Gladys And Her Island.

A poem by Jean Ingelow

(On the Advantages of the Poetical Temperament.)


O happy Gladys! I rejoice with her,
For Gladys saw the island.
It was thus:
They gave a day for pleasure in the school
Where Gladys taught; and all the other girls
Were taken out, to picnic in a wood.
But it was said, "We think it were not well
That little Gladys should acquire a taste
For pleasure, going about, and needless change.
It would not suit her station: discontent
Might come of it; and all her duties now
She does so pleasantly, that we were best
To keep her humble." So they said to her,
"Gladys, we shall not want you, all to-day.
Look, you are free; you need not sit at work:
No, you may take a long and pleasant walk
Over the sea-cliff, or upon the beach
Among the visitors."
Then Gladys blushed
For joy, and thanked them. What! a holiday,
A whole one, for herself! How good, how kind!
With that, the marshalled carriages drove off;
And Gladys, sobered with her weight of joy,
Stole out beyond the groups upon the beach -
The children with their wooden spades, the band
That played for lovers, and the sunny stir
Of cheerful life and leisure - to the rocks,
For these she wanted most, and there was time
To mark them; how like ruined organs prone
They lay, or leaned their giant fluted pipes,
And let the great white-crested reckless wave
Beat out their booming melody.
The sea
Was filled with light; in clear blue caverns curled
The breakers, and they ran, and seemed to romp,
As playing at some rough and dangerous game,
While all the nearer waves rushed in to help,
And all the farther heaved their heads to peep,
And tossed the fishing boats. Then Gladys laughed,
And said, "O, happy tide, to be so lost
In sunshine, that one dare not look at it;
And lucky cliffs, to be so brown and warm;
And yet how lucky are the shadows, too,
That lurk beneath their ledges. It is strange,
That in remembrance though I lay them up,
They are forever, when I come to them,
Better than I had thought. O, something yet
I had forgotten. Oft I say, 'At least
This picture is imprinted; thus and thus,
The sharpened serried jags run up, run out,
Layer on layer.' And I look - up - up -
High, higher up again, till far aloft
They cut into their ether, - brown, and clear,
And perfect. And I, saying, 'This is mine,
To keep,' retire; but shortly come again,
And they confound me with a glorious change.
The low sun out of rain-clouds stares at them;
They redden, and their edges drip with - what?
I know not, but 't is red. It leaves no stain,
For the next morning they stand up like ghosts
In a sea-shroud and fifty thousand mews
Sit there, in long white files, and chatter on,
Like silly school-girls in their silliest mood.

"There is the boulder where we always turn.
O! I have longed to pass it; now I will.
What would THEY say? for one must slip and spring;
'Young ladies! Gladys! I am shocked. My dears,
Decorum, if you please: turn back at once.
Gladys, we blame you most; you should have looked
Before you.' Then they sigh, - how kind they are! -
'What will become of you, if all your life
You look a long way off? - look anywhere,
And everywhere, instead of at your feet,
And where they carry you!' Ah, well, I know
It is a pity," Gladys said; "but then
We cannot all be wise: happy for me,
That other people are.

"And yet I wish, -
For sometimes very right and serious thoughts
Come to me, - I do wish that they would come
When they are wanted! - when I teach the sums
On rainy days, and when the practising
I count to, and the din goes on and on,
Still the same tune and still the same mistake,
Then I am wise enough: sometimes I feel
Quite old. I think that it will last, and say,
'Now my reflections do me credit! now
I am a woman!' and I wish they knew
How serious all my duties look to me.
And how, my heart hushed down and shaded lies,
Just like the sea when low, convenient clouds,
Come over, and drink all its sparkles up.
But does it last? Perhaps, that very day,
The front door opens: out we walk in pairs;
And I am so delighted with this world,
That suddenly has grown, being new washed,
To such a smiling, clean, and thankful world,
And with a tender face shining through tears,
Looks up into the sometime lowering sky,
That has been angry, but is reconciled,
And just forgiving her, that I, - that I, -
O, I forget myself: what matters how!
And then I hear (but always kindly said)
Some words that pain me so, - but just, but true;
'For if your place in this establishment
Be but subordinate, and if your birth
Be lowly, it the more behooves, - well, well,
No more. We see that you are sorry.' Yes!
I am always sorry THEN; but now, - O, now,
Here is a bight more beautiful than all."

