A November Night’s Traveller
HE, who with journey well begun, Beneath the beam of morning's sun, Stretching his view o'er hill and dale, And distant city, (thro' its veil Of smoke, dark spires and chimnies shewing,) O'er harvest-lands with plenty flowing, What time the rous'd and busy, meeting On King's highway, exchange their greeting,-- Feels his cheer'd heart with pleasure beat, As on his way he holds. And great Delight hath he, who travels late, What time the moon doth hold her state In the clear sky, while down and dale Repose in light so pure and pale!-- While lake and pool and stream are seen Weaving their maze of silv'ry sheen,-- While cot and mansion, rock and glade, And tower and street, in light and shade Strongly contrasted, are, I trow! Grander than aught of noon-day show, Soothing the pensive mind. And yet, When moon is dark, and sun is set, Not reft of pleasure is the wight, Who, in snug chaise, at close of night Begins his journey in the dark, With crack of whip and ban-dog's bark, And jarring wheels, and children bawling, And voice of surly ostler, calling To post-boy, thro' the mingled din, Some message to a neighb'ring inn, Which sound confus'dly in his ear; The lonely way's commencing cheer. With dull November's starless sky O'er head, his fancy soars not high. The carriage lamps a white light throw Along the road, and strangely shew Familiar things which cheat the eyes, Like friends in motley masker's guise. 'What's that? or dame, or mantled maid, Or herdboy gather'd in his plaid, Which leans against yon wall his back? No; 'tis in sooth a tiny stack Of turf or peat, or rooty wood, For cottage fire the winter's food.--' 'Ha! yonder shady nook discovers A gentle pair of rustic lovers. Out on't! a pair of harmless calves, Thro' straggling bushes seen by halves.--' 'What thing of strange unshapely height Approaches slowly on the light, That like a hunch-back'd giant seems, And now is whit'ning in its beams? 'Tis but a hind, whose burly back Is bearing home a loaded sack.--' 'What's that, like spots of flecker'd snow, Which on the road's wide margin show? 'Tis linen left to bleach by night.' 'Gra'mercy on us! see I right? Some witch is casting cantraips there; The linen hovers in the air!-- Pooh! soon or late all wonders cease, We have but scared a flock of geese.--' Thus oft thro' life we do misdeem Of things that are not what they seem. Ah! could we there with as slight skathe Divest us of our cheated faith! And then belike, when chiming bells The near approach of waggon tells, He wistful looks to see it come, Its bulk emerging from the gloom, With dun tarpawling o'er it thrown, Like a huge mammoth, moving on. But yet more pleas'd, thro' murky air He spies the distant bonfire's glare; And, nearer to the spot advancing, Black imps and goblins round it dancing; And, nearer still, distinctly traces The featur'd disks of happy faces, Grinning and roaring in their glory, Like Bacchants wild of ancient story, And making murgeons to the flame, As it were play-mate of their game. Full well, I trow, could modern stage Such acting for the nonce engage, A crowded audience every night Would press to see the jovial sight; And this, from cost and squeezing free, November's nightly trav'llers see. Thro' village, lane, or hamlet going, The light from cottage window shewing Its inmates at their evening fare, By rousing fire, and earthenware-- And pewter trenchers on the shelf,-- Harmless display of worldly pelf!-- Is transient vision to the eye Of hasty trav'ller passing by; Yet much of pleasing import tells, And cherish'd in the fancy dwells, Where simple innocence and mirth Encircle still the cottage hearth. Across the road a fiery glare Doth blacksmith's open forge declare, Where furnace-blast, and measur'd din Of hammers twain, and all within,-- The brawny mates their labour plying, From heated bar the red sparks flying, And idle neighbours standing by With open mouth and dazzled eye, The rough and sooty walls with store Of chains and horse-shoes studded o'er,-- An armory of sullied sheen,-- All momently are heard and seen. Nor does he often fail to meet, In market town's dark narrow street, (Even when the night on pitchy wings The sober hour of bed-time brings,) Amusement. From the alehouse door, Having full bravely paid his score, Issues the tipsy artisan, With tipsier brother of the can, And oft to wile him homeward tries With coaxing words, so