Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SILVER BIRD OF HERNDYKE MILL, by EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN

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THE SILVER BIRD OF HERNDYKE MILL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: By herndyke mill there haunts, folks tell
Last Line: To hear her makes a man's blood chill.
Alternate Author Name(s): Blunden, Edmund
Subject(s): Birds; Mills & Millers

BY Herndyke Mill there haunts, folks tell,
A strange and silver-breasted bird,
Her call is like a silver bell,
So sweet a bell was never heard, --
The Silver Bird of Herndyke Mill,
That flies so fast against the blast,
And scares the stoat with one soft note --
To hear her makes a man's blood chill.

The Charnel Path behind the Church,
When nights are blackest, makes me pause,
But there 'tis only magpies perch
And churning owls and goistering daws,
I fear the churchyard spooks much less,
For all their flaming, starving eyes,
Than that same Silver Bird which flies
At times through Herndyke wilderness.

In summer time the carps and rudds
Sun in their scores below the weir:
In winter time the hurtling floods
Forbid a soul to venture near.
But summer time and winter time
Few people dare to loiter there --
Though mushrooms spring in many a ring --
For fear the Silver Bird should chime.

The stranger hears me with a smile.
Why should a man so fear a bird?
But listen to my words awhile,
But listen till the whole is heard;
And if your conscience is opprest
With shameful act or wicked will,
You durst not go to Herndyke Mill
Where flits the bird with silver breast.

Below the pleasant meeting-place
Of deep main stream and dwindled leat,
Where flock and glint the faint-heart dace,
By banks deep-grown in rabbit's-meat,
A little footbridge used to be --
A single plank from bank to bank,
A hand-rail white to see at night --
That led into a shrubbery.

In spring the sunlight green and cool
Dries up the seething grounds, and makes
The kingcups yet more beautiful,
And ushers out the bright green snakes.
But no one loves the aguish mist
That writhes its way at eventide
Along the copse's waterside:
So rarely come they there to tryst.

No lovers loiter there; alone
The homeless man may break the bounds,
But in the years now fled and flown
The miller used to mind these grounds,
And sometimes on the bridge he stood
In twilight peace, at day's decease;
Wrapt in his thought, as one who sought
To seem at one with stream and wood.

Now as he leant upon the rail
One glimmering summer night, when glooms
Were hearkening to the nightingale
And lading with dim dew the blooms,
Out of the woodside quietly
An aged woman came, not fair,
But crowned with shining silver hair,
And craved a little charity.

"Sir, I am faint with walking far,
And penniless, and very old,
And under my unlucky star
I have no home, come warm or cold.
I have no sons, -- my splendid son
That was my pride and dear love died,
Died in the war against the Tsar;
And I am friendless, loved of none."

The miller did not answer her --
A selfish man whose god was greed.
The wandering lady cried, "Good sir,
I pray you help me in my need."
With that the miller scorned her: "Go,
I care not if you go to die.
God does not help you, and should I?
Sure some great sin has brought you low."

For such harsh words she set on him
A fearful curse, a dread reproach,
And while she said it, down the stream
In darkness splashed a chub or roach.
"I go to die within your wood,
My silver hair shall tarnish there;
And by God's word a silver bird
Shall spring therefrom, the bird of Good.

The silver locks that care has made
Shall turn into a silver breast --
The bird of Good shall never fade,
Here shall she fly, and here shall rest.
If evil men come near her grange
She shall affright them with her sweet
Monotony of notes, and beat
Her wings about them fair and strange.

The holy presence of God shall awe
The evil-doer that passes here.
From your white mill, and your green shaw,
Shall spring a rumour sped with fear.
The Silver Bird, God's messenger,
Shall guard the shrine of things divine,
And your foul lie shall never die
While men are left that looked on her."

Her words were keen and sharp as flints:
The miller stood as carved in stone.
She ceased: the silence made him wince,
He looked and found himself alone.
A rustling in the tenterhooks
Of brambles told him where she went,
And with that rustling softly blent
The ripple-dripple of the brooks.

