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 !
Let me cross43
My garden-threshold ankle-deep in moss.44
Sweet stream, your heart is beating and I hear it,45
As conscious of its pleasure as a girl’s :46
O little river whom I love so well,47
Is it with something of a human spirit48
You twine those lilies in your sedgy curls ?49
Take up the inner voice we both inherit,50
O little river of my love, and tell !51
The rain has crawled from yonder mountain-side,52
And passing, left its footprints far and wide.53
The path I follow winds by cliff and scar,54
Purple and dark and trodden as I pass,55
Save where the primrose lifts its yellow star56
Set like a gem in scanty braids of grass57
The primrose in its crevice damp and dun,58
Second to light its censer at the sun !59
Dwarf birches show their sodden roots and shake60
Their melting jewels on my bending brows,61
The mottled mavis pipes among their boughs62
For joy of five unborn in yonder brake.63
The river, narrow’d to a woody glen,64
Leaps trembling o’er a little rocky ledge,65
Then broadens forward into calm again66
Where the grey moor-hen builds her nest of sedge ;67
Caught in the dark those willow-trees have made,68
Kissing the yellow lilies o’er and o’er,69
It flutters twenty feet along the shade,70
Halts at the boulder like a thing afraid,71
And turns to kiss the lilies yet once more.72
Following my fancies by the river’s brim,73
Fitting to things around me meanings dim,74
Such fitful meanings as were never spoken,75
Because they flutter in the brain and die,76
I hear the brooding silence startle, broken77
By distant echoes of the shepherd’s cry,78
The bleating of the herds on mountains high,79
And seasonable sights which leave a token80
Of something, which we only feel akin81
Between the life without and life within.82
The tender azure heaven bends above,83
Pencilled with fleecy cloud as white as snow,84
Sweetly and calmly does its silence prove85
That thought of kindred truer than I know.86
There’s heaven enough beneath me as I move,87
And heaven enough within my heart, to show88
Those skies and this small earth unite to give89
That second union by which I live !90
Those little falls are lurid with the rain91
That ere the day is done will come again.92
The river falters swoll’n and brown,93
Falters, falters, as it nears them,94
Shuddering back as if it fears them,95
Falters, falters, falters, falters,96
Then dizzily rushes down.97
But all is calm again, the little river98
Smiles on and sings the song it sings for ever.99
Here at the curve it passes tilth and farm,100
And faintly flowing onward to the mill101
It stretches out a little azure arm102
To aid the miller, aiding with a will,103
And singing, singing still.104
Sweet household sounds come sudden on mine ear :105
The waggous rumbling in the hoof-plod lanes,106
The village clock and trumpet Chanticleer,107
The flocks and lowing steers on neighbouring plains,108
With shouts of urchins ringing loud and clear ;109
And lo ! a village, breathing breath that curls110
In foamy wreaths through ancient sycamores,111
Sending a hum of looms through cottage doors.112
I stumble on a group of market girls113
Barefooted in the deep and dewy grass ;114
Small urchins rush from sanded kitchen-floors115
To stare with mouths and glances as I pass.116
But yonder cottage where the woodbine crows,117
Half cottage and half inn, a pretty place,118
Tempts ramblers with the country cheer it shows ;119
Entering, I rob the threshold of a rose,120
And meet the welcome on a mother’s face.121
Come, let me sit. The scent of garden flowers122
Flits through the casement of the sanded room,123
Hitting the sense with thoughts of summer hours124
When half the world has burgeon’d into bloom.125
Is that the faded picture of our host126
Shading the plate of pansies where I sit127
That lean-limb’d stripling straighter than a post,128
Clad in a coat that seems a sorry fit,129
Staring at nothing like an ill-used ghost ?130
I drink his health in this his own October,131
That bites so sharply on the thirsty tongue ;132
And here he comes, but not so slim and sober133
As in the days when Love and he were young.134
Hostess!” I fill again and pledge the glory135
Of that stout angel answering to my call,136
Who changed him from the shadow on the wall137
Into the rosy tun of sack before me !138
Again I follow where the river wanders.139
The landscape billows into hills of thyme,140
Up to whose purple summits larkspurs climb ;141
Till in a glen of birchen-trees and boulders142
I halt, beneath a heathery mountain ridge143
Clothed on with amber cloud from head to shoulders.144
I wander on and gain a little bridge,145
And watch the angling of a shepherd boy ;146
Below the little river glimmers by,147
Touched with a troubled sense of pain or joy148
By some new life at work in earth and sky.149
The pastures there steam mist from hidden springs,150
Deep-hidden in the marsh the bittern calls,151
And yonder swallow oils its ebon wings152
While fluttering o’er the little waterfalls ,153
Below my feet the little budding flower154
Thrusts up dark leaves to feel the coming shower :155
I’ll trust these weather-signs and creep apart156
Beneath this crag until the rain depart,157
’Twill come again and go within an hour.158
The moisty wind has died and fallen now,159
The air is hot and hushed on flower and tree,160
The leaves are troubled into sighs, and see !161
There falls a’‘heavy drop upon my brow.162
The cloudy standard is above unfurled ;163
The aspen fingers of the blinded Rain164
Feel for the summer eyelids of the world165
That she may kiss them open once again.166
Darker and darker, till with one accord167
The clouds pour forth their hoard of twice an hour,168
A sunbeam rends their bowels like a sword169
And frees the costly shower !170
Fluttering around me and before me,171
Stretched like a mantle o’er me,172
The rushing shadows blind the earth and skies,173
Dazzling a darkness on my gazing eyes174
With troublous gleams of radiance, like the bright175
Figments of gold that flutter in our sight,176
When with shut eyes we strain177
Our aching vision back upon the brain.178
Across the skies and o’er the plain179
Fast fly the swollen shadows of the Rain ;180
Blown duskly on from hill to hill they fly,181
O’er solitary streams and windy downs,182
O’er little villages and darkened towns183
Blinding the sky184
With pinions black as night ;185
Slow-squadroned by a wind of rushing light,186
That rends them down to music as they roll,187
Sobbing, sobbing with a voice that seems188
Like something lovely lost among my dreams,—189
Sobbing like a human Soul !190
I crouch beneath the crag and watch the mist191
More on the skirts of yonder mountains grey,192
Until it bubbles into amethyst193
And softly melts away.194
The thyme-bells catch their drops of silver dew,195
And quake like fairies ’neath the sparkling load,196
The squadron’d pines that shade the splashing road,197
Are glimmering with a thousand jewels too.198
And hark! the Angel of the Rain199
Sings to the Summer sleeping,200
Pressing a dark damp face against the plain,201
And pausing, pausing, not for pain,202
Pausing, pausing ere the low refrain,203
Because she cannot sing for weeping.204
She flings her cold dim arms about the earth205
That soon shall wear the blessing she has given,206
Then brightens upward in a sunny mirth207
And warbles back to heaven.208
A fallen sunbeam trembles at my feet,209
And as I sally forth the linnets frame210
Their throats to answer yonder laverock sweet.211
The jewelled trees flash out in emerald flame ;212
The bright drops fall fulfilling peaceful sound,213
And melt in circles on the shallow pools214
That simmer on the red and sodden ground.215
The Rainbow issues from her cloudy shrine,216
Trembling alone in heaven where she rules,217
And arching down to kiss with kisses sweet218
The little world that brightens at her feet,219
Runs liquid through her many hues divine.220