Jean Ingelow

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

If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem - Poem by Jean Ingelow

Out of the melancholy that is made
Of ebbing sorrow that too slowly ebbs,
Comes back a sighing whisper of the reed,
A note in new love-pipings on the bough,
Grieving with grief till all the full-fed air
And shaken milky corn doth wot of it,
The pity of it trembling in the talk
Of the beforetime merrymaking brook—
Out of that melancholy will the soul,
In proof that life is not forsaken quite
Of the old trick and glamour which made glad;
Be cheated some good day and not perceive
How sorrow ebbing out is gone from view,
How tired trouble fall'n for once on sleep,
How keen self-mockery that youth's eager dream
Interpreted to mean so much is found
To mean and give so little—frets no more,
Floating apart as on a cloud—O then
Not e'en so much as murmuring 'Let this end,'
She will, no longer weighted, find escape,
Lift up herself as if on wings and flit
Back to the morning time.
'O once with me
It was all one, such joy I had at heart,
As I heard sing the morning star, or God
Did hold me with an Everlasting Hand,
And dip me in the day.
O once with me,'
Reflecting ''twas enough to live, to look
Wonder and love. Now let that come again.
Rise!' And ariseth first a tanglement
Of flowering bushes, peonies pale that drop
Upon a mossy lawn, rich iris spikes,
Bee-borage, mealy-stemmed auricula,
Brown wallflower, and the sweetbriar ever sweet,
Her pink buds pouting from their green.
To these
Add thick espaliers where the bullfinch came
To strew much budding wealth, and was not chid.
Then add wide pear trees on the warm?wall,
The old red wall one cannot see beyond.
That is the garden.
In the wall a door
Green, blistered with the sun. You open it,
And lo! a sunny waste of tumbled hills
And a glad silence, and an open calm.
Infinite leisure, and a slope where rills
Dance down delightedly, in every crease,
And lambs stoop drinking and the finches dip,
Then shining waves upon a lonely beach.
That is the world.

An all-sufficient world,
And as it seems an undiscovered world,
So very few the folk that come to look.
Yet one has heard of towns; but they are far
The world is undiscovered, and the child
Is undiscovered that with stealthy joy
Goes gathering like a bee who in dark cells
Hideth sweet food to live on in the cold.
What matters to the child, it matters not
More than it mattered to the moons of Mars,
That they for ages undiscovered went
Marked not of man, attendant on their king.

A shallow line of sand curved to the cliff,
There dwelt the fisherfolk, and there inland
Some scattered cottagers in thrift and calm,
Their talk full oft was of old days,—for here
Was once a fosse, and by this rock-hewn path
Our wild fore-elders as 't is said would come
To gather jetsam from some Viking wreck,
Like a sea-beast wide breasted (her snake head
Reared up as staring while she rocked ashore)
That split, and all her ribs were on their fires
The red whereof at their wives' throats made bright
Gold gauds which from the weed they picked ere yet
The tide had turned.

'Many,' methought, 'and rich
They must have been, so long their chronicle.
Perhaps the world was fuller then of folk,
For ships at sea are few that near us now.'

Yet sometimes when the clouds were torn to rags,
Flying black before a gale, we saw one rock
In the offing, and the mariner folk would cry,
'Look how she labours; those aboard may hear
Her timbers creak e'en as she'd break her heart.'

'Twas then the grey gulls blown ashore would light
In flocks, and pace the lawn with flat cold feet.

And so the world was sweet, and it was strange,
Sweet as a bee-kiss to the crocus flower,
Surprising, fresh, direct, but ever one.
The laughter of glad music did not yet
In its echo yearn, as hinting ought beyond,
Nor pathos tremble at the edge of bliss
Like a moon halo in a watery sky,
Nor the sweet pain alike of love and fear
In a world not comprehended touch the heart—
The poetry of life was not yet born.
'T was a thing hidden yet that there be days
When some are known to feel 'God is about,'
As if that morn more than another morn
Virtue flowed forth from Him, the rolling world
Swam in a sooth?calm made resonant
And vital, swam as in the lap of God
Come down; until she slept and had a dream
(Because it was too much to bear awake),
That all the air shook with the might of Him
And whispered how she was the favourite world
That day, and bade her drink His essence in.

'Tis on such days that seers prophesy
And poets sing, and many who are wise
Find out for man's wellbeing hidden things
Whereof the hint came in that Presence known
Yet unknown. But a seer—what is he?
A poet is a name of long ago.

