The Invitation


O for the strength to paint my joy once more!
That joy I feel when Winter’s reign is o’er;
When the dark despot lifts his hoary brow,
And seeks his polar-realm’s eternal snow.
Though black November’s fogs oppress my brain,5
Shake every nerve, and struggling fancy chain;
Though time creeps o’er me with his palsied hand,
And frost-like bids the stream of passion stand,
And through his dry teeth sends a shivering blast,
And points to more than fifty winters past,10
Why should I droop with heartless, aimless eye?
Friends start around, and all my phantoms fly,
And Hope, upsoaring with expanded wing,
Unfolds a scroll, inscribed ‘Remember Spring.’
Stay, sweet enchantress, charmer of my days, 15
And glance thy rainbow colours o’er my lays;
Be to poor Giles what thou hast ever been,
His heart’s warm solace and his sovereign queen;
Dance with his rustics when the laugh runs high,
Live in the lover’s heart, the maiden’s eye; 20
Still be propitious when his feet shall stray
Beneath the bursting hawthorn-buds of May;
Warm every thought, and brighten every hour,
And let him feel thy presence and thy power.
Sir Ambrose Higham, in his eightieth year, 25
With memory unimpair’d, and conscience clear,
His English heart untrammell’d, and full blown
His senatorial honours and renown,
Now, basking in his plenitude of fame,
Resolved, in concert with his noble dame, 30
To drive to town no more—no more by night
To meet in crowded courts a blaze of light,
In streets a roaring mob with flags unfurl’d,
And all the senseless discord of the world,—
But calmly wait the hour of his decay, 35
The broad bright sunset of his glorious day;
And where he first drew breath at last to fall,
Beneath the towering shades of Oakly Hall. [1] 
Quick spread the news through hamlet, field, and farm,
The labourer wiped his brow and staid his arm;40
’Twas news to him of more importance far
Than change of empires or the yells of war;
It breathed a hope which nothing could destroy,
Poor widows rose, and clapp’d their hands for joy,
Glad voices rang at every cottage door, 45
‘Good old Sir Ambrose goes to town no more.’
Well might the village bells the triumphs sound,
Well might the voice of gladness ring around;
Where sickness raged, or want allied to shame,
Sure as the sun his well-timed succour came;50
Food for the starving child, and warmth and wine
For age that totter’d in its last decline.
From him they shared the embers’ social glow;
He fed the flame that glanced along the snow,
When winter drove his storms across the sky, 55
And pierced the bones of shrinking poverty.
Sir Ambrose loved the Muses, and would pay
Due honours even to the ploughman’s lay;
Would cheer the feebler bard, and with the strong
Soar to the noblest energies of song; 60
Catch the rib-shaking laugh, or from his eye
Dash silently the tear of sympathy.
Happy old man!—with feelings such as these
The seasons all can charm, and trifles please;
And hence a sudden thought, a new-born whim, 65
Would shake his cup of pleasure to the brim,
Turn scoffs and doubts and obstacles aside,
And instant action follow like a tide.
Time past, he had on his paternal ground
With pride the latent sparks of genius found70
In many a local ballad, many a tale,
As wild and brief as cowslips in the dale,
Though unrecorded as the gleams of light
That vanish in the quietness of night.
‘Why not,’ he cried, as from his couch he rose, 75
‘To cheer my age, and sweeten my repose,
Why not be just and generous in time,
And bid my tenants pay their rents in rhyme?
For one half year they shall.—A feast shall bring
A crowd of merry faces in the spring;—80
Here, pens, boy, pens; I’ll weigh the case no more,
But write the summons:—go, go, shut the door.
“All ye on Oakly manor dwelling,
Farming, labouring, buying, selling,
Neighbours! banish gloomy looks, 85
My grey old steward shuts his books.
