This etext was produced from the 1919 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
WESSEX POEMS AND OTHER VERSES
by Thomas Hardy
The Temporary The All
“In Vision I Roamed”
At a Bridal
A Confession to a Friend in Trouble Neutral Tones
She, To Him, I.
” ” II.
” ” III.
” ” IV.
The Sergeant’s Song
The Stranger’s Song
The Peasant’s Confession
Her Death and After
The Dance at the Phoenix
The Casterbridge Captains
A Meeting with Despair
To Outer Nature
Thoughts of Phena
In a Wood
To a Lady
To an Orphan Child
At An Inn
The Slow Nature
In a Eweleaze Near Weatherbury
The Fire at Tranter Sweatley’s
Heiress and Architect
The Two Men
“I Look into my Glass”
Of the miscellaneous collection of verse that follows, only four pieces have been published, though many were written long ago, and other partly written. In some few cases the verses were turned into prose and printed as such, it having been unanticipated at that time that they might see the light.
Whenever an ancient and legitimate word of the district, for which there was no equivalent in received English, suggested itself as the most natural, nearest, and often only expression of a thought, it has been made use of, on what seemed good grounds.
The pieces are in a large degree dramatic or personative in conception; and this even where they are not obviously so.
The dates attached to some of the poems do not apply to the rough sketches given in illustration, which have been recently made, and, as may be surmised, are inserted for personal and local reasons rather than for their intrinsic qualities.
THE TEMPORARY THE ALL
Change and chancefulness in my flowering youthtime, Set me sun by sun near to one unchosen;
Wrought us fellow-like, and despite divergence, Friends interlinked us.
“Cherish him can I while the true one forthcome – Come the rich fulfiller of my prevision; Life is roomy yet, and the odds unbounded.” So self-communed I.
Thwart my wistful way did a damsel saunter, Fair, the while unformed to be all-eclipsing; “Maiden meet,” held I, “till arise my forefelt Wonder of women.”
Long a visioned hermitage deep desiring, Tenements uncouth I was fain to house in; “Let such lodging be for a breath-while,” thought I, “Soon a more seemly.
“Then, high handiwork will I make my life-deed, Truth and Light outshow; but the ripe time pending, Intermissive aim at the thing sufficeth.” Thus I . . . But lo, me!
Mistress, friend, place, aims to be bettered straightway, Bettered not has Fate or my hand’s achieving; Sole the showance those of my onward earth-track – Never transcended!
I marked her ruined hues,
Her custom-straitened views,
And asked, “Can there indwell
I looked upon her gown,
Once rose, now earthen brown;
The change was like the knell
Her step’s mechanic ways
Had lost the life of May’s;
Her laugh, once sweet in swell,
I mused: “Who sings the strain
I sang ere warmth did wane?
Who thinks its numbers spell
His Amabel?” –
Knowing that, though Love cease,
Love’s race shows undecrease;
All find in dorp or dell
– I felt that I could creep
To some housetop, and weep,
That Time the tyrant fell
I said (the while I sighed
That love like ours had died),
“Fond things I’ll no more tell
“But leave her to her fate,
And fling across the gate,
‘Till the Last Trump, farewell,
If but some vengeful god would call to me From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing, Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”
Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die, Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.
But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain, And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? – Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain, And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan . . . These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.
“IN VISION I ROAMED”
In vision I roamed the flashing Firmament, So fierce in blazon that the Night waxed wan, As though with an awed sense of such ostent; And as I thought my spirit ranged on and on
In footless traverse through ghast heights of sky, To the last chambers of the monstrous Dome, Where stars the brightest here to darkness die: Then, any spot on our own Earth seemed Home!
And the sick grief that you were far away Grew pleasant thankfulness that you were near? Who might have been, set on some outstep sphere, Less than a Want to me, as day by day
I lived unware, uncaring all that lay Locked in that Universe taciturn and drear.
AT A BRIDAL
When you paced forth, to wait maternity, A dream of other offspring held my mind, Compounded of us twain as Love designed; Rare forms, that corporate now will never be!
Should I, too, wed as slave to Mode’s decree, And each thus found apart, of false desire, A stolid line, whom no high aims will fire As had fired ours could ever have mingled we;
And, grieved that lives so matched should mis-compose, Each mourn the double waste; and question dare To the Great Dame whence incarnation flows. Why those high-purposed children never were: What will she answer? That she does not care If the race all such sovereign types unknows.
Snow-bound in woodland, a mournful word, Dropt now and then from the bill of a bird, Reached me on wind-wafts; and thus I heard, Wearily waiting:-
“I planned her a nest in a leafless tree, But the passers eyed and twitted me,
And said: ‘How reckless a bird is he, Cheerily mating!’
“Fear-filled, I stayed me till summer-tide, In lewth of leaves to throne her bride;
But alas! her love for me waned and died, Wearily waiting.
“Ah, had I been like some I see,
Born to an evergreen nesting-tree,
None had eyed and twitted me,
A CONFESSION TO A FRIEND IN TROUBLE
Your troubles shrink not, though I feel them less Here, far away, than when I tarried near; I even smile old smiles–with listlessness – Yet smiles they are, not ghastly mockeries mere.
A thought too strange to house within my brain Haunting its outer precincts I discern:
– That I will not show zeal again to learn Your griefs, and sharing them, renew my pain . . .
It goes, like murky bird or buccaneer That shapes its lawless figure on the main, And each new impulse tends to make outflee The unseemly instinct that had lodgment here; Yet, comrade old, can bitterer knowledge be Than that, though banned, such instinct was in me!
We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God, And a few leaves lay on the starving sod, –They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro – On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby Like an ominous bird a-wing . . .
Since then, keen lessons that love deceives, And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree, And a pond edged with grayish leaves.
AT HIS FUNERAL
They bear him to his resting-place –
In slow procession sweeping by;
I follow at a stranger’s space;
His kindred they, his sweetheart I. Unchanged my gown of garish dye,
Though sable-sad is their attire;
But they stand round with griefless eye, Whilst my regret consumes like fire!
