has kindly shared the material
from his Robert Buchanan site with readers of the
Potts, in his dusty chamber, writes,
A dilettante lord to please:
A ray of country sunshine lights
The foggy region ruled by these;
Flock, kind advisers, critics sage,
To damn the simple country clown, —
The mud of English patronage
Grows round his feet, and keeps him down.
'This little mean-faced duodecimo,
"Poems by Edward Crowhurst, Labourer,"
This coarsely-printed little book of rhymes,
Contains within the goodliest gift of song
The gods have graced us with for many a day:
A crystal clearness, as of running brooks.
A music, as of green boughs murmuring,
A peeping of fresh thoughts in shady places
Like violets new-blown, a gleam of dewdrops,
A sober, settled, greenness of repose, —
And lying over all, in level beams,
Transparent, sweet, and unmistakable,
The light that never was on sea or land.
'Let all the greater and the lesser lights
Regard these lines upon a Wood in Spring,
Or those which follow, call'd "the Barley-Bird,"
And then regard their laurels. Melody
More sweet was never blown through pastoral pipe
In Britain, since the Scottish Ramsay died.
Nor let the squeamish dreamers of our time,
Our rainbow bards, despise such song as this,
Wealthy in images the poor man knows,
And household chords that make the women weep.
Simply yet subtly, Edward Crowhurst works:
Singing of lowly truths and homely things —
Death snatching up a cotter's child at play,
Light flashing from far worlds on dying eyes
That never saw beyond their native fields,
The pathos and the power of common life;
And while, perchance, his deeper vein runs on
Less heeded, by a random touch is waken'd
A scent, a flow╬r-tint, a wave of wings,
A sense of rustling boughs and running brooks,
Touch'd by whose spell the soul is stirr'd, and eyes
Gaze on the dark world round them, and are dim.
'This Mister Crowhurst is a poor young man,
Uneducated, doom'd to earn his bread
By working daily at the plough; and yet,
Sometimes in midst of toil, sometimes at night,
Whenever he could snatch a little time,
Hath written down (he taught himself to write!)
His simple verses. Is it meet, we ask,
A nature so superb should languish thus?
Nay, he deserves, if ever man deserved,
The succour of the rich and high in place,
The opportunity to labour less,
And use those truly wondrous gifts of his
In modest competence; and therewithal,
Kindness, encouragement, and good advice,
Such as the cultured give. Even now, we hear,
A certain sum of money is subscribed,
Enough to furnish well his present needs.
Among the donors, named for honour here,
We note the noble Earl of Chremiton,
Lord Phidippus, Lord Gnathos, Lady Dee,
Sir Charles Toroon. But more must yet be done.
We dare to put the case on public grounds,
Since he who writes so nobly is, indeed,
A public benefactor, — with a claim
On all who love to listen and to look,
When the fresh Saxon Muse, in homespun gear,
The free breeze blowing back her loosen'd hair,
Wanders barefooted through the dewy lanes
And sings aloud, till all the valleys ring
For pleasure, and the echoes of the hills
Make sweet accord!'
— Conservative Review.
AFTER TEN YEARS.
A homely matron, who has once been fair,
In quiet suffering old, yet young in years;
Soft threads of silver in her auburn hair,
And lines around the eyes that tell of tears;
But on her face there trembles peaceful light,
That seems a smile, and yet is far less bright, —
To tell of watchings in the shade and sun,
And melancholy duty sweetly done.
What, take away my Teddy? shut him up
Between stone walls, as if he was a thief?
You freeze my blood to talk of such a thing!
Why, these green fields where my old man was born,
The river, and the woodland, and the lanes,
Are all that keep him living: he was ever
O'er fond of things like those; and now, you see,
Is fonder of them than he was before,
Because he thinks so little else is left.
Mad? He's a baby! Would not hurt a fly!
Can manage him as easy as our girl!
And though he was a poet and went wrong,
He could not help his failings. Ah, True Heart,
I love him all the deeper and the dearer!
I would not lose him for the whole wide world!
It came through working lonely in the fields,
And growing shy of cheerful company,
And worrying his wits with idle things
He saw and heard when quiet out o' doors.
