London From Hampstead Heath

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Peace on the hush'd earth fell at eventide
As dew from heaven upon the thirsty grass;
No sound unmusical broke on the ear,
The fields all tranquil, and the waters calm.
Each drowsy flower hung down its gentle head,
The murmur of each insect died away,
As, floating down, it sank with folded wing,
Weary with play and happiness, to sleep.
No vapour o'er the populous city hung,
Spread out in grandeur on the horizon's verge;
But dome and pinnacle and pillar tall,
And all the royal works of royal men
Lay carved in miniature before my eyes;
And graceful gardens rearing amidst spires
Rich burnish'd hues of autumn, and proud piles
Of charity (the gift of timorous death,
Hoping perchance to cancel evil deeds),
And halls of learning consecrate for long,
And giant fabrics for each social craft,
The so-call'd crown of these luxurious times:
And there were mighty sepulchres to men
Unhonour'd in their lives; and tombs of kings,
And ancient gateways into busy haunts,
Full of the modern spirit of loss and gain,
All in one vast confusion intermix'd.
A noble city and a nation's pride,
Set in a lovely frame of sloping hills,
And girdled by a river, where the sun
Quiver'd and danced, as glows a ring of fire.
The radiance died away, and Night walk'd forth,
Darkness and Sleep with her, her children twain,
And brooded o'er the town; yet many eyes
Watch'd weary doubtless, and slept not till dawn.
Then to the distant height whereon I stood
Rose a sad sound, which, filling all the air,
(This to my fancy, not my waking sense,)
Struck fear into my heart, as of one who sees
Dimly the black edge of an awful gulf,
And guesses at the unknown depth below.
Musing, I closed my eyes, and visions rose
In long array before them--of times past,
And times to come; and pictures of true life
Even at the moment painting stirr'd my tears.
Oh God! this hour, thy gift, how rich it is
In all we love of heroism, how black
In all we hate of sin!


In one abode,
Dark from the clouded air, remote from heaven,
Or aught that nature made, were two that spake
In whisper mournful, and with clasping hands.
They were not lovely, nor of high repute,
Gifted in intellect, nor mild of mood;
Two rougher spirits scarcely might be found
In all the city, but a spell was on
Their darken'd natures, and work'd strong within,
And brought from out the abyss of evil days
A touch of holier feeling undecay'd.
It was night;
Small sign of beauty or of wealth was there,
Save one poor primrose dull'd and dried with smoke,
And one poor human bud, than all more sweet,
Which lay on a little couch; its eyes were closed,
But the long lashes quiver'd restlessly,
And from the small pale lips a moaning cry
Broke, as of pain. Father and mother there
Sat in their desolation all alone.
This was the first-born and the only one,
For whom they often hush'd their wicked words
That he might learn no ill; they pray'd for him
When reckless of themselves, and hoped the lad
Might find some better teaching in a school
Than they had found in gaols; but now, no hope,--
The fiat had gone forth, "The child must die;"
And wherefore? Kill'd by very want and care!
It never play'd by marge of river clear,
It nothing knew of natural sounds or scents,
Nor thought of things divine; it only knew
A coarse humanity, a Godless world
Of streets and alleys, an avenging law:
So, one of many children, thus it died.
Father and mother mourn'd it all alone,
And weeping stood beside the little grave,
While cold eyes look'd on them with curious stare,
And then pass'd on; for not in churchyard green,
Quiet and holy, in some nest alone,
Was this grave made; no sound of village bells
Lull'd him to sleep; but where the rattling wheels
And loud shrill voices broke their darling's rest
Throughout the day, and all the dismal night,
While yet he linger'd on the dreary earth
There, in a corner, with no stone to mark,
Rail'd from the common street with open bars,
They laid their boy, and back return'd alone.

Oh London! great among the nations, great
In thought, in wealth, and greater being free;
Who dwellest under thine own magistrates,
And say'st "My express'd opinion awes the world,"--
Oh mother city! oft thy freedom seems
One vast corruption of the eternal ties
Which bind men to each other!