Lydia Huntley Sigourney
The Rural Life In New England. Canto First - Poem by Lydia Huntley Sigourney
Peaceful is the rural life, made strong by healthful industry,
Firm in love of the birth-land, and the laws that govern it,
Calm through moderated desires and a primitive simplicity,
Walking filially with Nature as the Patriarchs walked with God.
Such have I beheld it in my native vales, green and elm-shaded.
Such hath it been depicted in their legends who went before me;
What therefore, I have seen and heard, declare I unto you
In measures artless and untuneful.
Fearless of hardship,
In costume, as in manners, unadorn'd and homely
Were our ancestral farmers, the seed-planters of a strong nation.
Congenial were their wives, not ashamed of the household charge,
Yoke-fellows that were help-meets, vigorous and of a good courage;
Revolting not at life's plain intent, but its duties discharging
Patiently, lovingly, and with true faith looking upward.
Thence came the rudiments of an inflexible people
Whose praise is in themselves.
Hail to the ancient farmer!
Broad-shouldered as Ajax--deep-chested through commerce with free air,
Not enervated by luxury, nor care-worn with gold-counting,
Content with his lot, by pride and envy unvisited.
Muscular was his arm, laying low the kings of the forest,
Uncouth might be his coat, and his heavy shoes, Vestris flouted,
At the grasp of his huge hand, the dainty belle might have shuddered.
Yet blessings on his bronzed face, and his warm, honest heart,
Whose well-rooted virtues were the strength and stay of republics.
* * * * *
True independence was his, earth and sky being his bankers,
Bills drawn on them, endorsed by toil were never protested.
Bathed in vernal dews was his glistening plough-share,
Birds, newly-returned, the merry nest-builders, bade him good morrow,
Keenly wrought his scythe in summer, where fell the odorous clover,
Clear was his song at autumn-husking, amid piles of golden corn.
Winter saw him battling the drifted snows, with his oxen,
Bearing to the neighboring town, fuel that gladden'd the hearth-stone.
Deep in undisturbed beds then slept the dark-featured anthracite,
Steam not having armed itself to exterminate the groves,
Lavishly offering them as a holocaust to winged horses of iron,
Like Moloch, cruel god, dooming the beautiful to the flame.
* * * * *
Independent was the farmer, the food of his household being sure;
With the fields of waving grain; with the towering tassell'd maize;
With the herds, moving homeward, bearing their creamy nectar;
He saw, and gather'd it, giving thanks to the bountiful Father.
Among the lambs sporting in green pastures, among the feathery people,
Among the fruit-laden branches, he beheld it also;
Under the earth, on the earth, in the air, ripen'd his threefold crop.
Swelling in the cluster'd vine, and the roots of the teeming garden,
The Garden--precious spot! which God deign'd to bless at the beginning,
Placing therein Man, made after his own glorious image,
To dress it and to keep it.
Hail, to the ancient farmer,
Naught to him the fall of stocks that turns pale the speculator,
Naught to him the changes of trade, wrinkling the brow of the merchant,
Naught to him, the light weight, or exorbitant price of the baker;
Sure was his bread, howsoe'er the markets might fluctuate,
Sweet loaves of a rich brown, plentifully graced his table,
Made by the neat hand of wife or daughter, happy in healthful toil.
Skilfully wrought the same hands, amid the treasures of the dairy,
Rich cheeses, and masses of golden butter, and bowls of fragrant milk
Not doled out warily, as by city dames, but to all, free and flowing;
Woman's right it was, to crown the board with gifts of her own
Rights not disputed, not clamored for in public assemblies,
But conceded by approving Love, whose manliness threw around her
A cherishing protection, such as God willed in Paradise.
* * * * *
Dense was the head of the Maple, and in summer of a lustrous green,
Yet earliest in autumn, among all trees of the forest,
To robe itself in scarlet, like a cardinal going to conclave.
Subjected was it in spring, to a singular phlebetomy;
Tubes inserted through its bark, drew away the heart's sweet blood,
Pore after pore emptying itself, till the great arteries were
Fires then blazed amid the thickets, like the moveable camp of the
And in boiling kettles, fiercely eddying, struggled the caloric,
With gases, and the saccharine spirit, until the granulated sugar,
Showed a calm, brown face, welcome to the stores of the housewife;
Moulded also into small cakes, it formed the favorite confection
Of maiden and swain, during the long evenings of courtship.