For, long ere we were wedded, all the place
Knew Teddy's ways: how mad he was for flowers
And singing birds; how often at the plough
He used to idle, holding up his head
And looking at the clouds; what curious stuff
He used to say about the ways of things;
How week-days he was never company,
Nor tidy on a Sunday. Even then
Folk call'd him stupid: so did I myself,
At first, before his sheepishness wore off;
And then, why I was frighten'd for a time
To find how wondrous brightly he could look
And talk, when with a girl, and no one by.
Right soon he stole this heart of mine away,
So cunningly I scarcely guess'd 'twas gone,
But found my tongue at work before I knew,
Sounding his praises. Mother shook her head;
But soon it was the common country talk
That he and I were courting.
Some of his sayings and his doings still
Seem'd foolish, but I used to laugh and say,
'Wait till we marry! I shall make him change!'
And it was pleasant walking after dark,
In summer, wandering up and down the lanes,
And heark'ning to his talk; and pleasant, too,
In winter, to sit cuddling by the fire,
And whispering to the quiet firelight sound
And the slow ticking of the clock. Ere long,
I grew to care for many things he loved.
He knew the names of trees, and birds, and flowers,
Their races and their seasons; named the stars,
Their comings and their goings; and could tell
Strange truths about the manners of the clouds.
Set him before a hedgerow in a lane,
And he was happy all alone for hours.
The woods and fields were full of joy to him,
And wonders, and fine meanings ever new.
How, at the bottom of the wayside well,
The foul toad lies and purifies the drink;
How twice a year red robin sings a song,
Once when the orchis blows its bells in spring,
Once when the gold is on the slanted sheaves;
How late at night the common nightingale
Comes in the season of the barley-sowing,
Silently builds her nest among the boughs,
And then sings out just as the roses blow,
And it is sweet and pleasant in the moon.
Why, half his courtship lay in talk like that,
And, oh! the way he talk'd fill'd high my heart
With pleasure. Then, o' quiet winter nights,
With wild bright eyes and voice that broke for joy,
He often read aloud from books of songs;
One I remember, that I liked the best,
A book of pictures and of love-tales, call'd
'The Seasons.' I was young, and did not think
I only felt 'twas fine. Yet now and then
I noticed more, and took a sober fit,
And tried to make him tidy in his clothes,
And could not, though I tried; and used to sigh
When mother mutter'd hints, as mothers will,
That he should work more hard and look ahead,
And save to furnish out a house for me....
For Teddy smiled, poor lad, and work'd more hard,
But save . . . not he! Instead of laying by,
Making a nest to rear the young ones in,
He spent his hard-won cash in buying books, —
Much dusty lumber, torn and black and old,
Long sheets of ballads, bundles of old rhyme, —
And read them, one by one, at home o' nights,
Or out aloud to me, or at the plough.
I chid at first, but quickly held my tongue,
Because he look'd so grieved; and once he said
With broken voice and dew-light in his eyes,
'Lass, I'm a puzzle to myself and you,
But take away the books, and I should die!'
His back went bare for books, his stomach starved
To buy them, — nay, he pawn'd his jacket once,
To get a dreary string of solemn stuff
All about Eve and Adam. More and more
He slacken'd at his toil; and soon the lad,
Who turn'd the cleanest furrow, when he pleased,
Of all the ploughmen, let his work go spoil,
And fairly led an idle thriftless life
In the green woods and on the river side,
And then I found that he himself made verse
In secret, — verse about the birds and flowers,
Songs about lovers, rhymes about the stars,
Tales of queer doings in the village here, —
All writ on scraps of paper out-o'-doors,
And hidden in an old tin coffee-pot
Where he had kept his cash. The first I heard
Was just a song all about him and me,
And cuddling in the kitchen while 'twas snowing;
He read it to me, blushing like a girl,
And I was pleased, and laugh'd, and thought it fine,
And wonder'd where he learn'd to make the words,
Jingle so sweetly. Then he read me more,
Some that I liked, some that I fancied poor;
And, last of all, one morn in harvest-time,
When all the men were working in the fields,
And he was nearly ragged, out it came —
'They're reaping corn, and corn brings gold, my lass;
But I will reap gold, too, and fame beside, —
I'm going to print a Book!'
