[English Prize verse]
Midnight is past – the pouring rain
Drives hitting on the window pane
The west wind fiercely blows;
No cats, or Tabby, black or white*
Have left the warm hearthstones tonight
To soil their dainty toes.
The rain has ceased; with sharp quick cries
Around the house a swallow flies,
And tells us dawn is here;
Then slowly from the dripping trees
Voice answers voice, and by degrees
Birds twitter everywhere.
Night’s mantle slips, and now again
The south wind turns the steeple vane
And light awhile is grey;
Then sudden in the dawning East
A long cloud lights its rose flushed breast
And ushers in Today.
Up rose the sun, and wondrous bright
Bathed bluff Northampton’s hills in light
Streamed up each opening vale
Peered through the triple window’d spire
Set the school chapel all on fire
And made the dawning pale.
But soon each tiny burning-glass
That hung on tree, on bud, on grass
Its spirit power would win;
And tired of catching solar rays
Rises to Heaven in purple haze
Like Eastern fabled Djinn.
It wraps from sight the distant wood
Steals up the vale & o’er the flood,
Where swimmers are at play,
Then passes by the cricket field,
Where boys are met to win or yield,
For ’tis a match today.
It fades, and leaden clouds on high,
Portending thunder, fill the sky;
Hush’d are the blackbirds songs,
The late-come swifts now skim the ground,
To seek the gnats that there are found,
In wavy buzzing throngs.
But see the long imprisoned sun,
Bursts from amid the cloudlets dun,
And bids the blackbirds sing;
Now snow-white fleecy clouds are seen
Passing their mirage o’er the green,
In shadows that they fling.
We stroll; the erst so dark green wheat
Shines white & wan about our feet
Washed by the heavy rains.
Corncrakes are busy in the grass
And larks spring up as on we pass
To carol evening strains.
Yon old green wall is bright with trails
Of frosted silver, where the snails
Have passed along, last night;
See this huge caterpillar track
His way with undulating back,
Now swollen, now slim and slight.
That nettle bed is all alive
With hairy shapes that grow and thrive
And die with wings at last.
Scarce said, as if to verify
My words, a shattered butterfly
An orange-tip flew past.
Then on through meads whose king-cups pour
About our feet their golden store,
The dust of fairy-land.
And may-flies rising as we walk
With galaxy wings, from stalk to stalk
Flit on – a lazy band.
We paused, ’neath chestnut trees, whose flowers
Like cressets hung in faery bowers,
Gleamed in the evening light;
When from the topmost boughs of all
Two cuckoos flew, without a call
Nor wishing us goodnight.
Here myriad emerald coated things,
With tiny ever-sparkling wings
Creep up each grassy blade
There lady-birds sit ruby bright
And spiders, scarlet spots of light,
Fleck here & there the shade.
Then Home – the Eastern sky’s aglow,
Its huge clouds move majestic, slow,
Illumined from the West;
But sudden all their glory flies,
The life of light within them dies
The sun has sunk to rest.
Uppingham. 1 June 1869
* Alluding to the cats that prowl about the School House wall at night.
[Unpublished poem, written when Hardwicke was 17 and at Uppingham School. It has been transcribed from RR/1/7, Catherine Rawnsley’s Commonplace Book, held in the Rawnsley Archives]