02 August 2013

The Fowler - A Poem from 1841

By Delta. From Blackwood for Sept.
"And in there care in heav'n and is there love
In heav'nly spirits to these creature base.
That may compassion of their evils move
There is — else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts. But oh! the exceeding grace
Of highest God that loves his creatures so,
And all his works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels he sends to and fro.
To serve on wicked man to serve his wicked foe."


I have an old remembrance — 'tis as old
As Childhood's visions, and 'tis mingled with
Dim thoughts, and scenes grotesque, by fantasy
From out Oblivion's twilight conjured up.
Ere Truth had shorn Imagination's beams,
Or to forlorn reality tamed down
The buoyant spirit. Yes! The shapes and hues
Of winter twilight, often as the year
Revolves, and hoar-frost grimes the window-sill,
Bring back the lone waste scene that gave it birth,
And make me, for a moment, what I was
Then, on that Polar morn, a little boy,
And Earth again the realm of fairyland.
A Fowler was our visitant; his talk
At eve beside the flickering hearth, while howled
The outward winds, and hail-drops on the pane
Tinkled, or flown the chimney in the flame
Whizzed as they melted, was of forest and field,
Wherein lay bright wild-birds and timorous beasts
That shunned the face of man; and oh! the joy,
The passion which lit up his brow, to con
The feats of slight and cunning skill by which
Their haunts were neared, or on the heathy hills,
Or 'mid the undergrove; on snowy moor,
Or by the rushy lake — what time the dawn
Reddens the east, or from on high the moon
In the smooth waters sees her picture's orb,
The white cloud slumbering in the windless sky.
And midnight mantling all the silent hills.
I do remember me the very time —
Tho' thirty shadowy years have lapsed between?
'Tis graved as by the hand of yesterday,
For weeks had raved the winds; the angry seas
Howl'd to the darkness, and downfallen the snows;
The red-breast to the window came for crumbs;
Hunger had to the coleworts driven the hate;
The crow, at noontide, pecked the traveled road;
And the wood-pigeon, timorously bold,
Starved from the forest, neared the homes of man.
It was the dreariest depth of winter-tide,
And on the ocean and its isles was felt
The iron sway of the North; yes, even the fowl —
That through the polar summer months could see
A beauty in Spitzbergen's naked isles,
Or on the drifting icebergs seek a home —
Even they had fled, on southern wing, in search
Of less inclement shores.
Perturbed by dreams
Passed o'er the slow night-watches; many a thought
And many a hope was forward bent on morn;
But weary was the tedious chime on chime,
And hour on hour 't was dark, and still it was dark
At length we rose — for now we counted five —
And by the flickering hearth arrayed ourselves
In coats and 'kerchiefs, for the early drift
And biting season fit; the fowling-piece
Was shouldered, and the blood-stained game pouch slung
On this side, and the gleaming flask on that:
In sooth, we were a most accordant pair;
And thus accoutred, 10 the lone sea-shore
In fond and fierce precipitance we flew.
There was no breath abroad; each in its cave,
As if enchanted, slept the winds, and left
Earth in a voiceless trance : around the porch
All stirlessly the darksome ivy clung;
All silently the leafless trees held up
Their bare boughs to the sky; the atmosphere,
Untroubled in its cold serenity,
Wept icy dews; and now the later stars,
As by some hidden necromantic charm,
Dilate, amid the death-like calm profound,
On the white slumber-mantled earth gazed down. —
Words may not tell, how to the temperament,
And to the hue of that enchanted hour,
The spirit was subdued: a wizard scene!
In the far west, the Peatland's gloomy ridge
Belted the pale blue sky, whereon a cloud,
Fantastic, grey, and tinged with solemn light,
Lay like a dreaming monster, and the moon,
Waning, above its silvery rim upheld
Her horns — as 't were the Spectre of the Past.
Silently, silently, on we trode and trode.
As if a spell had frozen up our words :
White lay the wolds around us, ankle deep
In new-fallen snows, which champ'd beneath our tread;
And, by the marge of winding Esk, which showed
The mirrored stars upon its map of ice,
Downward in haste we journeyed to the shore
Of Ocean, whose drear, multitudinous voice
Unto the listening spirit of silence sang.
Oh, leaf! from out the volume of far years
Dissevered, oft, how oft have the young buds
Of Spring unfolded, have the Summer skies