I thought him mad!
The words seem'd dreadful — such a fool was I;
And I was puzzled more when he explain'd:
That he had sent some verses by the post
To a rich man who lived by selling songs
Yonder in London city; that for months
No answer came, and Teddy strain'd his eyes
Into the clouds for comfort; that at last
There came a letter full of wondrous praise
From the great man in London, offering
Poor Teddy, if he sent him verse enough
To make a pretty little printed book,
To value it in money. Till I die,
I'll ne'er forget the light on Teddy's face —
The light, the glory, and the wonder there:
He laugh'd, and read the letter out aloud,
He leapt and laugh'd and kiss'd me o'er and o'er,
And then he read the letter o'er again,
And then turn'd pale, and sank into a chair,
And hid his bright face in his hands, and cried.
Bewilder'd though I was, my heart was glad
To see his happy looks, and pleased beside
That fine folk call'd him clever. I said nought
To mother — for I knew her ways too well —
But waited. Soon came other wondrous news:
The scraps of verse had all been copied out
On fine white sheets, written in Teddy's hand,
Big, round, and clear, like print; and word had come
That they were read and praised by other folk,
Friends of the man in London. Last of all,
One night, when I was ironing the clothes
And mother knitting sat beside the fire,
In Teddy came — as bright and fresh and gay
As a cock starling hopping from the nest
On May-day; and with laughing eyes he cried,
'Well, mother, when are Bess and I to wed?'
'Wed?' mother snapt, as sour as butter-milk,
'Wed? when the birds swim, and the fishes fly,
And the green trees grow bread and cheese and butter
For lazy loons that lie beneath and yawn!'
Then Teddy laugh'd aloud, and when I frown'd
And shook my head to warn him, laugh'd the more;
And, drawing out his leathern ploughman's pouch,
'See, mother, see!' he cnied, — and in her lap
Pour'd thirty golden guineas!
At the first,
I scream'd, and mother look'd afraid to touch
The glittering gold, — and plain enough she said
The gold, she guess'd, was scarcely honest gain;
Then Teddy told her all about his book,
And how those golden guineas were the price
The great rich man in London put upon 't.
She shook her head the more; and when he read
The great man's letter, with its words of praise,
Look'd puzzled most of all; and in a dream,
Feeling the gold with her thin hand, she sat,
While Teddy, proud dew sparkling in his eyes,
Show'd me in print the little song he made
Of cuddling in the kitchen while 'twas snowing, —
'And, Bess,' he cried, 'the gold will stock a house,
But little 'tis I care about the gold:
This bit of printed verse is sweeter far
Than all the shining wealth of all the world!'
And lifted up the paper to his mouth
And kiss'd the print, then held it out at length
To look upon 't with sparkling, happy eyes,
And folded it and put it in his pouch,
As tenderly and carefully, I swear,
As if it were a note upon a bank
For wealth untold. Why linger o'er the tale? —
Though now my poor old man is weak and ill,
Sweet is the telling of his happy time.
The money stock'd a house, and in a month
We two were man and wife.
Teddy was proud
And happy, — busy finishing the book
That was his heart's delight; and as for me,
My thoughts were merry as a running brook,
For Teddy seem'd a wise man after all;
And it was spring-time, and our little home
Was hung with white clematis, porch and wall,
And wall-flower, candituft, and London pride,
All shining round a lilac bush in bloom,
Sweeten'd the little square of garden ground;
And cozy as a finch's mossy nest
Was all within; the little sleeping-room
And red-tiled kitchen; and, made snug and fine
By chairs and tables cut of bran-new deal,
The little parlour, — on the mantel-piece
Field-flowers and ferns and bird's-egg necklaces,
Two pretty pictures pasted on the walls,
(The portraits of one Milton and one Burns,)
And, in the corner Teddy loved the best,
Three shelves to keep the old, black, thumb-mark'd books.
