Jean Ingelow

(17 March 1820 - 20 July 1897 / Boston, Lincolnshire)

Honours - Part1 - Poem by Jean Ingelow

A Scholar is musing on his want of success.

To strive—and fail. Yes, I did strive and fail;
I set mine eyes upon a certain night
To find a certain star—and could not hail
With them its deep-set light.

Fool that I was! I will rehearse my fault:
I, wingless, thought myself on high to lift
Among the winged—I set these feet that halt
To run against the swift.

And yet this man, that loved me so, can write—
That loves me, I would say, can let me see;
Or fain would have me think he counts but light
These Honours lost to me.

[The letter of his friend.]

What are they? that old house of yours which gave
Such welcomes oft to me, the sunbeams fall
Still, down the squares of blue and white which pave
Its hospitable hall.

A brave old house! a garden full of bees,
Large dropping poppies, and Queen hollihocks,
With butterflies for crowns—tree peonies
And pinks and goldilocks.

'Go, when the shadow of your house is long
Upon the garden—when some new-waked bird,
Pecking and fluttering, chirps a sudden song,
And not a leaf is stirred;

'But every one drops dew from either edge
Upon its fellow, while an amber ray
Slants up among the tree-tops like a wedge
Of liquid gold—to play

'Over and under them, and so to fall
Upon that lane of water lying below—
That piece of sky let in, that you do call
A pond, but which I know

'To be a deep and wondrous world; for I
Have seen the trees within it—marvellous things
So thick no bird betwixt their leaves could fly
But she would smite her wings;—

'Go there, I say; stand at the water's brink,
And shoals of spotted grayling you shall see
Basking between the shadows—look, and think
'This beauty is for me;

' 'For me this freshness in the morning hours,
For me the water's clear tranquillity;
For me the soft descent of chestnut flowers;
The cushat's cry for me.

'The lovely laughter of the wind-swayed wheat;
The easy slope of yonder pastoral hill;
The sedgy brook whereby the red kine meet
And wade and drink their fill.'

'Then saunter down that terrace whence the sea
All fair with wing-like sails you may discern;
Be glad, and say 'This beauty is for me—
A thing to love and learn.

' 'For me the bounding in of tides; for me
The laying bare of sands when they retreat;
The purple flush of calms, the sparkling glee
When waves and sunshine meet.'

'So, after gazing, homeward turn, and mount
To that long chamber in the roof; there tell
Your heart the laid-up lore it holds to count
And prize and ponder well.

'The lookings onward of the race before
It had a past to make it look behind;
Its reverent wonders, and its doublings sore,
Its adorations blind.

'The thunder of its war-songs, and the glow
Of chants to freedom by the old world sung;
The sweet love cadences that long ago
Dropped from the old-world tongue.

'And then this new-world lore that takes account
Of tangled star-dust; maps the triple whirl
Of blue and red and argent worlds that mount
And greet the IRISH EARL;

'Or float across the tube that HERSCHEL sways,
Like pale-rose chaplets, or like sapphire mist;
Or hang or droop along the heavenly ways,
Like scarves of amethyst.

'O strange it is and wide the new-world lore,
For next it treateth of our native dust!
Must dig out buried monsters, and explore
The green earth's fruitful crust;

Must write the story of her seething youth—
How lizards paddled in her lukewarm seas;
Must show the cones she ripened, and forsooth
Count seasons on her trees;

'Must know her weight, and pry into her age,
Count her old beach lines by their tidal swell;
Her sunken mountains name, her craters gauge,
Her cold volcanoes tell;

'And treat her as a ball, that one might pass
From this hand to the other—such a ball
As he could measure with a blade of grass,
And say it was but small!

'Honours! O friend, I pray you bear with me:
The grass hath time to grow in meadow lands,
And leisurely the opal murmuring sea
Breaks on her yellow sands;

'And leisurely the ring-dove on her nest
Broods till her tender chick will peck the shell;
And leisurely down fall from ferny crest
The dew-drops on the well;

'And leisurely your life and spirit grew,
With yet the time to grow and ripen free:
No judgment past withdraws that boon from you,
Nor granteth it to me.

