John and Joan, Canto II.


Loud laugh’d the Soldier ; when the Reeve, who now1
In sullen silent guise had sitten long,2
With doubtful eye, bent head and moody brow,3
The whiles the glee and laughter waxed strong,4
As if it gaul’d him sorely, seeing how5
Thus ladies gent were treated with such wrong,6
With accents rather low, and somewhat hoarse,7
Began, in gentle phrases, his discourse.8


Ah ! Sirs, quoth he, were I to tell a tale9
For every lying legend ye have told,10
Invented, at a gentle sex to rail,11
By those whose heads are hot and hearts are cold,12
Believe, my store of praise would never fail,13
Tho’ I should parable till I were old ;14
But this that I am going to relate15
Shall serve for many, sith it is so great.16


Of woman’s love, which is so hard to woo,17
When woo’d, how strong, full many proofs there be,18
And how immutable and fearless too19
My love, thro’ all the world I’ll follow thee,”20
So Juliet says—— ; the bird that cries “ cuckoo,”21
His small mate followeth thus from tree to tree,22
From bough to bough—nay e’en from spray to spray,—23
Still restless, thro’ the merry hours of May.24


And while our Love hath nurture, to endure25
And burn, like radiant beacon, seen afar,26
Thro’ untried seas a streaming Cynosure,27
At once our Matin and our Vesper star,28
No marvel it abideth strong and sure,29
Amid the turmoils of this worldly war,30
A constant pilot, and a guiding light,31
Thro’ storms by day, and rocks and shoals by night.32


But when, to feed the fire, it once is seen33
That fit material doth not much abound,34
Or that no fuel, save or damp or green,35
Or else cross-grain’d or knotty, can be found,36
And the flame waxeth rather thin and mean,37
And yieldeth an uneasy, crackling sound,38
Flickers, looks blue,—looks red—or waves about, 39
Now very smoky, and now nearly out ;40


Then, mid the storms of ill-contrasted temper,41
Where neither hath a tittle of submission,42
This semper idem, that eadem semper,43
For ever crossing, always in attrition,44
(‘Twould puzzle metaphysic Kant, or Kempfer,45
To bring about a moment’s coalition,)46
Then, that such souls as these should still love on,47
That is a miracle for Love alone !48


It springeth like that low and unseen Rose49
That on the mountain summit dares to grow,50
Where Autumn hardly thaws the ling’ring snows,51
And storms unheard, and unknown whirlwinds blow ;52
There, where the weary, journeying clouds repose,53
And the moon climbs, with long ascent and slow,54
And fays and lesser spirits play at even,55
Like harmless lightning in a summer’s heaven.56


’Tis like the Petrel that the sailor eyes57
With dread,—o’er treach’rous seas condemn’d to roam,—58
That still is met beneath the stormiest skies,59
And on the desert waters hath its home ;60
Above the curling billow still it flies,61
And sleeps well cradled in the fleecy foam,62
Lull’d by the discord of the whistling squall,63
And rock’d to rest on hills that rise and fall.64


And this is none of your glib paradoxes,65
That only serve the wags for mystifying,66
As conj’rors do with double-bottom’d boxes67
Behold a couple for each other dying,68
(Unless the author of the hist’ry mocks us)69
Who all their lives in quarrel had been frying.70
Their matrimonial pudding was of Batter,71
With scarce a plumb to sweeten it ;— no matter.—72


Oh ! miracle ! (—a greater can there be —?) 73
To see how Love can shed his holiest balm,74
Within a circle none dares walk but he —;75
Where all are sick, fresh and without a qualm;76
So underneath the depths of the wild sea,77
Ev’n in the loudest storms,—there is a calm,78
But truce to hopes—my story must be sped,79
John met with Joan, lov’d, woo’d, and they were wed.80


One small objection, either they o’erpassed,81
Or else despised, when it was brought in view ;82
He was an alkali, and she an acid,83
And this, when ’twas too late, they found too true,84
The longer still the more, they effervesced,85
As more confirmed, by time, their tempers grew,—86
A sort of fizzing, sputtering communion,87
Sir Humphrey Davy calls “ a chemic union.”88


Like that small, wooden pair that stand, so sly,89
To tell us what the weather is about,90
Where Gammer comes and curtsies, when ’tis dry,91
And Gaffer, when it rains, doth make his lout,92
So sometimes they might have a clearish sky,93
But ’twas when he was in, and she was out ;—94
As for the couple that arrange the weather,95
God knows, they never are at home together.96


So, long, this loving, most unhappy pair97
Liv’d, like a brace of angry adders fang’d,98
So piteous of each others’ woes they were,99
One could have borne to see the other hang’d,100
(Altho’ that sight were worse than death to bear)101
Each for the others’ sake !— —as they harangued,102
One day, upon the sorrows of their yoke,103
John, in a happy hour, resolv’d and spoke.104


Sweet Joan, thou know’st that I would die for thee,105
And well I know that thou for me would’st die.”106
And here he twinkled, pitiful to see ;—107
Joan gave a sort of “ heigh!”—’twas scarce a sigh,108
But wast thou gone, what maid would look on me,109
With grief an’ labour worn, and crabb’d and dry,110
But thou, dear Joan, when faithful John hath died,111
May’st have a chance again to be a bride.”112