Let not a thought of winter’s rent
Destroy one evening’s merriment;
I ask not gold, but tribute found
Abundant on Parnassian ground. 90
Choose, ye who boast the gift, your themes
Of joy or pathos, tales or dreams,
Choose each a theme;—but, harkye, bring
No stupid ghost, no vulgar thing;
Fairies, indeed, may wind their way, 95
And sparkle through the brightest lay:
I love their pranks, their favourite green,
And, could the little sprites be seen,
Were I a king, I’d sport with them,
And dance beneath my diadem. 100
But surely fancy need not brood
O’er midnight darkness, crimes, and blood,
In magic cave or monk’s retreat,
Whilst the bright world is at her feet;
Whilst to her boundless range is given, 105
By night, by day, the lights of heaven,
And all they shine upon; whilst Love
Still reigns the monarch of the grove,
And real life before her lies
In all its thousand, thousand dies. 110
Then bring me nature, bring me sense,
And joy shall be your recompense:
On Old May-day I hope to see
All happy:—leave the rest to me.
A general feast shall cheer us all 115
Upon the lawn that fronts the hall,
With tents for shelter, laurel boughs
And wreaths of every flower that blows.
The months are wending fast away;
Farewell,—remember Old May-day.”’ 120
Surprise, and mirth, and gratitude, and jeers,
The clown’s broad wonder, th’enthusiast’s tears,
Fresh gleams of comfort on the brow of care,
The sectary’s cold shrug, the miser’s stare,
Were all excited, for the tidings flew 125
As quick as scandal the whole country through.
‘Rent paid by rhymes at Oakly may be great,
But rhymes for taxes would appal the state,’
Exclaim’d th’ exciseman,—‘and then tithes, alas!
Why there, again, ’twill never come to pass.’—130
Thus all still ventured, as the whim inclined,
Remarks as various as the varying mind:
For here Sir Ambrose sent a challenge forth,
That claim’d a tribute due to sterling worth;
And all, whatever might their host regale, 135
Agreed to share the feast and drink his ale.
Now shot through many a heart a secret fire,
A new born spirit, an intense desire
For once to catch a spark of local fame,
And bear a poet’s honourable name!140
Already some aloft began to soar,
And some to think who never thought before;
But O, what numbers all their strength applied,
Then threw despairingly the task aside
With feign’d contempt, and vow’d they’d never tried. 145
Did dairy-wife neglect to turn her cheese,
Or idling miller lose the favouring breeze;
Did the young ploughman o’er the furrows stand,
Or stalking sower swing an empty hand,
One common sentence on their heads would fall, 150
’Twas Oakly banquet had bewitch’d them all.
Loud roar’d the winds of March, with whirling snow,
One brightening hour an April breeze would blow;
Now hail, now hoar-frost bent the flow’ret’s head,
Now struggling beams their languid influence shed, 155
That scarce a cowering bird yet dared to sing
’Midst the wild changes of our island spring.
Yet, shall the Italian goatherd boasting cry,
‘Poor Albion! when hadst thou so clear a sky!’
And deem that nature smiles for him alone; 160
Her renovated beauties all his own?
No:—let our April showers by night descend,
Noon’s genial warmth with twilight stillness blend;
The broad Atlantic pour her pregnant breath,
And rouse the vegetable world from death; 165
Our island spring is rapture’s self to me,
All I have seen, and all I wish to see.
Thus came the jovial day, no streaks of red
O’er the broad portal of the morn were spread,
But one high-sailing mist of dazzling white,170
A screen of gossamer, a magic light,
Doom’d instantly, by simplest shepherd’s ken,
To reign awhile, and be exhaled at ten.
O’er leaves, o’er blossoms, by his power restored,
Forth came the conquering sun and look’d abroad;175
Millions of dew-drops fell, yet millions hung,
Like words of transport trembling on the tongue
Too strong for utt’rance:—Thus the infant boy,
With rosebud cheeks, and features tuned to joy,
Weeps while he struggles with restraint or pain,180
But change the scene, and make him laugh again,
His heart rekindles, and his cheek appears
A thousand times more lovely through his tears.
