Alfred and Jennet
ALFRED AND JENNET
Yes, let me tell of Jennet, my last child;
In her the charms of all the rest ran wild,
And sprouted as they pleased. Still by my side,
I own she was my favourite, was my pride,
Since first she labour’d round my neck to twine,5
Or clasp’d both little hands in one of mine:
And when the season broke, I’ve seen her bring
Lapfuls of flowers, and then the girl would sing
Whole songs, and halves, and bits, O, with such glee!
If playmates found a favourite, it was she.10
Her lively spirit lifted her to joy;
To distance in the race a clumsy boy
Would raise the flush of conquest in her eye,
And all was dance, and laugh, and liberty.
Yet not hard-hearted, take me right, I beg,15
The veriest romp that ever wagg’d a leg
Was Jennet; but when pity soothed her mind,
Prompt with her tears, and delicately kind.
The half-fledged nestling, rabbit, mouse, or dove,
By turns engaged her cares and infant love;20
And many a one, at the last doubtful strife,
Warm’d in her bosom, started into life.
At thirteen she was all that Heaven could send,
My nurse, my faithful clerk, my lively friend;
Last at my pillow when I sunk to sleep,25
First on my threshold soon as day could peep:
I heard her happy to her heart’s desire,
With clanking pattens, and a roaring fire.
Then, having store of new-laid eggs to spare,
She fill’d her basket with the simple fare,30
And weekly trudged (I think I see her still)
To sell them at yon house upon the hill.
Oft have I watch’d her as she stroll’d along,
Heard the gate bang, and heard her morning song;
And, as my warm ungovern’d feelings rose,35
Said to myself, ‘Heaven bless her! there she goes.’
Long would she tarry, and then dancing home,
Tell how the lady bade her oft’ner come,
And bade her talk and laugh without control;
For Jennet’s voice was music to the soul,40
My tale shall prove it:—For there dwelt a son,
An only child, and where there is but one,
Indulgence like a mildew reigns, from whence
Mischief may follow if that child wants sense.
But Alfred was a youth of noble mind,45
With ardent passions, and with taste refined:
All that could please still courted heart and hand,
Music, joy, peace, and wealth, at his command;
Wealth, which his widow’d mother deem’d his own;
Except the poor, she lived for him alone.50
Yet would she weep by stealth when he was near,
But check’d all sighs to spare his wounded ear;
For from his cradle he had never seen
Soul-cheering sunbeams, or wild nature’s green.
But all life’s blessings centre not in sight;55
For Providence, that dealt him one long night,
Had given, in pity to the blooming boy,
Feelings more exquisitely tuned to joy.
Fond to excess was he of all that grew;
The morning blossom sprinkled o’er with dew,60
Across his path, as if in playful freak,
Would dash his brow, and weep upon his cheek;
Each varying leaf that brush’d where’er he came,
Press’d to his rosy lip he call’d by name;
He grasp’d the saplings, measured every bough,65
Inhaled the fragrance that the spring months throw
Profusely round, till his young heart confess’d
That all was beauty, and himself was bless’d.
Yet when he traced the wide extended plain,
Or clear brook side, he felt a transient pain;70
The keen regret of goodness, void of pride,
To think he could not roam without a guide.
Who, guess ye, knew these scenes of home delight
Better than Jennet, bless’d with health and sight?
Whene’er she came, he from his sports would slide,75
And catch her wild laugh, listening by her side;
Mount to the tell-tale clock with ardent spring,
And feel the passing hour, then fondly cling
To Jennet’s arm, and tell how sweet the breath
Of bright May-mornings on the open heath;80
Then off they started, rambling far and wide,
Like Cupid with a wood-nymph by his side.
Thus months and months roll’d on, the summer pass’d,
And the long darkness, and the winter blast,
Sever’d the pair; no flowery fields to roam,85
Poor Alfred sought his music and his home.
What wonder then if inwardly he pined?
The anxious mother mark’d her stripling’s mind
Gloomy and sad, yet striving to be gay
As the long tedious evenings pass’d away:90
’Twas her delight fresh spirits to supply.—
My girl was sent for—just for company.
