Page images
PDF
EPUB

Many a long look of wonder; and at last,
Risen from his seat, beside the snow-white ridge
Of carded wool which the old man had piled,
He laid his implements with gentle care,
Each in the other lock'd ; and, down the path
Which from his cottage to the churchyard led,
He took his way, impatient to accost
The stranger, whom he saw still lingering there.

'Twas one well known to him in former days,
A shepherd-lad ; — who ere his sixteenth year,
Had left that calling, tempted to intrust
His expectations to the fickle winds
And perilous waters, - with the mariners
A fellow-mariner, - and so had fared
Through twenty seasons; but he had been rear'd
Among the mountains, and he in his heart
Was half a shepherd on the stormy seas.
Oft in the piping shrouds had Leonard heard
The tones of waterfalls, and inland sounds
Of caves and trees :- and when the regular wind
Between the tropics fill'd the steady sail,
And blew with the same breath through days and weeks,
Lengthening invisibly its weary line
Along the cloudless main, he in those hours
Of tiresome indolence, would often hang
Over the vessel's side, and gaze and gaze ;
And, while the broad green wave and sparkling foam
Flash'd round him images and hues that wrought
In union with the employment of his heart,
He, thus by feverish passion overcome,
Even with the organs of his bodily eye,
Below him in the bosom of the deep,
Saw mountains, — saw the forms of sheep that grazed
On verdant hills — with dwellings among trees,
And shepherds clad in the same country grey
Which he himself had worn.*

* This description of the Calenture is sketched from an imperfect recollection of an admirable one in prose, by Mr. Gilbert, author of "The Hurricane.'

And now at last
From perils manifold, with some small wealth,
Acquired by traffic in the Indian isles,
To his parental home he is return’d,
With a determined purpose to resume
The life which he lived there ; both for the sake
Of many darling pleasures, and the love
Which to an only brother he has borne
In all his hardships, since that time
When, whether it blew foul or fair, they two
Were brother shepherds on their native hills.

- They were the last of all their race : and now,
When Leonard had approach'd his home, his heart
Fail'd in him; and, not venturing to inquire
Tidings of one whom he so dearly loved,
Towards the churchyard he had turn'd aside,
That as he knew in what particular spot
His family were laid, he thence might learn
If still his brother lived, or to the file
Another grave was added. He had found
Another grave, – near which a full half-hour
He had remain'd: but, as he gazed, there grew
Such a confusion in his memory,
That he began to doubt ; and he had hopes
That he had seen this heap of turf before,
That it was not another grave; but one
He had forgotten. He had lost his path,
As up the vale, that afternoon, he walk'd
Through fields which once had been well known to him:
And oh! what joy, the recollection now
Sent to his heart ! he lifted up his eyes,
And looking round, imagined that he saw
Strange alteration wrought on every side
Among the woods and fields, and that the rocks,
And the eternal hills themselves were changed.

By this the Priest, who down the field had come Unseen by Leonard, at the churchyard gate, Stopp'd short, - and thence, at leisure, limb by limb, Perused him with a gay complacency.

Ay, thought the Vicar, smiling to himself,
'Tis one of those who needs must leave the path
Of the world's business to go wild alone :
His arms have a perpetual holiday ;
The happy man will creep about the fields,
Following his fancies by the hour, to bring
Tears down his cheeks, or solitary smiles
Into his face, until the setting sun
Write fool upon his forehead. Planted thus
Beneath a shed that over-arch'd the gate
Of this rude churchyard, till the stars appear'd,
The good man might have communed within himself,
But that the Stranger, who had left the grave,
Approach'd; he recognised the Priest at once,
And, after greetings interchanged, and given
By Leonard to the Vicar, as to one
Unknown to him, this dialogue ensued.

LEONARD. You live sir, in these dales, a quiet life : Your years make up one peaceful family; And who would grieve and fret, if welcome come And welcome gone, they are so like each other, They cannot be remember'd ? Scarce a funeral Comes to this churchyard once in eighteen months; And yet some changes must take place among you : And you who dwell here, even among these rocks Can trace the finger of mortality, And see, that with our threescore years and ten, We are not all that perish. I remember, For many years ago I pass'd this road, There was a footway all along the fields By the brook-side — tis gone — and that dark cleft! To me it does not seem to wear the face Which then it had.

PRIEST.

Nay, sir, for ought I know, That chasm is much the same —

LEONARD.

But, surely, yonder –

PRIEST.

Ay, there, indeed, your memory is a friend
That does not play you false. — On that tall pike
(It is the loneliest place of all these hills)
There were two springs which bubbled side by side,
As if they had been made that they might be
Companions for each other : ten years back,
Close to those brother fountains, the huge crag
Was rent with lightning,- one is dead and gone,
The other, left behind, is flowing still.*
For accidents and changes such as these,
We want not store of them !- a waterspout
Will bring down half a monntain ; what a feast
For folks that wander up and down like you
To see an acre's breadth of that wide cliff
One roaring cataract :- a sharp May storm,
Will come with loads of January snow,
And in one night send twenty score of sheep
To feed the ravens ; or a shepherd dies
By some untoward death among the rocks :
The ice breaks up and sweeps away a bridge —
A wood is fell’d: - and then for our own homes !
A child is born or christen'd, a field plough’d,
A daughter sent to service, a web spun,
The old house clock is deck'd with a new face ;
And hence, so far from wanting facts or dates
To chronicle the time, we all have here
A pair of diaries, – one serving, sir,
For the whole dale, and one for each fireside –
Yours was a stranger's judgment : for historians,
Commend me to those valleys !

* This actually took place upon Kidstow Pike at the head of Hawes Water.

Was happy that she lived to greet
Her mute companion as it lay
In love and pity at her feet;
How happy in her turn to meet
That recognition ! the mild glance
Beam'd from that gracious countenance ;
Communication, like the ray
Of a new morning, to the nature
And prospects of the inferior creature !

A mortal song we frame, by dower Encouraged of celestial power ; Power which the viewless spirit shed By whom we were first visited ; Whose voice we heard, whose hand and wings Swept like a breeze the conscious strings, When, left in solitude, erewhile We stood before this ruin'd pile, And quitting unsubstantial dreams, Sang in this presence kindred themes ; Distress and desolation spread Through human hearts, and pleasure dead,Dead — but to live again on earth, A second and yet nobler birth; Dire overthrow, and yet how high The re-ascent in sanctity! From fair to fairer ; day by day A more divine and loftier way! Even such this blessed pilgrim trod, By sorrow lifted tow'rds her God; Uplifted to the purest sky Of undisturb'd mortality. Her own thoughts loved she, and could bend A dear look to her lowly friend ; There stopp'd; her thirst was satisfied With what this innocent spring supplied Her sanction inwardly she bore, And stood apart from human cares : But to the world return'd no more, Although with no unwilling mind

« PreviousContinue »