Rural Evening.

A poem by John Clare

The sun now sinks behind the woodland green,
And twittering spangles glow the leaves between;
So bright and dazzling on the eye it plays
As if noon's heat had kindled to a blaze,
But soon it dims in red and heavier hues,
And shows wild fancy cheated in her views.
A mist-like moisture rises from the ground,
And deeper blueness stains the distant round.
The eye each moment, as it gazes o'er,
Still loses objects which it mark'd before;
The woods at distance changing like to clouds,
And spire-points croodling under evening's shrouds;
Till forms of things, and hues of leaf and flower,
In deeper shadows, as by magic power,
With light and all, in scarce-perceiv'd decay,
Put on mild evening's sober garb of grey.

Now in the sleepy gloom that blackens round
Dies many a lulling hum of rural sound,
From cottage door, farm-yard, and dusty lane,
Where home the cart-horse tolters with the swain,
Or padded holm, where village boys resort,
Bawling enraptur'd o'er their evening sport,
Till night awakens superstition's dread
And drives them prisoners to a restless bed.
Thrice happy eve of days no more to me!
Whoever thought such change belong'd to thee?
When, like to boys whom now thy gloom surrounds,
I chas'd the stag, or play d at fox-and-hounds,
Or wander'd down the lane with many a mate
To play at see-saw on the pasture-gate,
Or on the threshold of some cottage sat
To watch the flittings of the shrieking bat,
Who, seemly pleas'd to mock our treacherous view,
Would even swoop and touch us as he flew,
And vainly still our hopes to entertain
Would stint his route, and circle us again,--
Till, wearied out with many a coaxing call
Which boyish superstition loves to bawl,
His shrill song shrieking he betook to flight,
And left us puzzled in short-sighted night.
Those days have fled me, as from them they steal;
And I've felt losses they must shortly feel;
But sure such ends make every bosom sore,
To think of pleasures we must meet no more.

Now from the pasture milking-maidens come,
With each a swain to bear the burden home,
Who often coax them on their pleasant way
To soodle longer out in love's delay;
While on a mole-hill, or a resting stile,
The simple rustics try their arts the while
With glegging smiles, and hopes and fears between,
Snatching a kiss to open what they mean:
And all the utmost that their tongues can do,
The honey'd words which nature earns to woo,
The wild-flower sweets of language, "love" and "dear,"
With warmest utterings meet each maiden's ear;
Who as by magic smit, she knows not why,
From the warm look that waits a wish'd reply
Droops fearful down in love's delightful swoon,
As slinks the blossom from the suns of noon;
While sighs half-smother'd from the throbbing breast,
And broken words sweet trembling o'er the rest,
And cheeks, in blushes burning, turn'd aside,
Betray the plainer what she strives to hide.
The amorous swain sees through the feign'd disguise,
Discerns the fondness she at first denies,
And with all passions love and truth can move
Urges more strong the simpering maid to love;
More freely using toying ways to win--
Tokens that echo from the soul within--
Her soft hand nipping, that with ardour burns,
And, timid, gentlier presses its returns;
Then stealing pins with innocent deceit,
To loose the 'kerchief from its envied seat;
Then unawares her bonnet he'll untie,
Her dark-brown ringlets wiping gently by,
To steal a kiss in seemly feign'd disguise,
As love yields kinder taken by surprise:
While, nearly conquer'd, she less disapproves,
And owns at last, mid tears and sighs, she loves.
With sweetest feelings that this world bestows
Now each to each their inmost souls disclose,
Vow to be true; and to be truly ta'en,
Repeat their loves, and vow it o'er again;
And pause at loss of language to proclaim
Those purest pleasures, yet without a name:
And while, in highest ecstacy of bliss
The shepherd holds her yielding hand in his,
He turns to heaven to witness what he feels,
And silent shows what want of words conceals;
Then ere the parting moments hustle nigh,
And night in deeper dye his curtain dips,
Till next day's evening glads the anxious eye,
He swears his truth, and seals it on her lips.

At even's hour, the truce of toil, 'tis sweet
The sons of labour at their ease to meet,
On piled bench, beside the cottage door,
Made up of mud and stones and sodded o'er;
Where rustic taste at leisure trimly weaves
The rose and straggling woodbine to the eaves,--
And on the crowded spot that pales enclose
The white and scarlet daisy rears in rows,--
Training the trailing peas in bunches neat,
Perfuming evening with a luscious sweet,--
And sun-flowers planting for their gilded show,
That scale the window's lattice ere they blow,
Then, sweet to habitants within the sheds,
Peep through the diamond pane their golden heads:
Or at the shop where ploughs and harrows lie,
Well-known to every child that passes by:
From shining fragments littering on the floor,
And branded letters burnt upon the door;
Where meddling boys, the torment of the street,
In hard-burnt cinders ready weapons meet,
To pelt the martins 'neath the eves at rest,
That oft are wak'd to mourn a ruin'd nest;
Or sparrows, that delight their nests to leave,
In dust to flutter at the cool of eve.
For such-like scenes the gossip leaves her home,
And sons of labour light their pipes, and come.
To talk of wages, whether high or low,
And mumble news that still as secrets go;
When, heedless then to all the rest may say,
The beckoning lover nods the maid away,
And at a distance many an hour they seem
In jealous whisperings o'er their pleasing theme;
While children round them teasing sports prolong,
To twirl the top, or bounce the hoop along,
Or shout across the street their "one catch all,"
Or prog the hous'd bee from the cotter's wall.

Now at the parish cottage wall'd with dirt,
Where all the cumber-grounds of life resort,
From the low door that bows two props between,
Some feeble tottering dame surveys the scene;
By them reminded of the long-lost day
When she herself was young, and went to play;
And, turning to the painful scenes again,
The mournful changes she has met since then,
Her aching heart, the contrast moves so keen,
E'en sighs a wish that life had never been.
Still vainly sinning, while she strives to pray,
Half-smother'd discontent pursues its way
In whispering Providence, how blest she'd been,
If life's last troubles she'd escap'd unseen;
If, ere want sneak'd for grudg'd support from pride,
She had but shar'd of childhood's joys, and died.
And as to talk some passing neighbours stand,
And shove their box within her tottering hand,
She turns from echoes of her younger years,
And nips the portion of her snuff with tears.

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