* * * * *
Gamboling among wild flowers, gadded the honey-bee,
Bending down their innocent heads, with a buzzing lore of flattery,
Beguiling them of their essences, which with tireless alacrity,
Straightway deposited he in his cone-roof'd banking-house,
Subtle financier--thinking to take both dividend and capital.
But failing in his usury, for duly cometh the farmer,
Despoiling him of his hoard, yea! haply of his life also.
Stern was the policy of the olden times, to that diligent insect,
Not skill'd like our own, to confiscate a portion of his earnings,
Leaving life and limb unscathed for future enterprise.
Welcome were the gifts of that winged chemist to a primitive people.
Carefully cloistered in choice vases, was the pure, virgin honey,
Sacred to honor'd guests, or a balm to the sore-throated invalid.
Dealt out charily, was the fair comb to the gratified little ones,
Or, to fermentation yielded, producing the spirited metheglin.
Not scorn'd by the bee-masters, were even those darken'd hexagons
Where slumber'd the dead like the coral-builders in reefy cell.
Even these to a practical use devoted the clear-sighted matron,
Calling forth from cavernous sepulchres cheerful light for the living.
Cleansed and judiciously mingled with an oleagenous element,
Thus drew she from the mould, waxen candles, whose gold-tinted beauty
Crown'd proudly the mantel-piece, reserved for bettermost occasions.
Unheard of, then, was the gas, with briliant jet and gorgeous
Nor hunted they from zone to zone, with barbed harpoon the mighty
Making the indignant monarch of ocean, their flambeau and link-boy:
For each household held within itself, its own fountain of light.
Faithful was the rural housewife, taking charge of all intrusted
Prolonging the existence of whatever needed repair,
Requiring children to respect the property of their parents,
Not to waste or destroy, but be grateful for food and clothing;
Teaching them industry, and the serious value of fleeting time,
Strict account of which must be rendered to the Master and Giver of
Prudence was then held in esteem and a laudable economy
Not jeered at by miserly names, but held becoming in all,
For the poor, that they might avoid debt; and the rich that they might
be justly generous.
* * * * *
Ho! for the flax-field, with its flower of blue and leaf freshly
Ho! for the snowy fleece, which the quiet flock yield to their
Woman's hand shall transmute both, into armor for those she loves,
Wrapping her household in comfort, and her own heart in calm content.
Hark! at her flaxen distaff cheerily singeth the matron,
Hymns, that perchance, were mingled with her own cradle melodies.
Back and forth, at the Great Wheel, treadeth the buxom damsel,
Best form of calisthenics, exercising well every muscle
Regularly and to good purpose, filling the blue veins with richer
Rapidly on the spindle, gather threads from the pendent roll,
Not by machinery anatomized, till stamina and staple fly away,
But with hand-cards concocted, and symmetrically formed,
Of wool, white or grey, or the refuse flax smoothed to a silky lustre,
It greeteth the fingers of the spinner.
In this Hygeian concert
Leader of the Orchestra, was the Great Wheel's tireless tenor,
Drowning the counter of the snapping reel, and the quill-wheels fitful
Whose whirring strings, yielded to children's hands, prepare spools for
At intervals, like a muffled drum, sounded the stroke of the loam,
Cumbrous, and filling a large space, with its quantity of timber,
Obedient only to a vigorous arm, which in ruling it grew more vigorous.
From its massy beam were unrolled, fabrics varied and substantial,
Linen for couch and table, and the lighter garniture of summer,
Frocks of a flaxen color for the laborer, or striped with blue for the
Stout garments in which man bides the buffet of wintry elements.
From the rind of the stately butternut, drew they a brown complexion,
Or the cerulean borrowed from the tint of the southern indigo.
Thus rustic Industry girded itself, amid household music,
As History of old, set her fabulous legends to the harp.
Ears trained to the operas of Italy, would find discordance to be
But the patriot heard the ring of gold in the coffers of his country,
Not sent forth to bankruptcy, for the flowery silks of France;
While the listening christian caught the strong harmonies of a peaceful
Giving praise to Jehovah.
Lo! at the winter evening
In these uncarpeted dwellings, what a world of comfort!
