Down the River.

How merry a life the little river leads,1
Piping a vagrant ditty free from care ;2
Now singing as it rustles through the reeds3
And broad-leaved lilies sailing here and there,4
Now lying level with the clover meads5
And musing in a mist of silver air !6
Bearing a sense of peace where’er it goes,7
Narrow’d to mirth or broadened to repose :8
Through copsy villages and tiny towns,9
By belts of woodland, singing low and sweet,10
Pausing to pray where sun and shadow meet11
Without the long broad darkness of the downs,12
Bickering o’er the keystone as it flows13
’Neath mossy bridges arch’d like maiden feet14
But slowly widening as it seaward grows,15
Because its summer mission seems complete.16
I love the very spots it honours most :17
The haunts of alders where the fairy host18
Of speedwells linger swinging cups of gold,19
Trout-speckled shallows where the sun is lost20
’Mid silver-coated willows manifold,21
The homes of water-loving daffodils,22
And thymy grottos belted in the hills.23
And so the stream and I24
Are bound together by a natural tie.25
I love it with a poet’s love ; we hold26
An open-air communion now and then,27
Linked to each other by the ends which mould28
The shapes of song in rivers and in men29
It struggles seaward as my spirit strives30
With tones of music for a sea of lives.31
Come, let me cast my idle books away,32
And follow it to-day.33
This is the early season of the year,34
Half spring, half summer, unto poets dear.35
Now the hush’d world stands trembling and prepares36
To put the summer on like marriage blisses ;37
Still as a bride whose heart is making prayers,38
Who clings a moment to the life she wears,39
Looking far backward with a parting glance40
Then loosens that familiar life with kisses,41
And takes the bridegroom in a golden trance.42
Run seaward, for I follow !43
Let me cross44
My garden-threshold ankle-deep in moss.45
Sweet stream, your heart is beating and I hear it,46
As conscious of its pleasure as a girl’s :47
O little river whom I love so well,48
Is it with something of a human spirit49
You twine those lilies in your sedgy curls ?50
Take up the inner voice we both inherit,51
O little river of my love, and tell !52
The rain has crawled from yonder mountain-side,53
And passing, left its footprints far and wide.54
The path I follow winds by cliff and scar,55
Purple and dark and trodden as I pass,56
Save where the primrose lifts its yellow star57
Set like a gem in scanty braids of grass58
The primrose in its crevice damp and dun,59
Second to light its censer at the sun !60
Dwarf birches show their sodden roots and shake61
Their melting jewels on my bending brows,62
The mottled mavis pipes among their boughs63
For joy of five unborn in yonder brake.64
The river, narrow’d to a woody glen,65
Leaps trembling o’er a little rocky ledge,66
Then broadens forward into calm again67
Where the grey moor-hen builds her nest of sedge ;68
Caught in the dark those willow-trees have made,69
Kissing the yellow lilies o’er and o’er,70
It flutters twenty feet along the shade,71
Halts at the boulder like a thing afraid,72
And turns to kiss the lilies yet once more.73
Following my fancies by the river’s brim,74
Fitting to things around me meanings dim,75
Such fitful meanings as were never spoken,76
Because they flutter in the brain and die,77
I hear the brooding silence startle, broken78
By distant echoes of the shepherd’s cry,79
The bleating of the herds on mountains high,80
And seasonable sights which leave a token81
Of something, which we only feel akin82
Between the life without and life within.83
The tender azure heaven bends above,84
Pencilled with fleecy cloud as white as snow,85
Sweetly and calmly does its silence prove86
That thought of kindred truer than I know.87
There’s heaven enough beneath me as I move,88
And heaven enough within my heart, to show89
Those skies and this small earth unite to give90
That second union by which I live !91
Those little falls are lurid with the rain92
That ere the day is done will come again.93
The river falters swoll’n and brown,94
Falters, falters, as it nears them,95
Shuddering back as if it fears them,96
Falters, falters, falters, falters,97
Then dizzily rushes down.98
But all is calm again, the little river99
Smiles on and sings the song it sings for ever.100
Here at the curve it passes tilth and farm,101
And faintly flowing onward to the mill102
It stretches out a little azure arm103
To aid the miller, aiding with a will,104
And singing, singing still.105
Sweet household sounds come sudden on mine ear :106
The waggous rumbling in the hoof-plod lanes,107
The village clock and trumpet Chanticleer,108
The flocks and lowing steers on neighbouring plains,109
With shouts of urchins ringing loud and clear ;110
And lo ! a village, breathing breath that curls111
In foamy wreaths through ancient sycamores,112
