Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
Primroses
By Alfred Austin (1835–1913)
 
I
LATEST, earliest, of the year,
Primroses that still were here,
Snugly nestling round the boles
Of the cut down chestnut poles,
When December’s tottering tread        5
Rustled ’mong the deep leaves dead,
And with confident young faces
Peep’d from out the shelter’d places
When pale January lay
In its cradle day by day,        10
Dead or living, hard to say;
Now that mid-March blows and blusters,
Out you steal in tufts and clusters,
Making leafless lane and wood
Vernal with your hardihood.        15
Other lovely things are rare,
You are prodigal as fair.
First you come by ones, and ones,
Lastly in battalions;
Skirmish along hedge and bank,        20
Turn old Winter’s wavering flank;
Round his flying footsteps hover,
Seize on hollow, ridge, and cover,
Leave nor slope nor hill unharried,
Till, his snowy trenches carried,        25
O’er his sepulchre you laugh,
Winter’s joyous epitaph.
 
II
This, too, be your glory great,
Primroses, you do not wait,
As the other flowers do,        30
For the Spring to smile on you;
But with coming are content,
Asking no encouragement.
Ere the hardy crocus cleaves
Sunny borders ’neath the eaves;        35
Ere the thrush his song rehearse,
Sweeter than all poets’ verse;
Ere the early bleating lambs
Cling like shadows to their dams;
Ere the blackthorn breaks to white,        40
Snowy-hooded anchorite;
Out from every hedge you look,
You are bright by every brook,
Wearing for your sole defence
Fearlessness of innocence.        45
While the daffodils still waver,
Ere the jonquil gets its savour;
While the linnets yet but pair,
You are fledged, and everywhere.
Nought can daunt you, nought distress,        50
Neither cold nor sunlessness.
You, when Lent sleet flies apace,
Look the tempest in the face
As descend the flakes more slow,
From your eyelids shake the snow,        55
And, when all the clouds have flown,
Meet the sun’s smile with your own.
Nothing ever makes you less
Gracious to ungraciousness.
March may bluster up and down,        60
Pettish April sulk and frown;
Closer to their skirts you cling,
Coaxing Winter to be Spring.
 
III
Then, when your sweet task is done,
And the wild-flowers, one by one,        65
Here, there, everywhere do blow,
Primroses, you haste to go,
Satisfied with what you bring,
Fading morning-stars of Spring.
You have brighten’d doubtful days,        70
You have sweeten’d long delays,
Fooling our enchanted reason
To miscalculate the season.
But when doubt and fear are fled,
When the kine leave wintry shed,        75
And ’mong grasses green and tall
Find their fodder, make their stall;
When the wintering swallow flies
Homeward back from southern skies,
To the dear old cottage thatch        80
Where it loves to build and hatch,
That its young may understand,
Nor forget, this English land;
When the cuckoo, mocking rover,
Laughs that April loves are over;        85
When the hawthorn, all ablow,
Mimics the defeated snow;
Then you give one last look round,
Stir the sleepers underground,
Call the campion to awake,        90
Tell the speedwell courage take,
Bid the eyebright have no fear,
Whisper in the bluebell’s ear
Time has come for it to flood
With its blue waves all the wood,        95
Mind the stitchwort of its pledge
To replace you in the hedge,
Bid the ladysmocks good-bye,
Close your bonnie lids and die;
And, without one look of blame,        100
Go as gently as you came.
 
 
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