Upon a poet’s page I wrote
Of old two letters of her name;
Part seemed she of the effulgent thought Whence that high singer’s rapture came.
– When now I turn the leaf the same Immortal light illumes the lay,
But from the letters of her name
The radiance has died away!
(IN — CHURCH)
The two were silent in a sunless church, Whose mildewed walls, uneven paving-stones, And wasted carvings passed antique research; And nothing broke the clock’s dull monotones.
Leaning against a wormy poppy-head,
So wan and worn that he could scarcely stand, – For he was soon to die,–he softly said, “Tell me you love me!”–holding hard her hand.
She would have given a world to breathe “yes” truly, So much his life seemed handing on her mind, And hence she lied, her heart persuaded throughly ‘Twas worth her soul to be a moment kind.
But the sad need thereof, his nearing death, So mocked humanity that she shamed to prize A world conditioned thus, or care for breath Where Nature such dilemmas could devise.
Though I waste watches framing words to fetter Some spirit to mine own in clasp and kiss, Out of the night there looms a sense ’twere better To fail obtaining whom one fails to miss.
For winning love we win the risk of losing, And losing love is as one’s life were riven; It cuts like contumely and keen ill-using To cede what was superfluously given.
Let me then feel no more the fateful thrilling That devastates the love-worn wooer’s frame, The hot ado of fevered hopes, the chilling That agonizes disappointed aim!
So may I live no junctive law fulfilling, And my heart’s table bear no woman’s name.
SHE, TO HIM–I
When you shall see me in the toils of Time, My lauded beauties carried off from me,
My eyes no longer stars as in their prime, My name forgot of Maiden Fair and Free;
When in your being heart concedes to mind, And judgment, though you scarce its process know, Recalls the excellencies I once enshrined, And you are irked that they have withered so:
Remembering that with me lies not the blame, That Sportsman Time but rears his brood to kill, Knowing me in my soul the very same –
One who would die to spare you touch of ill! – Will you not grant to old affection’s claim The hand of friendship down Life’s sunless hill?
SHE, TO HIM–II
Perhaps, long hence, when I have passed away, Some other’s feature, accent, thought like mine, Will carry you back to what I used to say, And bring some memory of your love’s decline.
Then you may pause awhile and think, “Poor jade!” And yield a sigh to me–as ample due,
Not as the tittle of a debt unpaid
To one who could resign her all to you –
And thus reflecting, you will never see That your thin thought, in two small words conveyed, Was no such fleeting phantom-thought to me, But the Whole Life wherein my part was played; And you amid its fitful masquerade
A Thought–as I in yours but seem to be.
SHE, TO HIM–III
I will be faithful to thee; aye, I will! And Death shall choose me with a wondering eye That he did not discern and domicile
One his by right ever since that last Good-bye!
I have no care for friends, or kin, or prime Of manhood who deal gently with me here; Amid the happy people of my time
Who work their love’s fulfilment, I appear
Numb as a vane that cankers on its point, True to the wind that kissed ere canker came; Despised by souls of Now, who would disjoint The mind from memory, and make Life all aim,
My old dexterities of hue quite gone, And nothing left for Love to look upon.
SHE, TO HIM–IV
This love puts all humanity from me;
I can but maledict her, pray her dead, For giving love and getting love of thee – Feeding a heart that else mine own had fed!
How much I love I know not, life not known, Save as some unit I would add love by;
But this I know, my being is but thine own– Fused from its separateness by ecstasy.
And thus I grasp thy amplitudes, of her Ungrasped, though helped by nigh-regarding eyes; Canst thou then hate me as an envier
Who see unrecked what I so dearly prize? Believe me, Lost One, Love is lovelier
The more it shapes its moan in selfish-wise.
(E. L G.)
Beneath a knap where flown
Within walls of weathered stone,
From the files of formal houses,
By the bough the firstling browses, Lives a Sweet: no merchants meet,
No man barters, no man sells
Where she dwells.
Upon that fabric fair
“Here is she!”
Seems written everywhere
But to friends and nodding neighbours, Fellow-wights in lot and labours,
Who descry the times as I,
No such lucid legend tells
Where she dwells.
Should I lapse to what I was
Ere we met;
(Such can not be, but because
Let me feign it)–none would notice That where she I know by rote is
Spread a strange and withering change, Like a drying of the wells
Where she dwells.
To feel I might have kissed –
Loved as true –
Otherwhere, nor Mine have missed
My life through.
Had I never wandered near her,
Is a smart severe–severer
In the thought that she is nought,
Even as I, beyond the dells
Where she dwells.
And Devotion droops her glance
What bond-servants of Chance
We are all.
I but found her in that, going
On my errant path unknowing,
I did not out-skirt the spot
That no spot on earth excels,
–Where she dwells!
THE SERGEANT’S SONG
When Lawyers strive to heal a breach, And Parsons practise what they preach;
Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down, And march his men on London town!
When Justices hold equal scales,
And Rogues are only found in jails; Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
When Rich Men find their wealth a curse, And fill therewith the Poor Man’s purse; Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down,
And march his men on London town!
When Husbands with their Wives agree, And Maids won’t wed from modesty;
Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down, And march his men on London town!
Published in “The Trumpet-Major,” 1880.
BY CORP’L TULLIDGE: see “The Trumpet-Major” IN MEMORY OF S. C. (PENSIONER). DIED 184-
We trenched, we trumpeted and drummed, And from our mortars tons of iron hummed Ath’art the ditch, the month we bombed The Town o’ Valencieen.
‘Twas in the June o’ Ninety-dree
(The Duke o’ Yark our then Commander been) The German Legion, Guards, and we
Laid siege to Valencieen.
This was the first time in the war
That French and English spilled each other’s gore; –Few dreamt how far would roll the roar Begun at Valencieen!
‘Twas said that we’d no business there A-topperen the French for disagreen;
However, that’s not my affair –
We were at Valencieen.
