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The Silent Tide Post by :ShelvingPro Category :Poems Author :George Parsons Lathrop Date :July 2011 Read :3136

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The Silent Tide

A tangled orchard round the farm-house spreads,
Wherein it stands home-like, but desolate,
'Midst crowded and uneven-statured sheds,
Alike by rain and sunshine sadly stained.
A quiet country-road before the door
Runs, gathering close its ruts to scale the hill--
A sudden bluff on the New Hampshire coast,
That rises rough against the sea, and hangs
Crested above the bowlder-sprinkled beach.
And on the road white houses small are strung
Like threaded beads, with intervals. The church
Tops the rough hill; then comes the wheelwright's shop.

From orchard, church, and shop you hear the sea,
And from the farm-house windows see it strike
Sharp gleams through slender arching apple-boughs.

Sea-like, too, echoing round me here there rolls
A surging sorrow; and even so there breaks
A smitten light of woe upon me, now,
Seeing this place, and telling o'er again
The tale of those who dwelt here once. Long since
It was, and they were two--two brothers, bound
By early orphanage and solitude
The closer, cleaving strongly each to each,
Till love, that held them many years in gage,
Itself swept them asunder. I have heard
The story from old Deacon Snow, their friend,
He who was boy and man with them. A boy!
What, he? How strange it seems! who now is stiff
And warped with life's fierce heat and cold: his brows
Are hoary white, and on his head the hairs
Stand sparse as wheat-stalks on the bare field's edge!

Reuben and Jerry they were named; but two
Of common blood and nurture scarce were found
More sharply different. For the first was bold,
Breeze-like and bold to come or go; not rash,
But shrewdly generous, popular, and boon:
And Jerry, dark and sad-faced. Whether least
He loved himself or neighbor none could tell,
So cold he seemed in wonted sympathy.
Yet he would ponder an hour at a time
Upon a bird found dead; and much he loved
To brood i' th' shade of yon wind-wavered pines.
Often at night, too, he would wander forth,
Lured by the hollow rumbling of the sea
In moonlight breaking, there to learn wild things,
Such as these dreamers pluck out of the dusk
While other men lie sleeping. But a star,
Rose on his sight, at last, with power to rule
Majestically mild that deep-domed sky,
High as youth's hopes, that stood above his soul;
And, ruling, led him dayward. That was Grace,
I mean Grace Brierly, daughter of the squire,
Rivaling the wheelwright Hungerford's shy Ruth
For beauty. Therefore, in the sunny field,
Mowing the clover-purpled grass, or, waked
In keen December dawns,--while creeping light
And winter-tides beneath the pallid stars
Stole o'er the marsh together,--a thought of her
Would turn him cool or warm, like the south breeze,
And make him blithe or bitter. Alas for him!
Eagerly storing golden thoughts of her,
He locked a phantom treasure in his breast.

He sought to chain the breezes, and to lift
A perfume as a pearl before his eyes--
Intangible delight! A time drew on
When from these twilight musings on his hopes
He woke, and found the morning of his love
Blasted, and all its rays shorn suddenly.
For Reuben, too, had turned his eye on Grace,
And she with favoring face the suit had met,
Known in the village; this dream-fettered youth
Perceiving not what passed, until too late.

One holiday the young folks all had gone
Strawberrying, with the village Sabbath-school;
Reuben and Grace and Jerry, Ruth, Rob Snow,
And all their friends, youth-mates that buoyantly
Bore out 'gainst Time's armadas, like a fleet
Of fair ships, sunlit, braced by buffeting winds,
Indomitably brave; but, soon or late,
Battle and hurricane or whirl them deep
Below to death, or send them homeward, seared
By shot and storm: so went they forth, that day.

