Jean Ingelow

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

Songs Of The Voices Of Birds: A Poet In His Youth, And The Cuckoo-Bird - Poem by Jean Ingelow

Once upon a time, I lay
Fast asleep at dawn of day;
Windows open to the south,
Fancy pouting her sweet mouth
To my ear.
She turned a globe
In her slender hand, her robe
Was all spangled; and she said,
As she sat at my bed’s head,
“Poet, poet, what, asleep!
Look! the ray runs up the steep
To your roof.” Then in the golden
Essence of romances olden,
Bathed she my entrancéd heart.
And she gave a hand to me,
Drew me onward, “Come!” said she;
And she moved with me apart,
Down the lovely vale of Leisure.

Such its name was, I heard say,
For some Fairies trooped that way;
Common people of the place,
Taking their accustomed pleasure,
(All the clocks being stopped) to race
Down the slope on palfreys fleet.
Bridle bells made tinkling sweet;
And they said, “What signified
Faring home till eventide:
There were pies on every shelf,
And the bread would bake itself.”
But for that I cared not, fed,
As it were, with angels’ bread,
Sweet as honey; yet next day
All foredoomed to melt away;
Gone before the sun waxed hot,
Melted manna that was not.

Rock-doves’ poetry of plaint,
Or the starling’s courtship quaint,
Heart made much of; ’twas a boon
Won from silence, and too soon
Wasted in the ample air:
Building rooks far distant were.
Scarce at all would speak the rills,
And I saw the idle hills,
In their amber hazes deep,
Fold themselves and go to sleep,
Though it was not yet high noon.

Silence? Rather music brought
From the spheres! As if a thought,
Having taken wings, did fly
Through the reaches of the sky.
Silence? No, a sumptuous sigh
That had found embodiment,
That had come across the deep
After months of wintry sleep,
And with tender heavings went
Floating up the firmament.

“O,” I mourned, half slumbering yet,
“’Tis the voice of my regret,—­
Mine!” and I awoke. Full sweet
Saffron sunbeams did me greet;
And the voice it spake again,
Dropped from yon blue cup of light
Or some cloudlet swan’s-down white
On my soul, that drank full fain
The sharp joy—­the sweet pain—­
Of its clear, right innocent,
Unreprovéd discontent.

How it came—­where it went—­
Who can tell? The open blue
Quivered with it, and I, too,
Trembled. I remembered me
Of the springs that used to be,
When a dimpled white-haired child,
Shy and tender and half wild,
In the meadows I had heard
Some way off the talking bird,
And had felt it marvellous sweet,
For it laughed: it did me greet,
Calling me: yet, hid away
In the woods, it would not play.
No.

And all the world about,
While a man will work or sing,
Or a child pluck flowers of spring,
Thou wilt scatter music out,
Rouse him with thy wandering note,
Changeful fancies set afloat,
Almost tell with thy clear throat,
But not quite,—­the wonder-rife,
Most sweet riddle, dark and dim,
That he searcheth all his life,
Searcheth yet, and ne’er expoundeth;
And so winnowing of thy wings,
Touch and trouble his heart’s strings.
That a certain music soundeth
In that wondrous instrument,
With a trembling upward sent,
That is reckoned sweet above
By the Greatness surnamed Love.

“O, I hear thee in the blue;
Would that I might wing it too!
O to have what hope hath seen!
O to be what might have been!

“O to set my life, sweet bird,
To a tune that oft I heard
When I used to stand alone
Listening to the lovely moan
Of the swaying pines o’erhead,
While, a-gathering of bee-bread
For their living, murmured round,
As the pollen dropped to ground,
All the nations from the hives;
And the little brooding wives
On each nest, brown dusky things,
Sat with gold-dust on their wings.
Then beyond (more sweet than all)
Talked the tumbling waterfall;
And there were, and there were not
(As might fall, and form anew
Bell-hung drops of honey-dew)
Echoes of—­I know not what;
As if some right-joyous elf,
While about his own affairs,
Whistled softly otherwheres.
Nay, as if our mother dear,
Wrapped in sun-warm atmosphere,
Laughed a little to herself,
Laughed a little as she rolled,
Thinking on the days of old.

“Ah! there be some hearts, I wis,
To which nothing comes amiss.
Mine was one. Much secret wealth
I was heir to: and by stealth,
When the moon was fully grown,
And she thought herself alone,
I have heard her, ay, right well,
Shoot a silver message down
To the unseen sentinel
Of a still, snow-thatchéd town.

“Once, awhile ago, I peered
In the nest where Spring was reared.
There, she quivering her fair wings,
Flattered March with chirrupings;
And they fed her; nights and days,
Fed her mouth with much sweet food,
And her heart with love and praise,
Till the wild thing rose and flew
Over woods and water-springs,
Shaking off the morning dew
In a rainbow from her wings.

“Once (I will to you confide
More), O once in forest wide,
I, benighted, overheard
Marvellous mild echoes stirred,
And a calling half defined,
And an answering from afar;
Somewhat talkéd with a star,
And the talk was of mankind.

“‘Cuckoo, cuckoo!’
Float anear in upper blue:
Art thou yet a prophet true?
Wilt thou say, ’And having seen
Things that be, and have not been,
Thou art free o’ the world, for naught
Can despoil thee of thy thought’?
Nay, but make me music yet,
Bird, as deep as my regret,
For a certain hope hath set,
Like a star; and left me heir
To a crying for its light,
An aspiring infinite,
And a beautiful despair!

“Ah! no more, no more, no more
I shall lie at thy shut door,
Mine ideal, my desired,
Dreaming thou wilt open it,
And step out, thou most admired,
By my side to fare, or sit,
Quenching hunger and all drouth
With the wit of thy fair mouth,
Showing me the wishéd prize
In the calm of thy dove’s eyes,
Teaching me the wonder-rife
Majesties of human life,
All its fairest possible sum,
And the grace of its to come.

“What a difference! Why of late
All sweet music used to say,
’She will come, and with thee stay
To-morrow, man, if not to-day.’
Now it murmurs, ‘Wait, wait, wait!’”


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012



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