Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Arva, beata Petamus arva!

SO on the morrow’s morrow, with Term-time dread returning,
Philip returned to his books, and read, and remained at Oxford,
All the Christmas and Easter remained and read at Oxford.
    Great was wonder in College when postman showed to butler
Letters addressed to David Mackaye, at Tober-na-vuolich,
Letter on letter, at least one a week, one every Sunday
    Great at that Highland post was wonder too and conjecture,
When the postman showed letters to wife, and wife to the lassies,
And the lassies declared they couldn’t be really to David;
Yes, they could see inside a paper with E. upon it.
    Great was surmise in College at breakfast, wine, and supper,
Keen the conjecture and joke; but Adam kept the secret,
Adam the secret kept, and Philip read like fury.
    This is a letter written by Philip at Christmas to Adam.
There may be beings, perhaps, whose vocation it is to be idle,
Idle, sumptuous even, luxurious, if it must be
Only let each man seek to be that for which nature meant him.
If you were meant to plough, Lord Marquis, out with you, and do it;
If you were meant to be idle, O beggar, behold, I will feed you.
If you were born for a groom, and you seem, by your dress, to believe so,
Do it like a man, Sir George, for pay, in a livery stable;
Yes, you may so release that slip of a boy at the corner,
Fingering books at the window, misdoubting the eighth commandment.
Ah, fair Lady Maria, God meant you to live and be lovely;
Be so then, and I bless you. But ye, ye spurious ware, who
Might be plain women, and can be by no possibility better!
—Ye unhappy statuettes, and miserable trinkets,
Poor alabaster chimney-piece ornaments under glass cases,
Come, in God’s name, come down! the very French clock by you
Puts you to shame with ticking; the fire-irons deride you.
You, young girl, who have had such advantages, learnt so quickly,
Can you not teach? O yes, and she likes Sunday-school extremely,
Only it’s soon in the morning. Away! if to teach be your calling,
It is no play, but a business: off ! go teach and be paid for it.
Lady Sophia’s so good to the sick, so firm and so gentle.
Is there a nobler sphere than of hospital nurse and matron?
Hast thou for cooking a turn, little Lady Clarissa? in with them,
In with your fingers! their beauty it spoils, but your own it enhances;
For it is beautiful only to do the thing we are meant for.
    This was the answer that came from the Tutor, the grave man, Adam.
When the armies are set in array, and the battle beginning,
Is it well that the soldier whose post is far to the leftward
Say, I will go to the right, it is there I shall do best service?
There is a great Field-Marshal, my friend, who arrays our battalions;
Let us to Providence trust, and abide and work in our stations.
    This was the final retort from the eager, impetuous Philip.
I am sorry to say your Providence puzzles me sadly;
Children of Circumstance are we to be? you answer, On no wise!
Where does Circumstance end, and Providence, where begins it?
What are we to resist, and what are we to be friends with?’
If there is battle, ’tis battle by night, I stand in the darkness,
Here in the mêlée of men, Ionian and Dorian on both sides,
Signal and password known; which is friend and which is foeman?
Is it a friend? I doubt, though he speak with the voice of a brother.
Still you are right, I suppose; you always are, and will be;
Though I mistrust the Field-Marshal, I bow to the duty of order.
Yet is my feeling rather to ask, where is the battle?
Yes, I could find in my heart to cry, notwithstanding my Elspie,
O that the armies indeed were arrayed! O joy of the onset!
Sound, thou Trumpet of God, come forth, Great Cause, to array us,
King and leader appear, thy soldiers sorrowing seek thee.
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed, O where is the battle!
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor King in Israel,
Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation,
Backed by a solemn appeal, ‘For God’s sake, do not stir, there!’
Yet you are right, I suppose; if you don’t attack my conclusion,
Let us get on as we can, and do the thing we are fit for;
Every one for himself, and the common. success for us all, and
Thankful, if not for our own, why then for the triumph of others,
Get along, each as we can, and do the thing we are meant for.