Large hickory logs send a dancing flame up the ample chimney,
Tinging with ruddy gleam, every face around the broad hearth-stone.
King and patriarch, in the midst, sitteth the true-hearted farmer.
At his side, the wife with her needle, still quietly regardeth the
Sheltered in her corner-nook, in the arm-chair, the post of honor,
Calm with the beauty of age, is the venerable grandmother.
Clustering around her, watching the stocking that she knits, are the
Loving the stories that she tells of the days when she was a maiden,
Stories ever mix'd with lessons of a reverent piety.
Manna do they thus gather to feed on, when their hair is hoary.
Stretch'd before the fire, is the weary, rough-coated house-dog,
Winking his eyes, full of sleep, at the baby, seated on his shoulder,
Proudly watching his master's darling, and the pet of the family,
As hither and thither on its small feet it toddles unsteadily.
On the straight-back'd oaken settle, congregate the older children.
Work have they, or books, and sometimes the weekly newspaper,
Grey, on coarse, crumpled paper, and borrowed from house to house,
Small-sized, yet precious, and read through from beginning to end,
Bright, young heads circling close, peering together over its columns.
Now and then, furtive glances reconnoitre the ingle-side,
Where before a bed of coals, rows of red apples are roasting,
Spitting out their life-juices spitefully, in unwilling martyrdom.
Finished, and drawn back, the happy group wait a brief interval,
Thinking some neighbor might chance to come in and bid them good even,
Heightening their simple refection, for whose sake would be joyously
The mug of sparkling cider passed temperately from lip to lip,
Sufficient and accepted offering of ancient, true-hearted hospitality.
Thus in colonial times dwelt they together as brethren,
Taking part in each others' concerns with an undissembled sympathy.
But when the tall old clock told out boldly three times three,
Thrice the number of the graces, thrice the number of the fates,
The full number of the Muses, the hour dedicated to Morpheus,
At that curfew departed the guest, and all work being suspended,
Laid aside was the grandmother's knitting-bag, for in its cradle
Rock'd now and then by her foot, already slumbered the baby.
Then, ere the fading brands were covered with protecting ashes,
Rose the prayer of the Sire, amid his treasured and trusted ones,
Rose his thanks for past blessings, his petitions for the future,
His committal of all care to Him who careth for his creatures,
Overlooking nothing that His bountiful Hand hath created.
Orderly were the households of the farmer, not given to idle merriment,
Honoring the presence of parents, as of tutelary spirits.
To be obedient and useful were the first lessons of the young children,
Well learned and bringing happiness, that ruled on sure foundations,
Respect for authority, being the initial of God's holy fear.
Modern times might denounce such a system as tyrannical,
Asking the blandishments of indulgence, and a broader liberty;
Leaving in perplexing doubt, the mind of the infant stranger
Whether to rule or to be ruled he came hither on his untried journey,
Rearing him in headstrong ignorance, revolting at discipline,
Heady, high-minded, and prone to speak evil of dignities.
Welcome was Winter, to the agriculturist of olden times,
Then, while fruitful Earth, with whom he was in league, held her
Knowledge entered into his soul. At the lengthened evening,
Read he in an audible voice to his listening family
Grave books of History, or elaborate Theology,
Taxing thought and memory, but not setting fancy on tiptoe
Teaching reverence for wise men, and for God, the Giver of Wisdom.
Not then had the era arrived, when of making books there is no end.
Painfully the laboring press, brought forth like the kingly whale
One cub at a time, guiding it carefully over the billows,
Watching with pride and pleasure, its own wonderful offspring.
A large, fair volume, was in those days, as molten gold,
Touched only with clean hands, and by testators willed to their heirs.
* * * * *
Winter also, brought the school for the boys,--released from
Early was the substantial breakfast, in those short, frosty mornings,
That equipped in season, might be the caravan for its enterprise,
Punctuality in those simple times being enrolled among the virtues.
There they go! a rosy group, bearing in small baskets their dinner;
Plunging thro' all snow-drifts, the boys,--on all ices sliding the
Yet leaving not the straight path, lest tardy should be their arrival.
Lone on the bleak hill-side, stood the unpainted village school-house,
Winds taking aim at it like a target, smoke belching from its chimney,
Bare to the fiery suns of summer, like the treeless Nantucket.
