The Graveyard in the Hills

" IT is the place of tombs, " the maiden said;

" The graveyard where our fathers ashes rest;
A rude and lonely cradle have they here —
God rest their souls. " She cross'd her brow and breast,
Then took her pitcher up, which she had set
Down on the mountain side, to gaze awhile
On the inquiring stranger, and pass'd on.
Over the loose low wall the strange man stepp'd,
And through grey tombstones bedded half in earth,
And new-made mounds of green uneven turf,
Till by the ruin'd chapel's western door
He paused; reclining on a broad flat stone,
Which some poor mourner, seeking sepulture
For his beloved within that holiest place,
From the old chancel pavement had uptorn.
Here stay'd the stranger, nor with passive mien,
Nor eyes unlit with rapturous delight,
Look'd on the scene around; for beautiful
The lonely spot those ancient peasants found,
Wherein to wear away their long repose;
Perchance because they deem'd it sin and shame
That man should build no altar there to God,
Where earth had rear'd so eloquent a shrine
To praise Him in her rugged loveliness.
Perchance (for those were rude, uneasy times)
The fathers of the hamlet there had set
Their lowly temple, calling on those hills,
On those steep pathless heights, to guard the shrine
From rapine, of the fierce marauding Dane.

The bounding river, like a broad blue belt
Encircled half that lone sepulchral mound,
And tall, dark mountains girded it about;
Cold barren heights, whereon there never slept
The graceful shadow of the greenwood tree;
And the rude wind that whisper'd there at even,
Had wander'd through no perfume-laden grove;
But all was pasture bare, or purple heath,
With here and there perchance a darker patch,
Where, in its little plot of labour'd land,
The blue smoke curl'd from some poor peasant's thatch.
North, east, and south the rugged barrier frown'd,
But in the narrow gorge to westward set,
Like a long gleam of silver light, the sea
Slept in the distance. He had never thought,
Who look'd in quiet on that narrow strip,
It were a portion of those restless waves
That bore of old the venturous Genoese,
When first he laugh'd to scorn the western wind
And bravely baffled, in his generous quest,
Unworthy scorn, and jealousy, and fear.
He had not deem'd that glittering drop a part,
Which like a blue gem slept between the hills,
A part of that immeasurable waste.
Thus man looks fondly on his passing life,
A narrow space within two limits bound,
Forgetting that he sees but one small drop
Of the immense eternity beyond.

Now slanting lay the sunbeams on the turf,
And the white clouds pass'd over the sun's face,
Making strange shadows on the mountain side,
And the sea eagle wheel'd around the height,
And the goat bleated through the calm, still air;
So still, you heard afar the clanking tread
Of laden horse, as upward from the glen
The mountain road precipitous he trod,
And, passing each poor wayside dwelling, waked
The angry clamour of the watchful cur.

There are who love to look on Nature's face,
But have no heart to worship at her shrine.
Fair in her teeming fruitfulness she is
To them, but dead, a thing without a soul.
They hear no praises in her wild bird's song,
They scent no incense rising from her flowers,
The winds of heaven are voiceless unto them,
The ancient hills are not green altars rear'd
To Him who piled them; in His open hand
They see no bounty, in His wise decree
No wisdom and no order, nor perceive
In yon blue sky the open gate of heaven.
Such and so ignorant of joy's chief spring
Was he who linger'd by the poor man's grave,
And look'd along the valley; he was one
On whom high culture, feelings, powers of mind,
Like seed upon the barren rock had been
Scatter'd, and bore no fruit; yet was his mind
Polish'd, and of fine thought susceptible.
The calm of nature, and the wild bird's note.
And the sweet voice of song; these on his ear
Fell like a charm, and soothed his weary soul,
And made his spirit drunk with harmony.
Albeit the utterances that had come
To visit him in childhood, by that stream
And from those mountain gorges, long had ceased
To haunt him with their holy whisperings,
Who had forgotten God; and in his ways
And in his heart set up the idol, self.
Yet it was pleasure thus to sit, and have
All senses moulded into sympathy
With the sweet silence of that summer even.
The radiant sun declining touch'd with gold
The silver sea, when through the tombs there came
One toward the Solitary, with firm step
That loiter'd yet, and paused anon to gaze.
Down the broad vale, to court the merry breeze
That, as he raised his hat in courtesy,
From his high brow blew back the clustering locks
Where time had laid no hand. They greeted then
As though the meeting were of each foreseen;
And soon the Pastor by the stranger sate:
For, of the wild rude flock that scatter'd dwelt
Amid those rugged mountain fastnesses,
He was the shepherd and the minister.