Such snocks and slats, since war began Never knew raw recruit or veteran:
Stone-deaf therence went many a man Who served at Valencieen.
Into the streets, ath’art the sky,
A hundred thousand balls and bombs were fleen; And harmless townsfolk fell to die
Each hour at Valencieen!
And, sweaten wi’ the bombardiers,
A shell was slent to shards anighst my ears: –‘Twas nigh the end of hopes and fears For me at Valencieen!
They bore my wownded frame to camp, And shut my gapen skull, and washed en clean, And jined en wi’ a zilver clamp
Thik night at Valencieen.
“We’ve fetched en back to quick from dead; But never more on earth while rose is red Will drum rouse Corpel!” Doctor said
O’ me at Valencieen.
‘Twer true. No voice o’ friend or foe Can reach me now, or any liven been;
And little have I power to know
Since then at Valencieen!
I never hear the zummer hums
O’ bees; and don’ know when the cuckoo comes; But night and day I hear the bombs
We threw at Valencieen . . .
As for the Duke o’ Yark in war,
There be some volk whose judgment o’ en is mean; But this I say–a was not far
From great at Valencieen.
O’ wild wet nights, when all seems sad, My wownds come back, as though new wownds I’d had; But yet–at times I’m sort o’ glad
I fout at Valencieen.
Well: Heaven wi’ its jasper halls
Is now the on’y Town I care to be in . . . Good Lord, if Nick should bomb the walls As we did Valencieen!
WITH THOUGHTS OF SERGEANT M- (PENSIONER), WHO DIED 185-.
“Why, Sergeant, stray on the Ivel Way, As though at home there were spectres rife? From first to last ’twas a proud career! And your sunny years with a gracious wife Have brought you a daughter dear.
“I watched her to-day; a more comely maid, As she danced in her muslin bowed with blue, Round a Hintock maypole never gayed.”
– “Aye, aye; I watched her this day, too, As it happens,” the Sergeant said.
“My daughter is now,” he again began, “Of just such an age as one I knew
When we of the Line and Forlorn-hope van, On an August morning–a chosen few –
Stormed San Sebastian.
“She’s a score less three; so about was SHE – The maiden I wronged in Peninsular days . . . You may prate of your prowess in lusty times, But as years gnaw inward you blink your bays, And see too well your crimes!
“We’d stormed it at night, by the vlanker-light Of burning towers, and the mortar’s boom: We’d topped the breach; but had failed to stay, For our files were misled by the baffling gloom; And we said we’d storm by day.
“So, out of the trenches, with features set, On that hot, still morning, in measured pace, Our column climbed; climbed higher yet,
Past the fauss’bray, scarp, up the curtain-face, And along the parapet.
“From the battened hornwork the cannoneers Hove crashing balls of iron fire;
On the shaking gap mount the volunteers In files, and as they mount expire
Amid curses, groans, and cheers.
“Five hours did we storm, five hours re-form, As Death cooled those hot blood pricked on; Till our cause was helped by a woe within: They swayed from the summit we’d leapt upon, And madly we entered in.
“On end for plunder, ‘mid rain and thunder That burst with the lull of our cannonade, We vamped the streets in the stifling air – Our hunger unsoothed, our thirst unstayed – And ransacked the buildings there.
“Down the stony steps of the house-fronts white We rolled rich puncheons of Spanish grape, Till at length, with the fire of the wine alight, I saw at a doorway a fair fresh shape –
A woman, a sylph, or sprite.
“Afeard she fled, and with heated head I pursued to the chamber she called her own; – When might is right no qualms deter,
And having her helpless and alone
I wreaked my will on her.
“She raised her beseeching eyes to me, And I heard the words of prayer she sent In her own soft language . . . Seemingly I copied those eyes for my punishment
In begetting the girl you see!
“So, to-day I stand with a God-set brand Like Cain’s, when he wandered from kindred’s ken . . . I served through the war that made Europe free; I wived me in peace-year. But, hid from men, I bear that mark on me.
“And I nightly stray on the Ivel Way
As though at home there were spectres rife; I delight me not in my proud career;
And ’tis coals of fire that a gracious wife Should have brought me a daughter dear!”
THE STRANGER’S SONG
(As sung by MR. CHARLES CHARRINGTON in the play of “The Three Wayfarers”)
O my trade it is the rarest one, Simple shepherds all –
My trade is a sight to see;
For my customers I tie, and take ’em up on high, And waft ’em to a far countree!
My tools are but common ones,
Simple shepherds all –
My tools are no sight to see:
A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing, Are implements enough for me!
To-morrow is my working day,
Simple shepherds all –
To-morrow is a working day for me: For the farmer’s sheep is slain, and the lad who did it ta’en, And on his soul may God ha’ mer-cy!
Printed in “The Three Strangers,” 1883.
The sun had wheeled from Grey’s to Dammer’s Crest, And still I mused on that Thing imminent: At length I sought the High-street to the West.
The level flare raked pane and pediment And my wrecked face, and shaped my nearing friend Like one of those the Furnace held unshent.
“I’ve news concerning her,” he said. “Attend. They fly to-night at the late moon’s first gleam: Watch with thy steel: two righteous thrusts will end
Her shameless visions and his passioned dream. I’ll watch with thee, to testify thy wrong – To aid, maybe.–Law consecrates the scheme.”
I started, and we paced the flags along Till I replied: “Since it has come to this I’ll do it! But alone. I can be strong.”
Three hours past Curfew, when the Froom’s mild hiss Reigned sole, undulled by whirr of merchandize, From Pummery-Tout to where the Gibbet is,
I crossed my pleasaunce hard by Glyd’path Rise, And stood beneath the wall. Eleven strokes went, And to the door they came, contrariwise,
And met in clasp so close I had but bent My lifted blade upon them to have let
Their two souls loose upon the firmament.
