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RUTH

          WHEN Ruth was left half desolate,
          Her Father took another Mate;
          And Ruth, not seven years old,
          A slighted child, at her own will
          Went wandering over dale and hill,
          In thoughtless freedom, bold.

          And she had made a pipe of straw,
          And music from that pipe could draw
          Like sounds of winds and floods;
          Had built a bower upon the green,                           10
          As if she from her birth had been
          An infant of the woods.

          Beneath her father's roof, alone
          She seemed to live; her thoughts her own;
          Herself her own delight;
          Pleased with herself, nor sad, nor gay;
          And, passing thus the live-long day,
          She grew to woman's height.

          There came a Youth from Georgia's shore--
          A military casque he wore,                                  20
          With splendid feathers drest;
          He brought them from the Cherokees;
          The feathers nodded in the breeze,
          And made a gallant crest.

          From Indian blood you deem him sprung:
          But no! he spake the English tongue,
          And bore a soldier's name;
          And, when America was free
          From battle and from jeopardy,
          He 'cross the ocean came.                                   30

          With hues of genius on his cheek
          In finest tones the Youth could speak:
          --While he was yet a boy,
          The moon, the glory of the sun,
          And streams that murmur as they run,
          Had been his dearest joy.

          He was a lovely Youth! I guess
          The panther in the wilderness
          Was not so fair as he;
          And, when he chose to sport and play,                       40
          No dolphin ever was so gay
          Upon the tropic sea.

          Among the Indians he had fought,
          And with him many tales he brought
          Of pleasure and of fear;
          Such tales as told to any maid
          By such a Youth, in the green shade,
          Were perilous to hear.

          He told of girls--a happy rout!
          Who quit their fold with dance and shout,                   50
          Their pleasant Indian town,
          To gather strawberries all day long;
          Returning with a choral song
          When daylight is gone down.

          He spake of plants that hourly change
          Their blossoms, through a boundless range
          Of intermingling hues;
          With budding, fading, faded flowers
          They stand the wonder of the bowers
          From morn to evening dews.                                  60

          He told of the magnolia, spread
          High as a cloud, high over head!
          The cypress and her spire;
          --Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam
          Cover a hundred leagues, and seem
          To set the hills on fire.

          The Youth of green savannahs spake,
          And many an endless, endless lake,
          With all its fairy crowds
          Of islands, that together lie                               70
          As quietly as spots of sky
          Among the evening clouds.

          "How pleasant," then he said, "it were
          A fisher or a hunter there,
          In sunshine or in shade
          To wander with an easy mind;
          And build a household fire, and find
          A home in every glade!

          "What days and what bright years! Ah me!
          Our life were life indeed, with thee                        80
          So passed in quiet bliss,
          And all the while," said he, "to know
          That we were in a world of woe,
          On such an earth as this!"

          And then he sometimes interwove
          Fond thoughts about a father's love
          "For there," said he, "are spun
          Around the heart such tender ties,
          That our own children to our eyes
          Are dearer than the sun.                                    90

          "Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me
          My helpmate in the woods to be,
          Our shed at night to rear;
          Or run, my own adopted bride,
          A sylvan huntress at my side,
          And drive the flying deer!

          "Beloved Ruth!"--No more he said,
          The wakeful Ruth at midnight shed
          A solitary tear:
          She thought again--and did agree                           100
          With him to sail across the sea,
          And drive the flying deer.

          "And now, as fitting is and right,
          We in the church our faith will plight,
          A husband and a wife."
          Even so they did; and I may say
          That to sweet Ruth that happy day
          Was more than human life.

          Through dream and vision did she sink,
          Delighted all the while to think                           110
          That on those lonesome floods,
          And green savannahs, she should share
          His board with lawful joy, and bear
          His name in the wild woods.

          But, as you have before been told,
          This Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold,
          And, with his dancing crest,
          So beautiful, through savage lands
          Had roamed about, with vagrant bands
          Of Indians in the West.                                    120

          The wind, the tempest roaring high,
          The tumult of a tropic sky,
          Might well be dangerous food
          For him, a Youth to whom was given
          So much of earth--so much of heaven,
          And such impetuous blood.

          Whatever in those climes he found
          Irregular in sight or sound
          Did to his mind impart
          A kindred impulse, seemed allied                           130
          To his own powers, and justified
          The workings of his heart.

