lies
  • Lovelier than all earth's beauty to their eyes—
  • page: 77
  • Could they believe that child would ever live
  • The scornful look, the harsh reply to give,
  • Would they not love, and watch, and serve it less?
  • No, for a parent's love was sent to bless
  • Beyond all calculation—all reward—
  • The feeble steps of infancy to guard.
  • It is the only love to mortals given
  • That asks no recompense on this side heaven!
  • One year elapsed before the girls returned
  • To tell their wondering father what they learned.
  • And Martha hailed with joy the promised day,
  • Her smile than all the rest more bright and gay.
  • For she who never loved that city-school,
  • Had broken half its laws, and spurned its rule.
  • Twelve months she knew her bondage was to last,
  • Nor cared she how the stated time was passed,
  • So that the moments flew, the day arose
  • Quickly, and hastened to a speedy close.
  • page: 78
  • No deep-stained character she bore away,
  • Her faults were heedlessness, and love of play.
  • She was incapable, her teachers said,
  • Sadly deficient, both in hand and head,
  • She had no intellect, at least not much;
  • Perchance they found not which the key to touch.
  • For she had been, with all her follies wild,
  • At home the shrewdest and the quickest child,—
  • Quick to perceive, and pertinent of speech,
  • Teaching herself what no one else could teach.
  • And now she runs through all her favourite haunts,
  • Setting her will against her lady-aunt's,
  • When checked in frolic fun, or sagely told
  • She must not gambol now, she is too old.
  • Yet, spite of boarding-school, and spite of age,
  • And spite of maxims both refined and sage,
  • With Henry's dog she scours the garden round,
  • And clears the border at a single bound,
  • Breaking the last rare plant her aunt has bought,
  • Raising it up again as quick as thought,
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  • Courting her bantams with their snow-white brood,
  • Casting them down a perfect pile of food,
  • Chasing the pony round the paddock green,
  • Where oft her infant steps at play were seen.
  • It was the very fulness of her joy
  • That sent her forth, more like some untamed boy,
  • Than school-bred lady just returned from town,
  • With well-dressed hair, and fashionable gown.
  • Yet was not Martha always light and gay,
  • No real idler, though so fond of play.
  • Her heart had its warm gushes of delight,
  • Which passed away, like beams of morning light,
  • Leaving a day, not cloudy, but serene,
  • Whose softened splendour mellowed every scene.
  • She was no idler, and her willing hand
  • In household duty she would oft command,
  • Provoking from her aunt a scornful smile,
  • Yet by her father loved, and praised the while.
page: 80
  • “It was thy mother's custom,” he would say,
  • “Walk, Martha dear, in all the lovely way
  • She chose on earth, for pattern is there none
  • More pure, or bright, for thee to make thine own.”
  • Thus Martha learned, though none was near to ask,
  • Each servant's character, and separate task,
  • Spoke kindly to the feeble, while she strove
  • To make them early rise, and quickly move.
  • Nor was the cottage of the poor forgot,
  • Well had her mother taught each lowly spot,
  • Where dwelt the aged, or where mourned the sad,
  • And she too sought them out, with looks so glad,
  • It cheered their very hearts, they often said,
  • And often prayed for blessings on her head,
  • That one so young and beautiful should come
  • To soothe the widow in her silent home,
  • That one so blest, so happy, should endure
  • To sit and talk so kindly to the poor
page: 81
  • And with such occupations came at last
  • A graver tone o'er her young spirit cast.
  • Watching the sorrows of the indigent,
  • This searching query through her bosom went—
  • “Why am I favoured more than these? am I
  • More fit to live, or more prepared to die?
  • Yet let me learn this lesson from their grief,
  • Those who enjoy, should ever yield relief;
  • And those, who most abundantly possess,
  • Should use their blessings, only more to bless.”
  • Henry observed his sister's opening mind
  • Grow more enlightened, serious, and refined;
  • And while her busy hand the needle plied,
  • He read some favourite volume by her side;
  • Choosing, to please her, what possessed a tone
  • Of healthy feeling so much like her own,
  • Reserving for the silent hours of night
  • What moved his soul with more intense delight—
  • page: 82
  • Plays—poetry—deep passion's burning page,
  • That Martha called, fit only for the stage,
  • Peeping askance, with laughter-loving eye,
  • When reached her brother's voice the climax high;
  • Till with a dubious look, half smile, half frown,
  • He closed the page, and laid the volume down.
  • Then would he touch, with happier skill, the flute,
  • Well tuned his sister's silvery voice to suit,
  • And she would follow him in tones as clear,
  • Led by her quick, but yet untutored ear.
  • While far away, along the shadowy grove,
  • Sent the sweet melody its tale of love.
  • Thus passed the evening hours, and day's sweet close
  • Woo'd not two kindlier spirits to repose,
  • Found not two hearts more free from earthly care,
  • Than theirs, who tuned their “nativewood-notes” there.
  • Years passed away, and from the town there came
  • The younger girls, still fair, but not the same.
  • page: 83
  • Helen, more changed than Lucy, looked around
  • As if she scarcely knew her native ground.
  • All was so rustic, some things were so mean,
  • She never thought her father's home had been
  • So little like a gentleman's abode,
  • “And then again that stupid line of road!
  • Why not a sweep?”
  • The farmer looked, and saw
  • 'Twas easy there a gentler line to draw.
  • “Why not an avenue? Those trees cut down
  • Would leave a road for every passing clown;
  • Here we might come, between these elms so dark,
  • That stand so well, and make the field a park.”
