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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 1

BOOK I.

  • 'TIS early dawn, and morning's welcome ray
  • Gilds the blue mountains, rising far away
  • From out the bosom of a mimic sea,
  • Where the white vapours float along the lea;
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  • Till the proud sun, exulting in his might,
  • Enrobes the earth in universal light.
  • 'Tis spring's bright morn—and oh! what tongue can tell
  • The mingled melodies that mount and swell,
  • And float upon the flowery scented gale,
  • Wakeninig sweet echoes throughi the verdant vale—
  • Harmonious voices—mellow-toned, and shrill,
  • Liquid, and murmuring, and almost still,
  • So small the fountain, and so pure the stream
  • From whence it flows, like music in a dream.
  • Yet, not the feeblest note of forest bird,
  • E'er by the brink of woodland-waters heard,
  • Nor loudest clarion that salutes the morn,
  • But bath some note of gladness, still upborne,
  • A hymn of gratitude for life and light,
  • To the clear heavens fresh opening on the sight.
  • 'Tis spring's sweet morn; and let our poets say
  • Whate'er they list, of that cerulean day,
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  • That rises o'er Italia's clasic shore.
  • My native land for me! I ask no more.
  • My native land, clad in her robe of flowers.
  • Her daisied meadows, and her woodbine bowers
  • Her lilacs gay, her bright laburniums, seen
  • Like fringe of gold beneath a mantle green;
  • Her streams that wander through the shady grove.
  • With cadence gentle as the voice of love;
  • Her patient herds that slumber on the lea,
  • Her gales that waft the honey-laden bee,
  • Her blooming orchards girt around with may,
  • That falls like snow, when from the scented spray
  • The song-bird flutters on his joyous wing,
  • To soar away to the blue skies and sing;
  • Her pastures with the yellow cowslip rife,
  • And sportive lambs, in wantonness of life,
  • Wildly careering o'er the grassy downs,
  • Where furze, or broom, the goal of triumph crowns;
  • Her verdant hills beyond the village spire,
  • And many a heath-clad mountain rising higher,
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  • Around whose base the circling river winds,
  • Or through the vale its path of beauty finds.
  • Such are thy pictures, and I love to dwell
  • On scenes so long remembered, and so well—
  • Scenes that I gazed on fondly from my birth,
  • That made thee then the loveliest spot of earth.
  • And such thou art, beloved land, to me,
  • And ever wilt be—come what may to thee.
  • On spring's bright morn, 'mid such a scene as this,
  • Where all we realize of earthly bliss
  • Is gathered round us by a hand divine,
  • Till nought remains for which the heart can pine,
  • Laden with perfume woke the early breeze,
  • Gorgeous in sunshinie stood the ancient trees,
  • The stately elm, and feathery ash, that grew
  • Around a dwelling almost hid from view—
  • A long, and low-roofed dwelling, where the door
  • Looked as if all might enter—rich and poor.
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  • There was no sloping lawn before that spot,
  • But gravel-walk, and just one little plot
  • Of new-mown grass, so freshly green and smooth,
  • It seemed the traveller's weary eye to soothe.
  • No massive gate of entrance marked the road,
  • Nor graceful sweep its doubtful welcome showed:
  • But hid beneath a honeysuckle screen
  • A garden wicket opened on the green.
  • While on one side a blooming border lay,
  • Enriched with fragrant herbs, and flowerets gay:
  • The fairy leaf of classic thyme was there,
  • The purple panzy, and the primrose fair,
  • And ancient southernwood, and box, and rue,
  • And wall-flower sweet, within that garden grew.
  • While over-head, dispensing rich perfume,
  • There hung a canopy of roseate bloom,
  • Or, shaken by the gently waving trees,
  • A shower of blossoms fluttered in the breeze:
  • The blushing promise of expectant spring,
  • Sweet pledge of all the waning year might bring.
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  • These here strewed the ground, a carpet far more fair
  • Than man's ingenious labour could prepare,
  • With toil of weary hands and curious care.
  • High above all, in outline broad and bold,
  • Stood the tall ash, the elm, and chestnut old;
  • Stretching athwart that lowly roof their arms,
  • Faithful through every change, through winds, and storms,
  • Breaking the tempest, sheltering from the rain,
  • Shadowing from noontide heat that scorched the plain,
  • Tempering the air with freshness and delight,
  • Parting the moonbeams into gems of light,
  • True to the promise of their early prime,
  • Verdant again with every sweet spring-time.