And if my heart had fever, lest the life
Begun so well was over-bright to last,
Teddy could cheer me; for he placed his arm
Around me, looking serious in his joy,
When we were wed three days; and 'Bess,' he said,
'The Lord above is very kind to me;
For He has given me this sweet place and you,
Adding the bliss of seeing soon in print
The verse I love so much.' Then, kissing me,
'I have been thinking of it all,' he said,
'Holpen a bit by lives of other folk,
Which I have read. Now, many men like me
Grow light o' head and let their labour go;
But men can't live by writing verses, Bess.'
'Nay, nay,' cried I, ''twere pity if they could,
For every man would try the easier task,
And who would reap the fields or grind the corn?'
And Teddy smiling, said, ''Tis so! 'tis so!
Pride shall not puff my wits, but all the day
I will toil happily in the fields I love;
And in the pleasant evenings 'twill be fine
To wander forth and see the world with you,
Or read out poems in the parlour here,
Or take a pen and write, for ease o' heart,
Not praise, not money.' I was glad tenfold, —
Put all my fears aside, and trusted him, —
And well he kept his word.
Yet ill at ease,
Restless and eager, Teddy waited on,
Until the night a monster parcel came
From London: twelve brown volumes, all the same,
Wide-printed, thin, and on the foremost page,
'Poems by Edward Crowhurst, Labourer.'
The happiest hour my Teddy ever knew!
He turn'd the volumes o'er, examined each,
Counted the sheets, counted the printed lines,
Stared at his name in print, held out the page
At arm's length, feasting with his mouth and eyes.
I wonder'd at his joy, yet, spite o' me,
I shared it. 'Twas so catching. The old tale!
A little thing could make my Teddy's heart
Gay as a bunch of roses, while a great
Went by unheeded like a cannon-ball.
The glowworm is a little common grub,
Yet what a pretty gleam it often sheds;
And that same poor, small, common-looking book,
Set on our table, kept around its leaves
A light like sunshine.
When his joy grew cool,
Teddy took up a book to read it through;
And first he show'd me, next the foremost page,
A bit of writing called the 'Author's Life,'
Made up of simple things my man had told —
How he was but a lowly labourer,
And how the green fields work'd upon his heart
To write about the pretty things he saw —
All put together by a clever man
In London. For a time he sat and read
In silence, looking happy with his eyes;
But suddenly he started up and groan'd,
Looking as black as bog-mud, while he flung
The book upon the table; and I gript
His arm, and ask'd what ail'd him. 'Bess,' he said,
'The joy o' this has all gone sudden sour,
All through the cruel meddling of a fool:
The story of my life is true enough,
Despite the fine-flown things the teller sticks
Around it — peacock's feathers stuck around
The nest of some plain song-bird; but the end
Is like the garlic flower, — looks fine at first,
But stinks on peeping nearer. Bess, my lass,
I never begg'd a penny in my life,
I sought the help of no man, but could work,
What then? what then? O Bess, 'tis hard, 'tis hard!
They make me go a-begging, book in hand,
As if I were a gipsy of the lanes
Whistling for coppers at an alehouse door!'
I, too, was hurt, but tried to comfort him;
'Twas kindly meant, at least, I thought and said;
But Teddy clench'd his teeth, and sat him down,
And wrote, not rudely, but as if in grief,
To him in London. Till the answer came,
The printed poems cheer'd him, though the book
Had lost a scent that ne'er would come again;
And when the answer came, 'twas like the words
A mother murmurs to a silly child —
A smiling, pitying, quiet kind of tone,
That made him angrier than violent speech;
And at the end a melancholy hint
About ingratitude. Teddy must trust
In those who had his fortune most at heart,
Nor rashly turn his friends to enemies,
Nor meddle with the kindly schemes of those
Who knew the great world better far than he.
Oh, Teddy's eyes were dim with bitter dew!
'Begging is begging, and I never begg'd!
Shame on me if I ever take their gold!'
I coax'd him to be sllent; and though soon
The bitter mood wore off, his gladness lost
The look of happy pride it wore of old.
'Twas happy, happy, in the little home,
And summer round about on wood and field,
And summer on the bit of garden ground.
