Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

On Returning To England - Poem by Alfred Austin

There! once again I stand on home,
Though round me still there swirls the foam,
Leaping athwart the vessel's track
To bid a wanderer welcome back,
And though as yet through softening haze
White cliffs but vaguely greet my gaze.
For, England! yours the waves, the spray,
And, be one's foothold what it may,
Wherever billow wafts or wends,
Your soil is trodden, your shore extends.
How stern! how sweet! Though fresh from lands
Where soft seas heave on slumbering strands,
And zephyrs moistened by the south
Seem kisses from an infant's mouth,
My northern blood exults to face
The rapture of this rough embrace,
Glowing in every vein to feel
The cordial caress of steel
From spear-blue air and sword-blue sea,
The armour of your liberty.
Braced by the manly air, I reach
My soul out to the approaching beach,
And own, the instant I arrive,
The dignity of being alive!

And now with forward-faring feet
Eager I leap to land, and greet
The hearty grasp, the honest gaze,
The voice that means the thing it says,
The gait of men by birthright free,
Unceremonial courtesy.
None frown, none cringe, but, fearless-eyed,
Are kindly all; since, side by side,
Authority and Freedom reign
In twin equality, and drain
Their sanction from the self-same breast,
And Law is wise Will manifest.
Yes, this is England, frank and fair:
I tread its turf, I breathe its air,
And catch from every stalwart lung
The music of my mother tongue.

And who are these that cluster round
With hastening feet and silvery sound,
And eyes as liquid as the dawn,
When laughs the dew on Kentish lawn?
These England's daughters, frank yet arch,
Supple as April, strong as March:
Like pink-white windflowers in the grove,
That came while east and west wind strove
For mastery, and Spring seemed late,
Hardy alike and delicate.
How well their faces fit the scene,
The copses gray, the hedgerows green,
The white-veiled blackthorn, gorse afire,
The cottage yew, the village spire;
The pastures flecked with frisking lambs
Around their gravely grazing dams;
The children loitering home from school,
Their hands and pinafores all full
Of cuckoo-pint and bluebell spike,
Gathered in dingle, dell, and dyke;
The comely homes one just can see
Through flowering belts of bush and tree,
That all combine, all, all conspire,
To more than satisfy desire,
To make one love this lovely earth,
And bless Heaven for one's British birth.

Bewitching climes! where late I sought
In change of scene a change of thought,
Refreshment from familiar ground,
And, what I sought for, more than found,
Where old enchantment haunteth still
Ligurian coast and Tuscan hill,
Climes I have ventured oft and long
To celebrate in faltering song,
Where fearless almond, faery larch,
Smiling, disarm the frown of March,
Snow hath no terrors, frost no sting,
And playful Winter mimics Spring,
Deem me not thankless, nor deny
Fresh welcome from your shore and sky,
Repose from thought so oft implored,
And ne'er refused, if, now restored
By you to health, by you to home,
Glad I return, late glad to roam.
For dear to me though wayside shrine
By silent gorge or murmuring brine;
Dear though the barefoot peasant folk
Who lop the vine and steer the yoke
Of soft-eyed, sleek-skinned, creamy beeves,
Up narrow ways to broad slant eaves;
The stony mule-tracks twisting slow
Up slopes where cherry-blossoms blow
'Mid olive gray and ilex brown,
On to some sun-bronzed mountain town;
The hush and cool of marble domes,
Where, wed to reverie, one roams
Through transept, chancel, cloister, cell,
Where still with far-off faces dwell
Sages and saints devoutly limned
By hands long dust and eyes long dimmed;
Dear though all these, and ne'er forgot,
No southern shore, no sunniest spot,
Not Roccabruna's hamlet crest,
Not Eza's brow, not Taggia's breast,
Not Bellosguardo's sunset hour,
Not Dante's seat nor Giotto's Tower,
Nor even Spiaggiascura's foam,
Moisten and melt my heart like home.
For here the cuckoo seems more glad,
The nightingale more sweetly sad,
Primroses more akin in gaze
To childlike wonder, childlike ways;
And all things that one sees and hears,
Since rooted in the bygone years,
And blending with their warm caress
A touch of homely tenderness,
Bid the quick instinct in one's blood
Pay tribute unto motherhood.
How should strange lands, it boots not where,
Divorce one from one's native air,
Or in a loyal breast dethrone
Unreasoning reverence for one's own?
Yet love and reason surely blend
To stir this passion and commend?
And who will blame if, though one seeks
In gentler tides, and sterner peaks
That tower above a wider plain,
Contrast to northern hill and main,
I cherish still and hold apart
The fondest feeling in my heart
For where, beneath one's parent sky,
Our dear ones live, our dead ones lie?

And you, dear friend, who linger still
Beside the iris-crested rill
That silvers through your olives gray
From convent-capped Fiesole,
Think not that I forget, forswear,
The scenes we lately vowed so fair.
To these your wandering footsteps bring
The freshness of an English Spring;
And even Florence sunnier glows,
When Phyllis prattles and Ivor crows.
And, though among them still you stray,
Sweet-lengthening-out a Tuscan May,
You too will here return before
Our Northern roses blow once more,
To prove to all of kindred birth,
For winsome grace and sterling worth,
Nothing can match, where'er we roam,
An English wife in English home.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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