That isn’t likely to be by sitting still, eating and drinking.
    These are fragments again without date addressed to Adam.
    As at return of tide the total weight of ocean,
Drawn by moon and sun from Labrador and Greenland,
Sets-in amain, in the open space betwixt Mull and Scarba,
Heaving, swelling, spreading, the might of the mighty Atlantic;
There into cranny and slit of the rocky, cavernous bottom
Settles down, and with dimples huge the smooth sea-surface
Eddies, coils, and whirls; by dangerous Corryvreckan
So in my soul of souls, through its cells and secret recesses,
Comes back, swelling and spreading, the old democratic fervour.
    But as the light of day enters some populous city,
Shaming away, ere it come, by the chilly day-streak signal,
High and low, the misusers of night, shaming out the gas-lamps—
All the great empty streets are flooded with broadening clearness,
Which, withal, by inscrutable simultaneous access
Permeates far and pierces to the very cellars lying in
Narrow high back-lane, and court, and alley of alleys:—
He that goes forth to his walks, while speeding to the suburb,
Sees sights only peaceful and pure; as labourers settling
Slowly to work, in their limbs the lingering sweetness of slumber;
Humble market-carts, coming in, bringing in, not only
Flower, fruit, farm-store, but sounds and sights of the country
Dwelling yet on the sense of the dreamy drivers; soon after
Half-awake servant-maids unfastening drowsy shutters
Up at the windows, or down, letting-in the air by the doorway;
School-boys, school-girls soon, with slate, portfolio, satchel,
Hampered as they haste, those running, these others maidenly tripping;
Early clerk anon turning out to stroll, or it may be
Meet his sweetheart—waiting behind the garden gate there;
Merchant on his grass-plat haply bare-headed; and now by this time
Little child bringing breakfast to ‘father’ that sits on the timber
There by the scaffolding; see, she waits for the can beside him;
Meantime above purer air untarnished of new-lit fires
So that the whole great wicked artificial civilised fabric—
All its unfinished houses, lots for sale, and railway outworks—
Seems reaccepted, resumed to Primal Nature and Beauty:—
—Such—in me, and to me, and on me the love of Elspie
    Philip returned to his books, but returned to his Highlands after;
Got a first, ’tis said; a winsome bride, ’tis certain.
There while courtship was ending, nor yet the wedding appointed,
Under her father he studied the handling of hoe and of hatchet:
Thither that summer succeeding came Adam and Arthur to see him
Down by the lochs from the distant Glenmorison: Adam the tutor,
Arthur, and Hope; and the Piper anon who was there for a visit;
He had been into the schools; plucked almost; all but a gone-coon;
So he declared; never once had brushed up his hairy Aldrich;
Into the great might-have-been upsoaring sublime and ideal
Gave to historical questions a free poetical treatment;
Leaving vocabular ghosts undisturbed in their lexicon-limbo,
Took Aristophanes up at a shot; and the whole three last weeks,
Went, in his life and the sunshine rejoicing, to Nuneham and Godstowe
What were the claims of Degree to those of life and the sunshine?
There did the four find Philip, the poet, the speaker, the Chartist,
Delving at Highland soil, and, railing at Highland landlords,
Railing, but more, as it seemed, for the fun of the Piper’s fury.
There saw they David and Elspie Mackaye, and the Piper was almost,
Almost deeply in love with Bella the sister of Elspie;
But the good Adam was heedful: they did not go too often.
There in the bright October, the gorgeous bright October,
When the brackens are changed, and heather blooms are faded,
And amid russet of heather and fern green trees are bonnie,
Alders are green, and oaks, the rowan scarlet and yellow,
Heavy the aspen, and heavy with jewels of gold the birch-tree,
There, when shearing had ended, and barley-stooks were garnered,
David gave Philip to wife his daughter, his darling Elspie;
Elspie the quiet, the brave, was wedded to Philip the poet.
