Fugitive Verses




THE dark-blue clouds of night, in dusky lines
Drawn wide and streaky o'er the purer sky,
Wear faintly morning purple on their skirts.
The stars that full and bright shone in the west,
But dimly twinkle to the stedfast eye,
And seen and vanishing and seen again,
Like dying tapers winking in the socket,
Are by degrees shut from the face of heaven;
The fitful lightning of the summer cloud,
And every lesser flame that shone by night;
The wandering fire that seems, across the marsh,
A beaming candle in a lonely cot,
Cheering the hopes of the benighted hind,
Till, swifter than the very change of thought,


It shifts from place to place, eludes his sight,
And makes him wondering rub his faithless eyes;
The humble glow-worm and the silver moth,
That cast a doubtful glimmering o'er the green,—
All die away.
For now the sun, slow moving in his glory,
Above the eastern mountains lifts his head;
The webs of dew spread o'er the hoary lawn,
The smooth, clear bosom of the settled pool,
The polished ploughshare on the distant field,
Catch fire from him and dart their new got beams
Upon the gazing rustic's dazzled sight.

The wakened birds upon the branches hop,
Peck their soft down, and bristle out their feathers,
Then stretch their throats and trill their morning song,
While dusky crows, high swinging over head,
Upon the topmost boughs, in lordly pride,
Mix their hoarse croaking with the linnet's note,
Till in a gathered band of close array,
They take their flight to seek their daily food.


The villager wakes with the early light,
That through the window of his cot appears,
And quits his easy bed; then o'er the fields
With lengthened active strides betakes his way,
Bearing his spade or hoe across his shoulder,
Seen glancing as he moves, and with good will
His daily work begins.
The sturdy sun-burnt boy drives forth the cattle,
And, pleased with power, bawls to the lagging kine
With stern authority, who fain would stop
To crop the tempting bushes as they pass.
At every open door, in lawn or lane,
Half naked children, half awake are seen
Scratching their heads and blinking to the light,
Till, rousing by degrees, they run about,
Roll on the sward and in some sandy nook
Dig caves, and houses build, full oft defaced
And oft begun again, a daily pastime.
The housewife, up by times, her morning cares
Tends busily; from tubs of curdled milk
With skilful patience draws the clear green whey
From the pressed bosom of the snowy curd,


While her brown comely maid, with tucked-up sleeves
And swelling arm, assists her. Work proceeds,
Pots smoke, pails rattle, and the warm confusion
Still more confused becomes, till in the mould
With heavy hands the well-squeezed curd is placed.

So goes the morning till the powerful sun,
High in the heavens, sends down his strengthened beams,
And all the freshness of the morn is fled.
The idle horse upon the grassy field
Rolls on his back; the swain leaves off his toil,
And to his house with heavy steps returns,
Where on the board his ready breakfast placed
Looks most invitingly, and his good mate
Serves him with cheerful kindness.
Upon the grass no longer hangs the dew;
Forth hies the mower with his glittering scythe,
In snowy shirt bedight and all unbraced.
He moves athwart the mead with sideling bend,
And lays the grass in many a swathey line;


In every field in every lawn and meadow
The rousing voice of industry is heard;
The hay-cock rises and the frequent rake
Sweeps on the fragrant hay in heavy wreaths.
The old and young, the weak and strong are there,
And, as they can, help on the cheerful work.
The father jeers his awkward half-grown lad,
Who trails his tawdry armful o'er the field,
Nor does he fear the jeering to repay.
The village oracle and simple maid
Jest in their turns and raise the ready laugh;
All are companions in the general glee;
Authority, hard favoured, frowns not there.
Some, more advanced, raise up the lofty rick,
Whilst on its top doth stand the parish toast
In loose attire and swelling ruddy cheek.
With taunts and harmless mockery she receives
The tossed-up heaps from fork of simple youth,
Who, staring on her, takes his aim awry,
While half the load falls back upon himself.
Loud is her laugh, her voice is heard afar;
The mower busied on the distant lawn,


