06 November 2013

To an Early Swallow - An 1869 Poem

By Alice Cary.
My little bird of the air,
If thou dost know, then tell me the sweet reason
Thou comest always, only in thy season
To build and pair.
For still we hear thee twittering round the eaves,
Ere yet the attentive cloud of April lowers,
Up from their darkened hearth to call the flowers,
Where, all the rough, hard weather,
They kept together
Under their low brown roof of withered leaves.
And for a moment still
Thy ever tuneful bill,
And tell me, and I pray thee tell me true,
If any cruel care they bosom frets
The while thou slittest plough-like through the air —
Thy wings as swift and slim,
Turned downward, darkly dim,
Like furrows on a ground of violets.
Nay, tell me not, my swallow,
But have thy pretty way,
And prosperously follow
The leading of the sunshine all the day,
Thy virtuous example
Maketh my foolish questions answer ample —
It is thy large delights keep open wide
Thy little mouth; thou hast no pain to hide;
And what thou leavest all the green-topped woods
Pining below, and with melodious floods
Flatterest the heavy clouds, it is, I know,
Because, my bird, thou canst not choose but go
Higher and ever higher
Into the purple fire
That lights the morning meadows with hearts'-ease,
And sticks the hillsides full of primroses.
But tell me, my good bird,
If thou canst tune thy tongue to any word,
Werewith no answer — pray thee tell me this:
Where gottest thou thy song,
Still shrilling all day long,
Slivered to fragments by its very bliss!
Not, as I guess,
Of any whistling grain
Sown in his furrow; nor, I further guess,
Of any shepherdess,
Whose tender heart did drag
Through the dim hollows of her golden flag
After a faithless love — while far and near
The waterfalls, to hear,
Clung by their white arms to the cold deaf rocks,
And all the unkept flocks
Strayed idly. Nay, I know,
If ever any love-lorn maid did blow
On such a pitiful pipe, thou didst not get
In such sad wise thy heart to music set.
So lower not down to me
From the high home thy ever-busy wing;
I know right well thy song was shaped for thee
By His unwearying power
Who makes the days about the Easter flower
Like gardens round the chamber of a king.
And whether when the sobering year hath run
His brief course out, and thou away dost hie
To find thy pleasant summer company,
Or whether, my brown darling of the sun,
When first the South, to welcome up the May;
Wings wide her saffron gate,
And thou, from the uprising of the day
Till eventide I shadow round thee close,
Pourest thy joyance over field and wood,
As if thy very blood
Were drawn from out the young hearts of the roses —
'Tis all to celebrate
And all to praise
The careful kindness of His gracious ways
Who builds the golden weather
So tenderly about thy homeless brood —
Thy unfledged, homeless brood, and thee together.
Ah! these are sweet reasons,
My little swimmer of the seas of air,
Thou comest, guest, duly in thy seasons;
And furthermore, that all men every where
Nay learn from thy enjoyment
That which maketh life most good and fair
Is heavenly employment.
April 29, 1869. Highland Weekly News 33(1): 1. From Harper's Magazine.