Margaret By The Mere Side.

A poem by Jean Ingelow

Lying imbedded in the green champaign
That gives no shadow to thy silvery face,
Open to all the heavens, and all their train,
The marshalled clouds that cross with stately pace,
No steadfast hills on thee reflected rest,
Nor waver with the dimpling of thy breast.

O, silent Mere! about whose marges spring
Thick bulrushes to hide the reed-bird's nest;
Where the shy ousel dips her glossy wing,
And balanced in the water takes her rest:
While under bending leaves, all gem-arrayed,
Blue dragon-flies sit panting in the shade:

Warm, stilly place, the sundew loves thee well,
And the green sward comes creeping to thy brink,
And golden saxifrage and pimpernel
Lean down to thee their perfumed heads to drink;
And heavy with the weight of bees doth bend
White clover, and beneath thy wave descend:

While the sweet scent of bean-fields, floated wide
On a long eddy of the lightsome air
Over the level mead to thy lone side,
Doth lose itself among thy zephyrs rare,
With wafts from hawthorn bowers and new-cut hay,
And blooming orchards lying far away.

Thou hast thy Sabbaths, when a deeper calm
Descends upon thee, quiet Mere, and then
There is a sound of bells, a far off psalm
From gray church towers, that swims across the fen;
And the light sigh where grass and waters meet,
Is thy meek welcome to the visit sweet.

Thou hast thy lovers. Though the angler's rod
Dimple thy surface seldom; though the oar
Fill not with silvery globes thy fringing sod,
Nor send long ripples to thy lonely shore;
Though few, as in a glass, have cared to trace
The smile of nature moving on thy face;

Thou hast thy lovers truly. 'Mid the cold
Of northern tarns the wild-fowl dream of thee,
And, keeping thee in mind, their wings unfold,
And shape their course, high soaring, till they see
Down in the world, like molten silver, rest
Their goal, and screaming plunge them in thy breast.

Fair Margaret, who sittest all day long
On the gray stone beneath the sycamore,
The bowering tree with branches lithe and strong,
The only one to grace the level shore,
Why dost thou wait? for whom with patient cheer
Gaze yet so wistfully adown the Mere?

Thou canst not tell, thou dost not know, alas!
Long watchings leave behind them little trace;
And yet how sweetly must the mornings pass,
That bring that dreamy calmness to thy face!
How quickly must the evenings come that find
Thee still regret to leave the Mere behind!

Thy cheek is resting on thy hand; thine eyes
Are like twin violets but half unclosed,
And quiet as the deeps in yonder skies.
Never more peacefully in love reposed
A mother's gaze upon her offspring dear,
Than thine upon the long far-stretching Mere.

Sweet innocent! Thy yellow hair floats low
In rippling undulations on thy breast,
Then stealing down the parted love-locks flow,
Bathed in a sunbeam on thy knees to rest,
And touch those idle hands that folded lie,
Having from sport and toil a like immunity.

Through thy life's dream with what a touching grace
Childhood attends thee, nearly woman grown;
Her dimples linger yet upon thy face,
Like dews upon a lily this day blown;
Thy sighs are born of peace, unruffled, deep;
So the babe sighs on mother's breast asleep.

It sighs, and wakes, - but thou! thy dream is all,
And thou wert born for it, and it for thee;
Morn doth not take thy heart, nor evenfall
Charm out its sorrowful fidelity,
Nor noon beguile thee from the pastoral shore,
And thy long watch beneath the sycamore.

No, down the Mere as far as eye can see,
Where its long reaches fade into the sky,
Thy constant gaze, fair child, rests lovingly;
But neither thou nor any can descry
Aught but the grassy banks, the rustling sedge,
And flocks of wild-fowl splashing at their edge.

And yet 'tis not with expectation hushed
That thy mute rosy mouth doth pouting close;
No fluttering hope to thy young heart e'er rushed,
Nor disappointment troubled its repose;
All satisfied with gazing evermore
Along the sunny Mere and reedy shore.

The brooding wren flies pertly near thy seat,
Thou wilt not move to mark her glancing wing;
The timid sheep browse close before thy feet,
And heedless at thy side do thrushes sing.
So long amongst them thou hast spent thy days,
They know that harmless hand thou wilt not raise.

Thou wilt not lift it up - not e'en to take
The foxglove bells that nourish in the shade,
And put them in thy bosom; not to make
A posy of wild hyacinth inlaid
Like bright mosaic in the mossy grass,
With freckled orchis and pale sassafras.

