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For all her blue eyes and her quiet ways,
Thrives ill in England: she is paler yet
Than when we came the last time : she will die.”
“ Will die.” My cousin, Romney Leigh, blushed too,
With sudden anger, and, approaching me,
Said low between his teeth, “ You're wicked now !
You wish to die, and leave the world a-dusk
For others, with your naughty light blown out ? ”
I looked into his face defyingly.
He might have known, that, being what I was,
'Twas natural to like to get away
As far as dead folk can ; and then, indeed,
Some people make no trouble when they die.
He turned, and went abruptly, slammed the door,
And shut his dog out.
Romney, Romney Leigh :
I have not named my cousin hitherto;
And yet I used him as a sort of friend, —
My elder by few years, but cold and shy
And absent; tender when he thought of it,
Which scarcely was imperative; grave betimes,
As well as early master of Leigh Hall
Whereof the nightmare sate upon his youth
Repressing all its seasonable delights,
And agonizing with a ghastly sense
Of universal hideous want and wrong
To incriminate possession. When he came
From college to the country, very oft
He crossed the hill on visits to my aunt,
With gifts of blue grapes from the hothouses;
A book in one hand, mere statistics (if
I chanced to lift the cover), count of all
The goats whose beards grow sprouting down towards hell,
Against God's separative judgment-hour.
And she - she almost loved him; even allowed
That sometimes he should seem to sigh my way:
It made him easier to be pitiful ;
And sighing was his gift. So, undisturbed,
At whiles she let him shut my music up,
And push my needles down, and lead me out
To see in that south angle of the house
The figs grow black as if by a Tuscan rock,
On some light pretext. She would turn her head
At other moments, go to fetch a thing,
And leave me breath enough to speak with him,
For his sake: it was simple.
Sometimes, too, He would have saved me utterly, it seemed, He stood and looked so.
Once he stood so near,
He dropped a sudden hand upon my
Bent down on woman's work, as soft as rain;
But then I rose and shook it off as fire,
The stranger's touch that took my father's place,
Yet dared seem soft.
I used him for a friend
Before I ever knew him for a friend.
'Twas better, 'twas worse also, afterward :
We came so close, we saw our differences
Too intimately. Always Romney Leigh
Was looking for the worms, I for the gods.
A godlike nature his : the gods look down
Incurious of themselves; and certainly
'Tis well I should remember how, those days,
I was a worm too, and he looked on me.
A little by his act perhaps, yet more
By something in me, surely not my will,
I did not die. But slowly, as one in swoon,
To whom life creeps back in the form of death,
With a sense of separation, a blind pain
Of blank obstruction, and a roar i’ the ears
Of visionary chariots which retreat
As earth grows clearer, — slowly, by degrees,
I woke, rose up. Where was I? În the world :
For uses, therefore, I must count worth while.
I had a little chamber in the house,
As green as any privet-hedge a bird
Might choose to build in, though the nest itself
Could show but dead brown sticks and straws. The walls
Were green, the carpet was pure green, the straight
Small bed was curtained greenly, and the folds
Hung green about the window, which let in
The out-door world with all its greenery.
You could not push your head out, and escape
A dash of dawn-dew from the honeysuckle,
But so you were baptized into the grace
And privilege of seeing. ...
First the lime
(I had enough there of the lime, be sure :
My morning dream was often hummed away
By the bees in it); past the lime, the lawn,
Which, after sweeping broadly round the house,
Went trickling through the shrubberies in a stream
Of tender turt, and wore and lost itself
Among the acacias, over which you saw
The irregular line of elms by the deep lane
Which stopped the grounds and dammed the overflow
Of arbutus and laurel. Out of sight
The lane was; sunk so deep, no foreign tramp,
Nor drover of wild ponies out of Wales,
Could guess if lady's hall or tenant's lodge
Dispensed such odors, though his stick, well crooked
Might reach the lowest trail of blossoming brier
Which dipped upon the wall. Behind the elms,
And through their tops, you saw the folded hills
Striped up and down with hedges (burly oaks
Projecting from the line to show themselves),
Through which my cousin Romney's chimneys smoked
As still as when a silent mouth in frost
Breathes, showing where the woodlands hid Leigh Hall;
While, far above, a jet of table-land,
A promontory without water, stretched.
You could not catch it if the days were thick,
Or took it for a cloud; but, otherwise,
The vigorous sun would catch it up at eve,
And use it for an anvil until he had filled
The shelves of heaven with burning thunderbolts,
Protesting against night and darkness; then,
When all his setting trouble was resolved
To a trance of passive glory, you might see
In apparition on the golden sky
(Alas! my Giotto's background) the sheep run
Along the fine clear outline, small as mice
That run along a witch's scarlet thread.
