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Written by Jean Ingelow | Create an image from this poem


A Scholar is musing on his want of success.)

To strive—and fail. Yes, I did strive and fail;
  I set mine eyes upon a certain night
To find a certain star—and could not hail
      With them its deep-set light.
Fool that I was! I will rehearse my fault:
  I, wingless, thought myself on high to lift
Among the winged—I set these feet that halt
      To run against the swift.
And yet this man, that loved me so, can write—
  That loves me, I would say, can let me see;
Or fain would have me think he counts but light
      These Honors lost to me.
         (The letter of his friend.)
"What are they? that old house of yours which gave
  Such welcome oft to me, the sunbeams fall
Yet, down the squares of blue and white which pave
      Its hospitable hall.
"A brave old house! a garden full of bees,
  Large dropping poppies, and Queen hollyhocks,
With butterflies for crowns—tree peonies
      And pinks and goldilocks.
"Go, when the shadow of your house is long
  Upon the garden—when some new-waked bird.
Pecking and fluttering, chirps a sudden song,
      And not a leaf is stirred;
"But every one drops dew from either edge
  Upon its fellow, while an amber ray
Slants up among the tree-tops like a wedge
      Of liquid gold—to play
"Over and under them, and so to fall
  Upon that lane of water lying below—
That piece of sky let in, that you do call
      A pond, but which I know
"To be a deep and wondrous world; for I
  Have seen the trees within it—marvellous things
So thick no bird betwixt their leaves could fly
      But she would smite her wings;—
"Go there, I say; stand at the water's brink,
  And shoals of spotted barbel you shall see
Basking between the shadows—look, and think
      'This beauty is for me;
"'For me this freshness in the morning hours,
  For me the water's clear tranquillity;
For me the soft descent of chestnut flowers;
      The cushat's cry for me.
"'The lovely laughter of the wind-swayed wheat
  The easy slope of yonder pastoral hill;
The sedgy brook whereby the red kine meet
      And wade and drink their fill.'
"Then saunter down that terrace whence the sea
  All fair with wing-like sails you may discern;
Be glad, and say 'This beauty is for me—
      A thing to love and learn.
"'For me the bounding in of tides; for me
  The laying bare of sands when they retreat;
The purple flush of calms, the sparkling glee
      When waves and sunshine meet.'
"So, after gazing, homeward turn, and mount
  To that long chamber in the roof; there tell
Your heart the laid-up lore it holds to count
      And prize and ponder well.
"The lookings onward of the race before
  It had a past to make it look behind;
Its reverent wonder, and its doubting sore,
      Its adoration blind.
"The thunder of its war-songs, and the glow
  Of chants to freedom by the old world sung;
The sweet love cadences that long ago
      Dropped from the old-world tongue.
"And then this new-world lore that takes account
  Of tangled star-dust; maps the triple whirl
Of blue and red and argent worlds that mount
      And greet the IRISH EARL;
"Or float across the tube that HERSCHEL sways,
  Like pale-rose chaplets, or like sapphire mist;
Or hang or droop along the heavenly ways,
      Like scarves of amethyst.
"O strange it is and wide the new-world lore,
  For next it treateth of our native dust!
Must dig out buried monsters, and explore
      The green earth's fruitful crust;
"Must write the story of her seething youth—
  How lizards paddled in her lukewarm seas;
Must show the cones she ripened, and forsooth
      Count seasons on her trees;
"Must know her weight, and pry into her age,
  Count her old beach lines by their tidal swell;
Her sunken mountains name, her craters gauge,
      Her cold volcanoes tell;
"And treat her as a ball, that one might pass
  From this hand to the other—such a ball
As he could measure with a blade of grass,
      And say it was but small!
"Honors! O friend, I pray you bear with me:
  The grass hath time to grow in meadow lands,
And leisurely the opal murmuring sea
      Breaks on her yellow sands;
"And leisurely the ring-dove on her nest
  Broods till her tender chick will peck the shell
And leisurely down fall from ferny crest
      The dew-drops on the well;
"And leisurely your life and spirit grew,
  With yet the time to grow and ripen free:
No judgment past withdraws that boon from you,
      Nor granteth it to me.
"Still must I plod, and still in cities moil;
  From precious leisure, learned leisure far,
Dull my best self with handling common soil;
      Yet mine those honors are.
"Mine they are called; they are a name which means,
  'This man had steady pulses, tranquil nerves:
Here, as in other fields, the most he gleans
      Who works and never swerves.
"We measure not his mind; we cannot tell
  What lieth under, over, or beside
The test we put him to; he doth excel,
    We know, where he is tried;
"But, if he boast some farther excellence—
  Mind to create as well as to attain;
To sway his peers by golden eloquence,
    As wind doth shift a fane;
"'To sing among the poets—we are nought:
  We cannot drop a line into that sea
And read its fathoms off, nor gauge a thought,
    Nor map a simile.
"'It may be of all voices sublunar
  The only one he echoes we did try;
We may have come upon the only star
    That twinkles in his sky,'
"And so it was with me."
                         O false my friend!
  False, false, a random charge, a blame undue;
Wrest not fair reasoning to a crooked end:
    False, false, as you are true!
But I read on: "And so it was with me;
  Your golden constellations lying apart
They neither hailed nor greeted heartily,
    Nor noted on their chart.
"And yet to you and not to me belong
  Those finer instincts that, like second sight
And hearing, catch creation's undersong,
      And see by inner light.
"You are a well, whereon I, gazing, see
  Reflections of the upper heavens—a well
From whence come deep, deep echoes up to me—
      Some underwave's low swell.
"I cannot soar into the heights you show,
  Nor dive among the deeps that you reveal;
But it is much that high things ARE to know,
      That deep things ARE to feel.
"'Tis yours, not mine, to pluck out of your breast
  Some human truth, whose workings recondite
Were unattired in words, and manifest
      And hold it forth to light
"And cry, 'Behold this thing that I have found,'
  And though they knew not of it till that day,
Nor should have done with no man to expound
      Its meaning, yet they say,
"'We do accept it: lower than the shoals
  We skim, this diver went, nor did create,
But find it for us deeper in our souls
      Than we can penetrate.'
"You were to me the world's interpreter,
  The man that taught me Nature's unknown tongue,
And to the notes of her wild dulcimer
      First set sweet words, and sung.
"And what am I to you? A steady hand
  To hold, a steadfast heart to trust withal;
Merely a man that loves you, and will stand
      By you, whatever befall.
"But need we praise his tendance tutelar
  Who feeds a flame that warms him? Yet 'tis true
I love you for the sake of what you are,
      And not of what you do:—
"As heaven's high twins, whereof in Tyrian blue
  The one revolveth: through his course immense
Might love his fellow of the damask hue,
      For like, and difference.
"For different pathways evermore decreed
  To intersect, but not to interfere;
For common goal, two aspects, and one speed,
      One centre and one year;
"For deep affinities, for drawings strong,
  That by their nature each must needs exert;
For loved alliance, and for union long,
      That stands before desert.
"And yet desert makes brighter not the less,
  For nearest his own star he shall not fail
To think those rays unmatched for nobleness,
      That distance counts but pale.
"Be pale afar, since still to me you shine,
  And must while Nature's eldest law shall hold;"—
Ah, there's the thought which makes his random line
      Dear as refinèd gold!
Then shall I drink this draft of oxymel,
  Part sweet, part sharp? Myself o'erprized to know
Is sharp; the cause is sweet, and truth to tell
      Few would that cause forego,
Which is, that this of all the men on earth
  Doth love me well enough to count me great—
To think my soul and his of equal girth—
      O liberal estimate!
And yet it is so; he is bound to me,
  For human love makes aliens near of kin;
By it I rise, there is equality:
      I rise to thee, my twin.
"Take courage"—courage! ay, my purple peer
  I will take courage; for thy Tyrian rays
Refresh me to the heart, and strangely dear
      And healing is thy praise.
"Take courage," quoth he, "and respect the mind
  Your Maker gave, for good your fate fulfil;
The fate round many hearts your own to wind."
      Twin soul, I will! I will!

