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While the gray scholar bending o'er the young, Spelled the square types of Abraham's ancient tongue, Or with mild rapture stooped devoutly o'er His small coarse leaf alive with curious lore;Tales of grim judges, at whose awful beck, Flashed the broad blade across a royal neck;Or learned dreams of Israel's long-lost child, Found in the wanderer of the western wild. Dear to his age were memories such as these,
Leaves of his June in life's autumnal breeze;
Such were the tales that won my boyish ear,
Told in low tones that evening loves to hear.
Thus in the scene I pass so lightly o'er,
Trod for a moment, then beheld no more,
Strange shapes and dim, unseen by other eyes,
Through the dark portals of the past arise;
I see no more the fair embracing throng,
I hear no echo to my saddened song,
No more I heed the kind or envious gaze,
The voice of blame, the rustling thrill of praise:
Alone, alone, the awful past I tread,
White with the marbles of the slumbering dead;
One shadowy form my dreaming eyes behold,
That leads my footsteps as it led of old,
One floating voice, amid the silence heard,
Breathes in my ear love's long unspoken word;—
These are the scenes thy youthful eyes have known,
My heart's warm pulses claim them as its own;
The sapling compassed in thy fingers' clasp,
My arms scarce circle in their twice-told grasp,
Yet in each leaf of yon o'ershadowing tree,
I read a legend that was traced by thee.
Year after year the living wave has beat
These smooth-worn channels with its trampling feet,
Yet in each line that scores the grassy sod,
I see the pathway where thy feet have trod;
Though from the scene that hears my faltering lay,
The few that loved thee long have passed away,
Thy sacred presence all the landscape fills,
Its groves and plains, and adamantine hills!
Ye who have known the sudden tears that flow,
Sad tears, yet sweet, the dews of twilight woe,—
When led by chance, your wandering eye has crossed
Some poor memorial of the loved and lost,
Bear with my weakness as I look around
On the dear relics of this holy ground,
These bowery cloisters, shadowed and serene,
My dreams have pictured ere mine eyes have seen.
And, oh, forgive me, if the flower I brought,
The grace and pathos of this introduction must be felt by everyone. It has all the sweetness of Goldsmith, with more force and less obviousness of thought.
The poem opens with a description of an American spring, equally true to general nature and to the locality where it is written. The truth is so evident in the one case, that we take it for granted in the other. The couplet on the crocus for instance, a couplet so far as I know unmatched in flower painting, gives us most exquisitely expressed an image that meets our eye every March. The "shy turtles rangingtheir platoons,"'we never have seen, and probably never shall see, and yet the accuracy of the picture is as clear to us as that of the most familiar flower of our border.
Winter is past; the heart of Nature warms Beneath the wrecks of unresisted storms;Doubtful at first, suspected more than seen, The Southern slopes are fringed with tender green;On sheltered banks, beneath the dripping eaves, Spring's earliest nurslings spread their glowing leaves, Bright with the hues from wider pictures won, While azure, golden,—drift, or sky or sun:The snowdrop, bearing on her patient breast The frozen trophy torn from winter's crest jThe violet, gazing on the arch of blue Till her own iris wears its deepened hue;The spendthrift crocus, bursting through the mold Naked and shivering, with his cup of gold. Swelled with new life, the darkening elm on high Prints her thick buds against the spotted sky;On all her boughs the stately chestnut cleaves The gummy shroud that wraps her embryo leaves;The housefly stealing from his narrow grave, Drugged with the opiate that November gave, Beats with faint wing against the snowy pane
Or crawls tenacious o'er its lucid plain;
From shaded chinks of lichen-crusted walls
In languid curves the gliding serpent crawls;
The bog's green harper, thawing from his sleep
Twangs a hoarse note and tries a shortened leap;
On floating rails that face the softening noons
At last young April, ever frail and fair,
Wooed by her playmate with the golden hair,
Chased to the margin of receding floods,
O'er the soft meadows starred with opening buds
In tears and blushes sighs herself away
And hides her cheek beneath the flowers of May.
Then the proud tulip lights her beacon blaze, Her clustering curls the hyacinth displays, O'er her tall blades the crested fleur-de-lis
Like blue-eyed Pallas towers erect and free,
With yellower flames the lengthened sunshine glows
And love lays bare the passion-breathing rose;
Queen of the lake, along its reedy verge
The rival lily hastens to emerge,
Her snowy shoulders glistening as she strips,
Till morn is sultan of her parted lips.
