George Gordon McCrae
Forby Sutherland - Poem by George Gordon McCrae
A LANE of elms in June;—the air
Of eve is cool and calm and sweet.
See! straying here a youthful pair,
With sad and slowly moving feet,
On hand in hand to yon gray gate,
O’er which the rosy apples swing;
And there they vow a mingled fate,
One day when George the Third is king.
The ring scarce clasped her finger fair,
When, tossing in their ivied tower,
The distant bells made all the air
Melodious with that golden hour.
Then sank the sun out o’er the sea,
Sweet day of courtship fond,… the last!
The holy hours of twilight flee
And speed to join the sacred Past.
The house-dove on the moss-grown thatch
Is murmuring love-songs to his mate,
As lovely Nell now lifts the latch
Beneath the apples at the gate.
A plighted maid she nears her home,
Those gentle eyes with weeping red;
Too soon her swain must breast the foam,
Alas! with that last hour he fled.
And, ah! that dust-cloud on the road,
Yon heartless coach-guard’s blaring horn;
But naught beside, that spoke or showed
Her sailor to poor Nell forlorn.
She dreams; and lo! a ship that ploughs
A foamy furrow through the seas,
As, plunging gaily, from her bows
She scatters diamonds on the breeze.
Swift, homeward bound, with flags displayed
In pennoned pomp, with drum and fife,
And all the proud old-world parade
That marks the man-o’-war man’s life.
She dreams and dreams; her heart’s at sea;
Dreams while she wears the golden ring;
Her spirit follows lovingly
One humble servant of the king.
And thus for years, since Hope survives
To cheer the maid and nerve the youth.
“Forget-me-not!”—how fair it thrives
Where planted in the soil of Truth!
The skies are changed; and o’er the sea,
Within a calm, sequestered nook,
Rests at her anchor thankfully
The tall-sterned ship of gallant Cook.
The emerald shores ablaze with flowers,
The sea reflects the smiling sky,
Soft breathes the air of perfumed bowers—
How sad to leave it all, and die!
To die, when all around is fair
And steeped in beauty;—ah! ’t is hard
When ease and joy succeed to care,
And rest, to “watch” and “mounted guard.”
But harder still, when one dear plan,
The end of all his life and cares,
Hangs by a thread; the dying man
Most needs our sympathy and prayers!
’T was thus with Forby as he lay
Wan in his narrow canvas cot;
Sole tenant of the lone “sick bay,”
Though “mates” came round, he heard them not.
For days his spirit strove and fought,
But, ah! the frame was all too weak.
Some phantom strange it seemed he sought,
And vainly tried to rise and speak.
At last he smiled and brightened up,
The noonday bugle went; and he
Drained (’t was his last) the cooling cup
A messmate offered helpfully.
His tongue was loosed—“I hear the horn!
Ah, Nell! my number ’s flying. See!—
The horses too;—they ’ve had their corn.
Alas, dear love!… I part from thee!”
He waved his wasted hand, and cried,
“Sweet Nell! Dear maid! My own true Nell!
The coach won’t wait for me!”… and died—
And this was Forby’s strange farewell.
Next morn the barge, with muffled oars,
Pulls slowly forth, and leaves the slip
With flags half-mast, and gains the shores,
While silence seals each comrade’s lip.
They bury him beneath a tree,
His treasure in his bosom hid.
What was that treasure? Go and see!
Long since it burst his coffin-lid!
Nell gave to Forby, once in play,
Some hips of roses, with the seeds
Of hedgerow plants, and flowerets gay
(In England such might count for weeds).
“Take these,” cries smiling Nell, “to sow
In foreign lands; and when folk see
The English roses bloom and grow,
Some one may bless an unknown me.”
The turf lies green on Forby’s bed,
A hundred years have passed, and more,
But twining over Forby’s head
Are Nell’s sweet roses on that shore.
The violet and the eglantine,
With sweet-breathed cowslips, deck the spot,
And nestling ’mid them in the shine,
The meek, blue-eyed “Forget-me-not!”
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