The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman/Poems of New England
POEMS OF NEW ENGLAND
The conference-meeting through at last,
We boys around the vestry waited
To see the girls come tripping past
Like snow-birds willing to be mated.
Not braver he that leaps the wall
By level-musket flashes litten,
Than I, that stepped before them all
Who longed to see me get the mitten.
But no, she blushed and took my arm!
We let the old folks have the highway,
And started toward the Maple Farm
Along a kind of lovers' by-way.
I can't remember what we said,
'T was nothing worth a song or story;
Yet that rude path by which we sped
Seemed all transformed and in a glory.
The snow was crisp beneath our feet,
The moon was full, the fields were gleaming;
By hood and tippet sheltered sweet,
Her face with youth and health was beaming.
The little hand outside her muff,—
O sculptor, if you could but mould it!—
So lightly touched my jacket-cuff,
To keep it warm I had to hold it.
To have her with me there alone,—
'T was love and fear and triumph blended.
At last we reached the foot-worn stone
Where that delicious journey ended.
The old folks, too, were almost home;
Her dimpled hand the latches fingered,
We heard the voices nearer come,
Yet on the doorstep still we lingered.
She shook her ringlets from her hood
And with a "Thank you, Ned," dissembled,
But yet I knew she understood
With what a daring wish I trembled.
A cloud passed kindly overhead,
The moon was slyly peeping through it,
Yet hid its face, as if it said,
"Come, now or never! do it! do it!"
My lips till then had only known
The kiss of mother and of sister,
But somehow, full upon her own
Sweet, rosy, darling mouth,—I kissed her!
Perhaps 't was boyish love, yet still,
O listless woman, weary lover!
To feel once more that fresh, wild thrill
I'd give—but who can live youth over.
THE OLD LOVE AND THE NEW
Once more on the fallow hillside, as of old, I lie at rest
For an hour, while the sunshine trembles through the walnut-tree to the west,—
Shakes on the rocks and fragrant ferns, and the berry-bushes around;
And I watch, as of old, the cattle graze in the lower pasture-ground.
Of the Saxon months of blossom, when the merle and mavis sing,
And a dust of gold falls everywhere from the soft midsummer's wing,
I only know from my poets, or from pictures that hither come,
Sweet with the smile of the hawthorn-hedge and the scent of the harvest-home.
But July in our own New England—I bask myself in its prime,
As one in the light of a face he loves, and has not seen for a time!
Again the perfect blue of the sky; the fresh green woods; the call
Of the crested jay; the tangled vines that cover the frost-thrown wall:
Sounds and shadows remembered well! the ground-bee's droning hum;
The distant musical tree-tops; the locust beating his drum;
And the ripened July warmth, that seems akin to a fire which stole,
Long summers since, through the thews of youth, to soften and harden my soul.
Here it was that I loved her—as only a stripling can,
Who dotes on a girl that others know no mate for the future man;
It was well, perhaps, that at last my pride and honor outgrew her art,
That there came an hour, when from broken chains I fled—with a broken heart.
'T was well: but the fire would still flash up in sharp, heat-lightning gleams,
And ever at night the false, fair face shone into passionate dreams;
The false, fair form, through many a year, was somewhere close at my side,
And crept, as by right, to my very arms and the place of my patient bride.
Bride and vision have passed away, and I am again alone;
Changed by years; not wiser, I think, but only different grown:
Not so much nearer wisdom is a man than a boy, forsooth,
Though, in scorn of what has come and gone, he hates the ways of his youth.
In seven years, I have heard it said, a soul shall change its frame;
Atom for atom, the man shall be the same, yet not the same;
The last of the ancient ichor shall pass away from his veins,
And a new-born light shall fill the eyes whose earlier lustre wanes.
In seven years, it is written, a man shall shift his mood;
Good shall seem what was evil, and evil the thing that was good:
Ye that welcome the coming and speed the parting guest,
Tell me, O winds of summer! am I not half-confest?
For along the tide of this mellow month new fancies guide my helm,
Another form has entered my heart as rightful queen of the realm;
From under their long black lashes new eyes—half-blue, half-gray—
Pierce through my soul, to drive the ghost of the old love quite away.
Shadow of years! at last it sinks in the sepulchre of the past,—
A gentle image and fair to see; but was my passion so vast?
"For you," I said, "be you false or true, are ever life of my life!"
Was it myself or another who spoke, and asked her to be his wife?
For here, on the dear old hillside, I lie at rest again,
And think with a quiet self-content of all the passion and pain,
Of the strong resolve and the after-strife; but the vistas round me seem
So little changed that I hardly know if the past is not a dream.
