THE TRAVELLER BY NIGHT IN NOVEMBER.
1 HE who with journey well begun
2 Beneath the morning's cheerful sun
3 Stretches his view o'er hill and dale,
4 And distant city, (through its veil
5 Of smoke, dark spires and chimneys seen,)
6 O'er harvest-lands and meadows green,
7 What time the roused and busy, meeting
8 On king's high-way exchange their greeting,
9 Feels his cheered heart with pleasure beat,
10 As on his way he holds. And great
11 Delight hath he who travels late
12 When the fair moon doth hold her state
13 In the clear sky, while down and dale
14 Repose in light so pure and pale! [Page 234]
15 While lake and pool and stream are seen
16 Weaving their maze of silvery sheen,
17 And cot and mansion, rock and glade,
18 And tower and street in light and shade
19 Strongly contrasted are. I trow,
20 Better than noonday seems his show,
21 Soothing the pensive mind.
21 And yet,
22 When moon is dark and sun is set,
23 Not reft of pleasure is the wight,
24 Who, in snug chaise, at close of night,
25 Begins his journey in the dark,
26 With crack of whip and ban-dogs' bark,
27 And jarring wheels and children bawling,
28 And voice of surly ostler, calling
29 To post-boy, through the mingled din,
30 Some message to a neighbouring inn.
31 All sounds confusedly in his ear;
32 The lonely way's commencing cheer.
33 With dull November's starless sky
34 O'er head, his fancy soars not high. [Page 235]
35 The carriage lamps a white light throw
36 Along the road, and strangely shew
37 Familiar things that cheat the eyes,
38 Like friends in motley masker's guise.
39 "What's that? or dame, or mantled maid,
40 Or herd-boy gathered in his plaid,
41 Who leans against yon wall his back?"
42 "No 'tis in sooth a tiny stack
43 On peat or turf or cloven wood —
44 Of cottage fire the winter's food."
45 "Ha! yonder shady nook discovers
46 A gentle pair of rustic lovers."
47 "Out on't! a pair of harmless calves,
48 Through ragged bushes seen by halves."
49 "What thing of strange, unshapely height,
50 Approaches slowly on the light,
51 That like a hunch-backed giant seems,
52 And now is whitening in its beams?"
53 "'Tis but a hind, whose burly back
54 Is bearing home a well-filled sack."
55 "What's that like spots of fleckered snow
56 On the road's margin clustered so?" [Page 236]
57 "'Tis linen left to bleach by night. " —
58 "Gramercy on us! see I right?