But soon came news, like whiffs of colour'd smoke,
Blown to us thickly on the idle wind,
And smelling of the city. For the land
Was crying Teddy's praises! Every morn
Came papers full of things about the Book,
And letters full of cheer from distant folk;
And Teddy toil'd away, and tried his best
To keep his glad heart humble. Then, one day,
A smirking gentleman, with inky thumbs,
Call'd, chatted, pried with little fox's eyes
This way and that, and when he went away
He wrote a heap of lying scribble, styled
'A Summer Morning with the Labourer Bard!'
Then others came: some, mild young gentlemen,
Who chirp'd, and blush'd, and simper'd, and were gone;
Some, sallow ladies wearing spectacles,
And pale young misses, rolling languid eyes,
And pecking at the words my Teddy spake
Like sparrows picking seed; and, once or twice,
Plump merry gentlemen who talk'd no stuff,
But chatted sensibly of common things,
And made us feel at home. Ay, not a day
But Teddy must be sent for, from the fields,
To meet with fine-clad strangers from afar.
The village folk began to open eyes
And wonder, but were only more afraid
Of Teddy, gave him hard suspicious looks,
And shunn'd him out-o'-doors. Yet how they throng'd,
Buzzing like humble bees at swarming time,
That morn the oil'd and scented gentleman
(For such we thought him) brought a little note
From Lord Fitztalbot of Fitztalbot Tower,
Yonder across the moorland. 'Twas a line
Bidding my Teddy to the Tower, and he
Who brought it was the footman of my lord.
Well, Teddy went, was many hours away,
And then return'd with cat's-claws round his lips.
'See!' Teddy cried, and flung a little purse
Of money in my lap; and I, amazed,
Counted ten golden guineas in my palm,
Then gazed at Teddy, saw how pale he was,
And ask'd what ail'd him. ''Tis the money, lass,'
He answer'd, groaning deep. 'He talk'd, and seem'd
Right kindly; ask'd about my home, and you;
Spoke of the poems, smiled, and bow'd farewell;
And, dropping that same money in my hat,
Bade me go dine below. I burn'd like fire,
Felt choking, yet was fearful to offend,
And took the money, as I might have took
A blazing cinder, bow'd, and came away.
O Lord! O Lord! this comes of yonder loon,
Who sent the book a-begging!' Then he talk'd —
How fiercely and how wildly, clenching hands:
'Was not a poet better than a lord?
Why should the cruel people use him so?
Why would the world not leave his home in peace?'
And last, he vow'd to send the money back
But I, though shamed and troubled, thought him wrong,
And vow'd my lord was kind, and meant us well,
And won him o'er at last to keep the purse.
And ah! we found it useful very soon,
When I lay in, and had a dreadful time,
And brought our girl. Then Teddy put aside
All grief and anger; thought of us alone;
Forgot, or nearly, all the praise and blame
Of loveless strangers; and was proud and glad,
Making fond rhymes about the babe and me.
Ah! had the folk but let my man alone,
All would be happy now, He loved his work,
Because it kept him in the fields; he loved
The babe and me; and all he needed more,
To keep his heart content, was pen and ink,
And now and then a book. And as for praise,
He needed it no more than singing birds;
And as for money, why, he wanted none;
And as for prying strangers in the house,
They brought a clumsy painful sense of pride
That made him restless. He was ever shy
Of company — he loved to dream alone —
And the poor life that he had known so long
Was just the kind of life he suited best.
He look'd a fine straight man in homespun gear,
But ne'er seem'd easy in his Sunday coat.
What should his fine friends do at last, but write,
Bidding my man to London, — there to meet
A flock o' gentlefolk, who spent their days
In making books! — Though here we dwell so near,
That northward, far away, you see the sky
Black with the smoky breathing of the city,
We ne'er had wander'd far away from home,
Save once or twice, five miles to westward yonder,
To Kersey Fair. Well, Teddy fix'd to go;
And seeing him full bent, I held my tongue.
And off he set, one day, in Sunday black,
A hazel staff over his shoulder flung,
His bundle swinging, — and was sped by train
To London town. Two weeks he stay'd away;
And, when he came from London, he was changed.
