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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 114
page: 115

BOOK VI.

  • THERE are some minds that never feel their power
  • While beams the light of pleasure's sunny hour,
  • Unknown their strength to combat earthly ills,
  • While the sweet draught their cup of gladness fills.
  • page: 116
  • Then are they sometimes vain, capricious too,
  • Uncertain, changeful, to themselves untrue,
  • The slightest breath disturbs them, and they fear,
  • Yet scarce know why, their onward course to steer.
  • But let the storm come darkening o'er their way,
  • No more amid the restless surf they play;
  • But sweeping forward on the foaming main,
  • Nor wind, nor wave, can stem their course again.
  • Martha was one of these, a sportive child,
  • A girl ungovernable, wayward, wild,
  • A woman sensitive, and quickly moved
  • By praise or censure from the few she loved.
  • Thus had her lover urged his suit in vain,
  • She yielded not, yet feared to give him pain.
  • One day relenting, pleased she heard him praised,
  • Another changed by laughter idly raised;
  • Her aunt's derision, and her sisters' scorn
  • Blighting the hopes of better feeling born.
page: 117
  • But were they true, the tidings Henry told?
  • Her father suffering from his want of gold?
  • No power, no means, her brother's wish to grant—
  • Her sisters useless, and extravagant—
  • It was too true; her father now could raise
  • But half the income of more prosperous days;
  • And her strong purpose firmly fixed at last,
  • All weak misgivings to the winds she cast.
  • She could be happy, that she never feared,
  • With one whose goodness more and more endeared;
  • Her father's home would still be bright and gay,
  • For those who lingering in that home might stay;
  • But she, more blest, would hail the welcome thought,
  • Her bread should never by his toil be bought.
  • Henry was silent now, or kindly spoke,
  • For deeper thoughts within his bosom woke.
  • Lucy had seldom joined the unfeeling jest,
  • And Helen's scorn grew milder with the rest;
  • page: 118
  • Ere came that day of mingled joy and pain,
  • The first link breaking in their household chain.
  • A few short weeks were left to Martha yet,
  • To teach her faithful memory to forget;
  • To build her future out of things unseen,
  • Her home without the garden, and the green;
  • To cast her hope's bright anchor in the sea,
  • And wait the issues of—uncertainty.
  • And now, to make the strengthening bond more close,
  • The prudent lover ventured to propose,
  • His orphan sister, as a guest, should come
  • To share the welcome of the farmer's home.
  • She came, and kindness and respect were paid,
  • Both warm and genuine, to the town-bred maid,
  • Whose fairy foot, small waist, and pallid cheek,
  • The tenderest mould of human form bespeak.
  • She was an orphan, left in childhood lone,
  • No mother's love around her cradle thrown,
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  • Her helpless infancy her only dower.
  • And thus her brother, from its earliest hour,
  • In all things else a prudent man and sage,
  • Had watched too fondly o'er her tender age;
  • Had spared her youth with discipline to train,
  • And thus consigned her to a world of pain.
  • True, she appeared most gentle, kind, and fair,
  • As untried characters so often are;
  • But a spoiled child to feeble woman grown,
  • Let no man love, the cost will be his own.
  • It was the time for waving woods to show
  • The autumnal tints that deepen as they glow,
  • For golden grain to wave alone the field,
  • For orchard boughs their rosy fruit to yield;
  • And still the farmer joined the reapers' hand,
  • Sharing their labour with unsparing hand.
  • And Henry joined them too, but oftener strayed
  • To where his sisters wandered through the glade,
  • page: 120
  • Seeking the hazel-nut, the purple sloe,
  • Or fruitful bramble with its prickly bough,
  • Or pausing by the brink of pebbly brook,
  • For social converse, or for idle book.
  • While Martha plied her needle by their side,
  • And oft to stay their rambling footsteps tried.
  • Here Henry found them, not like nymphs of old
  • Bathing their tresses in the fountain cold,
  • But laughing merrily with girlish glee,
  • His welcome form in rustic garb to see.
  • Then would they chide him to the field again,
  • And bid him hasten back to reap the grain.
  • Yet claim his aid to reach some loftier bough,
  • Or, o'er the brook, some stepping-stone to throw;
  • While feeble Emma, leaning on his arm,
  • Asked, without words, protection from all harm.