The little greenish stars looked on,
The rustling in the coppice died;
A bat swerved oddly and was gone,
A half-awakened night-wind sighed,
The miller with his heavy tread
Was nearly to his threshold yew,
A dor flew by with crackling cry
And struck him with a sort of dread.

The morning trod the dews once more
And led abroad the rookery:
The pigeons glistened round the door,
The wheel rolled round contentedly.
Free went the miller's callous tongue:
He had forgot the wanderer's curse,
Or else he found himself no worse;
And warm the sunlight was, and young.

And so he went his wonted ways
And robbed the farmer when he could,
And it was many many days
Before he walked into his wood.
But in the sighing of the year,
The shocked-up sheaves and withered leaves,
The mourning nooks and sullen brooks
Brought back the woman's menace clear.

The sallows, how they shake and swirl
As chilled by Autumn's trembling hands,
Their yellowed leaves so spin and twirl
That down they drop like wasted brands.
They clog and huddle in the stream
That's ruffled with the dismal draught
Until their golden foundered craft
Are jostled by the groping bream.

There seems no heart in wood or wide,
The midday comes with twilight fears,
The winds along the coverside
Pause like bewildered travellers --
The miller picked his gloomy way,
Intent to hound from off his ground
A travelling man whose caravan
In cover of the coppice lay.

The sighing of the year was borne
Deep, deep into the miller's soul.
The very footbridge looked forlorn,
And plop plunged in a startled vole.
What shadows made his fancy grim
Born of the outcast woman's word --
When suddenly a silver bird
Was hovering, calling over him.

Her chiming channelled through his brain,
Her bright eyes held him, spelled him there.
He struck at her, he struck in vain,
She fluttered round him, strange and fair.
And with her was that holy power
So pure-intense as stilled his sense
And in his ears the voice of tears
Grew slowly like a mournful flower.

The daylight dwindled from his eyes,
A haze grew on him filled with moan:
His dazed soul stumbled with surmise,
He walked the wilds of fear alone.
O who can tell what dreadful days
He seemed to pass in this wild spell,
Through what intolerable hell
Of phantoms with their searching gaze!

At last from glooms the silver breast
Took fashion, and the dull day's light
Was round him (never light so blest),
And then the Silver Bird took flight.
O miller, see your punishment,
Your golden gain has brought forth pain,
Your spoutsman's-boy has more of joy
Whose poor wage means his mother's rent.

Now, many a month and many a year
Has died away on holt and hill
Since that rich miser told his fear
And fled away and shut the mill.
And such stark tales have come to me
Whom neighbours call Poor Poaching Jack
As every time have turned me back
From footing Herndyke shrubbery.

I've shot down pheasants from their roost
By moonlight in the woods of squires:
In open day I've often noosed
The vicar's pike with cunning wires.
I've fooled a hundred keepers round,
Risked Redstone Gaol and did not fail;
But yon woodside I never tried
For fear of that which guards the ground.

The waters underneath the weir
Hold battening monstrous fish by shoals:
And if a man is conscience-clear
He well may come with baits and trolls;
And sure his creel would soon be full
If, fearless of the bird of good,
He angled all along the wood,
And in the blackness of the pool.

And nettles bunch where pansies flowered
Within the garden's gap-struck pale,
And where the mill-wheel's spouting showered
The weedy waters well nigh fail:
And resolute wasps come year by year
Through bank's warm clay to make their way
And build their nests, whence on their quests
Throughout the little garth they steer.

Among those twisted apple trees
The little sunlights do abound:
They burn along like yellow bees
And chequer all the shadowy ground:
The golden nobs and pippins swell
And all unnoticed waste their prime,
For few folk love to hear the chime
That brings the world of woe pell-mell.

By Herndyke Mill there haunts, folks tell,
A holy silver-breasted bird;
Her call is like a silver bell,
So sweet a bell was never heard,
The Silver Bird of Herndyke Mill,
That flies so fast, against the blast,
And frights the stoat with one soft note --
To hear her makes a man's blood chill.

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