Two wagons full of rosy children rolled
Along the rutty track, 'twixt swamp and slope,
Through deep, green-glimmering woods, and out at last
On grassy table-land, warm with the sun
And yielding tributary odors wild
Of strawberry, late June-rose, juniper,
Where sea and land breeze mingled. There a brook
Through a bare hollow flashing, spurted, purled,
And shot away, yet stayed--a light and grace
Unconscious and unceasing. And thick pines,
Hard by, drew darkly far away their dim
And sheltering, cool arcades. So all dismount,
And fields and forest gladden with their shout;
Ball, swing, and see-saw sending the light hearts
Of the children high o'er earth and everything.
While some staid, kindly women draw and spread
In pine-shade the long whiteness of a cloth,
The rest, a busy legion, o'er the grass
Kneeling, must rifle the meadow of its fruit.

O laughing Fate! O treachery of truth
To royal hopes youth bows before! That day,
Ev'n there where life in such glad measure beat
Its round, with winds and waters, tunefully,
And birds made music in the matted wood,
The shaft of death reached Jerry's heart: he saw
The sweet conspiracy of those two lives,
In looks and gestures read his doom, and heard
Their laughter ring to the grave all mirth of his.

So Reuben's life in full leaf stood, its fruit
Hidden in a green expectancy; but all
His days were rounded with ripe consciousness:
While Jerry felt the winter's whitening blight,
As when that frosty fern-work and those palms
Of visionary leaf, and trailing vines,
Quaint-chased by night-winds on the pane, melt off,
And naked earth, stone-stiff, with bristling trees,
Stares in the winter sunlight coldly through.
But yet he rose, and clothed himself amain
With misery, and once more put on life
As a stained garment. Highly he resolved
To make his deedless days henceforward strike
Pure harmony--a psalm of silences.

But on the Sunday, coming from the church,
He saw those happy, plighted lovers walk
Before proud Grace's father, and of friends
Heard comment and congratulation given.
Then with Rob Snow he hurried to the beach,
To a rough heap of stones they two had reared
In boyhood. There the two held sad debate
Of life's swift losses, Bob inspiriting still,
Jerry rejecting hope, ev'n though his friend,
Self-wounding (for he loved Ruth Hungerford),
Told how the wheelwright's daughter longed for him,
And yet might make him glad, though Grace was lost.

The season deepened, and in Jerry's heart
Ripened a thought charged with grave consequence.
His grief he would have stifled at its birth,
Sad child of frustrate longing! But anon--
Knowledge of Ruth's affection being revealed,
Which, if he stayed to let it feed on him,
Vine-like might wreathe and wind about his life,
Lifting all shade and sweetness out of reach
Of Robert, so long his friend--honor, and hopes
He would not name, kindled a torch for war
Of various impulse in him. Reuben wedded;
Yet Jerry lingered. Then, swift whisperings
Along reverberant walls of gossips' ears
Hummed loud and louder a love for Ruth. Grace, too,
Involved him in a web of soft surmise
With Ruth; and Reuben questioned him thereof.
But a white, sudden anger struck like a bolt
O'er Jerry's face, that blackened under it:
He strode away, and left his brother dazed,
With red rush of offended self-conceit
Staining his forehead to the hair. This flash
Of anger--first since boyhood's wholesome strifes--
On Jerry's path gleamed lurid; by its light
He shaped a life's course out.

There came a storm
One night. He bade farewell to Ruth; and when
Above the seas the bare-browed dawn arose,
While the last laggard drops ran off the eaves,
He dressed, but took some customary garb
On his arm; stole swiftly to the sands; and there
Cast clown his garments by the ancient heap
Of stones. At first brief pause he made, and thought:
"And thus I play, to win perchance a tear
From her whom, first, to save the smallest care,
I thought I could have died!" But then at once
Within the sweep of swirling water-planes
That from the great waves circled up and slid
Instantly back, passing far down the shore,
Southward he made his way. Next day he shipped
Upon a whaler outward bound. She spread
Her mighty wings, and bore him far away--
So far, Death seemed across her wake to stalk,
Withering her swift shape from the empty air,
Until her memory grew a faded dream.

