The Soldier's Home

THE SOLDIER’S HOME

My untried muse shall no high tone assume,
Nor strut in arms;—farewell my cap and plume:
Brief be my verse, a task within my power,
I tell my feelings in one happy hour;
But what an hour was that! when from the main5
I reach’d this lovely valley once again!
A glorious harvest fill’d my eager sight,
Half shock’d, half waving in a flood of light;
On that poor cottage roof where I was born
The sun look’d down as in life’s early morn.10
I gazed around, but not a soul appear’d,
I listen’d on the threshold, nothing heard;
I call’d my father thrice, but no one came;
It was not fear or grief that shook my frame,
But an o’erpowering sense of peace and home,15
Of toils gone by, perhaps of joys to come.
The door invitingly stood open wide,
I shook my dust, and set my staff aside.
How sweet it was to breathe that cooler air,
And take possession of my father’s chair!20
Beneath my elbow, on the solid frame,
Appear’d the rough initials of my name,
Cut forty years before!—the same old clock
Struck the same bell, and gave my heart a shock
I never can forget. A short breeze sprung,25
And while a sigh was trembling on my tongue,
Caught the old dangling almanacks behind,
And up they flew, like banners in the wind;
Then gently, singly, down, down, down, they went,
And told of twenty years that I had spent30
Far from my native land:—that instant came
A robin on the threshold; though so tame,
At first he look’d distrustful, almost shy,
And cast on me his coal-black stedfast eye,
And seem’d to say (past friendship to renew)35
‘Ah ha! old worn-out soldier, is it you?’
Through the room ranged the imprison’d humble bee,
And bomb’d, and bounced, and struggled to be free,
Dashing against the panes with sullen roar,
That threw their diamond sunlight on the floor;40
That floor, clean sanded, where my fancy stray’d
O’er undulating waves the broom had made,
Reminding me of those of hideous forms
That met us as we pass’d the Cape of Storms, [1] 
Where high and loud they break, and peace comes never;45
They roll and foam, and roll and foam for ever.
But here was peace, that peace which home can yield;
The grasshopper, the partridge in the field,
And ticking clock, were all at once become
The substitutes for clarion, fife, and drum.50
While thus I mused, still gazing, gazing still
On beds of moss that spread the window sill,
I deem’d no moss my eyes had ever seen
Had been so lovely, brilliant, fresh, and green,
And guess’d some infant hand had placed it there,55
And prized its hue, so exquisite, so rare.
Feelings on feelings mingling, doubling rose,
My heart felt every thing but calm repose;
I could not reckon minutes, hours, nor years,
But rose at once, and bursted into tears;60
Then, like a fool, confused, sat down again,
And thought upon the past with shame and pain;
I raved at war and all its horrid cost,
And glory’s quagmire, where the brave are lost.
On carnage, fire, and plunder, long I mused,65
And cursed the murdering weapons I had used.
Two shadows then I saw, two voices heard,
One bespoke age, and one a child’s appear’d.—
In stepp’d my father with convulsive start,
And in an instant clasp’d me to his heart.70
Close by him stood a little blue-eyed maid,
And, stooping to the child, the old man said,
‘Come hither, Nancy, kiss me once again,
This is your uncle Charles, come home from Spain.’
The child approach’d, and with her fingers light,75
Stroked my old eyes, almost deprived of sight.—
But why thus spin my tale, thus tedious be?
Happy old Soldier! what’s the world to me?

_______________

Change is essential to the youthful heart,
It cannot bound, it cannot act its part
To one monotonous delight a slave;
E’en the proud poet’s lines become its grave:
By innate buoyancy, by passion led,5
It acts instinctively, it will be fed.
A troop of country lasses paced the green,
Tired of their seats, and anxious to be seen;
They pass’d Sir Ambrose, turn’d, and pass’d again,
Some lightly tripp’d, to make their meaning plain:10
The old man knew it well, the thoughts of youth
Came o’er his mind like consciousness of truth,
Or like a sunbeam through a lowering sky,
It gave him youth again, and ecstacy;
He joy’d to see them in this favourite spot,15
Who of fourscore, or fifty score, would not?
He wink’d, he nodded, and then raised his hand,—
’Twas seen and answer’d by the Oakly band.
Forth leap’d the light of heart and light of heel,
E’en stiff limb’d age the kindling joy could feel.20
They form’d, while yet the music started light;
The grass beneath their feet was short and bright,
Where thirty couple danced with all their might.
The Forester caught lasses one by one,
And twirl’d his glossy green against the sun;25
The Shepherd threw his doublet on the ground,
And clapp’d his hands, and many a partner found:
His hat-loops bursted in the jocund fray,
And floated o’er his head like blooming May.
Behind his heels his dog was barking loud,30
And threading all the mazes of the crowd;
And had he boasted one had wagg’d his tail,
And plainly said, ‘What can my master ail?’
To which the Shepherd, had he been more cool,
Had only said, ‘’Tis Oakly feast, you fool.’35
But where was Philip, he who danced so well?
Had he retired, had pleasure broke her spell?
No, he had yielded to a tend’rer bond,
He sat beside his own sick Rosamond,
Whose illness long deferr’d their wedding hour;40
She wept, and seem’d a lily in a shower;
She wept to see him ’midst a crowd so gay,
For her sake lose the honours of the day.
But could a gentle youth be so unkind?
Would Philip dance, and leave his girl behind?45
She in her bosom hid a written prize,
Inestimably rich in Philip’s eyes;
The warm effusion of a heart that glow’d
With joy, with love, and hope by Heaven bestow’d.
He woo’d, he soothed, and every art assay’d,50
To hush the scruples of the bashful maid,
Drawing, at length, against her weak command,
Reluctantly the treasure from her hand:
And would have read, but passion chain’d his tongue,
He turn’d aside, and down the ballad flung;55
And paused so long from feeling and from shame,
That old Sir Ambrose halloo’d him by name:
‘Bring it to me, my lad, and never fear,
I never blamed true love, or scorn’d a tear;
They well become us, e’en where branded most.’60
He came, and made a proxy of his host,
Who, as the dancers cooling join’d the throng,
Eyed the fair writer as he read her song.

Notes

[1] [An early name for the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point of Africa.] BACK

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