Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BELLA GORRY; THE PAZON'S STORY, by THOMAS EDWARD BROWN



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BELLA GORRY; THE PAZON'S STORY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Westward to jurby, eastward if you look
Last Line: The coast runs level to the point of ayre.
Alternate Author Name(s): Brown, T. E.
Subject(s): Isle Of Man


WESTWARD to Jurby, eastward if you look,
The coast runs level to the Point of Ayre,
A waste of sand, sea-holly, and wild thyme --
Wild thyme and bent. The Mull of Galloway
Is opposite. Adown the farthest west,
Not visible now, lie stretched the hills of Morne.

A cottage, did you say? Yes, once it was;
A ruin now -- the naked gables stand
Roofless -- the walls are clay, save where round stones,
Picked from the beach, supply the mason's art
With base Cyclopean. See the narrow hole
That served for window! see the poor dead hearth.
This was the home of one whom, for the wealth
And strength of her great love, I call not poor --
Else, poor indeed. The story of her life
You'd like to know? So far as known to me,
You shall -- a simple story 'tis in sooth,
And somewhat sad. Yet in the simple fact
God often speaks: and, as for sadness, sir,
I think such sadness is a thing most sweet.

The marriage tie, the household ordinance,
The regulated decencies, the home,
Are God's appointment -- so to train a race
Healthy and strong; yet can He nurture strength
And beauty in mere wildings -- grace and joy,
Nay, goodness, and the firmest bond of love --
Firmer, it may be, for the sense in both
Of helplessness, of grave neglect, and scorn --
Firmer, as fastened in the absolute root
Of sheer maternity, where fatherhood
Is but the remnant of a weary dream.
So, while our gardens bloom, a humble flower,
Flung o'er the wall, may take the dews of God,
And breathe His air, and, in the wilderness,
Unfold the lovely splendour of a rose.

When Bella Gorry came to dwell amongst us,
She was not young. Full thirty years, at least,
She'd seen: she was a stranger to us here,
A south-side woman. We were harvesting
When first she came, and joined the shearers: none
Knew where she lived, or how; until, one night,
Passing among the bents, I heard a cry
As of a child, and heard the murmured song
Wherewith the mother sought to quiet it --
And this was Bella Gorry. Round her rose
The swelling sand-heaps; it was in September,
A starlit night. A fence of sods uptorn
Encompassed her; and she had hollowed out
The sand, and made such shelter as she could.
But it was cold, and she had bowed her head
Over her babe, herself to sleep inclined --
And still the cry, and still the drowsy croon.

I stood amazed; for in the Isle of Man
Our poor are not neglected. You indeed
Must know such sights familiar: in the streets
And purlieus of great towns, the homeless wretch
Is never wanting, nor the country-side
Lacks its appropriate vagabond -- the tramp,
Is't not? you call him -- who in hedge or ditch
Lies hungry, gazing upward to the stars.
To him the state assigns a scanty dole,
Which he rejects. Not so with us -- our poor
We deem God's charge, an individual care
To every Christian man, which whoso slights
God's ordinance slights --
Therefore I stood amazed;
And asked her who she was, and where her home.
She did not stir, but answered moodily --
"My name is Bella Gorry; and I have
No home but this." -- "Then come with me," I said;
"The little one is cold: it is not fit
That you should lodge like this." But she no word
Replied; only she tightened that close grasp
Wherewith she held the child; and I could hear
Deep breathings of her breast, that seemed like sighs --
So that I knelt, and prayed. Then to my prayer
I knew that she attended. Nay, I prayed
In all humility: for now I felt
I was confronted with the deepest wrong
That man can do to woman, cause for shame
To me and all men. So I prayed that God
Would pity us, and, in His wisdom, make
This wrong thing right; give comfort to this heart
Nigh broken, and dispose her to remit
Her grief to Him, and to regard in me
His minister for such relief designed.

