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THE TRAVELLER BY NIGHT IN NOVEMBER.


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HE who with journey well begun
Beneath the morning's cheerful sun
Stretches his view o'er hill and dale,
And distant city, (through its veil
Of smoke, dark spires and chimneys seen,)
O'er harvest-lands and meadows green,
What time the roused and busy, meeting
On king's high-way exchange their greeting,
Feels his cheered heart with pleasure beat,
As on his way he holds. And great
Delight hath he who travels late
When the fair moon doth hold her state
In the clear sky, while down and dale
Repose in light so pure and pale!

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While lake and pool and stream are seen
Weaving their maze of silvery sheen,
And cot and mansion, rock and glade,
And tower and street in light and shade
Strongly contrasted are. I trow,
Better than noonday seems his show,
Soothing the pensive mind.
And yet,
When moon is dark and sun is set,
Not reft of pleasure is the wight,
Who, in snug chaise, at close of night,
Begins his journey in the dark,
With crack of whip and ban-dogs' bark,
And jarring wheels and children bawling,
And voice of surly ostler, calling
To post-boy, through the mingled din,
Some message to a neighbouring inn.
All sounds confusedly in his ear;
The lonely way's commencing cheer.

With dull November's starless sky
O'er head, his fancy soars not high.

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The carriage lamps a white light throw
Along the road, and strangely shew
Familiar things that cheat the eyes,
Like friends in motley masker's guise.
"What's that? or dame, or mantled maid,
Or herd-boy gathered in his plaid,
Who leans against yon wall his back?"
"No 'tis in sooth a tiny stack
On peat or turf or cloven wood—
Of cottage fire the winter's food."
"Ha! yonder shady nook discovers
A gentle pair of rustic lovers."
"Out on't! a pair of harmless calves,
Through ragged bushes seen by halves."
"What thing of strange, unshapely height,
Approaches slowly on the light,
That like a hunch-backed giant seems,
And now is whitening in its beams?"
"'Tis but a hind, whose burly back
Is bearing home a well-filled sack."
"What's that like spots of fleckered snow
On the road's margin clustered so?"

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" 'Tis linen left to bleach by night."—
''Gramercy on us! see I right?
Some witch is casting cantraps there,
The linen hovers in the air!"
"Pooh! soon or late all wonders cease,
We have but scared a flock of geese."

Thus oft through life we do misdeem
Of things that are not what they seem.
Ah! could we there with as slight skathe
Divest us of our cheated faith!

And then, belike, when chiming bells
The near approach of waggon tells,
He wistful looks to see it come,
Its bulk emerging from the gloom,
With dun tarpawling o'er it thrown,
Like a huge Mammoth moving on.

But still more pleased, through murky air,
He spies the distant bonfire's glare;

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And, nearer to the spot advancing,
Black imps and goblins round it dancing;
And nearer still, distinctly traces
The featured disks of happy faces,
Grinning and roaring in their glory,
Like Bacchants wild of ancient story,
And making murgeons to the flame,
As it were play-mate in the game.
Full well, I trow, could modern stage
Such acting for the nonce engage,
A crowded audience, every night,
Would press to see the jovial sight;
And this, from cost and squeezing free,
November's nightly travellers see.

Through village, lane or hamlet going,
The light from cottage window, shewing
Its inmates at their evening fare,
By rousing fire, where earthenware
With pewter trenchers, on the shelf,
Give some display of worldly pelf,

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Is transient vision to the eye
Of him our hasty passer by;
Yet much of pleasing import tells,
And cherished in his fancy dwells,
Where simple innocence and mirth
Encircle still the cottage hearth.
Across the road a fiery glare
Doth now the blacksmith's forge declare,
Where furnace-blast, and measured din
Of heavy hammers, and within
The brawny mates their labour plying,
From heated bar the red sparks flying,
Some idle neighbours standing by
With open mouth and dazzled eye;
The rough and sooty walls with store
Of chains and horse-shoes studded o'er,
And rusty blades and bars between,
All momently are heard and seen.

Nor does he often fail to meet,
In market town's dark, narrow street,

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(Even when the night with onward wings
The sober hour of bed-time brings,)
Amusement. From the alehouse door,
Having full bravely paid his score,
Issues the tipsy artizan,
With some sworn brother of the can,
While each to keep his footing tries,
And utters words solemn and wise.