Ah, what a desolate brightness that young day
Flung o'er the impassive strand and dull green marsh
And green-arched orchard, ere it struck the farm!
Storm-strengthened, clear, and cool the morning rose
To gaze down on that frighted home, where dawned
Pale Ruth's discovery of her loss, who late,
Guessing some ill in Jerry's last-night words
Of vague farewell, woke now to certainty
Of strange disaster. So, when Reuben and Rob,
Hither and thither searching, with locked lips
And eyes grown suddenly cold in eager dread,
On those still sands beside the untamed sea,
Came to the garments Jerry had thrown there, dumb
They stood, and knew he'd perished. If by chance
Borne out with undertow and rolled beneath
The gaping surge, or rushing on his death
Free-willed, they would not guess; but straight they set
Themselves to watch the changes of the sea--
The watchful sea that would not be betrayed,
The surly flood that echoed their suspense
With hollow-sounding horror. Thus three tides
Hurled on the beach their empty spray, and brought
Nor doubt-dispelling death, nor new-born hope.
But with the fourth slow turn at length there came
A naked, drifting body impelled to shore,
An unknown sailor by the late storm swept
Out of the rigging of some laboring ship.
And him, disfigured by the water's wear,
The watching friends supposed their dead; and so,
Mourning, took up this outcast of the deep,
And buried him, with church-rite and with pall
Trailing, and train of sad-eyed mourners, there
In the old orchard-lot by Reuben's door.

Observed among the mourners walked slight Ruth.
Her grief had dropped a veil of finer light
Around her, hedging her with sanctity
Peculiar; all stood shy about her save
Rob Snow, he venturing from time to time
Some small, uncertain act of kindliness.
Long seemed she vowed from joy, but when the birds
Began to mate, and quiet violets blow
Along the brook-side, lo! she smiled again;
Again the wind-flower color in her cheeks
Blanch'd in a breath, and bloomed once more; then stayed;
Till, like the breeze that rumors ripening buds,
A delicate sense crept through the air that soon
These two would scale the church-crowned hill, and wed.

The seasons faced the world, and fled, and came.
In summer nights, the soft roll of the sea
Was shattered, resonant, beneath a moon
That, silent, seemed to hearken. And every hour
In autumn, night or day, large apples fell
Without rebound to earth, upon the sod
There mounded greenly by the large slate slab
In the old orchard-lot near Reuben's door.
But there were changes: after some long years
Reuben and Grace beheld a brave young boy
Bearing their double life abroad in one--
Beginning new the world, and bringing hopes
That in their path fell flower-like. Not at ease
They dwelt, though; for a slow discordancy
Of temper--weak-willed waste of life in bursts
Of petulance--had marred their happiness.
And so the boy, young Reuben, as he grew,
Was chafed and vexed by this ill-fitting mode
Of life forced on him, and rebelled. Too oft
Brooding alone, he shaped loose schemes of flight
Into the joyous outer world, to break
From the unwholesome wranglings of his home.
Then once, when at some slight demur he made,
Dispute ensued between the man and wife,
He burst forth, goaded, "Some day I will leave--
Leave you forever!" And his father stared,
Lifted and clenched his hand, but let it unloose,
Nerveless. The blow, unstruck, yet quivered through
The boy's whole body.

