Henry Kirke White Poems >>


Pictured in memory's mellowing glass, how sweet
Our infant days, our infant joys, to greet;
To roam in fancy in each cherish'd scene,
The village churchyard, and the village green,
The woodland walk remote, the greenwood glade,
The mossy seat beneath the hawthorn shade,
The whitewashed cottage, where the woodbine grew,
And all the favourite haunts our childhood knew!
How sweet, while all the evil shuns the gaze,
To view the unclouded skies of former days!

Beloved age of innocence and smiles,
When each wing'd hour some new delight beguiles.
When the gay heart, to life's sweet dayspring true,
Still finds some insect pleasure to pursue.
Bless'd Childhood, hail!—Thee simply will I sing,
And from myself the artless picture bring;
These long-lost scenes to me the past restore,
Each humble friend, each pleasure now no more,
And every stump familiar to my sight
Recalls some fond idea of delight.

This shrubby knoll was once my favourite seat;
Here did I love at evening to retreat,
And muse alone, till in the vault of night,
Hesper, aspiring, show'd his golden light.
Here once again, remote from human noise,
I sit me down to think of former joys;
Pause on each scene, each treasured scene, once more,
And once again each infant walk explore,
While as each grove and lawn I recognize,
My melted soul suffuses in my eyes.

And oh! thou Power, whose myriad trains resort
To distant scenes, and picture, them to thought;
Whose mirror, held unto the mourner's eye,
Flings to his soul a borrow'd gleam of joy;
Bless'd Memory, guide, with finger nicely true,
Back to my youth my retrospective view;
Recall with faithful vigour to my mind
Each face familiar, each relation kind;
And all the finer traits of them afford,
Whose general outline in my heart is stored.

In yonder cot, along whose mouldering walls
In many a fold the mantling woodbine falls,
The village matron kept her little school,
Gentle of heart, yet knowing well to rule;
Staid was the dame, and modest was her mien;
Her garb was coarse, yet whole, and nicely clean;
Her neatly border'd cap, as lily fair,
Beneath her chin was pinn'd with decent care;
And pendent ruffles, of the whitest lawn,
Of ancient make, her elbows did adorn.
Faint with old age, and dim were grown her eyes,
A pair of spectacles their want supplies;
These does she guard secure, in leathern case,
From thoughtless wights, in some unweeted place.

Here first I enter'd, though with toil and pain,
The low vestibule of learning's fane;
Enter'd with pain, yet soon I found the way,
Though sometimes toilsome, many a sweet display.
Much did I grieve on that ill fated morn
When I was first to school reluctant borne;
Severe I thought the dame, though oft she tried
To soothe my swelling spirits when I sigh'd;
And oft, when harshly she reproved, I wept,
To my lone corner broken-hearted crept,
And thought of tender home, where anger never kept.

But soon inured to alphabetic toils,
Alert I met the dame with jocund smiles;
First at the form, my task for ever true,
A little favourite rapidly I grew:
And oft she stroked my head with fond delight,
Held me a pattern to the dunce's sight;
And as she gave my diligence its praise,
Talk'd of the honours of my future days.

Oh! had the venerable matron thought
Of all the ills by talent often brought;
Could she have seen me when revolving years
Had brought me deeper in the vale of tears,
Then had she wept, and wish'd my wayward fate
Had been a lowlier, an unlettered state;
Wish'd that, remote from worldly woes and strife,
Unknown, unheard, I might have pass'd through life.

Where in the busy scene, by peace unbless'd,
Shall the poor wanderer find a place of rest?
A lonely mariner on the stormy main,
Without a hope the calms of peace to gain;
Long toss'd by tempests o'er the world's wide shore,
When shall his spirit rest to toil no more?
Not till the light foam of the sea shall lave
The sandy surface of his unwept grave.
Childhood, to thee I turn, from life's alarms,
Serenest season of perpetual calms,—
Turn with delight, and bid the passions cease,—
And joy to think with thee I tasted peace.
Sweet reign of innocence, when no crime defiles,
But each new object brings attendant smiles;
When future evils never haunt the sight,
But all is pregnant with unmix'd delight;
To thee I turn from riot and from noise,
Turn to partake of more congenial joys.

