Henry Alford Poems >>
The School Of The Heart. Lesson The Second.

My sweet companion, who hast ever been
 Beside me in all toils, refreshing oft
 My weary spirit with low whisperings
 Of hope that spoke not falsely; in whose sight
 My young life floweth pleasantly along;
 Sit thou beside me once again, and take
 Thy magic pencils--they will serve thee well
 To help thy patience; for my heart is full,
 And I perchance may wander waywardly;
 Besides, this bank is known to us of old;
 For yonder is the ivy--girded trunk,
 Bright mouldering timber, clothed with darkest green;
 And yonder those two ashes on the steep
 And grassy slope; and underneath, the moor
 Stretches its pastured level far away
 To the gray mountains and the Severn sea:
 And from that very brake, the nightingale,
 In the sweet silence of the summer--eve,
 Poured forth a wavy stream of melody,--
 Signal to one who waited with thick breath
 And throbbing bosom, all afraid to speak
 One low--breathed word;--that evening thou wert mine.

 Sit thou beside me--we will talk no more
 Of dim and cloudy childhood, ere the spring
 Burst on us, when with searchings wearisome
 We sought some centre for our errant hopes;
 But underneath this sky of clearest June,
 We will discourse, as we are wont, of things
 Most gentle, of most gentle causes sprung,
 That make no wave upon the stream of life,
 That are not written in the memory's book,
 That come not with observance; but from which,
 As from a myriad stones, costly though small,
 Is built upon the mansion of the blessed soul.

 Look out upon the earth, or meditate
 Upon the varying glories of the sky,
 As we have looked on them from windy hills,
 Or from the moonlit window; fullest joy
 Flows on thy heart, and silent thankfulness
 Drowns all thy struggling thoughts; doth not this bliss
 Wax ever deeper with the years of life?
 And when past pleasures come upon the soul
 Like long--forgotten landscapes of our youth,
 Are not these spots clad with peculiar light,
 The brightest blossoms in the paradise
 Of recollections of a soul forgiven?
 There is no joy that is not built on peace;
 Peace is our birthright, and our legacy,
 Signed with a hand that never promised false.
 And we have fed on peace; and the green earth,
 With all that therein is, the mighty sea,
 The breath of the spring--winds, and all the host
 Of clustered stars, give fittest nourishment
To the peace--loving soul. ``Not as the world
 Giveth, give I to you;'' for what have souls
 Whose vision labours with the film of sin,
 Who struggle in the twilight of eclipse,
 To do with beauty and the joy of thought?
 Our very joys have been redeemed with blood;
 Our very liberty is bought anew:
 The unforgiven pleasures of the world
 Are but a dance in chains; freedom of thought
 Owes fealty to sin; and Fancy's self,
 That airiest and most unfettered thing,
 Is but the prisoned maniac's dream of bliss.

 Oft have I listened to a voice that spake
 Of cold and dull realities of life.
 Deem we not thus of life: for we may fetch
 Light from a hidden glory, which shall clothe
 The meanest thing that is with hues of heaven.
 If thence we draw not glory, all our light
 Is but a taper in a chambered cave,
 That giveth presence to new gulfs of dark.
 Our light should be the broad and open day;
 And as we love its shining, we shall look
 Still on the bright and daylight face of things.

 Is it for nothing that the mighty sun
 Rises each morning from the Eastern plain
 Over the meadows, fresh with hoary dew?
 Is it for nothing that the shadowy trees
 On yonder hill--top in the summer night
 Stand darkly out before the golden moon?
 Is it for nothing that the autumn boughs
 Hang thick with mellow fruit, what time the swain
 Presses the luscious juice, and joyful shouts
 Rise in the purple twilight, gladdening him
 Who laboured late, and homeward wends his way
 Over the ridgy grounds, and through the mead,
 Where the mist broods along the fringed stream?
 Far in the Western sea dim islands float,
 And lines of mountain--coast receive the sun
 As he sinks downward to his resting--place,
 Ministered to by bright and crimson clouds:
 Is it for nothing that some artist--hand
 Hath wrought together things so beautiful?
 Noon follows morn--the quiet breezeless noon,
 And pleasant even, season of sweet sounds
 And peaceful sights; and then the wondrous bird
 That warbles like an angel, full of love,
  From copse and hedgerow side pouring abroad
  Her tide of song into the listening night.
  Beautiful is the last gleam of the sun
  Slanted through twining branches; beautiful
  The birth of the faint stars--first, clear and pale,
  The steady--lustred Hesper, like a gem
  On the flushed bosom of the West; and then
  Some princely fountain of unborrowed light,
  Arcturus, or the Dogstar, or the seven
  That circle without setting round the pole.
  Is it for nothing that the midnight hour
  That solemn silence sways the hemisphere,
  And ye must listen long before ye hear
  The cry of beasts, or fall of distant stream,
  Or breeze among the tree--tops--while the stars,
  Like guardian spirits, watch the slumbering earth?