But vain my prayer, or seeming vain, for she
All proffered aid refused, and lifted up
At last her head, and, with unloving words,
Bade me be gone. I went, but firm resolved
What I should do. The earliest light of morn
Found me upon the field, where, one by one,
The shearers entered, till the field was full.
And Bella sheared -- but she had left her babe
In that dry hollow far among the bents,
And ranged her with the shearers. Then I spoke
To some I knew most apt, but chief to him,
The master of the farm, a soul full fraught
With love and active goodness. He for me
A willing band detached. I led them where
The child lay sleeping -- in its little hands
Blue-bells fast clasped, and 'neath its head soft moss,
Plucked from the mooragh. Then a little girl,
The farmer's daughter, took the child, and fed it
With milk, and nursed and danced it till it crowed.

But we with spade and pick unceasing worked
Till we had reared the framework of this cot
You see. Nor did the mother know, before
Noon glowed, and, stealing from the harvest field,
She sought her child: and she was well content.
And when, or e'er the week was out, the roof
Stood thatched and necessary furniture
Of bed and board, by kindly hands supplied,
Was stored within, she saw, and the dull cloud
Broke; and her soul was lightened, and she came
To me, and, with the rush of many tears,
Yet guarded by a fence of dignity,
How found I know not, she poured forth her thanks
And blessings. So it was that Bella came
To dwell within my parish, and to be
My friend most loved, and worthy of my love.

This was her home; for many quiet years
She lived within these walls, and had such peace
As theirs may be, whose purpose is to guard
One precious treasure, being all that's left.
It was a little girl that made her glad --
For she could yet be glad -- a very star
To light her life: and well she tended it,
And saw it grow in beauty and in strength;
And took it with her to the harvest field,
Or other work, as needs she must, who lived
A lonely woman. I have seen the babe
Against a stook soft propped of drooping sheaves
Asleep, or, wakeful, gazing on the clouds;
And I have noted how the field was hushed
In silence. Only, ever and anon,
Some woman's heart would yearn for very love,
And make her quit her shearing rank a space,
To kiss this flower that smiled amid the corn.
Then would some strong man say -- "Let me kiss too" --
But others said that it was naught, and murmured
Of evil ways, and lightness not rebuked,
And sin encouraged. Still the baby smiled;
And Bella reaped, and answered not a word.

So 'twas one day I came into the field
Where she was reaping, and I heard the voice
Of strong contention -- it was Henry Tear,
My tenant -- but you do not know the man --
He rents the glebe -- a worthy soul enough,
And not ill-natured. What had angered him
They did not tell me; possibly some slackness
About the work, and how the women lost
Their time. He did not see me: hot and fierce,
I heard his last words only. Bella stood
Before him, pale and trembling -- "Take the child
Away!" he said, "and bring it not again!
I will not have this bastard in my field."
And no one spoke.
Then from behind the stook
I stepped, and took the little one, embraced,
As in the church I hold them at the font,
So by the altar of the golden sheaves
I held the child, and signed her with the cross,
And said Christ's words -- ah, blessed, blessed words!
How we should suffer them to come to Him,
And not forbid them, for of such God makes
His kingdom. And I turned to Tear, and said --
"You must become even as this little child,
If you would enter heaven at the last.
Then let it lie, a little piece of heaven
Upon your field."
But he was much rebuked,
And leaned his arms upon the hedge, and leaned
His face upon his arms, and strove to hide
His shame -- and I remember it so well --
That is the field, high up upon the brow,
Near the cliff's edge -- it was a lovely day,
But hot with hum of bees, and glare of sand,
And thunder, and the trouble of the shearing,
And Tear was angry; but I conquered him.
You smile -- ah well -- you are quite right -- I'm not
A man to conquer----- anything, perhaps --
Nay, sir, the thing is so -- and yet we have
Our little triumphs -- little vanities,
No doubt, were better said; but God knows all --
Knows all -- knows all -- knows all. But think not, sir,
The little one was not baptized before,
And dedicate to God with holy rite.
'Twas but my parable, a way to reach
The good man's heart, for he was really good,
And felt it. So our little Sarah grew.