"And did they scold her, then, my pretty one?
And did she want to be as wise as they,
To bear a bucklered heart and priggish mind?
Ay, you may crow; she did! but no, no, no,
The night-time will not let her, all the stars
Say nay to that, - the old sea laughs at her.
Why, Gladys is a child; she has not skill
To shut herself within her own small cell,
And build the door up, and to say, 'Poor me!
I am a prisoner'; then to take hewn stones,
And, having built the windows up, to say,
'O, it is dark! there is no sunshine here;
There never has been.'"

Strange! how very strange!
A woman passing Gladys with a babe,
To whom she spoke these words, and only looked
Upon the babe, who crowed and pulled her curls,
And never looked at Gladys, never once.
"A simple child," she added, and went by,
"To want to change her greater for their less;
But Gladys shall not do it, no, not she;
We love her - don't we? - far too well for that."

Then Gladys, flushed with shame and keen surprise,
"How could she be so near, and I not know?
And have I spoken out my thought aloud?
I must have done, forgetting. It is well
She walks so fast, for I am hungry now,
And here is water cantering down the cliff,
And here a shell to catch it with, and here
The round plump buns they gave me, and the fruit.
Now she is gone behind the rock. O, rare
To be alone!" So Gladys sat her down,
Unpacked her little basket, ate and drank,
Then pushed her hands into the warm dry sand,
And thought the earth was happy, and she too
Was going round with it in happiness,
That holiday. "What was it that she said?"
Quoth Gladys, cogitating; "they were kind,
The words that woman spoke. She does not know!
'Her greater for their less,' - it makes me laugh, -
But yet," sighed Gladys, "though it must be good
To look and to admire, one should not wish
To steal THEIR virtues, and to put them on,
Like feathers from another wing; beside,
That calm, and that grave consciousness of worth,
When all is said, would little suit with me,
Who am not worthy. When our thoughts are born,
Though they be good and humble, one should mind
How they are reared, or some will go astray
And shame their mother. Cain and Abel both
Were only once removed from innocence.
Why did I envy them? That was not good;
Yet it began with my humility."

But as she spake, lo, Gladys raised her eyes,
And right before her, on the horizon's edge,
Behold, an island! First, she looked away
Along the solid rocks and steadfast shore,
For she was all amazed, believing not,
And then she looked again, and there again
Behold, an island! And the tide had turned,
The milky sea had got a purple rim,
And from the rim that mountain island rose,
Purple, with two high peaks, the northern peak
The higher, and with fell and precipice,
It ran down steeply to the water's brink;
But all the southern line was long and soft,
Broken with tender curves, and, as she thought,
Covered with forest or with sward. But, look!
The sun was on the island; and he showed
On either peak a dazzling cap of snow.
Then Gladys held her breath; she said, "Indeed,
Indeed it is an island: how is this,
I never saw it till this fortunate
Rare holiday?" And while she strained her eyes,
She thought that it began to fade; but not
To change as clouds do, only to withdraw
And melt into its azure; and at last,
Little by little, from her hungry heart,
That longed to draw things marvellous to itself,
And yearned towards the riches and the great
Abundance of the beauty God hath made,
It passed away. Tears started in her eyes,
And when they dropt, the mountain isle was gone;
The careless sea had quite forgotten it,
And all was even as it had been before.

And Gladys wept, but there was luxury
In her self-pity, while she softly sobbed,
"O, what a little while! I am afraid
I shall forget that purple mountain isle,
The lovely hollows atween her snow-clad peaks,
The grace of her upheaval where she lay
Well up against the open. O, my heart,
Now I remember how this holiday
Will soon be done, and now my life goes on
Not fed; and only in the noonday walk
Let to look silently at what it wants,
Without the power to wait or pause awhile,
And understand and draw within itself
The richness of the earth. A holiday!
How few I have! I spend the silent time
At work, while all THEIR pupils are gone home,
And feel myself remote. They shine apart;
They are great planets, I a little orb;
My little orbit far within their own
Turns, and approaches not. But yet, the more
I am alone when those I teach return;
For they, as planets of some other sun,
Not mine, have paths that can but meet my ring
Once in a cycle. O, how poor I am!
I have not got laid up in this blank heart
Any indulgent kisses given me
Because I had been good, or yet more sweet,
Because my childhood was itself a good
Attractive thing for kisses, tender praise,
And comforting. An orphan-school at best
Is a cold mother in the winter time
('Twas mostly winter when new orphans came),
An unregarded mother in the spring.