Gaze on; - take in the voices of the Mere.
The break of shallow water at thy feet,
Its plash among long weeds and grasses sere,
And its weird sobbing, - hollow music meet
For ears like thine; listen and take thy till,
And dream on it by night when all is still.

Full sixteen years have slowly passed away,
Young Margaret, since thy fond mother here
Came down, a six month's wife, one April day,
To see her husband's boat go down the Mere,
And track its course, till, lost in distance blue,
In mellow light it faded from her view.

It faded, and she never saw it more; -
Nor any human eye; - oh, grief! oh, woe!
It faded, - and returned not to the shore;
But far above it still the waters flow -
And none beheld it sink, and none could tell
Where coldly slept the form she loved so well!

But that sad day, unknowing of her fate,
She homeward turn'd her still reluctant feet;
And at her wheel she spun, till dark and late
The evening fell - the time when they should meet;
Till the stars paled that at deep midnight burned -
And morning dawned, and he was not returned.

And the bright sun came up - she thought too soon -
And shed his ruddy light along the Mere;
And day wore on too quickly, and at noon
She came and wept beside the waters clear.
"How could he be so late?" - and then hope fled;
And disappointment darkened into dread.

He NEVER came, and she with weepings sore
Peered in the water-nags unceasingly;
Through all the undulations of the shore,
Looking for that which most she feared to see.
And then she took home sorrow to her heart,
And brooded over its cold cruel smart.

And after, desolate she sat alone
And mourned, refusing to be comforted,
On the gray stone, the moss-embroidered stone,
With the great sycamore above her head;
Till after many days a broken oar
Hard by her seat was drifted to the shore.

It came, - a token of his fate, - the whole,
The sum of her misfortune to reveal;
As if sent up in pity to her soul,
The tidings of her widowhood to seal;
And put away the pining hope forlorn,
That made her grief more bitter to be borne.

And she was patient; through the weary day
She toiled; though none was there her work to bless;
And did not wear the sullen months away,
Nor call on death to end her wretchedness,
But lest the grief should overflow her breast,
She toiled as heretofore, and would not rest.

But, her work done, what time the evening star
Rose over the cool water, then she came
To the gray stone, and saw its light from far
Drop down the misty Mere white lengths of flame,
And wondered whether there might be the place
Where the soft ripple wandered o'er HIS face.

Unfortunate! In solitude forlorn
She dwelt, and thought upon her husband's grave,
Till when the days grew short a child was born
To the dead father underneath the wave;
And it brought back a remnant of delight,
A little sunshine to its mother's sight;

A little wonder to her heart grown numb,
And a sweet yearning pitiful and keen:
She took it as from that poor father come,
Her and the misery to stand between;
Her little maiden babe, who day by day
Sucked at her breast and charmed her woes away.

But years flew on; the child was still the same,
Nor human language she had learned to speak:
Her lips were mute, and seasons went and came,
And brought fresh beauty to her tender cheek;
And all the day upon the sunny shore
She sat and mused beneath the sycamore.

Strange sympathy! she watched and wearied not,
Haply unconscious what it was she sought;
Her mother's tale she easily forgot,
And if she listened no warm tears it brought;
Though surely in the yearnings of her heart
The unknown voyager must have had his part.

Unknown to her; like all she saw unknown,
All sights were fresh as when they first began,
All sounds were new; each murmur and each tone
And cause and consequence she could not scan,
Forgot that night brought darkness in its train,
Nor reasoned that the day would come again.

There is a happiness in past regret;
And echoes of the harshest sound are sweet.
The mother's soul was struck with grief, and yet,
Repeated in her child, 'twas not unmeet
That echo-like the grief a tone should take
Painless, but ever pensive for her sake.

For her dear sake, whose patient soul was linked
By ties so many to the babe unborn;
Whose hope, by slow degrees become extinct,
For evermore had left her child forlorn,
Yet left no consciousness of want or woe,
Nor wonder vague that these things should be so.

Truly her joys were limited and few,
But they sufficed a life to satisfy,
That neither fret nor dim foreboding knew,
But breathed the air in a great harmony
With its own place and part, and was at one
With all it knew of earth and moon and sun.

For all of them were worked into the dream, -
The husky sighs of wheat-fields in it wrought;
All the land-miles belonged to it; the stream
That fed the Mere ran through it like a thought.
It was a passion of peace, and loved to wait
'Neath boughs with fair green light illuminate.