Now, as she grew, she lacked not, as beseemed
Her age, for sweet, or toy, or cap, or frock,
Gay ribbon, cloak as gay. Good Bella's store
Sufficed for all; nor would she have her child
Stinted of aught. It seemed as if, beside
Her love, she had a need of some delight
In form and colour, some embodiment
Of dreams, ideals, nurtured in the waste
Of hope forlorn, and purpose unfulfilled --
Imperfect turned to perfect, dark to dawn --
God's magic for great sorrows.
So she wrought,
Instinctive artist, coveting the grace
Of utmost finish for the one pure gem
Saved from her life-wreck: so it seemed to me,
Much pondering how the sweet fantastic joy
Expanded to an outlet of constraint --
Uncertain -- certain, simple recompense
Ordained of God for women who have loved
And lost, yet cherish beauty, knowing it
A good, although it has not been to them
A good. To them a little child becomes
The glory of the prime, the incarnation
Of that which should have been, nay was, and is
For ever glowing in the secret depths
That feed the springs of action -- from what type
Of mean inadequate idol caught, what hero
Proved unheroic, matters not, it seems,
Since love transfigures baseness.
You have seen them
Doubtless, these mothers -- and you have observed
How fierce they often are, what stern regard,
What fire ascetic, jealous, watchful, burns
In her poor eyes, who holds her babe a trophy
Snatched fearful from the vanquished field of love,
And, as a trophy, decked. No words of mine,
Dear sir, I beg to say -- I mean, that flight
About the trophy. 'Twas Professor Jones
Of Oxford, reinforcing my poor speech
One day -- Professor Jones -- Professor Jones --
A very clever man. But I rebuked him,
For, though we pity, we should not encourage,
Nor clothe with specious names what God has cursed.
Professor Jones was here? Oh yes -- you know him?
You are from Oxford? really! ah then
You'll understand how the Professor smiled
His weary Oxford smile, and said no more.

But I apologise. I loved the child.
I loved her very much. And I have gone
And watched the mother playing with her child,
Myself unseen, and marked the greediness
Of her great love; until, one Saturday,
My sermon finished, ere the sun had set,
I went to Bella's cottage. She had washed
The little one, and laid it like a pearl
Upon her breast. Then I entranced beheld
The glory and the splendour of the babe,
And Bella lifted her upon the bed,
And asked that I would pray. Then side by side
We knelt and prayed: and, as I prayed, I saw
The crimson flush that entered at the door
Pass straight between us to the sleeping child,
As it had been its angel. When I rose,
Bella remained upon her knees, her face
Deep hidden in the coverlet, nor moved
Before I left. O sir, what strange sweet throb
Surprised my heart!----- but these are difficult things.

So little Sarah grew, till she could run
Upon the shore, and gambol at my side.
And often, when her mother was a-field,
I'd find her all alone, but well content,
As trusted now to "keep the house," yet free,
At my proposal, to relax her care,
And scurry on the sand, and see my dog
Rush open-mouthed upon the waves, and bark,
And bark again -- she loved to hear him bark.

And Sarah grew, and was no more a babe,
But a great girl. Then more conspicuous seemed
Poor Bella's taste fantastic -- certainly,
Fantastic -- that was it -- a string of beads,
Wreathed cunningly, a bow, a belt, the hair --
The everything so different, and then
The subtler difference that lay behind.
And she wore shoes the daintiest that are made,
And stockings -- violet, or, haply, pink,
Or blue -- whereas our children here go barefoot.
And this gave much offence: our farmers' wives
Were angry at these capers -- that's their word --
These ways eccentric, alien, scandalous --
They said the child was like a gipsy child;
They said the child was like a monkey perched
Upon a barrel-organ in the street,
Or some wild changeling, draggled through a fair
To dance, and smirk, and shake the tambourine,
And grow to be a wanton -- so they said.

