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Up The River - Poem by Bessie Rayner Parkes

TIS April! 'Tis a holyday! and they shut close yester-even
The golden gates of Sydenham with the clang of iron bars;
The terraces lie shadowless beneath the smile of Heaven,
And trodden but by chasing clouds, and the silent feet of stars.
'Tis April! 'Tis a holyday! and the halls of the Museum
Have nothing noisier than the ghosts of Pharaohs on their floors;
The mastodons and elephants feel very dull to see them,

And stare with idle eyeballs at the unresponsive doors.
But the river still is open, and its gentle tide comes flowing
With a thousand tender whispers of the everlasting sea;
And I know that in the woodlands all the early flowers are blowing,
And breathing out sweet messages to Laurence and to me.
The sun is mounting towards the noon, and up above the towers
Of the Abbey and the Parliament the sky's without a flaw.
A most disloyal thing it were to disobey the flowers,
So, Laurence, get your Sunday-hat, and clear your brains of law.
I dearly love this London, this royal northern London,

And am up in all its history, to Brutus and to Lud;
But I wish that certain Puritan simplicities were undone,
That the houses had more gable-ends, and the river less of mud.
And often, as I wander in the fine new squares, I ponder
The reason why men like to live in long white plastered rows,
And sigh for our old streets, like those across the Channel yonder,
At Bruges or at Antwerp, such as everybody knows.
But our river still is beautiful, rejoicing in the quaintest
Old corners for a painter (till the new quays are begun).
See there the line of distant hills, and where the blue is faintest,

The brown sails of the barges lie slanting in the sun.
Here's a steamer--now we're in it--one is passing every minute;
There's the palace of St. Stephen, which they call 'a dream in stone;'
But I think, beyond all question, it was in an indigestion
That the architect devised those scrolls whose language is unknown.
Now we pass the Lollards' Tower as we glide upon our journey,
And think of Wicliffe's ashes scattered wide across the sea;
Pass the site of ancient Ranelagh, which (vide Fanny Burney)
Brings up the tales we read at school to Laurence and to me.
At last we get to Putney, and we rush across the river,

The gentle rural river, flowing softly through the grass;
And we walk more fast than ever, for our nerves are in a quiver,
Till we mount the hill of Wimbledon, and see the shadows pass
Athwart the budding chestnuts, and clear brown water lying,
Fill'd with the click of insects, among the yellowing gorse;
Here there is no human creature, and the only living feature
Of all this glorious common is that idle old white horse;
And he is very happy, cropping herbage fresh and sappy,
And stretching out his tired legs through all the lonely day,--
And the lark is up on high, singing madly in the sky,--

Ah! I see a parasol from that cottage slowly stroll,
And a little dog come barking with a little child at play,--
And, Laurence, look in yonder hedge--is it--it is white May!
Oh! I see the fields of Warwick, and the tower of old St. Mary's--
The grand grey tower which Wren designed--and the common melts away;
I am on the lilied Avon, and among the Stratford fairies,
I am on my own dear Avon, a happy child at play;--
I remember--this is Middlesex--sweet vision, wilt not stay?
Dear Laurence, jump across the stream and bring that branch of May.
It is, indeed, a day of days, the sunlight grows more mellow,
As the sun goes softly sloping down towards the woods of Combe;

The sky is blue, the hills are blue, the budding gorse is yellow,
And all the air is happy with a mixture of perfume.
Oh, Laurence! when a judge, and wise in all the learned fudge
Of that book I shut this morning, and on your way to riches,
When, in ample wig and sleeve, your guineas you receive,
They'll not be half so golden as the primrose in these ditches.
See, they drop about the ground, and sing without a sound,
Thick clusters of anemones, and primrose-roots by dozens;
Saucy blooms without a measure blow in wantonness of pleasure,
And nobody to know it but two wandering London cousins;

So they blow from day to day as if in weariless devotion,
And gaze full-browed upon the sky through all their lonely hours;
Ah! none but eyes of Londoners could brim with such emotion--
We almost feel inclined to kneel and offer thanks for flowers!
The gracious, golden primroses! the starry, white anemones!
Fill up the basket right and left, we've beggars for the hoard.
Let's sing a refrain in this wood, 'May Ruskin rule his enemies!'
(I think that we are trespassing--but never mind the board!)
There scampers off a rabbit! If you catch that cruel habit
Of trenching on God's glorious woods with a murder-loaded gun,

I give you warning, Laurence, I shall hold you in abhorrence,
And we two cousins from that day are surely one and one!
I hate a sporting gentleman--now, don't quote Isaak Walton;
And, if you seek the woodlands, take a basket or a book;
If you want to catch a linnet, try if salt has virtue in it,
But leave dear bunny scatheless, and poor fish without a hook.
For if you touch the dainty things with any evil meaning,
And scatter blood and agony through these bright woodland bowers,
Bethink you of a sleepless Eye from highest Heaven leaning--
Don't dare go down upon your knee and offer thanks for flowers.

The sun is sinking in the west, let's leave the wood behind us,
Across the road, and up the steps, see here is Richmond Park;
Let's plunge amid the ferny glades, where only deer can find us--
It wants an hour to sunset yet, and two before it's dark.
See! the fairy roofs of Sydenham! they are gleaming in the distance,
The silver roofs of Sydenham in the far enchanted land;
We'll burst those gates some summer-morn, in spite of all resistance,
And hear the organ pealing out the anthem as we planned;
The palms shall wave their fan-like leaves, the eastern flowers shall tremble,
And think it is the desert-wind in the volume of the sound;

We'll have a special service there when first the crowds assemble,
And happy feet on Christ's own day shall consecrate the ground.
There, now we're on the terrace; see, this regal Thames is winding
Among its poplared islands with a slow majestic pace;
We should see the towers of Windsor if the sun were not so blinding,
It casts a glow on all the trees, and a glory on your face.
Golden is the landscape, and the river, and the people,
The cedar-stems are molten now the sun is going down,--
Let's keep the vision as it is; the clock in yonder steeple
Reminds us it is getting late, and we're miles away from town;

I just see the towers of London, the far, faint towers of London;
We'll jump into the second class, beside that satin gown.
See! we run beside the river, on its breast the last rays quiver;
Oh, what an April holyday! and all for half-a-crown!


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