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Poem by Jean Ingelow



Two angry men—in heat they sever,
And one goes home by a harvest field:—
'Hope's nought,' quoth he, 'and vain endeavor;
I said and say it, I will not yield!

'As for this wrong, no art can mend it,
The bond is shiver'd that held us twain;
Old friends we be, but law must end it,
Whether for loss or whether for gain.

'Yon stream is small—full slow its wending;
But winning is sweet, but right is fine;
And shoal of trout, or willowy bending—
Though Law be costly—I'll prove them mine.

'His strawberry cow slipped loose her tether,
And trod the best of my barley down;
His little lasses at play together
Pluck'd the poppies my boys had grown.

'What then?—Why naught! She lack'd of reason;
And they—my little ones match them well:—
But this—Nay all things have their season,
And 'tis my season to curb and quell.'


So saith he, when noontide fervors flout him,
So thinks, when the West is amber and red,
When he smells the hop-vines sweet about him,
And the clouds are rosy overhead.

While slender and tall the hop-poles going
Straight to the West in their leafy lines,
Portion it out into chambers, glowing,
And bask in red day as the sun declines.

Between the leaves in his latticed arbor
He sees the sky, as they flutter and turn,
While moor'd like boats in a golden harbor
The fleets of feathery cloudlets burn.

Withdrawn in shadow, he thinketh over
Harsh thoughts, the fruit-laden trees among,
Till pheasants call their young to cover,
And cushats coo them a nursery song.

And flocks of ducks forsake their sedges,
Wending home to the wide barn-door,
And loaded wains between the hedges
Slowly creep to his threshing floor—

Slowly creep. And his tired senses,
Float him over the magic stream,
To a world where Fancy recompenses
Vengeful thoughts, with a troubled dream!


What's this? a wood—What's that? one calleth,
Calleth and cryeth in mortal dread—
He hears men strive—then somewhat falleth!—
'Help me, neighbor—I'm hard bestead.'

The dream is strong—the voice he knoweth—
But when he would run, his feet are fast,
And death lies beyond, and no man goeth
To help, and he says the time is past.

His feet are held, and he shakes all over,—
Nay—they are free—he has found the place—
Green boughs are gather'd—what is't they cover?—
'I pray you, look on the dead man's face;

'You that stand by,' he saith, and cowers—
'Man, or Angel, to guard the dead
With shadowy spear, and a brow that lowers,
And wing-points reared in the gloom o'erhead.—

'I dare not look. He wronged me never.
Men say we differ'd; they speak amiss:
This man and I were neighbors ever—
I would have ventured my life for his.

'But fast my feet were—fast with tangles—
Ay! words—but they were not sharp, I trow,
Though parish feuds and vestry wrangles—
O pitiful sight—I see thee now!—

'If we fell out, 'twas but foul weather,
After long shining! O bitter cup,—
What—dead?—why, man, we play'd together—
Art dead—ere a friend can make it up?'


Over his head the chafer hummeth,
Under his feet shut daisies bend:
Waken, man! the enemy cometh,
Thy neighbor, counted so long a friend.

He cannot waken—and firm, and steady,
The enemy comes with lowering brow;
He looks for war, his heart is ready,
His thoughts are bitter—he will not bow.

He fronts the seat,—the dream is flinging
A spell that his footsteps may not break,—
But one in the garden of hops is singing—
The dreamer hears it, and starts awake.


Walking apart, she thinks none listen;
And now she carols, and now she stops;
And the evening star begins to glisten
Atween the lines of blossoming hops.

Sweetest Mercy, your mother taught you
All uses and cares that to maids belong;
Apt scholar to read and to sew she thought you—
She did not teach you that tender song—

'The lady sang in her charm?bower,
Sheltered and safe under roses blown—
'Storm cannot touch me, hail, nor shower,
Where all alone I sit, all alone.

'My bower! The fair Fay twined it round me,
Care nor trouble can pierce it through;
But once a sigh from the warm world found me
Between two leaves that were bent with dew.

'And day to night, and night to morrow,
Though soft as slumber the long hours wore,
I looked for my dower of love, of sorrow—
Is there no more—no more—no more?'

'Give her the sun-sweet light, and duly
To walk in shadow, nor chide her part;
Give her the rose, and truly, truly—
To wear its thorn with a patient heart—

'Misty as dreams the moonbeam lyeth
Chequered and faint on her charm?floor;
The lady singeth, the lady sigheth—
'Is there no more—no more—no more!''


A crash of boughs!—one through them breaking!
Mercy is startled, and fain would fly,
But e'en as she turns, her steps o'ertaking,
He pleads with her—'Mercy, it is but I!'

'Mercy!' he touches her hand unbidden—
'The air is balmy, I pray you stay—
Mercy?' Her downcast eyes are hidden,
And never a word she has to say.

Till closer drawn, her prison'd fingers
He takes to his lips with a yearning strong;
And she murmurs low, that late she lingers,
Her mother will want her, and think her long.

'Good mother is she, then honor duly
The lightest wish in her heart that stirs;
But there is a bond yet dearer truly,
And there is a love that passeth hers.

