Sunday at Hampstead

A poem by James Thomson (BV)


This is the Heath of Hampstead,
There is the dome of Saint Paul’s;
Beneath, on the serried house-tops,
A chequered lustre falls:

And the mighty city of London,
Under the clouds and the light,
Seems a low wet beach, half shingle,
With a few sharp rocks upright.

Here will we sit, my darling,
And dream an hour away
The donkeys are hurried and worried,
But we are not donkeys to-day:

Though all the weary week, dear,
We toil in the murk down there,
Tied to a desk and a counter,
A patient stupid pair!

But on Sunday we slip our tether,
And away from the smoke and the smirch;
Too grateful to God for His Sabbath
To shut its hours in a church.

Away to the green, green country,
Under the open sky;
Where the earth’s sweet breath is incense
And the lark sings psalms on high.

On Sunday we’re Lord and Lady,
With ten times the love and glee
Of those pale and languid rich ones
Who are always and never free.

They drawl and stare and simper,
So fine and cold and staid,
Like exquisite waxwork figures
That must be kept in the shade:

We can laugh out loud when merry,
We can romp at kiss-in-the-ring,
We can take our beer at a public,
We can loll on the grass and sing. . . .

Would you grieve very much, my darling,
If all yon low wet shore
Were drowned by a mighty flood-tide,
And we never toiled there more?

Wicked? there is no sin, dear,
In an idle dreamer’s head;
He turns the world topsy-turvy
To prove that his soul’s not dead.

I am sinking, sinking, sinking;
It is hard to sit upright!
Your lap is the softest pillow!
Good night, my Love, good night!


How your eyes dazzle down into my soul!
I drink and drink of their deep violet wine,
And ever thirst the more, although my whole
Dazed, being whirls in drunkenness divine.

Pout down your lips from that bewildering smile,
And kiss me for the interruption, Sweet!
I had escaped you: floating for awhile
In that far cloud ablaze with living heat:

I floated with it through the solemn skies,
I melted with it up the Crystal Sea
Into the Heaven of Heavens; and shut my eyes
To feel eternal rest enfolding me. . . .

Well, I prefer one tyrannous girl down here,
You jealous violet-eyed Bewitcher, you!
To being lord in Mohammed’s seventh sphere
Of meekest houris threescore ten and two!


Was it hundreds of years ago, my Love,
Was it thousands of miles away,
That two poor creatures we know, my Love,
Were toiling day by day;
Were toiling weary, weary,
With many myriads more,
In a City dark and dreary
On a sullen river’s shore?

Was it truly a fact or a dream, my Love?
I think my brain still reels,
And my ears still throbbing seem, my Love,
With the rush and the clang of wheels;
Of a vast machinery roaring
For ever in skyless gloom;
Where the poor slaves peace imploring,
Found peace alone in the tomb.

Was it hundreds of years ago, my Love,
Was it thousands of miles away?
Or was it a dream to show, my Love,
The rapture of to-day?
This day of holy splendour,
This Sabbath of rich rest,
Wherein to God we render
All praise by being blest.


Eight of us promised to meet here
And tea together at five:
And who would ever believe it?
We are the first to arrive!

Oh, shame on us, my darling;
It is a monstrous crime
To make a tryst with others
And be before our time!

Lizzie is off with William,
Quite happy for her part;
Our sugar in her pocket,
And the sweet love in her heart.

Mary and Dick so grandly
Parade suburban streets;
His waistcoat and her bonnet
Proving the best of treats.

And Fanny plagues big Robert
With tricks of the wildest glee:
O Fanny, you’ll get in hot water
If you do not bring us our tea!

Why, bless me, look at that table,
Every one of them there!
“Ha, here at last we have them,
The always behindhand pair!

“When the last trumpet-solo
Strikes up instead of the lark,
They’ll turn in their sleep just grunting
Who’s up so soon in the dark?”

Babble and gabble, you rabble,
A thousand in full yell!
And this is your Tower of Babel,
This not-to-be-finished Hotel.1

“You should see it in the drawing,
You’d think a Palace they make,
Like the one in the Lady of Lyons,
With this pond for the lovely lake!”