  • Such friends were they, those venerable trees;
  • Boast ye who may of friends more true than these.
  • Was there not one within that peaceful home
  • Who might have boasted, had the question come
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  • To her fond heart, for she was proud to be
  • The creature of one soul's idolatry.
  • And such a soul—so manly and so clear,
  • So firm of purpose, upright, and sincere,
  • Untaught of schools, yet filled with noble aims,
  • And that high virtue, which all praise disclaims,
  • With patriot fire to emulate a Tell,
  • And but one weakness—that he loved too well.
  • Yet she he loved was worthy of his care,
  • So gentle and so true, so fond and fair,
  • So self-devoted, looking to the end
  • For the remoter good, and thus his friend.
  • Ne'er seeking sunshine from his weary brow,
  • Nor urging service when his step was slow;
  • Not tiring his vexed ear with puny grief,
  • Nor asking, when she ought to have given, relief.
  • As some will tax the patience with a train
  • Of twice-told wrongs, and undeserved pain.
  • Till very kindness deems its duty is
  • To wish the sufferer in a world of bliss.
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  • If such things could be, Mary knew them not.
  • She felt no wrongs, was cheerful in her lot:
  • To her the sweet return of morning light
  • Brought a new life, still fraught with new delight;
  • For she had one to love, and serve, and cheer,
  • Who paid her back in kindness as sincere;
  • And both felt bound their earthly course to make,
  • As smooth as might be, for the other's sake.
  • And now with that sweet morn of spring they rose
  • To offer up to heaven their early vows,
  • With jovful spirits to kneel down and pray,
  • And bless the light that brought another day,
  • Laden with all things needful—all things good,
  • They only asked for deeper gratitude,
  • Love that was less of earth, hopes more on high,
  • And greater willingness to live, or die.
  • For they were growing to that lovely scene,
  • As if their very root of life had been
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  • Within the earth's deep bosom planted there,
  • To live, and bloom, for ever fresh and fair.
  • They looked around them with a joy so pure
  • And felt the blessings of each day so sure,
  • They were so fain to hope, so glad to trust,
  • They failed to think what might be, or what must—
  • Of dark or drear, calamitous or strange,
  • They knew no evil, and they feared no change.
  • Thus while that sun his radiant course pursued,
  • He found no hearts more filled with gratitude,
  • More free to own that mercy crowned their days
  • To tune their thankfulness to hymns of praise.
  • It was the spring-tide flow of life to them,
  • Might not some rock—some gale—that current stem?
  • Might not that tide with natural ebb fall back,
  • And leave behind a waste and sterile track?
  • Were they prepared, in sorrow's wintry hour,
  • To own, and bless the same benignant power?
  • When darkening clouds should overcast their sun,
  • To bow the head, and say, “Thy will be done?”
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  • Harsh question and injurious thought, away!
  • A happier theme is ours—the dawn of day,
  • A day of homely toil, and household care,
  • Where faithful hands the task of labour share,
  • Leaving no burden for the weak to bear.
  • To each, an equal and appropriate part
  • Assigned by her, who ruled o'er every heart.
  • With gentle grace, but undisputed power.
  • As if the right to rule had been her dower.
  • So lightly fell the rein, it seemed to be
  • By skilful management, not mastery,
  • That all were brought to labour, or to learn.
  • While willing service yielded quick return.
  • There was this secret in her household sway,
  • She rose the earliest with the rising day,
  • She was the first within that happy home—
  • The very first, at duty's call to come;
  • And, let their daily task be great or small,
  • She was the most industrious of them all:
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  • So thoughtless of herself, that he whose care
  • Was ever watchful, bade the servants spare
  • Their gracious mistress—bade them tend her well,
  • Observe this sacred charge, but never tell
  • That they had been thus schooled in arts of love,
  • And thus they tried their faithfulness to prove.
  • Nor was the stir of active life alone
  • Within that dwelling. To the fields were gone
  • A band of sturdy workmen, some to clear
  • The weedy bank, and some the fence to rear,
  • Some to lead forth the lazy team, and some
  • To drive the kine from their green pastures home.
  • While he, their honoured master, bent his way
  • To where his patient flocks in quiet lay,
  • His faithful dog companion by his side,
  • Bound by the twofold chain of love and pride,
  • As first he leads the way, and then looks back
  • To mark if well his master minds the track.
