Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, KATE'S MOTHER, by ROBERT SEYMOUR BRIDGES

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KATE'S MOTHER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Perch'd on the upland wheatfields beyond the village end
Last Line: The first visit of compliment that ever I paid.
Alternate Author Name(s): Bridges, Robert+(2)
Subject(s): Childhood Memories; Mothers

PERCH'D on the upland wheatfields beyond the village end
a red-brick Windmill stood with black bonnet of wood
that trimm'd the whirling cross of its great arms around
upon the wind, pumping up water night and day
from the deep Kentish chalk to feed a little town
where miniatured afar it huddled on the coast
its glistening roofs and thrust its short pier in the sea.
Erewhile beside the Mill I had often come and gazed
across the golden cornland to the purple main
and distant town, so distant that I could not hear
the barrack bugles but might spy the castle-flag
a speck of bunting held against the foam-fleck'd waves:
and luggers in black rank on the high shingle-bank
drawn up beside the tarr'd huts of the fishermen
(those channel boatmen famous for courage and skill)
and ships that in the offing their scatter'd courses fetch'd
with sunlit sails, or bare-masted outrode the tide:
'Twas such a scene of bright perspective and brave hues
as no painter can forge, brushing his greys and blues
his madder, vermilion, chrome and ultramarine,
'Twas very England herself as I grew to love her
—as any manchild loveth looking on beauty—
England in the peace and delight of her glory,
beneath the summer sun in the wild-roving wind
the mighty fans hurtling steadily above me as there
Nature flooded my heart in unseizable dream:
Long ago—when as yet the house where I was born
was the only home I knew and I no bigger then
than a mastiff-dog may be, and little of clothing wore
but shirt and trews and shoes and holland pinafore:
then was my father's garden a fairy realm of tree-
worship, mimic warfare and ritual savagery
and past its gates a land of peril and venture lay
my field of romance the steep beach of the wild sea
whither might I go wander on high-days for long hours
tended at every step by a saint, a nurse and mate
of such loving devotion patience and full trust
that of all Catharines she hath been my only Kate.
But inland past the Windmill lay a country unknown,
so that upon the day when I was grown so strong
(to my great pride 'twas told) that I might walk with Kate
on her half-holiday's accustomed pilgrimage
to see her old mother who lived across the downs
in the next combe, it happ'd that I so stirred must be
that after seventy years I can revive the day.
A blazing afternoon in splendor of mid-July
Kate and my elder sister and I trudged down the street
past village pond and church, and up the winding lane
came out beside the windmill on the high cornland
where my new world began. A wheel-worn sunken track
parted the tilth, deep rugged ruts patch'd here and there
with broken flints raked in from strewage of the ground,
baked clay fissured by drought, as splinter'd rock unkind
to a child's tread, and on either hand the full-grown corn
rose up a wall above me, where no breeze might come
nor any more sight thence of the undulating sweep
of the yellow acres nor of the blue main below.
For difficulty and roughness and scorch of the way
then a great Bible-thought came on me: I was going
like the Israelites of old in the desert of Sin,
where forty years long they journey'd in punishment:
'twas such a treeless plain as this whereon they went,
this torrid afternoon under the fiery sun
might be the forty years; but I forgat them soon
picking my way to run on the low skirting banks
that shelved the fields, anon foraging mid the ranks
fending the spikey awns off from my cheeks and eyes
wherever I might espy the larger flowers, and pull'd
blue Cockle and scarlet Poppy and yellow Marigold
whose idle blazonry persists to decorate
the mantle of green and gold which man toileth to weave
for his old grandmother Earth:—with such posies in hand
we ran bragging to Kate who plodded on the track
and now with skilful words beguiled us in her train
warning how far off yet the promised land, and how
journey so great required our full strength husbanded
for the return: 'twere wise today to prove our strength
and walk like men. Whereat we wished most to be wise
and keeping near beside her heeded closely our steps
so that our thoughts now wander'd no more from the way
(O how interminable to me seem'd that way!)
till it fell sloping downwards and we saw the green
of great elms that uplifted their heads in the combe:
when for joy of the shade racing ahead we sat
till Kate again came up with us and led us on
by shelter'd nooks where among apple and cherry trees
many a straw-thatcht cottage nestled back from the road.
A warp'd wicket hidden in a flowery Privet-hedge
admitted to her mother's along a pebbled path
between two little squares of crowded garden framed
in high clipt Box, that blent its faint pervading scent
with fragrant Black-currant, gay Sweet-william and Mint,
and white Jasmin that hung drooping over the door.
A bobbin sprang the latch and following Kate we stood
in shade of a low room with one small window, and there
facing the meagre light of its lace-curtain'd panes
a bland silver-hair'd dame clad in a cotton frock
sat in a rocking chair by an open hearth, whereon
a few wood embers smouldering kept a kettle at steam.
She did not rise, but speaking with soft courtesy
and full respectful pride of her daughter's charges
gave us kind welcome, bade us sit and be rested
while Kate prepared the tea. Many strange things the while
allured me: a lofty clock with loud insistent tick
beguiled the solemn moments as it doled them out
picturing upon its face a full-rigg'd ship that rocked
tossing behind an unmoved billow to and fro:
beside it a huge batter'd copper warming-pan
with burnish'd bowl fit for Goliath's giant spoon,
and crockery whimsies ranged on the high mantel-shelf
'twas a storeroom of wonders, but my eyes returned
still to the old dame, she was the greatest wonder of all,
the wrinkles innumerable of her sallow skin
her thin voice and the trembling of her patient face
as there she swayed incessantly on her rocking-chair
like the ship in the clock: she had sprung into my ken
wholly to enthrall me, a fresh nucleus of life-surprise
such as I knew must hold mystery and could reveal:
for I had observed strange movement of her cotton skirt
and as she sat with one knee across the other, I saw
how her right foot in the air was all a-tremble and jerked
in little restless kicks: so when we sat to feast
about the table spredd with tea and cottage cakes
whenever her eye was off me I watched her furtively
to make myself assured of all the manner and truth
of this new thing, and ere we were sent out to play
(that so Kate might awhile chat with her mother alone)
I knew the SHAKING PALSY. What follow'd is lost,
how I chew'd mint-leaves waiting there in the garden
is my latest remembrance of that July day,
all after is blank, the time like a yesterday's loaf
is sliced as with a knife, or like as where the sea
in some diluvian rage swallowing a part of the earth
left a sheer cliff where erst the unbroken height ran on,
and by the rupture has built a landmark seen afar
—as 'tis at the South Foreland or St. Margaret's bay—
so memory being broken may stand out more clearly
as that day's happenings live so freshly by me, and most
the old widow with her great courtesy and affliction:
and I love to remember it was to her I made
the first visit of compliment that ever I paid.

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