Can I have sailed, for seven years, far out in the open world;
Have tacked and drifted here and there, by eddying currents whirled;
Have gained and lost, and found again; and now, for a respite, come
Once more to the happy scenes of old, and the haven I voyaged from?
Blended, infinite murmurs of True Love's earliest song,
Where are you slumbering out of the heart that gave you echoes so long?
But chords that have ceased to vibrate the swell of an ancient strain
May thrill with a soulful music when rightly touched again.
Rock and forest and meadow,—landscape perfect and true!
O, if ourselves were tender and all unchangeful as you,
I should not now be dreaming of seven years that have been,
Nor bidding old love good-by forever, and letting the new love in!
A NEW SONG TO AN OLD TUNE
In January, when down the dairy
The cream and clabber freeze,
When snow-drifts cover the fences over,
We farmers take our ease.
At night we rig the team,
And bring the cutter out;
Then fill it, fill it, fill it, fill it,
And heap the furs about.
Here friends and cousins dash up by dozens,
And sleighs at least a score;
There John and Molly, behind, are jolly,—
Nell rides with me, before.
All down the village street
We range us in a row:
Now jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle,
And over the crispy snow!
The windows glisten, the old folks listen
To hear the sleigh-bells pass;
The fields grow whiter, the stars are brighter,
The road is smooth as glass.
Our muffled faces burn,
The clear north-wind grows cold,
The girls all nestle, nestle, nestle,
Each in her lover's hold.
Through bridge and gateway we're shooting straightway,
Their tollman was too slow!
He'll listen after our song and laughter
As over the hill we go.
The girls cry, "Fie! for shame!"
Their cheeks and lips are red,
And so, with kisses, kisses, kisses,
They take the toll instead.
Still follow, follow! across the hollow
The tavern fronts the road.
Whoa, now! all steady! the host is ready,—
He knows the country mode!
The irons are in the fire,
The hissing flip is got;
So pour and sip it, sip it, sip it,
And sip it while 't is hot.
Push back the tables, and from the stables
Bring Tom, the fiddler, in;
All take your places, and make your graces,
And let the dance begin.
The girls are beating time
To hear the music sound;
Now foot it, foot it, foot it, foot it,
And swing your partners round.
Last couple toward the left! all forward!
Cotillons through, let's wheel:
First tune the fiddle, then down the middle
In old Virginia Reel.
Play Money Musk to close,
Then take the "long chassé,"
While in to supper, supper, supper,
The landlord leads the way.
The bells are ringing, the ostlers bringing
The cutters up anew;
The beasts are neighing; too long we're staying,
The night is half-way through.
Wrap close the buffalo-robes,
We're all aboard once more;
Now jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle,
Away from the tavern-door.
So follow, follow, by hill and hollow,
And swiftly homeward glide.
What midnight splendor! how warm and tender
The maiden by your side!
The sleighs drop far apart,
Her words are soft and low;
Now, if you love her, love her, love her,
'T is safe to tell her so.
THE HEART OF NEW ENGLAND
O long are years of waiting, when lovers' hearts are bound
By words that hold in life and death, and last the half-world round;
Long, long for him who wanders far and strives with all his main,
But crueller yet for her who bides at home and hides her pain!
And lone are the homes of New England.
'T was in the mellow summer I heard her sweet reply;
The barefoot lads and lassies a-berrying went by;
The locust dinned amid the trees; the fields were high with corn;
The white-sailed clouds against the sky like ships were onward borne:
And blue are the skies of New England.
Her lips were like the raspberries; her cheek was soft and fair,
And little breezes stopped to lift the tangle of her hair;
A light was in her hazel eyes, and she was nothing loth
To hear the words her lover spoke, and pledged me there her troth;
And true is the word of New England.
When September brought the golden-rod, and maples burned like fire,
And bluer than in August rose the village smoke and higher,
And large and red among the stacks the ripened pumpkins shone,—
One hour, in which to say farewell, was left to us alone;
And sweet are the lanes of New England.
We loved each other truly! hard, hard it was to part;
But my ring was on her finger, and her hair lay next my heart.
"'T is but a year, my darling," I said ; "in one short year,
When our Western home is ready, I shall seek my Katie here";
And brave is the hope of New England.
I went to gain a home for her, and in the Golden State
With head and hand I planned and toiled, and early worked and late;
But luck was all against me, and sickness on me lay,
And ere I got my strength again 't was many a weary day;
And long are the thoughts of New England.
And many a day, and many a month, and thrice the tolling year,
I bravely strove, and still the goal seemed never yet more near.
