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 seemed to live; her thoughts her own;
Herself her own delight:15
Pleased with herself, nor sad nor gay,
She passed 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 bore 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 run,35
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 shout,50
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 hour 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,
Encompassed me on every side70
When I, in confidence and pride,
Had crossed the Atlantic Main.
“It was a fresh and glorious world,
A banner bright that was unfurled
Before me suddenly:75
I looked upon those hills and plains,
And seemed as if let loose from chains
To live at liberty.
“But wherefore speak of this? for now,
Sweet Ruth! with thee, I know not how,80
I feel my spirit burn—
Even as the east when day comes forth;
And to the west, and south, and north,
The morning doth return.
“It is a purer, better mind:85
O Maiden innocent and kind,
What sights I might have seen!”
Even now upon my eyes they break!
—And he again began to speak
Of Lands where he had been.90
He told of the Magnolia*, spread
High as a cloud, high over head!
The Cypress and her spire,
—Of flowers† that with one scarlet gleam
Cover a hundred leagues, and seem95
To set the hills on fire.
(* 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.)
The Youth of green savannahs spake,
And many an endless, endless lake,
With all its fairy crowds
Of islands, that together lie100
As quietly as spots of sky
Among the evening clouds.
And then he said “How sweet it were
A fisher or a hunter there,
A gardener in the shade,105
Still wandering with an easy mind
To build a household fire, and find
A home in every glade!
“What days and what sweet years! Ah me!
Our life were life indeed, with thee110
So passed in quiet bliss,
And all the while,” said he, “to know
That we were in a world of woe,
On such an earth as this!”
And then he sometimes interwove115
Dear thoughts about a Father’s love,
“For there,” said he, “are spun
Around the heart such tender ties,
That our own children to our eyes
Are dearer than the sun.120
“Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me
My helpmate in the woods to be,
Our shed at night to rear;
Or run, my own adopted Bride,
A sylvan Huntress at my side,125
And drive the flying deer!
“Beloved Ruth!”—No more he said.
Sweet Ruth alone at midnight shed
A solitary tear.
She thought again—and did agree130
With him to sail across the sea,
And drive the flying deer.
“And now, as fitting is and right,
We in the Church our faith will plight,
A Husband and a Wife.”135
Even so they did; and I may say
That to sweet Ruth that happy day
Was more than human life.
Through dream and vision did she sink,
Delighted all the while to think140
That, on those lonesome floods,
And green savannahs, she should share
His board with lawful joy, and bear
His name in the wild woods.
But, as you have before been told,145
This Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold,
And with his dancing crest
So beautiful, through savage lands
Had roamed about with vagrant bands
Of Indians in the West.150
The wind, the tempest roaring high,
The tumult of a tropic sky,
Might well be dangerous food
For him, a Youth to whom was given
So much of earth so much of Heaven,155
And such impetuous blood.
Whatever in those Climes he found
Irregular in sight or sound
Did to his mind impart
A kindred impulse, seemed allied160
To his own powers, and justified
The workings of his heart.
Nor less to feed voluptuous thought
The beauteous forms of nature wrought,
Fair trees and lovely flowers;165
The breezes their own languor lent;
The stars had feelings, which they sent
Into those magic bowers.
Yet, in his worst pursuits, I ween
That sometimes there did intervene170
Pure hopes of high intent;
For passions linked to forms so fair
And stately needs must have their share
Of noble sentiment.
But ill he lived, much evil saw175
With men to whom no better law
Nor better life was known;
Deliberately and undeceived
Those wild men’s vices he received,
And gave them back his own.180
His genius and his moral frame
Were thus impaired, and he became
The slave of low desires:
A Man who without self-controul
Would seek what the degraded soul185
And yet he with no feigned delight
Had wooed the maiden, day and night
Had loved her, night and morn:
What could he less than love a Maid190
Whose heart with so much nature played?
So kind and so forlorn!
But now the pleasant dream was gone;
No hope, no wish remained, not one,
They stirred him now no more;195
New objects did new pleasure give,
And once again he wished to live
As lawless as before.
Meanwhile, as thus with him it fared,
They for the voyage were prepared,200
And went to the sea-shore;
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 had205
That she in half a year was mad
And in a prison housed;
And there, exulting in her wrongs,
Among the music of her songs
She fearfully caroused.210
Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,
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 cheerful knell215
Did o’er the pebbles play.
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;220
And where it liked her best she sought
Her shelter and her bread.
Among the fields she breathed again:
The master-current of her brain
Ran permanent and free;225
And, coming to the banks of Tone*,
There did she rest; and dwell alone
Under the greenwood tree.
The engines of her pain, the tools
That shaped her sorrow, rocks and pools,230
And airs that gently stir
The vernal leaves, she loved them still,
Nor ever taxed them with the ill
Which had been done to her.
(*The Tone is a River of Somersetshire at no great distance from the Quantock Hills. These Hills, which are alluded to a few Stanzas below, are extremely beautiful, and in most places richly covered with Coppice woods.)
A Barn her winter bed supplies;235
But till the warmth of summer skies
And summer days is gone,
(And all do in this tale agree)
She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,
And other home hath none.240
An innocent life, yet far astray!
And Ruth will, long before her day,
Be broken down and old.
Sore aches she needs must have! but less
Of mind, than body’s wretchedness,245
From damp, and rain, and cold.
If she is pressed by want of food,
She from her dwelling in the wood
Repairs to a road-side;
And there she begs at one steep place,250
Where up and down with easy pace
The horsemen-travellers ride.
That oaten Pipe of hers is mute,
Or thrown away; but with a flute
Her loneliness she cheers:255
This flute, made of a hemlock stalk,
At evening in his homeward walk
The Quantock Woodman hears.
I, too, have passed her on the hills
Setting her little water-mills260
By spouts and fountains wild—
Such small machinery as she turned
Ere she had wept, ere she had mourned,
A young and happy Child!
Farewell! and when thy days are told,265
Ill-fated Ruth! in hallowed mould
Thy corpse shall buried be;
For thee a funeral bell shall ring,
And all the congregation sing
A Christian psalm for thee.270