Sydney Thompson Dobell

(1824-1874 / England)

Dead-Maid's-Pool - Poem by Sydney Thompson Dobell

Oh water, water-water deep and still,
In this hollow of the hill,
Thou helenge well o'er which the long reeds lean,
Here a stream and there a stream,
And thou so still, between,
Thro' thy coloured dream,
Thro' the drownèd face
Of this lone leafy place,
Down, down, so deep and chill,
I see the pebbles gleam!


Ash-tree, ash-tree,
Bending o'er the well,
Why there thou bendest,
Kind hearts can tell.
'Tis that the pool is deep,
'Tis that-a single leap,
And the pool closes:
And in the solitude
Of this wild mountain wood,
None, none, would hear her cry,
From this bank where she stood
To that peak in the sky
Where the cloud dozes.


Ash-tree, ash-tree,
That art so sweet and good,
If any creeping thing
Among the summer games in the wild roses
Fall from its airy swing,
(While all its pigmy kind
Watch from some imminent rose-leaf half uncurled)-
I know thou hast it full in mind
(While yet the drowning minim lives,
And blots the shining water where it strives),
To touch it with a finger soft and kind,
As when the gentle sun, ere day is hot,
Feels for a little shadow in a grot,
And gives it to the shades behind the world.


And oh! if some poor fool
Should seek the fatal pool,
Thine arms-ah, yes! I know
For this thou watchest days, and months, and years,
For this dost bend beside
The lone and lorn well-side,
The guardian angel of the doom below,
Content if, once an age, thy helping hand
May lift repentant madness to the land:
Content to hear the cry
Of living love from lips that would have died:
To seem awhile endowed
With all thy limbs did save,
And in that voice they drew out of the grave,
To feel thy dumb desire for once released aloud,
And all thy muffled century
Repaid in one wild hour of sobs, and smiles, and tears.


Aye, aye, I envy thee,
Pitiful ash-tree!


Water, water-water deep and still,
In the hollow of the hill,
Water, water, well I wot,
Thro' the weary hours,
Well I wot thee lying there,
As fair as false, as false as fair.
The crows they fly o'er,
The small birds flit about,
The stream it ripples in, the stream it ripples out,
But what eye ever knew
A rinkle wimple thee?
And what eye shall see
A rinkle wimple thee
Evermore?
Thro' thy gauds and mocks,
All thy thin enchantment thro'-
The green delusion of thy bowers,
The cold flush of thy feignèd flowers,
All the treacherous state
Of fair things small and great,
That are and are not,
Well I wot thee shining there,
As fair as false, as false as fair.
Thro' the liquid rocks,
Thro' the watery trees,
Thro' the grass that never grew,
Thro' a face God never made,
Thro' the frequent gain and loss
Of the cold cold shine and shade,
Thro' the subtle fern and moss,
Thro' the humless, hiveless bees,
Round the ghosts of buds asleep,
Thro' the disembodied rose,
Waving, waving in the deep,
Where never wind blows,
I look down, and see far down,
In clear depths that do nothing hide,
Green in green, and brown in brown,
The long fish turn and glide!


Ash-tree, ash-tree,
Bending o'er the water-
Ash-tree, ash-tree,
Hadst thou a daughter?
Ash-tree, ash-tree, let me draw near,
Ash-tree, ash-tree, a word in thine ear!


Thou art wizen and white, ash-tree;
Other trees have gone on,
Have gathered and grown,
Have bourgeoned and borne:
Thou hast wasted and worn.


Thy knots are all eyes;
Every knot a dumb eye,
That has seen a sight
And heard a cry.


Thy leaves are dry:
The summer has not gone by,
But they're withered and dead,
Like locks round a head
That is bald with a secret sin,
That is scorched by a hell within.


Thy skin
Is withered and wan,
Like a guilty man:
It was thin,
Aye, silken and thin,
It is houghed
And ploughed,
Like a murderer's skin.
Thou hast no shoots nor wands,
All thy arms turn to the deep,
All thy twigs are crooked,
Twined and twisted,
Fingered and fisted,
Like one who had looked
On wringing hands
'Till his hands were wrung in his sleep.


Pardon my doubt of thee,
What is this
In the very groove
Of thy right arm?
There is not a snake
So yellow and red,
There is not a toad
So sappy and dread!
It doth not move,
It doth not hiss-
Ash-tree-for God's sake-
Hast thou known
What hath not been said
And the summer sun
Cannot keep it warm,
And the living wood
Cannot shut it down!
And it grows out of thee
And will be told,
Bloody as blood,
And yellow as gold!


Ash-tree, ash-tree,
That once wert so green!
Ash-tree, ash-tree!
What hast thou seen?
Was I a mother-nay or aye?
Am I childless-aye nor nay?
Ash-tree, ash-tree,
Bending o'er the water!
Ash-tree, ash-tree,
Give me my daughter!
Curse the water,
Curse thee,
Ash-tree,
Bending o'er the water!
Leaf on the tree,
Flower on the stem,
Curse thee,
And curse them!
Trunk and shoot,
Herb and weed,
Bud and fruit,
Blossom and seed,
Above and below,
About and about,
Inside and out,
Grown and to grow,
Curse you all,
Great and small,
That cannot give back my daughter!


But if there were any,
Among so many,
Any small thing that did lie sweet for her,
Any newt or marish-worm that, shrinking
Under the pillow of the water weed,
Left her a cleaner bed,
Any least leaves that fell with little plashes,
And sinking, sinking,
Sank soft and slow, and settled on her lashes,
And did what was so meet for her,
Them I do not curse.


See, see up the glen,
The evening sun agen!
It falls upon the water,
It falls upon the grass,
Thro' the birches, thro' the firs,
Thro' the alders, catching gold,
Thro' the bracken and the brier,
Goes the evening fire
To the bush-linnet's nest.


There between us and the west,
Dost thou see the angels pass?
Thro' the air, with streaming hair,
The golden angels pass?
Hold, hold! for mercy, hold!
I know thee! ah, I know thee!
I know thou wilt not pass me so-
The gray old woman is ready to go.
Call me to thee, call me to thee,
My daughter! oh, my daughter!


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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010



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