wond'rous wise! The dame demure, from visit late, Her lantern borne before in state By sloven footboy, paces slow, With patten'd feet and hooded brow. Where the seam'd window-board betrays Interior light, full closely lays The eves-dropper his curious ear, Some neighbour's fire-side talk to hear; While, from an upper casement bending, A household maid, belike, is sending From jug or ewer a slopy shower, That makes him homeward fleetly scour. From lower rooms few gleams are sent, From blazing hearth, thro' chink or rent; But from the loftier chambers peer (Where damsels doff their gentle geer, For rest preparing,) tapers bright, Which give a momentary sight Of some fair form with visage glowing, With loosen'd braids and tresses flowing, Who, busied, by the mirror stands, With bending head and up-rais'd hands, Whose moving shadow strangely falls With size enlarged on roof and walls. Ah! lovely are the things, I ween, By arrowy Speed's light glam'rie seen! Fancy, so touch'd, will long retain That quickly seen, nor seen again. But now he spies the flaring door Of bridled Swan or gilded Boar, At which the bowing waiter stands To know th' alighting guest's commands. A place of bustle, dirt, and din, Cursing without, scolding within; Of narrow means and ample boast, The trav'ller's stated halting post, Where trunks are missing or derang'd, And parcels lost and horses chang'd. Yet this short scene of noisy coil But serves our trav'ller as a foil, Enhancing what succeeds, and lending A charm to pensive quiet, sending To home and friends, left far behind, The kindliest musings of his mind; Or, should they stray to thoughts of pain, A dimness o'er the haggard train A mood and hour like this will throw, As vex'd and burthen'd spirits know. Night, loneliness, and motion are Agents of power to distance care; To distance, not discard; for then, Withdrawn from busy haunts of men, Necessity to act suspended, The present, past, and future blended, Like figures of a mazy dance, Weave round the soul a dreamy trance, Till jolting stone, or turnpike gate, Arouse him from the soothing state. And when the midnight hour is past, If thro' the night his journey last, When still and lonely is the road, Nor living creature moves abroad, Then most of all, like fabled wizard, Night slily dons her cloak and vizard, His eyes at ev'ry corner greeting, With some new slight of dext'rous cheating, And cunningly his sight betrays, Ev'n with his own lamps' partial rays. The road, that in fair simple day Thro' pasture-land or corn-fields lay, A broken hedge-row's ragged screen Skirting its weedy margin green,-- With boughs projecting, interlac'd With thorn and briar, distinctly trac'd On the deep shadows at their back, That deeper sink to pitchy black, Appearing oft to Fancy's eye, Like woven boughs of tapestrie,-- Seems now to wind thro' tangled wood, Or forest wild, where Robin Hood, With all his outlaws, stout and bold, In olden days his reign might hold, Where vagrant school-boy fears to roam, The gypsy's haunt, the woodman's home. Yea, roofless barn and ruin'd wall, As passing lights upon them fall, When favour'd by surrounding gloom, The castle's ruin'd state assume. The steamy vapour that proceeds From moisten'd hide of weary steeds, And high on either hand doth rise, Like clouds, storm-drifted, past him flies; While liquid mire, by their hoof'd feet Cast up, adds magic to the cheat, Glancing presumptuously before him, Like yellow diamonds of Cairngorum. How many are the subtle ways, By which sly Night the eye betrays, When in her wild fantastic mood, By lone and wakeful trav'ller woo'd! Shall I proceed? O no! for now Upon the black horizon's brow Appears a line of tawny light; Thy reign is ended, witching Night! And soon thy place a wizard elph, (But only second to thyself In glam'rie's art) will quietly take, Spreading o'er meadow, vale, and brake, Her misty shroud of pearly white:-- A modest, tho' deceitful wight, Who in a softer, gentler way, Will with the wakeful fancy play, When knolls of woods, their bases losing, Are islands on a lake reposing, And streeted town, of high pretence, As rolls away the vapour dense, With all its wavy curling billows, Is but a row of pollard willows,-- O no! my trav'ller, still and lone, A far fatiguing way hath gone; His eyes are dim, he stoops his crest, And folds his arms, and goes to rest.
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