But something held my arm. “A moment yet As pray-time ere you wantons die!” I said; And then they saw me. Swift her gaze was set
With eye and cry of love illimited
Upon her Heart-king. Never upon me
Had she thrown look of love so thorough-sped! . . .
At once she flung her faint form shieldingly On his, against the vengeance of my vows; The which o’erruling, her shape shielded he.
Blanked by such love, I stood as in a drowse, And the slow moon edged from the upland nigh, My sad thoughts moving thuswise: “I may house
And I may husband her, yet what am I
But licensed tyrant to this bonded pair? Says Charity, Do as ye would be done by.” . . .
Hurling my iron to the bushes there,
I bade them stay. And, as if brain and breast Were passive, they walked with me to the stair.
Inside the house none watched; and on we prest Before a mirror, in whose gleam I read
Her beauty, his,–and mine own mien unblest;
Till at her room I turned. “Madam,” I said, “Have you the wherewithal for this? Pray speak. Love fills no cupboard. You’ll need daily bread.”
“We’ve nothing, sire,” said she; “and nothing seek. ‘Twere base in me to rob my lord unware; Our hands will earn a pittance week by week.”
And next I saw she’d piled her raiment rare Within the garde-robes, and her household purse, Her jewels, and least lace of personal wear;
And stood in homespun. Now grown wholly hers, I handed her the gold, her jewels all,
And him the choicest of her robes diverse.
“I’ll take you to the doorway in the wall, And then adieu,” I to them. “Friends, withdraw.” They did so; and she went–beyond recall.
And as I paused beneath the arch I saw Their moonlit figures–slow, as in surprise – Descend the slope, and vanish on the haw.
“‘Fool,’ some will say,” I thought. “But who is wise, Save God alone, to weigh my reasons why?” – “Hast thou struck home?” came with the boughs’ night-sighs.
It was my friend. “I have struck well. They fly, But carry wounds that none can cicatrize.” – “Not mortal?” said he. “Lingering–worse,” said I.
Scene: The Master-tradesmen’s Parlour at the Old Ship Inn, Casterbridge. Evening.
“Old Norbert with the flat blue cap– A German said to be –
Why let your pipe die on your lap,
Your eyes blink absently?” –
– “Ah! . . . Well, I had thought till my cheek was wet Of my mother–her voice and mien
When she used to sing and pirouette, And touse the tambourine
“To the march that yon street-fiddler plies: She told me ’twas the same
She’d heard from the trumpets, when the Allies Her city overcame.
“My father was one of the German Hussars, My mother of Leipzig; but he,
Long quartered here, fetched her at close of the wars, And a Wessex lad reared me.
“And as I grew up, again and again
She’d tell, after trilling that air, Of her youth, and the battles on Leipzig plain And of all that was suffered there! . . .
“–‘Twas a time of alarms. Three Chiefs-at-arms Combined them to crush One,
And by numbers’ might, for in equal fight He stood the matched of none.
“Carl Schwarzenberg was of the plot,
And Blucher, prompt and prow,
And Jean the Crown-Prince Bernadotte: Buonaparte was the foe.
“City and plain had felt his reign
From the North to the Middle Sea, And he’d now sat down in the noble town
Of the King of Saxony.
“October’s deep dew its wet gossamer threw Upon Leipzig’s lawns, leaf-strewn,
Where lately each fair avenue
Wrought shade for summer noon.
“To westward two dull rivers crept
Through miles of marsh and slough, Whereover a streak of whiteness swept –
The Bridge of Lindenau.
“Hard by, in the City, the One, care-tossed, Gloomed over his shrunken power;
And without the walls the hemming host Waxed denser every hour.
“He had speech that night on the morrow’s designs With his chiefs by the bivouac fire,
While the belt of flames from the enemy’s lines Flared nigher him yet and nigher.
“Three sky-lights then from the girdling trine Told, ‘Ready!’ As they rose
Their flashes seemed his Judgment-Sign For bleeding Europe’s woes.
“‘Twas seen how the French watch-fires that night Glowed still and steadily;
And the Three rejoiced, for they read in the sight That the One disdained to flee . . .
“–Five hundred guns began the affray On next day morn at nine;
Such mad and mangling cannon-play
Had never torn human line.
“Around the town three battles beat,
Contracting like a gin;
As nearer marched the million feet
Of columns closing in.
“The first battle nighed on the low Southern side; The second by the Western way;
The nearing of the third on the North was heard: –The French held all at bay.
“Against the first band did the Emperor stand; Against the second stood Ney;
Marmont against the third gave the order-word: –Thus raged it throughout the day.
“Fifty thousand sturdy souls on those trampled plains and knolls, Who met the dawn hopefully,
And were lotted their shares in a quarrel not theirs, Dropt then in their agony.
“‘O,’ the old folks said, ‘ye Preachers stern! O so-called Christian time!
When will men’s swords to ploughshares turn? When come the promised prime?’ . . .
“–The clash of horse and man which that day began, Closed not as evening wore;
And the morrow’s armies, rear and van, Still mustered more and more.
“From the City towers the Confederate Powers Were eyed in glittering lines,
And up from the vast a murmuring passed As from a wood of pines.
“”Tis well to cover a feeble skill
By numbers!’ scoffed He;
‘But give me a third of their strength, I’d fill Half Hell with their soldiery!’
“All that day raged the war they waged, And again dumb night held reign,
Save that ever upspread from the dark deathbed A miles-wide pant of pain.
“Hard had striven brave Ney, the true Bertrand, Victor, and Augereau,
Bold Poniatowski, and Lauriston,
To stay their overthrow;
“But, as in the dream of one sick to death There comes a narrowing room
That pens him, body and limbs and breath, To wait a hideous doom,
“So to Napoleon, in the hush
That held the town and towers
Through these dire nights, a creeping crush Seemed inborne with the hours.
“One road to the rearward, and but one, Did fitful Chance allow;
‘Twas where the Pleiss’ and Elster run – The Bridge of Lindenau.
