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GEORGE LEVISON OR, THE SCHOOLFELLOWS, by             Poem Explanation         Poet's Biography
First Line: The noisy sparrows in our clematis
Last Line: Supernal wisdom only knows how much.
Alternate Author Name(s): Pollex, D.; Walker, Patricius
Subject(s): Angels; Classmates; Death; Friendship; Funerals; Heaven; Memory; Soul; Schoolmates; Dead, The; Burials; Paradise

The noisy sparrows in our clematis
Chatted of rain, a pensive summer dusk
Shading the little lawn and garden-ground
Between our threshold and the village-street;
With one pure star, a lonely altar-lamp
In twilight's vast cathedral. But the clouds
Were gravely gathering, and a fitful breeze
Flurried the window-foliage that before
Hung delicately painted on the sky,
And wafted, showering from their golden boss,
The white-rose petals.
On the garden side
Our wall being low, the great Whiterose-bush lean'd
A thousand tender little heads, to note
The doings of the village all day long;
From when the labourers, trudging to their toil
In earliest sunshine, heard the outpost cocks
Whistle a quaint refrain from farm to farm,
Till hour of shadow, silence, and repose,
The ceasing footstep, and the taper's light.
Up to the churchyard rail, down to the brook,
And lifted fields beyond with grove and hedge,
The Rose-bush gazed; and people, as they pass'd,
Aware of sweetness, look'd aloft in turn;
School-children, one arm round a comrade's neck,
Would point to some rich cluster, and repay
A flying bloom with fairer glance of joy.
In that warm twilight, certain years ago,
At sunset, with the roses in a trance,
And many another blossom fast asleep,
One Flow'r of Flow'rs was closing like the rest.
Night's herald star which look'd across the world
Saw nothing prettier than our little child
Saying his evening prayer at mother's knee,
The white skirt folding on the naked feet,
Too tender for rough ways, his eyes at rest
On his mother's face, a window into heaven.
Kiss'd now, and settled in his cot, he's pleased
With murmuring song, until the large lids droop
And do not rise, and slumber's regular breath
Divides the soft round mouth. So Annie's boy
And mine was laid asleep. I heard her foot
Stir overhead; and hoped there would be time
Before the rain to loiter half an hour,
As far as to the poplars down the road,
And hear the corncrakes through the meadowy vale,
And watch the childhood of the virgin moon,
Above that sunset and its marge of clouds
A floating crescent.
Sweetheart of my life!—
As then, so now; nay, dearer to me now,
Since love, that fills the soul, expands it too,
And thus it holds more love, and ever more,—
O sweetheart, helpmate, guardian, better self!
Green be those downs and dells above the sea,
Smooth-green for ever, by the plough unhurt,
Nor overdrifted by their neighbouring sands,
Where first I saw you; first since long before
When we were children at an inland place
And play'd together. I had often thought,
I wonder should I know that pleasant child?—
Hardly, I fear'd. I knew her the first glimpse;
While yet the flexile curvature of hat
Kept all her face in shadow to the chin.
And when a breeze to which the harebells danced
Lifted the sun a moment to her eyes,
The rays of recognition flew to mine
Through all the dignity of womanhood.
Like dear old friends we were, yet wondrous new.
The others chatted; she and I not much.
Hearing her ribbon whirring in the wind
(No doubting hopes nor whimsies born as yet)
Was pure felicity, like his who sleeps
Within a sense of some unknown good-fortune,
True, or of dreamland, undetermined which;
My buoyant spirit tranquil in its joy
As the white seamew swinging on the wave.
Since, what vicissitude! We read the past
Bound in a volume, catch the story up
At any leaf we choose, and much forget
How every blind to-morrow was evolved,
How each oracular sentence shaped itself
For after comprehension.
Thus I mused,
Then also, in that buried summer dusk,
Rich heavy summer, upon autumn's verge,
My wife and boy upstairs, I leaning grave
Against the window; and through favourite paths
Memory, as one who saunters in a wood,
Found sober joy. In turn that eve itself
Rises distinctly. Troops of dancing moths
Brush'd the dry grass. I heard, as if from far,
The tone of passing voices in the street.
Announced by cheerful octaves of a horn,
Those rapid wheels flew, shaking our white-rose,
That link'd us with the modern Magic-Way,
And all the moving million-peopled world.
For every evening, done our little darg
To keep the threads of life from tanglement,
In happy hour came in the lottery-bag,
Whose messenger had many a prize for us:
The multifarious page ephemeral,
The joy at times of some brave book, whereby
Tht world is richer; and more special words,
Conveying conjured into dots of ink
Almost the voice, look, gesture that we knew,—
From Annie's former house, or mine, from shore
Of murky Thames, or rarer from hot land
Of Hindoo or Chinese, Canadian woods,
Or that huge isle of kangaroos and gold,
Magnetical metal,—thus to the four winds
One's ancient comrades scatter'd through the world.
Where's Georgy now, I thought, our dread, our pride,
George Levison, the sultan of the school?
With Greek and Latin at those fingers' ends
That swayed the winning oar and bat; a prince
In pocket-money and accoutrement;
A Cribb in fist, a Cicero in tongue;
Already victor, when his eye should deign
To fix on any summit of success.
For, in his haughty careless way, he'd hint—
'I've got to push my fortune, by-and-bye.'
How we all worshipp'd Georgy Levison!
But when I went to college he was gone,
They said to travel, and he took away
Mentor conjoin'd with Crichton from my hopes,—
No trifling blank. George had done little there,
But could—what could he not? ...And now, perhaps,
Some city, in the stranger's burial-ground,
Some desert sand, or hollow under sea,
Hides him without an epitaph. So men
Slip under, fit to shape the world anew;
And leave their trace—in schoolboy memories.
Then I went thinking how much changed I was
Since those old school-times, not so far away,
Yet now like pre-existence. Can that house,
Those fields and trees, be extant anywhere?
Have not all vanish'd, place, and time, and men?
Or with a journey could I find them all,
And myself with them, as I used to be?
Sore was my battle after quitting these.
No one thing fell as plann'd for; sorrows came
And sat beside me; years of toil went round;
And victory's self was pale and garlandless.
Fog rested on my heart; till softly blew
The wind that clear'd it. 'Twas a simple turn
Of life,—a miracle of heavenly love,
For which, thank God!
When Annie call'd me up,
We both bent silent, looking at our boy;
Kiss'd unaware (as angels, may be, kiss
Good mortals) on the smoothly rounded cheek,
Turn'd from the window, where a fringe of leaves,
With outlines melting in the darkening blue,
Waver'd and peep'd and whisper'd. Would she walk?
Not yet a little were those clouds to stoop
With freshness to the garden and the field.
I waited by our open door; while bats
Flew silently, and musk geranium-leaves
Were fragrant in the twilight that had quench'd
Or tamed the dazzling scarlet of their blooms.
Peace, as of heaven itself, possess'd my heart.
A footstep, not the light step of my wife,
Disturb'd it; then, with slacker pace, a man
Came up beside the porch. Accosting whom,
And answering to my name: 'I fear,' he said,
'You'll hardly recollect me now; and yet
We were at school together long ago.
Have you forgotten Georgy Levison?'.
He in the red arm-chair; I not far off,
Excited, laughing, waiting for his face:
The first flash of the candles told me all:
Or, if not all, enough, and more. Those eyes,
When they look'd up at last, were his indeed,
But mesh'd in ugly network, like a snare;
And though his mouth preserved the imperious curve,
Evasion, vacillation, discontent,
Warp'd every feature like a crooked glass.
His hair hung prematurely grey and thin;
From thread-bare sleeves the wither'd tremulous hands
Protruded. Why paint every touch of blight?
Tea came. He hurried into ceaseless talk;
Glanced at the ways of many foreign towns;
Knew all those men whose names are on the tongue,
And set their work punctilliously; brought back
Our careless years; paid Annie compliments
To spare; admired the pattern of the cups;
Lauded the cream,—our dairy's, was it not?
A country life was pleasant, certainly,
If one could be content to settle down;
And yet the city had advantages.
He trusted, shortly, underneath his roof
To practise hospitality in turn,
But first to catch the roof, eh? Ha, ha, ha!
That was a business topic he'd discuss
With his old friend by-and-bye—
For me, I long'd
To hide my face and groan; yet look'd at him;
Opposing pain to grief, presence to thought.

