Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Poems.
III. A Reverie
By Mary M. Singleton (“Violet Fane”) (1843–1905)
 
BY the side of a ruined terrace
I sat in the early spring;
The leaves were so young that the speckled hen-thrush
Could be seen as she sat in the hawthorn bush,
Falt’ring and faint at the cuckoo’s cry;        5
The cypress looked black against the green
Of folded chestnut and budding beech,
And up from the slumbering vale beneath
Came now and again the ominous ring
Of a passing bell for a village death.        10
Yet a spirit of hope went whispering by,
Through the wakening woods, o’er the daisied mead;
And up in the stem of the strait Scotch fir
An insolent squirrel, in holiday brush,
Went scampering gaily, at utmost speed,        15
To gnaw at his fir-apples out of reach.
All seemed so full of life and stir,
Of twitter and twinkle, and shimmer and sheen,
That I closed my book, for I could not read;
So I sat me down to muse instead,        20
By the side of the ruined terrace,
In the breath of the early spring.
 
Alas that the sound of a passing bell,
(Only proclaiming some villager’s death),
As it echoes up from the valley beneath,        25
Should summon up visions of trestle and shroud!
And pity it is that yon marble urn,
Fall’n and broken should seem to tell
Of days that are done with, and may not return
Whatever the future shall chance to be!        30
Hollow and dead as the empty shell
Of last year’s nut as it lies on the grass,
Or the frail laburnum’s withered seed,
That hang like felons on gallows-tree:
This is a truth that half aloud        35
We may but murmur with bated breath:
How many sat as I sit to-day,
In the vanished hours of the olden time,
Watching the Spring in her early prime
Beam, and blossom, and go her way!        40
Squirrels that sport and doves that coo,
And leaves that twinkle against the blue,
A green woodpecker and screeching jay,
Ye are purposeless things that perish and pass,
Yet you wanton and squander your transient day,—        45
My soul is sickened at sight of you!
‘I had rather be shrouded and coffined and dead’
(To my innermost soul I, sighing, said)
‘Than know no pleasure save love and play!’
Then all seemed so full of the odour of Death        50
(Though I smelt the gorse-blossom blown from the heath),
That I opened my book and tried to read,
Since my soul was too saddened to muse instead,
By the side of the ruined terrace,
In the breath of the early spring.        55
 
I wonder now if it could be right
For the Great First Cause to let such things be?
To plan this blending of black and white,—
(I know for myself I had made all bright!)
And to mould me, and make me, and set me here,        60
Without my leave and against my will,
With never so much as a word in mine ear
As to how I may pilot my bark through the night?
Was it well, I wonder, or was it ill,
That I should feel such a wish to be wise,        65
And dream of flying, and long for sight,
With faltering footsteps and bandaged eyes,
To be blamed the more that I may not see,
As I stagger about in a wilderness,
And know no more than the worms and the flies?        70
I feel at my heart that it is not right—
‘Nothing is right and nothing is just;
We sow in ashes and reap the dust;
I think, on the whole, I would rather be
The wandering emmet, that loses its way        75
On the desert-plain of my muslin-dress,
Than be moulded as either woman or man.’
(All this I said in my bitterness.)
‘Yet who is to help me and who is to blame?’
But just at that moment a hurrying sound,        80
A sound as of hurrying pattering feet,
In the dry leaves under the hawthorn bush,
Troubled the heart of the speckled hen-thrush,
Whilst the love-sick pigeon that called to her mate,
And the green woodpecker and screeching jay,        85
Outspread their wings and flew scared away;
And on a sudden, with leap and bound,
My neighbour’s collie, marked black and tan,
Sprang panting into the garden seat,
His collar aglow with my neighbour’s name!        90
So my neighbour himself cannot be far,
Ah, I care not now how wrong things are!…
I know I am ignorant, foolish, and small
As this wandering emmet that climbs my dress,
Yet I know that now I had answered ‘Yes,’        95
(Were I asked my will by the Father of all);
‘I desire to be, I am glad to be born!’
And all because, on a soft May morn,
My neighbour’s collie-dog, black and tan,
Leapt over the privet-hedge, and ran        100
With a rush, and a cry, and a bound to my side,
And because I saw his master ride
(Laying spurs to his willing horse)
Over the flaming yellow gorse.
Awake, my heart! I may not wait!        105
Let me arise and open the gate,
To breathe the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living, and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death,        110
(For mine ears are deaf to the passing-bell—
I think he is buried now, out of the way;)
And I say to myself, ‘It is good, it is well;
Squirrels that sport and doves that coo,
And leaves that twinkle against the blue,        115
And green woodpecker and screeching jay,—
Good-morrow, all! I am one of you!’
Since now I need neither muse nor read,
I may listen, and loiter, and live instead;
And take my pleasure in love and play,        120
And share my pastime with all things gay,
By the side of the ruined terrace,
In the breath of the early spring.
 
 
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