Four rude white walls are in the valley set,
Down by the river; to the eastward turn'd
One pointed window; on the bare slate roof
Nor tower, nor spire, nor even time-honour'd cross
Points up to heaven; but one lone bell is hung,
That, when the wind sweeps down the mountain gorge,
Shakes fitfully above the empty shrine —
That is the temple of his ministry.
And yon low dwelling — where the blue smoke curls
From verdant, clumps of newly planted trees,
Where the small garden blushes to the sun,
Where the green turf is trimm'd, and through the sward
Spring daisies white and daffodils in spring,
And violets — his pastoral abode.

Blue lakes there are hid far within the wilds
Of the new world; bright solitary lakes
Where never the keen fisher's net was spread,
Nor the swift oar has ruffled the smooth wave;
But fair green islands sleep upon the tide,
And graceful trees dip in their drooping boughs.
In depth of the untraversed waste they lie.
The clamorous wild duck shelters there her brood,
The green moss grows luxuriant on the bank,
And the waves rippling for a moment break
The heaven reflected in their azure depths.
Thus was it with the Pastor of the vale;
Lowly, and placid, and beneficent,
He look'd to heaven from that sequester'd place,
And caught its impress: for the good man's life
Is like a mirror wherein others see,
Though broken ofttimes, many times obscure,
An image of that thing they ought to be.

Nor had he come to dwell a hermit here,
Of the world wearied, by the world contemn'd.
But in the strength and vigour of his days,
Ere yet the crown was wither'd on his brow,
Which in the throng of academic courts
His youth in eager conflict had borne off.
Duty, stern summoner, had hither call'd;
He heard and came — not passively alone,
But gladly; as he deem'd it honour high
To labour in the loneliest, lowest spot
Of his great Master's vineyard; there he brought
The energy, the patience, the strong mind
That in the world had won for him high place,
And honour, and esteem, and gentle cares,
And graceful condescension; for in him
The intellectual current that flow'd on,
Deep in the soul, was calm as powerful,
And with an even wave bore gently up
The flowers of love, and cheerfulness, and peace,
That lay like lilies floating on the tide.

" 'Tis marvellous, " the stranger said, " how much
We love familiar scenes; this mountain view
Needs some relief of woodland green to break
The outline of its rugged majesty;
And yet, methinks, I would not see displaced
One purple heath-flower on the mountain side.
That hollow in the hills were fairer far
Did twisted trunks and spreading branches shade
Its narrow glen; and that broad river's course,
How lovely were it winding amid banks
Where silver birch should wave, or willow bough
Droop o'er it; yet I would not see it changed.
But for thy portion of this desert glen
Thou wilt not tell me thou dost wish unchanged
The dwellers in this lonely wilderness? "

" The people, " said the Pastor, " like the place,
Are cultureless and rugged, needing much
Of ornament, and discipline, and care;
Yet are there features in their character —
Shadows, and lights, and passing gleams, whereon
The eye, as thine on yonder hill to-night,
Delights to linger and should grieve to lose.
But in the hamlets that so thickly stud
This populous valley, many souls there be
Who own me not, but him their shepherd name,
Who for their sins, in that time-honour'd tongue
Of them unknown, unutter'd, pours the prayer
Within those walls that proudly arrogate
(Shame on the coward hearts that yielded it)
The white cross gleaming in the western ray.
Yet even they have wrecks of better things;
Some pearls there are, yet cast upon the shore
Amid the weeds that error's wave flings up,
Relics of purer times, sweet simple rites,
Which when I meet I cannot chose but love. "

