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Poem by John Townsend Trowbridge


A Home Idyl


I.

OVER the valley the storm-clouds blow,
Dark and low;
The wild air whitens with flying snow.

Through the timber two lovers ride,
Side by side,
Wrapped in a shaggy buffalo-hide.

The winter has paved for their sleigh a track
Over the back
Of the river rolling deep and black.

Encircled by trees which the axe has spared,
In a bared
White space by the bank is their home prepared.

There Love in the wilderness far aloof
Wove the roof:
Boughs and bark are the warp and woof.

A small rude hut amid stumps and knolls,Ч
Cabin of poles,
With sticks and clay for the chinks and holes.

To that lonely door his bride he brings:
Back it swings:
The fire is kindled, the kettle sings.

Though wooden platter and pewter plate
Indicate
Lowly station and small estate;

And happy they if their little hoard
Will afford
Daily bread for that rough-hewn board;

Though the snow, whirled round their cabin, sifts
Through the rifts,
And up to the window climb the drifts,Ч

Let the forest roar and the tempest blow!
Drive the snow!
In the heart of the hut is a heavenly glow.

Love that is mighty and Hope that is great,
Consecrate
Wooden platter and pewter plate.

Not to mansions where abide
Wealth and pride,
Comes ever a happier Christmas-tide.

In the privacy of their safe retreat
It is sweet
To hear the rush of the whirlwind's feet;

To hear the tempest's whistling lash
Smite the sash,
And the mighty hemlocks howl and clash.

II.

Far from the city, its life and din,
Friends and kin,
Is the fresh new world which they begin.

In and about with busy feet,
Light and fleet,
She keeps his cabin cozy and neat.

With shouldered axe I see him go
Through the snow,
To clear the land for harrow and hoe.

Over his roof-tree curls the smoke,
While the stroke
Of his axe resounds on ash and oak.

From the log at his feet, to left and right,
Fly the bright
Splintered chips in the wintry light.

When the warm days come in early spring,
She will bring
Her work to the woods and sew and sing.

'T is pleasant to feel her watching near,
Joy to hear
Her voice in the woodland, high and clear!

Together they talk in new-fallen tree,
And foresee
The work of their hands in the days to be.

Where the beech comes crashing down, and the lithe
Branches writhe,
He will turn the furrow and swing the scythe.

A rose by the doorway she will set,
Nor forget
Pansies and pinks and mignonette.

He will burn the clearing and plant the corn;
She will adorn
Their house for him and their babe unborn.

III.

Swiftly ever, without a sound,
Earth goes round,
Air and ocean and solid ground.

Swiftly for them as for you and me,
Till they see
What they foresaw in the fallen tree.

Before their door in the summer morn,
Waves the corn.
'T is Christmas again, and a babe is born.

Not for the glories of wealth and art,
Would they part
With that small treasure of home and heart.

Dear Heaven! what springs of bliss are stirred,
When is heard
Its laugh or its first low lisping word!

A flower let fall by the Infinite
Love has lit
In their path, and brought God's peace with it.

IV.

The world goes round, and year by year
Still appear
Children that add to the household cheer.

Now a daughter and now a son,
One by one
They are cradled, they creep, they walk, they run.

Sons and daughters, until behold!
Young and old,
A Jacob's-ladder with steps of gold!

A ladder of little heads! each fair
Head a stair
For the angels that visit the parent pair.

V

Blessèd be childhood! Even its chains
Are our gains!
Welcome and blessèd, with all the pains,

Losses, and upward vanishings
Of light wings,Ч
With all the sorrow and toil it brings,

All burdens that ever those small feet bore
To our door,Ч
Blessèd and welcome for evermore!

VI.

What new delight, when over their toys
Girls and boys
In the Christmas dawn make a joyous noise!

Floor-boards clatter and roof-boards ring,
When they spring
To the chimney-nook where the stockings swing.

What glee, whenever with wild applause
One withdraws
Some wonderful gift of Santa Claus!

Let the happy little ones shout and play
All the day!
But the hearts of the parents, where are they?

No new-made home inthe woods, but, lo!
Swift or slow,
The same griefs follow, the same weeds grow.

To the virgin wilderness, toward the far
Evening star,
Though we flee, there the wind-blown evils are.

The lovers had dreamed of a home without
Pain and doubt;
But sorrow and Death have found them out.

The loveliest child of their love is laid
In the shade
Of the lonely pines, more lonely made

By the little grave where the vague winds blow,
And the snow
Curves mockingly over the mound below.

