Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Grandmother’s Teaching - Poem by Alfred Austin

``Grandmother dear, you do not know; you have lived the old-world life,
Under the twittering eaves of home, sheltered from storm and strife;
Rocking cradles, and covering jams, knitting socks for baby feet,
Or piecing together lavender bags for keeping the linen sweet:
Daughter, wife, and mother in turn, and each with a blameless breast,
Then saying your prayers when the nightfall came, and quietly dropping to rest.

``You must not think, Granny, I speak in scorn, for yours have been well-spent days,
And none ever paced with more faithful feet the dutiful ancient ways.
Grandfather's gone, but while he lived you clung to him close and true,
And mother's heart, like her eyes, I know, came to her straight from you.
If the good old times, at the good old pace, in the good old grooves would run,
One could not do better, I'm sure of that, than do as you all have done.

``But the world has wondrously changed, Granny, since the days when you were young;
It thinks quite different thoughts from then, and speaks with a different tongue.
The fences are broken, the cords are snapped, that tethered man's heart to home;
He ranges free as the wind or the wave, and changes his shore like the foam.
He drives his furrows through fallow seas, he reaps what the breakers sow,
And the flash of his iron flail is seen mid the barns of the barren snow.

``He has lassoed the lightning and led it home, he has yoked it unto his need,
And made it answer the rein and trudge as straight as the steer or steed.
He has bridled the torrents and made them tame, he has bitted the champing tide,
It toils as his drudge and turns the wheels that spin for his use and pride.
He handles the planets and weighs their dust, he mounts on the comet's car,
And he lifts the veil of the sun, and stares in the eyes of the uttermost star.

``'Tis not the same world you knew, Granny; its fetters have fallen off;
The lowliest now may rise and rule where the proud used to sit and scoff.
No need to boast of a scutcheoned stock, claim rights from an ancient wrong;
All are born with a silver spoon in their mouths whose gums are sound and strong.
And I mean to be rich and great, Granny; I mean it with heart and soul:
At my feet is the ball, I will roll it on, till it spins through the golden goal.

``Out on the thought that my copious life should trickle through trivial days,
Myself but a lonelier sort of beast, watching the cattle graze,
Scanning the year's monotonous change, gaping at wind and rain,
Or hanging with meek solicitous eyes on the whims of a creaking vane;
Wretched if ewes drop single lambs, blest so is oilcake cheap,
And growing old in a tedious round of worry, surfeit, and sleep.

``You dear old Granny, how sweet your smile, and how soft your silvery hari!
But all has moved on while you sate still in your cap and easy-chair.
The torch of knowledge is lit for all, it flashes from hand to hand;
The alien tongues of the earth converse, and whisper from strand to strand.
The very churches are changed and boast new hymns, new rites, new truth;
Men worship a wiser and greater God than the halfknown God of your youth.

``What! marry Connie and set up house, and dwell where my fathers dwelt,
Giving the homely feasts they gave and kneeling where they knelt?
She is pretty, and good, and void I am sure of vanity, greed, or guile;
But she has not travelled nor seen the world, and is lacking in air and style.
Women now are as wise and strong as men, and vie with men in renown;
The wife that will help to build my fame was not bred near a country town.

``What a notion! to figure at parish boards, and wrangle o'er cess and rate,
I, who mean to sit for the county yet, and vote on an Empire's fate;
To take the chair at the Farmers' Feast, and tickle their bumpkin ears,
Who must shake a senate before I die, and waken a people's cheers!
In the olden days was no choice, so sons to the roof of their fathers clave:
But now! 'twere to perish before one's time, and to sleep in a living grave.

``I see that you do not understand. How should you? Your memory clings
To the simple music of silenced days and the skirts of vanishing things.
Your fancy wanders round ruined haunts, and dwells upon oft-told tales;
Your eyes discern not the widening dawn, nor your ears catch the rising gales.
But live on, Granny, till I come back, and then perhaps you will own
The dear old Past is an empty nest, and the Present the brood that is flown.''

``And so, my dear, you've come back at last? I always fancied you would.
Well, you see the old home of your childhood's days is standing where it stood.
The roses still clamber from porch to roof, the elder is white at the gate,
And over the long smooth gravel path the peacock still struts in state.
On the gabled lodge, as of old, in the sun, the pigeons sit and coo,
And our hearts, my dear, are no whit more changed, but have kept still warm for you.

``You'll find little altered, unless it be me, and that since my last attack;
But so that you only give me time, I can walk to the church and back.
You bade me not die till you returned, and so you see I lived on:
I'm glad that I did now you've really come, but it's almost time I was gone.
I suppose that there isn't room for us all, and the old should depart the first.
That's as it should be. What is sad, is to bury the dead you've nursed.

``Won't you have bit nor sup, my dear? Not even a glass of whey?
The dappled Alderney calved last week, and the baking is fresh to-day.
Have you lost your appetite too in town, or is it you've grown over-nice?
If you'd rather have biscuits and cowslip wine, they'll bring them up in a trice.
But what am I saying? Your coming down has set me all in a maze:
I forgot that you travelled here by train; I was thinking of coaching days.