'Still must I plod, and still in cities moil;
From precious leisure, learned leisure far,
Dull my best self with handling common soil;
Yet mine those honours are.

'Mine they are called; they are a name which means,
'This man had steady pulses, tranquil nerves;
Here, as in other fields, the most he gleans
Who works and never swerves.

' 'We measure. not his mind; we cannot tell
What lieth under, over, or beside
The test we put him to; he doth excel,
We knew, where he is tried;

' 'But, if he boast some farther excellence—
Mind to create as well as to attain;
To sway his peers by golden eloquence,
As wind doth shift a fane;

' 'To sing among the poets—we are nought:
We cannot drop a line into that sea
And read its fathoms off, nor gauge a thought,
Nor map a simile.

' 'It may be of all voices sublunar
The only one he echoes we did try,
We may have come upon the only star
That twinkles in his sky.'

' And so it was with me.'

O false my friend!
False, false, a random charge, a blame undue;
Wrest not fair reasoning to a crooked end:
False, false, as you are true!

But I read on: 'And so it was with me;
Your golden constellations lying apart
They neither hailed nor greeted heartily,
Nor noted on their chart.

'And yet to you and not to me belong
Those finer instincts that, like second sight
And hearing, catch creation's undersong,
And see by inner light.

'You are a well, whereon I, gazing, see
Reflections of the upper heavens—a well
From whence come deep, deep echoes up to me—
Some underwave's low swell.

'I cannot soar into the heights you show,
Nor dive among the deeps that you reveal;
But it is much that high things ARE to know,
That deep things ARE to feel.

' 'Tis yours, not mine, to pluck out of your breast
Some human truth, whose workings recondite
Were unattired in words, and manifest
And hold it forth to light

'And cry, 'Behold this thing that I have found.'
And though they knew not of it till that day,
Nor should have done with no man to expound
Its meaning, yet they say,

' 'We do accept it: lower than the shoals
We skim, this diver went, nor did create,
But find it for us deeper in our souls
Than we can penetrate.'

You were to me the world's interpreter,
The man that taught me Nature's unknown tongue,
And to the notes of her wild dulcimer
First set sweet words and sung.

'And what am I to you? A steady hand
To hold, a steadfast heart to trust withal;
Merely a man that loves you, and will stand
By you, whate'er befall.

'But need we praise his tendance tutelar
Who feeds a flame that warms him? Yet 't is true
I love you for the sake of what you are.
And not of what you do:—

'As heaven's high twins, whereof in Tyrian blue
The one revolveth: through his course immense
Might love his fellow of the damask hue,
For like, and difference.

'For different pathways evermore decreed
To intersect, but not to interfere;
For common goal, two aspects, and one speed,
One centre and one year;

'For deep affinities, for drawings strong,
That by their nature each must needs exert;
For loved alliance, and for union long,
That stands before desert.

'And yet desert makes brighter not the less,
For nearest his own star he shall not fail
To think those rays unmatched for nobleness,
That distance counts but pale.

'Be pale afar; since still to me you shine,
And must while Nature's eldest law shall hold;'—
Ah, there's the thought which makes his random line
Dear as refined gold!

Then shall I drink this drought of oxymel,
Part sweet, part sharp? Myself o'erprized to know
Is sharp; the cause is sweet, and truth to tell
Few would that cause forego,

Which is, that this of all the men on earth
Doth love me well enough to count me great—
To think my soul and his of equal girth—
O liberal estimate!

And yet it is so; he is bound to me,
For human love makes aliens near of kin;
By it I rise, there is equality:
I rise to thee, my twin.

'Take courage'—courage! ay, my purple peer,
I will take courage; for thy Tyrian rays
Refresh me to the heart, and strangely dear
And healing is thy praise.

'Take courage,' quoth he, 'and respect the mind
Your Maker gave, for good your fate fulfill;
The fate round many hearts your own to wind.
Twin soul. I will! I will!


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010



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