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Lake Winter

John Drinkwater 1882 ( Leytonstone, London, ) – 1937 ( London)

Full summer dusk was round him as he stood
On the hill-top, over the calling sheep
Drifting along the pastured downs. The moon
Far off was rising from the Sussex sea.
Above him, building up into the sky,
Black, and with pointing sails now skeletoned,
A windmill gathered strays of evening wind
Whispering through the splitting timbers. Still
The setting sun washed with a fuller gold
The golden sheaves patterned upon a cone
Of downland by him farther from the sea.
So still, he seemed a thing woven of earth,
A life rooted and fixed as were the oaks
Locked in the soil, their bases webbed with fleece
Of sheltering ewes, he watched across the valley,
And the hour passed, and the black mill grew and grew,
And then a light came in a far window
Of a grey farm cresting the hill beyond,
And sudden tides beat on him as he saw
A white dress moving in the distant pines.
 
.....
 
Lake Winter, a five hundred acre man,
Was English, bred far back, a part of England,
With South and North and Midland in his blood.
And somewhere Devon, somewhere Suffolk too.
He had been born of love. They had been lovers,
Who made him, and no more, but they were lovers.
She of a proud house, proud to make it prouder
With wit and beauty, and a young brain glowing,
And a swift body fearless and pitiful;
And he a Cotswold yeoman, thrift and power,
And mastery of earth and herds and flocks,
And knowledge of all seasons and their fruits,
And a heart of meditation, all his birthright;
Ten generations deep from Gloucester stone.
And those two met, and loved, and of their love
Came a new purity of blood and limb,
As of a purpose slowly moulding them.
And long they waited, and then one summer noon,
He, coming northward from his Cotswold home,
Found her by Rydal as she had bidden him,
And proudly stride to stride they took the road,
Sure youth by youth, and to Helvellyn's foot
They came, and climbed up to the brighter air,
And into the wind's ardour still went on,
Until upon the mountain top they stood,
And lake by lake was fading in the dusk.
Out of the plains they saw the moon move up
And over them the deeper blue came on,
The faint stars glowing into mastery.
And in that splendour of a summer hill,
Amid the mellow-breathing night, where yet
The poppies of the valley could not come,
There was conceived a boy....
And sorrow came
Upon their love. Before the moon again
Was full upon Helvellyn, the Cotswold lover
With a great elm was blasted in a storm,
And lay, a burnt thing, in a Cotswold grave.
And she went out, took her inheritance,
And lived apart, and the man-child was born.
She called him Lake, for those fading lakes of dusk,
And gave him her own name. And twenty years
She tended him, and died; and from her substance
Lake Winter now for fifteen years had kept
His Sussex acres in fertility.
Such was the man, so born, so passionately made,
So knit of English earth and generations,
Who now upon the summer evening watched,
His manhood full upon his middle years,
A white dress moving in the distant pines.
 
.....
 
Down to the valley from their hills they came,
Lake Winter and the woman that he loved.
He waited by a long brown garden wall,
Mottled with moss and lichen, where in the dusk
Like a great moth a late flycatcher wove,
And watched her coming down a rutted path,
Towards him. And the flowing of her body,
Sure step through fugitive cadences of limb,
Up to the little golden arch of hair,
Was lovely as a known yet wanted tale.
 
.....
 
Zell Dane, the wife of Martin Dane, who held
Tollington Manor farm, was ten years wed.
Dane was an honest man by groom and horse,
Paid pew-rent and his losing wagers, thought
The British Empire lived at Westminster,
Stood by the State and rights of property,
Drank well, and knew the barmaids of a county.
He married Zell, and neither could have said
Why it was done. Ten years had gone since then,
And he was now a half forgotten habit,
She, some queer porcelain stuff beyond his knowing.
 
.....
 
