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    Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

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    The Hare

      My hands were hot upon a hare,
      Half-strangled, struggling in a snare --
      My knuckles at her warm wind-pipe --
      When suddenly, her eyes shot back,
      Big, fearful, staggering and black,
      And ere I knew, my grip was slack;
      And I was clutching empty air,
      Half-mad, half-glad at my lost luck . . .
      When I awoke beside the stack.

      'Twas just the minute when the snipe
      As through clock-wakened, every jack,
      An hour ere dawn, dart in and out
      The mist-wreaths filling syke and slack,
      And flutter wheeling round about,
      And drumming out the Summer light.
      I lay star-gazing yet a bit;
      Then, chilly-skinned, I sat upright,
      To shrug the shivers from my back;
      And, drawing out a straw to suck,
      My teeth nipped through it at a bite . . .
      The liveliest lad is out of pluck
      An hour ere dawn -- a tame cock-sparrow --
      When cold stars shiver through his marrow,
      And we mist soaks his mother-wit.

      But, as the snipe dropped, one by one;
      And one by one the stars blinked out;
      I knew 'twould only need the sun
      To send the shudders right about:
      And as the clear East faded white
      I watched and wearied for the sun --
      The jolly, welcome, friendly sun --
      The sleepy sluggard of a sun
      That still kept snoozing out of sight,
      Though well he knew the night was done . . .
      And after all, he caught me dozing,
      And leapt up, laughing, in the sky
      Just as my lazy eyes were closing:
      And it was good as gold to lie
      Full-length among the straw, and feel
      The day wax warmer every minute,
      As, glowing glad, from head to heel,
      I soaked, and rolled rejoicing in it . . .
      When from the corner of my eye,
      Upon the heathery knowe hard-by,
      With long lugs cocked, and eyes astare,
      Yet all serene, I saw a hare.

      Upon my belly in the straw,
      I lay, and watched her sleek her fur,
      As, daintily, with well-licked paw,
      She washed her face and neck and ears:
      Then, clean and comely in the sun,
      She kicked her heels up, full for fun,
      As if she did not care a pin
      Though she should jump out of her skin,
      And leapt and lolloped, free of fears,
      Until my heart frisked round with her.

      'And yet, if I but lift my head,
      You'll scamper off, youg Puss,' I said.
      'Still, I can't lie, and watch you play,
      Upon my belly half the day.
      The Lord alone knows where I'm going:
      But, I had best be getting there.
      Last night I loosed you from the snare --
      Asleep, or waking, who's for knowing! --
      So, I shall thank you now for showing
      Which art to take to bring me where
      My luck awaits me. When you're ready
      To start, I'll follow on your track.
      Though slow of foot, I'm sure and steady . . .'
      She pricked her ears, then set them back;
      And like a shot was out of sight:
      And, with a happy heart and light,
      As quickly I was on my feet;
      And following the way she went,
      Keen as a lurcher on the scent,
      Across the heather and the bent,
      Across the quaking moss and peat.
      Of course, I lost her soon enough,
      For moorland tracks are steep and rough;
      And hares are made of nimbler stuff
      Than any lad of seventeen,
      However lanky-legged and tough,
      However kestrel-eyed and keen:
      And I'd at last to stop and eat
      The little bit of bread and meat
      Left in my pocket overnight.
      So, in a hollow, snug and green,
      I sat beside a burn, and dipped
      The dry bread in an icy pool;
      And munched a breakfast fresh and cool . . .
      And then sat gaping like a fool . . .
      For, right before my very eyes,
      With lugs acock and eyes astare,
      I saw again the selfsame hare.

      So, up I jumped, and off she slipped;
      And I kept sight of her until
      I stumbled in a hole, and tripped,
      And came a heavy, headlong spill;
      And she, ere I'd the wit to rise,
      Was o'er the hill, and out of sight:
      And, sore and shaken with the tumbling,
      And sicker at my foot for stumbling,
      I cursed my luck, and went on, grumbling,
      The way her flying heels had fled.

