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Charlotte Turner Smith (Шарлотта Смит)

The Lark’s Nest

'TRUST only to thyself;' the maxim's sound;
For, tho' life's choicest blessing be a friend,
Friends do not very much abound;
Or, where they happen to be found,
And greatly thou on friendship shouldst depend,
Thou'lt find it will not bear
Much wear and tear;
Nay ! that even kindred, cousin, uncle, brother,
Has each perhaps to mind his own affair;
Attend to thine then; lean not on another.

Esop assures us that the maxim's wise;
And by a tale illustrates his advice:
When April's bright and fickle beams
Saw every feather'd pair
In the green woodlands, or by willowy streams,
Busied in matrimonial schemes;
A Lark, amid the dewy air,
Woo'd, and soon won a favourite fair;
And, in a spot by springing rye protected,
Her labour sometimes shared;
While she, with bents, and wither'd grass collected,
Their humble domicile prepared;
Then, by her duty fix'd, the tender mate
Unwearied prest

Their future progeny beneath her breast;
And little slept, and little ate,
While her gay lover, with a careless heart,
As is the custom of his sex,
Full little recks
The coming family; but like a dart,
From his low homested, with the morning springs;
And far above the floating vapour, sings
At such an height,
That even the shepherd-lad upon the hill,
Hearing his matin note so shrill,
With shaded eyes against the lustre bright,
Scarce sees him twinkling in a flood of light.
But hunger, spite of all her perseverance,
Was one day urgent on his patient bride;
The truant made not his appearance,

That her fond care might be a while supplied,­
So, because hunger will not be denied,
She leaves her nest reluctant; and in haste
But just allows herself to taste,
A dew drop, and a few small seeds­
Ah ! how her fluttering bosom bleeds,
When the dear cradle she had fondly rear'd
All desolate appear'd !
And ranging wide about the field she saw
A setter huge, whose unrelenting jaw
Had crush'd her half-existing young;
Long o'er her ruin'd hopes the mother hung,
And vainly mourn'd,
Ere from the clouds her wanderer return'd:­
Tears justly shed by beauty, who can stand them ?
He heard her plaintive tale with unfeign'd sorrow,

But, as his motto was, 'Nil desperandum,'
Bade her hope better fortune for to-morrow;
Then from the fatal spot afar, they sought
A safer shelter, having bought
Experience, which is always rather dear;
And very near
A grassy headland, in a field of wheat,
They fix'd, with cautious care, their second seat­
But this took time; May was already past,
The white thorn had her silver blossoms cast,
And there the Nightingale, to lovely June,
Her last farewell had sung;
No longer reign'd July's intemperate noon,
And high in heaven the reaper's moon,
A little crescent hung,
Ere from their shells appear'd the plumeless young.

Oh ! then with how much tender care,
The busy pair,
Watch'd and provided for the panting brood !
For then, the vagrant of the air,
Soar'd not to meet the morning star,
But, never from the nestlings far,
Explor'd each furrow, every sod for food;
While his more anxious partner tried
From hostile eyes, the helpless group to hide;
Attempting now, with labouring bill, to guide
The enwreathing bindweed round the nest;
Now joy'd to see the cornflower's azure crest
Above it waving, and the cockle grow,
Or poppies throw
Their scarlet curtains round;
While the more humble children of the ground,

Freak'd pansies, fumitory, pimpernel,
Circled with arras light, the secret cell:­
But who against all evils can provide ?
Hid, and overshadow'd thus, and fortified,
By teasel, and the scabious' thready disk,
Corn-marygold, and thistles; too much risk
The little household still were doom'd to run,
For the same ardent sun,
Whose beams had drawn up many an idle flower,
To fence the lonely bower,
Had by his powerful heat,
Matured the wheat;
And chang'd of hue, it hung its heavy head,
While every rustling gale that blew along
From neighbouring uplands, brought the rustic song
Of harvest merriment: then full of dread,

Lest, not yet fully fledg'd, her race
The reaper's foot might crush, or reaper's dog might trace,
Or village child, too young to reap or bind,
Loitering around, her hidden treasure find;
The mother bird was bent
To move them, e'er the sickle came more near;
And therefore, when for food abroad she went,
(For now her mate again was on the ramble)
She bade her young report what they should hear:
So the next hour they cried, 'They'll all assemble,
'The farmer's neighbours, with the dawn of light,
'Therefore, dear mother, let us move to night.'
'Fear not, my loves,' said she, 'you need not tremble;
'Trust me, if only neighbours are in question,
'Eat what I bring, and spoil not your digestion
'Or sleep, for this.' Next day away she flew,

And that no neighbour came was very true;
But her returning wings the Larklings knew,
And quivering round her, told, their landlord said,
'Why, John ! the reaping must not be delay'd,
'By peep of day to-morrow we'll begin,
'Since now so many of our kin
'Have promis'd us their help to set about it.'
'Still,' quoth the bird, 'I doubt it;
'The corn will stand to-morrow.' So it prov'd;
The morning's dawn arriv'd­but never saw
Or uncle, cousin, brother, or brother-in-law;
And not a reap-hook mov'd !
Then to his son the angry farmer cried,
'Some folks are little known 'till they are tried;
'Who would have thought we had so few well-wishers !
'What ! neither neighbour Dawes, nor cousin Fishers,

'Nor uncle Betts, nor even my brother Delves,
'Will lend an hand, to help us get the corn in ?
'Well then, let you and me, to-morrow morning,
'E'en try what we can do with it ourselves.'
'Nay,' quoth the Lark, ''tis time then to be gone:
'What a man undertakes himself is done.'
Certes, she was a bird of observation;
For very true it is, that none,
Whatever be his station,
Lord of a province, tenant of a mead,
Whether he fill a cottage, or a throne,
Or guard a flock, or guide a nation,
Is very likely to succeed,
Who manages affairs by deputation. 

Charlotte Turner Smith's other poems:
  1. Sonnet Written at Penshurst in Autumn, 1788
  2. Sonnet Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex
  3. Sonnet 26. To the River Arun
  4. Sonnet 63. The Gossamer
  5. Sonnet 55. The Return of the Nightingale. Written in May, 1791

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