Lake Winter came and went at Tollington,
As other neighbours, a little in Dane's mind
Suspect for certain rumours of his birth,
But known for a straight rider and plain speaker,
Who meant his words and had words for his meaning.
And Lake and Zell, between the jests at table,
Where they could match the best wits of the room,
Would talk of things that Dane and the rest counted
As pointing ways not good for level minds.
Why pose about Beethoven, and Debussy,
Or these French fellows Degas and Picasso,
When there were Marcus Stone, and A Long, Long Trail,
And "A Little Grey Home in the West," that common folk
Could understand? And, however the truth might be,
It wasn't decent openly to say
That William Wordsworth was a better poet,
Though more or less in a poet was no matter,
Because it seemed that once in his flaming youth
He had loved gloriously in France....
 
. . . . .
 
Dane heard and saw,
And was a little troubled that clear heads
Should cloud and squander thus, a little scornful.
Still if it gave them pleasure, and it but meant
Mind with mind idling together so,
Winter could come and go for all he cared,
He wouldn't grudge ... and then the doubt began,
A thought that somewhere under all this play
And nimbleness was crouching the true thing,
Lust, plain lust. There was between man and woman,
So Dane had learnt, two several conditions,
A compact to keep smooth the day's affairs,
That, and plain lust. This mind play was a sham....
Winter and Zell were lusting, that was all...
Then let them... damn it, let the matter be...
Time would show all, and there were crops and hounds.
 
....
 
They stood together by the dusky wall.
And long their lips met, in a hushed world fading,
A night of beauty fading in their own.
And then "I made a rhyme for you to-day,
When the last sheaves were binding I made it,
thus, "
 
I have no strange or subtle thought,
And the old things are best,
In curious tongues I am untaught,
Yet I know rest.
 
I know the sifting oakleaves still
Upon a twilit sky,
I hear the fernowl on the hill
Go wheeling by.
 
I know my flocks and how they keep
Their tunes of field and fold,
My scholarship can sow and reap,
From green to gold.
 
The circled stars from down to sea
I reckon as my gains,
The swallows are as dear to me
As loaded wains.
 
Yet these were ghosts and fugitive,
Until upon your step they came
By revelation's lips to live
In your dear name.
 
I saw you walking as dusk fell,
And leaves and wains and heaven and birds
Were miracles my blood may tell,
And not my words.
 
"And yet I would not lose the tidings come
On so dear words, though the blood knows it all,
As the song says." She spoke; and from the valley
Slowly towards the mill, by ghostly flocks
That stole about the meadows of the moonrise,
They walked, and made this argument of love.
 
LAKE. How shall they stand for wisdom, who forbid
The body's love, which is so small a thing,
Yet let the souls, or minds, or what you will
Be mated, as though spirit were the drudge,
For no-one's heed, and limbs alone to be,
As though clay were the gold, inviolate?
If I could grudge love coming anywhere,
Falling even on whom I loved in all,
I think the body at least should have no share
Of jealousy from me, which should be spent
Rather on minds meeting above my own,
Myself an exile from their understanding.
Beloved, in the mating of our minds
I am all peace to walk thus in your presence,
And in that peace your body of my desire,
And all my earth, as passionate as any,
Seem snares to tempt us to the loss of all,
Since by them the world threatens this our peace,
Which else we may so gather, undenied.
Then is not flesh merely the trouble of love,
When love goes thus, as love between us now?
 
.....
 
Zell took his hand, and her life was in his veins,
And his words beat back upon him as she spoke.
 
.....
 