“The nineteenth dawned. Down street and Platz The wasted French sank back,
Stretching long lines across the Flats And on the bridge-way track;
“When there surged on the sky an earthen wave, And stones, and men, as though
Some rebel churchyard crew updrave
Their sepulchres from below.
“To Heaven is blown Bridge Lindenau;
Wrecked regiments reel therefrom; And rank and file in masses plough
The sullen Elster-Strom.
“A gulf was Lindenau; and dead
Were fifties, hundreds, tens;
And every current rippled red
With Marshal’s blood and men’s.
“The smart Macdonald swam therein,
And barely won the verge;
Bold Poniatowski plunged him in
Never to re-emerge.
“Then stayed the strife. The remnants wound Their Rhineward way pell-mell;
And thus did Leipzig City sound
An Empire’s passing bell;
“While in cavalcade, with band and blade, Came Marshals, Princes, Kings;
And the town was theirs . . . Ay, as simple maid, My mother saw these things!
“And whenever those notes in the street begin, I recall her, and that far scene,
And her acting of how the Allies marched in, And her touse of the tambourine!”
THE PEASANT’S CONFESSION
“Si le marechal Grouchy avait ete rejoint par l’officier que Napoleon lui avait expedie la veille a dix heures du soir, toute question eut disparu. Mais cet officier n’etait point parvenu a sa destination, ainsi que le marechal n’a cesse de l’affirmer toute sa vie, et il faut l’en croire, car autrement il n’aurait eu aucune raison pour hesiter. Cet officier avait-il ete pris? avait-il passe a l’ennemi? C’est ce qu’on a toujours ignore.”
– THIERS: Histoire de l’Empire. “Waterloo.”
Good Father! . . . ‘Twas an eve in middle June, And war was waged anew
By great Napoleon, who for years had strewn Men’s bones all Europe through.
Three nights ere this, with columned corps he’d crossed The Sambre at Charleroi,
To move on Brussels, where the English host Dallied in Parc and Bois.
The yestertide we’d heard the gloomy gun Growl through the long-sunned day
From Quatre-Bras and Ligny; till the dun Twilight suppressed the fray;
Albeit therein–as lated tongues bespoke – Brunswick’s high heart was drained,
And Prussia’s Line and Landwehr, though unbroke, Stood cornered and constrained.
And at next noon-time Grouchy slowly passed With thirty thousand men:
We hoped thenceforth no army, small or vast, Would trouble us again.
My hut lay deeply in a vale recessed, And never a soul seemed nigh
When, reassured at length, we went to rest – My children, wife, and I.
But what was this that broke our humble ease? What noise, above the rain,
Above the dripping of the poplar trees That smote along the pane?
– A call of mastery, bidding me arise, Compelled me to the door,
At which a horseman stood in martial guise – Splashed–sweating from every pore.
Had I seen Grouchy? Yes? Which track took he? Could I lead thither on? –
Fulfilment would ensure gold pieces three, Perchance more gifts anon.
“I bear the Emperor’s mandate,” then he said, “Charging the Marshal straight
To strike between the double host ahead Ere they co-operate,
“Engaging Blucher till the Emperor put Lord Wellington to flight,
And next the Prussians. This to set afoot Is my emprise to-night.”
I joined him in the mist; but, pausing, sought To estimate his say.
Grouchy had made for Wavre; and yet, on thought, I did not lead that way.
I mused: “If Grouchy thus instructed be, The clash comes sheer hereon;
My farm is stript. While, as for pieces three, Money the French have none.
“Grouchy unwarned, moreo’er, the English win, And mine is left to me –
They buy, not borrow.”–Hence did I begin To lead him treacherously.
By Joidoigne, near to east, as we ondrew, Dawn pierced the humid air;
And eastward faced I with him, though I knew Never marched Grouchy there.
Near Ottignies we passed, across the Dyle (Lim’lette left far aside),
And thence direct toward Pervez and Noville Through green grain, till he cried:
“I doubt thy conduct, man! no track is here – I doubt thy gaged word!”
Thereat he scowled on me, and pranced me near, And pricked me with his sword.
“Nay, Captain, hold! We skirt, not trace the course Of Grouchy,” said I then:
“As we go, yonder went he, with his force Of thirty thousand men.”
– At length noon nighed; when west, from Saint-John’s-Mound, A hoarse artillery boomed,
And from Saint-Lambert’s upland, chapel-crowned, The Prussian squadrons loomed.
Then to the wayless wet gray ground he leapt; “My mission fails!” he cried;
“Too late for Grouchy now to intercept, For, peasant, you have lied!”
He turned to pistol me. I sprang, and drew The sabre from his flank,
And ‘twixt his nape and shoulder, ere he knew, I struck, and dead he sank.
I hid him deep in nodding rye and oat – His shroud green stalks and loam;
His requiem the corn-blade’s husky note – And then I hastened home, . . .
– Two armies writhe in coils of red and blue, And brass and iron clang
From Goumont, past the front of Waterloo, To Pap’lotte and Smohain.
The Guard Imperial wavered on the height; The Emperor’s face grew glum;
“I sent,” he said, “to Grouchy yesternight, And yet he does not come!”
‘Twas then, Good Father, that the French espied, Streaking the summer land,
The men of Blucher. But the Emperor cried, “Grouchy is now at hand!”
And meanwhile Vand’leur, Vivian, Maitland, Kempt, Met d’Erlon, Friant, Ney;
But Grouchy–mis-sent, blamed, yet blame-exempt – Grouchy was far away.
By even, slain or struck, Michel the strong, Bold Travers, Dnop, Delord,
Smart Guyot, Reil-le, l’Heriter, Friant, Scattered that champaign o’er.
Fallen likewise wronged Duhesme, and skilled Lobau Did that red sunset see;
Colbert, Legros, Blancard! . . . And of the foe Picton and Ponsonby;
With Gordon, Canning, Blackman, Ompteda, L’Estrange, Delancey, Packe,
Grose, D’Oyly, Stables, Morice, Howard, Hay, Von Schwerin, Watzdorf, Boek,
Smith, Phelips, Fuller, Lind, and Battersby, And hosts of ranksmen round . . .
