The Clergyman’s First Tale
Love is fellow-service.
A youth and maid upon a summer night
Upon the lawn, while yet the skies were light,
Edmund and Emma, let their names be these,
Among the shrubs within the circling trees,
Joined in a game with boys and girls at play:
For games perhaps too old a little they;
In April she her eighteenth year begun,
And twenty he, and near to twenty-one.
A game it was of running and of noise;
He as a boy, with other girls and boys
(Her sisters and her brothers), took the fun;
And when her turn, she marked not, came to run,
‘Emma,’ he called, then knew that he was wrong,
Knew that her name to him did not belong.
Her look and manner proved his feeling true,
A child no more, her womanhood she knew;
Half was the colour mounted on her face,
Her tardy movement had an adult grace.
Vexed with himself, and shamed, he felt the more
A kind of joy he ne’er had felt before.
Something there was that from this date began;
’Twas beautiful with her to be a man.
Two years elapsed, and he who went and came,
Changing in much, in this appeared the same;
The feeling, if it did not greatly grow,
Endured and was not wholly hid below.
He now, o’ertasked at school, a serious boy,
A sort of after-boyhood to enjoy
Appeared in vigour and in spirit high
And manly grown, but kept the boy’s soft eye:
And full of blood, and strong and lithe of limb,
To him ’twas pleasure now to ride, to swim;
The peaks, the glens, the torrents tempted him.
Restless he seemed, long distances would walk,
And lively was, and vehement in talk.
A wandering life his life had lately been,
Books he had read, the world had little seen.
One former frailty haunted him, a touch
Of something introspective overmuch.
With all his eager motions still there went
A self-correcting and ascetic bent,
That from the obvious good still led astray,
And set him travelling on the longest way;
Seen in these scattered notes their date that claim
When first his feeling conscious sought a name.
‘Beside the wishing gate which so they name,
’Mid northern hills to me this fancy came,
A wish I formed, my wish I thus expressed:
Would I could wish my wishes all to rest,
And know to wish the wish that were the best!
O for some winnowing wind, to the empty air
This chaff of easy sympathies to bear
Far off, and leave me of myself aware!
While thus this over health deludes me still,
So willing that I know not what I will;
O for some friend, or more than friend, austere,
To make me know myself, and make me fear!
O for some touch, too noble to be kind,
To awake to life the mind within the mind!’
‘O charms, seductions and divine delights!
All through the radiant yellow summer nights,
Dreams, hardly dreams, that yield or e’er they’re done,
To the bright fact, my day, my risen sun!
O promise and fulfilment, both in one!
O bliss, already bliss, which nought has shared,
Whose glory no fruition has impaired,
And, emblem of my state, thou coming day,
With all thy hours unspent to pass away!
Why do I wait? What more propose to know?
Where the sweet mandate bids me, let me go;
My conscience in my impulse let me find,
Justification in the moving mind,
Law in the strong desire; or yet behind,
Say, is there aught the spell that has not heard,
A something that refuses to be stirred?’
‘In other regions has my being heard
Of a strange language the diviner word?
Has some forgotten life the exemplar shown?
Elsewhere such high communion have I known,
As dooms me here, in this, to live alone?
Then love, that shouldest blind me, let me, love,
Nothing behold beyond thee or above;
Ye impulses, that should be strong and wild,
Beguile me, if I am to be beguiled!’
‘Or are there modes of love, and different kinds,
Proportioned to the sizes of our minds?
There are who say thus, I held there was one,
One love, one deity, one central sun;
As he resistless brings the expanding day,
So love should come on his victorious way.
If light at all, can light indeed be there,
Yet only permeate half the ambient air?
Can the high noon be regnant in the sky,
Yet half the land in light, and half in darkness lie?
Can love, if love, be occupant in part,
Hold, as it were, some chambers in the heart;
Tenant at will of so much of the soul,
Not lord and mighty master of the whole?
There are who say, and say that it is well;
Opinion all, of knowledge none can tell.
‘Montaigne, I know in a realm high above
Places the seat of friendship over love;
’Tis not in love that we should think to find
The lofty fellowship of mind with mind;
Love ’s not a joy where soul and soul unite,
Rather a wondrous animal delight;
And as in spring, for one consummate hour,
The world of vegetation turns to flower,
The birds with liveliest plumage trim their wing,
And all the woodland listens as they sing;
When spring is o’er and summer days are sped,
The songs are silent, and the blossoms dead:
E’en so of man and woman is the bliss.
O, but I will not tamely yield to this!
I think it only shows us in the end,
Montaigne was happy in a noble friend,
Had not the fortune of a noble wife;
He lived, I think, a poor ignoble life,
And wrote of petty pleasures, petty pain;
I do not greatly think about Montaigne.’
‘How charming to be with her! yet indeed,
After a while I find a blank succeed;
After a while she little has to say,
I’m silent too, although I wish to stay;
What would it be all day, day after day?
Ah! but I ask, I do not doubt, too much;
I think of love as if it should be such
As to fulfil and occupy in whole
The nought-else-seeking, nought-essaying soul.
Therefore it is my mind with doubts I urge;
Hence are these fears and shiverings on the verge;
By books, not nature, thus have we been schooled,
By poetry and novels been befooled;
Wiser tradition says, the affections’ claim
Will be supplied, the rest will be the same.
I think too much of love, ’tis true: I know
It is not all, was ne’er intended so;
Yet such a change, so entire, I feel, ’twould be,
So potent, so omnipotent with me;
My former self I never should recall,
Indeed I think it must be all in all.’
