Jean Ingelow

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

Nature, For Nature's Sake - Poem by Jean Ingelow

White as white butterflies that each one dons
Her face their wide white wings to shade withal,
Many moon-daisies throng the water-spring.
While couched in rising barley titlarks call,
And bees alit upon their martagons
Do hang a-murmuring, a-murmuring.

They chide, it may be, alien tribes that flew
And rifled their best blossom, counted on
And dreamed on in the hive ere dangerous dew
That clogs bee-wings had dried; but when outshone
Long shafts of gold (made all for them) of power
To charm it away, those thieves had sucked the flower.

Now must they go; a-murmuring they go,
And little thrushes twitter in the nest;
The world is made for them, and even so
The clouds are; they have seen no stars, the breast
Of their soft mother hid them all the night,
Till her mate came to her in red dawn-light.

Eggs scribbled over with strange writing, signs,
Prophecies, and their meaning (for you see
The yolk within) is life, 'neath yonder bines
Lie among sedges; on a hawthorn tree
The slender-lord and master perched hard by,
Scolds at all comers if they step too nigh.

And our small river makes encompassment
Of half the mead and holm: yon lime-trees grow
All heeling over to it, diligent
To cast green doubles of themselves below,
But shafts of sunshine reach its shallow floor
And warm the yellow sand it ripples o'er.

Ripples and ripples to a pool it made
Turning. The cows are there, one creamy white—
She should be painted with no touch of shade
If any list to limn her—she the light
Above, about her, treads out circles wide,
And sparkling water flashes from her side.

The clouds have all retired to so great height
As earth could have no dealing with them more,
As they were lost, for all her drawing and might,
And must be left behind; but down the shore
Lie lovelier clouds in ranks of lace-work frail,
Wild parsley with a myriad florets pale,

Another milky-way, more intricate
And multitudinous, with every star
Perfect. Long changeful sunbeams undulate
Amid the stems where sparklike creatures are
That hover and hum for gladness, then the last
Tree rears her graceful head, the shade is passed.

And idle fish in warm wellbeing lie
Each with his shadow under, while at ease
As clouds that keep their shape the darting fry
Turn and are gone in company; o'er these
Strangers to them, strangers to us, from holes
Scooped in the bank peer out shy water-voles.

Here, take for life and fly with innocent feet
The brown-eyed fawns, from moving shadows clear;
There, down the lane with multitudinous bleat
Plaining on shepherd lads a flock draws near;
A mild lamenting fills the morning air,
'Why to yon upland fold must we needs fare?'

These might be fabulous creatures every one,
And this their world might be some other sphere
We had but heard of, for all said or done
To know of them,—of what this many a year
They may have thought of man, or of his sway,
Or even if they have a God and pray,

The sweetest river bank can never more
Home to its source tempt back the lapsed stream,
Nor memory reach the ante-natal shore,
Nor one awake behold a sleeper's dream,
Not easier 't were that unbridged chasm to walk,
And share the strange lore of their wordless talk.

Like to a poet voice, remote from ken,
That unregarded sings and undesired,
Like to a star unnamed by lips of men,
That faints at dawn in saffron light retired,
Like to an echo in some desert deep
From age to age unwakened from its sleep—

So falls unmarked that other world's great song,
And lapsing wastes without interpreter.
Slave world! not man's to raise, yet man's to wrong,
He cannot to a loftier place prefer,
But he can,—all its earlier rights forgot,
Reign reckless if its nations rue their lot.

If they can sin or feel life's wear and fret,
An men had loved them better, it may be
We had discovered. But who e'er did yet,
After the sage saints in their clemency,
Ponder in hope they had a heaven to win,
Or make a prayer with a dove's name therein.

As grave Augustine pleading in his day,
'Have pity, Lord, upon the unfledged bird,
Lest such as pass do trample it in the way,
Not marking, or not minding; give the word,
O bid an angel in the nest again
To place it, lest the mother's love be vain.

And let it live, Lord God, till it can fly.'
This man dwelt yearning, fain to guess, to spell
The parable; all work of God Most High
Took to his man's heart. Surely this was well;
To love is more than to be loved, by leave
Of Heaven, to give is more than to receive.

He made it so that said it. As for us
Strange is their case toward us, for they give
And we receive. Made martyrs ever thus
In deed but not in will, for us they live,
For us they die, we quench their little day,
Remaining blameless, and they pass away.

The world is better served than it is ruled,
And not alone of them, for ever
Ruleth the man, the woman serveth fooled
Full oft of love, not knowing his yoke is sore.
Life's greatest Son nought from life's measure swerved,
He was among us 'as a man that served.'

Have they another life, and was it won
In the sore travail of another death,
Which loosed the manacles from our race undone
And plucked the pang from dying? If this breath
Be not their all, reproach no more debarred,
'O unkind lords, you made our bondage hard'

May be their plaint when we shall meet again
And make our peace with them; the sea of life
Find flowing, full, nor ought or lost or vain.
Shall the vague hint whereof all thought is rife,
The sweet pathetic guess indeed come true,
And things restored reach that great residue?

Shall we behold fair flights of phantom doves,
Shall furred creatures couch in moly flowers,
Swan souls the rivers oar with their world-loves,
In difference welcome as these souls of ours?
Yet soul of man from soul of man far more
May differ, even as thought did heretofore

That ranged and varied on th' undying gleam:
From a pure breath of God aspiring, high,
Serving and reigning, to the tender dream,
The winged Psyche and her butterfly—
From thrones and powers, to—fresh from death alarms
Child spirits entering in an angel's arms.

Why must we think, begun in paradise,
That their long line, cut off with severance fell,
Shall end in nothingness—the sacrifice
Of their long service in a passing knell?
Could man be wholly blest if not to say
'Forgive'—nor make amends for ever and aye?

Waste, waste on earth, and waste of God afar.
Celestial flotsam, blazing spars on high,
Drifts in the meteor month from some wrecked star,
Strew oft th' unwrinkled ocean of the sky,
And pass no more accounted of than be
Long dulses limp that stripe a mundane sea.

The sun his kingdom fills with light, but all
Save where it strikes some planet and her moons
Across cold chartless gulfs ordained to fall,
Void antres, reckoneth no man's nights or noons,
But feeling forth as for some outmost shore,
Faints in the blank of doom, and is no more.

God scattereth His abundance as forgot,
And what then doth he gather? If we know,
'Tis that One told us it was life. 'For not
A sparrow,' quoth he, uttering long ago
The strangest words that e'er took earthly sound,
'Without your Father falleth to the ground.'


Comments about Nature, For Nature's Sake by Jean Ingelow

  • Edward Kofi Louis (12/12/2014 4:37:00 AM)


    Nice piece of work. Thanks for sharing this poem with us.

    E.K.L.
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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012



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