"Yet once a year (I did mine wrong) we went
To gather cowslips. How we thought on it
Beforehand, pacing, pacing the dull street,
To that one tree, the only one we saw
From April, - if the cowslips were in bloom
So early; or if not, from opening May
Even to September. Then there came the feast
At Epping. If it rained that day, it rained
For a whole year to us; we could not think
Of fields and hawthorn hedges, and the leaves
Fluttering, but still it rained, and ever rained.

"Ah, well, but I am here; but I have seen
The gay gorse bushes in their flowering time;
I know the scent of bean-fields; I have heard
The satisfying murmur of the main."

The woman! She came round the rock again
With her fair baby, and she sat her down
By Gladys, murmuring, "Who forbade the grass
To grow by visitations of the dew?
Who said in ancient time to the desert pool,
'Thou shalt not wait for angel visitors
To trouble thy still water?' Must we bide
At home? The lore, beloved, shall fly to us
On a pair of sumptuous wings. Or may we breathe
Without? O, we shall draw to us the air
That times and mystery feed on. This shall lay
Unchidden hands upon the heart o' the world,
And feel it beating. Rivers shall run on,
Full of sweet language as a lover's mouth,
Delivering of a tune to make her youth
More beautiful than wheat when it is green.

"What else? - (O, none shall envy her!) The rain
And the wild weather will be most her own,
And talk with her o' nights; and if the winds
Have seen aught wondrous, they will tell it her
In a mouthful of strange moans, - will bring from far,
Her ears being keen, the lowing and the mad
Masterful tramping of the bison herds,
Tearing down headlong with their bloodshot eyes,
In savage rifts of hair; the crack and creak
Of ice-floes in the frozen sea, the cry
Of the white bears, all in a dim blue world
Mumbling their meals by twilight; or the rock
And majesty of motion, when their heads
Primeval trees toss in a sunny storm,
And hail their nuts down on unweeded fields.
No holidays," quoth she; "drop, drop, O, drop,
Thou tirèd skylark, and go up no more;
You lime-trees, cover not your head with bees,
Nor give out your good smell. She will not look;
No, Gladys cannot draw your sweetness in,
For lack of holidays." So Gladys thought,
"A most strange woman, and she talks of me."
With that a girl ran up; "Mother," she said,
"Come out of this brown bight, I pray you now,
It smells of fairies." Gladys thereon thought,
"The mother will not speak to me, perhaps
The daughter may," and asked her courteously,
"What do the fairies smell of?" But the girl
With peevish pout replied, "You know, you know."
"Not I," said Gladys; then she answered her,
"Something like buttercups. But, mother, come,
And whisper up a porpoise from the foam,
Because I want to ride."

Full slowly, then,
The mother rose, and ever kept her eyes
Upon her little child. "You freakish maid,"
Said she, "now mark me, if I call you one,
You shall not scold nor make him take you far."

"I only want, - you know I only want,"
The girl replied, "to go and play awhile
Upon the sand by Lagos." Then she turned
And muttered low, "Mother, is this the girl
Who saw the island?" But the mother frowned.
"When may she go to it?" the daughter asked.
And Gladys, following them, gave all her mind
To hear the answer. "When she wills to go;
For yonder comes to shore the ferry boat."
Then Gladys turned to look, and even so
It was; a ferry boat, and far away
Reared in the offing, lo, the purple peaks
Of her loved island.

Then she raised her arms,
And ran toward the boat, crying out, "O rare,
The island! fair befall the island; let
Me reach the island." And she sprang on board,
And after her stepped in the freakish maid
And the fair mother, brooding o'er her child;
And this one took the helm, and that let go
The sail, and off they flew, and furrowed up
A flaky hill before, and left behind
A sobbing snake-like tail of creamy foam;
And dancing hither, thither, sometimes shot
Toward the island; then, when Gladys looked,
Were leaving it to leeward. And the maid
Whistled a wind to come and rock the craft,
And would be leaning down her head to mew
At cat-fish, then lift out into her lap
And dandle baby-seals, which, having kissed,
She flung to their sleek mothers, till her own
Rebuked her in good English, after cried,
"Luff, luff, we shall be swamped." "I will not luff,"
Sobbed the fair mischief; "you are cross to me."
"For shame!" the mother shrieked; "luff, luff, my dear;
Kiss and be friends, and thou shalt have the fish
With the curly tail to ride on." So she did,
And presently a dolphin bouncing up,
She sprang upon his slippery back, - "Farewell,"
She laughed, was off, and all the sea grew calm.