‘I thought that Love was winged; without a sound,
His purple pinions bore him o’er the ground,
Wafted without an effort here or there,
He came and we too trod as if in air:
But panting, toiling, clambering up the hill,
Am I to assist him? I, put forth my will
To upbear his lagging footsteps, lame and slow,
And help him on and tell him where to go,
And ease him of his quiver and his bow?’
‘Erotion! I saw it in a book;
Why did I notice it, why did I look?
Yea, is it so, ye powers that see above?
I do not love, I want, I try to love!
This is not love, but lack of love instead!
Merciless thought! I would I had been dead,
Or e’er the phrase had come into my, head.’
She also wrote: and here may find a place,
Of her and of her thoughts some slender trace.
‘He is not vain; if proud, he quells his pride,
And somehow really likes to be defied;
Rejoices if you humble him: indeed
Gives way at once, and leaves you to succeed.’
‘Easy it were with such a mind to play,
And foolish not to do so, some would say;
One almost smiles to look and see the way:
But come what will, I will not play a part,
Indeed I dare not condescend to art.’
Easy ’twere not, perhaps, with him to live;
He looks for more than any one can give:
So dulled at times and disappointed; still
Expecting what depends not of my will:
My inspiration comes not at my call,
Seek me as I am, if seek you do at all.’
‘Like him I do, and think of him I must;
But more I dare not and I cannot trust.
This more he brings say, is it more or less
Than that no fruitage ever came to bless,
The old wild flower of love-in-idleness?’
‘Me when he leaves and others when he sees,
What is my fate who am not there to please?
Me he has left; already may have seen
One, who for me forgotten here has been;
And he, the while, is balancing between.
If the heart spoke, the heart I knew were bound;
What if it utter an uncertain sound?’
‘So quick to vary, so rejoiced to change,
From this to that his feelings surely range;
His fancies wander, and his thoughts as well;
And if the heart be constant, who can tell?
Far off to fly, to abandon me, and go,
He seems, returning then before I know:
With every accident he seems to move,
Is now below me and is now above,
Now far aside, O, does he really love?’
‘Absence were hard; yet let the trial be;
His nature’s aim and purpose he would free,
And in the world his course of action see.
O should he lose, not learn; pervert his scope;
O should I lose! and yet to win I hope.
I win not now; his way if now I went,
Brief joy I gave, for years of discontent.’
‘Gone, is it true? but oft he went before,
And came again before a month was o’er.
Gone though I could not venture upon art,
It was perhaps a foolish pride in part;
He had such ready fancies in his head,
And really was so easy to be led;
One might have failed; and yet I feel ’twas pride,
And can’t but half repent I never tried.
Gone, is it true? but he again will come,
Wandering he loves, and loves returning home.’
Gone, it was true; nor came so soon again;
Came, after travelling, pleasure half, half pain,
Came, but a half of Europe first o’erran;
Arrived, his father found a ruined man.
Rich they had been, and rich was Emma too.
Heiress of wealth she knew not, Edmund knew.
Farewell to her! In a new home obscure,
Food for his helpless parents to secure,
From early morning to advancing dark,
He toiled and laboured as a merchant’s clerk.
Three years his heavy load he bore, nor quailed,
Then all his health, though scarce his spirit, failed;
Friends interposed, insisted it must be,
Enforced their help, and sent him to the sea.
Wandering about with little here to do,
His old thoughts mingling dimly with his new,
Wandering one morn, he met upon the shore,
Her, whom he quitted five long years before.
Alas! why quitted? Say that charms are nought,
Nor grace, nor beauty worth one serious thought;
Was there no mystic virtue in the sense
That joined your boyish girlish innocence?
Is constancy a thing to throw away,
And loving faithfulness a chance of every day?
Alas! why quitted? is she changed? but now
The weight of intellect is in her brow;
Changed, or but truer seen, one sees in her
Something to wake the soul, the interior sense to stir.
Alone they met, from alien eyes away,
The high shore hid them in a tiny bay.
Alone was he, was she; in sweet surprise
They met, before they knew it, in their eyes.
In his a wondering admiration glowed,
In hers, a world of tenderness o’erflowed;
In a brief moment all was known and seen,
That of slow years the wearying work had been:
Morn’s early odorous breath perchance in sooth,
Awoke the old natural feeling of their youth:
The sea, perchance, and solitude had charms,
They met I know not in each other’s arms.
Why linger now why waste the sands of life?
A few sweet weeks, and they were man and wife.
To his old frailty do not be severe,
His latest theory with patience hear:
‘I sought not, truly would to seek disdain,
A kind, soft pillow for a wearying pain,
Fatigues and cares to lighten, to relieve;
But love is fellow-service, I believe.’
‘No, truly no, it was not to obtain,
Though that alone were happiness, were gain,
A tender breast to fall upon and weep,
A heart, the secrets of my heart to keep;
To share my hopes, and in my griefs to grieve;
Yet love is fellow-service, I believe.’
‘Yet in the eye of life’s all-seeing sun
We shall behold a something we have done,
Shall of the work together we have wrought,
Beyond our aspiration and our thought,
Some not unworthy issue yet receive;
For love is fellow-service, I believe.’
The tale, we said, instructive was, but short;
Could he not give another of the sort?
He feared his second might his first repeat,
‘And Aristotle teaches, change is sweet;
But come, our younger friend in this dim night
Under his bushel must not hide his light.’
I said I’d had but little time to live,
Experience none or confidence could give.
‘But I can tell to-morrow, if you please,
My last year’s journey towards the Pyrenees.’
To-morrow came, and evening, when it closed,
The penalty of speech on me imposed.
The Clergyman’s First Tale by Arthur Hugh Clough