But I, to whom the unfamiliar garb
Seemed not excessive, wedded, as it was,
To modesty, and scrupulous cleanliness --
I could not blame it; nay, it had a charm
For me, a charm of novelty and grace --
The break of dull monotony; as if
Some day among the gulls upon the beach
I should perceive a bird of paradise,
Or mark a fire-fly in the dusky bents.
Yet, when the little one was old enough
To come to school, and I had fixed the day,
And all was ready, I had many fears --
Indeed I all but asked to see her dressed
That morning, ere she left her mother's hand,
But did not venture: only, when she came,
I bade the mistress thoroughly examine
Each hem, and stitch, and gore, and plait, and seam,
And, if need be, abate, or modify.
Moreover I contrived to bring two friends,
Lady parishioners, mature in years,
Into the school that day; who, when they saw,
Approved, and were surprised: the child was dressed
Like other children, only wondrous neat --
Indeed, sir, I was thankful, recognising
The plastic spirit of my humble friend,
And how she caught the cue of circumstance.

So all was well, and Sarah grew apace,
And was an excellent scholar, apt and good.
And she had much of native dignity,
And calm control, well suited to abash
Our rougher lads: and, even before she left
The school, she looked so stately and so pure,
So sweetly tolerant, and yet so firm
Of principle, being resolute for good
Above all else, that evil things withdrew
From off her virgin path; and vulgar phrase,
And gesture loose, nor any wicked act,
Could e'er approach her -- happy, happy such --
O sir, how happy! who, as in the sphere
Of their own crystal purity contained,
Are naturally safe, and, effortless,
Compel the baser elements -- how few,
God knows. For is it not a weary strife
With most of us, our peace, if peace we have,
The fruit of mere exhaustion? -- ah, God knows --
And God knows too -- but 'tis a happier knowledge --
What preparation in the silent depths
Of these white, virginal souls is made, what conflict,
Perhaps, of other essences, to them
External, viewless powers, keeps beating back
The incursive ill, and still unbroken holds
That limited space wherein they walk secure --
So in the moving centre of a storm
There is a core of quiet, is there not?

In such a place as this, I need not say,
The children at our school cannot remain
Beyond the term prescribed by homely needs,
And exigence of labour. Sarah stayed
Up to her sixteenth year, a privilege
Not many of our working class obtain,
For her by Bella eagerly desired,
And jealously protected -- and the girl
Made rapid progress, justifying all.
And, when she left, her mother would not take her
To work upon the fields, as she herself
Was wont, but sought a place of service for her
In Ramsey, with a family genteel,
Yet staid, and sober, which from Liverpool
Had come to spend the summer: and with them,
When they returned to Liverpool, she went,
To be their servant in that awful place.

But, ere she went, we had our Confirmation;
And Sarah came to be prepared by me:
And she impressed me much as one well girt
With Christian armour; and her frame of mind
Was excellent. Her answers, whether spoken,
Or written, such as I myself indeed
Would not have been ashamed of; and, in truth,
Her hand was always wonderfully clear.
So I was pleased: but Bella troubled me.

Her tendency to gauds broke out afresh
On this occasion, seeming to have died
As she grew old; or, possibly, her daughter
Had mitigated it, with exquisite tact,
Suggesting compromise, and ever holding
A mean, that had a pathos of its own,
So happily did she propitiate
Her mother's foible, subtly indistinct
In her distinction -- as she managed it.
But now dear Bella hankered for a cap,
So frizzed, beribboned, done about with lace
And gauze, wherewith her daughter should appear
Before the Bishop, that I knew his lordship
Would be quite scandalised. Debate ran high
For quite a week between herself and me;
And I was vexed. But Sarah made it right --
Yet not without some risk of public blame --
She wore no cap at all; and never, sir,
Was Bishop's hand laid on a lovelier head.