  • For she, unused to scenes so strange and wild,
  • Shrunk back from danger, like a timid child;
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  • Declared she never could the streamlet pass,
  • And looked for poisonous adders in the grass.
  • While trembling, laughing, she would step within
  • The brook's clear margin, with her slipper thin,
  • Then say she needs must die, for never yet
  • Had she escaped from cold, with feet so wet.
  • Oh, pretty airs of female helplessness!
  • Weak in yourselves, what influence ye possess,
  • What power to win the lordly heart of man,
  • When neither common sense nor wisdom can.
  • Grant we, the charm of weakness is not all,
  • The foot that steps aside must needs be small.
  • Vain childish fear must tinge a lovely brown,
  • And fair must be the lip whence folly's accents flow.
  • 'Twas thus the orphan, oft by Henry's side
  • Looked up imploring for his help to guide;
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  • And while her fairy hand she placed in his,
  • It thrilled his bosom with a secret bliss,
  • To think how well—how ably he could blend
  • All she desired—protector, guide, and friend.
  • So passed those autumn hours. 'Twas like a dream,
  • So fair and fruitless such bright visions seem,
  • When gazing back from winter's world of snow,
  • We ask, Where are those fruits and flowerets now?
  • Could autumn moons for ever brightly shine,
  • And verdant boughs their wreaths of beauty twine,
  • Could cloudless suns for ever rise and set,
  • And fragrant flowers beam forth with dew-drops wet,
  • Could fields and forests look for ever green,
  • No touch of blight upon their foliage seen;
  • Could the clear brook unsullied still remain,
  • Through summer's burning heat, and winter's rain;
  • Could the sweet warblers of the genial spring
  • Through the whole year their songs of gladness sing;
  • page: 123
  • Could beauty last, or blooming health remain,
  • Or youth outlive all grief, disease, and pain;
  • Then were it sweet through fadeless woods to stray,
  • With some fair being, innocent as gay,
  • Whose smiling charms should make the flowers more bright—
  • Whose kindness wake a world of new delight;
  • Sweet were it then for fancy's skill to weave
  • Some scheme of sorrow, not enough to grieve,
  • Some hardship, or some hind'rance, to induce
  • That gentle thing our willing aid to choose.
  • Thus reasons man, and thus he reasons right,
  • While suppositions merely meet his sight.
  • But when he brings his beautiful ideal
  • To share a world like ours—so stern and real—
  • To face the tempest, and endure the storm,
  • With tears and terrors that have ceased to charm;
  • When sordid cares, a restless host, arise;
  • When beauty fades, and youth's warm vigour dies;
  • page: 124
  • When dormant temper wakens, wild and fierce,
  • And childhood's ceaseless cries, that wound and pierce;
  • When sickness comes, and penury and pain,
  • With all the ills that follow in their train;
  • Oh, who would dare to meet the woes of life,
  • And share its sorrows with a pining wife?
  • Who would commit his children to her care,
  • Or seek her sympathy his grief to share?
  • Who would expect, when trials pressed him sore,
  • The timid trembler could his peace restore?
  • Or who would wish, beside his feverish bed,
  • The feeble thing that could not raise his head?
  • With nerves too delicate to feel at home
  • Where sickness saddened, or where death might come?
  • No! let not sterling virtues lose their worth
  • Before these graces of unnatural birth,
  • Forced into life by artificial means,
  • To make all women goddesses, or queens.
  • page: 125
  • And let not man his generous nature trust,
  • Seldom indeed, more generous than just.
  • It is not always that he loves to soothe;
  • For idle steps the rugged path to smooth;
  • To guide the fearful, or support the weak;
  • Or wisdom's words in folly's ear to speak.
  • The knot once tied, he wisely asks in turn
  • To be the soothed one, and his wife must learn.
  • Her part is now to cheer his rugged path,
  • To calm his fears, and soften down his wrath,
  • To chase the clouds of sorrow from his brow,
  • And the bright side of every scene to show.
  • Woe waits her failure, misery most extreme,
  • If of her selfish griefs she still would dream—
  • The loss of all to woman's heart most dear—
  • Her husband's love—what hath she left to cheer?
  • But let her seek for happiness in his,
  • Ask nought on earth but secondary bliss,
  • Then comes her recompense, her full reward—
  • Peaceful her breast, unchanging his regard.
page: 126
  • Cold and insensible must be the heart
  • That feels not sad, when comes the hour to part,
  • Even with the slightly loved, or lately known,
  • Whose lot on earth has mingled with our own.