A tender governess my daughter found,
Her temper placid, her instruction sound;
Plain were her precepts, full of strength, their power95
Was founded on the practice of the hour:
Theirs were the happy nights to peace resign’d,
With ample means to cheer th’ unbended mind.
The Sacred History, or the volumes fraught
With tenderest sympathy, or towering thought,100
The laughter-stirring tale, the moral lay,
All that brings dawning reason into day.
There Jennet learn’d by maps, through every land
To travel, and to name them at command;
Would tell how great their strength, their bounds how far,105
And show where uncle Charles was in the war.
The globe she managed with a timid hand,
Told which was ocean, which was solid land,
And said, whate’er their diff ‘rent climates bore,
All still roll’d round, though that I knew before.110
Thus grown familiar, and at perfect ease,
What could be Jennet’s duty but to please?
Yet hitherto she kept, scarce knowing why,
One powerful charm reserved, and still was shy.
When Alfred from his grand-piano drew115
Those heavenly sounds that seem’d for ever new,
She sat as if to sing would be a crime,
And only gazed with joy, and nodded time.
Till one snug evening, I myself was there,
The whispering lad inquired, behind my chair,120
‘Bowman, can Jennet sing?’ ‘At home,’ said I,
‘She sings from morn till night, and seems to fly
From tune to tune, the sad, the wild, the merry,
And moulds her lip to suit them like a cherry;
She learn’d them here.’—‘O ho!’ said he, ‘O ho!’125
And rubb’d his hands, and stroked his forehead, so.
Then down he sat, sought out a tender strain,
Sung the first words, then struck the chords again;
‘Come, Jennet, help me, you must know this song
Which I have sung, and you have heard so long.’130
I mark’d the palpitation of her heart,
Yet she complied, and strove to take a part,
But faint and fluttering, swelling by degrees,
Ere self-composure gave that perfect ease,
The soul of song:—then, with triumphant glee,135
Resting her idle work upon her knee,
Her little tongue soon fill’d the room around
With such a voluble and magic sound,
That, ’spite of all her pains to persevere,
She stopp’d to sigh, and wipe a starting tear;140
Then roused herself for faults to make amends,
While Alfred trembled to his fingers’ ends.
But when this storm of feeling sunk to rest,
Jennet, resuming, sung her very best,
And on the ear, with many a dying fall,145
She pour’d th’ enchanting ‘Harp of Tara’s Hall.’ 
Still Alfred hid his raptures from her view,
Still touch’d the keys, those raptures to renew,
And led her on to that sweet past’ral air,
The Highland Laddie with the yellow hair.  150
She caught the sound, and with the utmost ease
Bade nature’s music triumph, sure to please:
Such truth, such warmth, such tenderness express’d,
That my old heart was dancing in my breast.
Upsprung the youth, ‘O Jennet, where’s your hand?155
There’s not another girl in all the land,
If she could bring me empires, bring me sight,
Could give me such unspeakable delight:
You little baggage! not to tell before
That you could sing; mind you go home no more.’160
Thus I have seen her from my own fire-side
Attain the utmost summit of her pride;
For, from that singing hour, as time roll’d round,
At the great house my Jennet might be found,
And, while I watch’d her progress with delight,165
She had a father’s blessing every night,
And grew in knowledge at that moral school
Till I began to guess myself a fool.
Music! why she could play as well as he!
At least I thought so,—but we’ll let that be:170
She read the poets, grave and light, by turns,
Nay, read without a book, as I may say,
As much as some could with in half a day.
’Twas thus I found they pass’d their happy time,175
In all their walks, when nature in her prime
Spread forth her scents and hues, and whisper’d love
And joy to every bird in every grove;
And though their colours could not meet his eye,
She pluck’d him flowers, then talk’d of poetry.180
Once on a sunbright morning, ’twas in June,
I felt my spirits and my hopes in tune,
And idly rambled forth, as if t’ explore
The little valley just before my door;
Down by yon dark green oak I found a seat185
Beneath the clustering thorns, a snug retreat
For poets, as I deem’d, who often prize
Such holes and corners far from human eyes;
I mark’d young Alfred, led by Jennet, stray
Just to the spot, both chatting on their way:190
They came behind me, I was still unseen;
He was the elder, Jennet was sixteen.