Then Gladys was much happier, and was 'ware
In the smooth weather that this woman talked
Like one in sleep, and murmured certain thoughts
Which seemed to be like echoes of her own.
She nodded, "Yes, the girl is going now
To her own island. Gladys poor? Not she!
Who thinks so? Once I met a man in white,
Who said to me, 'The thing that might have been
Is called, and questioned why it hath not been;
And can it give good reason, it is set
Beside the actual, and reckoned in
To fill the empty gaps of life.' Ah, so
The possible stands by us ever fresh,
Fairer than aught which any life hath owned,
And makes divine amends. Now this was set
Apart from kin, and not ordained a home;
An equal; - and not suffered to fence in
A little plot of earthly good, and say,
'Tis mine'; but in bereavement of the part,
O, yet to taste the whole, - to understand
The grandeur of the story, not to feel
Satiate with good possessed, but evermore
A healthful hunger for the great idea,
The beauty and the blessedness of life.

"Lo, now, the shadow!" quoth she, breaking off,
"We are in the shadow." Then did Gladys turn,
And, O, the mountain with the purple peaks
Was close at hand. It cast a shadow out,
And they were in it: and she saw the snow,
And under that the rocks, and under that
The pines, and then the pasturage; and saw
Numerous dips, and undulations rare,
Running down seaward, all astir with lithe
Long canes, and lofty feathers; for the palms
And spice trees of the south, nay, every growth,
Meets in that island.

So that woman ran
The boat ashore, and Gladys set her foot
Thereon. Then all at once much laughter rose;
Invisible folk set up exultant shouts,
"It all belongs to Gladys"; and she ran
And hid herself among the nearest trees
And panted, shedding tears.

So she looked round,
And saw that she was in a banyan grove,
Full of wild peacocks, - pecking on the grass,
A flickering mass of eyes, blue, green, and gold,
Or reaching out their jewelled necks, where high
They sat in rows along the boughs. No tree
Cumbered with creepers let the sunshine through,
But it was caught in scarlet cups, and poured
From these on amber tufts of bloom, and dropped
Lower on azure stars. The air was still,
As if awaiting somewhat, or asleep,
And Gladys was the only thing that moved,
Excepting, - no, they were not birds, - what then?
Glorified rainbows with a living soul?
While they passed through a sunbeam they were seen,
Not otherwhere, but they were present yet
In shade. They were at work, pomegranate fruit
That lay about removing, - purple grapes,
That clustered in the path, clearing aside.
Through a small spot of light would pass and go,
The glorious happy mouth and two fair eyes
Of somewhat that made rustlings where it went;
But when a beam would strike the ground sheer down,
Behold them! they had wings, and they would pass
One after other with the sheeny fans,
Bearing them slowly, that their hues were seen,
Tender as russet crimson dropt on snows,
Or where they turned flashing with gold and dashed
With purple glooms. And they had feet, but these
Did barely touch the ground. And they took heed
Not to disturb the waiting quietness;
Nor rouse up fawns, that slept beside their dams;
Nor the fair leopard, with her sleek paws laid
Across her little drowsy cubs; nor swans,
That, floating, slept upon a glassy pool;
Nor rosy cranes, all slumbering in the reeds,
With heads beneath their wings. For this, you know,
Was Eden. She was passing through the trees
That made a ring about it, and she caught
A glimpse of glades beyond. All she had seen
Was nothing to them; but words are not made
To tell that tale. No wind was let to blow,
And all the doves were bidden to hold their peace.
Why? One was working in a valley near,
And none might look that way. It was understood
That He had nearly ended that His work;
For two shapes met, and one to other spake,
Accosting him with, "Prince, what worketh He?"
Who whispered, "Lo! He fashioneth red clay."
And all at once a little trembling stir
Was felt in the earth, and every creature woke,
And laid its head down, listening. It was known
Then that the work was done; the new-made king
Had risen, and set his feet upon his realm,
And it acknowledged him.

