R U T H.
R U T H.
When Ruth was left half desolate
Her Father took another Mate;
And Ruth, not seven years old,
A slighted Child, at her own will
Went wandering over dale and hill,5
In thoughtless freedom bold.
And she had made a Pipe of straw,
And from that oaten Pipe could draw
All sounds of winds and floods;
Had built a Bower upon the green,10
As if she from her birth had been
An Infant of the woods.
Beneath her Father’s roof, alone
She seem’d to live; her thoughts her own;
Herself her own delight:15
Pleas’d with herself, nor sad nor gay,
She pass’d her time; and in this way
Grew up to Woman’s height.
There came a Youth from Georgia’s shore—
A military Casque he wore20
With splendid feathers drest;
He brought them from the Cherokees;
The feathers nodded in the breeze
And made a gallant crest.
From Indian blood you deem him sprung:25
Ah no! he spake the English tongue,
And bare a Soldier’s name;
And, when America was free
From battle and from jeopardy,
He cross the ocean came.30
With hues of genius on his cheek
In finest tones the Youth could speak.
—While he was yet a Boy
The moon, the glory of the sun,
And streams that murmur as they run35
Had been his dearest joy.
He was a lovely Youth! I guess
The panther in the wilderness
Was not so fair as he;
And when he chose to sport and play,40
No dolphin ever was so gay
Upon the tropic sea.
Among the Indians he had fought;
And with him many tales he brought
Of pleasure and of fear;45
Such tales as told to any Maid
By such a Youth in the green shade
Were perilous to hear.
He told of Girls, a happy rout!
Who quit their fold with dance and shout50
Their pleasant Indian Town
To gather strawberries all day long,
Returning with a choral song
When day-light is gone down.
He spake of plants divine and strange55
That every day their blossoms change,
Ten thousand lovely hues!
With budding, fading, faded flowers
They stand the wonder of the bowers
From morn to evening dews.60
Of march and ambush, siege and fight,
Then did he tell; and with delight
The heart of Ruth would ache;
Wild histories they were, and dear:
But ’twas a thing of heaven to hear65
When of himself he spake!
Sometimes most earnestly he said;
“O Ruth! I have been worse than dead:
False thoughts, thoughts bold and vain
Encompass’d me on every side70
When I, in thoughtlessness and pride,
Had cross’d the Atlantic Main.
Whatever in those Climes I found
Irregular in sight or sound
Did to my mind impart75
A kindred impulse, seem’d allied
To my own powers, and justified
The workings of my heart.
Nor less to feed unhallow’d thought
The beauteous forms of nature wrought,80
Fair trees and lovely flowers;
The breezes their own languor lent;
The stars had feelings which they sent
Into those magic bowers.
Yet, in my worst pursuits, I ween,85
That often there did intervene
Pure hopes of high intent;
My passions, amid forms so fair
And stately, wanted not their share
Of noble sentiment.90
So was it then, and so is now:
For, Ruth! with thee I know not how
I feel my spirit burn
Even as the east when day comes forth;
And to the west, and south, and north,95
The morning doth return.
It is a purer better mind:
O Maiden innocent and kind
What sights I might have seen!
Even now upon my eyes they break!100
—And he again began to speak
Of Lands where he had been.
He told of the Magnolia,† spread
High as a cloud, high over head!
The Cypress and her spire,105
—Of *flowers that with one scarlet gleam
Cover a hundred leagues and seem
To set the hills on fire.
The Youth of green Savannahs spake,
And many an endless, endless lake,110
With all its fairy crowds
Of islands, that together lie
As quietly as spots of sky
Among the evening clouds.
(† Magnolia grandiflora.)
(* The splendid appearance of these scarlet flowers, which are scattered with such profusion over the Hills in the Southern parts of North America is frequently mentioned by Bartram in his Travels.)
And then he said “ How sweet it were115
A fisher or a hunter there,
A gardener in the shade,
Still wandering with an easy mind
To build a household fire, and find
A home in every glade.120
What days and what sweet years! Ah me!
Our life were life indeed, with thee
So pass’d in quiet bliss,
And all the while” said he “ to know
That we were in a world of woe,125
On such an earth as this!
And then he sometimes interwove
Dear thoughts about a Father’s love,
“For there,” said he, “are spun
Around the heart such tender ties,130
That our own children to our eyes
Are dearer than the sun.
Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me
My helpmate in the woods to be,
Our shed at night to rear;135
Or run, my own adopted Bride,
A sylvan Huntress at my side
And drive the flying deer.
Beloved Ruth!” No more he said.
Sweet Ruth alone at midnight shed140
A solitary tear,
She thought again—and did agree
With him to sail across the sea,
And drive the flying deer.
“And now, as fitting is and right,145
We in the Church our faith will plight,
A Husband and a Wife.”
Even so they did; and I may say
That to sweet Ruth that happy day
Was more than human life.150
Through dream and vision did she sink,
Delighted all the while to think
That, on those lonesome floods,
And green Savannahs, she should share
His board with lawful joy, and bear155
His name in the wild woods.
But, as you have before been told,
This Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold,
And, with his dancing crest,
So beautiful, through savage lands160
Had roam’d about with vagrant bands
Of Indians in the West.
The wind, the tempest roaring high,
The tumult of a tropic sky
Might well be dangerous food165
For him, a Youth to whom was given
So much of earth so much of Heaven,
And such impetuous blood.
Ill did he live, much evil saw
With men to whom no better law170
Nor better life was known;
Deliberately and undeceiv’d
Those wild men’s vices he receiv’d,
And gave them back his own.
His genius and his moral frame175
Were thus impair’d, and he became
The slave of low desires:
A Man who without self-controul
Would seek what the degraded soul
And yet he with no feign’d delight
Had woo’d the maiden, day and night
Had lov’d her, night and morn:
What could he less than love a Maid
Whose heart with so much nature play’d?185
So kind and so forlorn!
But now the pleasant dream was gone;
No hope, no wish remain’d, not one,
They stirr’d him now no more;
New objects did new pleasure give,190
And once again he wish’d to live
As lawless as before.
Meanwhile, as thus with him it fared,
They for the voyage were prepared
And went to the sea-shore;195
But, when they thither came, the Youth
Deserted his poor Bride, and Ruth
Could never find him more.
“God help thee Ruth!—Such pains she had
That she in half a year was mad200
And in a prison hous’d;
And there, exulting in her wrongs,
Among the music of her songs.
She fearfully carous’d.
Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,205
Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew,
Nor pastimes of the May,
—They all were with her in her cell;
And a wild brook with chearful knell
Did o’er the pebbles play.210
When Ruth three seasons thus had lain
There came a respite to her pain,
She from her prison fled;
But of the Vagrant none took thought;
And where it liked her best she sought215
Her shelter and her bread.
Among the fields she breath’d again:
The master-current of her brain
Ran permanent and free;
And, coming to the Banks of Tone,*
(*The Tone is a River of Somersetshire at no great distance from the Quantock Hills. These Hills, which are )220
There did she rest; and dwell alone
Under the greenwood tree.
The engines of her pain, the tools
That shap’d her sorrow, rocks and pools,
And airs that gently stir225
The vernal leaves, she loved them still,
Nor ever tax’d them with the ill
Which had been done to her.
A Barn her winter bed supplies;
But till the warmth of summer skies230
And summer days is gone,
(And in this tale we all agree)
She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,
And other home hath none.
The neighbours grieve for her, and say235
That she will, long before her day,
(alluded to a few Stanzas below, are extremely beautiful, and in most places richly covered with Coppice woods.)
Be broken down and old.
Sore aches she needs must have! but less
Of mind, than body’s wretchedness,
From damp, and rain, and cold.240
If she is press’d by want of food
She from her dwelling in the wood
Repairs to a road-side;
And there she begs at one steep place,
Where up and down with easy pace245
The horsemen-travellers ride.
That oaten Pipe of hers is mute,
Or thrown away; but with a flute
Her loneliness she cheers:
This flute made of a hemlock stalk250
At evening in his homeward walk
The Quantock Woodman hears.
I, too, have pass’d her on the hills
Setting her little water-mills
By spouts and fountains wild—255
Such small machinery as she turn’d
Ere she had wept, ere she had mourn’d,
A young and happy Child!
Farewel! and when thy days are told
Ill-fated Ruth! in hallow’d mold260
Thy corpse shall buried be;
For thee a funeral bell shall ring,
And all the congregation sing
A Christian psalm for thee.