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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 136
page: 137

BOOK VII.

  • THERE is a landmark to the traveller's eye,—
  • Hope's constant symbol pointing to the sky,—
  • The village spire, above the trees that throw
  • Their mournful shadow o'er the graves below.
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  • And well the eye long used to other lands
  • Recalls again the valley where it stands,
  • The green hill-side, the hedge-row, and the lane,
  • The meadow-stream meandering through the plain,
  • Spanned by the bridge, where meets the village maid
  • Her rustic lover in the evening shade.
  • All these, with their soft colouring warm and true,
  • The wanderer's faithful memory can renew;
  • Nor time, nor change, nor distance, can impair
  • The lovely landscape ever green and fair.
  • 'Tis for the village spire the school-boy looks,
  • Returning home from masters, and from books,
  • To gambol half his classic lore away,
  • Through the bright summer's jocund holiday.
  • 'Tis for the village spire the maiden sighs,
  • While gazing fondly with her tearful eyes,
  • She sees it gleaming through the twilight gloom,
  • When first her footsteps leave her native home.
  • 'Tis for the village spire the exile burns,
  • With yearning bosom, as remembrance turns
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  • To all he was, and all he might have been,
  • Had he remained as simple as that scene.
  • Nor looks the eye of faith unheeding there,
  • Upon that beacon rising high and clear,
  • Pointing from out the grovelling things of earth,
  • To that bright realm where sorrow ne'er had birth.
  • And Lucy Herbert loved to think, and gaze
  • Upon that scene, well known in early days,
  • When wandering with her sisters, forth they came
  • To seek the lowly door of village dame;
  • Or when with cordial by their mother sent,
  • To the old cottage in the lane they went,
  • To see the sick man on his humble bed,
  • And feverish child within its cradle laid.
  • Long sickness lingers in the poor man's home,
  • And death most wished for seems most loath to come.
  • The feverish child that fearful hour survived,
  • Had now at woman's brightest bloom arrived;
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  • While the old father, scarcely half restored,
  • His widowed state and helpless doom deplored.
  • Yet Phebe nursed him well, and made his hearth
  • Look clean and cheerful, though it wanted mirth,
  • For theirs was real poverty to know,
  • That fatal cankerworm so sure and slow,
  • That oft from cheek of beauty eats the rose,
  • And o'er the path of age its venom throws.
  • 'Twas in this cottage first that Lucy found
  • The reverend pastor of the hamlets round;
  • A venerable man, with hoary hair,
  • And staff in hand, meet sign of pastoral care.
  • Here too she heard him read the words of truth,
  • With well-timed counsel both for age and youth.
  • And she would listen with attentive ear,
  • Until that voice—its tones so firm and clear,
  • Gave to those truths an impulse o'er her soul,
  • Powerful alike to soften, and control.
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  • Little she learned of doctrine, less she knew
  • Of points disputed by the learned few;
  • But deep and ardent was her wish to prove
  • How much she felt a dying Saviour's love;
  • How yearned her bosom to redeem the time,
  • The wasted moments of her girlish prime;
  • And she would ask, in accents meek and low,
  • That holy man to guide, and teach her how.
  • She was a simple child in wisdom's ways,
  • Yet could she sing her heavenly Father's praise
  • With feelings more intense, and more profound.
  • That earthly bliss she never yet had found.
  • For much that others felt not, pained her mind;
  • She was too delicate, and too refined,
  • Too gentle for this world, with its rude strife;
  • And thus she seemed almost to shrink from life,
  • Like some frail bark, that, having put to sea,
  • Finds the dark billows heave too heavily,
  • While tossed and shattered by the raging main,
  • It fain would seek the sheltering port again.
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  • Oh! where should suffering soul like this findd peace
  • Amid the world's wild storms that never cease?
  • Or such meek dove find shelter for her breast,
  • Save in the ark of everlasting rest?
  • 'Twas not alone to muse and think of heaven,
  • That Lucy's mind to better thoughts was given;
  • Though well she loved, at evening,'s twilight hour,
  • To yield her soul to contemplation's power;
  • Yet was she found, with each returning sun,
  • Awake to life, its serious tasks begun,
  • Prepared to meet the duties of the day,
  • As those alone can be, who rise to pray.
  • And now her browr, so pure and calm before,
  • With a more heavenly radiance was spread o'er,
  • While she more patiently would bear reproof,
  • Suffer injurious thought, nor stand aloof
  • From occupations once degrading deemed,
  • That now a part of Christian duty seemed.
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  • Now was she seen, with every Sabbath-day,
  • At morn, and noon, to wend her cheerful way
  • Through summer's scorching heat, and winter's rain,
  • To that old church beside the village lane,
  • Where groups of girls to meet her first, would try,
  • And look their welcome as her steps drew nigh.
