Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of English Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
George Meredith. 1828–1909
772. Love in the Valley
UNDER yonder beech-tree single on the green-sward, 
  Couch'd with her arms behind her golden head, 
Knees and tresses folded to slip and ripple idly, 
  Lies my young love sleeping in the shade. 
Had I the heart to slide an arm beneath her,         5
  Press her parting lips as her waist I gather slow, 
Waking in amazement she could not but embrace me: 
  Then would she hold me and never let me go?
.      .      .
Shy as the squirrel and wayward as the swallow, 
  Swift as the swallow along the river's light  10
Circleting the surface to meet his mirror'd winglets, 
  Fleeter she seems in her stay than in her flight. 
Shy as the squirrel that leaps among the pine-tops, 
  Wayward as the swallow overhead at set of sun, 
She whom I love is hard to catch and conquer,  15
  Hard, but O the glory of the winning were she won!
.      .      .
When her mother tends her before the laughing mirror, 
  Tying up her laces, looping up her hair, 
Often she thinks, were this wild thing wedded, 
  More love should I have, and much less care.  20
When her mother tends her before the lighted mirror, 
  Loosening her laces, combing down her curls, 
Often she thinks, were this wild thing wedded, 
  I should miss but one for many boys and girls.
.      .      .
Heartless she is as the shadow in the meadows  25
  Flying to the hills on a blue and breezy noon. 
No, she is athirst and drinking up her wonder: 
  Earth to her is young as the slip of the new moon. 
Deals she an unkindness, 'tis but her rapid measure, 
  Even as in a dance; and her smile can heal no less:  30
Like the swinging May-cloud that pelts the flowers with hailstones 
  Off a sunny border, she was made to bruise and bless.
.      .      .
Lovely are the curves of the white owl sweeping 
  Wavy in the dusk lit by one large star. 
Lone on the fir-branch, his rattle-note unvaried,  35
  Brooding o'er the gloom, spins the brown evejar. 
Darker grows the valley, more and more forgetting: 
  So were it with me if forgetting could be will'd. 
Tell the grassy hollow that holds the bubbling well-spring, 
  Tell it to forget the source that keeps it fill'd.
.      .      .
Stepping down the hill with her fair companions, 
  Arm in arm, all against the raying West, 
Boldly she sings, to the merry tune she marches, 
  Brave is her shape, and sweeter unpossess'd. 
Sweeter, for she is what my heart first awaking  45
  Whisper'd the world was; morning light is she. 
Love that so desires would fain keep her changeless; 
  Fain would fling the net, and fain have her free.
.      .      .
Happy happy time, when the white star hovers 
  Low over dim fields fresh with bloomy dew,  50
Near the face of dawn, that draws athwart the darkness, 
  Threading it with colour, like yewberries the yew. 
Thicker crowd the shades as the grave East deepens 
  Glowing, and with crimson a long cloud swells. 
Maiden still the morn is; and strange she is, and secret;  55
  Strange her eyes; her cheeks are cold as cold sea-shells.
.      .      .
Sunrays, leaning on our southern hills and lighting 
  Wild cloud-mountains that drag the hills along, 
Oft ends the day of your shifting brilliant laughter 
  Chill as a dull face frowning on a song.  60
Ay, but shows the South-west a ripple-feather'd bosom 
  Blown to silver while the clouds are shaken and ascend 
Scaling the mid-heavens as they stream, there comes a sunset 
  Rich, deep like love in beauty without end.
.      .      .
When at dawn she sighs, and like an infant to the window  65
  Turns grave eyes craving light, released from dreams, 
Beautiful she looks, like a white water-lily 
  Bursting out of bud in havens of the streams. 
When from bed she rises clothed from neck to ankle 
  In her long nightgown sweet as boughs of May,  70
Beautiful she looks, like a tall garden-lily 
  Pure from the night, and splendid for the day.
.      .      .
Mother of the dews, dark eye-lash'd twilight, 
  Low-lidded twilight, o'er the valley's brim, 
Rounding on thy breast sings the dew-delighted skylark,  75
  Clear as though the dewdrops had their voice in him. 
Hidden where the rose-flush drinks the rayless planet, 
  Fountain-full he pours the spraying fountain-showers. 
Let me hear her laughter, I would have her ever 
  Cool as dew in twilight, the lark above the flowers.
.      .      .
All the girls are out with their baskets for the primrose; 
  Up lanes, woods through, they troop in joyful bands. 
My sweet leads: she knows not why, but now she loiters, 
  Eyes the bent anemones, and hangs her hands. 
Such a look will tell that the violets are peeping,  85
  Coming the rose: and unaware a cry 
Springs in her bosom for odours and for colour, 
  Covert and the nightingale; she knows not why.
.      .      .
Kerchief'd head and chin she darts between her tulips, 
  Streaming like a willow gray in arrowy rain:  90
Some bend beaten cheek to gravel, and their angel 
  She will be; she lifts them, and on she speeds again. 
Black the driving raincloud breasts the iron gateway: 
  She is forth to cheer a neighbour lacking mirth. 
So when sky and grass met rolling dumb for thunder  95
  Saw I once a white dove, sole light of earth. 
Prim little scholars are the flowers of her garden, 
  Train'd to stand in rows, and asking if they please. 
I might love them well but for loving more the wild ones: 
  O my wild ones! they tell me more than these. 100
You, my wild one, you tell of honied field-rose, 
  Violet, blushing eglantine in life; and even as they, 
They by the wayside are earnest of your goodness, 
  You are of life's, on the banks that line the way.
.      .      .
Peering at her chamber the white crowns the red rose, 105
  Jasmine winds the porch with stars two and three. 