      The sky was cloudless overhead,
      And just alive with larks asinging;
      And in a twinkling I was swinging
      Across the windy hills, lighthearted.
      A kestrel at my footstep started,
      Just pouncing on a frightened mouse,
      And hung o'er head with wings a-hover;
      Through rustling heath an adder darted:
      A hundred rabbits bobbed to cover:
      A weasel, sleek and rusty-red,
      Popped out of sight as quick as winking:
      I saw a puzzled vixen slinking
      Behind a clucking brood of grouse
      That rose and cackled at my coming:
      And all about my way were flying
      The peewit, with their slow wings creaking;
      And now and then a golden plover
      Or redshank piped with reedy whistle.
      But never shaken bent or thistle
      Betrayed the quarry I was seeking;
      And not an instant, anywhere
      Did I clap eyes upon a hare.

      So, travelling still, the twilight caught me;
      And as I stumbled on, I muttered:
      'A deal of luck the hare has brought me!
      The wind and I must spend together
      A hungry night among the heather.
      If I'd her here. . . ' And as I utered,
      I tripped, and heard a frightened squeal;
      And dropped my hands in time to feel
      The hare just bolting 'twixt my feet.
      She slipped my clutch: and I stood there
      And cursed that devil-littered hare,
      That left me stranded in the dark
      In that wide waste of quaggy peat
      Beneath black night without a spark:
      When, looking up, I saw a flare
      Upon a far-off hill, and said:
      'By God, the heather is afire!
      It's mischief at this time of year . . .'
      And then, as one bright flame shot higher,
      And booths and vans stood out quite clear,
      My wits came back into my head;
      And I remembered Brough Hill Fair.
      And as I stumbled towards the glare
      I knew the sudden kindling meant
      The Fair was over for the day;
      And all the cattle-folk away;
      And gipsy folk and tinkers now
      Were lighting supper-fires without
      Each caravan and booth and tent.
      And as I climbed the stiff hill-brow
      I quite forgot my lucky hare.
      I'd something else to think about:
      For well I knew there's broken meat
      For empty bellies after fair-time;
      And looked to have a royal rare time
      With something rich and prime to eat;
      And then to lie and toast my feet
      All night beside the biggest fire.

      But, even as I neared the first,
      A pleasant whiff of stewing burst
      From our a smoking pot a-bubble;
      And as I stopped behind the folk
      Who sprawled around, and watched it seething,
      A woman heard my eager breathing,
      And, turning, caught my hungry eye;
      And called out to me: 'Draw in nigher,
      Unless you find it too much trouble;
      Or you've a nose for better fare,
      And go to supper with the Squire . . .
      You've got the hungry parson's air!'
      And all looked up, and took the joke,
      As I dropped gladly to the ground
      Among them, when they all lay gazing
      Upon the bubbling and the blazing.
      My eyes were dazzled by the fire
      At first; and then I glanced around;
      And in those swarthy, fire-lit faces --
      Though drowsing in the glare and heat
      And snuffing the warm savour in,
      Dead-certain of their fill of meat --
      I felt the bit between the teeth,
      The flying heels, the broken traces,
      And heard the highroad ring beneath
      The trampling hoofs; and knew them kin.
      Then for the first time, standing there
      Behind the woman who had hailed me,
      I saw a girl with eyes astare
      That looked in terror o'er my head;
      And, all at once, my courage failed me . . .
      For now again, and sore-adread,
      My hands were hot upon a hare,
      That struggled, strangling in the snare . . .
      Then once more as the girl stood clear,
      Before me -- quaking cold with fear --
      I saw the hare look from her eyes . . .

      And when, at last, I turned to see
      What helf her scared, I saw a man --
      A fat man with dull eyes aleer --
      Within the shadow of the van;
      And I was on the point to rise
      To send him spinning 'mid the wheels
      And stop his leering grin with mud . . .
      And would have done it in a tick . . .
      When, suddenly, alive with fright,
      She started, with red, parted lips,
      As though she guessed we'd come to grips,
      And turned her black eyes full on me . . .
      And as I looked into their light
      My heart forgot the lust of fight,
      And something shot me to the quick,
      And ran like wildfire through my blood,
      And tingled to my finger-tips . . .
      And, in a dazzling flash, I knew
      I'd never been alive before . . .
      And she was mine for evermore.