  • Then would she lead them through the solemin aisle.
  • And check the forward step, and sportive smile;
  • With mild authority, but look severe,
  • Inspiring love, and still commanding fear.
  • How shall the pedagogue be made to learn,
  • That youthful generous tempers needs must spurn
  • The mock majestic of his petty rule,
  • That vainly fights for mastery in his school?
  • Can he believe mere punishment will bring
  • Conviction to the breast where follies spring?
  • Can he believe, while peeping all about,
  • To find the whispering or the sleeping out,
  • page: 144
  • With cane upraised, and fury in his eve,
  • And switching cut that makes the culprit cry?—
  • Can he believe? or will his pupils say
  • That this is worship on the Sabbath-day?—
  • His thoughts in unison with what they hear,
  • Of Christian charity, and slavish fear
  • Cast out by love? No, while they turn again
  • To where the preacher pours his fervid strain,
  • They hear the stroke of prayer-book on the head
  • Of some tired sleeper, or their own instead.
  • Shame would we cry upon this scene of strife,
  • But that it represents poor human life.
  • Our best endeavours mingled with alloy,
  • Our works of love with passions that destroy.
  • So gross the ignorance that blinds our eyes
  • To human nature, ever in disguise,
  • That e'en this pedagogue may sink to rest,
  • Thanking his Maker he has done his best.
page: 145
  • Nor could the graceful form of Lucy move
  • Unheeded on her embassy of love.
  • One eye there was that watched her bending low,
  • Truth on her lips, and peace upon her brow,
  • Her snow-white hand extending round the form
  • Of rebel child, so rosy, rude, and warm,
  • So well content in ignorance to dwell,
  • And scarce by that soft touch constrained to spell,
  • That common patience would have pushed aside
  • The infectious sleeper, and some other tried.
  • But she was labouring in a sacred cause,
  • And hence her meekness and her strength arose.
  • Yes, there was one who marked her placid look,
  • And sometimes turned from off his holy book,
  • While hung the attentive audience on his breath,
  • To see if Lucy took her seat beneath—
  • A young collegian, who had come to share
  • His sacred duties with the pastor there.
  • For feeble grew the venerable man,
  • His years advancing to life's utmost span;
  • page: 146
  • Yet while his people hailed him with delight,
  • They thought the curate better could indite,
  • Could read more fluently and charmed the ear
  • With voice more musical, and smooth, and clear.
  • Eustace could speak in silvery tones, and soft,
  • With bland expression, more inviting oft
  • Than real kindness clothed in homely dress,
  • Though for the hour of trial, how much less!
  • Yet was he kind, for he was mild of mood,
  • And while he saw the fact, scarce understood
  • How any man should let such fiery guest
  • As guilty passion desolate his breast.
  • Thus were the sinful doubly so to him,
  • Who saw temptation thtoughit a glass so dim,
  • It seemed a thing far off amongst the vile,
  • While he from his proud eminence could smile,
  • And wonder at the grovelling mass below
  • Of blindfold ignorance, and guilty woe.
  • page: 147
  • Well schooled in doctrine, he was fain to impart
  • The knowledge he had gained, though not by heart:
  • Of best constructions oft would talk and tell,
  • And high authorities could quote as well;
  • With ready finger point the dubious text,
  • Expose the false translator's vain pretext,
  • Proving, whatever might be said or thought,
  • His memory at least had been well taught.
  • All this to Lucy seemed a mine of gold,
  • Wisdom's true wealth, its endless worth untold.
  • And she would listen, anxiously intent
  • To catch whate'er the learned student meant;
  • Till question came at last of her belief,
  • When burned her cheek with shame as well as grief;
  • To think how low, how ignorant her mind,
  • Compared with one so lofty and refined.
  • Yet she confessed herself, as one who fears
  • Still hopes assistance from the friend who hears;
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  • And while the glistening tear-drops dimmed her eye,
  • She looked more like an angel from the sky
  • Sent down to minister, than guilty child.
  • How could he answer but in accents mild?—
  • Too mild, alas! for yer her young heart to bear,
  • Without that impress time can never wear,
  • Nor effort move, nor hope with colouring gay,
  • Nor sorrow wash, with all her tears, away.
  • Lucy was formed to love, not with excess,
  • Nor weak display of lavish tenderness;
  • But with deep thoughts that seemed so meek and still,
  • Yet her fond bosom's utmost bound could fill,
  • Tuning its various chords, that used to lie
  • Unstrung before, to one sweet melody.
