’Tis the hour when white-horsed Day
Chases Night her mares away;
When the Gates of Dawn (they say)
And I gather that the Queen
May be uniformly seen,
Should the weather be serene,
On the slopes.
When the ploughman, as he goes
Leathern-gaitered o’er the snows,
From his hat and from his nose
Knocks the ice;
And the panes are frosted o’er,
And the lawn is crisp and hoar,
As has been observed before
Once or twice.
When arrayed in breastplate red
Sings the robin, for his bread,
On the elmtree that hath shed
While, within, the frost benumbs
The still sleepy schoolboy’s thumbs,
And in consequence his sums
Come to grief.
But when breakfast-time hath come,
And he’s crunching crust and crumb,
He’ll no longer look a glum
But be brisk as bees that settle
On a summer rose’s petal:
Wherefore, Polly, put the kettle
On at once.
Kate! if e’er thy light foot lingers
On the lawn, when up the fells
Steals the Dark, and fairy fingers
Close unseen the pimpernels:
When, his thighs with sweetness laden,
From the meadow comes the bee,
And the lover and the maiden
Stand beneath the trysting tree:-
Lingers on, till stars unnumber’d
Tremble in the breeze-swept tarn,
And the bat that all day slumber’d
Flits about the lonely barn;
And the shapes that shrink from garish
Noon are peopling cairn and lea;
And thy sire is almost bearish
If kept waiting for his tea:-
And the screech-owl scares the peasant
As he skirts some churchyard drear;
And the goblins whisper pleasant
Tales in Miss Rossetti’s ear;
Importuning her in strangest,
Sweetest tones to buy their fruits:-
O be careful that thou changest,
On returning home, thy boots.
By the wide lake’s margin I mark’d her
The wide, weird lake where the alders sigh —
A young fair thing, with a shy, soft eye;
And I deem’d that her thoughts had flown
To her home, and her brethren, and sisters dear,
As she lay there watching the dark, deep mere,
All motionless, all alone.
Then I heard a noise, as of men and boys,
And a boisterous troop drew nigh.
Whither now will retreat those fairy feet?
Where hide till the storm pass by?
One glance—the wild glance of a hunted thing —
She cast behind her; she gave one spring;
And there follow’d a splash and a broadening ring
On the lake where the alders sigh.
She had gone from the ken of ungentle men!
Yet scarce did I mourn for that;
For I knew she was safe in her own home then,
And, the danger past, would appear again,
For she was a water-rat.