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Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

A Border Burn

Where Autumn runnels fret and foam
Past banks of amber fern,
Since track was none I chanced to roam
Along a Border burn.

The rain was gone, the winds were furled,
No cloud was in the sky,
So that there seemed in all the world
Only the stream and I.

At length upon a grey-green stone
I sate me down to dream,
Till, with its flow familiar grown,
I thus addressed the stream:

``Dear Border Burn, that had your birth
Where hills stand bright and high,
Whose lowlier parent is the earth,
Whose loftier the sky;

``Half-heavenly therefore in your source,
Withal to man akin,
Betraying by your wayward course
Your mingled origin;

``Why, in a scene so fair as this,
Not linger while you may,
And lengthen out unchided bliss
In childlike holiday?

``Encircled here by native hills,
And fringed by wilding flowers,
With all your playmate sister rills
To wile away the hours,

``Past glowing heather, silvery sedge,
You hurry on, and on,
Rush at the rock, then leap the ledge,
All eager to be gone.

``For you the mavis thrills the brake,
For you the laverocks soar,
And even snow and sleet but make
You dance and sing the more.

``The water-ouzels dip and shoot
Amid your flashing spray,
Where flapping heron, skimming coot,
Forage, and pair, and play.

``The forest doe forsakes the hill,
Companioned by her fawn,
In your clear pools to drink her fill,
As darkness yields to dawn.

``When meadows gleam with burnished gold,
Some tender-bosomed maid
Comes down from far-off manse or fold,
And, under birchen shade,

``Trembles to tale of manhood brave,
Or courtship long and sweet,
And sometimes in your freshening wave
Will dip her dainty feet;

``And, deaf to sound from neighbouring glen
Of summer-cooing doves,
Hear but your voice, and deem it then
The voice of him she loves.

``And, be the season keen or kind,
Frowning or fair the sky,
The poet, with his musing mind,
Hither will ofttimes hie,

``And listening, lost among the fern,
To murmur sweet or strong,
Now not less strong than sweet, doth learn
To modulate his song.

``And, thus attuned to every string
Nature is skilled to strike,
Mellows the thoughts that comfort bring
To glad and sad alike.

``Friends fond and faithful such as these
Why do you long to leave,
For scenes that, since untried, can please,
But lure you to deceive?

``The forward quest, the feverish chase,
Foul city, venal mart,
Will cloud the fairness of your face,
And desecrate your heart.

``Here betwixt fern and flower you still
Can wind and wander free;
There granite banks will curb your will,
And chain your liberty.''

I ceased. But though I paused to learn,
No answer seemed to come,
And, save an onward-bickering burn,
All now again was dumb.

It rolled and rippled, swept and swirled,
No other sound was nigh;
So that there seemed, in all the world,
Only the stream and I.

But, like the babbled words that make
The mother's heart rejoice,
Slowly the stream's soul seemed to wake,
And find a human voice:

Till, waxing stronger and more clear
Still as it rushed along,
Its answer sounded on mine ear,
Lucid as poet's song:

``Here was I born, here nursed and bred,
From here shall carry still
Something of moor and bracken-bed,
Something of heath and hill.

``Yet, like to you, who suckled first
Where becks through boulders wind,
In youth from loving bondage burst,
And left your home behind,

``To seek the far-off larger life
Where mind with mind contends,
On peaceful fields, in generous strife,
To further loftier ends;

``So do I quit my native hills,
Red rowan, hawthorn pearled,
My brother braes, my sister rills,
To find a wider world,

``And, with a half-reluctant heart,
Leave dingle, dale, and wood,
To bear a meek but manly part
In burdened brotherhood.

``Why should I selfishly remain
A simple mountain stream,
Or shrink, because some earthy stain
Cloudeth each heavenly dream?

``Chide me not, then, nor seek to stay
The current of my soul,
Though conflict check or chafe my way,
The Ocean is my goal;

``Where I from sea to sea shall ride,
Shall roll from shore to shore,
And with the Universal Tide
Be one for evermore;

``Yet, by Heaven's Law of Love allowed,
Revolving, to return,
Wafted by wind, and borne on cloud,
Still be a Border Burn.''

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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  • Rookie I Wonder (9/5/2013 6:38:00 AM)

    I love the understated simplicity of this: birth to death to birth.

    Predictable rhyme might now be unfashionable, but this is uplifting in its light, airy, and refreshing form. (Report) Reply

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