Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A BALLAD OF THE UPPER THAMES, by EDMUND WILLIAM GOSSE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A BALLAD OF THE UPPER THAMES, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Ah! What a storm of wind and hail!
Last Line: Down to the brimming river.
Subject(s): Thames (river)


AH! what a storm of wind and hail!
Another quart of Witney ale,
We'll test the cellar's mettle,
And Emma, of her work deprived, --
Our Hebe at the "Rose Revived," --
Shall serve us in the settle.


The mowers from the field shall stray,
The fisher from the lonely bay
Shall leave his pool forlorner,
The snooded, shy dock-gatherers too
Shall lift their skirts of dusky blue,
And line the chimney-corner.


And through the gusts of whirling rain
The cuckoo's voice may call in vain
From boughs and steaming thickets;
We'll listen to the jerking crock,
The ticking of the eight-day clock,
The chirping of the crickets.


Until some topic, lightly sprung,
Unloose the timid rustic tongue
To news of crops or weather,
And men and women, touched to speech,
Respond and babble, each to each,
Till all discourse together.


Until the wonted ale-house chat
With knotty points of this and that,
And heat of Whig and Tory,
Resolve into the single stream
Of one old man's disjointed theme,
An ancient country story.


I sit and watch from out the pane
The silvery Windrush through the rain
Haste down to join the Isis,
Half listening to the simple tale
That winds along, thro' draughts of ale,
On to its measured crisis.


Or watch the head of him who tells
These long-drawn rural miracles, --
His worn old cheek that flushes,
His eye that darts above his pipe
Keen as the flashing of a snipe
Through beds of windless rushes.


He tells, -- for this was long ago,
The winter of the heavy snow,
And none but he remembers, --
What fate in love to George befell,
The keeper up at Stanlake Well, --
Then stirs the fragrant embers,


Then starts anew: -- "When I was young
More champion Berkshire men were flung
By George in wrestling matches,
Than sacks of wheat could stand a-row
Inside yon shed, or martens go
To build within these thatches.


His back was like a three-year ash,
His eye had got the steady flash
That's death to hare or pheasant;
And when he walked the woods at night
The tramps would take to sudden flight, --
To meet him was not pleasant.


But still he held himself aloof
From every friendly neighbour's roof,
Nor chatted in the village;
The farmers called him proud, for he
Could little in their children see
But imps brought up to pillage.


At harvest-home and country dance
He gave the beauties just a glance,
The calmest of beholders;
The lasses failed his pulse to move;
Then suddenly he fell in love
Right over head and shoulders.


He went to buy a dog one day
At Inglesham, and on the way
A sudden snowstorm caught him;
His path he lost; at length a lane
Down which the north wind swept amain
Straight into Lechlade brought him.


Within the parlour of the inn,
Snug from the driving frost and din,
He sipped his gin-and-water,
When like a well-tuned instrument,
Close by him, singing, Mary went,
The landlord's rosy daughter.


Her voice, before he caught her face,
Bewitched him with its joyous grace,
But when he saw her features,
Like any running hare shot dead
His heart leapt suddenly, and his head
Was like a swooning creature's.


He rose and stood, or tried to stand,
He clutched the table with his hand,
Until she went out, singing;
Then, sitting down, and calm again,
He felt a kind of quiet pain
Thro' all his pulses ringing.


At first he scarcely knew that this
Strange ache made up of grief and bliss
Was love, his fancy thronging;
For Mary's image night and day
From his tired eyelids would not stray,
But wore him out with longing.


And all that winter and that spring
The very least excuse would bring
His steps to Mary's presence;
He'd sit for hours and try to smile,
Yet look as grim and dark the while
As any judge at sessions.


But Mary with her cheerful eyes,
Like hearts-ease where a dewdrop lies,
And lips like warm carnations,
Laughed, bridling up her sunny head,
When jokes and sly remarks were made
By neighbours and relations.


So things went on till limes in June
Dropped honey-dust, and all in tune
The elm-trees rang with thrushes;
'Tis sweet, when, fed by showers of May,
Through lily-leaves and flowers that sway,
The brimming river flushes.


The town one evening seemed to keep
A quiet sort of twilight sleep,
Hushed, scented, calm and airy;
And George, who rode across from far,
Found no one sitting in the bar
But smiling Mistress Mary.


Long time he sat and nothing said,
But listened to the chatting maid,
Who loved this evening leisure;
It was so dreamy there and sweet,
And she so bright from head to feet,
He could have wept for pleasure.


His beating heart, that leaped apace,
Took comfort from her smiling face
That pertly seemed to brave you: --
'If you don't mind a keeper's life,
I wish you'd come and be my wife,
For no man else shall have you.'


