A November Pastoral


WRAPPED in his sad-colored cloak, the Day, like a Puritan, standeth
Stern in the joyless fields, rebuking the lingering color,—
Dying hectic of leaves and the chilly blue of the asters,—
Hearing, perchance, the croak of a crow on the desolate tree-top,
Breathing the reek of withered weeds, or the drifted and sodden Splendors of woodland, as whoso piously groaneth in spirit:
“Vanity, verily; yea, it is vanity, let me forsake it!
Yea, let it fade, for Life is the empty clash of a cymbal,
Joy a torch in the hands of a fool, and Beauty a pitfall ! ”


Once, I remember, when years had the long duration of ages,
Came, with November, despair ; for summer had vanished forever.
Lover of light, my boyish heart as a lover’s was jealous,
Followed forsaking suns and felt its passion rejected,
Saw but Age and Death, in the whole wide circle of Nature
Throned forever ; and hardly yet have I steadied by knowledge
Faith that faltered and patience that was but a weary submission.
Though to the right and left I hear the call of the huskers
Scattered among the rustling shocks, and the cheerily whistled
Lilt of an old plantation tune from an ebony teamster,
These behold no more than the regular jog of a mill-wheel
Where, unto me, there is possible end and diviner beginning.
Silent are now the flute of Spring and the clarion of Summer
As they had never been blown : the wail of a dull Miserere
Heavily sweeps the woods, and, stifled, dies in the valleys.


Who are they that prate of the sweet consolation of Nature ?
They who fly from the city’s heat for a month to the sea-shore,
Drink of unsavory springs, or camp in the green Adirondacks ?
They, long since, have left with their samples of ferns and of algæ,
Memories carefully dried and somewhat lacking in color,
Gossip of tree and cliff and wave and modest adventure,
Such as a graceful sentiment — not too earnest — admits of,
Heard in the pause of a dance or bridging the gaps of a dinner.
Nay, but I, who know her, exult in her profligate seasons,
Turn from the silence of men to her fancied, fond recognition,
I am repelled at last by her sad and cynical humor.
Kinder, cheerier now, were the pavements crowded with people,
Walls that hide the sky, and the endless racket of business.
There a hope in something lifts and enlivens the current,
Face seeth face, and the hearts of a million, beating together,
Hidden though each from other, at least are outwardly nearer,
Lending the life of all to the one, — bestowing and taking,
Weaving a common web of strength in the meshes of contact, Close, yet never impeded, restrained, yet delighting in freedom.
There the soul, secluded in self, or touching its fellow
Only with horny palms that hide the approach of the pulses,
Driven abroad, discovers the secret signs of its kindred,
Kisses on lips unknown, and words on the tongue of the stranger.
Life is set to a statelier march, a grander accordance
Follows its multitudinous steps of dance and of battle :
Part hath each in the music ; even the sacredest whisper
Findeth a soul unafraid and an ear that is ready to listen.


Nature ? ’T is well to sing of the glassy Bandusian fountain,
Shining Ortygian beaches, or flocks on the meadows of Enna,
Linking the careless life with the careless mood of the Mother.
We, afar and alone, confronted with heavier questions,
Robbed of the oaten pipe before it is warm in our fingers,
Why should we feign a faith? —why crown an indifferent goddess
Under the gray, monotonous vault what carolling song-bird
Hopes for an echo ? Closer and lower the vapors are folded ;
Sighing shiver the woods, though drifted leaves are unrustled ;
Ghosts of the grasses that fled with a breath and floated in sunshine
Hang unstirred on brier and fence; for a new desolation
Comes with the rain, that, chilly and quietly creeping at nightfall,
Thence for many a day shall dismally drizzle and darken.


“ See ! " (methinks I hear the mechanical routine repeated,)
“ Emblems of faith in the folded bud and the seed that is sleeping ! ”
Knowledge, not Faith, deduced the similitude; how shall an emblem
Give to the soul the steadfast truth that alone satisfies it ?
Joy of the Spring I can feel, but not the preaching of Autumn.
Earth, if a lesson is wrought upon each of thy radiant pages,
Give us the words that sustain us, and not the words that discourage!
Sceptic art thou become, the breeder of doubt and confusion,
Powerless vassal of Fate, assuming a meek resignation,
Yielding the forces that moved in thy life and made it triumphant!


Now, as my circle of home is slowly swallowed in darkness,
As with the moan of winds the rain is drearily falling,—
Hopes that drew as the sun and aims that stood as the pole-star
Fading aloof from my life as though it never had known them,—
Where, when the wont is deranged, shall I find a permanent foothold?
Stripped of the rags of Time I see the form of my being,
Born of all that ever has been, and haughtily reaching
Forward to all that comes, —yet certain, this moment, of nothing.
Chide or condemn as ye may, the truant and mutinous spirit
Turns on itself, and forces release from its holiest habit;
Soars where the suns are sprinkled in cold, illimited darkness,
Peoples the spheres with far diviner forms of existence,
Questions, conjectures at will; for Earth and its creeds are forgotten. Thousands of æons it gathers, yet scarce its feet are supported ;
Dumb is the universe unto the secrets of Whence ? and of Whither ?
So, as a dove through the summits of ether falling exhausted,
Under it yawns the blank of an infinite Something —or Nothing!


Let me indulge in the doubt, for this is the token of freedom,
This is all that is safe from hands that would fain intermeddle,
Thrusting their worn phylacteries over the eyes that are seeking
Truth as it shines in the sky, not truth as it smokes in their lantern.
Ah, shall I venture alone beyond the limits they set us,
Bearing the spark within till a breath of the Deity fan it
Into an upward-pointing flame? — and, forever unquiet,
Nearer through error advance, and nearer through ignorant yearning ?
Yes, it must be: the soul from the soul cannot hide or diminish
Aught of its essence: here the duplicate nature is ended:
Here the illusions recede, at man’s unassailable centre,
And the nearness and farness of God are all that is left him.


Lo ! as I muse, there come on the lonely darkness and silence
Gleams like those of the sun that reach his uttermost planet,
Inwardly dawning ; and faint and sweet as the voices of waters
Borne from a sleeping mountain-vale on a breeze of the midnight,
Falls a message of cheer: “ Be calm, for to doubt is to seek whom
None can escape, and the soul is dulled with an idle acceptance.
Crying, questioning, stumbling in gloom, thy pathway ascendeth ,
They with the folded hands at the last relapse into strangers.
Over thy head, behold ! the wing with its measureless shadow
Spread against the light, is the wing of the Angel of Unfaith,
Chosen of God to shield the eyes of men from His glory.
Thus through mellower twilights of doubt thou climbest undazzled,
Mornward ever directed, and even in wandering guided.
God is patient of souls that reach through an endless creation,
So but His shadow be seen, but heard the trail of His mantle !”


Breathless and silent I sit, and clearer now is the message :
“ Showing Himself as to thee he is shown, he liveth in all men.
So, on the wings of desires that never were framed for fulfilment,
Soar as thou list, but stand in love on the earth with thy fellows.
Still will the mystery haunt, the infinite problem perplex thee,
Still the flesh will fail and the weight of the day be a burden,
Yet the self, that reigns in the soul, the heart must abolish Less by strength of its own than the one immortal example, —
Christ, of infinite pity, divine, inexhaustible pardon,
Healing the wounds of time, and righting the wrongs of existence,
Comforter, Saviour, Brother of Man and Son of the Father ! ”
Bayard Taylor.