  • But when affection weaves the binding chain,
  • When treasured memories all their warmth retain,
  • When thoughts of childhood shared within one home,
  • A cloud of witnesses, unsought for, come;
  • Then will the tide of natural sorrow swell,
  • Though hope may brighten o'er the last farewell.
  • 'Twas thus around the farmer's cheerful home,
  • Where hand in hand the sisters used to roam,
  • They wandered now, the last time on the green,
  • While fell the moonlight, verdant boughs between.
  • Martha once more at Henry's side appears,
  • Her bright eyes glancing through unbidden tears,
  • While Lucy's arm around her slender waist,
  • A silent witness of her love, was placed.
  • page: 127
  • Helen most beautiful when most subdued,
  • Shared with the rest that evening's pensive mood;
  • And gentle Emma, still from Henry took
  • For more than courtesy, each tone and look,
  • Reading by that fine instinct woman knows,
  • Truth, that no language half so quickly shows.
  • Was it not luxury then to feel the power
  • Of autumn moonlight in that peaceful hour?
  • To see the shadows of those ancient trees,
  • To hear the whisperings of the evening breeze,
  • To cast the flood-gates of remembrance back,
  • To walk again through childhood's dubious track,
  • To see the past, as oft its page appears,
  • Without its trials, and without its tears?
  • To turn and watch the best beloved on earth,
  • Standing upon the soil that gave them birth
  • For the last time? yet pining not to stay,
  • So bright the hope that beckons them away?
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  • Yes there is luxury in grief like this,
  • Something that almost turns our tears to bliss;
  • While thoughts unspoken flow from heart to heart,
  • And no one dares to utter—“We must part!”
  • Such was the evening, but when morning rose
  • A different scene awoke them from repose.
  • Guests from both town and country—favours white,
  • And silks and satins glowing on the sight,
  • Coaches in waiting, horsemen of all grades,
  • At doors and windows simpering servant maids.
  • Away they go—a fluttering cavalcade,
  • Wheeling along beyond the chesnut shade;
  • At length they reach the little church-yard green,
  • And pass its venerable elms between,
  • While cottage dames—their spinning-wheels forgot,
  • And village children, hasten to the spot.
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  • What ails the father that he will not brook
  • That gazing concourse? Why that altered look?
  • Can heart like his find aught to sadden here?
  • Yes, he hath seen one tombstone, white, and clear.
  • And now he thinks, yet fain his thoughts would shroud,
  • Of the last time he met that gazing crowd!
  • The next may be to raise another mound,
  • Another tombstone on that hallowed ground.
  • Whose will it be? Oh! question full of fear!
  • Who best can say, “My home hath not been here.”
  • 'Twas an old-fashioned wedding, and there came
  • Relations of all character and name;
  • For that one day, distinction laid aside;
  • While poured good wishes on the blooming bride.
  • They were a motley group from far and near,
  • Yet welcome all, and plenteous was the cheer.
  • And wide was spread the richly-furnished board,
  • Before that mansion's hospitable lord.
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  • Then rose the playful smile to Helen's lip,
  • To see how strangely people taste and sip,
  • When all unused to touch the glittering plate,
  • Which marks to them the tables of the great.
  • Scarce with respectful tone and look she spoke,
  • For Henry's glancing eye her laughter woke,
  • As gathered in their friends with aspect strange,
  • While strove the aunt to assemble and arrange—
  • Yet fared they not amiss—served was each guest,
  • With viands choice, and wines the very best.
  • No labour lost to satisfy or please,
  • No fear the keenest hunger to appease.
  • Vast had the preparation been, and vast
  • The admiring wonder of each rural guest.
  • Dishes were there of which they ne'er had heard,
  • While those best known, so strangely were prepared,
  • So strewn with flowers, so garnished, and displayed,
  • Vain their surmises how such things were made.
  • Thus ignorant what to ask for, or to trust,
  • They half desired again the homely crust.
  • page: 131
  • Till William Herbert pressed them to partake,
  • With heart-warm smiles that welcomes ever make;
  • When freedom reigned amid the happy throng,
  • Too fain at last their welcome to prolong.
  • 'Twas an old-fashioned wedding, and the sun
  • Went down before the parting had begun.