59 Some witch is casting cantraps there,
60 The linen hovers in the air!"
61 "Pooh! soon or late all wonders cease,
62 We have but scared a flock of geese."
63 Thus oft through life we do misdeem
64 Of things that are not what they seem.
65 Ah! could we there with as slight skathe
66 Divest us of our cheated faith!
67 And then, belike, when chiming bells
68 The near approach of waggon tells,
69 He wistful looks to see it come,
70 Its bulk emerging from the gloom,
71 With dun tarpawling o'er it thrown,
72 Like a huge Mammoth moving on.
73 But still more pleased, through murky air,
74 He spies the distant bonfire's glare;[Page 237]
75 And, nearer to the spot advancing,
76 Black imps and goblins round it dancing;
77 And nearer still, distinctly traces
78 The featured disks of happy faces,
79 Grinning and roaring in their glory,
80 Like Bacchants wild of ancient story,
81 And making murgeons to the flame,
82 As it were play-mate in the game.
83 Full well, I trow, could modern stage
84 Such acting for the nonce engage,
85 A crowded audience, every night,
86 Would press to see the jovial sight;
87 And this, from cost and squeezing free,
88 November's nightly travellers see.
89 Through village, lane or hamlet going,
90 The light from cottage window, shewing
91 Its inmates at their evening fare,
92 By rousing fire, where earthenware
93 With pewter trenchers, on the shelf,
94 Give some display of worldly pelf,[Page 238]
95 Is transient vision to the eye
96 Of him our hasty passer by;
97 Yet much of pleasing import tells,
98 And cherished in his fancy dwells,
99 Where simple innocence and mirth
100 Encircle still the cottage hearth.
101 Across the road a fiery glare
102 Doth now the blacksmith's forge declare,
103 Where furnace-blast, and measured din
104 Of heavy hammers, and within
105 The brawny mates their labour plying,
106 From heated bar the red sparks flying,
107 Some idle neighbours standing by
108 With open mouth and dazzled eye;
109 The rough and sooty walls with store
110 Of chains and horse-shoes studded o'er,
111 And rusty blades and bars between,
112 All momently are heard and seen.
113 Nor does he often fail to meet,
114 In market town's dark, narrow street,[Page 239]
115 (Even when the night with onward wings
116 The sober hour of bed-time brings,)
117 Amusement. From the alehouse door,
118 Having full bravely paid his score,
119 Issues the tipsy artizan,
120 With some sworn brother of the can,
121 While each to keep his footing tries,
122 And utters words solemn and wise.
123 The dame demure, from visit late,
124 Her lantern borne before in state
125 By sloven footboy, paces slow
126 With pattened feet and hooded brow.
127 Where the seamed window-board betrays
128 Interior light, right closely lays
129 The eves-dropper his curious ear,
130 Some neighbours fire-side talk to hear;
131 While, from an upper casement bending,
132 A household maid, perhaps, is sending
133 From jug or pot, a sloppy shower
134 That makes him homeward fleetly scour. [Page 240]
135 From lower rooms few gleams are sent
136 Through shortened shutter-hole or rent;
137 But from the loftier chambers peer
138 (Where damsels doff their gentle gear
139 For rest preparing) tapers bright,
140 That give a momentary sight
141 Of some fair form with visage glowing,
142 With loosened braids and tresses flowing,
143 Who busied by the mirror stands
144 With bending head and upraised hands
145 Whose moving shadow strangely falls
146 With size enlarged on roof and walls.
147 Ah! lovely are the things, I ween,
148 By speed's light, passing glam'rie seen!
149 Fancy so touched will oft restore
150 Things once beheld and seen no more.
151 But now he spies the flaring door
152 Of bridled Swan or gilded Boar,
153 At which the bowing waiter stands
154 To know the alighting guest's commands. [Page 241]
155 A place of bustle, dirt and din,
156 Swearing without, scolding within;
157 Of narrow means and ample boast,
158 The traveller's stated halting post,
159 Where trunks are missing or deranged,
160 And parcels lost and horses changed.
161 Yet this short scene of noisy coil
162 But serves our traveller as a foil,
163 Enhancing what succeeds, and lending
164 A charm to pensive quiet, sending
165 To home and friends, left far behind,
166 The kindliest musings of his mind;
167 Or, should they stray to thoughts of pain,
168 A dimness o'er the haggard train
169 A mood and hour like this will throw,
170 As vexed and burthened spirits know.
171 Night, loneliness and motion are
172 Agents of power to distance care;
173 To distance, not discard; for then,
174 Withdrawn from busy haunts of men,[Page 242]
175 Necessity to act suspended,
176 The present, past and future blended,
177 Like figures of a mazy dance,
178 Weave round the soul a dreamy trance,
179 Till jolting stone or turnpike gate
180 Arouse him from the soothing state.
181 And when the midnight hour is past,
182 If through the night his journey last,
183 When still and lonely is the road,
184 Nor living creature moves abroad,
185 Then most of all, like fabled wizard,
186 Night slily dons her cloak and vizard,
187 His eyes at every corner meeting
188 With some new slight of dexterous cheating,
189 And cunningly his sight betrays
190 Even with his own lamp's partial rays.
191 The road that in fair, honest day
192 Through pasture-land or corn-fields lay,
193 A broken hedge-row's ragged skreen
194 Skirting its margin rank and green,[Page 243]
195 With boughs projecting, interlaced
196 With thorn and briar, distinctly traced
197 On the deep shadows at their back
198 That deeper sink to pitchy black,
199 Appearing soothly to the eye
200 Like woven boughs of tapestrie, —
201 Seems now to wind through tangled wood
202 On forest wild, where Robin Hood
203 With all his out-laws stout and bold
204 In olden days his reign might hold.
205 Yea, roofless barn and ruined walls,
206 As passing light upon them falls,
207 When favoured by surrounding gloom,
208 The castle's stately form assume.
209 The steaming vapour that proceeds
210 From moistened hide of weary steeds,
211 And high on either side will rise,
212 Like clouds storm-drifted, past him flies;
213 While mire cast up by their hoofed feet
214 Adds curious magic to deceit,[Page 244]
215 Glancing presumptuously before him,
216 Like yellow diamonds of Cairngorum.
217 How many are the subtle ways
218 By which sly night the eye betrays,
219 When in her wild fantastic mood,
220 By lone and wakeful traveller woo'd!
221 Shall I proceed? O no! for now
222 Upon the black horizon's brow
223 Appears a line of tawny light;
224 Thy reign is ended, witching night!
225 And soon thy place a wizard elf,
226 (But only second to thyself
227 In glam'rie's art) will quietly take
228 And spread o'er meadow, vale and brake
229 Her misty shroud of pearly white;
230 A modest though deceitful wight,
231 Who in a softer, gentler way
232 Will with the wakeful fancy play,
233 When woody knolls, their bases losing,
234 Are Islands on a lake reposing,[Page 245]
235 And streeted town of high pretence,
236 As rolls away the vapour dense
237 With all its wavy, curling billows,
238 Is but a row of pollard willows.
239 O no! our traveller, still and lone,
240 A far, fatiguing way hath gone;
241 His eyes are dim, he stoops his crest,
242 And folds his arms and goes to rest.