ZELL. Dear, you are wise of all your books, and speech
Of windy downs, and polities of men,
And the old passions weaving history,
And strong and gentle things of sea and earth,
And the poor passing of the life of man,
But not in this. You have your great-heart courage
For all such ardours as might make you seem
Some fabled hero standing against fate,
But not in this. In sifting vanity
From the right honour, and building from ambition,
You have a vision constant as the tides,
But not in this. They may look Sussex over
For any man who found a crooked word
Ever upon your lips, and vainly look,
Because, dear, truth is an old habit in you,
But not in this. Here in the night enchanted,
With not an ear to catch the whispered truth,
Let nothing but the truth between us be,
I love you, Lake; I love the fair mind moving
In equal joy among men's praise or censure;
I love the courage of its lonely flight,
Here in a land of light convenience.
I love you for the years that you have given
To Sussex plough and pasture till they are grown
Surer and richer in your wit than any.
I love you for the love in which you gather
My mind that from youth on has gone unmated,
And then I love you for the bearing kept
In you when slight occasions something royal
Take on because you silently are there.
I know you, Lake, for a man worthy honour,
And well to honour is well to delight.
But, dear, with all this giving of my love,
Great and unmeasured giving, sending back
In joy the worship that you bring to me,
I love your glowing body, and you love mine.
No words, or thrift of philosophic thought,
Can put that love out of the love we are.
At night, alone, when the dark covers me,
I ache for you, body for body I ache.
And then I know that over you as well
The dear, forlorn, resistless pain is full.
We may persuade, virtuously persuade,
That this is but an accident of love,
Not of love's very being, a thing to bind
In brave captivity at the world's bidding,
But I know, as you know it, that persuasion
So made is outcast in the house of truth.
I love you, and the thing I love is made
All wonderful of flesh and spirit both,
Body and mind inseparably one,
And I must spend my love on all or nothing.
Should I but love those limbs so rightly planned
By ancestry so wise of English earth,
It were a simple harlotry in me.
But, Lake, to love the life and not the house,
The living house so admirably built
Of tissue flawless as the material stars,
Wherein the life I love is manifest,
Were harlotry no less I know than that.
You, the dear Lake of my idolatry,
For I am something near it, as you are,
Are one life, whereto pilgrim thought conspires
With all the cunning moulding of the flesh,
And of my brain and body is my love,
Dream to your dream, desire to your desire.
If you should die, my memory of you
Would be no tale of the mere mind conceiving,
Of contemplation thriving thus or thus,
In trance of spaces where not even wings nor breath
Recall the moving of substantial things.
Rather in me for ever should be glowing
The imaging mind mated in equal limbs,
Thought visible in lines of the athlete,
Wisdom persuading in the lover's clasp.
And how should thought know thought until the whole
Of body's beauty is by body learnt?
Until the trial of that most dear seclusion
Is past, and all the dangers of mere lust
Disproved, when in possession is no stale
Regret and disillusion, how should be known
That the still hours of thought with thought are stable
Against the wearing of dissolving time?
Dear, we must love by all the tokens of love,
Before the presence of love beyond dispute
Is between us and for ever fixed.
 
.....
 
Lake heard, and knew that answer could be none,
Then by the sheep-tracks on the silver downs
Silent they walked, and midnight came apace,
And by the bases of the mill they went,
Close moving, arm by arm, and down again
Towards the valley, where again they stood,
And let their lives beat out upon the night.
And as they waited on farewell, a form
Came up before them, and Martin Dane stood there,
And "by your leave," he murmured, and went on.
Then Zell, "To-morrow, when the moon is full,
Meet me beside the mill mound. Martin goes
To Farnham for the otter hunting." Lake
Took her and kissed, and with no word they parted
Where the light still looked from the hillside farm
Over the valley to his home. And he
As dreaming passed again by the mill to sleep.
 
.....
 
Firmer the mould, surer the flight of boughs,
Familiar move the bright plains of the air,
And newly stedfast the gospel he had known
Year by year written on his Sussex life,
Now seemed to Lake this day. Among his men,
All day he drew and pegged the rickyard straw,
And piled the barn from floor to the swallows' beam,
Brown throated and brown armed, the golden rose
Of summer wind glowing upon his face,
And all the phrasing of his body good.
And twilight fell on the full harvest home,
And the barn doors were closed, and painted wagons
Stood empty by the ricks, with sunken wheels
Smeared with the fallen husks, and voice was none,
And silence with the moon was over all.
 