To wait with her alone; always alone:
For any that drew near she heeded not,
Wanting them little as the lily grown
Apart from others in a shady plot,
Wants fellow-lilies of like fair degree,
In her still glen to bear her company.

Always alone: and yet, there was a child
Who loved this child, and, from his turret towers,
Across the lea would roam to where, in-isled
And fenced in rapturous silence, went her hours,
And, with slow footsteps drawn anear the place
Where mute she sat, would ponder on her face,

And wonder at her with a childish awe,
And come again to look, and yet again,
Till the sweet rippling of the Mere would draw
His longing to itself; while in her train
The water-hen, come forth, would bring her brood
From slumbering in the rushy solitude;

Or to their young would curlews call and clang
Their homeless young that down the furrows creep;
Or the wind-hover in the blue would hang,
Still as a rock set in the watery deep.
Then from her presence he would break away,
Unmarked, ungreeted yet, from day to day.

But older grown, the Mere he haunted yet,
And a strange joy from its sweet wildness caught;
Whilst careless sat alone maid Margaret,
And "shut the gates" of silence on her thought,
All through spring mornings gemmed with melted rime,
All through hay-harvest and through gleaning time.

O pleasure for itself that boyhood makes,
O happiness to roam the sighing shore,
Plough up with elfin craft the water-flakes,
And track the nested rail with cautious oar;
Then floating lie and look with wonder new
Straight up in the great dome of light and blue.

O pleasure! yet they took him from the wold,
The reedy Mere, and all his pastime there,
The place where he was born, and would grow old
If God his life so many years should spare;
From the loved haunts of childhood and the plain
And pasture-lands of his own broad domain.

And he came down when wheat was in the sheaf,
And with her fruit the apple-branch bent low,
While yet in August glory hung the leaf,
And flowerless aftermath began to grow;
He came from his gray turrets to the shore,
And sought the maid beneath the sycamore.

He sought her, not because her tender eyes
Would brighten at his coming, for he knew
Full seldom any thought of him would rise
In her fair breast when he had passed from view;
But for his own love's sake, that unbeguiled
Drew him in spirit to the silent child.

For boyhood in its better hour is prone
To reverence what it hath not understood;
And he had thought some heavenly meaning shone
From her clear eyes, that made their watchings good:
While a great peacefulness of shade was shed
Like oil of consecration on her head.

A fishing wallet from his shoulder slung,
With bounding foot he reached the mossy place,
A little moment gently o'er her hung,
Put back her hair and looked upon her face,
Then fain from that deep dream to wake her yet,
He "Margaret!" low murmured, "Margaret!

"Look at me once before I leave the land,
For I am going, - going, Margaret."
And then she sighed, and, lifting up her hand,
Laid it along his young fresh cheek, and set
Upon his face those blue twin-deeps, her eyes,
And moved it back from her in troubled wise,

Because he came between her and her fate,
The Mere. She sighed again as one oppressed;
The waters, shining clear, with delicate
Reflections wavered on her blameless breast;
And through the branches dropt, like flickerings fair,
And played upon her hands and on her hair.

And he, withdrawn a little space to see,
Murmured in tender ruth that was not pain,
"Farewell, I go; but sometimes think of me,
Maid Margaret;" and there came by again
A whispering in the reed-beds and the sway
Of waters: then he turned and went his way.

And wilt thou think on him now he is gone?
No; thou wilt gaze: though thy young eyes grow dim,
And thy soft cheek become all pale and wan,
Still thou wilt gaze, and spend no thought on him;
There is no sweetness in his laugh for thee - No
beauty in his fresh heart's gayety.

But wherefore linger in deserted haunts?
Why of the past, as if yet present, sing?
The yellow iris on the margin flaunts,
With hyacinth the banks are blue in spring,
And under dappled clouds the lark afloat
Pours all the April-tide from her sweet throat.

But Margaret - ah! thou art there no more,
And thick dank moss creeps over thy gray stone
Thy path is lost that skirted the low shore,
With willow-grass and speedwell overgrown;
Thine eye has closed for ever, and thine ear
Drinks in no more the music of the Mere.

The boy shall come - shall come again in spring,
Well pleased that pastoral solitude to share,
And some kind offering in his hand will bring
To cast into thy lap, O maid most fair -
Some clasping gem about thy neck to rest,
Or heave and glimmer on thy guileless breast.

And he shall wonder why thou art not here
The solitude with "smiles to entertain,"
And gaze along the reaches of the Mere;
But he shall never see thy face again -
Shall never see upon the reedy shore
Maid Margaret beneath her sycamore.

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