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  • Now through the vale their winding path they take,
  • Brushing the dew-drops from the heathery brake;
  • Now on the top of breezy hill they stand,
  • The hill from whence they look o'er all the land;
  • And well the farmer loved to linger there,
  • To count his herds, and mark his meadows fair,
  • The rows of spiral corn, advancing slow
  • With verdant green still deepening as they grow,
  • The scented bean-field, and the purple clover,
  • Rustling and waving as the wind sweeps over.
  • The hawthorn hedge with tufts of scented may,
  • And rebel weeds, luxuriant, wild, and gay,
  • Bounding the greenest fields of all his farm,
  • Where sheltering sheds defend from wind and storm
  • His choice young cattle, and his favourite steed
  • Unrivalled, both in safety and in speed,
  • That comes, and tosses high his flowing mane,
  • With joy to hear his master's voice again,
  • Then wheeling backward, bounds along the turf,
  • Like a proud galley o'er the ocean surf.
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  • These, and ten thousand well-known sights, present
  • A view, that to the farmer's heart was sent
  • Like incense, for he drank such draughts of joy,
  • His was the happiness without alloy
  • Of which we dream, and so he dreamed awhile,
  • Wearing the aspect of an inward smile.
  • Deeper than laughter was the bliss that broke
  • Forth from his eye, and echoed when he spoke;
  • Yet never half so radiant was his look,
  • As when at eve his homeward path he took,
  • After the absence of some long, long day,
  • For long it seemed to him, and far away,
  • When duty called him to the neighbouring town,
  • Though gathering wealth his frugal pains might crown.
  • But there was light within his sheltered home,
  • And smiles, and hopes, and better things to come.
  • That woo'd him back, where'er his lot might be,
  • From stirring sights, and sounds of revelry.
  • A sweeter voice he knew would welcome him,
  • When his own fire shone through the twilight dim,
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  • Shooting its ray athwart the grass-plot green,
  • The mossy boughs of orchard-trees between.
  • Yes, and he knew that star of promise well,
  • Even at the distant gate, his eye could tell
  • If bright it burned, if cheerful looked his hearth,
  • If like itself, that loveliest spot of earth.
  • Nor came the day when burned that fire less bright,
  • While spoke that voice in tones of less delight;
  • For she, who had her handmaids at her call,
  • And her own babes, more welcome far than all,
  • Her friendly neighbours, and her social cheer,
  • Was lonely still, till he she loved was near—
  • Lonely in busy hall, in garden bower,
  • But lonely most in evening's silent hour,
  • When fall the lengthening shadows on the hill,
  • And childhood's happy voice grows hushed and still.
  • In that sweet hour, when sleeps the brooding dove
  • Within the cradle of her nestling's love,
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  • When sings the forest bird his last sweet song,
  • And echoing woods the melody prolong,
  • When distant sounds of falling water come
  • Like tidings from a long-remembered home,
  • And softly sighs the breath of evening breeze,
  • Wakening an answer from the whispering trees,
  • And slowly fade the sunbeams from the west,
  • Melting away in ocean's billowy breast;
  • In that sweet hour, it was her faithful part
  • To nurse the cherished idol of her heart,
  • To think him nobler, kinder than before,
  • Recall his gentle ways, and count them o'er—
  • As broods the miser on his secret hoard,
  • To dwell at last upon the tenderest word.
  • And now she starts to hear the wished-for sound,
  • He comes not yet—it is the restless hound.
  • The dews are falling, and the hour is late—
  • Again! she hears the clap of distant gate.
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  • It is the foot-fall of that faithful steed,
  • She knows it well—he comes—he comes with speed!
  • Triumphant war-horse in proud castle-yard
  • Was never yet with more of rapture heard.
  • The hearth has long been swept, she stirs the fire,
  • And then piles up the blazing fabric lhigher,
  • Till pours the kettle forth its cheering song,
  • While treads a manly step the garden-walk along.
  • It was no vulgar bliss that crowned their lot,
  • They were industrious, but they ne'er forgot
  • The treasures of the mind, the heart's warm store,
  • Than all their household comforts valued more.
  • They were untaught, in modern schools at least.
  • Yet much they loved an intellectual feast,
  • And such they deemed it, as the night closed in,
  • At that blest hour, when social joys begin,
  • To muse upon the well-selected page
  • Of favourite poet, or of wiser sage.
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  • There was a niche beside their cheerful hearth,
  • That held an ancient book-case, with the worth
  • Of many minds, concentrated, and clear,
  • And thoughts that to the reader's eye appear
  • His own, so natural and familiar.
