Afternoon At A Parsonage - Poem by Jean Ingelow
(THE PARSON’S BROTHER, SISTER, AND TWO CHILDREN)
What wonder man should fail to stay
A nursling wafted from above,
The growth celestial come astray,
That tender growth whose name is Love!
It is as if high winds in heaven
Had shaken the celestial trees,
And to this earth below had given
Some feathered seeds from one of these.
O perfect love that ’dureth long!
Dear growth, that shaded by the palms.
And breathed on by the angel’s song,
Blooms on in heaven’s eternal calms!
How great the task to guard thee here,
Where wind is rough and frost is keen,
And all the ground with doubt and fear
Is checkered, birth and death between!
Space is against thee—it can part;
Time is against thee—it can chill;
Words—they but render half the heart;
Deeds—they are poor to our rich will.
Merton. Though she had loved me, I had never bound
Her beauty to my darkness; that had been
Too hard for her. Sadder to look so near
Into a face all shadow, than to stand
Aloof, and then withdraw, and afterwards
Suffer forgetfulness to comfort her.
I think so, and I loved her; therefore I
Have no complaint; albeit she is not mine:
And yet—and yet, withdrawing I would fain
She would have pleaded duty—would have said
“My father wills it”; would have turned away,
As lingering, or unwillingly; for then
She would have done no damage to the past:
Now she has roughly used it—flung it down
And brushed its bloom away. If she had said,
“Sir, I have promised; therefore, lo! my hand”—
Would I have taken it? Ah no! by all
Most sacred, no!
I would for my sole share
Have taken first her recollected blush
The day I won her; next her shining tears—
The tears of our long parting; and for all
The rest—her cry, her bitter heart-sick cry,
That day or night (I know not which it was,
The days being always night), that darkest night.
When being led to her I heard her cry,
“O blind! blind! blind!”
Go with thy chosen mate:
The fashion of thy going nearly cured
The sorrow of it. I am yet so weak
That half my thoughts go after thee; but not
So weak that I desire to have it so.
JESSIE, seated at the piano, sings.
When the dimpled water slippeth,
Full of laughter, on its way,
And her wing the wagtail dippeth,
Running by the brink at play;
When the poplar leaves atremble
Turn their edges to the light,
And the far-up clouds resemble
Veils of gauze most clear and white;
And the sunbeams fall and flatter
Woodland moss and branches brown.
And the glossy finches chatter
Up and down, up and down:
Though the heart be not attending,
Having music of her own,
On the grass, through meadows wending,
It is sweet to walk alone.
When the falling waters utter
Something mournful on their way,
And departing swallows flutter,
Taking leave of bank and brae;
When the chaffinch idly sitteth
With her mate upon the sheaves,
And the wistful robin flitteth
Over beds of yellow leaves;
When the clouds, like ghosts that ponder
Evil fate, float by and frown,
And the listless wind doth wander
Up and down, up and down:
Though the heart be not attending,
Having sorrows of her own,
Through the fields and fallows wending,
It is sad to walk alone.
Merton. Blind! blind! blind!
Oh! sitting in the dark for evermore,
And doing nothing—putting out a hand
To feel what lies about me, and to say
Not “This is blue or red,” but “This is cold,
And this the sun is shining on, and this
I know not till they tell its name to me.”
O that I might behold once more my God!
The shining rulers of the night and day;
Or a star twinkling; or an almond-tree,
Pink with her blossom and alive with bees,
Standing against the azure! O my sight!
Lost, and yet living in the sunlit cells
Of memory—that only lightsome place
Where lingers yet the dayspring of my youth:
The years of mourning for thy death are long.
Be kind, sweet memory! O desert me not!
For oft thou show’st me lucent opal seas,
Fringed with their cocoa-palms and dwarf red crags,
Whereon the placid moon doth “rest her chin”,
For oft by favor of thy visitings
I feel the dimness of an Indian night,
And lo! the sun is coming. Red as rust
Between the latticed blind his presence burns,
A ruby ladder running up the wall;
And all the dust, printed with pigeons’ feet,
Is reddened, and the crows that stalk anear
Begin to trail for heat their glossy wings,
And the red flowers give back at once the dew,
For night is gone, and day is born so fast,
And is so strong, that, huddled as in flight,
The fleeting darkness paleth to a shade,
And while she calls to sleep and dreams “Come on,”
Suddenly waked, the sleepers rub their eyes,
Which having opened, lo! she is no more.
O misery and mourning! I have felt—
Yes, I have felt like some deserted world
That God had done with, and had cast aside
To rock and stagger through the gulfs of space,
He never looking on it any more—
Untilled, no use, no pleasure, not desired,
Nor lighted on by angels in their flight
From heaven to happier planets, and the race
That once had dwelt on it withdrawn or dead
Could such a world have hope that some blest day
God would remember her, and fashion her
Jessie. What, dearest? Did you speak to me?
Child. I think he spoke to us.
M. No, little elves, You were so quiet that I half forgot Your neighborhood. What are you doing there?
J. They sit together on the window-mat Nursing their dolls.
C. Yes, Uncle, our new dolls— Our best dolls, that you gave us.
M. Did you say The afternoon was bright?
J. Yes, bright indeed! The sun is on the plane-tree, and it flames All red and orange.
C. I can see my father— Look! look! the leaves are falling on his gown.
C. In the churchyard, Uncle—he is gone: He passed behind the tower.
M. I heard a bell: There is a funeral, then, behind the church.
2d Child. Are the trees sorry when their leaves dropp off?
