Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ORANGE-PEEL IN THE GUTTER, by MATHILDE BLIND

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE ORANGE-PEEL IN THE GUTTER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Behold, unto myself I said
Last Line: A glory that is all divine!
Alternate Author Name(s): Lake, Claude
Subject(s): London; Poverty; Women

BEHOLD, unto myself I said,
This place how dull and desolate,
For lovely thoughts how all unmeet,
This drear and darksome London street.
Above, beneath, and all around,
Not one slight crumb is to be found;
Not one so slight poetic crumb
For sparrow-poet to feed upon.
For lo! above there is no sky!
No living blue to glad the eye!
No sun that shines, no flying cloud!
But fog, that in a huge dun shroud
Wraps all the London town about;
And with it comes the drizzling rain,
And dusky houses wets in vain --
It ne'er can wash them white again.
Those houses, yea, how cold and bare,
With self-same aspect stand they there,
With grimy windows two and two,
It makes me sick to look at you!
No tree, no shrub, to lend you grace,
With drooping branch to hide your face;
No solitary blossom e'en
To brighten you with flow'ry sheen;
Nor living things I here espy,
Save yon black cat, with sharp green eye,
Sliding along with stealthy pace:
The very spirit of the place.
And in the road hops here and there
A sparrow, searching scanty fare,
The pauper of the sons of air.
Nought! nought! but wall and iron spike,
Cold, cruel, as if fain 'twould like
To run some beggar through and through,
And guard the door from him and you.
And underfoot? -- no flowers, no grass,
T' arrest the step before you pass,
To send up whispers low and sweet,
To smile, to beckon, and to greet;
No gurgling brook, no silent pool,
In whose pure waters, still and cool,
The flying bird, the flitting cloud,
The sunbeam peering in and out,
The star that slides through limpid air,
Are glassed in beauty wondrous fair.
None -- none of these, but miry clay,
To cling tenaciously all day,
With heavy clutch to your poor heel,
And in the gutter you, the peel
Of some sweet golden orange fruit,
Though smothered now with dirt and soot
Still darting forth through dull decay,
The splendour of a by-gone day,
The ling'ring of a dying ray.
Oh, wondrous strange! I feel the deep
Hush of Italian nights slow creep
Around me, see the fuller light
Of southern stars strike through the night,
And hear the sweeter breathed sighs
Of southern breezes swell and rise;
Rise, swell I hear the balm-fed breeze,
Through the dark grove of orange trees,
Where silver gleams of creamy bloom,
In fragrance flash along the gloom;
And the gold fruit through dark doth shine
A star! a mystery divine!
I hear the sweeter sighs of love,
By southern hearts breathed through the grove,
Like to the cooing of a dove;
Like to the soft falls of summer rain,
On hoary wood and parched plain;
Like to the drops of pale moonlight,
That sink upon the sea at night;
Heart melts with heart, and kiss with kiss,
In holy night, in holy bliss,
As in the wondrous sunset skies
Hues melt with hues, and dyes with dyes,
Till all in one vast glory lies.

But what a full and deep-set roar
Heaves, swells, and surges more and more,
Like billows on a stormy shore.
Yet here flows not the dark blue sea,
But street on street continually;
Here walls on walls press nigh and nigher,
And roofs on roofs rise high and higher,
And spire still greets the rising spire.
The clang, the clash, the row, the roar,
London, great London, 'tis once more,
With hurry, flurry, to and fro,
Time scarce to snarl a "yes" or "no;"
Time scarce t' evade your neighbour's toe.
But here's the market fair to see,
An island green within that sea
Of streets, a little flow'ry spot,
Reminding him who's long forgot,
Of country fields and waving trees,
Of hedges, birds and flowers and bees.
The snowdrop stands in moist brown ground,
And purifies the air around;
The violet scatters woodland smells,
And hyacinths ring their honeyed bells.
This man sells grapes from sunny Spain;
Lombardian almonds this again;
Pears, peaches, with the morning down,
All in that world-wide lap are thrown,
By all the nations, and they vie
In fruits, nursed by a southern sky.
The chaff'ring crowd, the bart'ring maid,
Here buy and sell, and choose and trade.
There sits a woman lean and old,
She shivers in the east wind's cold;
She knits; how fast her fingers fly!
Her fingers, oh! how worn and dry.
But still she knits, because she knows
Her crying grandchild's icy toes.
Her basket stands close by her side,
With orange heaps in golden pride;
Surely imprisoned sunbeams throw
Around them such a flush and glow,
That seeing them we seem to see
A glimpse of sun-loved Italy.
Oh, may they all be bought, and give
The old woman wherewithal to live!

Here in the garret, 'neath the leads,
Slowly spin out life's weary threads;
Slowly and slowly ebbs away
The breath of one poor child of clay.
The throbbing pulse, the great'ning eye,
The parched lips, the impatient sigh,
The mother marks 'twixt hope and fright,
From weary noon to weary night,
From midnight round to noon again:
Each hour crammed full with aching pain,
And anxious fluttering of hope,
As both alternately find scope.
And as she breathless notes each sound,
He whispers, turning round and round,
"Oh! mother, mother, give me drink."
She's up, she's back scarce in a wink,
And to her darling's burning lips,
The luscious fruit she holds, he sips
With breaths long drawn, still on and on,
Till all the cooling juice is gone,
And only left of fragrant meal,
Is that still golden orange-peel.

The orange-peel! ah, where am I?
Beneath the deep Italian sky?
In Covent Garden's crowded fair?
Or 'neath the roof of pain and care?
Ah, still within the darksome street,
So all unlovely and unsweet!
The welt'ring fog, the drizzling rain,
The dirt, the dust upon each pane,
The iron rails so hard and bare,
The miry clay, they all are here!
What did befall? Then did I dream?
Was all but air? Did all but seem?
How caught I then this wondrous gleam?
Ah! here you bit of sunny gold,
Within the gutter I behold;
Across my mind its life it flashed,
The fragrance of the past it dashed,
Dying, it kindled life, and hurled
My soul through heights and depths of world.
In bud and blossom, fruit and tree,
Revealed life's perfect harmony!
Revealed the throbs of mutual love,
Ensphered by kindling stars above!
Revealed the stir of busy life,
The trade, the turmoil, and the strife!
Struggles of honest poverty;
A watching mother's agony!
Child-life that hangs upon a breath,
The tremblings betwixt life and death --
Revealed the mystic link, that thrills
Through joy and pain, through good and ills,
Wafts influences from afar,
Connects the worm still with the star,
And binds the earth, the skies, the main,
The worlds, with one electric chain!
Behold, unto myself I said,
There's nought on earth so desolate,
But if the eye is there to see
Will find a joy and mystery,
As under dark and mossy dells
The violet hides with spring-like smells!
No cell, no garret, and no tomb,
For which no flower of love doth bloom!
No place so waste, so dark, so drear,
But heavenly beauty lurketh there!
And from these two will ever spring,

As music from the harp's sweet string,
As from the nest the lark soars high,
As from the flame the live sparks fly,
The fountain of great poesy,
Will shine and flash, and flame and glow,
Like to the million coloured bow
Of hope and peace, a lovely sign,
Flinging around that world of thine
A glory that is all divine!

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