'Neath yonder elm, that stands upon the moor,
When the clock spoke the hour of labour o'er,
What clamorous throngs, what happy groups were
In various postures scattering o'er the green!
Some shoot the marble, others join the chase seen,
Of self-made stag, or run the emulous race;
While others, seated on the dappled grass,
With doleful tales the light-wing'd minutes pass.
Well I remember how, with gesture starch'd,
A band of soldiers oft with pride we march'd;
For banners to a tall ash we did bind
Our handkerchiefs, flapping to the whistling wind;
And for our warlike arms we sought the mead,
And guns and spears we made of brittle reed;
Then, in uncouth array, our feats to crown,
We storm'd some ruin'd pigsty for a town.

Pleased with our gay disports, the dame was wont
To set her wheel before the cottage front,
And o'er her spectacles would often peer,
To view our gambols, and our boyish gear.
Still as she look'd, her wheel kept turning round,
With its beloved monotony of sound.
When tired with play, we'd set us by her side
(For out of school she never knew to chide),
And wonder at her skill—well known to fame—
For who could match in spinning with the dame?
Her sheets, her linen, which she show'd with pride
To strangers, still her thriftness testified;
Though we poor wights did wonder much, in troth,
How't was her spinning manufactured cloth.

Oft would we leave, though well beloved, our play
To chat at home the vacant hour away.
Many's the time I' we scamper'd in the glade,
To ask the promised ditty from the maid,
Which well she loved, as well she knew to sing,
While we around her form'd a little ring:
She told of innocence foredoom'd to bleed,
Of wicked guardians bent on bloody deed,
Or little children murder'd as they slept;
While at each pause we wrung our hands and wept.
Sad was such tale, and wonder much did we
Such hearts of stone there in the world could be.
Poor simple wights, ah! little did we ween
The ills that wait on man in life's sad scene!
Ah, little thought that we ourselves should know
This world's a world of weeping and of woe!

Beloved moment! then 'twas first I caught
The first foundation of romantic thought!
Then first I shed bold Fancy's thrilling tear,
Then first that poesy charm'd mine infant ear.
Soon stored with much of legendary lore,
The sports of childhood charm'd my soul no more.
Far from the scene of gaiety and noise,
Far, far from turbulent and empty joys,
I hied me to the thick overarching shade,
And there, on mossy carpet, listless laid,
While at my feet the rippling runnel ran,
The days of wild romance antique I'd scan;
Soar on the wings of fancy through the air,
To realms of light, and pierce the radiance there.


There are who think that Childhood does not share
With age the cup, the bitter cup, of care:
Alas! they know not this unhappy truth,
That every age, and rank, is born to ruth.

From the first dawn of reason in the mind,
Man is foredoomed the thorns of grief to find;
At every step has farther cause to know
The draught of pleasure still is dash'd with woe.

Yet in the youthful breast, for ever caught
With some new object for romantic thought,
The impression of the moment quickly flies,
And with the morrow every sorrow dies.

How different manhood!—then does Thought's control
Sink every pang still deeper in the soul;
Then keen Affliction's sad unceasing smart
Becomes a painful resident in the heart;
And care, whom not the gayest can outbrave,
Pursues its feeble victim to the grave.
Then, as each long known friend is summon'd hence,
We feel a void no joy can recompense,
And as we weep o'er every new-made tomb,
Wish that ourselves the next may meet our doom.

Yes, Childhood, thee no rankling woes pursue,
No forms of future ill salute thy view,
No pangs repentant bid thee wake to weep,
But halcyon peace protects thy downy sleep,
And sanguine Hope, through every storm of life,
Shoots her bright beams, and calms the internal strife.
Yet e'en round childhood's heart, a thoughtless shrine,
Affection's little thread will ever twine;
And though but frail may seem each tender tie,
The soul foregoes them but with many a sigh.
Thus, when the long expected moment came,
When forced to leave the gentle-hearted dame,
Reluctant throbbings rose within my breast,
And a still tear my silent grief express'd.

When to the public school compelled to go,
What novel scenes did on my senses flow?
There in each breast each active power dilates,
Which 'broils whole nations, and convulses states;
Their reigns, by turns alternate, love and hate,
Ambition burns, and factious rebels prate;
And in a smaller range, a smaller sphere,
The dark deformities of man appear.
Yet there the gentler virtues kindred claim,
There Friendship lights her pure untainted flame,
There mild Benevolence delights to dwell,
And sweet Contentment rests without her cell;
And there, 'mid many a stormy soul, we find
The good of heart, the intelligent of mind.