Memorials linger yet to speak to thee Of those that bit the ground!
The Guards’ last column yielded; dykes of dead Lay between vale and ridge,
As, thinned yet closing, faint yet fierce, they sped In packs to Genappe Bridge.
Safe was my stock; my capple cow unslain; Intact each cock and hen;
But Grouchy far at Wavre all day had lain, And thirty thousand men.
O Saints, had I but lost my earing corn And saved the cause once prized!
O Saints, why such false witness had I borne When late I’d sympathized! . . .
So now, being old, my children eye askance My slowly dwindling store,
And crave my mite; till, worn with tarriance, I care for life no more.
To Almighty God henceforth I stand confessed, And Virgin-Saint Marie;
O Michael, John, and Holy Ones in rest, Entreat the Lord for me!
See “The Trumpet-Major”
IN MEMORY OF ONE OF THE WRITER’S FAMILY WHO WAS A VOLUNTEER DURING THE WAR WITH NAPOLEON
In a ferny byway
Near the great South-Wessex Highway, A homestead raised its breakfast-smoke aloft; The dew-damps still lay steamless, for the sun had made no sky-way, And twilight cloaked the croft.
‘Twas hard to realize on
This snug side the mute horizon
That beyond it hostile armaments might steer, Save from seeing in the porchway a fair woman weep with eyes on A harnessed Volunteer.
In haste he’d flown there
To his comely wife alone there,
While marching south hard by, to still her fears, For she soon would be a mother, and few messengers were known there In these campaigning years.
‘Twas time to be Good-bying,
Since the assembly-hour was nighing In royal George’s town at six that morn; And betwixt its wharves and this retreat were ten good miles of hieing
Ere ring of bugle-horn.
“I’ve laid in food, Dear,
And broached the spiced and brewed, Dear; And if our July hope should antedate,
Let the char-wench mount and gallop by the halterpath and wood, Dear, And fetch assistance straight.
“As for Buonaparte, forget him;
He’s not like to land! But let him, Those strike with aim who strike for wives and sons! And the war-boats built to float him; ’twere but wanted to upset him A slat from Nelson’s guns!
“But, to assure thee,
And of creeping fears to cure thee, If he SHOULD be rumoured anchoring in the Road, Drive with the nurse to Kingsbere; and let nothing thence allure thee Till we’ve him safe-bestowed.
“Now, to turn to marching matters:- I’ve my knapsack, firelock, spatters, Crossbelts, priming-horn, stock, bay’net, blackball, clay, Pouch, magazine, flints, flint-box that at every quick-step clatters; . . . My heart, Dear; that must stay!”
–With breathings broken
Farewell was kissed unspoken,
And they parted there as morning stroked the panes; And the Volunteer went on, and turned, and twirled his glove for token,
And took the coastward lanes.
When above He’th Hills he found him, He saw, on gazing round him,
The Barrow-Beacon burning–burning low, As if, perhaps, uplighted ever since he’d homeward bound him; And it meant: Expect the Foe!
Leaving the byway,
And following swift the highway, Car and chariot met he, faring fast inland; “He’s anchored, Soldier!” shouted some: “God save thee, marching thy way,
Th’lt front him on the strand!”
He slowed; he stopped; he paltered Awhile with self, and faltered,
“Why courting misadventure shoreward roam? To Molly, surely! Seek the woods with her till times have altered; Charity favours home.
Else, my denying
He would come she’ll read as lying – Think the Barrow-Beacon must have met my eyes– That my words were not unwareness, but deceit of her, while trying My life to jeopardize.
“At home is stocked provision,
And to-night, without suspicion, We might bear it with us to a covert near; Such sin, to save a childing wife, would earn it Christ’s remission, Though none forgive it here!”
While thus he, thinking,
A little bird, quick drinking
Among the crowfoot tufts the river bore, Was tangled in their stringy arms, and fluttered, well-nigh sinking, Near him, upon the moor.
He stepped in, reached, and seized it, And, preening, had released it
But that a thought of Holy Writ occurred, And Signs Divine ere battle, till it seemed him Heaven had pleased it As guide to send the bird.
“O Lord, direct me! . . .
Doth Duty now expect me
To march a-coast, or guard my weak ones near? Give this bird a flight according, that I thence know to elect me The southward or the rear.”
He loosed his clasp; when, rising, The bird–as if surmising –
Bore due to southward, crossing by the Froom, And Durnover Great-Field and Fort, the soldier clear advising – Prompted he wist by Whom.
Then on he panted
By grim Mai-Don, and slanted
Up the steep Ridge-way, hearkening betwixt whiles; Till, nearing coast and harbour, he beheld the shore-line planted With Foot and Horse for miles.
Mistrusting not the omen,
He gained the beach, where Yeomen, Militia, Fencibles, and Pikemen bold,
With Regulars in thousands, were enmassed to meet the Foemen, Whose fleet had not yet shoaled.
Captain and Colonel,
Sere Generals, Ensigns vernal,
Were there; of neighbour-natives, Michel, Smith, Meggs, Bingham, Gambier, Cunningham, roused by the hued nocturnal Swoop on their land and kith.
But Buonaparte still tarried;
His project had miscarried;
At the last hour, equipped for victory, The fleet had paused; his subtle combinations had been parried By British strategy.
Anon, no beacons burning,
No alarms, the Volunteer, in modest bliss, Te Deum sang with wife and friends: “We praise Thee, Lord, discerning
That Thou hast helped in this!”
HER DEATH AND AFTER
‘Twas a death-bed summons, and forth I went By the way of the Western Wall, so drear On that winter night, and sought a gate – The home, by Fate,
Of one I had long held dear.
And there, as I paused by her tenement, And the trees shed on me their rime and hoar, I thought of the man who had left her lone – Him who made her his own
When I loved her, long before.