My Katie's letters told me that she kept her promise true,
But now, for very hopelessness, my own to her were few;
And stern is the pride of New England.
But still she trusted in me, though sick with hope deferred;
No more among the village choir her voice was sweetest heard;
For when the wild northeaster of the fourth long winter blew,
So thin her frame with pining, the cold wind pierced her through;
And chill are the blasts of New England.
At last my fortunes bettered, on the far Pacific shore,
And I thought to see old Windham and my patient love once more;
When a kinsman's letter reached me: "Come at once, or come too late!
Your Katie's strength is failing; if you love her, do not wait:
Come back to the elms of New England."
O, it wrung my heart with sorrow! I left all else behind,
And straight for dear New England I speeded like the wind.
The day and night were blended till I reached my boyhood's home,
And the old cliffs seemed to mock me that I had not sooner come;
And gray are the rocks of New England.
I could not think 't was Katie, who sat before me there
Reading her Bible—'t was my gift—and pillowed in her chair.
A ring, with all my letters, lay on a little stand,—
She could no longer wear it, so frail her poor, white hand!
But strong is the love of New England.
Her hair had lost its tangle and was parted off her brow;
She used to be a joyous girl,—but seemed an angel now,—
Heaven's darling, mine no longer; yet in her hazel eyes
The same dear love-light glistened, as she soothed my bitter cries:
And pure is the faith of New England.
A month I watched her dying, pale, pale as any rose
That drops its petals one by one and sweetens as it goes.
My life was darkened when at last her large eyes closed in death,
And I heard my own name whispered as she drew her parting breath;
Still, still was the heart of New England.
It was a woful funeral the coming sabbath-day;
We bore her to the barren hill on which the graveyard lay,
And when the narrow grave was filled, and what we might was done,
Of all the stricken group around I was the loneliest one;
And drear are the hills of New England.
I gazed upon the stunted pines, the bleak November sky,
And knew that buried deep with her my heart henceforth would lie;
And waking in the solemn nights my thoughts still thither go
To Katie, lying in her grave beneath the winter snow;
And cold are the snows of New England.
THE LORD'S-DAY GALE
Bay St. Lawrence, August, 1873
In Gloucester port lie fishing craft,—
More stanch and trim were never seen:
They are sharp before and sheer abaft,
And true their lines the masts between.
Along the wharves of Gloucester Town
Their fares are lightly handed down,
And the laden flakes to landward lean.
Well know the men each cruising-ground,
And where the cod and mackerel be;
Old Eastern Point the schooners round
And leave Cape Ann on the larboard lee:
Sound are the planks, the hearts are bold,
That brave December's surges cold
On Georges' shoals in the outer sea.
And some must sail to the banks far north
And set their trawls for the hungry cod,—
In the ghostly fog grope back and forth
By shrouded paths no foot hath trod;
Upon the crews the ice-winds blow,
The bitter sleet, the frozen snow,—
Their lives are in the hand of God!
New England! New England!
Needs sail they must, so brave and poor,
Or June be warm or Winter storm,
Lest a wolf gnaw through the cottage-door!
Three weeks at home, three long months gone,
While the patient goodwives sleep alone,
And wake to hear the breakers roar.
The Grand Bank gathers in its dead,—
The deep sea-sand is their winding-sheet;
Who does not Georges' billows dread
That dash together the drifting fleet?
Who does not long to hear, in May,
The pleasant wash of Saint Lawrence Bay,
The fairest ground where fishermen meet?
There the west wave holds the red sunlight
Till the bells at home are rung for nine:
Short, short the watch, and calm the night;
The fiery northern streamers shine;
The eastern sky anon is gold,
And winds from piny forests old
Scatter the white mists off the brine.
The Province craft with ours at morn
Are mingled when the vapors shift;
All day, by breeze and current borne,
Across the bay the sailors drift;
With toll and seine its wealth they win,—
The dappled, silvery spoil come in
Fast as their hands can haul and lift.
New England! New England!
Thou lovest well thine ocean main!
It spreadeth its locks among thy rocks,
And long against thy heart hath lain;
Thy ships upon its bosom ride
And feel the heaving of its tide;
To thee its secret speech is plain.
Cape Breton and Edward Isle between,
In strait and gulf the schooners lay;
The sea was all at peace, I ween,
The night before that August day;
Was never a Gloucester skipper there,
But thought erelong, with a right good fare,
To sail for home from Saint Lawrence Bay.
New England! New England!
Thy giant's love was turned to hate!
The winds control his fickle soul,
And in his wrath he hath no mate.
Thy shores his angry scourges tear,
And for thy children in his care
The sudden tempests lie in wait.