  • 'Twas not the wealth of circulating lore
  • That reached the farmer's hospitable door,
  • Nor pile of newly-written books, passed on
  • From hand to hand, their titles only known;
  • But volumes chosen with attentive care,
  • Read, and remembered, and still treasured there,
  • Like friends of early days, that answer vet
  • In the loved voice we never can forget.
  • Such was the evening's happiness to those
  • Who thus could meet at busy day's sweet close;
  • Such their enjoyment, when their meal was done,
  • And well-filled tray and smoking kettle gone,
  • The curtains drawn, the blazing fire burnt clear,
  • The farmer seated in his elbow-chair,
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  • The rosy sleeper, from its mother's breast
  • Gently translated to its cradled nest,
  • The tired domestics gathered in from toil,
  • Some to repose, and some to sit and smile
  • Around the genial glow of kitchen hearth,
  • Whiling away the hours in harmless mirth.
  • But they more blest, that unpretending pair,
  • Who felt the weightier load of daily care,
  • Theirs was an equal share of bliss to know,
  • Of deeper joys from happier thoughts that flow.
  • And now they kindly speak of all that brings
  • Around the heart such fond familiar things,
  • That, had their language marked some written page,
  • It well had met the scorn of learned sage;
  • So trifling seems each item of that whole,
  • That still may weigh upon the burdened soul.
  • And now their mutual store of separate thought,
  • Which that long day's divided interest brought,
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  • Unfolded to each other, no reserve
  • On either side, no different end to serve,
  • They choose what volume shall the evening close,
  • Who shall instruct, or soothe them to repose,
  • What bard shall tune his soft melodious lay,
  • Thompson, or Burns, or melancholy Gray,
  • What stricter moralist, with sober pen
  • In storied page describe the ways of men,
  • Goldsmith, or Addison with faultless style,
  • Or weightier Johnson with his wordy pile
  • Of cumbrous epithets, and periods round,
  • Taxing the ear with endless pomp of sound.
  • These, and their wise compatriots, all were there,
  • And all content that narrow space to share,
  • Men for whose range of thought the heavens were small,
  • And the vast earth but as an infant's ball,
  • Who found such jarring elements in other minds,
  • As none but mighty genius ever finds;
  • Yet here they dwelt together, side by side,
  • Alike bereft of love, and hate, and pride.
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  • All meekly bound, all quiet, close, and still,
  • Silent, or vocal, at another's will;
  • Their petty faults extinct—forgotten—lost,
  • For ever fixed, what men applauded most.
  • But now, all lighter pages laid aside,
  • That holy book, the comfort, stay, and guide
  • Of erring wanderers through this vale of tears,
  • At wonted hour of needful rest appears.
  • Deeply sonorous was the solemn voice
  • Of him who read that sacred strain, his choice
  • Falling, as if by instinct, on such part
  • As seemed most meet to animate the heart
  • With aspirations to the joys of heaven,
  • And gratitude profound for blessings given.
  • It is the holy hour of evening prayer,
  • Descend, thou peaceful Dove, in mercy there.
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  • Lo! the poor suppliant his sorrow brings,
  • Descend, thou Dove, with healing on thy weing,
  • If weary laden in a world of grief,
  • Behold he kneels! with tears he asks relief;
  • Fainting beneath the burden of the day,
  • He seeks the shadowy night, to weep and pray.
  • If in the pomp of manly power he stand,
  • Asking a boon, yet seeming to command,
  • Descend, thou Dove, his earth-born pride control,
  • Come, with the dews of evening, melt his soul.
  • If he hath ought against his brother, come,
  • Come, heavenly Dove, and let one happy home
  • Receive them both, one bower of peace be theirs,
  • Angel of mercy, listen to their prayers!
  • If he have wandered from the ways of truth,
  • Blighting the promise of his early youth,
  • Call back the prodigal, thou gentle Dove,
  • Teach him once more to trust a Father's love!
  • But if his earthly home be all too fair,
  • Then, holy Dove, descend, yet spare! oh spare!
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  • Let the dim shadow of thy hovering wings
  • Warn him, without the weight of grief that brings
  • A blight upon the bosom where it falls,
  • Deeper for all the bliss its touch recalls.
  • Warn him, but gently tell thy tale of tears,
  • Blast not his hopes, but yet awake his fears.
  • Listen! he prays thee to behold his heart,
  • Canst thou not purify the vital part
  • With less than torture—less than fiery trial?
  • Angel of mercy! then uplift thy phial,
  • Pour down the burning flood, so let the end
  • Be glorious, thou the mourner's friend.
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