  • The man who lightly speaks of woman's love
  • Knows not that precious pearl, all price above.
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  • He sees her smiling through the sunny hour,
  • Fickle, and vain, and arrogant of power,
  • Sporting with passion that she loves to calm,
  • Inflicting wounds that she may pour the balm,
  • Ambitious to subdue, yet quick to show
  • The willing tears for other's pain that flow;
  • He sees this fluttering thing with eyes so bright,
  • Tortured by pain, enraptured by delight;
  • He hears her promise never more to rove,
  • And calls the gift she offers him, her love.
  • Oh! worse than insult to that sacred name,
  • To call the glimmering of such feeble flame,
  • That constant light, by gracious heaven bestowed
  • To cheer the pilgrim on life's thorny road.
  • But there is love in woman's “heart of hearts,”
  • That scarcely with expiring breath departs.
  • Pure as a child's affection, when it feels
  • The first warm gush that o'er its bosom steals;
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  • Fervent and faithful, as a mother knows
  • When round her babe the sheltering arm she throws,
  • Warm, as the fire that lights the martyr's zeal;
  • Great, as the hero's lofty soul can feel;
  • Firm, as true friendship, but far more intense.
  • And more regardless of all recompense;
  • Ambitious to deserve, vain but to be
  • The loveliest object one on earth can see;
  • Fickle to suit his mood; whene'er he sighs,
  • Sad, with true sorrow, not its poor disguise;
  • Pleased when he smiles, yet not with wild delight,
  • Fearing to force herself upon his sight;
  • Lest her weak fondness should be seen too much,
  • Too little felt, the magic of its touch.
  • This love was Lucy's, nor unasked it came
  • Tinging her cheek with many a blush of shame—
  • Shame that she was not worthy of the friend
  • Who sought with hers his future lot to blend.
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  • Yet she could learn his wishes, watch his mood,
  • The boundless debt of love and gratitude
  • Could make it all her happiness to pay,
  • Through the sweet service of each future day.
  • Love has its attributes, and never yet
  • Was born without them, or was half so sweet
  • As when some other flowery bands entwine
  • With its fair wreath, like roses with the vine.
  • Thus will affliction blend in woman's breast,
  • Hope of compassion with the stranger guest;
  • And sorrow's tear her sympathy command,
  • When love alone had vainly sought her hand.
  • Thus oft she learns, not sober truth alone,
  • Though clear the light upon its pages thrown,
  • Yet while the tide of knowledge fills her mind,
  • Her heart is less intelligent than kind.
  • Thus when religion lends her holy flame
  • To cast a halo round some honoured name,
  • page: 152
  • Pure, then, and deep, the well-spring whence arise
  • Thoughts of affection, wrapped in fair disguise,
  • Blending the flowers that blossom on this earth
  • With those that ne'er beneath the skies had birth;
  • Gilding the landscape with celestial light,
  • For this cold world too holy, and too bright;
  • Sending to heaven, upon the wings of prayer,
  • Feelings too human for acceptance there.
  • And when the issue comes, as come it must,
  • Sinking too low beneath the sentence just;
  • As if shut out—rejected from above,
  • Because some blight has touched our earthly love.
  • Lucy, while venturing on temptation's brink,
  • Was far too peaceful, and too blest, to think
  • That danger lurked, where safety seemed to lead,
  • And thus she feared not that fair path to tread.
  • Thus were the duties of each day more dear,
  • Because the approving smile so oft was near;
  • page: 153
  • And evening came more sweetly to her eye,
  • When he she reverenced so much, was nigh.
  • Nothing was wanting now: she once had been
  • Lonely and sad, when gazing on that scene—
  • The village church—the trees—and that low grave,
  • O'er which the elms their dark green branches wave.
  • Here had she wandered, and had ofttimes thought
  • Her mother's death so sore a grief had brought,
  • No future bliss could ever soothe her pain,
  • Or the world look like paradise again.
  • Here had she mused, and wept those tears unseen,
  • Which but for secret channels ne'er had been;
  • Tears that will sometimes dim the sunny eye,
  • And stain the cheek of youth, we scarce know why.
  • Save that the heart, too covetous of joy,
  • Wants more of happiness, with less alloy;
  • And pines to think, while pleasure's cup runs o'er.
  • That this is all, and life can give no more.
page: 154
  • It was not thus with Lucy now, her eye
  • Saw neither cloud nor tempest in the sky;
  • Nor blight, nor weed, nor shadow on the ground,
  • Nor falling leaf, nor barren waste around.
  • For he who taught her spirit to aspire
  • With more belief, though not with more desire,
  • Seemed like a shield around her helplessness,
  • And thus she loved him, almost to excess.
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