Thomas Cogswell Upham

(1799-1872 / the United States)

Days Of Youth : Part First


When fearless seamen spread the journeying sail,
And bear away beneath the welcome gale,
To brave, o'er ocean's waste, with hardy form,
The smiting sun, the billow, and the storm,
Though firm their courage, oft their hearts they find
Filled with the thoughts of those they left behind;
And, as the ocean widens, turn their eye,
To catch once more their native hills and sky.
Where'er they go, whatever climes they roam,
They fondly think of country, friends, and home;
Repeating in each mess-mate's listening ear,
How maids and matrons shed the parting tear,
And in the visions of the night review
The cherished scenes, where many a joy they knew.

Remembrance thus in life's decline endears
The home, and scenes, and sports of earlier years;
Back o'er the tide of time we cast our eye,
And 'neath its gaze enchanted regions lie;
We see once more, with fondness unexpressed,
The light of early days, and call them blessed.
Sweet days! When life was undisturbed by care,
And busy hope made every vision fair;
When, passing swiftly by, the frolic hours
Welcomed and crowned each scene with songs and flowers!
Yes! That blest Power, which hath the art to bring
Departed joys and visions on its wings,
Shall from oblivion's mist their beam restore,
Each faded line and tint repair once more,
And giving to them form, and life, and truth,
Hold up to Age the mirror of its Youth.

'Twas thus, when storms had gathered on his way,
And hope and pleasure dimmed their feeble ray,
His swimming gaze the gentle Cowper bent
Upon his mother's pictured lineament,
As late in life into his hands it came,
With lips and smile, as when she lived, the same.
His vigils o'er the portrait long he kept,
And, as he viewed it, thought, remembered, wept;
For Fancy, quickened by his feelings' strife,
Brought that dear mother's form and love to life,
Revealed her kindness in the days gone by,
Which shielded, and which blessed his infancy;
Her 'nightly visits to his chamber made,'
That she might see him safe and warmly laid;
The fond solicitude, that 'saw him wrapped
In scarlet mantle, warm, and velvet-capped,'
And with the gardener Robin, day by day,
Sent him to school along the public way.

I too admit a mother's sacred claim,
I too would consecrate that matchless name,
And like the bard of Olney strive to pay
The grateful honors of my humble lay.
How oft the picture rises to my view,
Fresh as at first its hues, distinct, and true!
How oft, in solitude's creative hour,
When thought and feeling own a quickened power,
I sit in pensive silence and retrace
Each well known feature, each attractive grace;
Her silent grief, when those she loved went wrong,
Her smile, her kindly words, her voice of song!
All else may fail, all other joys may die,
And leave the fount of hope and feeling dry,
But life nor death shall from my bosom tear
A mother's looks, her kindness, and her care;
That care, which further back than memory goes,
Heightened my early joys, or soothed my woes.

When life was new, and scarce my infant sight
With a strange joy had opened on the light,
She watched my cradle, wiped the starting tear,
And soothed with mellowed song my infant ear.
There, as she sat, in Fancy's forming eye,
The doubtful future passed in vision by,
That sometimes cast its brightness o'er my way,
But oftener veiled in clouds the favoring ray.
And then, alarmed with all a mother's fears,
She looked to Him, a mother's voice that hears,
And prayed, with faith and feeling unrepressed,
That He, who stills the raven's hungry nest,
That He, who knows, and who alone can know
The sins and sorrows of this world of woe,
Would guide her child in life's uncertain way,
Nor let temptation lead his steps astray.

Soon as my infant footsteps dared explore,
(No trifling journey then,) the nursery floor,
She reached her hand, and standing constant by,
My progress watched with fond and curious eye;
And when at last I reached the destined goal,
Nor could but laugh aloud with joy of soul,
She shared my triumphs, and bent down to bless
My joyous brow with many a warm caress.
That care, it knew no bound; that love, no end;
Where'er I went, her guardian steps attend,
Till in my crimson frock, and bonnet fine,
Where the first gathered rose was taught to shine,
Thoughtless, my way to yonder school I take,
Loaded with kisses, (what was more,) with cake.

And tho, the Mistress of our little school,
For age revered, and wisely skilled to rule,
From whom our minds their infant knowledge drew,
As flowers from vernal skies imbibe the dew,
Though many years have passed since then, art not
By all thy little company forgot;
Still on our hearts thy virtues have a claim,
Still dwells upon our tongues thine honored name.

When we began, in learned order set
With eye and finger on the Alphabet,
The task, (a mighty task it seemed to be,)
To search the mysteries of A, B, C,
We heard the changeless law, that not a look
Should leave the pages of the Spelling Book;
That none the seat assigned him should forsake,
That none with whispers should the silence break;
Nor was it last or smallest in the code,
Which ruled the realm of learning's young abode,
That none should turn his luckless head awry,
To watch a spider, or impound a fly.

Enthroned upon her ancient elbow chair,
She swayed her sceptre, and dispensed her care;
She praised the boy, whose time was rightly spent,
But woe to him on whom her frown was bent;
Who dared her awful word to disobey,
And what was meant for science give to play.
Thrice hapless he, who tumbling sprawled the floor,
Or sought with truant step the tempting door,
Or, reckless of the pain and bitter tear,
A bodkin thrust into his neighbor's ear.
Ah me! The wrinkles curled upon thy face,
Thine eye flashed fire, and threat'nings came apace;
Wrath shook thy cap; more frightful than thy nod,
Thine arm uplifted, waved the birchen rod.

When time had flown, and consecrate to play,
Arrived at last the joyous Saturday,
Forth from the School with leap and shout we went,
With youth inspired, on youthful pleasures bent;
The favored space, which once a week could bless
With freedom from our learned Governess.
No longer subjects of her sovereign law,
Whose word controlled, whose ferule struck with awe,
In various ways, for various ends we part,
Joy on our lips, and transport in our heart;
We heard no more her tongue, nor feared her look,
Nor o'er our heads the rod of terror shook.

Lo! o'er the fields with eager hand and eye,
Some chase from the flower to flower the butterfly:
Or, shouting with the sharers in their play,
The rapid hoop drive o'er the traveled way;
While others near the brook apply their skill,
Watching the workings of their mimic mill,
Or teach the kite high in the air to fly,
And sweep the bosom of the boundless sky.
Some sought the woods that distant caught the view,
Or ranged with eager steps the valleys through;
Some gathered flowers, and the bright wreath prepare
To weave into their young Narcissa's hair,
While others climbed with fearless feet the hill,
Light as the winds, and wanderers at will;
But chiefly loved our merry band to rove
Where echoes answered from the Oaken Grove.

Dear to my heart by strong unnumbered ties,
By fond delights and blest remembrances,
Those ancient Oaks, with leaf and acorn crowned,
That o'er my father's rugged acres frowned;
See, how aloft, in kingly pride they bear
Their massy trunks and twisted arms in air,
Still changeless in their strength and giant form,
By suns unwithered, moveless in the storm.

Beneath those arms, that venerable shade,
Often my lingering footsteps have delayed,
When early Spring, in budding beauty gay,
Awoke my heart, and smiled its cares away.
In Summer, too, that poured its sultry blaze,
When flocks and herds sunk panting in its rays,
I breathed the freshness of the cooling air,
That nestled in the leaves and lingered there.
But chiefly, when the sober Autumn came,
With languid suns, that gave their feeble flame,
And sighing winds, with rude invasion, shook
The clustering acorns from their leafy nook,
I hastened forth, and with delighted toil,
Collected at their feet the fallen spoil.
Nor was this all. Still other ties invite,
Where o'er our heads their knotted arms unite.
'Twas there, in early spring, the birds with care
Their nests composed of gathered sticks and hair;
'Twas there I watched them fly from spray to spray,
Or capture in the air their insect prey;
'Twas there, from branch to branch, their tuneful throat
Poured forth the music of its sylvan note,
And seated on some rock, I bent mine ear,
The tribute of their warbled song to hear.

Pleased with their chirp, bright eye, and speckled breast,
One day I took two robins from their nest,
And placed them in a cage. Upon a tree
I hung the cage, and they sung mournfully,
And hopped from side to side, as if they still
Were thinking of their native wood and hill;
When, lo, the mother to their prison flew,
And fed her young, as she was used to do,--
Placing a worm within their beaks, and then
She lit upon a branch, and poured her strain,
As if to soothe their sorrows. Thus she came,
And daily fed them, daily sung the same.
A thought at last rose in my childish heart:
It seemed to charge me with a cruel part;
If I were in a prison, what would be
My mother's thoughts, my mother's griefs for me!
She, too, would come, would feed me, and would sing,
And try all arts, some joy, some hope to bring
To her poor boy. And oh, if I were free,
How would she triumph in my liberty!
I wept, and not a reason needed more,
But went at once, and oped the wiry door;
The little birds hopped from the open cage,
And soaring on their airy pilgrimage,
Poured forth their song to rocks and trees around,
Till rocks and trees their warbled joys resound.