Desks were ranged under the windows where on high benches without backs
Sate the little ones, their feet vainly reaching toward the distant
Commanded everlastingly to keep still and to be still,
As if immobility were the climax of all excellence;
Hard lesson for quick nerves, and eyes searching for something new.
Nature endowed them with curiosity, but man wiser than she
Calling himself a teacher, would fain stiffen them into statues.
No bright visions of the school-palaces of future days
With seats of ease, and carpets, and pianos, and pictured walls,
And green lawns, pleasantly shaded, stretching wide for play,
And knowledge fondling her pets, and unveiling her royal road,
Gleam'd before them as Eden, kindling smiles on their thoughtful
Favor'd were the elder scholars with more congenial tasks:
Loudly read they in their classes, glorying in the noise they made,
Busily over the slates moved the hard pencils, with a grating sound,
Diligently on coarse paper wrote they, with quill pens, bushy topp'd,
Blessed in having lived, ere the metallic stylus was invented.
Rang'd early around the fire, have been their frozen inkstands,
Where in rotation sits each scholar briefly, by the master's leave,
Roasting on one side, and on the other a petrefaction,
Keen blasts through the crevices delighting to whistle and mock them.
Patient were the children, not given to murmuring or complaining,
Learning through privation, lessons of value for a future life,
Subjection, application, and love of knowledge for itself alone.
On a high chair, sate the solemn Master, watchful of all things,
Absolute was his sway and in this authority he gloried,
Conforming it much to the Spartan rule, and the code of Solomon,
Showing no mercy to idleness, or wrong uses of the slippery tongue:
Yet to diligent students kind, and of their proficiency boastful,
Exhibiting their copy-books, to committee-man and visitant,
Or calling out the declaimers, in some stentorian dialogue.
Few were the studies then pursued, but thoroughness required in all,
Surface-work not being in vogue, nor rootless blossoms regarded.
Especially well-taught was the orthography of our copious language,
False spelling being as a sin to be punished by the judges.
In this difficult attainment the master sometimes accorded
A form of friendly conflict sought with ardor as a premium,
Stirring the belligerent element, ever strong in boyish natures.
Forth came at close of the school-day, two of reproachless conduct,
Naming first the best spellers, they proceeded to choose alternately,
Till all, old and young, ranging under opposite banners,
Drawn up as in battle array, each other stoutly confronted.
Rapidly given out by the leaders to their marshall'd forces,
Word by word, with its definition, was the allotted lesson,
Vociferously answered from each side like discharges of artillery;
Fatal was the slightest mistake, fatal even pause or hesitation,
Doubt was for the vanquished, to deliberate was to be lost.
Drooping with disgrace down sate each discomfited pupil,
Bravely stood the perfect, the most unbroken line gaining the victory.
Not unboastful were the conquerers, cheered with shouts on their
Crest-fallen were the defeated, yet eager for a future contest.
Strong elements thus enlisted, gave new vigor to mental toil,
As the swimmer puts forth more force till the rapids are overpast.
Dear to the persevering, were those schools of the olden time,
Respected were the teachers, who with majestic austerity,
Dispensed without favoritism, a Lacedamonian justice.
Learning was not then loved for luxury, like a lady for her gold,
But testing her worshippers by trial, knew who sought her for herself.
* * * * *
Not given to frequent feasting was the home-bred farmer of New England,
Parties, and the popular lectures swelled not his code of enjoyments.
One banquet, climax of his convivial delight, was the yearly
Substituted by puritan settlers for the Christmas of the Mother-Clime,
Keeping in memory the feast of ingathering, of the Ancient Covenant
Drear November was its appointed season, when earth's bounty being
Man might rest from his labors, and praise the Lord of the Harvest.
Such was its original design, but the tendencies of Saxonism,
Turn'd it more to eating and drinking, than devotional remembrance.
Yet blessed was the time, summoning homeward every wanderer:
Back came the city apprentice, and from her service place the damsel,
Back came the married daughter to the father's quiet hearth-stone,
Wrapped warmly in her cloak is a babe, its eyes full of wonder,--
Hand in hand, walked the little ones, bowing low before the
Meekly craving their blessing, for so had they been piously taught.
