Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
Sweet Nature’s Voice
 
Arthur Joseph Munby (b. 1828)
 
 
From “Susan: A Poem of Degrees”
 
 
HER Master gave the signal, with a look:
Then, timidly as if afraid, she took
In her rough hands the Laureate’s dainty book,
And straight began. But when she did begin,
Her own mute sense of poesy within        5
Broke forth to hail the poet, and to greet
His graceful fancies and the accents sweet
In which they are express’d. Oh, lately lost,
Long loved, long honor’d, and whose Captain’s post
No living bard is competent to fill—        10
How strange, to the deep heart that now is still,
And to the vanish’d hand, and to the ear
Whose soft melodious measures are so dear
To us who cannot rival them—how strange,
If thou, the lord of such a various range,        15
Hadst heard this new voice telling Arden’s tale!
For this was no prim maiden, scant and pale,
Full of weak sentiment, and thin delight
In pretty rhymes, who mars the resonant might
Of noble verse with arts rhetorical        20
And simulated frenzy: not at all!
This was a peasant woman; large and strong,
Redhanded, ignorant, unused to song—
Accustom’d rather to the rudest prose.
And yet, there lived within her rustic clothes        25
A heart as true as Arden’s; and a brain,
Keener than his, that counts it false and vain
To seem aught else than simply what she is.
How singular, her faculty of bliss!
Bliss in her servile work; bliss deep and full        30
In things beyond the vision of the dull,
Whate’er their rank: things beautiful as these
Sonorous lines and solemn harmonies
Suiting the tale they tell of; bliss in love—
Ah, chiefly that! which lifts her soul above        35
Its common life, and gives to labors coarse
Such fervor of imaginative force
As makes a passion of her basest toil.
Surely this servant-dress was but a foil
To her more lofty being! As she read,        40
Her accent was as pure, and all she said
As full of interest and of varied grace
As were the changeful moods, that o’er her face
Pass’d, like swift clouds across a windy sky,
At each sad stage of Enoch’s history.        45
Such ease, such pathos, such abandonment
To what she utter’d, moulded as she went
Her soft sweet voice, and with such self-control
Did she, interpreting the poet’s soul,
Bridle her own, that when the tale was done        50
I look’d at her, amaz’d: she seem’d like one
Who from some sphere of music had come down,
And donn’d the white cap and the cotton gown
As if to show how much of skill and art
May dwell unthought of, in the humblest heart.        55
Yet there was no great mystery to tell:
She felt it deeply, so she read it well.
 

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