John Wilson

The Desolate Village

SWEET village! on thy pastoral hill
Arrayed in sunlight sad and still,
As if beneath the harvest-moon,
Thy noiseless homes were sleeping!
It is the merry month of June,
And creatures all of air and earth
Should now their holiday of mirth
With dance and song be keeping.
But, loveliest village! silent thou,
As cloud wreathed o’er the morning’s brow,
When light is faintly breaking,
And midnight’s voice afar is lost,
Like the wailing of a wearied ghost,
The shades of earth forsaking.

*        *        *        *        *

Sweet Woodburn! like a cloud that name
Comes floating o’er my soul!
Although thy beauty still survive,
One look hath changed the whole.
The gayest village of the gay
Beside thy own sweet river,
Wert thou on week or Sabbath day!
So bathed in the blue light of joy,
As if no trouble could destroy
Peace doomed to last forever.
Now in the shadow of thy trees
Still lovely in the tainted breeze,
The fell plague-spirit grimly lies
And broods, as in despite
Of uncomplaining lifelessness,
On the troops of silent shades that press
Into the churchyard’s cold recess,
From that region of delight.

Last summer from the school-house door,
When the glad play-bell was ringing,
What shoals of bright-haired elves would pour,
Like small waves racing on the shore,
In dance of rapture singing!
Oft by yon little silver well,
Now sleeping in neglected cell,
The village maid would stand,
While resting on the mossy bank
With freshened soul the traveller drank
The cold cup from her hand;
Haply some soldier from the war,
Who would remember long and far
That lily of the land.
And still the green is bright with flowers,
And dancing through the sunny hours,
Like blossoms from enchanted bowers
On a sudden wafted by,
Obedient to the changeful air,
And proudly feeling they are fair,
Glide bird and butterfly.
But where is the tiny hunter-rout
That revelled on with dance and shout
Against their airy prey?
Alas! the fearless linnet sings,
And the bright insect folds its wings
Upon the dewy flower that springs
Above these children’s clay.
And if to yon deserted well
Some solitary maid,
As she was wont at eve, should go,
There silent as her shade
She stands awhile, then sad and slow
Walks home, afraid to think
Of many a loudly laughing ring
That dipped their pitchers in that spring,
And lingered round its brink.

*        *        *        *        *

Sweet spire, that crown’st the house of God!
To thee my spirit turns,
While through a cloud the softened light
On thy yellow dial burns.
Ah me! my bosom inly bleeds
To see the deep-worn path that leads
Unto that open gate!
In silent blackness it doth tell
How oft thy little sullen bell
Hath o’er the village tolled its knell,
In beauty desolate.
Oft, wandering by myself at night,
Such spire hath risen in softened light
Before my gladdened eyes,
And as I looked around to see
The village sleeping quietly
Beneath the quiet skies,
Methought that mid her stars so bright,
The moon in placid mirth,
Was not in heaven a holier sight
Than God’s house on the earth.	
Sweet image, transient in my soul!
That very bell hath ceased to toll
When the grave receives its dead,
And the last time it slowly swung,
’T was by a dying stripling rung
O’er the sexton’s hoary head!
All silent now from cot or hall
Comes forth the sable funeral.
The pastor is not there!
For yon sweet manse now empty stands,
Nor in its walls will holier hands
Be e’er held up in prayer.

English Poetry - E-mail