Waiting for the night,
Reuben made ready, lifted latch, went forth;
Then, with his little bundle in his hand,
Took the bleak road that led him to the world.
When Jerry eighteen years had sailed, had bared
His hurt soul to the pitiless sun and drunk
The rainy brew of storms on all seas, tired
Of wreck and fever and renewed mischance
That would not end in death, a longing stirred
Within him to revisit that gray coast
Where he was born. He landed at the port
Whence first he sailed; and, as in fervid youth,
Set forth upon the highway, to walk home.
Some hoarding he had made, wherewith to enrich
His brother's brood for spendthrift purposes;
And as he walked he wondered how they looked,
How tall they were, how many there might be.
At noon he set himself beside the way,
Under a clump of willows sprouting dense
O'er the weed-woven margin of a brook;
While in the fine green branches overhead
Song-sparrows lightly perched, for whom he threw
From his scant bread some crumbs, remembering well
Old days when he had played with birds like these--
The same, perhaps, or grandfathers of theirs,
Or earlier still progenitors: whereat
They chirped and chattered louder than before.
But, as he sat, a boy came down the road,
Stirring the noontide dust with laggard feet.
Young Reuben 't was, who seaward made his way.
And Jerry hailed him, carelessly, his mood
Moving to salutation, and the boy,
From under his torn hat-brim looking, answered.
Then, seeing that he eyed his scrap of bread,
The sailor bade him come and share it. So
They fell to talk; and Jerry, with a rough,
Quick-touching kindness, the boy's heart so moved
That unto him he all his wrong confessed.
Gravely the sailor looked at him, and told
His own tale of mad flight and wandering; how,
Wasted he had come back, his life a husk
Of withered seeds, a raveled purse, though once
With golden years well stocked, all squandered now.
At ending, he prevailed, and Reub was won
To turn and follow. Jerry, though he knew
Not yet the father's name, said he that way
Was going, too, and he would intercede
Between the truant and his father. Back
Together then they went. But on the way,
As now they passed from pines to farming-land,
The boy asked more. "'T is queer you should have come
From these same parts, and run away like me!
You did not tell me how it happened."


JERRY.

Foolish,
All of it! But I thought it weightier
Than the world's history, once. I could not stay
And see my brother married to the girl
I loved; and so I went.


THE BOY.

I had an uncle
That was in love. But he--he drowned himself.
Why do men do so?


JERRY.

Drowned himself? And when?


THE BOY.

I don't know. Long ago; it's like a dream
To me. I was not born then. Deacon Snow
Has told me something of it. Mother cries
Even now, beside his grave. Poor uncle!


JERRY.

His grave!
(_That_ could not be, then.) Yet if it should be,
How can I think Grace cried--


THE BOY.

How did you know
My mother's name was Grace?


JERRY.

I am confused
By what you say. But is your mother's name
Grace? How! Grace, too?

A strange uneasiness
In Jerry's breast had waked. They walked awhile
In silence. This he could not well believe,
That Grace and Reuben unhappy were, nor that
One son alone was theirs. Therefore aside
He thrust that hidden, sharp foreboding: still
He trusted, still sustained a calm suspense,
And ranged among his memories. "Tell me, son,"
He said, "about this Deacon Snow--Rob Snow
It must be, I suppose."


THE BOY.

Oh, do you know him?


JERRY.

A deacon now! Ay, once I knew Rob Snow--
A jolly blade, if ever any was,
And merry as the full moon.


THE BOY.

He has failed
A good deal now, though, since his wife died.


JERRY.

What!
(Of course; of course; all's changed.) He married!


THE BOY.

Why,
How long you must have been away! For since
I can remember he has had a wife
And children. She was Gran'ther Hungerford's--


JERRY.

Her name was Ruth?


THE BOY.

Yes, Ruth! 'T is after her
The deacon's nicest daughter's named; _she's_ Ruth.