The carter trudging on his dusty way,
The shrill sound know, their bonnets toss in the air
And roar across the field to catch her notice:
She waves her arm to them, and shakes her head,
And then renews her work with double spirit.
Thus do they jest and laugh away their toil
Till the bright sun, now past his middle course,
Shoots down his fiercest beams which none may brave.
The stoutest arm feels listless, and the swart
And brawny-shouldered clown begins to fail.
But to the weary, lo—there comes relief!
A troop of welcome children o'er the lawn
With slow and wary steps approach, some bear
In baskets oaten cakes or barley scones,
And gusty cheese and stoups of milk or whey.
Beneath the branches of a spreading tree,
Or by the shady side of the tall rick,
They spread their homely fare, and seated round,
Taste every pleasure that a feast can give.


A drowsy indolence now hangs on all;
Each creature seeks some place of rest, some shelter
From the oppressive heat; silence prevails;
Nor low nor bark nor chirping bird are heard.
In shady nooks the sheep and kine convene;
Within the narrow shadow of the cot
The sleepy dog lies stretched upon his side,
Nor heeds the footsteps of the passer by,
Or at the sound but raises half an eye-lid,
Then gives a feeble growl and sleeps again;
While puss composed and grave on threshold stone
Sits winking in the light.
No sound is heard but humming of the bee,
For she alone retires not from her labour,
Nor leaves a meadow flower unsought for gain.

Heavy and slow, so pass the sultry hours,
Till gently bending on the ridge's top
The drooping seedy grass begins to wave,
And the high branches of the aspin tree
Shiver the leaves and gentle rustling make.
Cool breathes the rising breeze, and with it wakes


The languid spirit from its state of stupor.
The lazy boy springs from his mossy lair
To chase the gaudy butterfly, who oft
Lights at his feet as if within his reach,
Spreading upon the ground its mealy wings,
Yet still eludes his grasp, and high in air
Takes many a circling flight, tempting his eye
And tiring his young limbs.
The drowzy dog, who feels the kindly air
That passing o'er him lifts his shaggy ear,
Begins to stretch him, on his legs half-raised,
Till fully waked with bristling cocked-up tail,
He makes the village echo to his bark.

But let us not forget the busy maid,
Who by the side of the clear pebbly stream
Spreads out her snowy linens to the sun,
And sheds with liberal hand the crystal shower
O'er many a favourite piece of fair attire,
Revolving in her mind her gay appearance,
So nicely tricked, at some approaching fair.
The dimpling half-checked smile and muttering lip


Her secret thoughts betray. With shiny feet,
There, little active bands of truant boys
Sport in the stream and dash the water round,
Or try with wily art to catch the trout,
Or with their fingers grasp the slippery eel.
The shepherd-lad sits singing on the bank
To while away the weary lonely hours,
Weaving with art his pointed crown of rushes,
A guiltless easy crown, which, having made,
He places on his head, and skips about,
A chaunted rhyme repeats, or calls full loud
To some companion lonely as himself,
Far on the distant bank; or else delighted
To hear the echoed sound of his own voice,
Returning answer from some neighbouring rock,
Or roofless barn, holds converse with himself.

Now weary labourers perceive well pleased
The shadows lengthen, and the oppressive day
With all its toil fast wearing to an end.
The sun, far in the west, with level beam
Gleams on the cocks of hay, on bush or ridge,


And fields are checkered with fantastic shapes,
Or tree or shrub or gate or human form,
All lengthened out in antic disproportion
Upon the darkened ground. Their task is finished,
Their rakes and scattered garments gathered up,
And all right gladly to their homes return.

The village, lone and silent through the day,
Receiving from the fields its merry bands,
Sends forth its evening sound, confused but cheerful;
Yelping of curs, and voices stern and shrill,
And true-love ballads in no plaintive strain,
By household maid at open window sung;
And lowing of the home-returning kine,
And herd's dull droning trump and tinkling bell,
Tied to the collar of the master-sheep,
Make no contemptible variety
To ears not over nice.
With careless lounging gait the favoured youth
Upon his sweetheart's open window leans,
Diverting her with joke and harmless taunt.