'Mercy, Mercy!' Her heart attendeth—
Love's birthday blush on her brow lies sweet;
She turns her face when his own he bendeth,
And the lips of the youth and the maiden meet.


Move through the bowering hops, O lovers,—
Wander down to the golden West,—
But two stand mute in the shade that covers
Your love and youth from their souls opprest.

A little shame on their spirits stealing,—
A little pride that is loth to sue,—
A little struggle with soften'd feeling,—
And a world of fatherly care for you.

One says: 'To this same running water,
May be, Neighbor, your claim is best.'
And one—'Your son has kissed my daughter:
Let the matters between us—rest.' 

'Year,' I said, 'thou shalt not lack
Bribes to bar thy coming back;
Doth old Egypt wear her best
In the chambers of her rest?
Doth she take to her last bed
Beaten gold, and glorious red?
Envy not! for thou wilt wear
In the dark a shroud as fair;
Golden with the sunny ray
Thou withdrawest from my day;
Wrought upon with colours fine
Stolen from this life of mine:
Like the dusty Libyan kings,
Lie with two wide-open wings
On thy breast, as if to say,
On these wings hope flew away;
And so housed, and thus adorned,
Not forgotten, but not scorned,
Let the dark for evermore
Close thee when I close the door;
And the dust for ages fall
In the creases of thy pall;
And no voice nor visit rude
Break thy sealèd solitude.'

I took the year out of my life and story?
The dead year, and said, 'I have hewed thee a tomb!
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem,
Sure thou didst reign like them.'
So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary,
According to my vow;
For I said, 'The kings of the nations lie in glory,
And so shalt thou!'

'Rock,' I said, 'thy ribs are strong,
That I bring thee guard it long;
Hide the light from buried eyes —
Hide it, lest the dead arise.'
'Year,' I said, and turned away,
'I am free of thee this day;
All that we two only know,
I forgive and I forego,
So thy face no more I meet
In the field or in the street.'

Thus we parted, she and I;
Life hid death, and put it by;
Life hid death, and said, 'Be free!
I have no more need of thee.'
No more need! O mad mistake,
With repentance in its wake!
Ignorant, and rash, and blind,
Life had left the grave behind;
But had locked within its hold
With the spices and the gold,
All she had to keep her warm
In the raging of the storm.

Scarce the sunset bloom was gone,
And the little stars outshone,
Ere the dead year, stiff and stark,
Drew me to her in the dark;
Death drew life to come to her,
Beating at her sepulchre,
Crying out, 'How can I part'
With the best share of my heart?
Lo, it lies upon the bier,
Captive, with the buried year.
O my heart!' And I fell prone,
Weeping at the sealèd stone;
'Year among the shades,' I said,
'Since I live, and then art dead,
Let my captive heart be free
Like a bird to fly to me.'
And I stayed some voice to win,
But none answered from within;
And I kissed the door—and night
Deepened till the stars waxed bright;
And I saw them set and wane.
And the world turned green again.

'So,' I whispered, 'open door,
I must tread this palace floor —
Sealèd palace, rich and dim.
Let a narrow sunbeam swim
After me, and on me spread
While I look upon my dead;
Let a little warmth be free
To come after; let me see
Through the doorway, when I sit
Looking out, the swallows flit,
Settling not till daylight goes;
Let me smell the wild white rose,
Smell the woodbine and the may;
Mark, upon a sunny day,
Sated from their blossoms rise
Honey-bees and butterflies.
Let me hear, O! let me hear,
Sitting by my buried year,
Finches chirping to their young,
And the little noises flung
Out of clefts where rabbits play,
Or from falling water-spray;
And the gracious echoes woke
By man's work: the woodman's stroke,
Shout of shepherd, whistlings blithe,
And the whetting of the scythe;
Let this be, lest, shut and furled
From the well-belovèd world,
I forget her yearnings old,
And her troubles manifold,
Strivings sore, submissions meet,
And my pulse no longer beat,
Keeping time and bearing part
With the pulse of her great heart.

So! swing open door, and shade
Take me, I am not afraid,
For the time will not be long;
Soon I shall have waxen strong —
Strong enough my own to win
From the grave it lies within.'

And I entered. On her bier
Quiet lay the buried year;
I sat down where I could see
Life without and sunshine free,
Death within. And I between,
Waited my own heart to wean
From the shroud that shaded her
In the rock-hewn sepulchre —
Waited till the dead should say,
'Heart, be free of me this day' —
Waited with a patient will —

I take the year back to my life and story
The dead year, and say, 'I will share in thy tomb.
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom!
They reigned in their lifetime with sceptre and
But then excellest them;
For life doth make thy grave her oratory,
And the crown is still on thy brow;
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory'
And so dost thou. 

Jean Ingelow

Jean Ingelow's other poems:
  1. Perdita
  2. The Measureless Gulfs Of Air Are Full Of Thee
  3. Grand Is The Leisure Of The Earth
  4. Requiescat In Pace!
  5. Sweet Are His Ways Who Rules Above

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