The rooms within had the piteous shine That home-things wear when there’s aught amiss; From the stairway floated the rise and fall Of an infant’s call,
Whose birth had brought her to this.
Her life was the price she would pay for that whine – For a child by the man she did not love. “But let that rest for ever,” I said,
And bent my tread
To the chamber up above.
She took my hand in her thin white own, And smiled her thanks–though nigh too weak – And made them a sign to leave us there
Then faltered, ere
She could bring herself to speak.
“‘Twas to see you before I go–he’ll condone Such a natural thing now my time’s not much– When Death is so near it hustles hence
All passioned sense
Between woman and man as such!
“My husband is absent. As heretofore
The City detains him. But, in truth, He has not been kind . . . I will speak no blame, But–the child is lame;
O, I pray she may reach his ruth!
“Forgive past days–I can say no more – Maybe if we’d wedded you’d now repine! . . . But I treated you ill. I was punished. Farewell! –Truth shall I tell?
Would the child were yours and mine!
“As a wife I was true. But, such my unease That, could I insert a deed back in Time, I’d make her yours, to secure your care; And the scandal bear,
And the penalty for the crime!”
– When I had left, and the swinging trees Rang above me, as lauding her candid say, Another was I. Her words were enough:
Came smooth, came rough,
I felt I could live my day.
Next night she died; and her obsequies In the Field of Tombs, by the Via renowned, Had her husband’s heed. His tendance spent, I often went
And pondered by her mound.
All that year and the next year whiled, And I still went thitherward in the gloam; But the Town forgot her and her nook,
And her husband took
Another Love to his home.
And the rumour flew that the lame lone child Whom she wished for its safety child of mine, Was treated ill when offspring came
Of the new-made dame,
And marked a more vigorous line.
A smarter grief within me wrought
Than even at loss of her so dear;
Dead the being whose soul my soul suffused, Her child ill-used,
I helpless to interfere!
One eve as I stood at my spot of thought In the white-stoned Garth, brooding thus her wrong, Her husband neared; and to shun his view By her hallowed mew
I went from the tombs among
To the Cirque of the Gladiators which faced – That haggard mark of Imperial Rome,
Whose Pagan echoes mock the chime
Of our Christian time:
It was void, and I inward clomb.
Scarce night the sun’s gold touch displaced From the vast Rotund and the neighbouring dead When her husband followed; bowed; half-passed, With lip upcast;
Then, halting, sullenly said:
“It is noised that you visit my first wife’s tomb. Now, I gave her an honoured name to bear While living, when dead. So I’ve claim to ask By what right you task
My patience by vigiling there?
“There’s decency even in death, I assume; Preserve it, sir, and keep away;
For the mother of my first-born you Show mind undue!
–Sir, I’ve nothing more to say.”
A desperate stroke discerned I then – God pardon–or pardon not–the lie;
She had sighed that she wished (lest the child should pine Of slights) ’twere mine,
So I said: “But the father I.
“That you thought it yours is the way of men; But I won her troth long ere your day:
You learnt how, in dying, she summoned me? ‘Twas in fealty.
–Sir, I’ve nothing more to say,
“Save that, if you’ll hand me my little maid, I’ll take her, and rear her, and spare you toil. Think it more than a friendly act none can; I’m a lonely man,
While you’ve a large pot to boil.
“If not, and you’ll put it to ball or blade – To-night, to-morrow night, anywhen –
I’ll meet you here . . . But think of it, And in season fit
Let me hear from you again.”
– Well, I went away, hoping; but nought I heard Of my stroke for the child, till there greeted me A little voice that one day came
To my window-frame
And babbled innocently:
“My father who’s not my own, sends word I’m to stay here, sir, where I belong!”
Next a writing came: “Since the child was the fruit Of your lawless suit,
Pray take her, to right a wrong.”
And I did. And I gave the child my love, And the child loved me, and estranged us none. But compunctions loomed; for I’d harmed the dead By what I’d said
For the good of the living one.
– Yet though, God wot, I am sinner enough, And unworthy the woman who drew me so,
Perhaps this wrong for her darling’s good She forgives, or would,
If only she could know!
THE DANCE AT THE PHOENIX
To Jenny came a gentle youth
From inland leazes lone,
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her
To be his tender minister,
And call him aye her own.
Fair Jenny’s life had hardly been
A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen
Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above;
Among them sundry troopers of
The King’s-Own Cavalry.
But each with charger, sword, and gun, Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head
From bride-ale hour to grave.
Wedded they were. Her husband’s trust In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
Till even malice found
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
The duteous helpmate’s round.
Two sons were born, and bloomed to men, And roamed, and were as not:
Alone was Jenny left again
As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
Were sent to sun her cot.
She numbered near on sixty years,
And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears, One day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum. Her early loves from war had come,
The King’s-Own Cavalry.
She turned aside, and bowed her head
Anigh Saint Peter’s door;
“Alas for chastened thoughts!” she said; “I’m faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes–they thrill me through, And those gay forms move me anew
As in the years of yore!” . . .
‘Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn
Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
Had vowed to give a ball
As “Theirs” had done (’twas handed down) When lying in the selfsame town
Ere Buonaparte’s fall.
That night the throbbing “Soldier’s Joy,” The measured tread and sway
Of “Fancy-Lad” and “Maiden Coy,”
Reached Jenny as she lay
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood Seemed scouring through her like a flood That whisked the years away.
She rose, and rayed, and decked her head Where the bleached hairs ran thin;
Upon her cap two bows of red
She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet, And stood before the Inn.
Save for the dancers’, not a sound
Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints’, high and bright, Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
The Wain by Bullstake Square.
She knocked, but found her further stride Checked by a sergeant tall:
“Gay Granny, whence come you?” he cried; “This is a private ball.”
– “No one has more right here than me! Ere you were born, man,” answered she,
“I knew the regiment all!”
“Take not the lady’s visit ill!”
Upspoke the steward free;
“We lack sufficient partners still, So, prithee let her be!”