The East Wind gathered all unknown,—
A thick sea-cloud his course before;
He left by night the frozen zone
And smote the cliffs of Labrador;
He lashed the coasts on either hand,
And betwixt the Cape and Newfoundland
Into the Bay his armies pour.
He caught our helpless cruisers there
As a gray wolf harries the huddling fold;
A sleet—a darkness—filled the air,
A shuddering wave before it rolled:
That Lord's-day morn it was a breeze,—
At noon, a blast that shook the seas,—
At night,—a wind of Death took hold!
It leapt across the Breton bar,
A death-wind from the stormy East!
It scarred the land, and whirled afar
The sheltering thatch of man and beast;
It mingled rick and roof and tree,
And like a besom swept the sea,
And churned the waters into yeast.
From Saint Paul's light to Edward Isle
A thousand craft it smote amain;
And some against it strove the while,
And more to make a port were fain:
The mackerel-gulls flew screaming past,
And the stick that bent to the noonday blast
Was split by the sundown hurricane.
Woe, woe to those whom the islands pen!
In vain they shun the double capes:
Cruel are the reefs of Magdalen;
The Wolf's white fang what prey escapes?
The Grin'stone grinds the bones of some,
And Coffin Isle is craped with foam;—
On Deadman's shore are fearful shapes!
O, what can live on the open sea,
Or moored in port the gale outride?
The very craft that at anchor be
Are dragged along by the swollen tide!
The great storm-wave came rolling west,
And tossed the vessels on its crest:
The ancient bounds its might defied!
The ebb to check it had no power;
The surf ran up an untold height;
It rose, nor yielded, hour by hour,
A night and day, a day and night;
Far up the seething shores it cast
The wrecks of hull and spar and mast,
The strangled crews,—a woful sight!
There were twenty and more of Breton sail
Fast anchored on one mooring-ground;
Each lay within his neighbor's hail
When the thick of the tempest closed them round:
All sank at once in the gaping sea,—
Somewhere on the shoals their corses be,
The foundered hulks, and the seamen drowned.
On reef and bar our schooners drove
Before the wind, before the swell;
By the steep sand-cliffs their ribs were stove,—
Long, long, their crews the tale shall tell!
Of the Gloucester fleet are wrecks threescore;
Of the Province sail two hundred more
Were stranded in that tempest fell.
The bedtime bells in Gloucester Town
That Sabbath night rang soft and clear;
The sailors' children laid them down,—
Dear Lord! their sweet prayers couldst thou hear?
'T is said that gently blew the winds;
The goodwives, through the seaward blinds,
Looked down the bay and had no fear.
New England! New England!
Thy ports their dauntless seamen mourn;
The twin capes yearn for their return
Who never shall be thither borne;
Their orphans whisper as they meet;
The homes are dark in many a street,
And women move in weeds forlorn.
And wilt thou quail, and dost thou fear?
Ah no! though widows' cheeks are pale,
The lads shall say: "Another year,
And we shall be of age to sail!"
And the mothers' hearts shall fill with pride,
Though tears drop fast for them who died
When the fleet was wrecked in the Lord's-Day gale.
A. D. 1692
Soe, Mistress Anne, faire neighbour myne,
How rides a witche when nighte-winds blowe?
Folk saye that you are none too goode
To joyne the crewe in Salem woode,
When one you wot of gives the signe:
Righte well, methinks, the pathe you knowe.
In Meetinge-time I watched you well,
Whiles godly Master Parris prayed:
Your folded hands laye on your booke;
But Richard answered to a looke
That fain would tempt him unto hell,
Where, Mistress Anne, your place is made.
You looke into my Richard's eyes
With evill glances shamelesse growne;
I found about his wriste a hair,
And guesse what fingers tyed it there:
He shall not lightly be your prize—
Your Master firste shall take his owne.
'T is not in nature he should be
(Who loved me soe when Springe was greene)
A childe, to hange upon your gowne!
He loved me well in Salem Towne
Until this wanton witcherie
His hearte and myne crept dark betweene.
Last Sabbath nighte, the gossips saye,
Your goodman missed you from his side.
He had no strength to move, untill
Agen, as if in slumber still,
Beside him at the dawne you laye.
Tell, nowe, what meanwhile did betide.
Dame Anne, mye hate goe with you fleete
As driftes the Bay fogg overhead—
Or over yonder hill-topp, where
There is a tree ripe fruite shall bear
When, neighbour myne, your wicked feet
The stones of Gallowes Hill shall tread.
A. D. 1884
Our great-great-grandpapas had schooled
Your fancies, Lita, were you born
In days when Cotton Mather ruled
And damask petticoats were worn!
Your pretty ways, your mocking air,
Had passed, mayhap, for Satan's wiles—
As fraught with danger, then and there,
To you, as now to us your smiles.
Why not? Were inquest to begin,
The tokens are not far to seek:
Item—the dimple of your chin;
Item—that freckle on your cheek.
Grace shield his simple soul from harm
Who enters yon flirtation niche,
Or trusts in whispered counter-charm,
Alone with such a parlous witch!
Your fan a wand is, in disguise;
It conjures, and we straight are drawn
Within a witches' Paradise
Of music, germans, roses, lawn.
So through the season, where you go,
All else than Lita men forget:
One needs no second-sight to know
That sorcery is rampant yet.
Now, since the bars no more await
Fair maids that practise sable arts,
Take heed, while I pronounce the fate
Of her who thus ensnares men's hearts:
In time you shall a wizard meet
With spells more potent than your own,
And you shall know your master, Sweet,
And for these witcheries atone.
For you at his behest shall wear
A veil, and seek with him the church,
And at the altar rail forswear
The craft that left you in the lurch;
But oft thereafter, musing long,
With smile, and sigh, and conscience-twitch,
You shall too late confess the wrong—
A captive and repentant witch.
Here where the curfew
Still, they say, rings,
Time rested long ago,
Folding his wings;
Here, on old Norwich's
Had her abode.
Norridge, not Nor-wich
(See Mother Goose),
Good enough English
For a song's use.
Side and roof shingled,
All of a piece,
Here was the cottage
Of Cousin Lucrece.
On nothing a year,
How she took comfort
Does not appear;
How kept her body,
On what they gave,
Out of the poor-house,
Out of the grave.
Straight as the Nile
Down from "the Gard'ners"
Of Gardiner's Isle;
(Three bugles, chevron gules,
Hand upon sword),
Of the third lord.
Bent almost double,
Deaf as a witch,
Gout her chief trouble—
Just as if rich;
Vain of her ancestry,
Mouth all agrin,
Nose half-way meeting her
Ducking her forehead-top,
Wrinkled and bare,
With a colonial
Greeting her next of kin,
Nephew or niece,—
Foolish old, prating old
Once every year she had
All she could eat:
Turkey and cranberries,
Pudding and sweet;
Up to the great
House of her kinsman, was
Driven in state.
Oh, what a sight to see,
Rigged in her best!
Wearing the famous gown
Drawn from her chest,—
Worn, ere King George's reign
Here chanced to cease,
Once by a forbear
Of Cousin Lucrece.
Cut very low;
Short sleeves and finger-mitts
Fit for a show;
Palsied neck shaking her
Rattling its roundabout
String of mock pearls;
Over her noddle,
Draggled and stark,
Two ostrich feathers—
Brought from the ark.
Shoes of frayed satin,
All heel and toe,
On her poor crippled feet
My! how the Justice's
Sons and their wives
Laughed; while the little folk
Ran for their lives,
Asking if beldames
Out of the past,
Old fairy godmothers,
Always could last?
No! One Thanksgiving,
After they took her home
(Ever so old),
In her great chair she sank,
There to find peace;
Died in her ancient dress—
Poor old Lucrece.
Ladies, Ladies Huntington, your father served, we know,
As aide-de-camp to Washington—you often told us so;
And when you sat you side by side in that ancestral pew,
We knew his ghost sat next the door, and very proud of you.
Ladies, Ladies Huntington, like you there are no more:
Nancy, Sarah, Emily, Louise,—proud maidens four;
Nancy tall and angular, Louise a rosy dear,
And Emily as fine as lace but just a little sere.
What was it, pray, your life within the mansion grand and old,
Four dormers in its gambrel-roof, their shingles grim with mould?
How dwelt you in your spinsterhood, ye ancient virgins lone,
From infancy to bag-and-muff so resolutely grown?
Each Sunday morning out you drove to Parson Arms's church,
As straight as if Time had not left you somehow in the lurch;
And so lived where your grandfather and father lived and died,
Until you sought them one by one—and last of all stayed pride.
You knew that with them you would lie in that old burial ground
Wherethrough the name of Huntington on vault and stone is found,
Where Norwichtown's first infant male, in sixteen-sixty born,
Grave Christopher, still rests beneath his cherub carved forlorn.
There sleep your warlike ancestors, their feet toward the east,
And thus shall face the Judgment Throne when Gabriel's blast hath ceased.
The frost of years may heave the tomb whereto you were consigned,
And school-boys peer atween the cracks, but you—will never mind.