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Before and After Summer

Word count: 1297

Song Cycle by Gerald Finzi (1901 - 1956)

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1. Childhood among the ferns


I sat one sprinkling day upon the lea,
Where tall-stemmed ferns spread out luxuriantly,
And nothing but those tall ferns sheltered me.

The rain gained strength, and damped each lopping frond,
Ran down their stalks beside me and beyond,
And shaped slow-creeping rivulets as I conned,

With pride, my spray-roofed house. And though anon
Some drops pierced its green rafters, I sat on,
Making pretence I was not rained upon.

The sun then burst, and brought forth a sweet breath
From the limp ferns as they dried underneath;
I said: "I could live on here thus till death;"

And queried in the green rays as I sate:
"Why should I have to grow to man's estate,
And this afar-noised World perambulate?"


2. Before and after summer


Looking forward to the spring
One puts up with anything.
On this February day,
Though the winds leap down the street,
Wintry scourgings seem but play,
And these later shafts of sleet
- Sharper pointed than the first -
And these later snows - the worst -
Are as a half-transparent blind
Riddled by rays from sun behind.

Shadows of the October pine
Reach into this room of mine:
On the pine there stands a bird;
He is shadowed with the tree.
Mutely perched he bills no word;
Blank as I am even is he.
For those happy suns are past,
Fore-discerned in winter last.
When went by their pleasure, then?
I, alas, perceived not when.


3. The self-unseeing


Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.

She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!


4. Overlooking the river


The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
  Above the river-gleam
  In the wet June's last beam:
Like little crossbows animate
The swallows flew in the curve of an eight
  Above the river-gleam.

Planing up shavings of crystal spray
  A moor-hen darted out
  From the bank thereabout,
And through the stream-shine ripped his way;
Planing up shavings of crystal spray
  A moor-hen darted out.

Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
  Dripped in monotonous green,
  Though the day's morning sheen
Had shown it golden and honeybee'd;
Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
  Dripped in monotonous green.

And never I turned my head, alack,
  While these things met my gaze
  Through the pane's drop-drenched glaze,
To see the more behind my back...
O never I turned, but let, alack,
  These less things hold my gaze!


5. Channel firing


That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares;
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
It's gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

"All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

"That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing;
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening ...

"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need)."

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.


First published in Fortnightly Review, May 1914
See also "...and starlit Stonehenge", D. Jex's setting, which either refers to or uses this text.

6. In the mind's eye


That was once her casement,
   And the taper nigh,
Shining from within there,
   Beckoned, "Here am I!"

Now, as then, I see her
   Moving at the pane;
Ah, 'tis but her phantom
   Borne within my brain!

Foremost in my vision
   Everywhere goes she;
Change dissolves the landscapes,
   She abides with me.

Shape so sweet and shy, Dear,
   Who can say thee nay?
Never once do I, Dear,
   Wish thy ghost away.


7. The too short time


Nine leaves a minute
  Swim down shakily;
  Each one fain would spin it
  Straight to earth; but, see,
  How the sharp airs win it
Slantwise away! Hear it say,
"Now we have finished our summer show
Of what we knew the way to do:
Alas, not much! But, as things go,
As fair as any. And night-time calls,
     And the curtain falls!"

  Sunlight goes on shining
  As if no frost were here,
  Blackbirds seem designing
  Where to build next year;
  Yet is warmth declining:
And still the day seems to say,
"Saw you how Dame Summer drest?
Of all God taught her she bethought her!
Alas, not much! And yet the best
She could, within the too short time
  Granted her prime."


8. Epeisodia


Past the hills that peep
Where the leaze is smiling,
On and on beguiling
Crisply-cropping sheep;
Under boughs of brushwood
Linking tree and tree
In a shade of lushwood,
  There caressed we!

Hemmed by city walls
That outshut the sunlight,
In a foggy dun light,
Where the footstep falls
With a pit-pat wearisome
In its cadency
On the flagstones drearisome
  There pressed we!

Where in wild-winged crowds
Blown birds show their whiteness
Up against the lightness
Of the clammy clouds;
By the random river
Pushing to the sea,
Under bents that quiver
  There shall rest we.


9. Amabel


I marked her ruined hues,
Her custom-straitened views,
And asked, "Can there indwell
  My Amabel?"

I looked upon her gown,
Once rose, now earthen brown;
The change was like the knell
  Of Amabel.

Her step's mechanic ways
Had lost the life of May's;
Her laugh, once sweet in swell,
  Spoilt Amabel.

I mused: "Who sings the strain
I sang ere warmth did wane?
Who thinks its numbers spell
  His Amabel?" -

Knowing that, though Love cease,
Love's race shows undecrease;
All find in dorp or dell
  An Amabel.

- I felt that I could creep
To some housetop, and weep,
That Time the tyrant fell
  Ruled Amabel!

I said (the while I sighed
That love like ours had died),
"Fond things I'll no more tell
  To Amabel,

"But leave her to her fate,
And fling across the gate,
'Till the Last Trump, farewell,
  O Amabel!'"


10. He abjures love


At last I put off love,
  For twice ten years
The daysman of my thought,
  And hope, and doing;
Being ashamed thereof,
  And faint of fears
And desolations, wrought
  In his pursuing.

Since first in youthtime those
  Disquietings
That heart-enslavement brings
  To hale and hoary,
Became my housefellows,
  And, fool and blind,
I turned from kith and kind
  To give him glory.

I was as children be
  Who have no care;
I did not shrink or sigh,
  I did not sicken;
But lo, Love beckoned me,
  And I was bare,
And poor, and starved, and dry,
  And fever-stricken.

Too many times ablaze
  With fatuous fires,
Enkindled by his wiles
  To new embraces,
Did I, by wilful ways
  And baseless ires,
Return the anxious smiles
  Of friendly faces.

No more will now rate I
  The common rare,
The midnight drizzle dew,
  The gray hour golden,
The wind a yearning cry,
  The faulty fair,
Things dreamt, of comelier hue
  Than things beholden!...

- I speak as one who plumbs
  Life's dim profound,
One who at length can sound
  Clear views and certain.
But - after love what comes?
  A scene that lours,
A few sad vacant hours,
  And then, the Curtain.


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