Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CITY WIFE, by DOROTHY LIVESAY



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CITY WIFE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Almost before the sun has touched the fields
Last Line: Till over the hill the horses slowly climb.
Subject(s): Country Life; Farm Life; Agriculture; Farmers


Almost before the sun has touched the fields
Horses and cart are waiting patiently
Inside the yard, until their driver comes
To swing with iron hand the heavy gate
As if it were the night he pushes back:
Only to show where slow the daylight comes
With silent footsteps over silent roads.
The gate swings back: one movement, and I watch
The cart, the horses and the man alone,
Absorbed in the day ahead, which means to him
Only the day between concession lines.
I watch: the image of these quiet things
Is graven on my heart. He will not turn;
The horses will not turn, but go their way
Soberly, steadily, up and over the hill
Until there is nothing left to see but hill
And nothing left to hear but silentness
Now that the horse, the cart, the man, are gone.
I know by heart what farmers do in spring.
I know by heart the things I ought to do;
And yet, forgetting all, I stand and dream.

Springs came before like this. Last year the crows
Made all the morning echo with their songs,
Just as to-day. Sun must have been as bright,
Wind as caressing as this country wind.
Yet never, it seems, have I half understood
The music and the singing festival
That cries to be expressed, of early spring.
It is delight simply to stand entranced
Caught in the aery, golden web of dream
The sun spins, while every sense is lost
Within the enchanted pattern of the spring.

Springs came before like this, I say again,
But never before with me, in any year
Has spring been knowledge laid into my heart;
Knowledge of wind and sun on open fields,
Of silence brooding on some nest of woods.
Why should I know how springs came long ago,
Lost as I am in this? Only I feel
No more is morning like a gleaming knife
Coming to pierce my sleep. Instead it is
Dream into changing dream, until at last
There comes reality—the scarlet sun.
Or say it is song into song, perhaps, until
Harshly the song of the crow breaks over all.

Jet crows beating their tireless wings,
Fighting northward where the snow still clings:
Strong crows breaking into strident song—
And now I remember how the winter was long.

So are my days kindled from quiet thought,
Serenity, to unexpected fire:
So is my mind a little open space
Free for all varying winds to stop and rest.
So is my heart a wider, new-ploughed field
Waking to hear the slow feet treading there.
Yes, I come always to this memory
Of feet going and coming over the land,
The man plodding behind the persistent team
For all the day, but coming at last to me,
At last to the house, and the meal and the quietness.
Is it to me he comes, or to the barn
Where in the golden gloom the horses stamp
And munch the hay he shakes down from the loft?
Is it to me?. ... But why this heavy doubt,
When everywhere the world cries out in faith:
When every single leaf on every tree
Holds yet a different light against the sky?
Oh, I have followed where the first bare maple
Suddenly turned to gold, where deeper still
There flamed in red a different maple tree
Boldly against the sober evergreens:
And even further I plunged, until too soon
The other end of the wood was reached, and broke
Into a line of pale wild cherry trees
Too lovely to be startled by a sound,
Too young to be enchanted by the wind.

I ran from there, thinking I could not turn
But only follow the swiftly-curving road
Until I saw that silence was swinging back,
A golden pendulum above the wood—
No! the spring sweetness was too much: a voice
Seemed to cry loud and louder: Turn! Turn once—
As long ago one thought he heard a voice
And could not move until he called her name:
The name of all names surely loveliest,
Of lost, forever lost, Eurydice.

How many of us have learned, with Orpheus,
Not to look back at loveliness:
Not to look back, lest any evil chance
Should tell us how life vanishes. ...

In soberness I walked the road again
Seeming to hear lost ecstasy fall back,
Ever receding as I travelled on.
The road ran through a group of thin young birch
Shining like silver arrows in the sun:
And lombardies, without their summer leaves,
Were free to feel the wind. The road then turned;
Leaving the wood, it ran between two fields.
I found delight again watching the elms
That grew beside snake fences in a row,
Or even stooping in the wayside grass
To see if purple violets were in bloom.

Jet crows beating their tireless wings,
Jet crows flying and crying:
How long before they all return,
Afraid of the keen wind's sighing?

But even so, in my little house,
Even if autumn comes
Will not the dark fall faster then
When my love comes?

Will not the dark bring quietness
And make him forget the land,
Make him forget the harvesting
Of the strong land?

I am not frightened of the earth,
But I have flung myself
Deep in a field of grass and dust
And known myself:

Yet for such long, long hours he ploughs,
Intent on his horses' step;
If I come near he does not know
Nor hear my step. ...

Jet crows cawing and cawing above,
Crows in the sky:
Is it a song they shout—
Or a warning cry?

I may not end my song; evening is here,
And spring is possessing once more the field of my heart.
I must be silent again, as the elm at the gate
Which broods till the time of leaves.—If I speak, will he look,
Will he open his eyes and gaze suddenly into my face,
Starting the fire of my joy, and the sweet unrest?

I hear no answer in the quiet elm,
Still and enduring. Even as the tree, I wait
Till over the hill the horses slowly climb.





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