Let the children all the Christmas Day
Shout and play!
But the hearts of the parents turn away,

By tenderly mournful thoughts subdued,
To the rude,
Low grave in the vast gray solitude.

VII.

The world goes round with its sorrow and sin:
Now begin
The boys to plow and the girls to spin.

Gone long ago the hut of poles,
Stumps and knolls:
A frame-house now is the shelter of souls.

By the river are farms all up and down,
And the crown
Of its steeples shows the neighboring town.

There, market and mill for the farmer's crops,
Schools and shops,
And white spires over the orchard-tops.

No more, to the terror of flocks and fowls,
Hoot the owls
In the woods near by, nor the gaunt wolf howls.

Where the antlered buck on the tender boughs
Used to browse,
Sheep come to shed and the cattle house.

Where the panther pounced on the passing fawn,
Lies the lawn
With its untracked dew in the chill gray dawn.

Highways are braided and swamps reclaimed;
Towns are named;
Life is softened, manners are tamed.

For youthful culture and social grace
Soon replace
The first rude life of a pioneer race;

And men are polished, through act and speech,
Each by each,
As pebbles are smoothed on the rolling beach.

VIII.

The farmer has hands both strong and skilled,
Fair fields tilled,
A house well kept and big barns filled.

In the porch at sunrise he will stand,
Flushed and tanned,
And view well pleased his prosperous land.

Crib and stable and pear-shaped stacks,
Stalls and racks,
Have come in the track of the fire and axe.

Cider in cask and fruit in bin
Are laid in
For the gloomy months that will soon begin.

Sons and daughters, a gathering throng,
Fair and strong,
Fill the old house with life and song.

With threshing and spinning, wheat and wool,
House and school,
Heads are busy and hands are full.

Then spelling-matches and evening calls,
Country balls,
And sleighing-parties when the snow falls.

IX.

Foot-prints of some shy lover show,
Where they go
From village to farm, in the morning snow.

The farmer, florid and well-to-do,
Blusters, "Who
Is that bashful boy comes here to woo?"

With burning blushes and down-dropt eyes,
Nellie tries
To tell her trouble, but only cries.

The simple secret which poor Nell
Cannot tell,
The anxious mother interprets well;

And out of a wise and tender heart
Takes the part
Of her child with gentle, persuasive art.

"Somebody once came wooing me,
Shy as he!
They may be poor, but so were we.

"'No matter for weath and grand display,'
You would say:
'We can be happy!' Then why can't they?

"We are proud, who were humble then; but, oh!
High or low,
Happier days we shall never know!"

"Pooh, pooh! well, well!" He yields assent,
But must vent
His grudging fatherly discontent,

That she, their child, so jealously reared,
So endeared
By all they have borne for her, hoped and feared,

From them and their love should turn away,
To obey
The same old law, in the same old way,

And, placing her hand in the hand of a man,
Work and plan,
Beginning the world as they began.

X.

He yields assent: the bright heaven clears,
As she hears;
The red dawn breaks through her doubts and fears.

The days bring signs of a coming change:
What is the strange
New raiment the busy hands arrange?

The patterns they shape and the seams they sew?
In the glow
Of the clear dusk, over the rosy snow,

The lover comes to the farmer's door;
Shy no more,
Shy and abashed, as heretofore,

But manly of mien and open-browed,
Happy and proud
That his love is approved and his suit allowed.

For the father, who frowned, at last has smiled,
Reconciled,
On the modest youth who has won his child.

"Right sort of chap; I like his way!
What d' ye say?
We'll have him at dinner Christmas Day."

XI.

A wild white world lies all around,
Winter-bound;
River and roof and tree and ground.

And the windows are all, at Christmas-time,
Thick with rime.
But the poultry is fat and the cider prime.

The thankful mother brings forth her best
For their guest;
And the farmer is merry with tale and jest.

Ruby jellies in autumn stored
Crown the board;
The goose is carved and the cider poured.

The house shows never in all the year
Better cheer,
For guest more honored or friend more dear.

Here the doctor has sat, and as he quaffed,
Praised the draught;
At those old stories the parson has laughed.

And there with his host by the fire, the great
Magistrate
Has puffed, in familiar têete-à-tête.

The daughter listens, and glad is she,
Glad to see
Father and lover so well agree.

She listens and watches with joy and pride,
When beside
The glorious chimney, glowing wide,

They bask in the blaze of the bounteous oak,
Bask and smoke,
And the yound man laughs at the elder's joke.

Lover's laughter that will not fail,
Though the tale
Be sometimes dull, or the joke be stale.