'T was there, O George! with thee I learn'd to join
In Friendship's bands—in amity divine.
Oh, mournful though!—Where is thy spirit now?
As here I sit on favorite Logar's brow,
And trace below each well remember'd glade,
Where arm in arm, erewhile with thee I stray'd.
Where art thou laid—on what untrodden shore,
Where nought is heard save ocean's sullen roar?
Dost thou in lowly, unlamented state,
At last repose from all the storms of fate?
Methinks I see thee struggling with the wave,
Without one aiding hand stretch'd out to save;
See thee convulsed, thy looks to heaven bend,
And send thy parting sigh unto thy friend:
Or where immeasurable wilds dismay,
Forlorn and sad thou bend'st thy weary way,
While sorrow and disease, with anguish rife,
Consume apace the ebbing springs of life.
Again I see his door against thee shut,
The unfeeling native turn thee from his hut;
I see thee, spent with toil and worn with grief,
Sit on the grass, and wish the long'd relief;
Then lie thee down, the stormy struggle o'er,
Think on thy native land—and rise no more!

Oh! that thou couldst, from thine august abode,
Survey thy friend in life's dismaying road,
That thou couldst see him, at this moment here,
Embalm thy memory with a pious tear,
And hover o'er him as he gazes round,
Where all the scenes of infant joys surround.

Yes! yes! his spirit's near!—The whispering breeze
Conveys his voice sad sighing on the trees;
And lo! his form transparent I perceive,
Borne on the gray mist of the sullen eve:
He hovers near, clad in the night's dim robe,
While deathly silence reigns upon the globe.

Yet ah! whence comes this visionary scene?
'T is Fancy's wild a?rial dream I ween:
By her inspired, when reason takes its flight,
What fond illusions beam upon the sight!
She waves her hand, and lo! what forms appear!
What magic sounds salute the wondering ear!
Once more o'er distant regions do we tread,
And the cold grave yields up its cherish'd dead;
While, present sorrows banish'd far away,
Unclouded azure gilds the placid day,
Or, in the future's cloud-encircled face,
Fair scenes of bliss to come we fondly trace,
And draw minutely every little wile,
Which shall the feathery hours of time beguile.

So when forlorn, and lonesome at her gate,
The Royal Mary solitary sate,
And view'd the moonbeam trembling on the wave,
And heard the hollow surge her prison lave,
Towards France's distant coast she bent her sight,
For there her soul had wing'd its longing flight;
There did she form full many a scheme of joy,
Visions of bliss unclouded with alloy,
Which bright thro' Hope's deceitful optics beam'd,
And all became the surety which it seem'd;
She wept, yet felt, while all within was calm,
In every tear a melancholy charm.

To yonder hill, whose sides, deform'd and steep,
Just yield a scanty sustenance to the sheep,
With thee, my friend, I oftentimes have sped,
To see the sun rise from his healthy bed;
To watch the aspect of the summer morn,
Smiling upon the golden fields of corn,
And taste, delighted, of superior joys,
Beheld through sympathy's enchanted eyes:
With silent admiration oft we view'd
The myriad hues o'er heaven's blue concave strew'd;
The fleecy clouds, of every tint and shade,
Round which the silvery sunbeam glancing play'd,
And the round orb itself, in azure throne,
Just peeping o'er the blue hill's ridgy zone;
We mark'd delighted, how with aspect gay,
Reviving Nature hail'd returning day;
Mark'd how the flowerets rear'd their drooping heads,
And the wild lambkins bounded o'er the meads,
While from each tree, in tones of sweet delight,
The birds sung pasans to the source of light:
Oft have we watch'd the speckled lark arise,
Leave his grass bed, and soar to kindred skies,
And rise, and rise, till the pain'd sight no more
Could trace him in his high a?rial tour;
Though on the ear, at intervals, his song
Came wafted slow the wavy breeze along;
And we have thought how happy were our lot,
Bless'd with some sweet, some solitary cot,
Where, from the peep of day, till russet eve
Began in every dell her forms to weave,
We might pursue our sports from day to day,
And in each other's arms wear life away.

At sultry noon too, when our toils were done,
We to the gloomy glen were wont to run;
There on the turf we lay, while at our feet
The cooling rivulet rippled softly sweet;
And mused on holy theme, and ancient lore,
Of deeds, and days, and heroes now no more;
Heard, as his solemn harp Isaiah swept,
Sung woe unto the wicked land—and wept;
Or, fancy-led, saw Jeremiah mourn
In solemn sorrow o'er Judea's urn.
Then to another shore perhaps would rove,
With Plato talk in his Ilyssian grove;
Or, wandering where the Thespian palace rose,
Weep once again o'er fair Jocasta's woes.