" It may be so, " his friend rejoin'd; " for me,
I love not to uplift the graceful veil
That fancy flings round the external things
Of this too real world; I would not delve
Into the bosom of the earth for gold
While on its surface spring so many flowers.
Yon hamlet-dwelling, where the curling smoke
Hangs in blue wreaths around the open door,
How meetly mingle with the mountain hues
The stains on its thatch'd roof; how softly falls
The passing sunbeam on that silver mist;
But thou wilt lift the latch and enter in,
And poverty shall greet thee, discontent,
Disease, and discord, haply lawless guilt,
And crouching superstition, worse than all.
I would not follow thee so far, to pluck
The roses from my garland, to dispel
The charm of distance and of ignorance. "

The Pastor answer'd, " There are things in life
That for the very roughness of their truth
Pierce through the veil of graceful poetry;
But not for this should charity forbear
To enter in and soothe the rugged part:
He is no mariner who courts the wave
In the calm sunshine, and when tempests lour,
A trembling coward, hides his face and flees.
And Duty wears a halo of her own;
There is a borrow'd light in her calm eye
That sheds around all rude and common things
A chasten'd charm proud Fancy never knew.
Much that thou fearest, many things perchance
That thou conceivest not, in daily walks
And visits to this people have I met —
Wrongs unredress'd, and sorrows unassuaged,
And patient industry that toil'd in vain,
By want attended. Circumstance and time
And numbers are against them, and have sway'd
Their spirits with an evil influence.
Dwellers are here too many for the soil;
Their soul is broken; poverty and need
Have press'd too hardly on them, and have made
Each to his fellow harsh and cold of heart;
They have lost trust; suspicion, and deceit,
And crouching guile that fears to be betray'd,
And pride are theirs, and darkest ignorance.
The mean oppress the meaner; and the fires
Of ancient hates and feudal jealousies
Sleep in their hearts, till wrath or injury
Rouse the fierce flames: yet in the darksome web
Are many goodly golden threads entwined.
Love have I met, deep feelings brave and true,
And meek content; and to the will of God,
In want, submission, fortitude in grief,
And natural affection's lively flow,
And charity that round the peasant's hearth
Sprang freely as the heath-flower on his hills,
And piety, and rev'rent duty, whence
The fierceness of their superstitious zeal,
As though even virtue's self had run to seed
And brought forth vice.

" We are set here below,
Each in his place to work the will of heaven
In faith and quietness; we shall not see
The current of man's evil nature change,
And earth grow new beneath our charmed touch;
But silently, as coming of the spring,
God's purpose slowly worketh on within;
And all man's righteous efforts, like the dew,
The sap in the sweet flowers, the gentle breeze,
Shall operate conjointly with His will
The glorious spring-time of a world renew'd. "

He finish'd, and the stranger had not framed
His careless answer, when there came a sound
Like the low plashing of the summer sea
Along its pebbly margin, or the stir
Of whispering winds among the leafless trees.
Both started and look'd round: " I know it, " then
The Pastor said, " it is that woman's voice:
Each night she sits upon yon new-made grave;
Dost thou not mark it by the western wall,
Deck'd with rude crosses twined with garlands white, —
A southern rite? She is not of this land —
That mournful woman. Scarce three days are gone
Since here I heard the funeral note of woe,
And saw the train wind up the mountain path.
Four peasants, for the love of charity,
(That seed that in the Irish poor man's breast
Springs so abundant,) bore the coffin bare;
She and some women following alone.
They told me he was a poor travelling man,
Who had lain down and died in Owen's hut,
Of want or weariness; they knew not how
Nor whence he came: that woman was his wife. "
The stranger said, " Ye must have many such
In this o'er-peopled land, who on its face
Die shelterless, unown'd. " The Priest replied,
" Let us go down and seek to comfort her. "