My heart misgave me, lest I should be deem’d
A prying listener, never much esteem’d,
But this fear soon subsided, and I said,195
‘I’ll hear this blind lad and my little maid.’
That instant down she pluck’d a woodbine wreath,
The loose leaves rattled on my head beneath;
This was for Alfred, which he seized with joy,
‘O, thank you, Jennet,’ said the generous boy.200
Much was their talk, which many a theme supplied,
As down they sat, for every blade was dried.
I would have skulk’d away, but dare not move,
‘Besides,’ thought I, ‘they will not talk of love;’
But I was wrong, for Alfred, with a sigh,205
A little tremulous, a little shy,
But, with the tenderest accents, ask’d his guide
A question which might touch both love and pride.
‘This morning, Jennet, why did you delay,
And talk to that strange clown upon your way,210
Our homespun gardener? how can you bear
His screech-owl tones upon your perfect ear?
I cannot like that man, yet know not why,
He’s surely quite as old again as I;
He’s ignorant, and cannot be your choice,215
And ugly too, I’m certain, by his voice,
Besides, he call’d you pretty.’—‘Well, what then?
I cannot hide my face from all the men;
Alfred, indeed, indeed, you are deceived,
He never spoke a word that I believed;220
Nay, can he think that I would leave a home
Full of enjoyment, present, and to come,
While your dear mother’s favours daily prove
How sweet the bonds of gratitude and love?
No, while beneath her roof I shall remain,225
I’ll never vex you, never give you pain.’
‘Enough, my life,’ he cried, and up they sprung;
By Heaven, I almost wish’d that I was young;
It was a dainty sight to see them pass,
Light as the July fawns upon the grass,230
Pure as the breath of spring when forth it spreads,
Love in their hearts, and sunshine on their heads.
Next day I felt what I was bound to do,
To weigh the adventure well, and tell it too;
For Alfred’s mother must not be beguiled,235
He was her earthly hope, her only child;
I had no wish, no right to pass it by,
It might bring grief, perhaps calamity.
She was the judge, and she alone should know
Whether to check the flame or let it grow.240
I went with fluttering heart, and moisten’d eye,
But strong in truth, and arm’d for her reply.
‘Well, master Bowman, why that serious face?’
Exclaim’d the lovely dame, with such a grace,
That had I knelt before her, I had been245
Not quite the simplest votary ever seen.
I told my tale, and urged that well-known truth,
That the soft passion in the bloom of youth
Starts into power, and leads th’ unconscious heart
A chase where reason takes but little part;250
Nothing was more in nature, or more pure,
And from their habits nothing was more sure.
Whether the lady blush’d from pride or joy,
I could but guess;—at length she said—‘My boy
Dropp’d not a syllable of this to me!255
What was I doing, that I could not see?
Through all the anxious hours that I have known,
His welfare still was dearer than my own;
How have I mourn’d o’er his unhappy fate!
Blind as he is! the heir to my estate!260
I now might break his heart, and Jennet’s too;
What must I, Bowman, or what can I do?’—
‘Do, madam?’ said I, boldly, ‘if you trace
Impending degradation or disgrace
In this attachment, let us not delay;265
Send my girl home, and check it while you may.’
‘I will,’ she said, but the next moment sigh’d;
Parental love was struggling hard with pride.
I left her thus, deep musing, and soon found
My daughter, for I traced her by the sound270
Of Alfred’s flageolet; no cares had they,
But in the garden bower spent half the day.
By starts he sung, then wildest trillings made,
To mock a piping blackbird in the glade.
I turn’d a corner and approach’d the pair;275
My little rogue had roses in her hair!
She whipp’d them out, and with a downcast look,
Conquer’d a laugh by poring on her book.