She started, turned first white, then red,
And for a minute nothing said,
Then seemed to search and find him;
'Good-night,' she answered, short and straight,
'I had no notion 'twas to late,'
And shut the door behind him.


The threshold pebbles seemed to scorch
His feet; he leaned against the porch,
And tore the honeysuckle;
Up to the window-pots he sighed, --
Then from one casement, opened wide,
He heard a kind of chuckle.


So, mad with love and sick with rage,
He swore his passion to assuage,
And by his death abash her;
He ran three miles from Lechlade town,
Then threw his hat and cudgel down,
And plunged in Kelmscott lasher.


The moon on Eaton Hastings Wood
Turned white, as any full moon should,
To see a drowning keeper,
And twice he sank, and twice came out,
But as the eddies whirled about,
Each time he sank the deeper.


Now Mary's brother kept the weir, --
A merry lad, a judge of beer,
And stout for twenty-seven; --
It chanced that night he smoked at ease
Among his stocks and picotees
Beneath the summer heaven.


He dashed across the seething din,
Thrust all the piles and rimers in,
And stopped the weir's made riot;
Then rushing to the reedy strand
Swam out, and safely dragged to land,
Poor George, now white and quiet.


Long time before the doors of death
The little fluttering of his breath
Seemed taking leave for ever;
His pulse was gone, his cheek was blue, --
But by degrees they brought him to,
And bore him from the river.


Now when next day the news went down
The streets and lanes of Lechlade town,
It brought much consternation;
And as the tale the gossips shared
They duly one and all declared
The death a dispensation.


How fortunate he showed in time
His selfish aptitude for crime,
His passions thus revealing!
Much ill of the deceased was said;
But when they knew he was not dead,
A change came o'er the feeling.


Then Mary, who had sobbed and cried,
Grew confident and laughing-eyed,
While all the town grew graver;
She warbled like a happy bird,
Nor ever made as though she heard
The names the neighbours gave her.


For now they all agreed that she
Was much more criminal than he,
Was pert, and stony-hearted,
That on her head his blood would lie,
Since he was almost sure to die,
From this cold hussy parted.


But still she warbled; till one day
When every neighbour had her say
And each spoke somewhat louder,
She stood right up behind the bar,
For all to hear her near or far,
Nor could a queen look prouder.


'If any one that's here to-day
Is going over Stanlake-way,
I'd have him know for certain,
It's not the way to win a wife,
To hang around, and plague her life,
And peep behind the curtain.


'Nor after loafing half-a-year,
And blushing when he calls for beer,
To shout the question at her,
When mother's lying ill in bed,
Awake, and listening overhead,
And wondering what's the matter.


'Men stalk a girl as with a gun,
And if she turns and tries to run, --
Their patience all abated, --
They rush and drown themselves for spite,
To punish people whom they might
Have won, had they but waited.


'My brother should have left him there,
Since plainly all his load of care
Is more than he can carry;
In future he may wooing go
To Witney or -- to Jericho, --
But me he'll never marry.'


The neighbours all were sadly shocked;
The maiden at their scruples mocked,
As through her work she hurried;
She sang aloud; and yet 'tis said,
That afternoon her eyes were red,
Her temper crossed and flurried.


But out, alas! for maidens' oaths!
When Love puts on his Sunday-clothes
In vain their hearts are chary;
Before three months had gone about
The Lechlade bells were pealing out,
And George was marrying Mary.


They bought the 'Starling and the Thrush'
Just out of Bampton-in-the-Bush,
And long they lived together;
For many a cheerful day they throve
Contented in each other's love,
Through sun and stormy weather.


In Bampton Churchyard now they lie,
Their grave is open to the sky,
No tombstone weighs above them,
But pinks and pansies in a row,
And mignonette, and myrtle show
That still their children love them."


The old man, sipping at his ale,
Wound up the ending of his tale,
As dryly as he started,
Shook out the ashes from his pipe,
Then gave his old thin lips a wipe,
And rose, and slow departed.


For, lightened of their load of rain,
The great loose clouds, grown white again,
Down in the west were blending;
While high o'erhead the sun rode through
A radiant plain of sparkling blue,
His noonday throne ascending.


The Windrush beamed, like polished steel;
The lark, in mounting, seemed to reel
With airs too sweet to utter;
The roses shook their laden leaves,
The martins underneath the eaves
Began to peep and flutter.


And so, dissolving in the sun,
Our rustic synod, one by one,
Stole out to workday labour;
The fisher found his lines and bait,
Nor would the brown haymakers wait
To pledge the chattiest neighbour.


The women rose, among the fields
To reap what the rank margin yields,
Tall seeded docks that shiver;
We, loth to leave the "Rose Revived,"
Went last, although we first arrived,
Down to the brimming river.

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