Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Sunthin’ in the Pastoral Line
By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
From Biglow Papers

ONCE git a smell o’ musk into a draw,
An’ it clings hold like precerdents in law:
Your gra’ma’am put it there,—when, goodness knows,—
To jes’ this-worldify her Sunday-clo’es;
But the old chist wun’t sarve her gran’son’s wife,        5
(For, ’thout new funnitoor, wut good in life?)
An’ so ole clawfoot, from the precinks dread
O’ the spare chamber, slinks into the shed,
Where, dim with dust, it fust or last subsides
To holdin’ seeds, an’ fifty things besides;        10
But better days stick fast in heart an’ husk,
An’ all you keep in’t gits a scent o’ musk.
Jes’ so with poets: wut they’ve airly read
Gits kind o’ worked into their heart an’ head,
So’s’t they can’t seem to write but jest on sheers        15
With furrin countries or played-out ideers,
Nor hev a feelin’, ef it doosn’t smack
O’ wut some critter chose to feel ’way back:
This makes ’em talk o’ daises, larks, an’ things,
Ez though we’d nothin’ here that blows an’ sings,—        20
(Why, I’d give more for one live bobolink
Than a square mile o’ larks in printer’s ink,)—
This makes ’em think our fust ’o May is May,
Which’t ain’t, for all the almanicks can say.
O little city-gals! don’t never go it        25
Blind on the word o’ noospaper or poet!
They’re apt to puff, an’ May-day seldom looks
Up in the country ez it doos in books;
They’re no more like than hornets’ nests an’ hives,
Or printed sarmons be to holy lives.        30
I, with my trouses perched on cowhide boots,
Tuggin’ my foundered feet out by the roots,
Hev seen ye come to fling on April’s hearse
Your muslin nosegays from the milliner’s,
Puzzlin’ to find dry ground your queen to choose,        35
An’ dance your throats sore in morocker shoes:
I’ve seen ye, an’ felt proud, thet, come wut would,
Our Pilgrim stock wuz pithed with hardihood.
Pleasure doos make us Yankees kind o’ winch,
Ez though ’twuz sunthin’ paid for by the inch;        40
But yit we du contrive to worry thru,
Ef Dooty tells us thet the thing’s to du,
An’ kerry a hollerday, ef we set out,
Ez stiddily ez though ’twuz a redoubt.
I, country-born an’ bred, know where to find        45
Some blooms thet make the season suit the mind,
An’ seem to metch the doubtin’ bluebird’s notes,—
Half-vent’rin’ liverworts in furry coats,
Bloodroots, whose rolled-up leaves ef you oncurl,
Each on ’em’s cradle to a baby-pearl,—        50
But these are jes’ Spring’s pickets; sure ez sin,
The rebble frosts’ll try to drive ’em in;
For half our May’s so awfully like Mayn’t,
’Twould rile a Shaker or an evrige saint;
Though I own up I like our back’ard springs        55
Thet kind o’ haggle with their greens an’ things,
An’ when you ’most give up, ’ithout more words
Toss the fields full o’ blossoms, leaves, an’ birds:
Thet’s Northun natur’, slow, an’ apt to doubt,
But when it doos git stirred, ther’s no gin-out!        60
Fust come the blackbirds clatt’rin’ in tall trees,
An’ settlin’ things in windy Congresses,—
Queer politicians, though, for I’ll be skinned
Ef all on ’em don’t head against the wind.
’Fore long the trees begin to show belief,—        65
The maple crimsons to a coral-reef,
Then saffern swarms swing off from all the willers
So plump they look like yaller caterpillars,
Then gray hoss-ches’nuts leetle hands unfold
Softer’n a baby’s be at three days old:        70
Thet’s robin-redbreast’s almanick; he knows
Thet arter this ther’s only blossom-snows;
So, choosin’ out a handy crotch an’ spouse,
He goes to plast’rin’ his adobë house.
