O ME, my pleasant rambles by the lake,
My sweet, wild, fresh three-quarters of a year,
My one Oasis in the dust and drouth
Of city life! I was a sketcher then:
See here, my doing: curves of mountain, bridge,
Boat, island, ruins of a castle, built
When men knew how to build, upon a rock,
With turrets lichen-gilded like a rock:
And here, new-comers in an ancient hold,
New-comers from the Mersey, millionaires,
Here lived the Hills—a Tudor-chimnied bulk
Of mellow brickwork on an isle of bowers.
O me, my pleasant rambles by the lake
With Edwin Morris and with Edward Bull
The curate; he was fatter than his cure.
But Edwin Morris, he that knew the names,
Long-learned names of agaric, moss and fern,
Who forged a thousand theories of the rocks,
Who taught me how to skate, to row, to swim,
Who read me rhymes elaborately good,
His own—I call’d him Crichton, for he seem’d
All-perfect, finish’d to the finger nail.
And once I ask’d him of his early life,
And his first passion; and he answer’d me;
And well his words became him: was he not
A full-cell’d honeycomb of eloquence
Stored from all flowers? Poet-like he spoke.
‘My love for Nature is as old as I;
But thirty moons, one honeymoon to that,
And three rich sennights more, my love for her.
My love for Nature and my love for her,
Of different ages, like twin-sisters grew,
Twin-sisters differently beautiful.
To some full music rose and sank the sun,
And some full music seem’d to move and change
With all the varied changes of the dark,
And either twilight and the day between;
For daily hope fulfill’d, to rise again
Revolving toward fulfilment, made it sweet
To walk, to sit, to sleep, to wake, to breathe.’
Or this or something like to this he spoke.
Then said the fat-faced curate Edward Bull,
‘I take it, God made the woman for the man,
And for the good and increase of the world,
A pretty face is well, and this is well,
To have a dame indoors, that trims us up,
And keeps us tight; but these unreal ways
Seem but the theme of writers, and indeed
Worn threadbare. Man is made of solid stuff.
I say, God made the woman for the man,
And for the good and increase of the world.’
‘Parson,’ said I, ‘you pitch the pipe too low:
But I have sudden touches, and can run
My faith beyond my practice into his:
Tho’ if, in dancing after Letty Hill,
I do not hear the bells upon my cap,
I scarce hear other music: yet say on.
What should one give to light on such a dream?’
I ask’d him half-sardonically.
Give all thou art,’ he answer’d, and a light
Of laughter dimpled in his swarthy cheek;
‘I would have hid her needle in my heart,
To save her little finger from a scratch
No deeper than the skin: my ears could hear
Her lightest breaths: her least remark was worth
The experience of the wise. I went and came;
Her voice fled always thro’ the summer land;
I spoke her name alone. Thrice-happy days!
The flower of each, those moments when we met,
The crown of all, we met to part no more.’
Were not his words delicious, I a beast
To take them as I did? but something jarr’d;
Whether he spoke too largely; that there seem’d
A touch of something false, some self-conceit,
Or over-smoothness: howsoe’er it was,
He scarcely hit my humour, and I said:
‘Friend Edwin, do not think yourself alone
Of all men happy. Shall not Love to me,
As in the Latin song I learnt at school,
Sneeze out a full God-bless-you right and left?
But you can talk: yours is a kindly vein:
I have I think—Heaven knows—as much within;
Have or should have, but for a thought or two,
That like a purple beech among the greens
Looks out of place: ’tis from no want in her:
It is my shyness, or my self-distrust,
Or something of a wayward modern mind
Dissecting passion. Time will set me right.’
So spoke I knowing not the things that were.
Then said the fat-faced curate, Edward Bull:
‘God made the woman for the use of man,
And for the good and increase of the world’.
And I and Edwin laugh’d; and now we paused
About the windings of the marge to hear
The soft wind blowing over meadowy holms
And alders, garden-isles; and now we left
The clerk behind us, I and he, and ran
By ripply shallows of the lisping lake,
Delighted with the freshness and the sound.
But, when the bracken rusted on their crags,
My suit had wither’d, nipt to death by him
That was a God, and is a lawyer’s clerk,
The rentroll Cupid of our rainy isles.
’Tis true, we met; one hour I had, no more:
She sent a note, the seal an Elle vous suit,
The close ‘Your Letty, only yours’; and this
Thrice underscored. The friendly mist of morn
Clung to the lake. I boated over, ran
My craft aground, and heard with beating heart
The Sweet-Gale rustle round the shelving keel;
And out I stept, and up I crept: she moved,
Like Proserpine in Enna, gathering flowers:
Then low and sweet I whistled thrice; and she,
She turn’d, we closed, we kiss’d, swore faith, I breathed
In some new planet: a silent cousin stole
Upon us and departed: ‘Leave,’ she cried,
‘O leave me!’ ‘Never, dearest, never: here
I brave the worst:’ and while we stood like fools
Embracing, all at once a score of pugs
And poodles yell’d within, and out they came
Trustees and Aunts and Uncles. ‘What, with him!
‘Go’ (shrill’d the cotton-spinning chorus) ‘him!’
I choked. Again they shriek’d the burthen ‘Him!’
Again with hands of wild rejection ‘Go!—
Girl, get you in!’ She went—and in one month
They wedded her to sixty thousand pounds,
To lands in Kent and messuages in York,
And slight Sir Robert with his watery smile
And educated whisker. But for me,
They set an ancient creditor to work:
It seems I broke a close with force and arms:
There came a mystic token from the king
To greet the sheriff, needless courtesy!
I read, and fled by night, and flying turn’d:
Her taper glimmer’d in the lake below:
I turn’d once more, close-button’d to the storm;
So left the place, left Edwin, nor have seen
Him since, nor heard of her, nor cared to hear.
Nor cared to hear? perhaps; yet long ago
I have pardon’d little Letty; not indeed,
It may be, for her own dear sake but this,
She seems a part of those fresh days to me;
For in the dust and drouth of London life
She moves among my visions of the lake,
While the prime swallow dips his wing, or then
While the gold-lily blows, and overhead
The light cloud smoulders on the summer crag.