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THE REDBREAST

SUGGESTED IN A WESTMORELAND COTTAGE

          DRIVEN in by Autumn's sharpening air
          From half-stripped woods and pastures bare,
          Brisk Robin seeks a kindlier home:
          Not like a beggar is he come,
          But enters as a looked-for guest,
          Confiding in his ruddy breast,
          As if it were a natural shield
          Charged with a blazon on the field,
          Due to that good and pious deed
          Of which we in the Ballad read.                             10
          But pensive fancies putting by,
          And wild-wood sorrows, speedily
          He plays the expert ventriloquist;
          And, caught by glimpses now--now missed,
          Puzzles the listener with a doubt
          If the soft voice he throws about
          Comes from within doors or without!
          Was ever such a sweet confusion,
          Sustained by delicate illusion?
          He's at your elbow--to your feeling                         20
          The notes are from the floor or ceiling;
          And there's a riddle to be guessed,
          'Till you have marked his heaving chest,
          And busy throat whose sink and swell,
          Betray the Elf that loves to dwell
          In Robin's bosom, as a chosen cell.
            Heart-pleased we smile upon the Bird
          If seen, and with like pleasure stirred
          Commend him, when he's only heard.
          But small and fugitive our gain                             30
          Compared with 'hers' who long hath lain,
          With languid limbs and patient head
          Reposing on a lone sick-bed;
          Where now, she daily hears a strain
          That cheats her of too busy cares,
          Eases her pain, and helps her prayers.
          And who but this dear Bird beguiled
          The fever of that pale-faced Child;
          Now cooling, with his passing wing,
          Her forehead, like a breeze of Spring:                      40
          Recalling now, with descant soft
          Shed round her pillow from aloft,
          Sweet thoughts of angels hovering nigh,
          And the invisible sympathy
          Of "Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and John,
          Blessing the bed she lies upon"?
          And sometimes, just as listening ends
          In slumber, with the cadence blends
          A dream of that low-warbled hymn
          Which old folk, fondly pleased to trim                      50
          Lamps of faith, now burning dim,
          Say that the Cherubs carved in stone,
          When clouds gave way at dead of night
          And the ancient church was filled with light,
          Used to sing in heavenly tone,
          Above and round the sacred places
          They guard, with winged baby-faces.
            Thrice happy Creature! in all lands
          Nurtured by hospitable hands:
          Free entrance to this cot has he,                           60
          Entrance and exit both 'yet' free;
          And, when the keen unruffled weather
          That thus brings man and bird together,
          Shall with its pleasantness be past,
          And casement closed and door made fast,
          To keep at bay the howling blast,
          'He' needs not fear the season's rage,
          For the whole house is Robin's cage.
          Whether the bird flit here or there,
          O'er table 'lilt', or perch on chair,                       70
          Though some may frown and make a stir,
          To scare him as a trespasser,
          And he belike will flinch or start,
          Good friends he has to take his part;
          One chiefly, who with voice and look
          Pleads for him from the chimney-nook,
          Where sits the Dame, and wears away
          Her long and vacant holiday;
          With images about her heart,
          Reflected from the years gone by,                           80
          On human nature's second infancy.
                                                              1834.


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