He will laugh and jest, or in graver mood
Hearken to good
Sagacious counsel, as young men should.

He reasons well; and his wit is found
Sweet and sound;
He can pass opinion and stand his ground.

Feats of strength and of foolery, too,
He can do,
When he joins in the games of the younger crew.

He opens his watch for the boys to see,
On his knee;
And sings them a merry song, may be.

She shares his triumph, and thrilled to tears
Overhears
Words meant for only the mother's ears.

"Well, yes," says the farmer, all aglow,
Speaking low;
"As likely a fellow as any I know!"

To her pleased fancy the sweetest word
Ever heardЧ
His praise of the man her love preferred!

And well may parent and child rejoice,
When the voice
Of prudence approves the young heart's choice.

XII.

In spring the lovers pass elate
Through the gate
With golden hinges and bolts of fate.

The gate swings open; the gate is passed;
And at last,
For evil or good, the bolts are fast.

She may bid farewell, or linger still;
And at will
Her feet may often recross the sill,

And tread again the familiar floor;
Yet a door
Has closed behind her for evermore.

XIII.

'T is the exodus of youth begun;
One by one,
Now a daughter and now a son,

They are wooed, they woo, they pass elate
Through the gate
With golden hinges and bolts of fate.

Some fall by the way: alas, for those
Shall unclose
The door of the Darkness no man knows!

Two ways forever the house of breath
Openeth,
The way of life and the way of death.

Once, may be twice, a maid shall ride,
Now a bride,
Now in a pale robe by no man's side.

Two phantoms, traced upon every wall,
Wait for all,
A shining bridal, a low black pall.

Though blessed the dwellers and charmed the spot,
Palace or cot,
No home is exempt from the common lot.

XIV.

Laurels in life's first summer glow
Rarely grow;
But honors thicken on heads of snow.

There is a lustre of swords and shields,
Well-fought fields;
The power the statesman or patriot wields;

The glory that gleams from righted wrongs,
Or belongs
To the prophet's words or the poet's songs,Ч

High thoughts that shine like the Pleiades
Over seas!
But worthy of worship, even with these,

Is the fame of an honest citizen,
Now and then;
The good opinion of plain good men.

The farmer, solid and dignified,
Through the wide,
Fair valley on many affairs shall ride:

Through highway and by-way, country and town,
Up and down,
He shall ride in the light of his own renown.

In the halls of state, with outstretched hand,
He shall stand,
And counsel the Solons of the land.

Neighbors, wearying of the law's
Quirks and flaws,
To his good sense submit their cause.

Their cause with wary, impartial eye
He will try,
And many a snarl of the law untie.

If simple and upright men there be,
Such is he:
A life like a broad, green, sheltering tree,

For shade in the wayside heat and dust:
All men trust
His virtue, and know his judgments just.

XV.

Not all the honors that come with age
Can assuage
The pains of its long late pilgrimage.

The world's fair offerings, great and small,
What are they all,
When the heart has losses and griefs befall?

One by one to the parents came
Babes to name:
One by one they have passed the same.

Hither and thither, each to his own,
All have flown,
Like birds from the nest when their wings have grown.

Beginning again the same old strife;
Husband and wife
Twisting the strands of the cord of life;

Weaving ever the endless chain,
Pleasure and pain,
The gladness of action, the joy of gain.

Hither and thither, over the zone,
All have flown,
Like thistle-down by the four winds blown.

One has power, and one has wealth
Got by stealth:
Happiest they who have hope and health.

Into the farther and wilder West
Some have pressed;
Some are weary, and some are at rest.

Hither and thither, like seed that is sown,
Each to his own!
What pangs of parting these doors have known!

The tears of the young who go their way,
Last a day;
But the grief is long of the old who stay.

Within these gates, where they have been left,
Long bereft,
With fond ties broken and old hearts cleft,

They have stood, and gazing across the snow,
Felt the woe
Of seeing the last of their children go.

Now all are scattered, like leaves that are strewn:
Through the lone,
Forsaken boughs let the wild winds moan!

XVI.

But new life comes as the old life goes,
Life yet glows!
In children's children the fresh tide flows.

The heart of the homestead warms to the core,
When once more
Little feet patter on path and floor.

In the best-wrought life there is still a reft,
Something left
Forever unfinished, a broken weft.

But merciful Nature makes amends,
When she sends
Youth, that takes up our raveled ends,

Our hopes, our loves, that they be not quite
Lost to sight,
But leave behind us a fringe of light.

XVII.