  Can human energies be scattered all
  In a long life--a slumber deep and chill
  Settle upon the soul--a palsy bind
  The spiritual limbs--and all the strings
  Of that sweet instrument, the mind of man,
  Remain untuned, untouched?--What if in dreams
  The struggling fancy from her prison break
  And wander undirected, gathering up
  Unnatural combinations of strange things,
  Of sights, it may be, beautiful and wild,--
  Long gleaming reaches of some slow--paced stream,
  And boats of gold and pearl, with coral masts,
  Floating unguided in a faint green light
  Of twisted boughs, and heavy--plumaged birds
  Of many colours, roosting all the night
  On rambling branches of a giant wood?--
  And what if voices in the middle night
  Full on thine ear in chimy murmurs rush,
  That warble of deep skies and silver sheen,--
  And bright eyes twinkle, far away but clear,
  Receding as they twinkle, and with charm
  Unknown the ravished spirit drawing on?
  These are not wholesome nurture for the soul,
  Nor sounds and sights like these the daily bread
  It asks from Heaven: these are the errant paths
  Of those great flaming brushes in the sky,
  Now dangerously near the maddening fire,
  Now chill and darkling in the gulfs of space,
  Unlike the steady moderated course
Of habitable worlds. There lie around
  Thy daily walk great store of beauteous things,
  Each in its separate place most fair, and all
  Of many parts disposed most skilfully,
  Making in combination wonderful
  An individual of a higher kind;
  And that again in order ranging well
  With its own fellows, till thou rise at length
  Up to the majesty of this grand world;--
  Hard task; and seldom reached by mortal souls,
  For frequent intermission, and neglect
  Of close communion with the humblest things;
  But in rare moments, whether Memory
  Hold compact with Invention, or the door
  Of Heaven hath been a little pushed aside,
  Methinks I can remember, after hours
  Of unpremeditated thought in woods
  On western steeps, that hung a pervious screen
  Before blue mountains in the distant sea,
  A sense of a clear brightness in my soul,
  A day--spring of mild radiance, like the light
  First--born of the great Fiat, that ministered
  Unto the earth before the sun was made.

  Evening and morning--those two ancient names
  So linked with childish wonder, when with arm
  Fast wound about the neck of one we loved,
  Oft questioning, we heard Creation's tale--
  Evening and morning ever brought to me
  Strange joy; the birth and funeral of light,--
  Whether in clear unclouded majesty
  The large Sun poured his effluence abroad,
  Or the gray clouds rolled silently along,
  Dropping their doubtful tokens as they passed;
  Whether above the hills intensely glowed
  Bright lines of parting glory in the west,
  Or from the veil of faintly--reddened mist
  The darkness slow descended on the earth;
  The passage to a state of things all new,
  New fears and new enjoyments,--this was all
  Food for my seeking spirit: I would stand
  Upon the jutting hills that overlook
  Our level moor, and watch the daylight fade
  Along the prospect: now behind the leaves
  The golden twinkles of the westering sun
  Deepened to richest crimson: now from out
  The solemn beech--grove, through the natural aisles
  Of pillared trunks, the glory in the west
  Showed like Jehovah's presence--fire, beheld
  In olden times above the Mercy--seat
  Between the folded wings of Cherubim;--
  I loved to wander, with the evening star
  Heading my way, till from the palest speck
  Of virgin silver, evermore lit up
  With radiance as by spirits ministered,
  She seemed a living pool of golden light;
  I loved to learn the strange array of shapes
  That pass along the circle of the year;
  Some, for the love of ancient lore, I kept,
  And they would call into my fancy's eye
  Chaldaean beacons, over the drear sand
  Seen faintly from thick--towered Babylon
  Against the sunset, shepherds in the field,
  Watching their flocks by night,--or shapes of men
  And high--necked camels, passing leisurely
  Along the starred horizon, where the spice
  Swims in the air, in Araby the Blest;
  And some, as Fancy led, I figured forth,
  Misliking their old names; one circlet bright
  Gladdens me often, near the Northern Wain,
  Which, with a childish playfulness of choice
  That hath not passed away, I loved to call
  The crown of glory, by the righteous Judge
  Against the day of His appearing, laid
  In store for him who fought the fight of faith.

  I ever loved the Ocean, as't had been
  My childhood's playfellow: in sooth it was;
  For I had built me forts upon its sands,
  And launched my little navies in the creeks,
  Careless of certain loss; so it would play
  Even as it listed with them, I were pleased.
  I loved to follow with the backward tide
  Over rough rocks and quaintly delving pools,
  Till that the land--cliffs lessened, and I trod
  With cautious step on slippery crags and moist,
  With sea--weed clothed, like the green hair of Nymphs,
  The Nereids' votive hair, that on the rocks
  They hang when storms are past, to the kind power,
That saved their sparry grottoes. And at night
  I wandered often, when the winds were up,
  Over the pathless hills, till I could hear,
  Borne fitly upon the hurrying blast,
  The curfew--bell, with lingering strokes and deep,
  From underlying town; then all was still
  But the low murmuring of the distant sea;
  And then again the new--awakened wind
  Howled in the dells, and through the bended heath
  Swept whistling by my firmly--planted feet.

  Eternal rocks --that lift your heads on high,
  Gray with the tracks of ages that have passed
  Over your serried brows, with many a scar
  Of thunder--stroke deep--riven: from out whose clefts
  The gnarl