His eyes look'd wild, his cheek was pale, his step
Unsteady; when he enter'd, I could smell
Drink in his breath. Full pain'd, and sick at heart,
I question'd him; but he was petulant,
And snapt me short; and when I brought the child,
He push'd her from him. Next day, when he rose,
His face was pallid; but his kindly smile
Came back upon it. Ere the day was out,
He told me of his doings, of the men
And places he had seen, and when, and how.
He had been dull in dwellings of the rich,
Had felt ashamed in great grand drawing-rooms,
And angry that the kindly people smiled
As if in pity; and the time, he said,
Would have gone drearily, had he lack'd the cheer
He chanced to find among some jovial folk
Who lived by making books. Full plain I saw
That something had gone wrong. His ways were strange,
He did not seem contented in his home,
He scarcely glinted at the poor old books
He loved so dearly. In a little time,
Teddy grew more himself, at home, a-field,
And though, from that day forward, he began
To take a glass and smoke a pipe at night,
I scarcely noticed. Thus the year wore on;
And still the papers praised him far away,
And still the letters came from distant folk.
And Teddy had made friends: folk who could talk
About the things he loved, and flatter him,
Ay, laugh aloud to see him drink his glass,
And clap his back, and shake him by the hand,
How wild soe'er he talk'd. For by degrees
His tongue grew fre╬r, he was more at ease
With strangers. Oft he spent the evening hours
With merry-makers in the public-house,
And totter'd home with staring, dazzled eyes.
The country people liked him better now,
And loved to coax him out to drink at night,
And, gaping, heark'd to the strange things he said.
Ah, then my fear grew heavy, though his heart
Was kindly still, his head still clear and wise,
And he went wastering only now and then.
But soon his ways grew better, for his time
Was spent in finishing another book.
Yet then I found him changed in other things;
For once or twice when money as before
Was sent or given him, he only laugh'd,
And took it, not in anger. And, be sure,
Money grew needful in the little home —
Another babe was coming. Babe and book
Were born together, but the first was born
Quiet and breathless. 'Twould be idle talk
To speak about the book. What came of that,
Was much the same as what had come before:
The papers praised it over all the land,
But just a shade more coolly; strange folk wrote,
But not so oft. Yet Teddy was in glee,
For this time fifty golden guineas came
From the rich man in London.
They coax'd him up to London; once again,
Home came he changed, — with wilder words of wit,
And sharper sayings, on his tongue. He toil'd
Even less than ever: nay, his idle friends,
Who loved to drain the bottle at his side,
Took up his time full sorely. We began
To want and pinch: more money was subscribed,
And taken: — till at last my man grew sick
Of working in the open fields at all
And just as work grew hardest to his mind,
The Lord Fitztalbot pass'd him on the road,
And turn'd his head away. A change had come,
As dreadful as the change within himself.
The papers wrote the praise of newer men,
The strange folk sent him letters scarce at all;
And when he spake about another book,
The man in London wrote a hasty 'No!'
And said the work had little chance to sell.
Those words were like a sunstroke. Wild and scared,
My Teddy stared at London — all his dreams
Came back upon him — and with bitter tongue
He mock'd and threaten'd. 'Twas of no avail!
His fine-day friends like swallows wing'd away,
The summer being o'er; the country folk
Began to knit their foreheads as of old,
Save one or two renown'd as ne'er-do-wells;
And, mad with pride, bitten with shame and fear,
Teddy drank deeper at the public-house.
Teddy to blame? Teddy to blame? Ah, nay!
The blame be theirs who broke his simple pride
With money, beggar'd him against his will.
The blame be theirs who flatter'd him from home,
And led him out to make his humble ways
An idle show. The blame be theirs who smiled
Whene'er he play'd a wrong and foolish part,
Because he had skill to write a bit of verse.
The blame be theirs who spoil'd him like a child,
And, when the newness of his face was gone,
Turn'd from him scornfully and smiled elsewhere.
Teddy to blame! — a silly, ignorant man,
Not learn'd, not wise, not cunning in the world!
But hearken how I changed him yet once more,
One day when he was sick and ill with pain.