Back to the birth-spot, to the shadow of their trees ancestral,
Came they like joyous streams, to their first untroubled fountain,
Knowing better how to prize it, from the rocks that had barred their
In primitive guise, journeyed homeward those dispersed ones.
Rare, in these days, was the carriage, or stage-coach for the
Roads, unmacadamized, making rude havoc of delicate springs.
Around the door, horses gather with the antique side-saddle and
Led thence to the full barn, while their riders find heartfelt welcome.
Then all whom culinary cares release, hasten to the House of Worship,
Religion being invoked to sanction the rejoicing of the fathers.
Plain was the village-church, a structure of darkened wood,
Having doors on three sides, and flanked by sheds for the horses,
Guiltless of blackening stove-pipe, or the smouldering fires of the
Assaulted oft were its windows, by the sonorous North-Western,
Making organ-pipes in the forest, for its shrill improvisations
Patient of cold, sate the people, each household in its own square pew,
Palisaded above the heads of the children, imprisoning their roving
Patiently sate the people, while from 'neath the great sounding-board,
The preacher unfolded his sermon, like the many-headed cauliflower.
Grave was the good pastor, not prone to pamper animal appetites,
But mainly intent to deal with that which is immortal.
Prolix might he have been deemed, save by the flock he guided,
Who duteously accounted him but a little lower than the angels.
As solemn music to the sound of his monotonous periods
Listened attentively the young, until he slowly enunciated
Fifteenthly, in the division of his elaborate discourse.
Then gadded away their busy thoughts to the Thanksgiving dinner,
Visioning good things to come.
At length, around the table,
Duly bless'd by the Master of the feast, they cheerily assemble.
Before him, as his perquisite, and prerogative to carve.
In a lordly dish smokes the huge, well-browned Turkey,
Chickens were there, to whose innocent lives Thanksgiving is ever a
Luscious roasters from the pen, the large ham of a red complexion,
Garnish'd and intermingled with varied forms of vegetable wealth.
Ample pasties were attached, and demolished with dexterity,
Custards and tarts, and compounds of the golden-faced pumpkin,
Prime favorite, without whose aid, scarcely could New England have been
Apples, with plump, waxen cheeks, chestnuts, and the fruit of the
Bisected neatly, without fragment, furnished the simple dessert,
Finale to that festival where each guest might be safely merry.
Hence, by happy-hearted children, was it hailed as the pole-star,
Toward which Memory looked backward six months, and Hope forward for
six to come,
Dating reverently from its era, as the Moslem from his Hegira.
Hymen also hailed it as his revenue, and crowning time;
Bachelors wearied with the restraints that courtship imposes,
Longed for it, as the Israelite for the jubilee of release,
And many a householder, in his family-bible marked its date
As the day of his espousals, and of the gladness of his heart.
* * * * *
Content was the life of agriculture, in unison with that wisest prayer
'_Thy will be done._' Wisest, because who, save the Eternal
Knoweth what is best for man, walking ignorantly among shadows,
Himself a shadow, not like Adam our father in Paradise,
Rightly naming all things, but calling evil, good, and good, evil,
Blindly blaming the discipline that might bless him ever-lastingly,
And embracing desires, that in their bosom hide the dagger of Ehud.
Asketh he for honor? In its train are envyings and cares;
'Wealth? It may drown the soul in destruction and perdition;
Power? Lo! it casteth on some lone St. Helena to die:
Surely, safest of all petitions, is that of our blessed Saviour,--
'_Not my will hut Thine._'
* * * * *
Thus, as it was in the days before us,
Rural life in New-England, with its thrift, and simplicity,
Minutely have I depicted, not emulous of embellishment.
More of refinement might it boast when our beautiful birth-clime,
From the colonial chrysalis emerging, spread her wing among the
Then rose an aristocracy, founded not on wealth alone
That winds may scatter like desert sands, or the floods wash away,
But on the rock of solid virtue, where securely anchors the soul.
* * * * *
Mid its cultured acres rose gracefully a dwelling of the better class,
Large, but not lofty, its white walls softened by surrounding shades,
Fresh turf at its feet like velvet, green boughs bannering its head,
Bannering, and dropping music, till the last rustle of the falling
There, still in her comely prime, dwelt the lady of the mansion.
