The Poet And The Brook.

A poem by Juliana Horatia Ewing

A TALE OF TRANSFORMATIONS.


A little Brook, that babbled under grass,
Once saw a Poet pass--
A Poet with long hair and saddened eyes,
Who went his weary way with woeful sighs.
And on another time,
This Brook did hear that Poet read his rueful rhyme.
Now in the poem that he read,
This Poet said--
"Oh! little Brook that babblest under grass!
(Ah me! Alack! Ah, well-a-day! Alas!)
Say, are you what you seem?
Or is your life, like other lives, a dream?
What time your babbling mocks my mortal moods,
Fair Naïad of the stream!
And are you, in good sooth,
Could purblind poesy perceive the truth,
A water-sprite,
Who sometimes, for man's dangerous delight,
Puts on a human form and face,
To wear them with a superhuman grace?

"When this poor Poet turns his bending back,
(Ah me! Ah, well-a-day! Alas! Alack!)
Say, shall you rise from out your grassy bed,
With wreathed forget-me-nots about your head,
And sing and play,
And wile some wandering wight out of his way,
To lead him with your witcheries astray?
(Ah me! Alas! Alack! Ah, well-a-day!)
Would it be safe for me
That fateful form to see?"
(Alas! Alack! Ah, well-a-day! Ah me!)

So far the Poet read his pleasing strain,
Then it began to rain:
He closed his book.
"Farewell, fair Nymph!" he cried, as with a lingering look
His homeward way he took;
And nevermore that Poet saw that Brook.

The Brook passed several days in anxious expectation
Of transformation
Into a lovely nymph bedecked with flowers;
And longed impatiently to prove those powers--
Those dangerous powers--of witchery and wile,
That should all mortal men mysteriously beguile;
For life as running water lost its charm
Before the exciting hope of doing so much harm.
And yet the hope seemed vain;
Despite the Poet's strain,
Though the days came and went, and went and came,
The seasons changed, the Brook remained the same.

The Brook was almost tired
Of vainly hoping to become a Naïad;
When on a certain Summer's day,
Dame Nature came that way,
Busy as usual,
With great and small;
Who, at the water-side
Dipping her clever fingers in the tide,
Out of the mud drew creeping things,
And, smiling on them, gave them radiant wings.
Now when the poor Brook murmured, "Mother dear!"
Dame Nature bent to hear,
And the sad stream poured all its woes into her sympathetic ear,
Crying,--"Oh, bounteous Mother!
Do not do more for one child than another;
If of a dirty grub or two
(Dressing them up in royal blue)
You make so many shining Demoiselles,[1]
Change me as well;
Uplift me also from this narrow place,
Where life runs on at such a petty pace;
Give me a human form, dear Dame, and then
See how I'll flit, and flash, and fascinate the race of men!"


Then Mother Nature, who is wondrous wise,
Did that deluded little Brook advise
To be contented with its own fair face,
And with a good and cheerful grace,
Run, as of yore, on its appointed race,
Safe both from giving and receiving harms;
Outliving human lives, outlasting human charms.
But good advice, however kind,
Is thrown away upon a made-up mind,
And this was all that babbling Brook would say--
"Give me a human face and form, if only for a day!"

Then quoth Dame Nature:--"Oh, my foolish child!
Ere I fulfil a wish so wild,
Since I am kind and you are ignorant,
This much I grant:
You shall arise from out your grassy bed,
And gathered to the waters overhead
Shall thus and then
Look down and see the world, and all the ways of men!"
Scarce had the Dame
Departed to the place from whence she came,
When in that very hour,
The sun burst forth with most amazing power.
Dame Nature bade him blaze, and he obeyed;
He drove the fainting flocks into the shade,
He ripened all the flowers into seed,
He dried the river, and he parched the mead;
Then on the Brook he turned his burning eye,
Which rose and left its narrow channel dry;
And, climbing up by sunbeams to the sky,
Became a snow-white cloud, which softly floated by.

It was a glorious Autumn day,
And all the world with red and gold was gay;
When, as this cloud athwart the heavens did pass,
Lying below, it saw a Poet on the grass,
The very Poet who had such a stir made,
To prove the Brook was a fresh-water mermaid.
And now,
Holding his book above his corrugated brow--
He read aloud,
And thus apostrophized the passing cloud:
"Oh, snowy-breasted Fair!
Mysterious messenger of upper air!
Can you be of those female forms so dread,[2]
Who bear the souls of the heroic dead
To where undying laurels crown the warrior's head?
Or, as you smile and hover,
Are you not rather some fond goddess of the skies who waits a mortal
lover?
And who, ah! who is he?
--And what, oh, what!--your message to poor me?"--
So far the Poet. Then he stopped:
His book had dropped.
But ere the delighted cloud could make reply,
Dame Nature hurried by,
And it put forth a wild beseeching cry--
"Give me a human face and form!"
Dame Nature frowned, and all the heavens grew black with storm.


But very soon,
Upon a frosty winter's noon,
The little cloud returned below,
Falling in flakes of snow;
Falling most softly on the floor most hard
Of an old manor-house court-yard.
And as it hastened to the earth again,
The children sang behind the window-pane:
"Old woman, up yonder, plucking your geese,
Quickly pluck them, and quickly cease;
Throw down the feathers, and when you have done,
We shall have fun--we shall have fun."
The snow had fallen, when with song and shout
The girls and boys came out;
Six sturdy little men and maids,
Carrying heather-brooms, and wooden spades,
Who swept and shovelled up the fallen snow,
Which whimpered,--"Oh! oh! oh!
Oh, Mother, most severe!
Pity me lying here,
I'm shaken all to pieces with that storm,
Raise me and clothe me in a human form."

They swept up much, they shovelled up more,
There never was such a snow-man before!
They built him bravely with might and main,
There never will be such a snow-man again!
His legs were big, his body was bigger,
They made him a most imposing figure;
His eyes were large and as black as coal,
For a cinder was placed in each round hole.
And the sight of his teeth would have made yours ache,
Being simply the teeth of an ancient rake.
They smoothed his forehead, they patted his back,
There wasn't a single unsightly crack;
And when they had given the final pat,
They crowned his head with the scare-crow's hat.

And so
The Brook--the Cloud--the Snow,
Got its own way after so many days,
And did put on a human form and face.
But whether
The situation pleased it altogether;
If it is nice
To be a man of snow and ice;
Whether it feels
Painful, when one congeals;
How this man felt
When he began to melt;
Whether he wore his human form and face
With any extraordinary grace;
If many mortals fell
As victims to the spell;
Or if,
As he stood, stark and stiff,
With a bare broomstick in his arms,
And not a trace of transcendental charms,
That man of snow
Grew wise enough to know
That the Brook's hopes were but a Poet's dream,
And well content to be again a stream,
On the first sunny day,
Flowed quietly away;
Or what the end was--You must ask the Poet,
I don't know it.

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