My object was to talk with her aside,
But at the sight my resolution died;280
They look’d so happy in their blameless glee,
That, as I found them, I e’en let them be;
Though Jennet promised a few social hours
’Midst her old friends, my poultry, and my flowers.
She came,—but not till fatal news had wrung285
Her heart through sleepless hours, and chain’d her tongue.
She came, but with a look that gave me pain,
For, though bright sunbeams sparkled after rain,
Though every brood came round, half run, half fly,
I knew her anguish by her alter’d eye;290
And strove, with all my power, where’er she came,
To soothe her grief, yet gave it not a name.
At length a few sad bitter tears she shed,
And on both hands reclined her aching head.
’Twas then my time the conqueror to prove,295
I summon’d all my rhetoric, all my love.
‘Jennet, you must not think to pass through life
Without its sorrows, and without its strife;
Good, dutiful, and worthy, as you are,
You must have griefs, and you must learn to bear.’300
Thus I went on, trite moral truths to string,—
All chaff, mere chaff, where love has spread his wing:
She cared not, listen’d not, nor seem’d to know
What was my aim, but wiped her burning brow,
Where sat more eloquence and living power305
Than language could embody in an hour.
With soften’d tone I mention’d Alfred’s name,
His wealth, our poverty, and that sad blame
Which would have weigh’d me down, had I not told
The secret which I dare not keep for gold,310
Of Alfred’s love, o’erheard the other morn,
The gardener, and the woodbine, and the thorn;
And added, ‘Though the lady sends you home,
You are but young, child, and a day may come’—
‘She has not sent me home,’ the girl replied,315
And rose with sobs of passion from my side;
‘She has not sent me home, dear father, no;
She gives me leave to tarry or to go;
She has not blamed me,—yet she weeps no less,
And every tear but adds to my distress;320
I am the cause,—thus all that she has done
Will bring the death or misery of her son.
Jealous he might be, could he but have seen
How other lads approach’d where I have been;
But this man’s voice offends his very soul,325
That strange antipathy brooks no control;
And should I leave him now, or seem unkind,
The thought would surely wreck his noble mind;
To leave him thus, and in his utmost need!
Poor Alfred! then you will be blind indeed!330
I will not leave him.’—‘Nay, child, do not rave,
What, would you be his menial, be his slave?’
‘Yes,’ she exclaim’d, and wiped each streaming eye,
‘Yes, be his slave, and serve him till I die;
He is too just to act the tyrant’s part,335
He’s truth itself.’ O how my burthen’d heart
Sigh’d for relief!—soon that relief was found;
Without one word we traced the meadow round,
Her feverish hand in mine, and weigh’d the case,
Nor dared to look each other in the face;340
Till, with a sudden stop, as if from fear,
I roused her sinking spirit, ‘Who comes here?’
Down the green slope before us, glowing warm,
Came Alfred, tugging at his mother’s arm;
Willing she seem’d, but he still led the way,345
She had not walk’d so fast for many a day;
His hand was lifted, and his brow was bare,
For now no clust’ring ringlets wanton’d there,
He threw them back in anger and in spleen,
And shouted ‘Jennet’ o’er the daisied green.350
Boyish impatience strove with manly grace
In ev’ry line and feature of his face;
His claim appear’d resistless as his choice,
And when he caught the sound of Jennet’s voice,
And when with spotless soul he clasp’d the maid,355
My heart exulted while my breath was staid.
‘Jennet, we must not part! return again;
What have I done to merit all this pain?
Dear mother, share my fortune with the poor,
Jennet is mine, and shall be—say no more;360
Bowman, you know not what a friend I’ll be;
Give me your daughter, Bowman, give her me;
Jennet, what will my days be if you go?
A dreary darkness, and a life of woe:
My dearest love, come home, and do not cry;365
You are my daylight, Jennet, I shall die.’
To such appeals all prompt replies are cold,
And stately prudence snaps her cobweb hold.
Had the good widow tried, or wish’d to speak,
This was a bond she could not, dared not break;370
Their hearts (you never saw their likeness, never)
Were join’d, indissolubly join’d for ever.