But in her path
Came some one that withstood her, and he said,
"What doest thou here?" Then she did turn and flee,
Among those colored spirits, through the grove,
Trembling for haste; it was not well with her
Till she came forth of those thick banyan-trees,
And set her feet upon the common grass,
And felt the common wind.

Yet once beyond,
She could not choose but cast a backward glance.
The lovely matted growth stood like a wall,
And means of entering were not evident, -
The gap had closed. But Gladys laughed for joy:
She said, "Remoteness and a multitude
Of years are counted nothing here. Behold,
To-day I have been in Eden. O, it blooms
In my own island."

And she wandered on,
Thinking, until she reached a place of palms,
And all the earth was sandy where she walked, -
Sandy and dry, - strewed with papyrus leaves,
Old idols, rings and pottery, painted lids
Of mummies (for perhaps it was the way
That leads to dead old Egypt), and withal
Excellent sunshine cut out sharp and clear
The hot prone pillars, and the carven plinths, -
Stone lotus cups, with petals dipped in sand,
And wicked gods, and sphinxes bland, who sat
And smiled upon the ruin. O how still!
Hot, blank, illuminated with the clear
Stare of an unveiled sky. The dry stiff leaves
Of palm-trees never rustled, and the soul
Of that dead ancientry was itself dead.
She was above her ankles in the sand,
When she beheld a rocky road, and, lo!
It bare in it the ruts of chariot wheels,
Which erst had carried to their pagan prayers
The brown old Pharaohs; for the ruts led on
To a great cliff, that either was a cliff
Or some dread shrine in ruins, - partly reared
In front of that same cliff, and partly hewn
Or excavate within its heart. Great heaps
Of sand and stones on either side there lay;
And, as the girl drew on, rose out from each,
As from a ghostly kennel, gods unblest,
Dog-headed, and behind them winged things
Like angels; and this carven multitude
Hedged in, to right and left, the rocky road.

At last, the cliff, - and in the cliff a door
Yawning: and she looked in, as down the throat
Of some stupendous giant, and beheld
No floor, but wide, worn, flights of steps, that led
Into a dimness. When the eyes could bear
That change to gloom, she saw flight after flight,
Flight after flight, the worn long stair go down,
Smooth with the feet of nations dead and gone.
So she did enter; also she went down
Till it was dark, and yet again went down,
Till, gazing upward at that yawning door,
It seemed no larger, in its height remote,
Than a pin's head. But while, irresolute,
She doubted of the end, yet farther down
A slender ray of lamplight fell away
Along the stair, as from a door ajar:
To this again she felt her way, and stepped
Adown the hollow stair, and reached the light;
But fear fell on her, fear; and she forbore
Entrance, and listened. Ay! 'twas even so, -
A sigh; the breathing as of one who slept
And was disturbed. So she drew back awhile,
And trembled; then her doubting hand she laid
Against the door, and pushed it; but the light
Waned, faded, sank; and as she came within -
Hark, hark! A spirit was it, and asleep?
A spirit doth not breathe like clay. There hung
A cresset from the roof, and thence appeared
A flickering speck of light, and disappeared;
Then dropped along the floor its elfish flakes,
That fell on some one resting, in the gloom, -
Somewhat, a spectral shadow, then a shape
That loomed. It was a heifer, ay, and white,
Breathing and languid through prolonged repose.

Was it a heifer? all the marble floor
Was milk-white also, and the cresset paled,
And straight their whiteness grew confused and mixed.

But when the cresset, taking heart, bloomed out, -
The whiteness, - and asleep again! but now
It was a woman, robed, and with a face
Lovely and dim. And Gladys while she gazed
Murmured, "O terrible! I am afraid
To breathe among these intermittent lives,
That fluctuate in mystic solitude,
And change and fade. Lo! where the goddess sits
Dreaming on her dim throne; a crescent moon
She wears upon her forehead. Ah! her frown
Is mournful, and her slumber is not sweet.
What dost thou hold, Isis, to thy cold breast?
A baby god with finger on his lips,
Asleep, and dreaming of departed sway?
Thy son. Hush, hush; he knoweth all the lore
And sorcery of old Egypt; but his mouth
He shuts; the secret shall be lost with him,
He will not tell."