I spake of all our early courting days,
Full low and tender, of the happy time
When I brought forth our girl, and of the words
He spake when we were happy; last of all,
'Teddy,' I said, 'let people be unkind,
The whole world hard, you cannot heal your pain
Wastering, idling; think of merrier days,
Of me, and of our girl, and drink no more.'
He gazed at me full long, his bosom rose
And flutter'd, and he held my hand in his,
And shivering, moaning, sank into a chair;
And, looking at the bookshelf at his side,
And at the common-looking thumb-mark'd books,
He promised, promised, with his poor cheeks wet,
And his voice broken, and his lips set firm.
True Heart, he kept his word. The public-house
Knew him no longer; in the fields he toil'd
Lonely once more; and in the evenings
Read books and wrote, — and all he wrote, I know,
Was sad, sad, sad. Bravely be work'd all day,
But not so cheerfully. And no man cared
To brighten him with goodly words. His face
Was stale with gentlefolk, his heart too proud
To mix with coarse, low men. Oft in the fields
They saw him turn his poor eyes London-wards,
And sigh; but he was silent of the pain
That grew upon him. Slowly he became
The sadden'd picture of his former self:
He stood at ploughtail looking at the clouds,
He watch'd the ways of birds and trees and flowers;
But all the little things he learn'd and loved
Had ta'en a sadder meaning. Oftentimes,
In spite of all he did to hide his heart,
I saw he would have been a happy man
If any one had praised him as of old;
But he was never sent for from the fields,
No strangers wrote to cheer him, and he seem'd
All, all, forgotten. Still, as true as steel,
He held his promise to our girl and me,
Though oft, I know, the dreadful longing came
To fly to drink for comfort. Then, one night,
I heard a stirring in the dark: our girl
Crept close to me, and whisper'd in mine ear —
'Hark! father's crying!'
O 'tis terrible
To hear a strong man weep! I could not bear
To find him grieving so, but crept unto him,
And put my arms about him, on his neck
Weeping, 'O Teddy, Teddy, do not so!
Cheer up, for you will kill me if you cry.
What do you long for? Why are you so sad?'
And I could feel him crush his hot tears down,
And shake through every limb. 'O lass!', he cried,
'I cannot give a name to what I want;
I cannot tell you why I grow so sad;
But I have lost the pleasure and the peace
The verses brought me. I am sick and changed, —
I think too much of other men, — I seem
Despised and useless. If I did not feel
You loved me so, and were so kind and true,
When all the world is cruel, I should fall
And wither. All my strength is gone away,
And I am broken!'
'Twas but little cheer
That I could give him: that was grief too deep
For foolish me to understand or cure.
I made the little parlour bright o' nights,
Coax'd him to read aloud the books he loved,
And often he was like himself again,
Singing for ease o' heart; and now and then,
A poem printed in a newspaper,
Or something kind from people in the world,
Help'd me a little. So the time wore on; —
Till suddenly, one night in winter time,
I saw him change. Home came be white and pale,
Shivering, trembling, looking wild and strange,
Yet speaking quietly. 'My head feels queer —
It aches a bit!' he said; and the next day
He could not rise from bed. Quiet he lay,
But now and then I saw him raise his hand
And hold his forehead. In the afternoon,
He fell to troubled sleep, and, when he woke,
He did not seem to know me. Full of fear,
I sent for Doctor Barth. When Doctor came,
He found poor Teddy tossing on his bed,
Moaning and muttering and clenching teeth,
And Doctor said, 'The ill is on the brain —
Has he been troubled lately?' and I cried,
'Ay, much, much troubled! He has fretted sore
For many months!'
'Twas sad, 'twas sad, to see
My strong man suffer on his dull sick-bed,
Not knowing me, but crying out of things
That haunted him. I will not weary you,
By telling how the Doctor brought him round,
And how at last he rose from bed, the ghost
Of his old self, and something gone away
That never would return. Then it was plain
That he could work no more: the Light had fled,
Which keeps a man a man despite the world
And all its cruel change. To fright the wolf,
I took in washing at the cottage here;
And people sent us money now and then,
And pitying letters reach'd us from the world,
Too late! too late!
Thank the good God above,
Who made me strong and willing, I could keep
The little house above us, though 'twas dear,
And ah! I work'd more hard because I knew
Poor Teddy's heart would break outright elsewhere.