Why need I tell how soon our tears were dried,
How Jennet blush’d, how Alfred with a stride
Bore off his prize, and fancied every charm,375
And clipp’d against his ribs her trembling arm;
How mute we seniors stood, our power all gone?
Completely conquer’d, Love the day had won,
And the young vagrant triumph’d in our plight,
And shook his roguish plumes, and laugh’d outright.380
Yet, by my life and hopes, I would not part
With this sweet recollection from my heart;
I would not now forget that tender scene
To wear a crown, or make my girl a queen.
Why need be told how pass’d the months along,385
How sped the summer’s walk, the winter’s song,
How the foil’d suitor all his hopes gave up,
How Providence with rapture fill’d their cup?
No dark regrets, no tragic scenes to prove,
The gardener was too old to die for love.390
A thousand incidents I cast aside
To tell but one—I gave away the bride—
Gave the dear youth what kings could not have given;
Then bless’d them both, and put my trust in Heaven.
There the old neighbours laugh’d the night away,395
Who talk of Jennet’s wedding to this day.
And could you but have seen the modest grace,
The half-hid smiles that play’d in Jennet’s face,
Or mark’d the bridegroom’s bounding heart o’erflow,
You might have wept for joy, as I could now:400
I speak from memory of days long past;
Though ’tis a father’s tale, I’ve done at last.
Here rest thee, rest thee, Muse, review the scene
Where thou with me from peep of dawn hast been:
We did not promise that this motley throng
Should every one supply a votive song,
Nor every tenant:—yet thou hast been kind,5
For untold tales must still remain behind,
Which might o’er listening patience still prevail,
Did fancy waver not, nor daylight fail.
‘The Soldier’s Wife,’ her toils, his battles o’er,
‘Love in a Shower,’ the riv’let’s sudden roar;10
Then, ‘Lines to Aggravation’ form the close,
Parent of murders, and the worst of woes.
But while the changeful hours of daylight flew,
Some homeward look’d, and talk’d of evening dew;
Some watch’d the sun’s decline, and stroll’d around,15
Some wish’d another dance, and partners found;
When in an instant every eye was drawn
To one bright object on the upper lawn;
A fair procession from the mansion came,
Unknown its purport, and unknown its aim.20
No gazer could refrain, no tongue could cease,
It seem’d an embassy of love and peace.
Nearer and nearer still approach’d the train,
Age in the van transform’d to youth again.
Sir Ambrose gazed, and scarce believed his eyes;25
’Twas magic, memory, love, and blank surprise,
For there his venerable lady wore
The very dress which, sixty years before,
Had sparkled on her sunshine bridal morn,
Had sparkled, ay, beneath this very thorn!30
Her hair was snowy white, o’er which was seen,
Emblem of what her bridal cheeks had been,
A twin red rose—no other ornament
Had pride suggested, or false feeling lent;
She came to grace the triumph of her lord,35
And pay him honours at his festive board.
Nine ruddy lasses follow’d where she stepp’d;
White were their virgin robes, that lightly swept
The downy grass; in every laughing eye
Cupid had skulk’d, and written ‘victory.’40
What heart on earth its homage could refuse?
Each tripp’d, unconsciously, a blushing Muse.
A slender chaplet of fresh blossoms bound
Their clustering ringlets in a magic round.
And, as they slowly moved across the green,45
Each in her beauty seem’d a May-day queen.
The first a wreath bore in her outstretch’d hand,
The rest a single rose upon a wand;
Their steps were measured to that grassy throne
Where, watching them, Sir Ambrose sat alone.50
They stopp’d,—when she, the foremost of the row,
Curtsied, and placed the wreath upon his brow;
The rest, in order pacing by his bower,
In the loop’d wreath left each her single flower,—
Then stood aside.—What broke the scene’s repose?55
The whole assembly clapp’d their hands and rose.
The Muses charm’d them as they form’d a ring,
And look’d the very life and soul of Spring!
But still the white hair’d dame they view’d with pride,
Her love so perfect, and her truth so tried.60
Oh, sweet it is to hear, to see, to name,
Unquench’d affection in the palsied frame—
To think upon the boundless raptures past,
And love, triumphant, conquering to the last!