    So won Philip his bride. They are married and gone—
        But oh, Thou
Mighty one, Muse of great Epos, and Idyll the playful and tender,
Be it recounted in song, ere we part, and thou fly to thy Pindus,
(Pindus is it, O Muse, or Ætna, or even Ben-nevis?)
Be it recounted in song, O Muse of the Epos and Idyll,
Who gave what at the wedding, the gifts and fair gratulations.
    Adam, the grave careful Adam, a medicine chest and tool-box,
Hope a saddle, and Arthur a plough, and the Piper a rifle,
Airlie a necklace for Elspie, and Hobbes a Family Bible,
Airlie a necklace, and Hobbes a Bible and iron bedstead.
    What was the letter, O Muse, sent withal by the corpulent hero?
This is the letter of Hobbes the kilted and corpulent hero.
    So the last speech and confession is made, O my eloquent speaker!
So the good time is coming, or come is it? O my Chartist!
So the Cathedral is finished at last, O my Pugin of women;
Finished, and now, is it true? to be taken out whole to New Zealand!
Well, go forth to thy field, to thy barley, with Ruth, O Boaz,
Ruth, who for thee hath deserted her people, her gods, her mountains.
Go, as in Ephrath of old, in the gate of Bethlehem said they,
Go, be the wife in thy house both Rachel and Leah unto thee;
Be thy wedding of silver, albeit of iron thy bedstead!
Yea, to the full golden fifty renewed be! and fair memoranda
Happily fill the fly-leaves duly left in the Family Bible.
Live, and when Hobbes is forgotten, may’st thou, an unroasted Grandsire,
See thy children’s children, and Democracy upon New Zealand!
    This was the letter of. Hobbes, and this the postscript after.
Wit in the letter will prate, but wisdom speaks in a postscript;
Listen to wisdom—Which things—you perhaps didn’t know, my dear fellow,
I have reflected; Which things are an allegory, Philip.
For this Rachel-and-Leah is marriage; which, I have seen it,
Lo, and have known it, is always, and must be, bigamy only,
Even in noblest kind a duality, compound, and complex,
One part heavenly-ideal, the other vulgar and earthy
For this Rachel-and-Leah is marriage, and Laban their father,
Circumstance, chance, the world, our uncle and hard taskmaster.
Rachel we found as we fled from the daughters of Heth by the desert;
Rachel we met at the well; we came, we saw, we kissed her;
Rachel we serve-for, long years,—that seem as a few days only,
E’en for the love we have to her,—and win her at last of Laban.
Is it not Rachel we take in our joy from the hand of her father?
Is it not Rachel we lead in the mystical veil from the altar?
Rachel we dream-of at night: in the morning, behold, it is Leah.
‘Nay, it is custom,’ saith Laban, the Leah indeed is the elder.
Happy and wise who consents to redouble his service to Laban,
So, fulfilling her week, he may add to the elder the younger,
Not repudiates Leah, but wins the Rachel unto her
Neither hate thou thy Leah, my Jacob, she also is worthy;
So, many days shall thy Rachel have joy, and survive her sister;
Yea, and her children—Which things are an allegory, Philip,
Aye, and by Origen’s head with a vengeance truly, a long one!
    This was a note from the Tutor, the grave man, nick-named Adam.
I shall see you of course, my Philip, before your departure;
Joy be with you, my boy, with you and your beautiful Elspie.
Happy is he that found, and finding was not heedless;
Happy is he that found, and happy the friend that was with him.
    So won Philip his bride:—
                        They are married and gone to New Zealand.
Five hundred pounds in pocket, with books, and two or three pictures,
Tool-box, plough, and the rest, they rounded the sphere to New Zealand.
There he hewed, and dug; subdued the earth and his spirit;
There he built him a home; there Elspie bare him his children,
David and Bella; perhaps ere this too an Elspie or Adam;
There hath he farmstead and land, and fields of corn and flax fields;
And the Antipodes too have a Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich.

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