“I wish it wasn’t Sunday,
There’s no amusement at all:
Who was here Hot-cross-bun-day?
We had such an open-air ball!

The bands played polkas, waltzes,
Quadrilles; it was glorious fun
And each gentleman gave them a penny
After each dance was done.”

“ Mary is going to chapel,
And what takes her there, do you guess?
Her sweet little duck of a bonnet,
And her new second-hand silk dress.”

“We went to Church one Sunday,
But felt we had no right there;
For it’s only a place for the grand folk
Who come in a carriage and pair.

“ And I laughed out loud, it was shameful!
But Fanny’ said, Oh, what lives!
He must have been clever, the rascal,
To manage seven hundred wives!”

“ Suppose we play Hunt-the-Slipper?”
“ We can’t, there’s the crinoline” “Phew!
Bother it, always a nuisance!”

“I think I’ve seen all the girls here,
About a thousand, or more;
But none of them half so pretty
As our own loving four.”

“Thank you! and I’ve been listening
To lots of the men, the knaves;
But none of them half such humbugs
As our devoted slaves.”

“Do you see those purple flushes?
The sun will set in state:
Up all! we must cross to the heath, friends,
Before it gets too late.

“We will couch in the fern together,
And watch for the moon and the stars;
And the slim tree-tops will be lighted,
So the boys may light their cigars.

“And while the sunset glory
Burns down in crimson and gold,
LAZY shall tell us a story
Of his wonderful times of old.”


Ten thousand years ago, (“No more than that?”)
Ten thousand years, (“The age of Robert’s hat!”
“Silence, you gods” “Pinch Fanny!” “Now we’re good.”)
This place where we are sitting was a wood,
Savage and desert save for one rude home
Of wattles plastered with stiff clay and loam;
And here, in front, upon the grassy mire
Four naked squaws were squatted round a fire:
Then four tall naked wild men crushing through
The tangled underwood came into view;
Two of them bent beneath a mighty boar,
The third was gashed and bleeding, number four
Strutted full-drest in war-paint, (“That was Dick!”)
Blue of a devilish pattern laid on thick.
The squaws jumped up to roast the carcass whole;
The braves sank silent, stark ’gainst root and bole.
The meat half-done, they tore it and devoured,
Sullenly ravenous; the women cowered
Until their lords had finished, then partook.
Mist rose; all crept into their cabin-nook,
And staked the mouth; the floor was one broad bed
Of rushes dried with fox and bear skins spread.
Wolves howled and wild cats wailed; they snored; and so
The long night passed, shedding a storm of snow;
This very night ten thousand years ago.


Ten thousand years before, (“Come, draw it mild!
Don’t waste Conk-ology like that, my child!”)
From where we sit to the horizon’s bound
A level brilliant plain was spread all round,
As level and as brilliant as a sea
Under the burning sun; high as your knee
Aflame with flowers, yellow and blue and red:
Long lines of palm-trees marked out there the bed
Of a great river, and among them gleamed
A few grey tents. Then four swift horsemen streamed
Out of the West, magnificent in ire,
Churning the meadow into flakes of fire,
Brandishing monstrous spears as if in fight,
They wheeled, ducked, charged, and shouted fierce delight:
So till they reach the camp: the women there
Awaiting them the evening meal prepare;
Milk from the goats and camels, dates plucked fresh,
Cool curds and cheese, millet, sweet broiled kid’s flesh.
The spear struck deep hath picketed each barb;
A grave proud turbaned man in flowing garb
Sups with a grave meek woman, humbly proud,
Whose eyes flash empire. Then the solemn crowd
Of stars above, the silent plain below,
Until the East resumes its furnace-glow;
This same night twenty thousand years ago.