Then bursts the song from every leafy glade
The yielding season's bridal serenade;
Then flash the wings returning summer calls
Through the deep arches of her forest halls;
The blue-bird breathing from his azure plumes,
The fragrance borrowed where the myrtle blooms;
The thrush, poor wanderer, dropping meekly down,
Clad in his remnant of autumnal brown;
The oriole, drifting like a flake of fire,
Rent by the whirlwind from a blazing spire.
The robin jerking his spasmodic throat
Repeats, staccato, his peremptory note;
The crack-brained bobolink courts his crazy mate
Poised on a bulrush tipsy with his weight.
Nay, in his cage the lone canary sings,
Feels the soft air and spreads his idle wings:—
Why dream I here within these caging walls,
Deaf to her voice while blooming Nature calls,
While from Heaven's face the long-drawn shadows roll,
And all its sunshine floods my opening soul!
After this we are introduced to a winter room, delineated with equal taste and fidelity ;—the very home of lettered comfort:
Yet in the darksome crypt I left so late,
Nor all unblest the mild interior scene
When the red curtain spread its folded screen;
O'er some light task the lonely hours were past,
And the long evening only flew too fast;
Or the wide chair its leathern arms would lend
In genial welcome to some easy friend
Stretched on its bosom with relaxing nerves,
Slow molding, plastic to its hollow curves;
Perchance indulging, if of generous creed,
In brave Sir Walter's dream-compelling weed.
Or happier still the evening hour would bring
To the round table its expected ring,
And while the punch-bowl's sounding depths were stirred
Its silver cherubs smiling as they heard,
O'er caution's head the blinding hood was flung,
And friendship loosed the jesses of the tongue.
Then follows an enumeration not merely of books but of printers, which, I confess, took me a little by surprise. I knew that wide readers were widely spread in the United States; and that there was no lack either of ripe scholars or of extensive libraries. I should fully have expected to find such a man as Dr. Holmes among the buyers of the best works, ancient and modern, but hardly among the collectors of choice editions. That, I confess, did give me a very pleasant astonishment. Woman although I be, I have lived enough with such people to hold them in no small reverence. Ay, and I know the Baskerville Virgil well enough by sight to recognize the wonderful accuracy of the portrait. Is there any thing under the sun that Dr. Holmes can not paint!
Such the warm life this dim retreat has known,
On those dark shelves no housewife lore profanes,
O'er his mute files the monarch folio reigns,
A mingled race, the wreck of chance and time,
That talk all tongues and breathe of every clime;
Each knows his place, and each may claim his part
In some quaint corner of his master's heart.
This old Decretal, won from Kloss's hoards,
Thick-leafed, brass-cornered, ribbed with oaken boards,
Stands the gray patriarch of the graver rows,
Its fourth ripe century narrowing to its close;
Not daily conned, but glorious still to view,
With glistening letters wrought in red and blue.
There towers Stagira's all-embracing sage,
The Aldine anchor on his opening page;
There sleep the births of Plato's heavenly mind
In yon dark tome by jealous clasps confined,
"Olim e libris"—(dare I call it mine)
Of Yale's great Head and Killingworth's divine!
In those square sheets the songs of Maro fill
The silvery types of smooth-leaved Baskerville;
High over all, in close compact array,
Their classic wealth the Elzevirs display.
Tn lower regions of the sacred space
Range the dense volumes of a humbler race;
There grim chirurgeons all their mysteries teach
In spectral pictures or in crabbed speech;
Harvey and Haller, fresh from Nature's page,
Shoulder the dreamers of an earlier age,
Lully and Geber and the learned crew
That loved to talk of all they could not do.
Why count the rest, those names of later days
That many love and all agree to praise1
Or point the titles where a glance may read
The dangerous lines of party or of creed 1
Too well perchance the chosen list would show
What few may care and none can claim to know.
Each has his features, whose exterior seal
A brush may copy or a sunbeam steal;
Go to his study—on the nearest shelf
Stands the mosaic portrait of himself.
What though for months the tranquil dust descends,
Whitening the heads of these mine ancient friends.
While the damp offspring of the modern press
Flaunts on my table with its pictured dress;