The dame demure, from visit late,
Her lantern borne before in state
By sloven footboy, paces slow
With pattened feet and hooded brow.

Where the seamed window-board betrays
Interior light, right closely lays
The eves-dropper his curious ear,
Some neighbours fire-side talk to hear;
While, from an upper casement bending,
A household maid, perhaps, is sending
From jug or pot, a sloppy shower
That makes him homeward fleetly scour.

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From lower rooms few gleams are sent
Through shortened shutter-hole or rent;
But from the loftier chambers peer
(Where damsels doff their gentle gear
For rest preparing) tapers bright,
That give a momentary sight
Of some fair form with visage glowing,
With loosened braids and tresses flowing,
Who busied by the mirror stands
With bending head and upraised hands
Whose moving shadow strangely falls
With size enlarged on roof and walls.
Ah! lovely are the things, I ween,
By speed's light, passing glam'rie seen!
Fancy so touched will oft restore
Things once beheld and seen no more.

But now he spies the flaring door
Of bridled Swan or gilded Boar,
At which the bowing waiter stands
To know the alighting guest's commands.

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A place of bustle, dirt and din,
Swearing without, scolding within;
Of narrow means and ample boast,
The traveller's stated halting post,
Where trunks are missing or deranged,
And parcels lost and horses changed.

Yet this short scene of noisy coil
But serves our traveller as a foil,
Enhancing what succeeds, and lending
A charm to pensive quiet, sending
To home and friends, left far behind,
The kindliest musings of his mind;
Or, should they stray to thoughts of pain,
A dimness o'er the haggard train
A mood and hour like this will throw,
As vexed and burthened spirits know.
Night, loneliness and motion are
Agents of power to distance care;
To distance, not discard; for then,
Withdrawn from busy haunts of men,

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Necessity to act suspended,
The present, past and future blended,
Like figures of a mazy dance,
Weave round the soul a dreamy trance,
Till jolting stone or turnpike gate
Arouse him from the soothing state.

And when the midnight hour is past,
If through the night his journey last,
When still and lonely is the road,
Nor living creature moves abroad,
Then most of all, like fabled wizard,
Night slily dons her cloak and vizard,
His eyes at every corner meeting
With some new slight of dexterous cheating,
And cunningly his sight betrays
Even with his own lamp's partial rays.

The road that in fair, honest day
Through pasture-land or corn-fields lay,
A broken hedge-row's ragged skreen
Skirting its margin rank and green,

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With boughs projecting, interlaced
With thorn and briar, distinctly traced
On the deep shadows at their back
That deeper sink to pitchy black,
Appearing soothly to the eye
Like woven boughs of tapestrie,—
Seems now to wind through tangled wood
On forest wild, where Robin Hood
With all his out-laws stout and bold
In olden days his reign might hold.
Yea, roofless barn and ruined walls,
As passing light upon them falls,
When favoured by surrounding gloom,
The castle's stately form assume.

The steaming vapour that proceeds
From moistened hide of weary steeds,
And high on either side will rise,
Like clouds storm-drifted, past him flies;
While mire cast up by their hoofed feet
Adds curious magic to deceit,

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Glancing presumptuously before him,
Like yellow diamonds of Cairngorum.

How many are the subtle ways
By which sly night the eye betrays,
When in her wild fantastic mood,
By lone and wakeful traveller woo'd!
Shall I proceed? O no! for now
Upon the black horizon's brow
Appears a line of tawny light;
Thy reign is ended, witching night!
And soon thy place a wizard elf,
(But only second to thyself
In glam'rie's art) will quietly take
And spread o'er meadow, vale and brake
Her misty shroud of pearly white;
A modest though deceitful wight,
Who in a softer, gentler way
Will with the wakeful fancy play,
When woody knolls, their bases losing,
Are Islands on a lake reposing,

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And streeted town of high pretence,
As rolls away the vapour dense
With all its wavy, curling billows,
Is but a row of pollard willows.
O no! our traveller, still and lone,
A far, fatiguing way hath gone;
His eyes are dim, he stoops his crest,
And folds his arms and goes to rest.