Later, when wine came in, and we two sat
The dreary hours together, how he talk'd!
His schemes of life, his schemes of work and wealth,
Intentions and inventions, plots and plans,
Travels and triumphs, failures, golden hopes.
He was a young man still—had just begun
To see his way. I knew what he could do
If once he tried in earnest. He'd return
To Law, next term but one; meanwhile complete
His great work, 'The philosophy of Life,
Or, Man's Relation to the Universe',
The matter lying ready to his hand.
Forty subscribers more, two guineas each,
Would make it safe to publish. All this time
He fill'd his glass and emptied, and his tongue
Went thick and stammering. When the wine came in
(Perhaps a blame for me—who knows?) I saw
The glistering eye; a thin and eager hand
Made the decanter chatter on the glass
Like ague. Could I stop him? So at last
He wept, and moan'd he was a ruin'd man,
Body and soul; then cursed his enemies
By name, and promised punishment; made vaunt
Of genius, learning; caught my hand again,—
Did I forget my friend—my dear old friend?
Had I a coat to spare? He had no coat
But this one on his back; not one shirt—see!
'Twas all a nightmare; all plain wretched truth.
And how to play physician? Where's the strength
Repairs a slow self-ruin from without?
The fall'n must climb inummerable steps,
With humbleness, and diligence, and pain,
How help him to the first of all that steep?
Midnight was past. I had proposed to find
A lodging near us; for, to say the truth,
I could not bid my wife, for such a guest
In such a plight, prepare the little room
We still call'd 'Emma's' from my sister's name.
Then with a sudden mustering up of wits,
And ev'n a touch of his old self, that quick
Melted my heart anew, he signified
His bed was waiting, he would say good-night,
And begg'd me not to stir, he knew his road.
But arm in arm I brought him up the Street,
Among the rain-pools, and the pattering drops
Drumming upon our canopy; where few
Or none were out of doors; and once or twice
Some casement from an upper story shed
Penurious lamplight.
Tediously we kept
The morning meal in vain expectancy.
Our box of clothes came back; the people said
He paid without a word, and went his way,
They knew not whither. He return'd no more.
He now is dead.
Through all the summer-time
The touch of that unhappy visit lay,
Like trace of frost on gardens, on our life.
Great cities give events to every hour;
Not so that ancient village, small, remote,
Half-hid in boscage of a peaceful vale,
With guardian hills, but welcoming the sun,
And every group of seasonable stars
That rise upon the circle of the year;
Open to natural influences; far
From jostling crowds of congregated men.
That village also lies behind us now;
Midst other fields abide we, other faces.
Annie, my darling, we were happy there,
And heaven continues happiness and hope
To us and to our children. May their steps
Keep the good pathway through this perilous world.
That village is far-off, that year is fled.
But, still, at many a meditative hour
By day or night, or with memorial flash,
I see the ghost of Georgy Levison;
A shifting phantom,—now with boyhood's face
And merry curls; now haggard and forlorn,
As when the candles came into the room.
One sells his soul; another squanders it;
The first buys up the world, the second starves.
Poor George was loser palpably enough;
Supernal Wisdom only knows how much.

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