Written by Jean Ingelow | Create an image from this poem


My heart is sick awishing and awaiting:
  The lad took up his knapsack, he went, he went his way;
And I looked on for his coming, as a prisoner through the grating
  Looks and longs and longs and wishes for its opening day.
On the wild purple mountains, all alone with no other,
  The strong terrible mountains he longed, he longed to be;
And he stooped to kiss his father, and he stooped to kiss his mother,
  And till I said, "Adieu, sweet Sir," he quite forgot me.
He wrote of their white raiment, the ghostly capes that screen them,
  Of the storm winds that beat them, their thunder-rents and scars,
And the paradise of purple, and the golden slopes atween them,
  And fields, where grow God's gentian bells, and His crocus stars.
He wrote of frail gauzy clouds, that drop on them like fleeces,
  And make green their fir forests, and feed their mosses hoar;
Or come sailing up the valleys, and get wrecked and go to pieces,
  Like sloops against their cruel strength: then he wrote no more.
O the silence that came next, the patience and long aching!
  They never said so much as "He was a dear loved son;"
Not the father to the mother moaned, that dreary stillness breaking:
  "Ah! wherefore did he leave us so—this, our only one."
They sat within, as waiting, until the neighbors prayed them,
  At Cromer, by the sea-coast, 'twere peace and change to be;
And to Cromer, in their patience, or that urgency affrayed them,
  Or because the tidings tarried, they came, and took me.
It was three months and over since the dear lad had started:
  On the green downs at Cromer I sat to see the view;
On an open space of herbage, where the ling and fern had parted,
  Betwixt the tall white lighthouse towers, the old and the new.
Below me lay the wide sea, the scarlet sun was stooping,
  And he dyed the waste water, as with a scarlet dye;
And he dyed the lighthouse towers; every bird with white wing swooping
  Took his colors, and the cliffs did, and the yawning sky.
Over grass came that strange flush, and over ling and heather,
  Over flocks of sheep and lambs, and over Cromer town;
And each filmy cloudlet crossing drifted like a scarlet feather
  Torn from the folded wings of clouds, while he settled down.
When I looked, I dared not sigh:—In the light of God's splendor,
  With His daily blue and gold, who am I? what am I?
But that passion and outpouring seemed an awful sign and tender,
  Like the blood of the Redeemer, shown on earth and sky.
O for comfort, O the waste of a long doubt and trouble!
  On that sultry August eve trouble had made me meek;
I was tired of my sorrow—O so faint, for it was double
  In the weight of its oppression, that I could not speak!
And a little comfort grew, while the dimmed eyes were feeding,
  And the dull ears with murmur of water satisfied;
But a dream came slowly nigh me, all my thoughts and fancy leading
  Across the bounds of waking life to the other side.
And I dreamt that I looked out, to the waste waters turning,
  And saw the flakes of scarlet from wave to wave tossed on;
And the scarlet mix with azure, where a heap of gold lay burning
  On the clear remote sea reaches; for the sun was gone.
Then I thought a far-off shout dropped across the still water—
  A question as I took it, for soon an answer came
From the tall white ruined lighthouse: "If it be the old man's daughter
  That we wot of," ran the answer, "what then—who's to blame?"
I looked up at the lighthouse all roofless and storm-broken:
  A great white bird sat on it, with neck stretched out to sea;
Unto somewhat which was sailing in a skiff the bird had spoken,
  And a trembling seized my spirit, for they talked of me.
I was the old man's daughter, the bird went on to name him;
  "He loved to count the starlings as he sat in the sun;
Long ago he served with Nelson, and his story did not shame him:
  Ay, the old man was a good man—and his work was done."
The skiff was like a crescent, ghost of some moon departed,
  Frail, white, she rocked and curtseyed as the red wave she crossed,
And the thing within sat paddling, and the crescent dipped and darted,
  Flying on, again was shouting, but the words were lost.
I said, "That thing is hooded; I could hear but that floweth
  The great hood below its mouth:" then the bird made reply.
"If they know not, more's the pity, for the little shrew-mouse knoweth,
  And the kite knows, and the eagle, and the glead and pye."
And he stooped to whet his beak on the stones of the coping;
  And when once more the shout came, in querulous tones he spake,
"What I said was 'more's the pity;' if the heart be long past hoping,
  Let it say of death, 'I know it,' or doubt on and break.
"Men must die—one dies by day, and near him moans his mother,
  They dig his grave, tread it down, and go from it full loth:
And one dies about the midnight, and the wind moans, and no other,
  And the snows give him a burial—and God loves them both.
"The first hath no advantage—it shall not soothe his slumber
  That a lock of his brown hair his father aye shall keep;
For the last, he nothing grudgeth, it shall nought his quiet cumber,
  That in a golden mesh of HIS callow eaglets sleep.
"Men must die when all is said, e'en the kite and glead know it,
  And the lad's father knew it, and the lad, the lad too;
It was never kept a secret, waters bring it and winds blow it,
  And he met it on the mountain—why then make ado?"
With that he spread his white wings, and swept across the water,
  Lit upon the hooded head, and it and all went down;
And they laughed as they went under, and I woke, "the old man's daughter."
  And looked across the slope of grass, and at Cromer town.
And I said, "Is that the sky, all gray and silver-suited?"
  And I thought, "Is that the sea that lies so white and wan?
I have dreamed as I remember: give me time—I was reputed
  Once to have a steady courage—O, I fear 'tis gone!"
And I said, "Is this my heart? if it be, low 'tis beating
  So he lies on the mountain, hard by the eagles' brood;
I have had a dream this evening, while the white and gold were fleeting,
  But I need not, need not tell it—where would be the good?
"Where would be the good to them, his father and his mother?
  For the ghost of their dead hope appeareth to them still.
While a lonely watch-fire smoulders, who its dying red would smother,
  That gives what little light there is to a darksome hill?"
I rose up, I made no moan, I did not cry nor falter,
  But slowly in the twilight I came to Cromer town.
What can wringing of the hands do that which is ordained to alter?
  He had climbed, had climbed the mountain, he would ne'er come down.
But, O my first, O my best, I could not choose but love thee:
  O, to be a wild white bird, and seek thy rocky bed!
From my breast I'd give thee burial, pluck the down and spread above thee;
  I would sit and sing thy requiem on the mountain head.
Fare thee well, my love of loves! would I had died before thee!
  O, to be at least a cloud, that near thee I might flow,
Solemnly approach the mountain, weep away my being o'er thee,
  And veil thy breast with icicles, and thy brow with snow!
Written by Jean Ingelow | Create an image from this poem