Moderate would her fortune be held in these days that count by
Yet rich was she, because having no debts, what seemed to be hers, was
Rich, in having a surplus for the poor, which she gladly imparted;
Rich too, through Agriculture, pursued less from need than habit.
Habit mingled with satisfaction, and bringing health in its train.
Early widowhood had touched her brow with sadness such as time
Yet in her clear eye was a fortitude, surmounting adversity.
Busy were her maidens, and happy, their right conduct kindly approved,
Busy also the swains thro' whose toil her fields yielded increase,
Respect had she for labor; knowing both what to require, and when it
was well performed,
Readily rendering full wages, with smiles and words of counsel,
Accounting those who served her, friends, entitled to advice and
Thus, looking well to the ways of her household, and from each
expecting their duty,
Wisely divided she her time, and at intervals of leisure,
Books allured her cultured mind through realms of thought and
* * * * *
But the deepest well-spring of her joys, not yet hath been unfolded,
A fountain where care and sorrow forgot both their name and nature.
Two little daughters, like olive plants, grew beside that fountain,
One, with dark, deepset eyes, and wealth of raven tresses,
The other gleaming as a sunbeam, through her veil of golden hair,
With a glance like living sapphire, making the beholder glad.
Clinging to the sweet mother's hand, smiling when she smiled,
If she were sad, grieving also, they were her blessed comforters,
Morn and Even were they styled by admiring, fanciful visitants,
So 'the evening and the morning, were to her soul the first day,'
After the heavy midnight of her weeping and widowhood.
Side by side, in sweet liberty hither and thither roamed those little
Hunting violets on the bank, tasting cheese curds in the dairy,
Seeking red and white strawberries, as ripening they ran in the garden
To fill the small basket for their mother, covering the fruit with
Peering archly to see if she would discover what was lurking beneath.
Gamboling with the lambs, shouting as the nest-builders darted by,
Sharing in the innocence of one, and catching song from the other.
Nighty on the same snowy pillow, were laid their beautiful heads,
The same morning beam kiss'd away their lingering slumbers,
The first object that met their waking eye, was the bright, sisterly
One impulse moved both hearts, as kneeling by their little bed,
Breathed forth from ruby lips, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven!'
Simple homage, meekly blending in a blessed stream of incense.
Forth went they among the wild flowers, making friendship with the
With the ant in her circling citadel, with the spider at her silk-loom,
Talking to the babbling brook, speaking kindly to the uncouth terrapin,
And frog, who to them seem'd dancing joyously in watery halls.
Like the chirping of the wood-robin murmured their tuneful voices,
Or rang out in merry laughter, gladdening the ear of the Mother,
Who when she heard it afar off, laughed also, not knowing wherefore.
Thus, in companionship with Nature, dwelt they, growing each day more
Loving all things that she cherish'd, and loved by her in return.
Yet not idly pass'd their childhood, in New England's creed that were
Promptly, as strength permitted, followed they examples of industry,
Lovingly assisting the Mother wherever her work might be.
Surprising was it to see what their small hands could accomplish,
Without trespassing on the joy of childhood, that precious birthright
Diligently wrought they in summer, at the dame's school with plodding
Docile at their lessons in winter, stood they before the Master:
Yet learning most from Home and Mother, those schools for the heart,
Befitting best that sex, whose sphere of action is in the heart.
Attentive were they to the Parents' rule, and to the open book of
Teachers, whose faithful pupils shall be wise towards God.
* * * * *
Different were the two daughters, though to the same discipline
Grave was the elder born and thoughtful, even beyond her years,
Night upon her tresses, but the star of morning in her heart.
Exceeding fair was the younger, and witty, and full of grace,
Winning with her sunny ringlets, the notice of all beholders.
Different also were their temperaments, one loving like the Violet
Shaded turf, where the light falls subdued through sheltering branches,
The other, as the Tulip, exulting in the lustrous noontide,
And the prerogatives of beauty, to see, and to be seen.
Sweet was it to behold them, when the sun grew low in summer,
Riding gracefully through the green-wood, each on her ambling palfrey,
One, white as milk, and the other like shining ebony,
For so in fanciful love had the Mother selected for her darlings.
Sweet was it to mark them, side by side, in careless beauty,
Looking earnestly in each others' faces, thought playfully touching
* * * * *
Chief speaker was Miranda, ever fearless and most fluent.
