Matilda Betham Poems >>
The Old Sheperd's Recollections

Low, heavy clouds are hanging on the hills,
  And half-impatient of the sun's approach,
  Shake sullenly their cold and languid wings!
  Oh! it is fine to see his morning beams
  Burst on the gloom, while, in disorder'd flight,
  The shuddering, mournful vapours steal away;
  Like the tenacious spirit of a man,
  Shrinking from the loud voice of cheerfulness,
  When it breaks in, so sadly out of tune,
  Upon his quiet musing, and dispels
  The waking dream of a dejected heart:
  The dream I cherish in this solitude,
  In all the wanderings of my little flock,
  That which beguiles my loneliness, and takes
  Its charm and change from the surrounding scene.

  Oh! how unwelcome often are to me
  The gayest, most exhilarating sounds!
  When slow and sickly Memory, tempted forth
  By dint of soft persuasion, brings to light
  His treasures--and, with childish eagerness,
  Arranges and collects--then suddenly
  To have him startled by discordance, drag,
  Without discrimination, all away--
  And with them leap to his deep hollow cave--
  Not easily to be withdrawn again,
  Grieves one who loves to think of other times,
  To talk with those long silent in the grave,
  And pass from childhood to old age again.

  Behold this stony rock! whose rifted crest,
  Lets the rough, roaring torrent force a way,
  And, foaming, pour its waters on the vale!
  Behold them tumbling from their dizzy height,
  Like clouds, of more than snowy whiteness, thrown
  Precipitate from heav'n, which, as they fall,
  Diffuse a mist, in form of glory, round!
  This was my darling haunt a long time past!
  Here, when a boy, in pleasing awe, I sate,
  Wistfully silent, with uplifted eye,
  And heart attun'd to the sad, lulling sound
  They made descending. Far below my feet,
  Near where yon little, ruin'd cottage lies,
  Oft, at the pensive hour of even-tide
  I saw young Osborne bearing on his harp,
  And, trusting to an aged mother's care,
  His darkling steps: Beneath that falling beech,
  Whose wide-spread branches touch the water's edge,
  He lov'd to sit, and feel the freshen'd gale
  Breathe cool upon him.

             Then that falling beech
  Was a young, graceful tree; which, starting up,
  Amid the looser fragments of the rock,
  Rear'd boldly in the air its lofty head,
  While, struggling with the stone, the nervous roots
  Pursued their own direction, elbowing out,
  Their flinty neighbour; who, o'erspread with moss,
  Of varied hues, and deck'd with flow'ring heath,
  That from each fissure hung luxuriant down,
  Became a seat, where, king of all the scene,
  The harper sate, and, in sweet melodies,
  Now like the lark rejoicing at the dawn,
  Now soothing as the nightingale's sad note,
  Hail'd the departing sun, whose golden rays
  Glitter'd upon the surface of the wave,
  And, as a child upon its mother's arm
  Seeks to delay the coming hour of rest,
  Till sudden slumbers steal upon his smiles
  And veil him in a dream of love and joy,
  He seem'd reluctant to withdraw his beams;
  And, rich in roseate beauty, for awhile
  Kept the green waves beneath his glowing head.

  Kind, gentle Osborne! half a century
  Has silver'd o'er the crisp and yellow locks
  Of thy young auditor, but memory still
  Grasps the torn record of my weary life.
  And finds full many a page to tell of thee!
  Oh! ye who have a friend ye truly love,
  One whom your hearts can trust, whose excellence
  Was not obtruded boastingly to view,
  But time and happy circumstance reveal'd,
  Rays of quick light upon a diamond
  Which else had lain unnotic'd in the waste!
  Oh! hasten! hasten speedily to pay
  Each debt of fond affection! lock not up
  So cautiously the tribute due to worth!
  Nor let reserve, as I have often done,
  Enslave the sweetest feelings of the soul!
  And hang around them like an envious mist,
  O'er the bright radiance of the morning star,
  Leaving us nothing but a spot of light
  Bereav'd of all its lustre! For my friend,
  He never knew that there was one on earth,
  After a parent felt the touch of death,
  And Love, a weeping pilgrim, turn'd away
  Far from his dwelling--Oh! he never knew,
  That there was one who would have follow'd him,
  With steady kindness, even to the grave!

