The Singer

A STAR into our twilight fell,
’Mong peasant homes in vales remote ;
Men marvelled not till all the dell
Was waked as by a bugle-note.

They wondered at the wild-eyed boy,
And drank his song like draughts of wine;
And yet, amid their new-born joy,
They bade him tend the herds and swine.

But he knew neither swine nor herds,—
His shepherd soul was otherwhere;
The flocks he tended were the birds,
And stars that fill the folds of air.

To sweeter song the wind would melt
That fanned him with its perfumed wing;
Flowers thronged his path as if they felt
The warm and flashing feet of Spring.

The brooklet flung its ringlets wide,
And leapt to him, and kept his pace,—
Sang when he sang, and when he sighed,
Turned up to him its starry face.

Through many a dawn and noon and night,
The singing boy still kept his course;
For in his heart that meteor light
Still burned with all its natal force.

He sang,—nor cherished thought of care,—
As when, upon the garden-vine,
A blue-bird thrills the April air,
Regardless of the herds and swine.

The children in their May-time plays,
The maidens in their rosy hours,
And matrons in their autumn days,
All heard and flung him praise or flowers.

And Age, to chimney-nooks beguiled,
Caught the sweet music’s tender closes,
And, gazing on the embers, smiled
As on a bed of summer roses.

And many a heart, by hope forsook,
Received his song through depths of pain,
As the dry channels of a brook
The freshness of a summer rain.

But when he looked for house or bread,
The stewards of earth’s oil and wine
Shook sternly the reproving head,
And bade him tend the herds and swine !

He strayed into the harvest plains,
And 'mid the sultry windrows sung,
Till glowing girls and swarthy swains
Caught music from his charmed tongue,—

Caught music that from heart to brain
Went thrilling with delicious measure,
Till toil, which late had seemed a pain,
Became a sweet Arcadian pleasure.

The farmer, at the day’s decline,
Sat listening till the eve was late;
Then, offering neither bread nor wine,
Arose, and barred the outer gate,—

And said, “ Would you have where to sleep
On wholesome straw, good brother mine,
You need but plow, and sow, and reap,
And daily tend the herds and swine.”

The poet’s lock's shook out reply;
He turned him gayly down the rill;
Yet left a light which shall not die,
A sunshine on the farmer’s sill.

He strewed the vale with flowers of song;
He filled the homes with lighter grace,
Which round those hearth-stones lingered long,
And still makes beautiful the place.

The country, hamlet, and the town
Grew wiser, better, for his songs;—
The roaring city could not drown
The voice that to the world belongs.

To beds of pain, to rooms of death,
The soft and solemn music stole,
And soothed the dying with its breath,
And passed into the mourner’s soul.

And yet what was the poet’s meed ?
Such, Bard of Alloway, was thine!
The soul that sings, the heart must bleed,
Or tend the common herds and swine.

The nation heard his patriot lays,
And rung them, like an anthem, round,
Till Freedom waved her branch of bays,
Wherewith the world shall yet be crowned.

His war-songs fired the battle-host,
His mottoes on their banners burned;
And when the foe had fled the coast,
Wild with his songs the troops returned.

Then at the feast’s triumphal board,
His thrilling music cheered the wine;—
But when the singer asked reward,
They pointed to the herds and swine.

“ What! he a bard ? Then bid him go
And beg,—it is the poet’s trade !
Dan Homer was the first to show
The rank for which the bards were made!

“A living bard ! What’s he to us ?
A bard, to live, must first be dead!
And when he dies, we may discuss
To whom belongs the poet’s head ! ”

’Neath suns that burn, through storms that drench,
He went, an outcast from his birth,
Still singing,—for they could not quench
The fire that was not born of earth.

At last, behind cold prison-bars,
By colder natures unforgiven,
His frail dust starved! but ’mid the stars
His spirit found its native heaven.

Now, when a meteor-spark, forlorn,
Descends upon its fiery wing,
I sigh to think a soul is born,
Perchance, to suffer and to sing:—

Its own heart a consuming pyre
Of flame, to brighten and refine:—
A singer, in the starry choir,
That will not tend the herds and swine.