Parted is the window; she sleeps; the starry jasmine 
  Breathes a falling breath that carries thoughts of me. 
Sweeter unpossess'd, have I said of her my sweetest? 
  Not while she sleeps: while she sleeps the jasmine breathes, 110
Luring her to love; she sleeps; the starry jasmine 
  Bears me to her pillow under white rose-wreaths.
.      .      .
Yellow with birdfoot-trefoil are the grass-glades; 
  Yellow with cinquefoil of the dew-gray leaf; 
Yellow with stonecrop; the moss-mounds are yellow; 115
  Blue-neck'd the wheat sways, yellowing to the sheaf. 
Green-yellow, bursts from the copse the laughing yaffle; 
  Sharp as a sickle is the edge of shade and shine: 
Earth in her heart laughs looking at the heavens, 
  Thinking of the harvest: I look and think of mine.
.      .      .
This I may know: her dressing and undressing 
  Such a change of light shows as when the skies in sport 
Shift from cloud to moonlight; or edging over thunder 
  Slips a ray of sun; or sweeping into port 
White sails furl; or on the ocean borders 125
  White sails lean along the waves leaping green. 
Visions of her shower before me, but from eyesight 
  Guarded she would be like the sun were she seen.
.      .      .
Front door and back of the moss'd old farmhouse 
  Open with the morn, and in a breezy link 130
Freshly sparkles garden to stripe-shadow'd orchard, 
  Green across a rill where on sand the minnows wink. 
Busy in the grass the early sun of summer 
  Swarms, and the blackbird's mellow fluting notes 
Call my darling up with round and roguish challenge: 135
  Quaintest, richest carol of all the singing throats!
.      .      .
Cool was the woodside; cool as her white diary 
  Keeping sweet the cream-pan; and there the boys from school, 
Cricketing below, rush'd brown and red with sunshine; 
  O the dark translucence of the deep-eyed cool! 140
Spying from the farm, herself she fetch'd a pitcher 
  Full of milk, and tilted for each in turn the beak. 
Then a little fellow, mouth up and on tiptoe, 
  Said, 'I will kiss you': she laugh'd and lean'd her cheek.
.      .      .
Doves of the fir-wood walling high our red roof 145
  Through the long noon coo, crooning through the coo. 
Loose droop the leaves, and down the sleepy roadway 
  Sometimes pipes a chaffinch; loose droops the blue. 
Cows flap a show tail knee-deep in the river, 
  Breathless, given up to sun and gnat and fly. 150
Nowhere is she seen; and if I see her nowhere, 
  Lighting may come, straight rains and tiger sky.
.      .      .
O the golden sheaf, the rustling treasure-armful! 
  O the nutbrown tresses nodding interlaced! 
O the treasure-tresses one another over 155
  Nodding! O the girdle slack about the waist! 
Slain are the poppies that shot their random scarlet 
  Quick amid the wheat-ears: wound about the waist, 
Gather'd, see these brides of Earth one blush of ripeness! 
  O the nutbrown tresses nodding interlaced!
.      .      .
Large and smoky red the sun's cold disk drops, 
  Clipp'd by naked hills, on violet shaded snow: 
Eastward large and still lights up a bower of moonrise, 
  Whence at her leisure steps the moon aglow. 
Nightlong on black print-branches our beech-tree 165
  Gazes in this whiteness: nightlong could I. 
Here may life on death or death on life be painted. 
  Let me clasp her soul to know she cannot die!
.      .      .
Gossips count her faults; they scour a narrow chamber 
  Where there is no window, read not heaven or her. 170
'When she was a tiny,' one agèd woman quavers, 
  Plucks at my heart and leads me by the ear. 
Faults she had once as she learn'd to run and tumbled: 
  Faults of feature some see, beauty not complete. 
Yet, good gossips, beauty that makes holy 175
  Earth and air, may have faults from head to feet.
.      .      .
Hither she comes; she comes to me; she lingers, 
  Deepens her brown eyebrows, while in new surprise 
High rise the lashes in wonder of a stranger; 
  Yet am I the light and living of her eyes. 180
Something friends have told her fills her heart to brimming, 
  Nets her in her blushes, and wounds her, and tames.— 
Sure of her haven, O like a dove alighting, 
  Arms up, she dropp'd: our souls were in our names.
.      .      .
Soon will she lie like a white frost sunrise. 185
  Yellow oats and brown wheat, barley pale as rye, 
Long since your sheaves have yielded to the thresher, 
  Felt the girdle loosen'd, seen the tresses fly. 
Soon will she lie like a blood-red sunset. 
  Swift with the to-morrow, green-wing'd Spring! 190
Sing from the South-west, bring her back the truants, 
  Nightingale and swallow, song and dipping wing.
.      .      .
Soft new beech-leaves, up to beamy April 
  Spreading bough on bough a primrose mountain, you 
Lucid in the moon, raise lilies to the skyfields, 195
  Youngest green transfused in silver shining through: 
Fairer than the lily, than the wild white cherry: 
  Fair as in image my seraph love appears 
Borne to me by dreams when dawn is at my eyelids: 
  Fair as in the flesh she swims to me on tears.
.      .      .
Could I find a place to be alone with heaven, 
  I would speak my heart out: heaven is my need. 
Every woodland tree is flushing like the dogwood, 
  Flashing like the whitebeam, swaying like the reed. 
Flushing like the dogwood crimson in October; 205
  Streaming like the flag-reed South-west blown; 
Flashing as in gusts the sudden-lighted whitebeam: 
  All seem to know what is for heaven alone. 
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