  Thou dear, neglected friend! to whom I owe
  All that sustains my heart, and makes me think
  The gift of life a blessing, Oh! forgive
  That in thy sorrows, my forgetful tongue
  Spake not of zeal and service; of the debt
  Which gratitude was emulous to pay!
  I might have trimm'd the dying lamp of hope,
  And cheer'd the bitter hours of banishment:
  But Oh! my youth was fearful, and I felt
  So deep an awe of that unspotted worth
  And saint-like gentleness--such a mistrust
  Of my own powers to tell him what I wish'd,
  That I resisted all my feelings claim'd,
  In anguish I resisted; but a spell
  Hung o'er me and compell'd me to be mute.

  Methinks I still behold him! tall and fair,
  He had a look so tranquil and so mild,
  That something holy stole upon the sense
  When he appear'd; his language had such power
  In converse, that the hearer, as entranced
  Sate lingering on to listen; while in song,
  Or skill upon the many-stringed harp
  Was never heard his equal! Then he knew
  All our old ballads, all our father's tales,
  All the adventurous deeds of early times,
  The punishment of blood or sacrilege,
  And the reward of virtue, when it seem'd
  Deserted by the world, and left alone,
  A prey to scorn, oppression, contumely
  And all the ills which make the good despair.
  When-e'er we circled round him, one young girl
  Was always present, of a nicer ear,
  And more refin'd perception than the rest.
  Now she was lost in thought, while on her cheek
  Lay silent tears--and then that cheek grew pale
  In wild amazement--but, when he began
  To speak of noble deeds, she rais'd her head,
  Bending with looks of mingled awe and love,
  And zealous admiration, on the youth,
  Alone insensible of all around,
  To the soft charm of symmetry and grace,
  The smile intelligent, the look benign,
  And all the outward raiment of the soul.
  Yet, though he saw her not, it was his fate
  To have an inward and discerning sense,
  Which spake of Lora's gentleness and worth.
  He lov'd in her the fondness of his art,
  And taught her many wild and simple airs,
  Suiting the plaintive tenor of her voice,
  Which he would mimic with sweet minstrelsy.
  When she was absent, and with strange delight,
  Repeat her parting words, her kind adieu,
  Or sweetly-spoken promise of return.

  And that return was prompt: she linger'd oft
  Till evening wet the ground with heavy dew,
  Or came to take her lesson in the morn,
  Before her father's anxious eyes unclos'd,
  To look upon her beauty with delight,
  And soothe the rugged temper of his soul,
  By views of future grandeur for his child:
  Not thinking that her elegance of mind,
  The modest dignity of humble worth
  Which fits the low-born peasant to become
  A crowned monarch, and to wield with grace
  The golden sceptre, had instructed her
  To feel no paltry jealousy of power,
  No bold aspiring, and no wish beyond
  The bounded confines of her present state:
  Had counsell'd her, that even mines of wealth,
  Could purchase nothing to content the wise,
  Esteem or friendship, tenderness or love:
  That power at best was but a heavy weight;
  If well employ'd, a dubious, unpaid toil,
  If ill, a curse, to tempt men to their fate.

  Her cheek had often felt the blush of shame,
  At his proud boasting; and her heart had sunk
  At the cold arrogance that scorn'd the poor;
  But she was fain to turn aside, and weep,
  To wring her hands in secret, and to raise
  The eye of silent anguish up to heaven;
  For though he dearly lov'd her, he would ne'er
  Submit to hear a murmur at his will.
  Oft with her heart oppress'd, and her blue eyes
  Full of unshedden tears, she bent her way
  Alone to Osborne's lowly cot, and when
  Her faint voice call'd the fond inquiry forth,
  Would say, "'tis true, my friends, that I am sad,
  Nay sick, with vain repining. O! I wish,
  That I were either indigent myself,
  Or that I had the power, the blessed power
  Of cheering the unhappy! for I want,
  By kindness to prevent the act of guilt,
  And ward the arrows of incroaching Death,
  Who comes, before the time, upon his prey.
  Think that there should be means to stay his wrath,
  To purchase health, life, comfort, innocence,
  And yet those means withholden!

                  "O! my heart!
  It dies with sorrow! and where most I love,
  Sheds all its bitterness; delighting still
  To tell the many miseries that flit
  At times across me! Those I lightly prize
  Partake the sunshine of my happier hours,
  Although I seek them with far less delight!
  The loud laugh dwells not here, the sportive dance,
  The carol of unconscious levity,
  And yet how oft, how willingly I come!"