Then seems to come a hitch,—things lag behind,        75
Till some fine mornin’ Spring makes up her mind,
An’ ez, when snow-swelled rivers cresh their dams
Heaped-up with ice thet dovetails in an’ jams,
A leak comes spirtin’ thru some pin-hole cleft,
Grows stronger, fercer, tears out right an’ left,        80
Then all the waters bow themselves an’ come,
Suddin, in one great slope o’ shedderin’ foam,
Jes’ so our Spring gits every thin’ in tune,
An’ gives one leap from April into June:
Then all comes crowdin’ in; afore you think,        85
Young oak-leaves mist the side-hill woods with pink;
The cat-bird in the laylock-bush is loud;
The orchards turn to heaps o’ rosy cloud;
Red-cedars blossom tu, though few folks know it,
An’ look all dipt in sunshine like a poet;        90
The lime-trees pile their solid stacks o’ shade,
An’ drows’ly simmer with the bees’ sweet trade;
In ellum-shrouds the flashin’ hang-bird clings
An’ for the summer vy’ge his hammock slings:
All down the loose-walled lanes in archin’ bowers        95
The barb’ry droops its strings o’ golden flowers,
Whose shrinkin’ hearts the school-gals love to try
With pins,—they’ll worry yourn so, boys, bimeby!
But I don’t love your cat’logue style,—do you?—
Ez ef to sell off Natur’ by vendoo;        100
One word with blood in’t’s ez twice ez good ez two:
’Nuff sed, June’s bridesman, poet o’ the year,
Gladness on wings, the bobolink, is here;
Half-hid in tip-top apple-blooms he swings,
Or climbs aginst the breeze with quiverin’ wings,        105
Or, givin’ way to ’t in a mock despair,
Runs down, a brook o’ laughter, thru the air.
I ollus feel the sap start in my veins
In Spring, with curus heats an’ prickly pains,
Thet drive me, when I git a chance, to walk        110
Off by myself to hev a privit talk
With a queer critter thet can’t seem to ’gree
Along o’ me like most folks,—Mister Me.
Ther’ is times when I’m unsoshle ez a stone,
An’ sort o’ suffocate to be alone,—        115
I’m crowded jes’ to think thet folks are nigh,
An’ can’t bear nothin’ closer than the sky;
Now the wind’s full ez shifty in the mind
Ez wut it is ou’-doors, ef I ain’t blind,
An, sometimes, in the fairest sou’west weather,        120
My inward vane pints east for weeks together,
My natur’ gits all goose-flesh, an’ my sins
Come drizzlin’ on my conscience sharp ez pins:
Wal, et sech times I jes’ slip out o’ sight,
An’ take it out in a fair stan’ up fight        125
With the one cuss I can’t lay on the shelf,
The crook’dest stick in all the heap,—myself.
’Twuz so las’ Sabbath arter meetin’-time:
Findin’ my feelin’s wouldn’t noways rhyme
With nobody’s, but off the hendle flew        130
An’ took things from an east-wind pint o’ view,
I started off to lose me in the hills
Where the pines be, up back o’ Siah’s Mills:
Pines, ef you’re blue, are the best friends I know,
They mope an’ sigh an’ sheer your feelin’s so,—        135
They hesh the ground beneath so, tu, I swan,
You half-forgit you’ve gut a body on.
Ther’s a small skool’us’ there where four roads meet,
The door-steps hollered out by little feet,
An’ side-post carved with names whose owners grew        140
To gret men, some on ’em an’ deacons, tu;
’Tain’t used no longer, coz the town hez gut
A high-school, where they teach the Lord knows wut:
Three-story larnin’s pop’lar now; I guess
We thriv’ ez wal on jes’ two stories less,        145
For it strikes me ther’s sech a thing ez sinnin’
By overloadin’ children’s underpinnin’:
Wal, here it wuz I larned my A, B, C,
An’ it’s a kind o’ favorite spot with me.
We’re curus critters: How ain’t jes’ the minute        150
That ever fits us easy while we’re in it;
Long ez ’twuz futur’, ’twould be perfect bliss,—
Soon ez it’s past, thet time’s wuth ten o’ this;
An’ yit there ain’t a man thet need be told
Thet Now’s the only bird lays eggs o’ gold.        155
A knee-high lad, I used to plot an’ plan
An’ think ’twuz life’s cap-sheaf to be a man;
Now, gittin’ gray, there’s nothin’ I enjoy
Like dreamin’ back along into a boy:
So the ole school’us’ is a place I choose        160
Afore all others, ef I want to muse;
I set down where I used to set, an’ git
My boyhood back, an’ better things with it,—
Faith, Hope, an’ sunthin’, ef it isn’t Cherrity,
It’s want o’ guile, an’ thet’s ez gret a rerrity.        165
Now, ’fore I knowed, thet Sabbath arternoon
Thet I sot out to tramp myself in tune,
I found me in the school’us’ on my seat,
Drummin’ the march to No-wheres with my feet.