Not a grand nature. Not my chestnut-woods
Of Vallombrosa, cleaving by the spurs
To the precipices. Not my headlong leaps
Of waters, that cry out for joy or fear
In leaping through the palpitating pines,
Like a white soul tossed out to eternity
With thrills of tiine upon it. Not, indeed,
My multitudinous mountains, setting in
The magic circle, with the mutual touch
Electric, panting from their full deep hearts
Beneath the influent heavens, and waiting for
Communion and commission. Italy
Is one thing; England one.
On English ground,
You understand the letter, - ere the Fall,
How Adam lived in a garden. All the fields
Are tied up fast with hedges, nosegay-like;
The hills are crumpled plains; the plains, parterres;
The trees, round, woolly, ready to be clipped :
And, if you seek for any wilderness,
You find at best a park. A nature tamed
And grown domestic like a barn-door fowl,
Which does not awe you with its claws and beak,
Nor tempt you to an eyrie too high up,
But which in cackling sets you thinking of
Your eggs to-morrow at breakfast in the pause
Of finer meditation.
A sweet familiar nature, stealing in
As a dog might, or child, to touch your hand,
Or pluck your gown, and humbly mind you so
Of presence and affection, excellent
For inner uses, from the things without.
I could not be unthankful,
I who was
Entreated thus and holpen. In the room
I speak of, ere the house was well awake,
And also after it was well asleep,
I sat alone, and drew the blessing in
Of all that nature. With a gradual step,
A stir among the leaves, a breath, a ray,
It came in softly, while the angels made
A place for it beside me. The moon came,
And swept my chamber clean of foolish thoughts.
The sun came, saying, “ Shall I lift this light
Against the lime-tree, and you will not look ?
I nake the birds siny : listen! But, for you,
God never hears your voice, excepting when
You lie upon the bed at nights, and weep."
Then something moved me. Then I wakened up
More slowly than I verily write now;
But wholly, at last, I wakened, opened wide
The window and my soul, and let the airs
And outdoor sights sweep gradual gospels in,
Regenerating what I was. O Life!
How oft we throw it off, and think, “ Enough,
Enough of Life in so much! Here's a cause
For rupture ; herein we must break with Life,
Or be ourselves unworthy; here we are wronged,
Maimed, spoiled for aspiration : farewell Life!”
And so, as froward babes, we hide our eyes,
And think all ended. Then Life calls to us
In some transformed, apocalyptic voice
Above us, or below us, or around :
Perhaps we name it Nature's voice, or Love's,
Tricking ourselves because we are more ashamed
To own our compensations than our griefs:
Still Life's voice; still we make our peace with Life.
And I, so young then, was not sullen. Soon
I used to get up early, just to sit
And watch the morning quicken in the gray,
And hear the silence open like a flower,
Leaf after leaf, and stroke with listless hand
The woodbine through the window, till at last
I came to do it with a sort of love,
At foolish unaware : whereat I smiled, —
A melancholy smile, to catch myself
Smiling for joy.
Capacity for joy Admits temptation. It seemed, next, worth while To dodge the sharp sword set against my life; To slip down stairs through all the sleepy house, As mute as any dream there, and escape, As a soul from the body, out of doors, Glide through the shrubberies, drop into the lane, And wander on the hills an hour or two, Then back again before the house should stir. Or else I sat on in my chamber green, And lived my life, and thought my thoughts, and prayed My prayers without the vicar; read my books, Without considering whether they were fit To do me good. Mark, there! We get no good By being ungenerous, even to a book, And calculating profits; : . . so much help By so much reading. It is rather when We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge Soul-forward, headlong, into a book's profound, Impassioned for its beauty, and salt of truth, 'Tis then we get the right good from a book.
I read much. What my father taught before
From many a volume, Love re-emphasized
Upon the selfsame pages: Theophrast
Grew tender with the memory of his eyes;
And Ælian made mine wet. The trick of Greek
And Latin he had taught me as he would
Have taught me wrestling, or the game of fives
If such he had known, — most like a shipwrecked man
Who heaps his single platter with goats' cheese
And scarlet berries; or like any man
Who loves but one, and so gives all at once,
Because he has it, rather than because
He counts it worthy. Thus my father gave;
And thus, as did the women formerly
By young Achilles when they pinned the vail
Across the boy's audacious front, and swept
With tuneful laughs the silver-fretted rocks,
He wrapt his little daughter in his large
Man's doublet, careless did it fit or no.
But, after I had read for memory,
I read for hope. The path my father's foot
Had trod me out, which suddenly broke off
(What time he dropped the wallet of the flesh,
And passed), alone I carried on, and set
My child-heart 'gainst the thorny underwood,
To reach the grassy shelter of the trees.
Ah, babe i’ the wood, without a brother-babe!
My own self-pity, like the red-breast bird,
Flies back to cover all that past with leaves.