Ten thousand years before, (“But if you take
Such mouthfuls, you will soon eat up Time’s cake!”)
Where we are sitting rose in splendid light
A broad cool marble palace; from the height
Broad terrace-gardens stairlike sank away
Down to the floor of a deep sapphire bay.
Where the last slope slid greenly to the wave,
And’ dark rich glossy foliage shadow gave,
Four women, or four goddesses, leaned calm,
Of mighty stature, graceful as the palm:
One stroked with careless hand a lion’s mane,
One fed an eagle; while a measured strain
Was poured forth by the others, harp and voice,
Music to make the universe rejoice.
An isle was in the offing seen afar,
Deep-purple based, its peak a glittering star;
Whence rowed a galley (drooped the silken sails),
A dragon-barque with golden burning scales.
Then four bronzed giants leapt to land, embraced
The glorious women, chanting: “Did we haste?
The Cavern-Voice hath silenced all your fears;
Peace on our earth another thousand years!”
On fruits and noble wine, with song’s rich flow,
They feasted in the sunset’s golden glow;
This same night thirty thousand years ago.


Ten thousand years before, (“Another ten!
Good Lord, how greedy are these little men!”)
This place where we are sitting (“Half asleep.”)
Was in the sea a hundred fathoms deep:
A floor of silver sand so fine and soft,
A coral forest branching far aloft;
Above, the great dusk emerald golden-green;
Silence profound and solitude serene.
Four mermaids sit beneath the coral rocks,
Combing with golden combs their long green locks,
And wreathing them with little pearly shells;
Four mermen come from out the deep-sea dells,
And whisper to them, and they all turn pale:
Then through the hyaline a voice of wail,
With passionate gestures, “Ever alas for woe!
A rumour cometh down the Ocean-flow,
A word calamitous! that we shall be
All disinherited from the great sea:
Our tail with which like fishes we can swim
Shall split into an awkward double-limb,
And we must waddle on the arid soil,
And build dirt-huts, and get our food with toil,
And lose our happy, happy lives!” And so
These gentle creatures wept “Alas for woe!”
This same night forty thousand years ago.


“Are you not going back a little more?
What was the case ten thousand years before?”
Ten thousand years before ’twas Sunday night;
Four lovely girls were listening with delight,
Three noble youths admired another youth
Discoursing History crammed full of truth:
They all were sitting upon Hampstead Heath,
And monstrous grimy London lay beneath.
“The stupidest story LAZY ever told;
I’ve no more faith in his fine times of old.”
“How do you like our prospects now, my dears?
We’ll all be mermaids in ten thousand years.”
“Mermaids are beautiful enough, but law!
Think of becoming a poor naked squaw!”
“But in these changes, sex will change no doubt;
We’ll all be men and women turn about.”
“Then these four chaps will be the squaws? that’s just;
With lots of picaninnies, I do trust!”
“If changes go by fifty thousand, yes;
But if by ten, they last were squaws, I guess!”
“Come on; we’ll go and do the very beers
We did this night was fifty thousand years.”
Thou prophet, thou deep sage! we’ll go, we’ll go:
The ring is round, Life naught, the World an O;
This night is fifty thousand years ago!


As we rush, as we rush in the Train,
The trees and the houses go wheeling back,
But the starry heavens above the plain
Come flying on our track.

All the beautiful stars of the sky,
The silver doves of the forest of Night,
Over the dull earth swarm and fly,
Companions of our flight.

We will rush ever on without fear;
Let the goal be far, the flight be fleet!
For we carry the Heavens with us, Dear,
While the Earth slips from our feet!


Day after day of this azure May
The blood of the Spring has swelled in my veins;
Night after night of broad moonlight
A mystical dream has dazzled my brains.

A seething might, a fierce delight,
The blood of the Spring is the wine of the world;
My veins run fire and thrill desire,
Every leaf of my heart’s red rose uncurled.

A sad sweet calm, a tearful balm,
The light of the Moon is the trance of the world;
My brain is fraught with yearning thought,
And the rose is pale and its leaves are furled.

O speed the day, thou dear, dear May,
And hasten the night I charge thee, O June,
When the trance divine shall burn with the wine
And the red rose unfurl all its fire to the Moon!


O mellow moonlight warm,
Weave round my Love a charm;
O countless starry eyes,
Watch from the holy skies;
O ever-solemn Night,
Shield her within thy might
Watch her, my little one!
Shield her, my darling!

How my heart shrinks with fear,
Nightly to leave thee, dear;
Lonely and pure within
Vast glooms of woe and sin:
Our wealth of love and bliss
Too heavenly-perfect is:
Good night, my little one!
God keep thee, darling!

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