      While all the others slept asnore
      In caravan and tent that night,
      I lay alone beside the fire;
      And stared into its blazing core,
      With eyes that would not shut or tire,
      Because the best of all was true,
      And they looked still into the light
      Of her eyes, burning ever bright.
      Within the brightest coal for me . . .
      Once more, I saw her, as she started,
      And glanced at me with red lips parted:
      And as she looked, the frightened hare
      Had fled her eyes; and merrily,
      She smiled, with fine teeth flashing white,
      As though she, too, were happy-hearted . . .
      Then she had trembled suddenly,
      And dropped her eyes, as that fat man
      Stepped from the shadow of the van,
      And joined the circle, as the pot
      Was lifted off, and, piping-hot,
      The supper streamed in wooden bowls.
      Yet, she had hardly touched a bite;
      And had never raised her eyes all night
      To mine again; but on the coals,
      As I sat staring, she had stared --
      The black curls, shining round her head
      From under the red kerchief, tied
      So nattily beneath her chin --
      And she had stolen off to bed
      Quite early, looking dazed and scared.
      Then, all agape and sleepy-eyed,
      Ere long the others had turned in;
      And I was rid of that fat man,
      Who slouched away to his own van.

      And now, before her van, I lay,
      With sleepless eyes, awaiting day;
      And as I gazed upon the glare
      I heard, behind, a gentle stir:
      And, turning round, I looked on her
      Where she stood on the little stair
      Outside the van; with listening air --
      And, in her eyes, the hunted hare . . .
      And then, I saw her slip away.
      A bundle underneath her arm,
      Without a single glance at me.
      I lay a moment wondering,
      My heart a-thump like anything,
      Then, fearing she should come to harm
      I rose, and followed speedily
      Where she had vanished in the night.
      And as she heard my step behind
      She started, and stopt dead with fright;
      Then blundered on as if struck blind:
      And now as I caught up with her,
      Just as she took the moorland track,
      I saw the hare's eyes, big and black . . .
      She'd made as though she'd double back . . .
      But when she looked into my eyes,
      She stood quite still and did not stir . . .
      And picking up her fallen pack
      I tucked it 'neath my arm; and she
      Just took her luck quite quietly,
      As she must take what chance might come,
      And would not have it otherwise,
      And walked into the night with me,
      Without a word across the fells.

      And all about us, through the night,
      The mists were stealing, cold and white,
      Down every rushy styke or slack:
      But, soon the moon swung into sight;
      And as we went my heart was light,
      And singing like a burn in flood:
      And in my ears were tinkling bells;
      My body was a rattled drum:
      And fifes were shrilling through my blood
      That summer night, to think that she
      Was walking through the world with me.

      But when the air with dawn was chill,
      As we were travelling down a hill,
      She broke her silence with low sobbing;
      And told her tale, her bosom throbbing
      As though her very heart was shaken
      With fear she'd yet be overtaken . . .
      She'd always lived in caravans --
      Her father's, gay as any man's,
      Grass-green, picked out with red and yellow
      And glittering brave with burnished brass
      That sparkled in the sun like flame,
      And window curtains, white as snow . . .
      But, they had died, ten years ago,
      Her parents both, when fever came . . .
      And they were buried, side by side,
      Somewhere beneath the wayside grass . . .
      In times of sickness, they kept wide
      Of towns and busybodies,
      No parson's or policeman's tricks
      Should bother them when in a fix . . .
      Her father never could abide
      A black coat or a blue, poor man .. .
      And so Long Dick, a kindly fellow,
      When you could keep him from the can,
      And Meg, his easy-going wife,
      Had taken her into the van;
      And kept her since her parents died . . .
      And she had lived a happy life,
      Until Fat Pete's young wife was taken . . .
      But, ever since, he'd pestered her . . .
      And she dared scarcely breathe or stir,
      Lest she should see his eyes aleer . . .
      And many a night she'd lain and shaken,
      And very nearly died of fear --
      Though safe enough within the van
      With Mother Meg and her good-man --
      For, since Fat Peter was Long Dick's friend,
      And they were thick and sweet as honey,
      And Dick owed Pete a lot of money,
      She knew too well how it must end . . .
      And she would rather lie stone dead
      Beneath the wayside grass than wed
      With leering Pete, and live the life,
      And die the death, of his first wife . . .
      And so, last night, clean-daft with dread,
      She'd bundled up a pack and fled.