So Sarah was confirmed, and went to England;
And Bella had no doubts; she knew her child.
Nor is there any tragedy behind
My simple story -- ruin, sir, and death --
Thank God! it was not thus, and could not be --
I say, thank God! for I have known of many
Caught in the snares of your great Liverpool,
Burned in the fire of your great Liverpool,
Cast forth like ashes on the unhallowed streets
Of your great Liverpool. An awful place
I said it was; and so it is to us,
To us, sir, anxious for our children's good,
Our children's life. Oh yes! I know there are
Good men in Liverpool, else Sodom's doom
Had fallen upon her long ago, who asks
The annual tribute of our shame -- pollutes,
Devours -- O God! to think of it is death!

Good men in Liverpool -- yes, sir, oh yes --
Undoubtedly -- I know some clergymen
In Liverpool, who are most excellent,
Most admirable men in every way --
There's Mr.----- I forget his name----- his church
Is somewhere----- really I can't remember --
You see, your Liverpool is such a place,
Enormous, is it not? and most confusing.
You think I'm prejudiced -- perhaps I am --
But you'll allow it is confusing, sir,
Confusing to a stay-at-home like me --
Well, well -- I do not like your Liverpool.

But Sarah was not easily confused:
She could walk steadily where others swerve
And stagger from the track. Her feet were firm
And supple with the elasticity
Of innocence and maidenly resolve --
God giving her strength, God answering our prayers,
Refreshing her according to her need,
Nay, filling her with light; so that each year,
When she came back to see us, she was good,
And absolutely incorrupt as ever --
Unchanged indeed, save only that sweet change
Which comes of larger life, more copious flow
Of impulse ever chastened, broader space
Of soul, reflecting more variety
Of forms -- as when a little mountain stream
Swims out into the figure of a lake,
And mirrors all the sky, and all the clouds.
Such change was added beauty, perfect joy,
And balance of a heart that knew no fear --
Sarah was fearless; that you saw at once --
Yet so affectionate, and simply kind.

It was a real little festival
When she came home to see us: every face
Was brighter for her look, such interest,
And such excitement, in the parish here!
For half a mile upon the Ramsey road
The people from the cottages came out,
And waited for the cart, the Parson's cart,
Which always brought her from the boat. Indeed
The first time that she came I did not care
To be among them: but the second time
I lingered at the corner of the lane;
And when they saw me, all, with one consent,
But tacitly, held back, as though they thought
It was for me to welcome her. And so
It came to be a custom of the place;
And I was always there, and nothing loth --
Such little things made up our round of life,
And are the landmarks of its quiet course;
And are not very little, after all,
For those who value simple loyalty,
And have respect for unpretending worth.

It was a pleasant and a happy scene:
But most 'twas happy, most 'twas pleasant, sir --
To me at least 'twas most -- to see how Bella,
From mid-day till the twilight brought her hope,
Upon a sandhill, which advanced to meet
The road, sat spotless in the mere perfection
Of cap and kerchief, conscious of her hearth
Clean swept, and all the cottage bright as glass.
And so for hours she sat, most patiently
Knitting: and, now and then, some one would come --
Most frequently myself -- and change a word
Of cheer, and in the very quiet of her tone
Divine the gathered loneliness, that now
Expected recompense, as justly due
To all those wintry longings in the night.
But when the sunset came, and that great joy
Was imminent, then Bella's needles clicked
Irregular, and from her trembling hands
Slipped devious, and her face was fixed upon
The long white road, and from her eyes dropped tears.
Then came the cart; and on my aiding hand
Sarah leaped light, but Bella waited still:
And we went up to her. So, every year,
It grew to be a custom, as I said,
A ritual of observance most exact,
Which changed, the people would have been amazed.

A Sabbath time for Bella, be assured --
A blessed, blessed time! and Sarah brought
Such presents for the children all about
That everywhere the little ones rejoiced,
And followed her. But chiefest bliss to me
Was in the evening, when the day was fine,
That sacred week, for well it might be called so,
While Sarah stayed with us, to see them walk,
The mother and her child, upon the shore,
At distance I, yet near enough to note
The close embrace of interwoven arms,
Slow step harmonious, stately forms erect,
Yet flowing in accordant tenderness --
Tall women both, yet Bella was less tall
Than Sarah, grown to perfect womanhood.