The woman coming down!
"Child, what art doing here?" the woman said;
"What wilt thou of Dame Isis and her bairn?"
(Ay, ay, we see thee breathing in thy shroud, -
pretty shroud, all frilled and furbelowed.)
The air is dim with dust of spiced bones.
I mark a crypt down there. Tier upon tier
Of painted coffers fills it. What if we,
Passing, should slip, and crash into their midst, -
Break the frail ancientry, and smothered lie,
Tumbled among the ribs of queens and kings,
And all the gear they took to bed with them!
Horrible! Let us hence.

And Gladys said,
"O, they are rough to mount, those stairs"; but she
Took her and laughed, and up the mighty flight
Shot like a meteor with her. "There," said she;
"The light is sweet when one has smelled of graves,
Down in unholy heathen gloom; farewell."
She pointed to a gateway, strong and high,
Reared of hewn stones; but, look! in lieu of gate,
There was a glittering cobweb drawn across,
And on the lintel there were writ these words:
"Ho, every one that cometh, I divide
What hath been from what might be, and the line
Hangeth before thee as a spider's web;
Yet, wouldst thou enter thou must break the line,
Or else forbear the hill."

The maiden said,
"So, cobweb, I will break thee." And she passed
Among some oak-trees on the farther side,
And waded through the bracken round their bolls,
Until she saw the open, and drew on
Toward the edge o' the wood, where it was mixed
With pines and heathery places wild and fresh.
Here she put up a creature, that ran on
Before her, crying, "Tint, tint, tint," and turned,
Sat up, and stared at her with elfish eyes,
Jabbering of gramarye, one Michael Scott,
The wizard that wonned somewhere underground,
With other talk enough to make one fear
To walk in lonely places. After passed
A man-at-arms, William of Deloraine;
He shook his head, "An' if I list to tell,"
Quoth he, "I know, but how it matters not";
Then crossed himself, and muttered of a clap
Of thunder, and a shape in amice gray,
But still it mouthed at him, and whimpered, "Tint,
Tint, tint." "There shall be wild work some day soon,"
Quoth he, "thou limb of darkness: he will come,
Thy master, push a hand up, catch thee, imp,
And so good Christians shall have peace, perdie."

Then Gladys was so frightened, that she ran,
And got away, towards a grassy down,
Where sheep and lambs were feeding, with a boy
To tend them. 'Twas the boy who wears that herb
Called heart's-ease in his bosom, and he sang
So sweetly to his flock, that she stole on
Nearer to listen. "O Content, Content,
Give me," sang he, "thy tender company.
I feed my flock among the myrtles; all
My lambs are twins, and they have laid them down
Along the slopes of Beulah. Come, fair love,
From the other side the river, where their harps
Thou hast been helping them to tune. O come,
And pitch thy tent by mine; let me behold
Thy mouth, - that even in slumber talks of peace, -
Thy well-set locks, and dove-like countenance."

And Gladys hearkened, couched upon the grass,
Till she had rested; then did ask the boy,
For it was afternoon, and she was fain
To reach the shore, "Which is the path, I pray,
That leads one to the water?" But he said,
"Dear lass, I only know the narrow way,
The path that leads one to the golden gate
Across the river." So she wandered on;
And presently her feet grew cool, the grass
Standing so high, and thyme being thick and soft.
The air was full of voices, and the scent
Of mountain blossom loaded all its wafts;
For she was on the slopes of a goodly mount,
And reared in such a sort that it looked down
Into the deepest valleys, darkest glades,
And richest plains o' the island. It was set
Midway between the snows majestical
And a wide level, such as men would choose
For growing wheat; and some one said to her,
"It is the hill Parnassus." So she walked
Yet on its lower slope, and she could hear
The calling of an unseen multitude
To some upon the mountain, "Give us more";
And others said, "We are tired of this old world:
Make it look new again." Then there were some
Who answered lovingly - (the dead yet speak
From that high mountain, as the living do);
But others sang desponding, "We have kept
The vision for a chosen few: we love
Fit audience better than a rough huzza
From the unreasoning crowd."