Age is a garden of faded flowers,
Ruined bowers,
Peopled by cares and failing powers;

Where Pain with his crutch and lonely Grief
Grope with brief,
Slow steps over withered stalk and leaf.

But the love of children is like some rare
Heavenly air,
That makes long Indian summer there;

A youth in age, when the skies yet glow,
Soft winds blow,
And hearts keep glad under locks of snow.

XVIII.

So the old couple long abide
In the wide
Old-fashioned house by the river side.

Is life but a pool of trouble and sin?
Theirs has been
As a cup to pour Heaven's mercies in!

Happy are they who, calm and chaste,
Freely taste
Each day's brimmed measure, nor haste nor waste;

Who love not the world too well, nor hate;
But await
With faith the coming of unknown fate;

Pleased amid simple sights and sounds,
In these bounds
Of a life which Infinite Life surrounds!

With doubt and bitterness and ennui,
Life can be
But an ashy fruit by the heart's Dead Sea.

To cheerful endeavor and sacrifice
It shall rise
Each day forever a new surprise.

XIX.

Now daughters and sons, from far and near,
Reappear,
And the day of all golden days is here.

Experienced matrons, world-wise men
Come again:
They are seven to-day who once were ten.

Are these the children who left your door?
Look once more!
O mother! are these the babes you bore?

Where's she, who was once so fresh and fair?
Nell is there,
A grandmother now with silvered hair!

And is this the lover who came to woo?
Now he too
Is solid and florid and well-to-do.

One has acres and railroad shares,
But no heirs;
One, a house full of children and poor man's cares.

But all distinction in life to-day
Falls away,
Like costume dropped with the parts they play.

Here all, whatever success they claim,
Rank the same;
And the half-forgotten household name,

As in old days, rings out again:
Now as then
It is Tom and Nellie and Sallie and Ben.

All smiles, all tears, through a shining haze,
In a maze
Of wonder and joy, the old folks gaze.

Three generations around them stand,
Hand in hand,
As the petals of some vast flower expand.

Sons, daughters, husbands and wives inclose
Younger rows,
Children's children, and children of those:

Whose children may yet with a living girth
Circle earth:
Oh infinite marvel of life and birth!

This is the crowning hour that cheers
Failing years,
This is the solace of many tears.

Past sorrows, viewed from that sunset height,
Fade from sight,
Or glimmer far off in softened light.

Remembered mercies and joys increase,
Trials cease,
And all is blessedness, all is peace.

XX.

The world goes round with its hopes and fears,
Joys and tears:
'T is Christmas again, in the latter years.

To the white grave-yard, through the snow,
Dark and slow,
I see a solemn procession go.

Where first he hollowed the mold and piled,
In the wild
Great woods, the mound of his little child,Ч

Softly muffled to sight and tread,
Lies outspread
The field of the unremembering dead.

Neighbor with neighbor sleeps below,
Foe with foe,
Their quarrels forgotten long ago.

Once more, with its burden that goes not back,
Moves the black
Far-followed hearse, on its frequent track,

To the voiceless bourne of all the vast
Peopled past:
Thither, from all life's ways at last,

From all its raptures and all its woes,
Thither goes
The old patriarch to his long repose.

Close by where children and wife are laid,
Leans a spade
By the dark heaped earth of a grave just made.

The heavily-laden firs, snow-crowned,
Droop around,
With tent-like branches that sweep the ground.

The slow procession makes halt amid
Slabs half-hid,
Snow-mantled tablet and pyramid;

Whose fairest marble looks poor and pale
By the frail
And careless sculpture of snow and gale.

The trestles are set, the bier they place
In mid-space,
And lift the lid from the upturned face,Ч

Still smiling, as when the soul took flight
In a bright
Last vision of sudden angelic light.

Where, scheming world, are your triumphs now?
All things bow
Before Death's pallid and awful brow.

Hearts are humbled and heads are bare,
While the prayer
Is wafted far on the wintry air.

Friends gather and pass, and tears are shed
Over the dead:
They gather and pass with reverent tread.

They have looked their last and turned away;
From the day
Veil forever the face of clay!

The glory that gilds this wondrous ball,
Lighting all,
No more forever on him shall fall.

The throng moves outward; clangs the great
Iron gate:
All's ended: lonely and desolate

Appears, in the white and silent ground,
One dark mound;
And the world goes round, the world goes round.



John Townsend Trowbridge


John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. Dorothy in the Garret
  2. Old Man Gram
  3. The Old Burying-Ground
  4. Providence
  5. The Old Man of the Mountains under the Moon and Stars


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