Then sadly Jerry pondered, and no more
Found speech. They tramped on sternly. To the brow
Of a long hill they came, whence they could see
The village and blue ocean; then they sank
Into a region of low-lying fields
Half-naked from the scythe, and others veined
With vines that 'midst dismantled, fallen corn
Dragged all athwart a weight of tawny gourds,
Sun-mellowed, sound. And now the level way
Stretched forward eagerly, for hard ahead
It made the turn that rounded Reuben's house.
Between the still road and the tossing sea
Lay the wide swamp, with all its hundred pools
Reflecting leaden light; anon they passed
A farm-yard where the noisy chanticleer
Strutted and ruled, as one long since had done;
And then the wayside trough with jutting spout
Of ancient, mossy wood, that still poured forth
Its liquid largess to all comers. Soon
A slow cart met them, filled with gathered kelp:
The salt scent seemed a breath of younger days.
They reached the road-bend, and the evening shone
Upon them, calmly. Jerry paused, o'erwhelmed.
Reuben, surprised, glanced at him, and then said,
"Yonder's the house." Old Jerry gazed on him,
And trembled; for before him slowly grew
Through the boy's face the mingled features there
Of father and of mother--Grace's mouth,
Ripe, pouting lips, and Reuben's square-framed eyes.
But, mastering well his voice, he bade the boy
Wait by the wall, till he a little while
Went forward, and prepared. So Reuben stayed;
And Jerry with uncertain step advanced,
As dreaming of his youth and this his home.
Slowly he passed between the gateless posts
Before the unused front door, slowly too
Beyond the side porch with its woodbine thick
Draping autumnal splendor. Thus he came
Before the kitchen window, where he saw
A gray-haired woman bent o'er needle-work
In gathering twilight. And without a voice,
Rooted, he stood. He stirred not, but his glance
Burned through the pane; uneasily she turned,
And seeing that shaggy stranger standing there
Expectant, shook her head, as though to warn
Some chance, wayfaring beggar. He, though, stood
And looked at her immovably. Then, quick
The sash upthrowing, she made as if to speak
Harshly; but still he held his quiet eyes
Upon her. Now she paused; her throat throbbed full;
Her lips paled suddenly, her wan face flamed,
A fertile stir of memory strove to work
Renewal in those features wintry cold.
And so she hung, while Jerry by a step
Drawn nearer, coming just beneath her, said,
"Grace!" And she murmured, "Jerry!" Then she bent
Over him, clasping his great matted head
With those worn arms, all joyless; and the tears
Fell hot upon his forehead from her eyes.
For now in this dim gloaming their two souls
Unfruited, by an instant insight wild,
Delicious, found the full, mysterious clew
Of individual being, each in each.
But, tremulously, soon they drew themselves
Away from that so sweet, so sad embrace,
The first, the last that could be theirs. Then he,
Summing his story in a word, a glance,
Added, "But though you see me broken down
And poor enough, not empty-handed quite
I come. For God set in my way a gift,
The best I could have sought. I bring it you
In memory of the love I bore. Not now
Must that again be thought of! Waste and black
My life's fields lie behind me, and a frost
Has stilled the music of my hopes, but here
If I may dwell, nor trouble you, such a joy
Were mine, I dare not ask it. Oh forgive
The weakness! Come and see my gift!"

Ah, tears
Flowed fast, that night, from springs of love unsealed
Once more within the ancient house--rare tears
Of reconciliation, grief, and joy!
A miracle, it seemed, had here been wrought,
The dead brought back to life. And with him came
The prodigal, repenting.

So, thenceforth,
A spirit of peace within the household dwelt.
In Jerry a swift-sent age these years had brought,
To soften him, wrought with all the woe at home
Such open, gracious dignity, that all
For cheer and guidance learned to look to him.
But chiefly th' younger Reuben sought his aid,
And he with homely wisdom shaped the lad
To a life's loving duty. Yet not long,
Alas! the kind sea-farer with them stayed.
After some years his storm-racked body drooped.
The season came when crickets cease to sing
And flame-curled leaves fly fast; and Jerry sank
Softly toward death. Then, on a boisterous morn
That beat the wrecked woods with incessant gusts
To wrest some last leaf from them, he arose
And passed away. But those who loved him watched
His fading, half in doubt, and half afraid,
As if he must return again; for now
Entering the past he seemed, and not a life
Beyond; and some who thought of that old grave
In the orchard, dreamed a breath's space that the man
Long buried had come back, and could not die.
But so he died, and, ceasing, made request
Beside that outcast of the deep to lie.
None other mark desired he but the stone
Set there long since, though at a stranger's grave,
In heavy memory of him thought dead.

They marked the earth with one more mound beside
The other, near a gap in the low wall
That looked out seaward. There you ever hear
The deep, remorseful requiem of the sea;
And there, in autumn, windfalls, showering thick
Upon the grave, score the slow, voiceless hours
With unrebounding stroke. All round about
Green milkweed rankly thrives, and golden-rod
Sprouts from his prostrate heart in fine-poised grace
Of haughty curve, with every crest in flower.


(The end)
George Parsons Lathrop's poem: Silent Tide

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