From the first glimpse of day a busy scene
Was that high swelling lawn, that destined green,185
Which shadowless expanded far and wide,
The mansion’s ornament, the hamlet’s pride;
To cheer, to order, to direct, contrive,
Even old Sir Ambrose had been up at five;
There his whole household labour’d in his view,—190
But light is labour where the task is new.
Some wheel’d the turf to build a grassy throne
Round a huge thorn that spread his boughs alone,
Rough-rin’d and bold, as master of the place;
Five generations of the Higham race 195
Had pluck’d his flowers, and still he held his sway,
Waved his white head, and felt the breath of May.
Some from the green-house ranged exotics round,
To bask in open day on English ground:
And ’midst them in a line of splendour drew200
Long wreaths and garlands, gather’d in the dew.
Some spread the snowy canvas, propp’d on high
O’er shelter’d tables with their whole supply;
Some swung the biting scythe with merry face,
And cropp’d the daisies for a dancing space. 205
Some roll’d the mouldy barrel in his might,
From prison’d darkness into cheerful light,
And fenced him round with cans; and others bore
The creaking hamper with its costly store,
Well cork’d, well flavour’d, and well tax’d, that came210
From Lusitanian mountains, dear to fame,
Whence Gama [2]  steer’d, and led the conquering way
To eastern triumphs and the realms of day.
A thousand minor tasks fill’d every hour,
’Till the sun gain’d the zenith of his power, 215
When every path was throng’d with old and young,
And many a sky-lark in his strength upsprung
To bid them welcome.—Not a face was there
But for May-day at least had banish’d care;
No cringing looks, no pauper tales to tell,220
No timid glance, they knew their host too well,—
Freedom was there, and joy in every eye:
Such scenes were England’s boast in days gone by.
Beneath the thorn was good Sir Ambrose found,
His guests an ample crescent form’d around; 225
Nature’s own carpet spread the space between,
Where blithe domestics plied in gold and green.
The venerable chaplain waved his wand,
And silence follow’d as he stretch’d his hand,
And with a trembling voice, and heart sincere,230
Implored a blessing on th’ abundant cheer.
Down sat the mingling throng, and shared a feast
With hearty welcomes given, by love increased;
A patriarch family, a close-link’d band,
True to their rural chieftain, heart and hand: 235
The deep carouse can never boast the bliss,
The animation of a scene like this.
At length the damask cloths were whisk’d away,
Like fluttering sails upon a summer’s day;
The hey-day of enjoyment found repose;240
The worthy baronet majestic rose;
They view’d him, while his ale was filling round,
The monarch of his own paternal ground.
His cup was full, and where the blossoms bow’d
Over his head, Sir Ambrose spoke aloud, 245
Nor stopp’d a dainty form or phrase to cull—
His heart elated, like his cup, was full:—
‘Full be your hopes, and rich the crops that fall;
Health to my neighbours, happiness to all.’
Dull must that clown be, dull as winter’s sleet,250
Who would not instantly be on his feet:
An echoing health to mingling shouts gave place,
‘Sir Ambrose Higham, and his noble race.’
Avaunt, Formality! thou bloodless dame,
With dripping besom quenching nature’s flame; 255
Thou cankerworm, who liv’st but to destroy,
And eat the very heart of social joy;—
Thou freezing mist round intellectual mirth,
Thou spell-bound vagabond of spurious birth,
Away! away! and let the sun shine clear,260
And all the kindnesses of life appear.
With mild complacency, and smiling brow,
The host look’d round, and bade the goblets flow;
Yet curiously anxious to behold
Who first would pay in rhymes instead of gold;265
Each eye inquiring through the ring was glanced
To see who dared the task, who first advanced;
That instant started Philip from the throng,
Philip, a farmer’s son, well known for song,—
And, as the mingling whispers round him ran,270
He humbly bow’d, and timidly began:—


[1] [All edns include a note by Bloomfield:] The seat of Sir Ambrose is situated in the author’s imagination only; the reader must build Oakly Hall where he pleases. BACK

[2] [The explorer Vasco Da Gama (c. 1469–1525) set off from Lisbon on his famous journey eastward on 8 July 1497.] BACK