They seized and whirled her ‘mid the maze, And Jenny felt as in the days
Of her immodesty.
Hour chased each hour, and night advanced; She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced – Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:
They cheered her as she soared and swooped, (She’d learnt ere art in dancing drooped From hops to slothful swings).
The favourite Quick-step “Speed the Plough” – (Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)–
“The Triumph,” “Sylph,” “The Row-dow-dow,” Famed “Major Malley’s Reel,”
“The Duke of York’s,” “The Fairy Dance,” “The Bridge of Lodi” (brought from France), She beat out, toe and heel.
The “Fall of Paris” clanged its close, And Peter’s chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,
Lest stroke of heel or clink of spur Should break her goodman’s snore.
The fire that late had burnt fell slack When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back; She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart In shoots of agony.
Their footsteps died as she leant there, Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o’ernight, from Pummery Ridge To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge
No life stirred, near or far.
Though inner mischief worked amain,
She reached her husband’s side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
Beneath the patchwork pied
When yestereve she’d forthward crept, And as unwitting, still he slept
Who did in her confide.
A tear sprang as she turned and viewed His features free from guile;
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed, She chose his domicile.
She felt she could have given her life To be the single-hearted wife
That she had been erstwhile.
Time wore to six. Her husband rose
And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,
He gathered sense that in the night, Or morn, her soul had flown.
When told that some too mighty strain For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom’s master-vein,
His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
–The King’s said not a word.
Well! times are not as times were then, Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
The King’s-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,
‘Twas saddest morn to see.
THE CASTERBRIDGE CAPTAINS
(KHYBER PASS, 1842)
A TRADITION OF J. B. L-, T. G. B-, AND J. L-.
Three captains went to Indian wars,
And only one returned:
Their mate of yore, he singly wore
The laurels all had earned.
At home he sought the ancient aisle
Wherein, untrumped of fame,
The three had sat in pupilage,
And each had carved his name.
The names, rough-hewn, of equal size, Stood on the panel still;
Unequal since.–“‘Twas theirs to aim, Mine was it to fulfil!”
– “Who saves his life shall lose it, friends!” Outspake the preacher then,
Unweeting he his listener, who
Looked at the names again.
That he had come and they’d been stayed, ‘Twas but the chance of war:
Another chance, and they’d sat here, And he had lain afar.
Yet saw he something in the lives
Of those who’d ceased to live
That sphered them with a majesty
Which living failed to give.
Transcendent triumph in return
No longer lit his brain;
Transcendence rayed the distant urn Where slept the fallen twain.
I mark the months in liveries dank and dry, The noontides many-shaped and hued;
I see the nightfall shades subtrude, And hear the monotonous hours clang negligently by.
I view the evening bonfires of the sun On hills where morning rains have hissed; The eyeless countenance of the mist
Pallidly rising when the summer droughts are done.
I have seen the lightning-blade, the leaping star, The cauldrons of the sea in storm,
Have felt the earthquake’s lifting arm, And trodden where abysmal fires and snow-cones are.
I learn to prophesy the hid eclipse,
The coming of eccentric orbs;
To mete the dust the sky absorbs, To weigh the sun, and fix the hour each planet dips.
I witness fellow earth-men surge and strive; Assemblies meet, and throb, and part;
Death’s soothing finger, sorrow’s smart; – All the vast various moils that mean a world alive.
But that I fain would wot of shuns my sense – Those sights of which old prophets tell, Those signs the general word so well,
Vouchsafed to their unheed, denied my long suspense.
In graveyard green, behind his monument To glimpse a phantom parent, friend,
Wearing his smile, and “Not the end!” Outbreathing softly: that were blest enlightenment;
Or, if a dead Love’s lips, whom dreams reveal When midnight imps of King Decay
Delve sly to solve me back to clay, Should leave some print to prove her spirit-kisses real;
Or, when Earth’s Frail lie bleeding of her Strong, If some Recorder, as in Writ,
Near to the weary scene should flit And drop one plume as pledge that Heaven inscrolls the wrong.
– There are who, rapt to heights of tranced trust, These tokens claim to feel and see,
Read radiant hints of times to be – Of heart to heart returning after dust to dust.
Such scope is granted not to lives like mine . . . I have lain in dead men’s beds, have walked The tombs of those with whom I’d talked, Called many a gone and goodly one to shape a sign,
And panted for response. But none replies; No warnings loom, nor whisperings
To open out my limitings,
And Nescience mutely muses: When a man falls he lies.
“Alive?”–And I leapt in my wonder,
Was faint of my joyance,
And grasses and grove shone in garments Of glory to me.
“She lives, in a plenteous well-being, To-day as aforehand;
The dead bore the name–though a rare one – The name that bore she.”
She lived . . . I, afar in the city
Of frenzy-led factions,
Had squandered green years and maturer In bowing the knee
To Baals illusive and specious,
Till chance had there voiced me
That one I loved vainly in nonage
Had ceased her to be.
The passion the planets had scowled on, And change had let dwindle,
Her death-rumour smartly relifted
To full apogee.
I mounted a steed in the dawning
With acheful remembrance,
And made for the ancient West Highway To far Exonb’ry.
Passing heaths, and the House of Long Sieging, I neared the thin steeple
That tops the fair fane of Poore’s olden Episcopal see;
And, changing anew my onbearer,
I traversed the downland
Whereon the bleak hill-graves of Chieftains Bulge barren of tree;
And still sadly onward I followed
That Highway the Icen,
Which trails its pale riband down Wessex O’er lynchet and lea.
Along through the Stour-bordered Forum, Where Legions had wayfared,
And where the slow river upglasses
Its green canopy,
And by Weatherbury Castle, and thencefrom Through Casterbridge held I
Still on, to entomb her my vision
Saw stretched pallidly.
No highwayman’s trot blew the night-wind To me so life-weary,
But only the creak of the gibbets
Or waggoners’ jee.
Triple-ramparted Maidon gloomed grayly Above me from southward,
And north the hill-fortress of Eggar,