Then words came up:
"There was a time, you poets, was a time
When all the poetry was ours, and made
By some who climbed the mountain from our midst.
We loved it then, we sang it in our streets.
O, it grows obsolete! Be you as they:
Our heroes die and drop away from us;
Oblivion folds them 'neath her dusky wing,
Fair copies wasted to the hungering world.
Save them. We fall so low for lack of them,
That many of us think scorn of honest trade,
And take no pride in our own shops; who care
Only to quit a calling, will not make
The calling what it might be; who despise
Their work, Fate laughs at, and doth let the work
Dull, and degrade them."

Then did Gladys smile:
"Heroes!" quoth she; "yet, now I think on it,
There was the jolly goldsmith, brave Sir Hugh,
Certes, a hero ready-made. Methinks
I see him burnishing of golden gear,
Tankard and charger, and a-muttering low,
'London is thirsty' - (then he weighs a chain):
''Tis an ill thing, my masters. I would give
The worth of this, and many such as this,
To bring it water.'

"Ay, and after him
There came up Guy of London, lettered son
O' the honest lighterman. I'll think on him,
Leaning upon the bridge on summer eves,
After his shop was closed: a still, grave man,
With melancholy eyes. 'While these are hale,'
He saith, when he looks down and marks the crowd
Cheerily working; where the river marge
Is blocked with ships and boats; and all the wharves
Swarm, and the cranes swing in with merchandise, -
'While these are hale, 'tis well, 'tis very well.
But, O good Lord,' saith he, 'when these are sick, -
I fear me, Lord, this excellent workmanship
Of Thine is counted for a cumbrance then.
Ay, ay, my hearties! many a man of you,
Struck down, or maimed, or fevered, shrinks away,
And, mastered in that fight for lack of aid,
Creeps shivering to a corner, and there dies.'
Well, we have heard the rest.

"Ah, next I think
Upon the merchant captain, stout of heart
To dare and to endure. 'Robert,' saith he,
(The navigator Knox to his manful son,)
'I sit a captive from the ship detained;
This heathenry doth let thee visit her.
Remember, son, if thou, alas! shouldst fail
To ransom thy poor father, they are free
As yet, the mariners; have wives at home,
As I have; ay, and liberty is sweet
To all men. For the ship, she is not ours,
Therefore, 'beseech thee, son, lay on the mate
This my command, to leave me, and set sail.
As for thyself - ' 'Good father,' saith the son;
'I will not, father, ask your blessing now,
Because, for fair, or else for evil, fate
We two shall meet again.' And so they did.
The dusky men, peeling off cinnamon,
And beating nutmeg clusters from the tree,
Ransom and bribe contemned. The good ship sailed, -
The son returned to share his father's cell.

"O, there are many such. Would I had wit
Their worth to sing!" With that, she turned her feet,
"I am tired now," said Gladys, "of their talk
Around this hill Parnassus." And, behold,
A piteous sight - an old, blind, graybeard king
Led by a fool with bells. Now this was loved
Of the crowd below the hill; and when he called
For his lost kingdom, and bewailed his age,
And plained on his unkind daughters, they were known
To say, that if the best of gold and gear
Could have bought him back his kingdom, and made kind
The hard hearts which had broken his erewhile,
They would have gladly paid it from their store
Many times over. What is done is done,
No help. The ruined majesty passed on.
And look you! one who met her as she walked
Showed her a mountain nymph lovely as light
Her name Oenone; and she mourned and mourned,
"O Mother Ida," and she could not cease,
No, nor be comforted.

And after this,
Soon there came by, arrayed in Norman cap
And kirtle, an Arcadian villager,
Who said, "I pray you, have you chanced to meet
One Gabriel?" and she sighed; but Gladys took
And kissed her hand: she could not answer her,
Because she guessed the end.

With that it drew
To evening; and as Gladys wandered on
In the calm weather, she beheld the wave,
And she ran down to set her feet again
On the sea margin, which was covered thick
With white shell-skeletons. The sky was red
As wine. The water played among bare ribs
Of many wrecks, that lay half buried there
In the sand. She saw a cave, and moved thereto
To ask her way, and one so innocent
Came out to meet her, that, with marvelling mute,
She gazed and gazed into her sea-blue eyes,
For in them beamed the untaught ecstasy
Of childhood, that lives on though youth be come,
And love just born.