In those young days, when Summer in its gleam
Beckoned us forth to hill, and wood, and stream;
When, swinging on its branch, the little bird
Trimmed its blue wing, and made its carol heard,
Down in the valley by the river's side,
We built the Bower, and graced its arch of pride.
Fair hands were busy, bloom and branch to bring,
And all were present with their offering.
Some lent their skill high in its top to twine
The fragrant fern, the rose, the large-leaved vine;
Some gathered leaves and flowers, and o'er the ground,
And sidelong benches, strewed their treasures round.
The joyous stream bestowed its hoarse applause,
To cheer our ardor in the mutual cause,
Urging its curling wave with graceful sweep
'Mid elms and vines, that clothed the valley deep.
Our hearts were one; the breath of worldly fame
Had not yet blown our passions to a flame;
And envy was not felt. Each strove to be
A source of joy, and not of misery;
We saw no future ills, all griefs forgot,
Blessing and blest, we would not change our lot.
There faithful hands were clasped, there songs arose,
Till sober evening bade our pastimes close.

That summer eve is passed! The summer's bloom
No longer yields its beauty and perfume.
The joyous birds are gone: their nests are bare,
Hanging in leafless branches in the air.
How changed is all around! The Autumn's gale
Breathes from the moaning wood its joyless wail;
The cattle, shivering in the fenceless fields,
Nibble the poor repast the stubble yields;
The bleating sheep complain; the flocks of crows,
Cawing aloud, forbode impending snows.
But though the day be cheerless, none the less
It comes to gladden, harmonize, and bless,
The day, when huts and cottages shall hold
As much of bliss as if they gleamed with gold--
Thanksgiving Day, which, ere the year shall part,
Returns to soothe the farmer's generous heart.

Full well I knew him. Often when a boy,
The Farmer hailed me with a boisterous joy,
Asked how I fared, and took me by the hand,
And kindly led me o'er his well-tilled land,
And showed his bleating sheep and lowing kine,
Pride of the master's eyes, and joy of mine.

To him, good man, Thanksgiving day ne'er came,
Without a full observance of its claim;
For whether much or small he had to spare,
He had enough to give the poor a share,
Who constant came, and never failed to meet
The ready greeting, and the welcome seat.
His decent home was on a rising place,
Where nature showed her strength, but not her grace;
And yet that rugged height the pear-tree crowned,
And scattered beeches closed the mansion round.
His garden gave its treasures; not in vain
From ripened fields he drove his autumn wain;
Huge stands his table; fruits and pies appear;
The choicest products of the teeming year;
Gathered round his loaded board, he sees
His sturdy sons, his daughters, 'formed to please,'
Who, while the brothers felled the forest's bloom,
Controlled, with busy hand, the noisy loom;
Susan, and Dick, and John, and dark-eyed Bess;
Proud heaves his heart with conscious happiness.

Happy are those, whose hand and heart of fire
Nature hath framed to rule the tuneful lyre;
Whose souls can feel, whose powers of verse can tell
The deep emotions in their hearts that swell.
Alas for me! Such praise I cannot claim,
No epic heights resound my humble name:
I do not ask the noisy world to hear,
I do not seek the trained and courtly ear;
The budding wreath, which they may bind, shall be
The light for other brows, but not for me.
But I will sit upon my native plain,
And tune my pipe, and call the rustic train,
Their lowly toils repeat, their griefs reveal,
And tell the joys, which such alone can feel;
And, where Cocheco gently winds along,
Renew to woods and rocks my rural song.

Cocheco's River! Fitter strains should sing,
Than my poor note, thy gentle murmuring,
Whispered through nodding birch and elm-trees hoar,
Till down opposing rocks thy waters roar.
If Burns were here, he would describe thee fair,
As blooming Doon and bonny banks of Ayr;
In simple verse would tell the mingled charm
Of woods and stream and cultivated farm,
Of birds rejoicing in their leafy bowers,
Of bees, 'that hum around the breathing flowers,'
And many a cottage on thy banks should gain
The heartfelt homage of his touching strain.

Roll on, fair River! Yield your torrents still,
And turn, with vigorous sweep, Old Richard's mill.
While others sing the men and deeds of fame,
Be ours to consecrate Old Richard's name.
For oft the aged miller at his hearth
Detained our boyish troop with well-timed mirth;
Told us strange tales, nor waited to be pressed;
Laughing old man! He loved the tale and jest.
Strong was his arm, and while the mill went round,
He hooped his pails and tubs with clattering sound.
His long grey coat with dust was thick beset,
His broad-brim hat was hat and epaulet,
Nor was he all for jesting. In a trice
He sober grew, and gave us sage advice;
With shake of head and keen, emphatic eye,
Descanting loud on truth and honesty.
But baffled oft to make his audience hear,
When wheels and tubs and hammer claimed the ear,
He raised his voice, and with its accents shrill,
Defied the deaf'ning clamor of his mill.

