Poem

60. An Imitation of H. W. Longfellow by a short-fellow

See EVANGELINE Part I. lines 70-80

By a road side that leadeth to somewhere, in England so famous for learning,
Standeth a labourer’s cottage, that once had ten steps to its porch-door;
For all have been taken away, and flowers are there blooming fragrant;
Pity that such desire of change, did ever come into the hearts of
The dwellers in that pleasant Cot, whose children might yet have been with them.
List ye admirers of routine, how dangerous a little of that is;
Ye who think that minds can be dealt with, as if they were clock-work.
From this cottage went every morning, two urchins sent forth by their parents,
With satchel and books rather dog’s-eared, and what they liked better their dinner.
To the school of the parish priest they went, their lessons to say like a parrot.
In the evening home they came, without being any the wiser.
Cleaner were they on a Sunday morn, with best coat and hat on;
As down the hill they toddled to church, the bell going ding dong,
Marring the holy quiet with sounds like butchers’ rough music,
When round a house with cleavers and bones, they scatter dismay on its inmates.
More pleasant in woodlands the nightingale’s voice, or far-sounding cuckoo,
With blackbirds and thrushes that throng thereabouts in the Spring time,
Though mostly in showery weather, foretold by the braying of donkeys.
A sullen demureness sat on the face of each of these urchins
For they were oppressed with learning by rote, and vain repetitions,
Always on one note of their voice, and that rather alto,
To say they believed what they didn’t, and thus to tell stories.
To the question “what is your name?” they oft had to answer,
And what did god-fathers and mothers do for you, when christen’d
And so on, and so on, repeating without variations,
Which made these poor ignorant urchins such creations of habit,
They only could go in routine, in a track they’d been used to
And thus they became one day so completely bewilder’d,
As home they returned from school, and found not the ten steps,
Because in the morning soon after they left their own dwelling
These steps were removed and a round-about way to their door made,
Which bothered them so that they could not believe they at home were;
But further went looking for ten steps, from habit, like question and answer;
And so they wander’d on until no one can tell where they are or about them
But every day just at school time, their voices are heard in the distance
Repeating their names and who gave them, and why they were christen’d when seeing
By reason of their being babies, they nothing could know of the matter,
But godfathers promised all for them, how they should renounce when grew up
The devil and all pomps and vain things, and so through the whole catechism;
And then they say let us go home now, we know the way up by ten steps
And small feet are heard to pass close by the spot where the steps stood aforetime
But never those urchins were seen more, those children of rigmarole custom.

From the Bouquet, of Nov. 1855

© The Fitzwilliam Museum