      When all the sobbing tale was out,
      She dried her eyes, and looked about,
      As though she'd left all fear behind,
      And out of sight were out of mind,
      Then, when the dawn was burning red,
      'I'm hungry as a hawk!' she said:
      And from the bundle took out bread,
      And at the happy end of night
      We sat together by a burn;
      And a thick slice, turn by turn;
      And laughted and kissed between each bit.

      Then, up again, and on our way
      We went; and tramped the lovelong day
      The moorland trackways, steep and rough,
      Though there was little fear enough
      That they would follow on our flight.

      And then again a shiny night
      Among the honey-scented heather,
      We wandered in the moonblaze bright,
      Together through a land of light,
      A lad and lass alone with life.
      And merrily we laughed together,
      When, starting up from sleep, we heard
      The cock-grouse talking to his wife . . .
      And 'Old Fat Pete' she called the bird.

      Six months and more have cantered by:
      And, Winter past, we're out again --
      We've left the fat and weatherwise
      To keep their coops and reeking sties,
      And eat their fill of oven-pies,
      While we win free and out again
      To take potluck beneath the sky
      With sun and moon and wind and rain.
      Six happy months . . . and yet, at night,
      I've often wakened in affright,
      And looked upon her lying there,
      Beside me sleeping quietly,
      Adread that when she waked, I'd see
      The hunted hare within her eyes.

      And only last night, as I slept
      Beneath the shelter of a stack . . .
      My hands were hot upon a hare,
      Half-strangled, struggling in the snare,
      When, suddenly, her eyes shot back,
      Big, fearful, staggering and black;
      And ere I knew, my grip was slack,
      And I was clutching empty air . . .
      Bolt-upright from my sleep I leapt . . .
      Her place was empty in the straw . . .
      And then, with quaking heart, I saw
      That she was standing in the night,
      A leveret cuddled to her breast . . .

      I spoke no word; but as the light
      Through banks of Eastern cloud was breaking,
      She turned, and saw that I was waking:
      And told me how shoe could not rest;
      And, rising in the night, she'd found
      This baby-hare crouched on the ground;
      And she had nursed it quite a while;
      But, now, she'd better let it go . . .
      Its mother wold be fretting so . . .
      A mother's heart . . .
                                      I saw her smile
      And look at me with tender eyes;
      And as I looked into their light,
      My foolish, fearful heart grew wise . . .
      And now, I knew that never there
      I'd see againt the startled hare,
      Or need to dread the dreams of night.


      Stuck in a bottle on the window-sill,
      In the cold gaslight burning gaily red
      Against the luminous blue of London night,
      These flowers are mine: while somewhere out of sight
      In some black-throated alley's stench and heat,
      Oblivious of the racket of the street,
      A poor old weary woman lies in bed.

      Broken with lust and drink, blear-eyed and ill,
      Her battered bonnet nodding on her head,
      From a dark arch she clutched my sleeve and said:
      'I've sold no bunch today, nor touched a bite . . .
      Son, buy six-pennorth; and 't will mean a bed.'

      So blazing gaily red
      Against the luminous deeps
      Of starless London night,
      They burn for my delight:
      While somewhere, snug in bed,
      A worn old woman sleeps.

      And yet to-morrow will these blooms be dead
      With all their lively beauty; and to-morrow
      May end the light lusts and the heavy sorrow
      Of that old body with the nodding head.
      The last oath muttered, the last pint drained deep,
      She'll sink, as Cleopatra sank, to sleep;
      Nor need to barter blossoms for a bed.