Thinkin’ o’ nothin’, I’ve heerd ole folks say,        170
Is a hard kind o’ dooty in its way:
It’s thinkin’ every thin’ you ever knew,
Or ever hearn, to make your feelins blue.
I sot there tryin’ thet on for a spell:
I thought o’ the Rebellion, then o’ Hell,        175
Which some folks tell ye now is jes’ a metterfor,
(A the’ry, p’raps, it wun’t feel none the better for);
I thought o’ Reconstruction, wut we’d win
Patchin’ our patent self-blow-up agin:
I thought ef this ’ere milkin’ o’ the wits,        180
So much a month, warn’t givin’ Natur’ fits,—
Ef folks warn’t druv, findin’ their own milk fail,
To work the cow thet hes an iron tail,
An’ ef idees ’thout ripenin’ in the pan
Would send up cream to humor ary man:        185
From this to thet I let my worryin’ creep,
Till finally I must ha’ fell asleep.
Our lives in sleep are some like streams thet glide
’Twixt flesh an’ sperrit boundin’ on each side,
Where both shores’ shadders kind o’ mix an’ mingle        190
In sunthin’ thet ain’t jes’ like either single;
An’ when you cast off moorin’s from To-day,
An’ down towards To-morrer drift away,
The imiges thet tengle on the stream
Make a new upside-down’ard world o’ dream:        195
Sometimes they seem like sunrise-streaks an’ warnin’s
O’ wut’ll be in Heaven on Sabbath-mornin’s,
An’, mixed right in ez ef jest out o’ spite,
Sunthin’ thet says your supper ain’t gone right.
I’m gret on dreams, an’ often, when I wake,        200
I’ve lived so much it makes my mem’ry ache,
An’ can’t skurce take a cat-nap in my cheer
’Thout hevin’ ’em, some good, some bad, all queer.
Now I wuz settin’ where I’d ben, it seemed,
An’ ain’t sure yit whether I r’ally dreamed,        205
Nor, ef I did, how long I might ha’ slep’,
When I hearn some un stompin’ up the step,
An’ lookin’ round, ef two an’ two make four,
I see a Pilgrim Father in the door.
He wore a steeple-hat, tall boots, an’ spurs        210
With rowels to ’em big ez ches’nut-burrs,
An’ his gret sword behind him sloped away
Long’z a man’s speech thet dunno wut to say.—
“Ef your name’s Biglow, an’ your given-name
Hosee,” sez he, “it’s arter you I came;        215
I’m your gret-gran’ther multiplied by three.”—
“My wut?” sez I.—“Your gret-gret-gret,” sez he:
“You wouldn’t ha’ never ben here but for me.
Two hundred an’ three year ago this May
The ship I come in sailed up Boston Bay;        220
I’d been a cunnle in our Civil War,—
But wut on airth hev you gut up one for?
Coz we du things in England, ’tain’t for you
To git a notion you can du ’em tu:
I’m told you write in public prints: ef true,        225
It’s nateral you should know a thing or two.”—
‘Thet air’s an argymunt I can’t endorse,—
’Twould prove, coz you wear spurs, you kep’ a horse:
For brains,” sez I, “wutever you may think,
Ain’t boun’ to cash the drafs o’ pen-an’-ink,—        230
Though mos’ folks write ez ef they hoped jes’ quickenin’
The churn would argoo skim-milk into thickenin’;
But skim-milk ain’t a thing to change its view
O’ wut it’s meant for more’n a smoky flue.
But du pray tell me, ’fore we furder go,        235
How in all Natur’ did you come to know
’Bout our affairs,” sez I, “in Kingdom Come?”—
“Wal, I worked round at sperrit-rappin’ some,
An’ danced the tables till their legs wuz gone,
In hopes o’ larnin’ wut wuz goin’ on,”        240
Sez he, “but mejums lie so like all-split
Thet I concluded it wuz best to quit.