          Nor less, to feed voluptuous thought,
          The beauteous forms of nature wrought,
          Fair trees and gorgeous flowers;
          The breezes their own languor lent;
          The stars had feelings, which they sent
          Into those favoured bowers.

          Yet, in his worst pursuits, I ween
          That sometimes there did intervene                         140
          Pure hopes of high intent:
          For passions linked to forms so fair
          And stately, needs must have their share
          Of noble sentiment.

          But ill he lived, much evil saw,
          With men to whom no better law
          Nor better life was known;
          Deliberately, and undeceived,
          Those wild men's vices he received,
          And gave them back his own.                                150

          His genius and his moral frame
          Were thus impaired, and he became
          The slave of low desires:
          A Man who without self-control
          Would seek what the degraded soul
          Unworthily admires.

          And yet he with no feigned delight
          Had wooed the Maiden, day and night
          Had loved her, night and morn:
          What could he less than love a Maid                        160
          Whose heart with so much nature played?
          So kind and so forlorn!

          Sometimes, most earnestly, he said,
          "O Ruth! I have been worse than dead;
          False thoughts, thoughts bold and vain,
          Encompassed me on every side
          When I, in confidence and pride,
          Had crossed the Atlantic main.

          "Before me shone a glorious world--
          Fresh as a banner bright, unfurled                         170
          To music suddenly:
          I looked upon those hills and plains,
          And seemed as if let loose from chains,
          To live at liberty.

          "No more of this; for now, by thee
          Dear Ruth! more happily set free
          With nobler zeal I burn;
          My soul from darkness is released,
          Like the whole sky when to the east
          The morning doth return."                                  180

          Full soon that better mind was gone;
          No hope, no wish remained, not one,--
          They stirred him now no more;
          New objects did new pleasure give,
          And once again he wished to live
          As lawless as before.

          Meanwhile, as thus with him it fared,
          They for the voyage were prepared,
          And went to the sea-shore,
          But, when they thither came the Youth                      190
          Deserted his poor Bride, and Ruth
          Could never find him more.

          God help thee, Ruth!--Such pains she had,
          That she in half a year was mad,
          And in a prison housed;
          And there, with many a doleful song
          Made of wild words, her cup of wrong
          She fearfully caroused.

          Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,
          Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew,                         200
          Nor pastimes of the May;
          --They all were with her in her cell;
          And a clear brook with cheerful knell
          Did o'er the pebbles play.

          When Ruth three seasons thus had lain,
          There came a respite to her pain;
          She from her prison fled;
          But of the Vagrant none took thought;
          And where it liked her best she sought
          Her shelter and her bread.                                 210

          Among the fields she breathed again:
          The master-current of her brain
          Ran permanent and free;
          And, coming to the Banks of Tone,
          There did she rest; and dwell alone
          Under the greenwood tree.

          The engines of her pain, the tools
          That shaped her sorrow, rocks and pools,
          And airs that gently stir
          The vernal leaves--she loved them still;                   220
          Nor ever taxed them with the ill
          Which had been done to her.

          A Barn her 'winter' bed supplies;
          But, till the warmth of summer skies
          And summer days is gone,
          (And all do in this tale agree)
          She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,
          And other home hath none.

          An innocent life, yet far astray!
          And Ruth will, long before her day,                        230
          Be broken down and old:
          Sore aches she needs must have! but less
          Of mind, than body's wretchedness,
          From damp, and rain, and cold.

          If she is prest by want of food,
          She from her dwelling in the wood
          Repairs to a road-side;
          And there she begs at one steep place
          Where up and down with easy pace
          The horsemen-travellers ride.                              240

          That oaten pipe of hers is mute,
          Or thrown away; but with a flute
          Her loneliness she cheers:
          This flute, made of a hemlock stalk,
          At evening in his homeward walk
          The Quantock woodman hears.

          I, too, have passed her on the hills
          Setting her little water-mills
          By spouts and fountains wild--
          Such small machinery as she turned                         250
          Ere she had wept, ere she had mourned,
          A young and happy Child!

          Farewell! and when thy days are told,
          Ill-fated Ruth, in hallowed mould
          Thy corpse shall buried be,
          For thee a funeral bell shall ring,
          And all the congregation sing
          A Christian psalm for thee.
                                                              1799.


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