Yet Teddy hardly seem'd to comprehend
All that had happen'd. Though he knew me well,
And spake full sensibly of many things,
He lack'd the power to speak of one thing long,
Sometimes he was as merry as a bird,
Singing wild songs he learn'd by heart when young;
Sometimes he wish'd to wander out afield,
But easy 'twas to lead his wits away
To other things. And he was changeful ever,
Now laughing and now crying; and at times
He wrote strange notes to poets that were dead,
And named himself by all their names in turn,
Still making verse, which I had sense to see
Was wild, and strange, and wrong — not like the verse
He made of old. One day for hours he sat,
Looking upon the bit of garden ground,
And smiling. When I spoke, he look'd and laugh'd.
'Surely you know me, Teddy?' I exclaim'd;
And up he raised his head, with shrill thin voice
Saying, 'Yes, you are Queen Elizabeth,
And I am Shakespeare;' and again he smiled
Craftily to himself; but when I hung
Around his neck, and wept, and ask'd again,
He turn'd upon me with so pale a look,
So wan, so sharp, so full of agony,
'Twas clear the cloud was lifted for a moment,
'Twas clear he knew that he was Teddy Crowhurst,
And that the light of life had gone away.
And oft, in sunny weather, he and I
Had walks in quiet places — in the lanes,
And in the woods, and by the river side;
And he was happy, prying as of old
In little mossy nests, or plucking flowers,
Or dropping pebbles at the water-brim,
To make the speckled minnows start and fly
In little gleams of light. Ne'er had he been
More cunning in the ways and looks of things,
Though memory fail'd him when he tried for names.
The sable streaks upon the arum-flower
Were strange to him as ever; a lark singing
Made his eyes misty as it used to do;
The shining sun, the waving of green boughs,
The rippling of the river down the dell,
Were still true pleasure. All the seasons brought
Something to charm him. Staring on the snow,
Or making great snow-houses like a boy,
He was as busy when the boughs were bare,
As carrying home a bough of scented May
Or bunch of yellow lilies from the pond.
What had been pleasure in his younger days
Came back to keep him quiet in the world.
He gave much love to trees and birds and flowers,
And, when the mighty world was all unkind,
The little, gentle, speechless things were true.
True Heart, I never thought that he could bear
To last so long; but ten slow years have fled
Since the first book that brought the trouble and pain
Was printed, — and within the parlour there
Teddy is sitting, busy as a bee.
Doing? He dreams the world that knows him not
Rings with his praises, and for many an hour
Sits busy with the verse of later years,
Marks, copies, and arranges it with care,
To go to some great printer that he thinks
Is waiting; and from time to time he eyes
The books they printed, numbering the lines,
Counting the pages. Sometimes he is Burns,
Sometimes John Milton, sometimes other men,
And sometimes — always looking saddest then —
Knows he is Teddy Crowhurst. Thin he is,
And worn, and feeble, — wearing slowly down
Like snowdrift; and at times, when Memory
Comes for a moment like a mirror flash'd
Into his eyes, he does not groan and weep,
But droops the more, and seems resign'd and still.
True Heart, I fear the end is near at last!
He sits and hearkens vacantly and dreams,
He thrills at every knocking at the door,
Stilly he waits for light that never comes,
That never will return until the end.
And oft at evening, when my work is done
And the dark gathers, and he holds my hand,
The waiting grows intenser, and becomes
The sense o' life itself. Take Teddy hence!
Show me the man will draw my hand away!
I am a quiet comfort to his pain;
For though his thoughts be far away from here,
I know he feels my hand; and ah! the touch
Just keeps his heart from breaking. 'Tis my joy
To work where I can watch him through the day,
And quiet him, and see he wants for nought.
He loves to sit among his books and flowers,
And wears away with little pain, and feels
The quiet parlour is a pleasant place;
And there — God bless him! — in a happy time
Teddy will feel the darkness pass away,
And smile farewell upon his wife and girl,
And Light that he has lost will come again
To shine upon him as he goes to sleep.
(From London Poems, 1866-70)
Last modified 26 September 2002