1st Child. You talk such silly words;—no, not at all. There goes another leaf.
2d Child. I did not see.
1st Child. Look! on the grass, between the little hills. Just where they planted Amy.
J. Amy died— Dear little Amy! when you talk of her, Say, she is gone to heaven.
2d Child. They planted her— Will she come up next year?
1st Child. No, not so soon; But some day God will call her to come up, And then she will. Papa knows everything— He said she would before he planted her.
2d Child. It was at night she went to heaven. Last night We saw a star before we went to bed.
1st Child. Yes, Uncle, did you know? A large bright star, And at her side she had some little ones— Some young ones.
M. Young ones! no, my little maid, Those stars are very old.
1st Child. What! all of them?
1st Child. Older than our father?
M. Older, far.
2d Child. They must be tired of shining there so long. Perhaps they wish they might come down.
J. Perhaps! Dear children, talk of what you understand. Come, I must lift the trailing creepers up That last night’s wind has loosened.
1st Child. May we help? Aunt, may we help to nail them?
J. We shall see. Go, find and bring the hammer, and some shreds.
[Steps outside the window, lifts a branch, and sings.]
Should I change my allegiance for rancor
If fortune changes her side?
Or should I, like a vessel at anchor,
Turn with the turn of the tide?
Lift! O lift, thou lowering sky;
An thou wilt, thy gloom forego!
An thou wilt not, he and I
Need not part for drifts of snow.
M. [within] Lift! no, thou lowering sky, thou wilt not lift— Thy motto readeth, “Never.”
Children. Here they are! Here are the nails! and may we help?
J. You shall, If I should want help.
1st Child. Will you want it, then? Please want it—we like nailing.
2d Child. Yes, we do.
J. It seems I ought to want it: hold the bough, And each may nail in turn.
Like a daisy I was, near him growing:
Must I move because favors flag,
And be like a brown wall-flower blowing
Far out of reach in a crag?
Lift! O lift, thou lowering sky;
An thou canst, thy blue regain!
An thou canst not, he and I
Need not part for drops of rain.
1st Child. Now, have we nailed enough?
J. [trains the creepers] Yes, you may go; But do not play too near the churchyard path.
M. [within] Even misfortune does not strike so near
As my dependence. O, in youth and strength
To sit a timid coward in the dark,
And feel before I set a cautious step!
It is so very dark, so far more dark
Than any night that day comes after—night
In which there would be stars, or else at least
The silvered portion of a sombre cloud
Through which the moon is plunging.
J. [entering] Merton!
J. Dear Merton, did you know that I could hear?
M. No: e’en my solitude is not mine now, And if I be alone is ofttimes doubt. Alas! far more than eyesight have I lost; For manly courage drifteth after it— E’en as a splintered spar would drift away From some dismasted wreck. Hear, I complain— Like a weak ailing woman I complain.
J. For the first time.
M. I cannot bear the dark.
J. My brother! you do bear it—bear it well— Have borne it twelve long months, and not complained Comfort your heart with music: all the air Is warm with sunbeams where the organ stands. You like to feel them on you. Come and play.
M. My fate, my fate is lonely!
J. So it is— I know it is.
M. And pity breaks my heart.
J. Does it, dear Merton?
M. Yes, I say it does.
What! do you think I am so dull of ear
That I can mark no changes in the tones
That reach me? Once I liked not girlish pride
And that coy quiet, chary of reply,
That held me distant: now the sweetest lips
Open to entertain me—fairest hands
Are proffered me to guide.
J. That is not well?
M. No: give me coldness, pride, or still disdain,
Gentle withdrawal. Give me anything
But this—a fearless, sweet, confiding ease,
Whereof I may expect, I may exact,
Considerate care, and have it—gentle speech,
And have it. Give me anything but this!
For they who give it, give it in the faith
That I will not misdeem them, and forget
My doom so far as to perceive thereby
Hope of a wife. They make this thought too plain;
They wound me—O they cut me to the heart!
When have I said to any one of them,
“I am a blind and desolate man;—come here,
I pray you—be as eyes to me?” When said,
Even to her whose pitying voice is sweet
To my dark ruined heart, as must be hands
That clasp a lifelong captive’s through the grate,
And who will ever lend her delicate aid
To guide me, dark encumbrance that I am!—
When have I said to her, “Comforting voice,
Belonging to a face unknown, I pray
Be my wife’s voice?”
J. Never, my brother—no, You never have!
M. What could she think of me If I forgot myself so far? or what Could she reply?
J. You ask not as men ask Who care for an opinion, else perhaps, Although I am not sure—although, perhaps, I have no right to give one—I should say She would reply, “I will”
Man dwells apart, though not alone,
He walks among his peers unread;
The best of thoughts which he hath known.
For lack of listeners are not said.
Yet dreaming on earth’s clustered isles,
He saith “They dwell not lone like men,
Forgetful that their sunflecked smiles
Flash far beyond each other’s ken.”
He looks on God’s eternal suns
That sprinkle the celestial blue,
And saith, “Ah! happy shining ones,
I would that men were grouped like you!”
Yet this is sure, the loveliest star
That clustered with its peers we see,
Only because from us so far
Doth near its fellows seem to be.
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