Sending a hum of looms through cottage doors.113
I stumble on a group of market girls114
Barefooted in the deep and dewy grass ;115
Small urchins rush from sanded kitchen-floors116
To stare with mouths and glances as I pass.117
But yonder cottage where the woodbine crows,118
Half cottage and half inn, a pretty place,119
Tempts ramblers with the country cheer it shows ;120
Entering, I rob the threshold of a rose,121
And meet the welcome on a mother’s face.122
Come, let me sit. The scent of garden flowers123
Flits through the casement of the sanded room,124
Hitting the sense with thoughts of summer hours125
When half the world has burgeon’d into bloom.126
Is that the faded picture of our host127
Shading the plate of pansies where I sit128
That lean-limb’d stripling straighter than a post,129
Clad in a coat that seems a sorry fit,130
Staring at nothing like an ill-used ghost ?131
I drink his health in this his own October,132
That bites so sharply on the thirsty tongue ;133
And here he comes, but not so slim and sober134
As in the days when Love and he were young.135
Hostess!” I fill again and pledge the glory136
Of that stout angel answering to my call,137
Who changed him from the shadow on the wall138
Into the rosy tun of sack before me !139
Again I follow where the river wanders.140
The landscape billows into hills of thyme,141
Up to whose purple summits larkspurs climb ;142
Till in a glen of birchen-trees and boulders143
I halt, beneath a heathery mountain ridge144
Clothed on with amber cloud from head to shoulders.145
I wander on and gain a little bridge,146
And watch the angling of a shepherd boy ;147
Below the little river glimmers by,148
Touched with a troubled sense of pain or joy149
By some new life at work in earth and sky.150
The pastures there steam mist from hidden springs,151
Deep-hidden in the marsh the bittern calls,152
And yonder swallow oils its ebon wings153
While fluttering o’er the little waterfalls ,154
Below my feet the little budding flower155
Thrusts up dark leaves to feel the coming shower :156
I’ll trust these weather-signs and creep apart157
Beneath this crag until the rain depart,158
’Twill come again and go within an hour.159
The moisty wind has died and fallen now,160
The air is hot and hushed on flower and tree,161
The leaves are troubled into sighs, and see !162
There falls a’‘heavy drop upon my brow.163
The cloudy standard is above unfurled ;164
The aspen fingers of the blinded Rain165
Feel for the summer eyelids of the world166
That she may kiss them open once again.167
Darker and darker, till with one accord168
The clouds pour forth their hoard of twice an hour,169
A sunbeam rends their bowels like a sword170
And frees the costly shower !171
Fluttering around me and before me,172
Stretched like a mantle o’er me,173
The rushing shadows blind the earth and skies,174
Dazzling a darkness on my gazing eyes175
With troublous gleams of radiance, like the bright176
Figments of gold that flutter in our sight,177
When with shut eyes we strain178
Our aching vision back upon the brain.179
Across the skies and o’er the plain180
Fast fly the swollen shadows of the Rain ;181
Blown duskly on from hill to hill they fly,182
O’er solitary streams and windy downs,183
O’er little villages and darkened towns184
Blinding the sky185
With pinions black as night ;186
Slow-squadroned by a wind of rushing light,187
That rends them down to music as they roll,188
Sobbing, sobbing with a voice that seems189
Like something lovely lost among my dreams,—190
Sobbing like a human Soul !191
I crouch beneath the crag and watch the mist192
More on the skirts of yonder mountains grey,193
Until it bubbles into amethyst194
And softly melts away.195
The thyme-bells catch their drops of silver dew,196
And quake like fairies ’neath the sparkling load,197
The squadron’d pines that shade the splashing road,198
Are glimmering with a thousand jewels too.199
And hark! the Angel of the Rain200
Sings to the Summer sleeping,201
Pressing a dark damp face against the plain,202
And pausing, pausing, not for pain,203
Pausing, pausing ere the low refrain,204
Because she cannot sing for weeping.205
She flings her cold dim arms about the earth206
That soon shall wear the blessing she has given,207
Then brightens upward in a sunny mirth208
And warbles back to heaven.209
A fallen sunbeam trembles at my feet,210
And as I sally forth the linnets frame211
Their throats to answer yonder laverock sweet.212
The jewelled trees flash out in emerald flame ;213
The bright drops fall fulfilling peaceful sound,214
And melt in circles on the shallow pools215
That simmer on the red and sodden ground.216
The Rainbow issues from her cloudy shrine,217
Trembling alone in heaven where she rules,218
And arching down to kiss with kisses sweet219
The little world that brightens at her feet,220
Runs liquid through her many hues divine.221