Thomas Aird

The Old Soldier: Campaign The Second

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How fresh the morning meadow of the Spring,
Pearl-seeded with the dew: adown its path,
Bored by the worms of night, the Old Soldier takes
His wonted walk, and drinks into his heart
The gush and gurgle of the cold green stream.
The huddled splendour of the April noon;
Glancings of rain; the mountain-tops all quick
With shadowy touches and with greening gleams;
Blue bent the Bow of God; the coloured clouds,
Soaked with the glory of the setting sun,—
These all are his for pleasure: his the Moon,
Chaste huntress, dipping, o'er the dewy hills,
Her silver buskin in the dying day.

The Summer morn is up: the tapering trees
Are all a-glitter. In his garden forth
The Old Soldado saunters: hovering on
Before him, oft upon the naked walk
Rests the red butterfly; now full dispread;
Now, in the wanton gladsomeness of life,
Half on their hinges folding up its wings;
Again full spread and still: o'erhead away,
Lo! now it wavers through the liquid blue.
But he intent from out their straw-roofed hives
Watches his little foragers go forth,
Boot on the buds to make, to suck the depths
Of honey-throated blooms, and home return,
Their thighs half smothered with the yellow dust.
Dibble and hoe he plies; anon he props
His heavy-headed plants, and visits round
His herbs of grace: the simple flowerets here
Open their infant buttons; there the flowers
Of preference blow, the lily and the rose.

Fast by his cottage door there grows an oak,
Of state supreme, drawn from the centuries.
Pride of the old man's heart, in many a walk
Far off he sees its top of sovereignty,
And with instinctive loyalty his cap
Soldierly touches to the Royal Tree—
King of all trees that flourish! King revered!
Trafalgars lie beneath his rugged vest,
And in his acorns is the Golden Age!
Summer the time; thoughtful beneath his tree
The Veteran puffs his intermittent pipe,
And cheats the sweltering hours; yet noting oft
The flight of bird, and exhalation far
Quivering and drifting o'er the fallow field,
And the great cloud rising upon the noon,
The sultry smithy of the thunder-forge.
Anon the weekly journal of events
Conning, he learns the doings of the world,
And what it suffers—justice-loosened wrath
Falling from Heaven upon unrighteous states;
Lean Sorrow tracking still the bread-blown Sin;
A spirit of lies; high-handed wrong; the curse
Of ignorance crass and fat stupidity;
And maddened nations at their contre-dance
Of Revolutions, when each bloody hour
Comes staggering in beneath its load of crimes,
Enough to bend the back of centuries.

The sun goes down the western afternoon,
Lacing the clouds with his diverging rays:
Homeward the children from the village school
Come whooping on; but aye their voices fall,
As aye they turn unto the old man's door—
So much they love him. He their progress notes
In learning, and has prizes for their zeal,
Flowers for the girls, and fruit,—hooks for the boys,
Whistles, and cherry-stones; and, to maintain
The thews and sinews of our coming men,
He makes them run and leap upon the green.

The nodding wain has borne the harvest home,
And yellowing apples spot the orchard trees:
Now may you oft the Old Soldado see
Stumping, relieved against the evening sky,
Along the ferny height—so much he loves
Its keen and wholesome air; nor less he loves
To hear the rustling of the fallen leaves,
Swept by the wind along the glittering road,
As home he goes beneath the Autumnal moon.

Thus round the starry girdle of the year
His spirit circles thankfully. Not grieved
When Winter comes once more, his hale red cheek
Goes kindling through the cold, forth when the morn
Tinkles with ice, and when on day's far edge,
Down in the windy trouble of the west,
Night's ghostly masons build the toppling clouds.

Zest to his cottage thus: with chosen books
He sits with Wisdom by his evening fire;
Puff goes his cheerful pipe; by turns he works;
And ever from his door, before he sleeps,
He eyes the sister planets, luminous large,
Silent, soft spinning on their mystic wheels
The thread of time: how beautiful they be!

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Thomas Aird