She sat upon the grave, and to and fro
Rock'd her slight form, wrapp'd in the mantle red,
That from her brow hung backward to the ground;
Nor lack'd that face, albeit colourless
And stain'd with want and sorrow, token fair
Of beauty that had lit the dark blue eye,
And hung in smiles around the red curved lip;
And youth extreme (for soon they knit the bond
That binds the maiden to her peasant lord).

" There is no hope for me, " the woman said —
" My hearth is black; the sunshine from my heart
Has past away; I have no husband now;

The lip, whose harshest word than flattery
Of other men was sweeter far, is mute;
The eye is closed whose coldest look was love.
Vein of my heart, what voice shall comfort me?
Light of my eyes, who now shall smile on me?
I am alone; I have no hope, no help. "

" He is the resurrection, and the life,
Who hung thereon for thee, " the Pastor spake,
And touch'd the white cross rudely garlanded:
" Daughter, the widow's God will comfort thee. "

" Now the Lord's blessing be on thee, " she said,
" Whoe'er thou art, for by that word I know
Thee good and kind, who thus has solaced me.
Yes, He can hear and help; yet is it hard,
Hard for the poor, the ignorant, the lone,
So to forget their fate, and look beyond
This cold dead clay; and yet I know He hears
The voice of woman for His mother's sake. "

" Then turn thee unto Him, " the Pastor said;
And he sat down, and with the mourner held
Communion in her grief; and like the flow
Of mingling waters, on her sorrowing soul
Fell from his pitying eye and soothing lip
Compassion, and concern, and sympathy.
He spake of judgments that seem'd dark and stern
And said they were sweet Mercy's messengers,
To lead the wanderer home. He spake of One
Self-named the Father of the fatherless,
The widow's stay. Then gently her poor soul
From that cold sod, this dim, deserted earth,
He lifted up, and show'd angelic homes,
And holy counsel mingled in his speech;
And all with such a touching eloquence,
The stranger hearken'd mute, and the still air
Around seem'd perfumed with the good man's words:
And the pale mourner wept, and bow'd her head
Down to the unconscious earth, and own'd them true.
And when he ceased, she bless'd his pious care,
And then, for simple sorrow deems the load
She shares with pitying hearts is lighten'd half,
She lifted up her voice, and told her tale: —

" Far in the South my father's house was set,
'Mid those wild hills where Glendalough's deep wave
Heaves to the echoes of her seven shrines,
And the clear Avon's ancient waters glide
Around Ierne's ruin'd capital.
And I was nursed amid those relics hoar,
And fed upon the haunted airs that rock'd
That wondrous tower whereof no legends tell.
My knee had bent within our Lady's shrine,
My foot had climb'd to stern St. Kevin's bed,
And my young eye had dizzily look'd down
Oh the dark waters where his Cathleen sank.
There was no lighter step in all the glen,
No heart more heedless till young Alick came;
A dying mother's heavy sin to shrive,
From the black North, a weary pilgrimage,
He came to seek our Lady of the Glen,
And there amid those holy hills perform
A station for her soul's eternal weal.
What boots to tell how I was woo'd and won;
How by the lake where never skylark sings
He pour'd a song far sweeter to mine ear;
How through the young green woods of Derrybawn
We roam'd together, when the harvest-moon
Was on the waterfall, and Brocklagh's height
And Comaderry heard his whisper'd vows.
And dark Lugduff.