Men love the largeness of the field—the wild
Quiet that soothes the moor. In other days
They loved the shadow of the city wall,
In its stone ramparts read their poetry,
Safety and state, gold, and the arts of peace,
Law-giving, leisure, knowledge, all were there
This to excuse a child's allegiance and
A spirit's recurrence to the older way.
Orphan'd, with aged guardians kind and true,
Things came to pass not told before to me.

Thus, we did journey once when eve was near.
Through carriage windows I beheld the moors,
Then, churches, hamlets cresting of low hills.
The way was long, at last I, fall'n asleep,
Awoke to hear a rattling 'neath the wheels
And see the lamps alight. This was the town.

Then a wide inn received us, and full soon
Came supper, kisses, bed.
The lamp without
Shone in; the door was shut, and I alone.
An ecstasy of exultation took
My soul, for there were voices heard and steps,
I was among so many,—none of them
Knew I was come!
I rose, with small bare feet,
Across the carpet stole, a white-robed child,
And through the window peered. Behold the town.

There had been rain, the pavement glistened yet
In a soft lamplight down the narrow street;
The church was nigh at hand, a clear-toned clock
Chimed slowly, open shops across the way
Showed store of fruit, and store of bread,—and one
Many caged birds. About were customers,
I saw them bargain, and a rich high voice
Was heard,—a woman sang, her little babe
Slept 'neath her shawl, and by her side a boy
Added wild notes and sweet to hers.
Some passed
Who gave her money. It was far from me
To pity her, she was a part of that
Admir?town. E'en so within the shop
A rosy girl, it may be ten years old,
Quaint, grave. She helped her mother, deftly weighed
The purple plums, black mulberries rich and ripe
For boyish customers, and counted pence
And dropped them in an apron that she wore.
Methought a queen had ne'er so grand a lot,
She knew it, she looked up at me, and smiled.

But yet the song went on, and in a while
The meaning came; the town was not enough
To satisfy that singer, for a sigh
With her wild music came. What wanted she?
Whate'er she wanted wanted all. O how
'T was poignant, her rich voice; not like a bird's.
Could she not dwell content and let them be,
That they might take their pleasure in the town,
For—no, she was not poor, witness the pence.
I saw her boy and that small saleswoman;
He wary, she with grave persuasive air,
Till he came forth with filberts in his cap,
And joined his mother, happy, triumphing.

This was the town; and if you ask what else,
I say good sooth that it was poetry
Because it was the all, and something more,—
It was the life of man, it was the world
That made addition to the watching heart,
First conscious its own beating, first aware
How, beating it kept time with all the race;
Nay, 't was a consciousness far down and dim
Of a Great Father watching too.

But lo! the rich lamenting voice again;
She sang not for herself; it was a song
For me, for I had seen the town and knew,
Yearning I knew the town was not enough.

What more? To-day looks back on yesterday,
Life's yesterday, the waiting time, the dawn,
And reads a meaning into it, unknown
When it was with us.
It is always so.
But when as ofttimes I remember me
Of the warm wind that moved the beggar's hair,
Of the wet pavement, and the lamps alit,
I know it was not pity that made yearn
My heart for her, and that same dimpled boy
How grand methought to be abroad so late.
And barefoot dabble in the shining wet;
How fine to peer as other urchins did
At those pent huddled doves they let not rest;
No, it was almost envy. Ay, how sweet
The clash of bells; they rang to boast that far
That cheerful street was from the cold sea-fog,
From dark ploughed field and narrow lonesome lane.
How sweet to hear the hum of voices kind,
To see the coach come up with din of horn.
Quick tramp of horses, mark the passers-by
Greet one another, and go on.
But now
They closed the shops, the wild clear voice was still,
The beggars moved away—where was their home.
The coach which came from out dull darksome fells
Into the light; passed to the dark again
Like some old comet which knows well her way,
Whirled to the sun that as her fateful loop
She turns, forebodes the destined silences.
Yes, it was gone; the clattering coach was gone,
And those it bore I pitied even to tears,
Because they must go forth, nor see the lights,
Nor hear the chiming bells.
In after days,
Remembering of the childish envy and
The childish pity, it has cheered my heart
To think e'en now pity and envy both
It may be are misplaced, or needed not.
Heaven may look down in pity on some soul
Half envied, or some wholly pitied smile,
For that it hath to wait as it were an hour
To see the lights that go not out by night,
To walk the golden street and hear a song;
Other-world poetry that is the all
And something more.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012



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