And, so my loving Joan, my dear—dear, Cony,113
Since there is nothing but a choice of ill,114
Since I cannot afford thee alimony,115
And would be loath by quarrelling to kill,116
(Thou know’st my love, my heart was never stoney)117
Oh! come and see me die—for die I will118
Die for the love of thee, my darling, die,—119
Yes ;— quickly in the horsepond will I lie.”120


Let not the bitter drops, my gentle Joan,121
Bedim the lustre of thy cheek and eye,122
For since the springtime of our life is flown,123
And winter comes, and summer passeth bye,124
Beneath the waters, peaceful and alone, 125
E’en like the torpid swallow, will I lie,126
The cutting show’r unfelt—the storm unheard,127
And men shall say that John—hath disappear’d.”128


They ask—where goeth he that disappears ?129
But who can tell where he migrated ?130
Hold but thy tongue, my Joan, and dry thy tears,—131
For trust me, Sweet, most vainly they are shed ;132
How can they reach a heart that’s proof to fears,133
In Love’s strong fortress, shut and sheltered ?134
What boots that haildrops down the chimney come,135
Hiss on the hearth, or patter round the room ?—136


In short, John’s flights of eloquence refined,137
Joan’s answ’ring eloguence—by nature taught her,138
I could not copy, were I in the mind ;139
Nor can I tell you if her helpmate caught her,140
Less contradictiously, than wont, iodine141
Suffices it to say, they reach’d the water,142
Together—tho’ not arm in arm, I think,—143
But there they were, and stood upon the brink.144


John hover’d on the brink, in silent mood,145
And look’d and sigh d, and sigh’d and look’d again,146
And gaz’d with wistful visage on, the flood,147
While, doubtfully, as pitying his pain,148
Joan, with her apron at her eyelid, stood ;149
At last, he seem’d to come into the vein,150
And turn’d, as if to take a final kiss,151
Before he plunged into the brown abyss.152


But still a kind of look—not that of fear,153
Nor hope—play’d round his mouth, and cheek, and chin ;154
His eye chang’d not ; and, softly in her ear,155
He whisper’d Joan— “ Ah, me ! self-murder’s sin156
Could’st thou not take a little frisk, my dear,157
As if in play, and gently push me in ;158
Nay, take a longer run—further, my life159
There now—now stoutly push me, dearest wife.”160


O Couple ! e’en in death affectionate,161
Not Arria and her Pœtus are before ye !162
Joan, fearful of the welfare of her mate,163
Resolving that his soul should be in glory,164
And rest, at least, when in another state,165
In love and strong affection (saith the story),166
Drew back from him, some portion, not a little,167
Obeying her dear husband to a tittle ;168


Then ran, with Amazonian resolution :169
But whether John had only half consented,170
Or fear was really in his constitution,171
Or in the very nick he had repented ;172
Or whether Fate herself was in confusion,173
Or Fortune took a whim, or Chance relented174
How ’twas, I cannot tell you, for my life,175
But John a sort of—dodg’d ;— in splash’d his wife.176


With open mouth, and saucer staring eyes,177
John for a second stood like any stone,178
Then lifted up his hands, in wild surprise179
For love of me didst thou go in, dear Joan,180
Or did’st thou slip thy foot ?— what signifies ?181
There are no slips ; and since ’tis done, ’tis done ;182
Folks only can remark, since thou art gone,183
’Tis Joan hath disappear’d, instead of John.”184


If there be any scandal, John shall bear it185
Bear it he must, so even let it fall.” 186
Then (after some half hour), that all might hear it,187
I’ve lost my Joan—help !” John began to bawl ; 188
And in a trice, his cause of grief to share it,189
Came trooping young and old, and great and small ;190
They dragg’d the piece of water, it is said,191
And so Joan was not lost, but she was—dead.192


She died—nor did her John long time survive,193
Tho’ folks have wonder’d what should John destroy ;194
Some said that with his grief he could not strive,195
Whilst others whisper’d that he died of joy ;196
Some say the juice which, when she was alive,197
They took to soothe their woes, was his annoy ;198
But both are gone—nor is a stone supplied,199
To teach how this good couple liv’d and died.200


Stanza 6.— “ Kempfer,” one of the German Illustrissimi, now forgotten—a great phi-
Stanza 8.— “ The Petrel,” properly the “ Stormy Petrel,” vide the work of that ex-
cellent graver, and not to be surpassed, mine old and worthy friend, Mr Thomas Bewick,
on Water Birds.
Stanza 12.— “ Small wooden pair.” There is a sort of old fashioned barometer, com-
mon in my younger days, consisting of a house with a male and female figure, who come
out, in alternation, as it is wet or dry.
Stanza 16.— “ E’en like the torpid swallow.” Naturalists have conceited, that the
swallow lieth in a dormant state, at the bottom of deep waters, during winter.
Stanza 23.— “ There are no slips ;” an expression of children at play, who cry “ no slips,”
when a false shoot at marbles, or toss at pitch-penny, occurreth.
Stanza 25.— “ Some say the juice.” This might of a surety something aid the other
causes, inasmuch as he would have a duplicate portion after Joan’s decease ; a matter
which I have not hesitated to set forth, by marking the emphatical words with italic cha-