Here’s a beautiful poem that I stumbled upon recently in an old Christmas Day 1866 edition of the Cork Constitution. It’s from the pen of the famous Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, who, as the newspaper adds, is “the wife of the Dean of Emly, who is son of the Reverend Robert Alexander, Rector of Aghadowey.”
Aghadowey was some fifteen miles or so from us. We would always drive through the area, on the way up to the north coast. I played golf there a few times at the Brown Trout, during the 1980s. Back in the 1970s, my father and his brother (Stanley) would go to Aghadowey, to watch stock-car racing near the Aerodrome at Aghadowey.
Anyway, back to the poem. At some point, I intend to write an extensive article on this incredible lady, who lived during the 1800s.
Born in Wicklow in 1818, she began writing at the age of 9. A hymn-writer and poet, she is probably most famous for writing the inspirational hymns “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” and the Christmas carol “Once in Royal David’s City”.
She was cited in her death registration, as the “wife of a Protestant Bishop”.
The poem covered in this article, is about a woman longing for the return of her partner, who has gone off to look for gold.
According to the Coleraine Chronicle, the theme of Mrs Alexander’s poem, was inspired “by a highly creditable episode in the personal history of a long deceased member of the Rector’s family.” I couldn’t find anything more specific about this aspect.
She stood by the hedge where the orchard slopes
Down to the river below:
The trees all white with their autumn hopes
Look’d heaps of drifted snow:
They gleam’d like ghosts through the twilight pale,
The shadowy river ran black;
‘It’s weary waiting,’ she said, with a wail,
‘For them that never come back.
‘The mountain waits there, barren and brown,
Till the yellow furze comes in Spring
To crown his brows with a golden crown,
And girdle him like a king.
‘The river waits till the Summer lays
The white lily on his track;
But its weary waiting nights and days
For him that never comes back.
“Ah, the white lead kills in the heat of the fight,
When passions are hot and wild;
But the red gold kills by the fair fire light
The love of father and child.
’Tis twenty years since I heard him say,
When the wild March morn was airy.
Through the drizzly dawn — “I’m going away,
To make you a fortune, Mary.”
Twenty Springs, with their long grey days,
When the tide runs up on the sand,
And the west wind catches the birds, and lays!
Them shrieking far inland.
From the sea-wash’d reefs, and the stormy mull,
And the damp weed-tangled caves—
Will he ever come back, O wild sea gull,
Across the green salt waves!
Twenty Summers, with blue flax bells.
And the young green corn on the lea,
That yellows by night in the moon, and swells
By day like rippling sea.
Twenty Autumns, with reddening leaves
In their glorious harvest light,
Steeping a thousand golden sheaves,
And doubling them all at night.
Twenty Winters, how long and drear!
With a patter of rain in the street,
And a sound in the last leaves, red and sere;
But never the sound of his feet.
The ploughmen talk by furrow and ridge,
I hear them day by day;
The horsemen ride down by the narrow bridge,
But never one comes this way.
And the voice that I long for is wanting there,
And the face I would die to see,
Since he went away in the wild March air!
Ah! to make fortune for me.
O, father dear! but you never thought
Of the fortune you squander’d and lost,
Of the duty that never was sold and bought,
And the love beyond all cost.
For the vile red dust you gave in thrall
The heart that was God’s above;
How could you think that money was all,
When the world was won for love!
You sought me wealth in the stranger’s land,
Whose veins are veins of gold;
And the fortune God gave was in mine hand,
When yours was in its hold.
“If I might but look on your face,” she says,
“And then let me have or lack;
But it’s weary waiting nights and days
For him that never comes back.”
C. F. Alexander.