  "Know'st thou not, Lora," cried the youthful sage,
  "That there are things the mind must prize above
  What captivates the senses! That in them
  She feels no interest, and she takes no care!
  That though sometimes an alien, she receives
  Delighted back the ensigns of her power,
  And takes her truant vassals into grace!
  That when thou bring'st to us that wounded mind,
  The grave of many feelings, language is
  As yet too poor to utter, thou canst give
  No richer, dearer token of regard."

  "Were man indeed the only hope of man,
  I never would reprove thee for thy tears!
  But, they are vain! man has a surer trust!
  The helpless, weary, miserable wretch,
  Left by his fellows in the wilderness,
  Shall be supported in that trying hour,
  By a right arm, which, in his days of strength,
  He did not lean upon! A gracious arm,
  Which wounds the sick, and heals them by the stroke.
  O! Lora! to the Father of the world,
  A Judge so patient and so merciful.
  That he refuses not the latest sigh.
  Nor suffers sorrow but as means to save,
  Canst thou not trust the objects of thy care!

  "Hadst thou the power to help them--it were well,
  To be most anxious. To collect thy freight
  Of human sorrow, and, by merchandize,
  Exchange it for the riches of the world:
  For health, for comfort, nay, perchance for life,
  That gem of countless value, which sometimes,
  Not all the treasures of the East can buy,
  Tendered with supplications and with tears,
  Is often purchas'd at a petty price,
  Nay, in exchange for courtesy. What joy
  Must in that moment fill the merchant's heart,
  To win a jewel, kings monopolize
  The sole disposal of! Be patient then!
  This glorious privilege may yet be thine!
  Deserve it only by fulfilling all
  The gentler duties that have present claims
  With cheerfulness and zeal--Let no neglect
  Press on thy father's age, no discontent
  Sour thee with thy companions, no mistrust
  Give pain to friendship, and thy usefulness
  Though calm and bounded, has no mean award."

  Thus, like a prophet, did he still enforce
  Only the virtues and rare qualities
  Congenial with her after destiny;
  Yet, not foreseeing evil, he himself
  Was unprepared, and when her father led,
  Her opposition and entreaty past,
  The hapless Lora forth, to promise love
  And honour to a man, whose vacant mind,
  Throughout a course of long succeeding years,
  She vainly strove to soften and to raise,
  Though he had taught her patience till that hour,
  His own at once forsook him, and he fled.

  She murmur'd not, nor even seem'd to mourn,
  But losing all her love of solitude,
  Appear'd so active in each new pursuit,
  So wholly what her anxious father wish'd,
  That he repented not his cruelty.
  Believing in her happiness, he felt
  Himself the author, and became more proud
  Of his own wisdom: yet she often heard
  His wayward taunt or querulous complaint,
  And, from the lordly partner of her fate,
  The harsher sound of ignorant rebuke.
  She was a matchless woman, when she lost
  The timid graces of retiring youth,
  She still was lovely, for her shaded eyes
  Beam'd with a lofty sweetness, a content
  Beyond the pow'r of fortune to destroy.
  Careless of let or hindrance, she went on,
  Nor shrunk nor started at the many thorns
  Strew'd in her toilsome path; still looking forth
  To others' weal, forgetful it would seem,
  Perchance in heart despairing of her own.
  The friend, the help, the comforter of all,
  No voice was heard so cheerful, nor a step
  So bounding and so light. 'Twas wonderful!
  For I have seen her, when her polish'd arm
  Has clasp'd the nurseling, with her face conceal'd
  Bent fondly o'er; and I have mark'd each limb
  To boast a fine expansion, as if thrill'd
  With the deep feelings of maternal love
  And aching tenderness, too highly wrought
  For happy souls to cherish! they delight
  In painless joys, and, on the infant's cheek,
  Rounded and glowing with a finer bloom
  Than the wild-rose, careless imprint the kiss,
  Which sorrow always sanctions by a prayer.
  They in the radiance of its glancing eyes
  See nothing to suffuse with their own tears!
  Borne forward on the easy wing of Time,
  They travel on, they scarcely meet with Thought,
  Or, like a summer cloud, he passes by,
  His shadow rests one instant, and again
  The scene is calm and brilliant as before!