Close by the cottage door with placid mien,
The old man sits upon his seat of turf.
His staff with crooked head laid by his side,
Which oft some tricky youngling steals away,
And straddling o'er it, shews his horsemanship
By raising clouds of sand; he smiles thereat,
But seems to chide him sharply:
His silver locks upon his shoulders fall,
And not ungraceful is his stoop of age.
No stranger passes him without regard,
And neighbours stop to wish him a good e'en,
And ask him his opinion of the weather.
They fret not at the length of his remarks
Upon the various seasons he remembers;
For well he knows the many divers signs
That do foretell high winds, or rain, or drought,
Or aught that may affect the rising crops.
The silken-clad who courtly breeding boast,
Their own discourse still sweetest to their ear,
May at the old man's lengthened story fret,
Impatiently, but here it is not so.


From every chimney mounts the curling smoke,
Muddy and grey, of the new evening fire;
On every window smokes the family supper,
Set out to cool by the attentive housewife,
While cheerful groups, at every door convened,
Bawl 'cross the narrow lane the parish news,
And oft the bursting laugh disturbs the air.
But see who comes to set them all agape;
The weary-footed pedlar with his pack;
Stiffly he bends beneath his bulky load,
Covered with dust, slip-shod and out at elbows;
His greasy hat set backwards on his head;
His thin straight hair, divided on his brow,
Hangs lank on either side his glistening cheeks,
And woe-begone yet vacant is his face.
His box he opens and displays his ware.
Full many a varied row of precious stones
Cast forth their dazzling lustre to the light,
And ruby rings and china buttons, stamped
With love devices, the desiring maid
And simple youth attract; while streaming garters,
Of many colours, fastened to a pole,


Aloft in air their gaudy stripes display,
And from afar the distant stragglers lure.
The children leave their play and round him flock;
Even sober, aged grand-dame quits her seat,
Where by the door she twines her lengthened threads,
Her spindle stops, and lays her distaff by,
Then joins with step sedate the curious throng.
She praises much the fashions of her youth,
And scorns each useless nonsense of the day;
Yet not ill-pleased the glossy riband views,
Unrolled and changing hues with every fold,
Just measured out to deck her grand-child's head.

Now red but languid the last beams appear
Of the departed sun, across the lawn,
Gilding each sweepy ridge on many a field,
And from the openings of the distant hills
A level brightness pouring, sad though bright;
Like farewell smiles from some dear friend they seem,
And only serve to deepen the low vale,
And make the shadows of the night more gloomy.


The varied noises of the cheerful village
By slow degrees now faintly die away,
And more distinctly distant sounds are heard
That gently steal adown the river's bed,
Or through the wood come on the ruffling breeze.
The white mist rises from the meads, and from
The dappled skirting of the sober sky
Looks out with steady gleam the evening star.
The lover, skulking in some neighbouring copse,
(Whose half-seen form, shewn through the dusky air
Large and majestic, makes the traveller start,
And spreads the story of a haunted grove,)
Curses the owl, whose loud ill-omened hoot
With ceaseless spite takes from his listening ear
The well-known footsteps of his darling maid,
And fretful chases from his face the night-fly,
That, buzzing round his head, doth often skim
With fluttering wings across his glowing cheek;
For all but him in quiet balmy sleep
Forget the toils of the oppressive day;
Shut is the door of every scattered cot,
And silence dwells within.
About this text
Courtesy of University of California, Davis. General Library. Digital Intitiatives Program.; http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp
Title: Fugitive Verses
By:  Baillie, Joanna, 1762-1851, creator, British Women Romantic Poets Project
Date: 2001 (issued)
Contributing Institution: University of California, Davis. General Library. Digital Intitiatives Program.; http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp
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