" Thus did he lure my steps
From kindred, and from friends, and maiden cares,
And from my childhood's beautiful wild home;
And still I thought there was no place on earth
So cold and dull but there our mutual love
Should light some sparks of quiet happiness.
I did not err: four pleasant summer years,
Four winters drear we dwelt in bliss together;
The tears I shed upon my father's neck
Were dried full soon. My mother's weeping face
Haunted my dreams no more; there only dwelt
The memory of their blessings and their prayers
Enshrined within my heart. A pleasant scene
Was the broad vale beneath us, fair to see
From the grey hill-side where our cabin stood;
The Morne, like glittering serpent, roll'd his length
O'er his rough bed around Strabane's white wall,
And gently, like a bride, the silver Finn
Came through her meadows, wandering to meet
His bounding wave by Lifford's silent tower.
And it was beautiful to trace their course,
Standing together by the threshold lone
Of our poor dwelling, when sweet twilight brought
Short respite to our toil; for all the day
He labour'd at the weary loom within,
Winning scant pittance for my babes and me,
And I beside him, winding the long thread,
Rock'd with my foot the cradle of our boy,
While our young daughter, climbing round my knee
With pretty prattle chided the long hours,
Till he would sometimes lay his shuttle down
And laugh with us. I was the happiest wife,
The proudest mother then: ah me! those days
How fast they fleeted. Our fifth winter came,
And with it a third child; in evil hour
Of sickliness and danger came he forth;
And it was long ere health or strength return'd
To my wan wither'd cheek and weaken'd frame.
The season too was hard; the poor man's loom
Stood idle now, or rung a gain so small,
So trivial, 'twas a mockery to toil.
And yet he labour'd on; no more at even
I sate, my hand in his: the regular fall
Of the dull shuttle sounded in my ear
Half through the weary night; and still the sound
Of his dear voice rose o'er it cheerily,
And still he bade me hope, and when his cheek
Faded, he smiled, and told me all was well.

" In the young spring-time, when the days grew long,
Late labouring and early, we had set
With our own hands the precious roots whereon
Our babes might feed, within a narrow spot,
Rough and uneven, by our mountain home;
Now their green tops were blacken'd, and the spade
Was ready made to cast our treasure forth.
Stern was the man, and hard of heart, alas!
Of whom we held our dwelling. They whose veins
Hold gentle blood are gentle-hearted ever:
But this poor churl was mean as we; his heart
No pity had, no patience; for the rent
Of those four walls he seized our sustenance;
It was our life, our all; we had but it;
I look'd on my poor children, and despair'd,
And he whose steady soul had ever smiled
Through all our trials, making sorrow wear
The hue of his courageous cheerfulness,
Like trees by moonlight whose dark, different dyes
Are changed to silver white — his heart, too, sank
With aspect of our hopeless misery

" It was a dark December even; the sleet
Beat coldly on our narrow window pane;
We sat and look'd into each other's eyes,
And spake no word of comfort; bit nor sup
Had broken his fast or mine that weary day.
I rock'd the sickly infant on my knee,
And, as it wail'd, the wan fire's flickering light
Fell on my wasted form: he turn'd away,
And took up his fair boy to make him sport,
But the child look'd up in his father's face
And ask'd for food. Then was the measure full;
The brimming cup of aggravated woe
Ran o'er at last. " God help me, Rose," he said,
" I cannot see them starve." Then quick caught up
The basket and the shovel, and was gone.
It was the longest hour in all my life
Till Alick came again; not emptily,
But laden with full store; for he had been
To our oppressor's field, and from the pit
Had taken a part; he said it was his own,
But well I knew the specious plea was false,
And even as he spoke the flush of shame,
Of dark dishonest shame, the first that ever
Mine eye had seen on that broad manly brow,
Rose to his face. He stay'd with me that night,
But ere the morning dawn he fled away.
Oh! but the rich are happy; they are not
Goaded to guilt by misery extreme,
Nor till her bosom have been wrung like his,
Let Innocence inexorably judge
Mid all her gifts, the madness of that hour.