  Not so with Lora, trouble, sickness, death,
  Were busy with the residue of peace,
  When years and care had weaken'd her regrets,
  Veil'd the sad recollection of past days,
  And overgrown the softness of her mind,
  As the close-creeping ivy hides and rusts
  The smooth and silver surface of the beech.
  An orphan and a widow--she became
  Decisive, watchful, prudent, nay severe
  To wilful disobedience or neglect;
  Though generous where she perceiv'd desert.
  She taught her children with unceasing zeal,
  Sought knowledge for their sakes, and, more than all,
  Anxious, inquisitive about the heart,
  Search'd all the motives, all the incidents
  In which it was unfolded; fencing still
  Each treacherous failing with a double guard,
  And oft repeated warnings; well conceal'd,
  Or given with so much kindness, that they serv'd
  To draw more closely every knot of love.
  Nor did she cease to urge her pious cares
  By constant vigilance, till riper age
  Had fix'd the moral sense, when, as a bow
  For a long active season tightly strain'd
  Relaxes, tumult and contention o'er,
  She sunk into indulgence, glad to yield
  To mildness, nature, and herself again.

  Youth, e'en when wise and good, requires a change,
  Delights in novelty, and hears of nought
  Which suddenly it asks not to behold;
  And Lora's children oft assail'd her ear
  To let them journey to some rumour'd scene,
  Some feast, or village wake, or sprightly dance,
  Urging her still to bear them company.
  She lov'd to give them pleasure, and one time
  (The fav'rite legend of our country folk
  Hath oft the tale repeated) as they mix'd
  Carelessly in the crowd, remember'd notes
  Struck by a harper in a distant tent,
  Sweet and soul-piercing as the midnight songs
  Which are, they say, the harbingers of death,
  Flow'd on her ear--when, with impulsive spring,
  As if a magic spell had wing'd her feet,
  Fearing the sounds would vanish into air,
  And prove delusion ere she reach'd the spot,
  She forward rush'd, and soon beheld the friend,
  The dear companion of her youth. She seiz'd
  The hand that lay upon the quivering chords,
  Stopping their melody and resting mute.
  The pause was awful--He at length exclaim'd,
  In a deep, laboured cry, "Ye heavenly powers!
  If Lora lives, the hand I feel is hers!"
  She could not speak, but with her other hand
  Clasp'd his, and sigh'd and rais'd her eyes to heaven,
  When straight the big, round tears began to flow;
  "And is it thee, dear Lora! Art thou come
  Again to gladden one, who never found
  'Mid countless who are good, a heart like thine!
  Oh! speak! that I may know if still my ear
  Retains a true remembrance of that voice!
  For since, it has not drank so sweet a sound."

  "Hail happy day!" cried Lora, "which restores
  The friend whose absence I have mourn'd so long!
  For thou, O! Osborne! must with me return,
  Me and my children! They shall hear again
  Those counsels which inform'd their mother's heart;
  Gave courage in the hour of enterprize,
  Calmness in danger, patience under ills
  That like a swarm of insects buz around,
  And vex the spirit which they cannot rouse.
  Return, my early, long-lost friend! with us
  Thou shalt enjoy repose: our cheerful home
  Shall gather round thee many an honest heart
  Which knows thy virtues, and will hold thee dear."

  She paus'd, and Osborne joyful gave assent.
  Fair hopes of joy engaged his faultering mind,
  For long-time had he dragg'd a weary life,
  Lone, or bereav'd of relative or friend,
  Careful to tend his health, and to divert
  His sadness; each succeeding hour had press'd
  With its slow-passing wing his gentle head
  Drooping and prematurely silver'd o'er,
  (Like snows depending on the autumn leaf)
  Yet warm, benevolent, serene, resign'd,
  And like an angel save in youth and joy.

  A winding path round yonder wooded hill,
  Leads to a spot where Nature decks herself
  In loveliness and beauty: far below
  Spreads the green valley, where a silent stream
  Turns, like a serpent writhing in its course;
  And, rarified by distance, kissing heaven,
  In many noble and fantastic shapes,
  A giant range of purple mountains sleeps.
  Grand is the scene, and in the centre stands
  The tomb of Osborne--after many years
  Of happiness and friendship, Lora rais'd
  This plain memorial, and her children plac'd
  A mother's near, to tell succeeding years
  Their talents and their virtue. They themselves
  More forcibly express the worth of both,
  For they are wise and good, without a shade
  Of cold severity or selfish pride.