  • That sad, sad parting, when the household chain
  • Is broken, never more to hold again
  • One severed link—perchance the firmest there;
  • How shall the chain of love that fragment spare?
  • The bride and bridegroom, with the guests, all gone,
  • Sadness around the farmer's hearth was thrown,
  • For sorely missed was Martha's flitting form,
  • Her willing hand, her greeting frank and warm,
  • When gathering in beside the evening fire,
  • She looked around, with smiles that never tire.
page: 132
  • Henry alone, who would have felt the most
  • Had no sweet dream his mental vision crossed,
  • Walked to and fro, along the silent room,
  • And inly smiled, scarce conscious of the gloom.
  • For he had won from that fair orphan girl,
  • A gem beyond all price—a precious pearl—
  • The love—the confidence of her young heart,
  • And thus he smiled, when others sighed to part.
  • Thus woke the morning light with joy to him,
  • His future now, no longer dark or dim;
  • No more he spurned the farmer's homely toil,
  • His secret visions brightening all the while;
  • Labour was light, and tasks of duty, now
  • Cast not a cloud upon his ardent brow.
  • 'Twas the first dawn of manly hope that gave
  • Strength to his wilt and made his purpose grave,
  • That swept the fairy dreams of youth aside,
  • And filled his bosom with a generous pride,
  • To break away from selfish pleasure's thrall,
  • To be to one, and for her sake to all,
  • page: 133
  • Within whose sphere his influence might extend,
  • The man of weight—the counsellor—the friend.
  • Love hath been said to seek the leafy glen,
  • Moonlight, and mountain haunts, untrod by men;
  • To shun the world, and shrink from vulgar day,
  • Or in soft sighs to breathe itself away;
  • But Henry's love, formed on a different plan,
  • Reclaimed the poet—dignified the man;
  • And taught him how to live, and think, and feel,
  • As one who labours for the general weal.
  • Thus would he close the fascinating page,
  • When the experience of riper age
  • Called his attention to his father's farm,
  • To raise the shed, or keep the cattle warm;
  • And scarce one hour of pastime would he spare,
  • To seek the feathered brood or timid hare.
  • Yet was his promise to Lord William made,
  • To roam with him along the leafy glade,
  • page: 134
  • To scour the stubble-field, or climb the hill,
  • Startling the pheasant where the woods were still;
  • Sending along the lonely wilderness
  • Their murderous echo—signal of distress.
  • And bright the rosy morn that called them forth,
  • Cloudless the sky, the freshening breeze blew north.
  • The long grass bent beneath a sheet of dew,
  • Save where the sportsman's wandering feet brushed through;
  • Or bounding dogs that gambolled far and wide,
  • Till called, and chidden, to their master's side.
  • One moment drooping, patient, meek, and slow,
  • The next, away across the fields they go;
  • Impelled, regardless of all future strife,
  • By their ungovernable gush of life,—
  • Of life pent up within the weary stall,
  • Shut out from sunshine, and free air, and all
  • That man luxuriates in, and yet denies
  • To the poor dog that pining, suffering, lies,
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  • Bright was the morn, and lovely was the scene,
  • As burst the sunlight o'er the deepening green,
  • The purple heather, and the mellower glow
  • Tinging the woods in the deep vale below.
  • Where hastening on its way, a swollen brook,
  • Rippling along, its pleasant pastime took.
  • Sound was there none but this along the hill,
  • Save the nut-gatherers answering, and then still,
  • Or bleat of wandering sheep, or rustling tree,
  • As winged the flutteringi bird its flight so free.
  • Is it not happiness to stand and gaze
  • 'Mid the deep silence of such autumn days?
  • The harvest gathered in—man's labour done—
  • Nature reflecting back a cloudless sun—
  • Smiling, yet scarce with joy—asleep, not dead—
  • Her diadem of beauty round her head.
  • It is not happiness for man; his bliss
  • Wakens the woods from silence deep like this,
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  • With the brute echo of his barbarous gun,
  • And victims' quivering cry, that scream and run.
  • Vain are the autumn tints to him—his eye
  • No charm beyond the cowering hare can spy.
  • Vain are the rippling streams—his anxious ear
  • Nought but the covey's whirring sound can hear.
  • Vain all the brightest boons by nature given,
  • Her sunniest scenes, her shadowings forth of heaven,
  • If man must ever mar her smiling face,
  • And o'er her verdant realm his bloody pathway trace.
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