Nine years had passed, and still our Sarah served
In the same house. But, when the tenth year came,
Came news that Sarah was to be a wife
Before she saw us next -- a man well off,
Intelligent, respectable, who loved her,
And whom she loved -- you know the sort of man --
Connected with some -- oh, a worthy man --
Should be her husband; and from marriage bells
Forthwith they twain would cross the sea, and make
Some stay with us -- so Sarah's letter said.
But Bella, whatsoe'er she felt, was silent:
Only I thought I saw a heavy look --
And yet perhaps I did her wrong; for how
Could prospect of so great a change not throw
A shadow on her life? which having passed,
Bright sunshine would succeed. A mother's heart --
'Tis a great mystery, sir, a mother's heart.

And now the day approached that they should come;
And Bella seemed as if an inward strife
Had ended, and her soul was left in peace:
And she addressed her to the patent needs
Of service, and all hospitable cares.
And, when they came, I could not but rejoice
To mark how radiant Sarah looked, to see
Her husband too, a handsome man, well-grown,
Well-set; kind, honest face, and honest speech,
Where haply failed an aitch, as reason would
But nothing failed of modesty and truth:
Content, I grasped his hand.
Then Bella asked
If, that one night, in her old cottage home,
She might have Sarah to herself -- "You were
My architect," she said to me, "you know
How far accommodation serves." Whereat
Her husband not surprised, we speedily
Arranged that he should at the Vicarage
Be entertained, my guest. We supped with her,
Then left them. 'Twas a pleasant night of stars,
And murmuring ripples, and sweet drowsy winds,
That scarcely stirred a leaf. And I was glad
To make the acquaintance of our Sarah's husband.
And as we walked and walked: and I could see
That he was most intelligent, -- acquainted
With much that lay beyond my beat -- the arts
Of busy life, and ways of toiling men,
And springs of wealth and industry --
We walked,
And still the light was in the window, still
They did not sleep, and it was getting late.
Then he to me -- "I will draw near, and know
What holds them watching": to the window stept,
And looked a while, then beckoned me approach,
But silently; and I approached. Then he --
"Dear sir, you are a clergyman. In God's name
I bid you see the sight that I have seen."

Then through the opening of the narrow pane
I gazed, and saw how Bella had undressed
Her child, as long ago, when she and I
Had prayed beside the little one. But now
It was the absolute omnipotence
Of woman's beauty given to my view,
As in some wondrous dream: for Bella knelt,
And clasped the marble of her daughter's knees,
And kissed the softness of her daughter's breast,
And drank the music of her daughter's voice,
And seemed to take assurance of each sense
That this dear child, thus come to full estate
Of bodily form, was her own little one,
Flesh of her flesh, the same that she had born
And nursed in sorrow, now complete in joy.

Oh physically, sir, it was supreme --
This Sibyl clinging to this Venus. Nay,
You'll pardon my poor fancy -- classical,
Perhaps -- but that is not the point -- those faces,
Those faces, sir -- that worship, and that smile --
Love! if this was not love, then where is love?
The love, the smile, the face, sir -- either face --
Both faces in an ecstasy of love.
"Nursing the baby" -- so I said to him,
Who yet again would look, and look again:
But came with me at last; and, reft of speech,
And in our hearts the murmuring of deep awe,
We sought the Vicarage; and, ere we slept,
I prayed for all.
Next morning, when I rose,
I found him up, and ready to descend
To Bella's cottage. At the opened door
Stood Sarah, very quiet. In her eyes
Methought I saw a trouble; but she spoke
Her greeting with a voice that seemed unmoved:
Then bade us enter. Which when we had done,
She gently turned the coverlet; and there
Lay Bella, with a sunbeam on her brow,
A bright young sunbeam -- Bella, sir, was dead.

Of course, the doctors called it heart-disease --
But who can tell? God took her to Himself;
He knows the time----- But I neglect my function --
Westward to Jurby, eastward, as I said,
The coast runs level to the Point of Ayre.





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