She could not choose but name her shipwrecked prince,
All blushing. She told Gladys many things
That are not in the story, - things, in sooth,
That Prospero her father knew. But now
'Twas evening, and the sun drooped; purple stripes
In the sea were copied from some clouds that lay
Out in the west. And lo! the boat, and more,
The freakish thing to take fair Gladys home
She mowed at her, but Gladys took the helm:
"Peace, peace!" she said; "be good: you shall not steer,
For I am your liege lady." Then she sang
The sweetest songs she knew all the way home.

So Gladys set her feet upon the sand;
While in the sunset glory died away
The peaks of that blest island.

"Fare you well.
My country, my own kingdom," then she said,
"Till I go visit you again, farewell."

She looked toward their house with whom she dwelt, -
The carriages were coming. Hastening up,
She was in time to meet them at the door,
And lead the sleepy little ones within;
And some were cross and shivered, and her dames
Were weary and right hard to please; but she
Felt like a beggar suddenly endowed
With a warm cloak to 'fend her from the cold.
"For, come what will," she said, "I had to-day.
There is an island."

The Moral.

What is the moral? Let us think awhile,
Taking the editorial WE to help,
It sounds respectable.

The moral; yes.
We always read, when any fable ends,
"Hence we may learn." A moral must be found.
What do you think of this? "Hence we may learn
That dolphins swim about the coast of Wales,
And Admiralty maps should now be drawn
By teacher-girls, because their sight is keen,
And they can spy out islands." Will that do?
No, that is far too plain, - too evident.

Perhaps a general moralizing vein -
(We know we have a happy knack that way.
We have observed, moreover, that young men
Are fond of good advice, and so are girls;
Especially of that meandering kind,
Which winding on so sweetly, treats of all
They ought to be and do and think and wear,
As one may say, from creeds to comforters.
Indeed, we much prefer that sort ourselves,
So soothing). Good, a moralizing vein;
That is the thing; but how to manage it?
"Hence we may learn," if we be so inclined,
That life goes best with those who take it best;
That wit can spin from work a golden robe
To queen it in; that who can paint at will
A private picture gallery, should not cry
For shillings that will let him in to look
At some by others painted. Furthermore,
Hence we may learn, you poets, - (and we count
For poets all who ever felt that such
They were, and all who secretly have known
That such they could be; ay, moreover, all
Who wind the robes of ideality
About the bareness of their lives, and hang
Comforting curtains, knit of fancy's yarn,
Nightly betwixt them and the frosty world), -
Hence we may learn, you poets, that of all
We should be most content. The earth is given
To us: we reign by virtue of a sense
Which lets us hear the rhythm of that old verse,
The ring of that old tune whereto she spins.
Humanity is given to us: we reign
By virtue of a sense, which lets us in
To know its troubles ere they have been told,
And take them home and lull them into rest
With mournfullest music. Time is given to us, -
Time past, time future. Who, good sooth, beside
Have seen it well, have walked this empty world
When she went steaming, and from pulpy hills
Have marked the spurting of their flamy crowns?

Have we not seen the tabernacle pitched,
And peered between the linen curtains, blue,
Purple, and scarlet, at the dimness there,
And, frighted, have not dared to look again?
But, quaint antiquity! beheld, we thought,
A chest that might have held the manna pot
And Aaron's rod that budded. Ay, we leaned
Over the edge of Britain, while the fleet
Of Caesar loomed and neared; then, afterwards,
We saw fair Venice looking at herself
In the glass below her, while her Doge went forth
In all his bravery to the wedding.

However, counts for nothing to the grace
We wot of in time future: - therefore add,
And afterwards have done: "Hence we may learn,"
That though it be a grand and comely thing
To be unhappy, - (and we think it is,
Because so many grand and clever folk
Have found out reasons for unhappiness,
And talked about uncomfortable things, -
Low motives, bores, and shams, and hollowness,
The hollowness o' the world, till we at last
Have scarcely dared to jump or stamp, for fear,
Being so hollow, it should break some day,
And let us in), - yet, since we are not grand,
O, not at all, and as for cleverness,
That may be or may not be, - it is well
For us to be as happy as we can!

Agreed: and with a word to the noble sex,
As thus: we pray you carry not your guns
On the full-cock; we pray you set your pride
In its proper place, and never be ashamed
Of any honest calling, - let us add,
And end; for all the rest, hold up your heads
And mind your English.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Gladys And Her Island.' by Jean Ingelow

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy