Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

A Spring Carol - Poem by Alfred Austin

Blithe friend! blithe throstle! Is it thou,
Whom I at last again hear sing,
Perched on thy old accustomed bough,
Poet-prophet of the Spring?
Yes! Singing as thou oft hast sung,
I can see thee there among
The clustered branches of my leafless oak;
Where, thy plumage gray as it,
Thou mightst unsuspected sit,
Didst thou not thyself betray
With thy penetrating lay,
Swelling thy mottled breast at each triumphant stroke.
Wherefore warble half concealed,
When thy notes are shaft and shield,
And no hand that lives would slay
Singer of such a roundelay?
Telling of thy presence thus,
Be nor coy nor timorous!
Sing loud! Sing long!
And let thy song
Usurp the air 'twixt earth and sky:
Let it soar and sink and rally,
Ripple low along the valley,
Break against the fir-trees high,
Ofttimes pausing, never dying,
While we lean where fancy bids,
Listening, with half-closèd lids,
Unto the self-same chant, most sweet, most satisfying.

Where hast thou been all the dumb winter days,
When neither sunlight was nor smile of flowers,
Neither life, nor love, nor frolic,
Only expanse melancholic,
With never a note of thy exhilarating lays?
But, instead, the raven's croak,
Sluggish dawns and draggled hours,
Gusts morose and callous showers,
Underneath whose cutting stroke
Huddle the seasoned kine, and even the robin cowers.
Wast thou asleep in some snug hollow
Of my hybernating oak,
Through the dripping weeks that follow
One another slow, and soak
Summer's extinguished fire and autumn's drifting smoke?
Did its waking awake thee,
Or thou it with melody?
Or together did ye both
Start from winter's sleep and sloth,
And the self-same sap that woke
Bole and branch, and sets them budding,
Is thy throat with rapture flooding?
Or, avoiding icy yoke,
When golden leaves floated on silver meres,
And pensive Autumn, keeping back her tears,
Nursed waning Summer in her quiet lap,
Didst thou timely pinions flap,
Fleeing from a land of loss,
And, with happy mates, across
Ocean's restless ridges travel,
To that lemon-scented shore
Where, beneath a deep-domed sky,
Carven of lapis-lazuli,
Golden sunlight evermore
Glistens against golden gravel,
Nor ever a snowflake falls, nor rain-clouds wheel and ravel;
Clime where I wandered once among
Ruins old with feelings young,
Whither too I count to fly
When my songful seasons die,
And with the self-same spell which, first when mine,
Intensified my youth, to temper my decline.

Wherefore dost thou sing, and sing?
Is it for sheer joy of singing?
Is it to hasten lagging Spring,
Or greet the Lenten lilies through turf and turf upspringing?
Dost thou sing to earth or sky?
Never comes but one reply:
Carol faint, carol high,
Ringing, ringing, ringing!
Are those iterated trills
For the down-looking daffodils,
That have strained and split their sheath,
And are listening underneath?
Or but music's prompting note,
Whereunto the lambs may skip?
Haply dost thou swell thy throat,
Only to show thy craftsmanship?
Wouldst thou pipe if none should hearken?
If the sky should droop and darken,
And, as came the hills more close,
Moody March to wooing Spring
Sudden turned a mouth morose,-
Unheeded wouldst, unheeding, sing?
What is it rules thy singing season?
Instinct, that diviner reason,
To which the thirst to know seemeth a sort of treason?
If it be,
Enough for me,
And any motive for thy music I
Will not ask thee to impart,
Letting my head play traitor to my heart,
Too deeply questioning why.
Sing for nothing, if thou wilt,
Or, if thou for aught must sing,
Sing unto thy anxious spouse,
Sitting somewhere 'mong the boughs,
In the nest that thou hast built,
Underneath her close-furled wing
Future carols fostering.
Sing, because it is thy bent;
Sing, to heighten thy content!
Sing, for secret none can guess;
Sing for very uselessness!
Sing for love of love and pleasure,
Unborn joy, unfound treasure,
Rapture no words can reach, yearning no thoughts can measure!

Why dost thou ever cease to sing?
Singing is such sweet comfort, who,
If he could sing the whole year through,
Would barter it for anything?
Why do not thou and joy their reign assert
Over winter, death, and hurt?
If thou forcest them to flee,
They in turn will banish thee,
Making life betwixt ye thus
Mutably monotonous.
O, why dost thou not perch and pipe perpetually?
All the answer I do get,
Is louder, madder music yet;
Thus rebuking: Thou dost err!
I am no philosopher;
Only a poet, forced to sing,
When the cold gusts gather and go,
When the earth stirs in its tomb,
And, asudden, witching Spring
Into her bosom sucks the snow,
To give it back in thorn and cherry-bloom:
When along the hedgerows twinkle
Roguish eyes of periwinkle,
When with undulating glee
Yaffles scream from tree to tree,
And on every bank are seen
Primroses that long have been
Lying in wait with ambushed eyes
To break forth when Winter flies,
Joined by all things swift and sweet,
Following him with noiseless feet,
Pelting him with April showers,
Chasing and chanting his defeat,
Till with undisputed flowers
Thronged are all the lanes to greet
Dove-like inspiring Spring, many-voiced Paraclete.

Therefore, glad bird! warble, and shrill, and carol,
Now that Earth whom winter stripped,
Putteth on her Spring apparel,
Daintily woven, gaily tipped;
Now that in the tussocked mead
Lambkins one another jostle,-
Carol, carol! jocund throstle!
Impregnating the air with thy melodious seed,
Which, albeit scattered late,
Now will quickly germinate,
Giving us who waited long
Vernal harvest of ripe song:
Which, I do perceive, was sent
Nowise to deepen argument,
Rather to teach me how, like thee,
To merge doubt in melody.
Sing, sing away,
All through the day,
Lengthening out the twilight gray,
And with thy trebles of delight
Invade the threshold of the night:
Until felicity, too high, too deep,
Saturated senses steep,
And all that lives and loves subside to songless sleep.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010

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