  • “So have I thought,” the echoing aunt exclaimed,
  • “A thousand times. And now the thing is named,
  • Why not a new front door? It really is
  • A bar to entrance, having one like this.”
page: 84
  • The farmer gave not, nor refused assent,
  • While round his grounds the innovators went;
  • But when they touched that once-loved scene of peace—
  • The ancient house—he found his patience cease.
  • That door! oh, blessed portal! once had been
  • Her favourite seat, whose steps had crossed that green
  • When to his home she came a willing bride,
  • His household comforts all to her untried.
  • “Touch not that door,” he said, “yon trees may fall,
  • Yon fence may vanish, or yon garden-wall,
  • But come not near the house—I charge you not,
  • It is from all your schemes, a sacred spot.
  • Enough, and more, has surely now been done
  • To make it look more like a modern one,
  • And if one single stone be moved away,
  • The whole shall fall. Remember what I say.”
page: 85
  • “The very thing we want,” the aunt replied,
  • And whispering drew more near to Helen's side.
  • “Move but that stone, how happy should we be
  • The end of all these wretched rooms to see;
  • These passages—so narrow, dark, and small,
  • Instead of one good spacious entrance-hall.
  • I know the landlord never would object,
  • When houses fall, what else can they expect?
  • And ours is falling fast, do as we may,
  • The old damp walls will crumble to decay.
  • A house has just been built for farmer Bell,
  • And why not build a house for us as well?”
  • Thus spoke the aunt, but in an under tone,
  • Not daring quite to make her wishes known
  • In all their force, exuberance, and extent,
  • Yet shrewd conjecture gathered what she meant.
  • It was the first idea of the kind
  • That ever reached the farmer's niusing mind.
  • page: 86
  • It seemed worth cherishing, so strange, and new,
  • As thus it rose upon his mental view.
  • For he was quickly pained by outward things
  • That rudely touched his bosom's inmost springs,
  • And while they talked, it vexed his soul to find
  • They knew no beauty in that house enshrined.
  • “Then be it so,” he thought, “that ancient wall,
  • With its sweet roses and green leaves, may fall.
  • They heed it not, and I can bear the blow;
  • I have borne heavier strokes than that ere now.
  • True, I have been within that home of rest,
  • Beyond all human calculation, blest.
  • But there I've known calamity as well,
  • Deeper than ever human tongue could tell.
  • And while that window with its vine, appears
  • To tell me of the bliss of early years,
  • It tells me also of my nightly tears;
  • Till the remembrance, with its sting of pain,
  • Will sometimes force those tears to flow again.
  • page: 87
  • And shall I cancel all that scene of joy,
  • This ceaseless pang of memory to destroy?”
  • Vain thought! But still it lingered in his brain,
  • And came, and went, and still returned again.
  • And there were many voices, quick, and clear,
  • That in their various tones assailed his ear
  • All on one side—“That ancient house must fall!”
  • So he gave way, at last, before them all.
  • The farmer's landlord was a liberal man,
  • Who listened kindly to his tenant's plan,
  • He knew the low-roofed tenement was old,
  • And heard, believing, what the farmer told,
  • Of crumbling wall, dilapidated roof,
  • Of casement neither wind nor water proof;
  • And pitying much the occupants within,
  • He gave his word—the builders should begin.
  • page: 88
  • All that would make the house substantial, large,
  • Good, and respectable, should be his charge;
  • But if the farmer's thoughts were raised more high,
  • His own resources must the rest supply.
  • Then came the architect, with curious look
  • Scanning that ancient building like a book,
  • Reading the worth of every inch of wall,
  • Lintels, and door-posts, windows, beams, and all.
  • Yes, every pane of that low window made
  • Part of his calculation—'twas his trade.
  • And followed soon the unrelenting band
  • Of sturdy workmen, each with able hand,
  • And murderous weapon, eager to destroy
  • That lovely scene of well-remembered joy.
  • Who struck the first, the farmer never knew,
  • He saw them all prepared, and then withdrew,
  • Wending through fields of tufted corn and hay,
  • With his old dog, their oft-accustomed way;
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  • Till heightening day the hour of noon had told,
  • And he the work of ruin must behold.
  • 'Tis a sad sight, though often seen on earth,
  • The ruin of the place that gave us birth—
  • Total destruction of that actual scene—
  • Razed from the ground, as if it ne'er had been.
  • 'Tis not alone the old protecting wall
  • That sinks before us, as the fragments fall;
  • But even the space we used to call our own
  • Is mixed with common air—dissolved, and gone.
  • We know the flowers of spring will bloom again,
  • The woodland warblers will renew their strain,
  • The stately tree that falls will leave behind
  • Some seed, or stem, or sapling of its kind;
  • All things that e'er on earth's fair bosom grew,
  • Time, in some form or likeness, will renew:
  • Even dearest friends, whose early troth was given,
  • Severed below, may live to meet in heaven.
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  • But never more around our native hearth,
  • When once destroyed, can life restore its mirth.
  • All—all is gone—that well-remembered door,
  • The sound of welcome feet along that floor,
  • The window where we sat in musing hour,
  • Watching the moonbeams, listening to the shower,
  • The twilight shade of that sequestered spot,
  • The Sabbath evening worship, ne'er forgot;
  • The chamber of our childhood where we slept,
  • And, still more sacred, where we oft have wept
  • Tears by the nearest friend unseen—unknown—
  • Hoarding the treasure of our grief alone—
  • All—all have vanished, by one stroke of fate:
  • Man may destroy, but cannot recreate.
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