Loved waters! Oft we spent the rapid hours
Upon thy waves, and in thy leafy bowers;
And they were hours of quietude and bliss;
No cloud of sorrow dimmed our happiness.
See! On thy banks, where cautiously and slow
The thirsty steer stoops to the wave below,
The noisy group at idle length recline,
While others aim the spear or wield the line.
See! In thy waves the daring band divide
With skillfull arm thine unresisting tide;
Or guide with slender sail their dancing boat,
And proudly o'er thy gentle waters float.
Bright was thy summer's sun, and sweet the breeze,
That chased the fragrance from thy clustered trees;
Green waved thine elms, with massy arms and strong;
Loud from the alders burst the black-bird's song;
While thrush and red-breast from the meadows gay,
In merry groups, proclaimed their rival lay.
And e'en, when chill and frozen winter came,
Around thy banks we gathered still the same;
The rapid sled directed down the hill,
Whose snowy brow o'er-topped the noisy mill,
Or made the polished ice, thy waves that bound,
With trampling feet and ringing skates resound.

Stream of the mossy rock and sheltering tree!
Unknown to fame, but not unknown to me.
Thought, retrospective, fondly lingers o'er
The cliffs, the woods, the valleys of the shore.
Ye pensive haunts, to recollection dear!
One picture yet; I cannot leave you here;
For e'en the dwellers of your vale and hill
Find mingled, in their cup of joy, its ill;
And while they speak of bliss, their griefs at times
Are breathed in simple, melancholy rhymes.

Upon thy rugged banks there lived alone,
An aged woman to the world unknown.
She, hapless one, was sadly taught to know
How frail are fairest prospects here below;
How, in the time of bitterness and need,
All human help is but a broken reed.
Time was when she had friends; but that was past,
And all her griefs on higher aid were cast.
Wretched her hovel; all her art and care
Could scarce exclude the rain and searching air.
She had a chair, a table, and a bed,
And some poor things for making tea and bread.
Daily she ranged each shady solitude,
To gather withered leaves and sticks of wood,
To heap her lonely hearth. When gleaming high
The stars were summoned to the evening sky,
Beside her frugal fire, her hours were given
To humble toil and fitting thoughts of heaven.
Not seldom to that grandam's hut we drew,
When sable evening clothed the hills from view;
She stopped the wheel, that twined her flaxen thread,
She closed the Bible, whence she nightly read,
And from the fruitful fount of former years
Revealed the tale of sadness to our ears.

'Twas long ago, she said; in that rude time,
When first our fathers came from England's clime;
When households, in our frontier town, were few,
And close and dark the forest round them grew.
With busy hands the farmers cleared away
The tangled woods, and oped them to the day;
They had no time in idleness to spare,
But built their barns, the guarded house prepare;
Old men and young alike engaged in toil,
With spade and plough to quell the rugged soil;
The maids obeyed the busy housewife's call,
And Lucy Wilson gained the prize from all.

The neighbours marked her ever cheerful face,
The magic of her voice, her movement's grace;
And with a glow of pride told o'er and o'er
Her kindness to her parents old and poor.
Like Lucy Wilson none, they said, could spine,
And none like her could keep their cottage clean;
None listened on the holy Sabbath day,
With heart so fervent with devotion's ray;
None had such kindly looks and cheerfulness
In disappointment, labor, and distress,
Prompt to her daily toil with morning's gleam,
Nor slack in duty with day's latest beam.
One morn she went out with her milking pail,
And the same song, that oft had cheered the vale;
It was a summer's morn; the earliest beam
Was scarce restored to tinted wood and stream;
And as she passed, her brightly floating hair
Waved to the welcome of the joyful air.
'Twas the last time; for fiercely raging war
Had drawn the savage from his haunts afar;
Men of hard heart and unrelenting eye,
Unmoved by beauty and by sympathy;
And with that license cruel strife hath given,
Their spears they hurled, and Lucy went to heaven.

Such were the words that claimed the starting tear;
But other listeners now that story hear.
Yes, there are others now. In Fancy's eye
I see them, as I saw in times gone by.
With eager gaze, on the long winter night,
They gather round the hearth's reviving light,
To hear the Grandam. At her wheel she sits,
And rallies at their call her aged wits.
And when bright spring has visited the vale,
With bud and floweret nodding in the gale,
Or summer scatters from her matron hand
Plenty with beauty o'er the smiling land,
And boys and girls these new enjoyments share,
'Tis not the group that came, when I was there,
But I'll rejoice, nor let my heart repine,
That youthful hopes and joys no more are mine,
And only pray, when bliss with them is o'er,
And they, like me, shall taste those joys no more,
That gratitude may linger to the last,
To consecrate the pleasures that are past.

Submitted: Friday, October 08, 2010

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