    Devil's Edge

      All night I lay on Devil's Edge,
      Along an overhanging ledge
      Between the sky and sea:
      And as I rested 'waiting sleep,
      The windless sky and soundless deep
      In one dim, blue infinity
      Of starry peace encompassed me.

      And I remembered, drowsily,
      How 'mid the hills last night I'd lain
      Beside a singing moorland burn;
      And waked at dawn, to feel the rain
      Fall on my face, as on the fern
      That drooped about my heather-bed;
      And how by noon the wind had blown
      The last grey shred from out the sky,
      And blew my homespun jacket dry,
      As I stood on the topmost stone
      That crowns the cairn on Hawkshaw Head,
      And caught a gleam of far-off sea;
      And heard the wind sing in the bent
      Like those far waters calling me:
      Wnen, my heart answering to the call,
      I followed down the seaward stream,
      By silent pool and singing fall;
      Till with a quiet, keen content,
      I watched the sun, a crimson ball,
      Shoot through grey seas a fiery gleam,
      Then sink in opal deeps from sight.

      And with the coming on of night,
      The wind had dropped: and as I lay,
      Retracing all the happy day,
      And gazing long and dreamily
      Across the dim, unsounding sea,
      Over the far horizon came
      A sudden sail of amber flame;
      And soon the new moon rode on high
      Through cloudless deeps of crystal sky.

      Too holy seemed the night for sleep;
      And yet, I must have slept, it seems;
      For, suddenly, I woke to hear
      A strange voice singing, shrill and clear,
      Down in a gully black and deep
      That cleft the beetling crag in twain.
      It seemed the very voice of dreams
      That drive hag-ridden souls in fear
      Through echoing, unearthly vales,
      To plunge in black, slow-crawling streams,
      Seeking to drown that cry, in vain . . .
      Or some sea creature's voice that wails
      Through blind, white banks of fog uplifting
      To God-forgotten sailors drifting
      Rudderless to death . . .
      And as I heard,
      Though no wind stirred,
      An icy breath
      Was in my hair . . .
      And clutched my heart with cold despair . . .
      But, as the wild song died away,
      There came a faltering break
      That shivered to a sobbing fall;
      And seemed half-human, after all . . .

      And yet, what foot could find a track
      In that deep gully, sheer and black . . .
      And singing wildly in the night!
      So, wondering, I lay awake,
      Until the coming of the light
      Brought day's familiar presence back.

      Down by the harbour-mouth that day,
      A fisher told the tale to me.
      Three months before, while out at sea,
      Young Philip Burn was lost, though how,
      None knew, and none would ever know.
      The boat becalmed at noonday lay . . .
      And not a ripple on the sea . . .
      And Philip standing in the bow,
      When his six comrades went below
      To sleep away an hour or so,
      Dog-tired with working day and night,
      While he kept watch . . . and not a sound
      They heard, until, at set of sun,
      They woke; and coming up they found
      The deck was empty, Philip gone . . .
      Yet not another boat in sight . . .
      And not a ripple on the sea.
      How he had vanished, none could tell.
      They only knew the lad was dead
      They'd left but now, alive and well . . .
      And he, poor fellow, newly-wed . . .
      And when they broke the news to her,
      She spoke no word to anyone:
      But sat all day, and would not stir --
      Just staring, staring in the fire,
      With eyes that never seemed to tire;
      Until, at last, the day was done,
      And darkness came; when she would rise,
      And seek the door, with queer, wild eyes;
      And wander singing all the night
      Unearthly songs beside the sea:
      But always the first blink of light
      Would find her back at her own door.

      'Twas Winter when I came once more
      To that old village by the shore;
      And as, at night, I climbed the street,
      I heard a singing, low and sweet,
      Within a cottage near at hand:
      And I was glad awhile to stand
      And listen by the glowing pane:
      And as I hearkened, that sweet strain
      Brought back the night when I had lain
      Awake on Devil's Edge . . .
      And now I knew the voice again,
      So different, free of pain and fear --
      Its terror turned to tenderness --
      And yet the same voice none the less,
      Though singing now so true and clear:
      And drawing nigh the window-ledge,
      I watched the mother sing to rest
      The baby snuggling to her breast.

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