An empty sky, a world of heather,
  Purple of foxglove, yellow of broom;
We two among them wading together,
  Shaking out honey, treading perfume.
Crowds of bees are giddy with clover,
  Crowds of grasshoppers skip at our feet,
Crowds of larks at their matins hang over,
  Thanking the Lord for a life so sweet.
Flusheth the rise with her purple favor,
  Gloweth the cleft with her golden ring,
'Twixt the two brown butterflies waver,
  Lightly settle, and sleepily swing.
We two walk till the purple dieth
  And short dry grass under foot is brown.
But one little streak at a distance lieth
  Green like a ribbon to prank the down.

Over the grass we stepped unto it,
  And God He knoweth how blithe we were!
Never a voice to bid us eschew it:
  Hey the green ribbon that showed so fair!
Hey the green ribbon! we kneeled beside it,
  We parted the grasses dewy and sheen;
Drop over drop there filtered and slided
  A tiny bright beck that trickled between.
Tinkle, tinkle, sweetly it sang to us,
  Light was our talk as of faëry bells—
Faëry wedding-bells faintly rung to us
  Down in their fortunate parallels.
Hand in hand, while the sun peered over,
  We lapped the grass on that youngling spring;
Swept back its rushes, smoothed its clover,
  And said, "Let us follow it westering."