Silenced by feeling, vanquish’d by his tears,65
The host sprung up, nor felt the weight of years;
Yet utterance found not, though in virtue’s cause,
But acclamations fill’d up nature’s pause,
Till, by one last and vigorous essay,
His tide of feeling roll’d itself away;70
The language of delight its bondage broke,
And many a warm heart bless’d him as he spoke.
‘Neighbours and friends, by long experience proved,
Pardon this weakness; I was too much moved:
My dame, you see, can youth and age insnare,75
In vain I strove, ’twas more than I could bear,—
Yet hear me,—though the tyrant passions strive,
The words of truth, like leading stars, survive;
I thank you all, but will accomplish more,—
Your verses shall not die as heretofore;80
Your local tales shall not be thrown away,
Nor war remain the theme of every lay.
Ours is an humbler task, that may release
The high-wrought soul, and mould it into peace.
These pastoral notes some victor’s ear may fill,85
Breathed amidst blossoms, where the drum is still:
I purpose then to send them forth to try
The public patience, or its apathy.
The world shall see them; why should I refrain?
’Tis all the produce of my own domain.90
Farewell!’ he said, then took his lady’s arm,
On his shrunk hand her starting tears fell warm;
Again he turn’d to view the happy crowd,
And cried, ‘Good night, good night, good night,’ aloud,
‘Health to you all! for see, the evening closes,’95
Then march’d to rest, beneath his crown of roses.
‘Happy old man! with feelings such as these,
The seasons all can charm, and trifles please.’
An instantaneous shout re-echoed round,
’Twas wine and gratitude inspired the sound:100
Some joyous souls resumed the dance again,
The aged loiter’d o’er the homeward plain,
And scatter’d lovers rambled through the park,
And breathed their vows of honour in the dark;
Others a festal harmony preferr’d,105
Still round the thorn the jovial song was heard;
Dance, rhymes, and fame, they scorn’d such things as these,
But drain’d the mouldy barrel to its lees,
As if ’twere worse than shame to want repose:
Nor was the lawn clear till the moon arose,110
And on each turret pour’d a brilliant gleam
Of modest light, that trembled on the stream;
The owl awoke, but dared not yet complain,
And banish’d silence re-assumed her reign.
[‘Tara’s Harp’ from Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, Vol. I (1808):
The harp that once through Tara’s halls,The soul of music shed,Now hangs as mute on Tara’s wallsAs if that soul were fled,—So sleeps the pride of former days,So glory’s thrill is o’er,And hearts, that once beat high for praise,Now feel that pulse no more!
BACKNo more to chiefs and ladies brightThe harp of Tara swells;The chord, alone, that breaks at night,Its tale of ruin tells.Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,The only throb she gives,Is when some heart indignant breaks,To shew that still she lives!]
[‘The Yellow Haired Laddie’, a traditional song, adapted by Allan Ramsay, among others:
In April when primroses paint the sweet plain,And summer approaching rejoiceth the swain,The Yellow-Hair’d Laddie would oftentimes goTo wilds and deep glens where the hawthorn trees grow.
There under the shade of an old sacred thorn,With freedom he sung his loves, ev’ning and morn;He sang with so soft and enchanting a sound,That silvans and fairies unseen danc’d around.
The shepherd thus sung: Though young Maya be fair,Her beauty is dash’d with a scornful proud air;But Susie was handsome, and sweetly cou’d sing,Her breath like the breezes perfum’d in the spring.
That Madie in all the gay bloom of her youth,Like the moon was constant, and never spoke truth;But Susie was faithful, good humour’d and free,And fair as the goddess who sprung from the sea.
BACKThat mamma’s fine daughter, with all her great dow’r,Was aukwardly airy, and frequently sow’r:Then fighting, he wish’d wou’d parents agree,The witty sweet Susie his mistress might be.]
 [William Cowper, ‘The Task: A Poem in Six Books’, first published in the second volume of his Poems (1785).] BACK