In their deep blue o'ercanopied the earth,
And Autumn, in September's ripening breeze,
Rustled her harvests, since the theme was one
Present, and darkly all that Future lay,
Which now is of the perished and the past,
Since then a generation's span hath fled,
With all its varied whirls of chance and change —
With all it's casualties of birth and death;
And, looking round, sadly I feel this world
Another, though the same; — another in
The eyes that gleam, the hearts that throb, the hopes,
The fears, the friendships of the soul; the same
In outward aspect — in the hills which cleave —
As landmarks of historical renown —
With azure peaks the sky; in the green plain,
That spreads its annual wild-flowers to the sun;
And in the river, whose blue course is marked
By many a well known bend and shadowy tree : —
Yet o'er the oblivious gulf, whose mazy gloom
Ensepulchres so many things, I see
As 't were of yesterday — yet robed in tints
Which yesterday has lost, or never had —
The desolate features of that Polar morn —
Its twilight shadows, and its twinkling stars —
The snows far spreading — the expanse of sand,
Ribbed by the roaring and receded sea.
And, shedding over all a wizard light,
The waning moon above the dim-seen hills.
At length, upon the solitary shore
We walked of ocean, which, with sullen voice,
Hollow and never-ceasing, to the north
Sang its primeval song. A weary waste!
We passed through pools, where mussel, clam and wilk
Clove to their gravelly beds; o'er slimy rocks,
Ridgy and dark, with dank fresh fuel green,
Where the prawn wriggled, and the tiny crab
Slid sideway from our path, until we gained
The land's extremest point, a sandy jut,
Narrow, and by the weltering waves begirt
Around; and there we laid us down and watched,
While from the west the pale moon disappeared,
Pronely, the sea-fowl and the coming dawn.
Now Day with Darkness for the mastery strove;
The stars had waned away — all, save the last
And fairest, Lucifer, whose sliver lamp,
In solitary beauty, twinkling, shone
'Mid the far west, where, through the clouds of rack
Floating around, peeped out at intervals
A patch of sky; — straightway the reign of Night
Was finished, and, as if instinctively,
The ocean flocks, or slumbering on the wave
Or on the isles, seemed the approach of dawn
To feel; and, rising from afar, were heard
Shrill shrieks and pipings desolate — a pause
Ensued, and then the same lone sounds returned,
And suddenly the whirring rush of wings
Went circling round us o'er the level sands,
Then died away : and, as we looked aloft
Between us and the sky, we saw a speck
Of black upon the blue — some huge, wild bird,
Osprey or eagle, high amid the clouds
Sailing majestic, on its plumes to catch
The earliest crimson of the approaching day.
'Twere sad to tell our murderous deeds that morn,
Silent upon the chilly beach we lay
Prone, while the drifting snow-flakes o'er us fell.
Like Nature's frozen tears, for our misdeeds
Of wanton cruelty. The eider ducks,
With their wild eyes, and necks of changeful blue,
We watched, now diving down, now on the surge
Flapping their pinions, of our ambuscade
Unconscious — till a sudden death was found :
While floating o'er us, in the graceful curves
Of silent beauty down the sea-mew fell :
The gilinot upon the shell-bank lay
Bleeding, and oft, in wonderment, its mate
Flew round, with mournful cry, to bid it rise;
Then shrieking, fled afar : the sandpipers,
A tiny flock, innumerable, as round
And round they, flew, bewailed their broken ranks :
And the scared heron sought his inland marsh.
With blood-bedabbled plume around us rose
A slaughtered hecatomb; and to my heart
(My heart then open to all-sympathies)
It spoke of tyrannous cruelty — of man
The desolator; and of some far day,
When the accountable shall make account,
And but the merciful shall mercy find.
Soul-sickened, satiate, and dissatisfied,
An altered being, homeward, I returned,
My thoughts revolting at the thirst for blood
So brutalizing, so destructive of
The finer sensibilities, which man
In boyhood owns, and which the world destroys. —
Nature had preached a sermon to my heart :
And from that moment, on that snowy morn,
I loathed the purpose and the power to kill.
October 4, 1841. New York Tribune 1(151): 4. Based upon terminology and other linguistic clues, this prose may have been originated on the east side of the North Atlantic Ocean. There may be transcription errors due to a lack of legibility associated with the online presentation of the source document.