A dappled sky, a world of meadows,
  Circling above us the black rooks fly
Forward, backward; lo, their dark shadows
  Flit on the blossoming tapestry—
Flit on the beck, for her long grass parteth
  As hair from a maid's bright eyes blown back;
And, lo, the sun like a lover darteth
  His flattering smile on her wayward track.
Sing on! we sing in the glorious weather
  Till one steps over the tiny strand,
So narrow, in sooth, that still together
  On either brink we go hand in hand.
The beck grows wider, the hands must sever.
  On either margin, our songs all done,
We move apart, while she singeth ever,
  Taking the course of the stooping sun.
He prays, "Come over"—I may not follow;
  I cry, "Return"—but he cannot come:
We speak, we laugh, but with voices hollow;
  Our hands are hanging, our hearts are numb.

A breathing sigh, a sigh for answer,
  A little talking of outward things
The careless beck is a merry dancer,
  Keeping sweet time to the air she sings.
A little pain when the beck grows wider;
  "Cross to me now—for her wavelets swell."
"I may not cross,"—and the voice beside her
  Faintly reacheth, though heeded well.
No backward path; ah! no returning;
  No second crossing that ripple's flow:
"Come to me now, for the west is burning;
  Come ere it darkens;"—"Ah, no! ah, no!"
Then cries of pain, and arms outreaching—
  The beck grows wider and swift and deep:
Passionate words as of one beseeching—
  The loud beck drowns them; we walk, and weep.

A yellow moon in splendor drooping,
  A tired queen with her state oppressed,
Low by rushes and swordgrass stooping,
  Lies she soft on the waves at rest.
The desert heavens have felt her sadness;
  Her earth will weep her some dewy tears;
The wild beck ends her tune of gladness,
  And goeth stilly as soul that fears.
We two walk on in our grassy places
  On either marge of the moonlit flood,
With the moon's own sadness in our faces,
  Where joy is withered, blossom and bud.

A shady freshness, chafers whirring,
  A little piping of leaf-hid birds;
A flutter of wings, a fitful stirring,
  A cloud to the eastward snowy as curds.
Bare grassy slopes, where kids are tethered
  Round valleys like nests all ferny-lined;
Round hills, with fluttering tree-tops feathered,
  Swell high in their freckled robes behind.
A rose-flush tender, a thrill, a quiver,
  When golden gleams to the tree-tops glide;
A flashing edge for the milk-white river,
  The beck, a river—with still sleek tide.
Broad and white, and polished as silver,
  On she goes under fruit-laden trees;
Sunk in leafage cooeth the culver,
  And 'plaineth of love's disloyalties.
Glitters the dew and shines the river,
  Up comes the lily and dries her bell;
But two are walking apart forever,
  And wave their hands for a mute farewell.

A braver swell, a swifter sliding;
  The river hasteth, her banks recede:
Wing-like sails on her bosom gliding
  Bear down the lily and drown the reed.
Stately prows are rising and bowing
  (Shouts of mariners winnow the air),
And level sands for banks endowing
  The tiny green ribbon that showed so fair.
While, O my heart! as white sails shiver,
  And crowds are passing, and banks stretch wide
How hard to follow, with lips that quiver,
  That moving speck on the far-off side!
Farther, farther—I see it—know it—
  My eyes brim over, it melts away:
Only my heart to my heart shall show it
  As I walk desolate day by day.

And yet I know past all doubting, truly—
  A knowledge greater than grief can dim—
I know, as he loved, he will love me duly—
  Yea better—e'en better than I love him.
And as I walk by the vast calm river,
  The awful river so dread to see,
I say, "Thy breadth and thy depth forever
  Are bridged by his thoughts that cross to me."