.....
 
Lake through the eve walked his familiar paths,
Counting the labour of his years; the shed
Where morn and night the cattle came to stall,
Empty and still now but for the timbering rats;
The low smooth paven dairy, where the moon
Now sent a shaft on one full yellow bowl;
The barn so happily at teeming time again,
The rickyard stacked with hurdles by the fence,
The long loft over plough and wagon teams.
Among the heavy apple trees he passed,
By ledgy sheep track, over the new stubble,
Across the valley, and in the shadow kept
Of Martin Dane's home hop-yard, and again
Back to his own hillside. And in the south,
Beyond the moon, over the midnight sea,
Came up a cloud all heavy with black wind.
 
.....
 
Zell by the mill was standing when he came,
Now darkly gowned so that she seemed a shadow,
Black by the black mill, save for the white face,
And gold hair and white hands that caught the moonlight.
Together the wide wooden steps they climbed,
By broken treads and splitting rail, and he
Lifted the rusted latch, and there within
Were folded sacks perished along the seam,
Forgotten with the dust, and the bare walls,
Now weather-broken. Above them a dim light
Showed them a laddered way still up. They came
Into the high roof chamber, and a rent
In the top timbers let the moonlight in,
Half moulding to their vision spars and beams,
The mill's old ghostly life, and sail-cloth piled
From the use of generations. A window space
Just from their towery refuge let them look
Over familiar earth now tranced. And Lake
Saw yet again his roofs and acres loved,
Tenderly, as though interpreters
Of his long care and their good yielding hours
Freshly upon his senses ministered; Zell
Across the valley saw a lone slumbering light,
While from the south the mounting darkness crept,
And the wind gathered, moaning upon the mill,
Filling its frame with a low pulsing breath.
 
.....
 
And over love the heavenly figures went
In their unchanging change. No longer now
The moonlight shafted through the torn roof-timbers,
And star by star crossed the small field of sky,
And in those hours of peace that only comes
With passion mated and of passion born,
Lake knew within him stirring that far beauty
Of an old starry still Helvellyn night.
And Zell made all the wisdom of her words
Wisdom of life, so simple and unclouded,
Leaving no fume of trouble in the dark,
Ending for ever the brain's captivity.
 
.....
 
They slept. And still the south wind gathered up,
Gust upon gust to a full swelling tide,
And the great sail-timbers groaned, and blackness fell
Over the mill that trembled as in pain
Of age now nearly with all quarrels done.
Along the ridges of the downs it swept,
Beating the boughs of ash and elm, a flood
Of storm exulting in deliverance.
And fury up and down the valleys played
And rose and spilt and sank upon the hills,
And to and fro the thunder bayed, till sudden
The world about the sleeping lovers shook
With sounding doom. And Zell, waking, cried out,
And he beside her stood, and folded her
A moment as from fear, and kissed her, and they turned
To go, when from the bases of the mill
A shrieking as of life being crushed and torn
Clanged out upon the beating elements,
And the hurt timbers, whipped and wrencht, sent up
A last fierce wail, and for a moment swayed,
Then gave the life up of a hundred years,
And to the earth the mill plunged in defeat.
 
.....
 
Sleepers along the hill-top in the night
Stirred as a ruin above the thunder broke,
And slept again. And dawn upon a world
Of leaves and downs and sheep washed into brightness
Came on that Sussex out of a clear sky,
And on the sea the little ships went on
With sails just filled with a small virgin wind.
And slowly one by one the village came
To see the old mill that their sires had known,
And sires beyond them, blasted in a world
Where peace was lord as in immortal mood.
They stood and silence kept them until one
Saw suddenly upon the dawn breeze blown,
Out from a mound
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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John Drinkwater

John Drinkwater (1 June 1882 – 25 March 1937) was an English poet and dramatist. more…

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