'Tired am I of always seeing the same dull, old scenes.
I wish the rail-fences would tumble down, and the sprawling
And the brown farm-houses take unto themselves wings and fly away,
Like the wild-geese in autumn, if only something might be new.
There's the Miller forever standing on that one same spot of ground,
Watching his spouting wheel, when there's water, and when there is
Grumbling, I suppose, at home, to his spiritless wife and daughters.
I like not that fusty old Miller, his coat covered with meal,
Ever tugging at bags, and shoveling corn into the hopper.'
Discreetly answer'd Bertha, and the lively one responded,
Lively, and quick-sighted, yet prone to be restless and unsatisfied,
'Counting rain-drops as they fall, one by one, from sullen branches.
Seeing silly lambkins leap, and the fan-tail'd squirrels scamper,
What are such things to me? Stupid Agriculture I like not,
Soap-making, and the science of cheese-tubs, what are they to me?
The chief end of life with these hinds and hindesses,
Is methinks, to belabor their hands, till they harden like brick-bats.'
* * * * *
'Look, look, Miranda, dearest! The new moon sweetly rising
Holdeth forth her silver crescent, which the loyal stars perceiving,
Gather gladly to her banner, like a host around their sovereign.
Let us find the constellations that our good Instructor taught us.
Remember you not yesterday, when our lesson was well-render'd,
How with unwonted flattery he call'd us his Hesperus and Aurora?'
* * * * *
'These hum-drum teachings tire me, I'm disgusted with reciting
And repeating, day by day, what I knew well enough before.'
Then quickening briskly her startled steed with the riding-whip,
She darted onward through the forest, reaching first their own abode.
At night, when they retired, ere the waning lamp was extinguished,
That good time for talking, when heart to heart discloseth
What the work or the pride of day, might in secrecy have shrouded,
'I have seen our early play-mate, Emilia,
From a boarding-school return'd, all accomplished, all delightful,
So changed, so improved, her best friends might scarcely know her.
Why might not I be favor'd with similar advantages?
Caged here, year by year, with wings beating the prison-door;
I would fain go where she went. If overruled I shall be wretched.
I _must_ go, Bertha, yes! No obstacle shall withhold me.'
* * * * *
'Oh Miranda! Our Mother! In your company is her solace.
In your young life she liveth, at your bright smile, ever smileth,
Such power have you to cheer her. What could she do without you
When the lengthen'd eve grows lonely, and the widow sorrow presseth?'
'Oh persuade her!' she cried, with an embrace of passionate fervor,
'Persuade her, Bertha! and I'll be your bond-servant forever.'
* * * * *
Seldom had a differing purpose ruffled long those sisterly bosoms.
Wakeful lay Bertha, the silent tear for her companion,
While frequent sighs swelling and heaving the snowy breast of Miranda,
Betray'd that troubled visions held her spirit in their custody.
* * * * *
Like twin streamlets had they been, from one quiet fountain flowing,
Stealing on through fringed margins, anon playfully diverging,
Yet to each other as they wander'd, sending messages through whispering
Then returning and entwining joyously, with their cool chrystalline
* * * * *
But who that from their source marketh infant brooklets issue,
Like sparkling threads of silver, wending onward through the distance
Can foretell which will hold placid course among the vallies,
Content with silent blessings from the fertile soil it cheereth,
Or which, mid rocky channels contending and complaining,
Now exulting in brief victory, then in darken'd eddies creeping,
Leaps its rampart and is broken on the wheel of the cataract.
* * * * *
Generous is the love and holy that springeth from gratitude;
Rooting not in blind instinct, grasping not, exacting not,
Remembering the harvest on which it fed, and the toil of the harvester;
Fain would it render recompense according to what it hath received,
Or falling short, weepeth. As the leaf of the white Lily
Bendeth backward to the stalk whence its young bud drew nutrition,
So turneth the Love of Gratitude, with eye undimm'd and fervent,
To parent, friend, teacher, benefactor, bountiful Creator.
Sympathies derived from such sources ever sacredly cherishing;
Daughter of Memory, inheriting her mother's immortality,
Welcome shall she find among angels, where selfish love may not enter.
Comments about The Rural Life In New England. Canto First by Lydia Huntley Sigourney
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