``There, sit you down, and give me your hand, and tell me about it all,
From the day that you left us, keen to go, to the pride that had a fall.
And all went well at the first? So it does, when we're young and puffed with hope;
But the foot of the hill is quicker reached the easier seems the slope.
And men thronged round you, and women too! Yes, that I can understand.
When there's gold in the palm, the greedy world is eager to grasp the hand.

``I heard them tell of your smart town house, but I always shook my head.
One doesn't grow rich in a year and a day, in the time of my youth 'twas said.
Men do not reap in the spring, my dear, nor are granaries filled in May,
Save it be with the harvest of former years, stored up for a rainy day.
The seasons will keep their own true time, you can hurry nor furrow nor sod:
It's honest labour and steadfast thrift that alone are blest by God.

``You say you were honest. I trust you were, nor do I judge you, my dear:
I have old-fashioned ways, and it's quite enough to keep one's own conscience clear.
But still the commandment, ``Thou shalt not steal,'' though a simple and ancient rule,
Was not made for modern cunning to baulk, nor for any new age to befool;
And if my growing rich unto others brought but penury, chill, and grief,
I should feel, though I never had filched with my hands, I was only a craftier thief.

``That isn't the way they look at it there? All worshipped the rising sun?
Most of all the fine lady, in pride of purse you fancied your heart had won.
I don't want to hear of her beauty or birth: I reckon her foul and low;
Far better a steadfast cottage wench than grand loves that come and go.
To cleave to their husbands, through weal, through woe, is all women have to do:
In growing as clever as men they seem to have matched them in fickleness too.

``But there's one in whose heart has your image still dwelt through many an absent day,
As the scent of a flower will haunt a closed room, though the flower be taken away.
Connie's not quite so young as she was, no doubt, but faithfulness never grows old;
And were beauty the only fuel of love, the warmest hearth soon would grow cold.
Once you thought that she had not travelled, and knew neither the world nor life:
Not to roam, but to deem her own hearth the whole world, that's what a man wants in a wife.

``I'm sure you'd be happy with Connie, at least if your own heart's in the right place.
She will bring you nor power, nor station, nor wealth, but she never will bring you disgrace.
They say that the moon, though she moves round the earth, never turns to him morning or night
But one face of her sphere, and it must be because she's so true a satellite;
And Connie, if into your orbit once drawn by the sacrament sanctioned above,
Would revolve round you constantly, only to show the one-sided aspect of love.

``You will never grow rich by the land, I own; but if Connie and you should wed,
It will feed your children and household too, as it you and your fathers fed.
The seasons have been unkindly of late; there's a wonderful cut of hay,
But the showers have washed all the goodness out, till it's scarcely worth carting away.
There's a fairish promise of barley straw, but the ears look rusty and slim:
I suppose God intends to remind us thus that something depends on Him.

``God neither progresses nor changes, dear, as I once heard you rashly say:
Man's schools and philosophies come and go, but His word doth not pass away.
We worship Him here as we did of old, with simple and reverent rite:
In the morning we pray Him to bless our work, to forgive our transgressions at night.
To keep His commandments, to fear His name, and what should be done, to do,-
That's the beginning of wisdom still; I suspect 'tis the end of it too.

``You must see the new-fangled machines at work, that harrow, and thresh, and reap;
They're wonderful quick, there's no mistake, and they say in the end they're cheap.
But they make such a clatter, and seem to bring the rule of the town to the fields:
There's something more precious in country life than the balance of wealth it yields.
But that seems going; I'm sure I hope that I shall be gone before:
Better poor sweet silence of rural toil than the factory's opulent roar.

``They're a mighty saving of labour, though; so at least I hear them tell,
Making fewer hands and fewer mouths, but fewer hearts as well:
They sweep up so close that there's nothing left for widows and bairns to glean;
If machines are growing like men, man seems to be growing a half machine.
There's no friendliness left; the only tie is the wage upon Saturday nights:
Right used to mean duty; you'll find that now there's no duty, but only rights.

``Still stick to your duty, my dear, and then things cannot go much amiss.
What made folks happy in bygone times, will make them happy in this.
There's little that's called amusement, here; but why should the old joys pall?
Has the blackbird ceased to sing loud in spring? Has the cuckoo forgotten to call?
Are bleating voices no longer heard when the cherryblossoms swarm?
And have home, and children, and fireside lost one gleam of their ancient charm?

``Come, let us go round; to the farmyard first, with its litter of fresh-strewn straw,
Past the ash-tree dell, round whose branching tops the young rooks wheel and caw;
Through the ten-acre mead that was mown the first, and looks well for aftermath,
Then round by the beans-I shall tire by then,-and home up the garden-path,
Where the peonies hang their blushing heads, where the larkspur laughs from its stalk-
With my stick and your arm I can manage. But see! There, Connie comes up the walk.''


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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