Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOVECOTT MILL: 13. THE FATHER, by PHOEBE CARY

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DOVECOTT MILL: 13. THE FATHER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Hushed is the even-song of the bird
Last Line: Never a kiss till his lips were cold!
Subject(s): Fathers

Hushed is the even-song of the bird,
Naught but the katydid is heard,
And the sound of leaves by the night wind stirred.

Swarms of fireflies rise and shine
Out of the green grass, short and fine,
Where, dotting the meadows, sleep the kine.

And the bees, done flying to and fro,
In the fields of buckwheat, white as snow,
Cling to the hive, in a long black row.

Closed are the pink and the poppy red,
And the lily near them hangs her head,
And the camomile sleeps on the garden bed.

The wheel is still that has turned all day,
And the mill stream runs unvexed away,
Under the thin mist, cool and gray,

And the little vine-clad home in the dell
With this quiet beauty suiteth well,
For it seems a place where peace should dwell.

And sitting to-night on the cottage sill
Is the wife of the Miller of Dovecote Mill, --
Quiet Bethy, thoughtful and still.

As she hears the cricket chirping low,
And the pendulum swinging to and fro,
And the child in the cradle, breathing slow;

Are her thoughts with her baby, fast asleep,
Or do they wander away, and keep
With him she waits for as night grows deep?

Or are they back to the days gone by,
When free as the birds that swing and fly,
She lived with never a care or tie?

Ah! who of us all has ever known
The hidden thought and the undertone
Of the bosom nearest to our own!

For the one we deemed devoid of art
May have lain and dreamed on our trusting heart
The dreams in which we had no part!

And Bethy, the honest miller's wife,
Whom he loves as he loves his very life,
May be with him and herself at strife.

For she was only a child that day,
When she gave her hand in the church away,
And the friends who loved her used to say, --

(For you know she was the country's pride,)
If she ever had had a suitor beside
She might not be such a willing bride!

Though never one would hint but he
Was as true and good and fair as she,
They wondered still that the match should be,

And said, were she like a lady drest,
There was not a fairer, east nor west; --
And yet it might be all for the best!

So who can guess her thoughts as her sight
Rests on the road-track, dusty and white,
The way the miller must come to-night!

Up in his gloomy house on the hill,
He lies in his chamber, white and still, --
The Squire, who owns the Dovecote Mill.

What hath the rich man been in his day?
"Hard and cruel and stern, alway;" --
This is the thing his neighbors say,

"Silent and grim as a man could be;" --
But the miller's wife, says, tenderly,
"He has always a smile for the babe and me."

But whatever he was, in days gone by,
Let us stand in his presence reverently,
For to him the great change draweth nigh.

There the light is dim, and the June winds blow
The heavy curtains to and fro,
And the watchers, near him, whisper low.

Something the sick man asks from his bed;
Is it the leech or the priest? they said.
"Nay, bring me Bethy, here," he said.

"Have you not heard me; will you not heed;
Go to the miller's wife with speed,
And tell her the dying of her hath need."

Slowly the watchers shook the head,
They knew that his poor wits wandered;
"Yet, now let him have his way," they said.

So when the turn of the night has come,
She stands at his bedside, frightened, dumb,
Holding his fingers, cold and numb.

He has sent the watchers and nurse away,
And now he is keeping death at bay,
Till he rids his soul of what he would say.

"Now, hear me, Bethy, I am not wild,
As I hope to God to be reconciled,
I am thy father -- thou my child!

"I loved a maiden, the noblest one
That ever the good sun shone upon:
I had wealth and honors, she had none.

"And when I wooed her, she answered me, --
'Nay, I am too humble to wed with thee,
Let me rather thine handmaid be!'

"From home with me, for love, she fled
The night that in secret we were wed;
And she kept the secret, living and dead.

"Serving for wages duly paid,
In my home she lived, as an humble maid,
Till under the grass of the churchyard laid.

"Twenty years has remorse been fed,
Twenty years has she lain there dead,
With her sweet name Mercy, at her head.

"How you came to the world was known
But to the gardener's wife alone,
Who took, and reared you up as her own.

"Though conscience whispered, early and late,
Your child is worthy a higher fate,
Still shame and pride said, always, wait.

"But alas! a debt unpaid grows vast.
And whether it come, or slow or fast,
The day of reckoning comes at last.

"So, all there was left to do, I have done,
And the gold and the acres I have won
Shall come to you with the morning's sun.

"And may this atone; oh would that it might,
And lessen the guilt of my soul to-night,
For the one great wrong that I cannot right."

Scarcely the daughter breathed or stirred,
As she listened close for another word;
But "Mercy!" was all that she ever heard.

She clung to his breast, she bade him stay,
But ere the words to her lips found way,
She knew the thing that she held was clay.

All that she had was a father's gold,
Never his kind warm hand to hold,
Never a kiss till his lips were cold!

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