Sweet then to us was that romantic band,
The ancient legends of our native land—
Chivalric Britomart, and Una fair,
And courteous Constance, doom'd to dark despair,
By turns our thoughts engaged; and oft we talk'd
Of times when monarch superstition stalk'd,
And when the blood-fraught galliots of Rome
Brought the grand Druid fabric to its doom:
While, where the wood-hung Meinai's waters flow,
The hoary harpers pour'd the strain of woe.

While thus employed, to us how sad the bell
Which summon'd us to school! 'T was Fancy's knell,
And, sadly sounding on the sullen ear,
It spoke of study pale, and chilling fear.
Yet even then, (for oh! what chains can bind,
What powers control, the energies of mind!)
E'en then we soar'd to many a height sublime,
And many a day-dream charm'd the lazy time.

At evening too, how pleasing was our walk,
Endear'd by Friendship's unrestrained talk,
When to the upland heights we bent our way.
To view the last beam of departing day;
How calm was all around! no playful breeze
Sigh'd 'mid the wavy foliage of the trees,
But all was still, save when, with drowsy song,
The gray-fly wound his sullen horn along;
And save when, heard in soft, yet merry glee,
The distant church bells' mellow harmony;
The silver mirror of the lucid brook,
That 'mid the tufted broom its still course took;
The rugged arch, that clasp'd its silent tides,
With moss and rank weeds hanging down its sides;
The craggy rock, that jutted on the sight;
The shrieking bat, that took its heavy flight;
All, all was pregnant with divine delight.
We loved to watch the swallow swimming high,
In the bright azure of the vaulted sky;
Or gaze upon the clouds, whose colour'd pride
Was scatter'd thinly o'er the welkin wide,
And tinged with such variety of shade,
To the charm'd soul sublimest thoughts convey'd.
In these what forms romantic did we trace,
While Fancy led us o'er the realms of space!
Now we espied the Thunderer in his car,
Leading the embattled seraphim to war,
Then stately towers descried, sublimely high,
In Gothic grandeur frowning on the sky—
Or saw, wide stretching o'er the azure height,
A ridge of glaciers in mural white,
Hugely terrific.—But those times are o'er,
And the fond scene can charm mine eyes no more;
For thou art gone, and I am left below,
Alone to struggle through this world of woe.

The scene is o'er—still seasons onward roll,
And each revolve conducts me toward the goal;
Yet all is blank, without one soft relief,
One endless continuity of grief;
And the tired soul, now led to thoughts sublime,
Looks but for rest beyond the bounds of time.

Toil on, toil on, ye busy crowds, that pant
For hoards of wealth which ye will never want:
And lost to all but gain, with ease resign
The calms of peace and happiness divine!
Far other cares be mine—Men little crave
In this short journey to the silent grave;
And the poor peasant, bless'd with peace and health,
I envy more than Croesus with his wealth.
Yet grieve not I, that Fate did not decree
Paternal acres to await on me;
She gave me more, she placed within my breast
A heart with little pleased—with little bless'd:
I look around me, where, on every side,
Extensive manors spread in wealthy pride;
And could my sight be borne to either zone,
I should not find one foot of land my own.

But whither do I wander? shall the muse,
For golden baits, her simple theme refuse?
Oh, no! but while the weary spirit greets
The fading scenes of childhood's far gone sweets,
It catches all the infant's wandering tongue,
And prattles on in desultory song.
That song must close—the gloomy mists of night
Obscure the pale stars' visionary light,
And ebon darkness, clad in vapoury wet,
Steals on the welkin in prim?val jet.

The song must close.—Once more my adverse lot
Leads me reluctant from this cherish'd spot:
Again compels to plunge in busy life,
And brave the hateful turbulence of strife.

Scenes of my youth—ere my unwilling feet
Are turn'd for ever from this loved retreat.
Ere on these fields, with plenty cover'd o'er,
My eyes are closed to ope on them no more,
Let me ejaculate, to feeling due,
One long, one last affectionate adieu.
Grant that, if ever Providence should please
To give me an old age of peace and ease,
Grant that, in these sequester'd shades, my days
May wear away in gradual decays:
And oh! ye spirits, who unbodied play,
Unseen upon the pinions of the day,
Kind genii of my native fields benign,
Who were….