" They sought him like a felon through the land
And I had died of penury the while,
But for that lady sweet, compassionate,
(God, when she dieth, make her bed in Heaven)
Who sought me in my need and succour'd me.
Three weeks he came not, three long weary weeks
I sat alone beside my widow'd hearth,
And started when perchance the hollow wind
Howl'd through the mountain passes, or the dog
Stirr'd in his slumber; for I surely thought
It was his footfall on the snowy path,
And many times I rose, and would look forth;
Alas! the pale moon lighted the cold waste,
And I could almost chide her that she look'd
As bright upon my lonely woe, as when
She lit our loves by Glaneola's brook.
And those two rushing rivers, that had been
The mirrors of our happiness, were there,
In their broad beauty; only I was changed
At length he came: his tremulous finger touch'd
The window pane; the murmur of his voice
Thrill'd to my heart; I bounded to unlatch
The fragile door, and we were one again.

" That very night across the heather height
Two exiled pilgrims, we fled forth together,
He bearing our two children, I the babe;
Houseless and poor and desolate we went,
Hoping alone in God and in each other.
Long time we wander'd; six times the broad moon
Won her full height, and six times waned again,
And still we sat beside another's fire.
All day we roam'd, and nightly made our bed
Where we found shelter: hardship, hunger, cold,
Such as ye know not, were our portion then,
And we had grief: the sickly babe died first;
Oh! it was hard to lay the burden down
That I had ever borne upon my breast,
In the cold clay. They told me the good God
Had taken home the bark that was too frail
To breast the storm; and my fair other boy
Was there to comfort me; but we love most
That which has cost us most of toil and pain,
And I wept wildly for my white-hair'd boy.
Blind was I then, and of my future fate
Most ignorant, who, when my foot first touch'd
The waters of affliction, stood and moan'd,
Nor saw how high the billows rose around
To whelm my soul; and yet I might have known,
Because there hung a cloud o'er those bright eyes
That were my sun and star; even from the night
When first he stain'd the honest purity
Of his good name with that dishonest deed.
The memory of that one evil act
Clung to his soul through all our sufferings,
Like weight on some poor drowning mariner
That drags him down below; and he would say,
" I might have waited: God then in His love
Had seen our honest truth and sent relief.
I was too hasty; in my grief I sinn'd."
And day by day he wither'd from my side,
And yet I would not see; like frighten'd child
That, in his nightly chamber laid alone,
Shuts up his eyes, and deems there cannot be
A danger that he doth not look upon.

" But wherefore linger? He was failing long.
A kinsman dwelling in yon distant glen
Took the two children while we wended hither
For we had heard there was a holy well
By this old chapel, in whose sainted wave
There dwelt a healing virtue for the frame
Decay had smitten; to this ruin'd shrine
After long travel we drew nigh; and here
He found indeed what he had sought — relief,
A quiet bed, and for his weary frame
A peaceful lying-down. Poor sufferer,
These healing waters wrought for thee no cure
Whose sickness was a broken heart; thy bed
Is made with the cold earth-worm for a mate.
How shall I turn and go away without thee?
And when thy children meet me by the way,
And ask me for their father, and look up
And lisp thy name, what shall I answer them? "

Then ceased the mourner's tale; but not with
Her voice of lamentation; that burst forth
In that deep cry most wild, most musical,
That speaks of hopeless anguish for the dead.
It mingled with the murmur of the tide,
It mingled with the merry mountain breeze,
And down the valley fell that single voice
With a strange power, as when the moaning wind
Sighs through the forest, and men think they hear
The mingling of a human voice, and start,
And pause to listen.

" Said I not aright, "
The Pastor of the stranger then inquired,
" Amid the strife of powers untrain'd within
And hard external pressure, which the mind
Lacks principle and courage to withstand,
That beautiful and holy things there are? "
He spoke, and to the mourner pointed out,
Down the green glen, his homely hermitage,
And bade her claim the hospitable aid
Which never the poor tired traveller
Had sought in vain, or wanderer wanted, there.
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