I HEARD a boy that climbed up Dover's Hill
Singing Sweet England, sweeter for his song.
The notes crept muffled through the copse, but still
Sharply recalled the things forgotten long,
The music that my own boy's lips had known,
Singing, and old airs on a wild flute blown.
And other hills, more grim and lonely far,
And valleys empty of these orchard trees;
A sheep-pond filled with the moon, a single star
I had watched by night searching the wreckful seas;
And all the streets and streets that childhood knew
In years when London streets were all my view.
And I remembered how that song I heard,
Sweet England, sung by children on May-day,
Nor any song was sweeter of a bird
Than that half-grievous air from children gay—
For then, as now, youth made the sadness bright,
Till the words, Sweet, Sweet England, shone with light.
Now, listening, I forgot how men yet fought
For this same England, till the song was done
And no sound lingered but the lark's, that brought
New music down from fields of cloud and sun,
Or the sad lapwing's over fields of green
Crying beneath the copse, near but unseen.
Then I remembered. All wide England spread
Before me, hill and wood and meadow and stream
And ancient roads and homes of men long dead,
And all the beauty a familiar dream.
On the green hills a cloud of silver grey
Gave gentle light stranger than light of day.
And clear between the hills, past the near crest
And many hills, the hungry cities crept,
Noble and mean, oppressive and oppressed,
Where dreams unrealized of England slept:
And they too England, packed in dusty street
With men that half forgot England was sweet.
—Millions of men that almost had forgot
And now remembered since for her they strove;
But that vexed happiness remembered not,
And pain, in the simplicity of love;
Bright careless courage hiding all that stirred
Within, when that loud solemn call they heard.
Now they were far, but like a living brain
Quick with their thought, the earth, hills, air and light
Were quivering as though a shining rain
Falling all round made ev'n the light more bright;
And trees and water and heath and hedge-flowers fair
With more than natural sweetness washed the air.
From hill to hill a sparkling web it swung,
A snare for happiness, lit with lovely dews.
The very smoke of cities now was hung
But like a grave girl's dress of tranquil hues:
And how (I thought) can England, seen thus bright,
Lifting her clear frank head, but love the light?—
No, not her brain! that bright web was the shadow
Of the high spirit in their spirit shining
Who on scarred foreign hill and trenchèd meadow
Kept the faith yet, unfearful, unrepining;—
Her faith that with the dark world's liberty
Mingles as earth's great rivers with the sea.
O with what gilding ray was the land agleam!
It was not sun and dew, bush, bough and leaf,
But human spirits visible as in a dream
That turns from glad to aching, being too brief:
Courage and beauty shining in such brightness
That the dark thoughtful woods were no more lightless.
But most the hills a splendour had put on
Of golden honour, bright and high and calm
And like old heroes young men dream upon
When midnight stirs with magic sword and palm;—
With the fled mist all meanness put away
And the air clear and keen as salt sea-spray . . .
And yet no dream, no dream! I saw the whole,
The reap'd fields, idle kine and wandering sheep.
A weak wind through the near tall hedge-tree stole,
And died where Dover's Hill rose bare and steep;
I saw yet what I saw an hour ago,
But knew what save by dreams I did not know—
Sweet England!—wild proud heart of things unspoken,
Spirit that men bear shyly and love purely;
That dies to live anew a life unbroken
As spring from every winter rising surely;
Sweet England unto generations sped,
Now bitter-sweetest for her daily dead.