But, come now, ef you wun’t confess to knowin’,
You’ve some conjectures how the thing’s a-goin’.”—
“Gran’ther,” sez I, “a vane warn’t never known        245
Nor asked to hev a jedgment of its own;
An’ yit, ef ’tain’t gut rusty in the jints,
It’s safe to trust its say on certin pints:
It knows the wind’s opinions to a T,
An’ the wind settles wut the weather’ll be.”        250
“I never thought a scion of our stock
Could grow the wood to make a weathercock;
When I wuz younger’n you, skurce more’n a shaver,
No airthly wind,” sez he, “could make me waver!”
(Ez he said this, he clinched his jaw an’ forehead,        255
Hitchin’ his belt to bring his sword-hilt forrard.)—
“Jes’ so it wuz with me,” sez I, “I swow,
When I wuz younger’n what you see me now,—
Nothin’ from Adam’s fall to Huldy’s bonnet,
Thet I warn’t full-cocked with my jedgment on it;        260
But now I’m gittin’ on in life, I find
It’s a sight harder to make up my mind,—
Nor I don’t often try tu, when events
Will du it for me free of all expense.
The moral question’s ollus plain enough,—        265
It’s jes’ the human-natur’ side thet’s tough;
Wut’s best to think mayn’t puzzle me nor you,—
The pinch comes in decidin’ wut to du;
Ef you read History, all runs smooth ez grease,
Coz there the men ain’t nothin’ more’n idees,—        270
But come to make it, ez we must to-day,
Th’ idees hev arms an’ legs, an’ stop the way:
It’s easy fixin’ things in facts an’ figgers,—
They can’t resist, nor warn’t brought up with niggers;
But come to try your the’ry on,—why, then        275
Your facts an’ figgers change to ign’ant men
Actin’ ez ugly”—“Smite ’em hip an’ thigh!”
Sez gran’ther, “an’ let every man-child die!
Oh for three weeks o’ Crommle an’ the Lord!
Up, Isr’el, to your tents an’ grind the sword!”—        280
“Thet kind o’ thing worked wal in ole Judee,
But you forgit how long it’s ben A.D.;
You think thet’s ellerkence,—I call it shoddy,
A thing,” sez I, “wun’t cover soul nor body;
I like the plain all-wool o’ common-sense,        285
Thet warms ye now, an’ will a twelvemonth hence.
You took to follerin’ where the Prophets beckoned,
An,’ fust you knowed on, back come Charles the Second;
Now wut I want’s to hev all we gain stick,
An’ not to start Millennium too quick;        290
We hain’t to punish only, but to keep,
An’ the cure’s gut to go a cent’ry deep.”
“Wal, milk-an’-water ain’t the best o’ glue,”
Sez he, “an’ so you’ll find before you’re thru;
Ef reshness venters sunthin’, shilly-shally        295
Lozes ez often wut’s ten times the vally.
Thet exe of ourn, when Charles’s neck gut split,
Opened a gap thet ain’t bridged over yit:
Slav’ry’s your Charles, the Lord hez gin the exe”—
“Our Charles,” sez I, “hez gut eight million necks.        300
The hardest question ain’t the black man’s right,
The trouble is to ’mancipate the white;
One’s chained in body an’ can be sot free,
But t’other’s chained in soul to an idee:
It’s a long job, but we shall worry thru it;        305
Ef bag’nets fail, the spellin’-book must du it.”
“Hosee,” sez he, “I think you’re goin’ to fail:
The rettlesnake ain’t dangerous in the tail;
This ’ere rebellion’s nothin’ but the rettle,—
You’ll stomp on thet an’ think you’ve won the bettle;        310
It’s Slavery thet’s the fangs an’ thinkin’ head,
An’ ef you want selvation, cresh it dead,—
An’ cresh it suddin, or you’ll larn by waitin’
Thet Chance wun’t stop to listen to debatin’!—
“God’s truth!” sez I,—“an’ ef I held the club,        315
An’ knowed jes’ where to strike,—but there’s the rub!”—
“Strike soon,” sez he, “or you’ll be deadly ailin’,—
Folks thet’s afeared to fail are sure o’ failin’;
God hates your sneakin’ creturs thet believe
He’ll settle things they run away an’ leave!”        320
He brought his foot down fercely, ez he spoke,
An’ give me sech a startle thet I woke.

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