As the reapers work in the field, old Aegon discovers a cradle among the sheaves. Wondering at this strange sight, he appeals to Argol, who explains that Thyrsis, the babe's mother, as if she had not enough else to do, has been inspired by Marion, a northern maiden, to forsake dainty ways to join with the reapers. The two men marvel at the good mother's virtue. Thyrsis returns and "The crowing infant to the nipple clung, | While o'er it with fond joy the ravish'd mother hung!"
William Dodd's morality is of the Methodist cast: "Aegon, on life whatever perils wait, | You know, we should not murmur at our state: | Much reverence and gratitude we owe | To Him, who fix'd us in our rank below."
Now, with their sickles on their shoulders plac'd,
The reapers to the field delighted haste;
The falling wheat fills each industrious hand,
And the brown shocks adorn the laughing land.
It chanc'd, as Aegon, who, worn out with toil,
Sequester'd lives, in Thanet's fertile isle;
Fair isle, for plenty fam'd, whose white cliffs round,
Roar the wild waves of ocean's realms profound:
"Of life meet emblem," oft the sage would cry,
Those waves when viewing with a thoughtful eye:
As from his little cot one morn he far'd,
To view the labours he no longer shar'd;
On the wheat-field, with wonder and delight,
He saw a pleasing, but unusual sight;
A cradle caught his view! — with eager pace
Tho' tottering on his staff, he sought the place;
And with his wither'd hand, slow turn'd aside
The humble curtains, where he strait espy'd
A little innocent, in slumber lay'd!
He look'd — and smil'd, and shook his snowy head;
"Ah lovely babe, I too am helpless grown,
"Thy state, said he, resembles much my own."
Full of the ills of infancy and age,
A thousand thoughts his busy mind engage:
When, turning at the stubble's rustling sound,
The reaper, Argol, just at hand he found:
Argol, a swain of manly sense possest,
Of upright heart, and sympathetic breast.
"Argol, said he, for threescore years and more
My scythe and sickle in these fields I bore;—
And let me tell thee, lad, but few could claim,
For handling either a superior fame:
But thro' these years, if mem'ry serves me right,
Ne'er saw I in the fields so sweet a sight;
Behold that babe! what innocence is spread
O'er its lov'd face — what lively white and red!
How came it here, and who the infant keeps,
Insensible of danger, while it sleeps?
False could a mother prove to such a care,
Angels themselves would watch delighted there."
Look, Aegon, 'midst the reapers you survey
A woman bear the burden of the day:
Mark how she toils — by true affection drawn,
The same to setting Sun from rising dawn!
In her the mother of the babe you see—
Sweet infant, that, and sweeter mother, she:
The wife of honest Thyrsis; him you know,
Who feeds the flock of Myco there below.
Then, lovely babe, thy lot is truly blest,
Sleep on secure; of mothers thine the best!
Argol, I know her well; and oft employ'd
(While greater strength my feeble frame enjoy'd,
And I so far could walk) a pleasing hour,
In their neat cot — but now I want the power:
So weak I'm grown — 'tis time to quit the stage;
Sad is the burden, son, of helpless age!
And ah, poor babe, what storms remain for thee
To weather out on life's tempestuous sea!
Just launch'd upon its waves, wild, deep and wide;—
While I (thank heav'n) almost in harbour ride!
Thy mother's cares, 'tis true, thy course will aid;
But all her cares that dangerous course will need.
Aegon, on life whatever perils wait,
You know, we should not murmur at our state:
Much reverence and gratitude we owe
To Him, who fix'd us in our rank below:
And tho' 'tis certain, storms and rocks abound
In yon wide waters, yet a way is found
For ponderous vessels, which the pilot's hand
Safely directs to ev'ry distant land.
So is it said, — "if good instructions show
The path of wisdom, where the child should go;
Early train'd up, and travell'd in the way,
Ne'er from the track deluded will he stray."
And well, we know, our Thyrsis' careful wife
Directs her children in the road of life:
You've seen her house, and therefore you can tell
How much in reading, working, they excel;
How humble and good-manner'd, clean and neat,—
On Thanet's isle such children you'll not meet.
Argol, thy words are wise: go on, young swain,
And every day increase of wisdom gain;
Age, 'tis its weakness — full of aches and pains,
Thinks of life's numerous evils, and complains.
I'll tell thee, Argol, if each mother strove
To train her children in their Maker's love;
To teach those duties, which their place demands,
To give them honest hearts, and working hands,
Like her, whose little babe lies sleeping here;
Less might we then life's vent'rous voyage fear.
Yes; I have seen her, with her children round,
(And in the sight serenest pleasure found)
Divide their several tasks with mild command,
And give to industry each little hand;
While she, good mother, casts on each a look,
Their sole instructress or at work, or book:
So the fond hen, which to my mind she brings,
Her chickens feeds, and broods beneath her wings.
In church, — for never on a Sabbath-day
Is Thyrsis, or his family away;—
How pleasing is the sight! all neat and clean,
Alike are parents and their children seen;
And their behaviour — a reproof how true
To farmer Brown's young loobies in next pew!
I've wonder'd oft, how this industrious wife,
Amidst the labours of domestic life,
Such time and pains can to her children spare;
Cloath with such neatness, teach them with such care:
While almost all the cottage bairns around
In dirt, and rags, and ignorance are found!
Yet Thyrsis earns not more than other swains;
And tho' she labours with the utmost pains,
Scanty, at best, God knows, are women's gains.
Aegon, when anxious, as we ought, to live;
What cannot chearful industry atchieve?
And shall we doubt, when, for our daily food
We use those means, which Faith pronounces good,
That He, who feeds the ravens when they cry,
Will not behold us with propitious eye?
If Birds are from our Father's bounty fed,
Will He from Children hold their needful bread?
Full of this faith, the cordial of the heart,
Our couple first to heav'n perform their part:
At morn and eve the suppliant knee they bend,
While round their little lisping-ones attend:
Then, looking still to God, with chearful eye,
To their life's labour gladly they apply.
'Twas but last summer Mira learn'd to wield
The dented sickle in the wheaten field;
A toil too hard for women, as we thought,
'Till Marian, from the North, the custom brought:
Soon as she saw that lass the sickle ply,
Joyful she cry'd — "I too my strength will try:
The sickle will I take, and do my best,
My poor endeavours may perchance be blest:
'Twill make me happy but a mite to earn;
And ev'ry art of industry I'd learn:
For, shall my Thyrsis, thro' the painful year,
No respite know, but toils incessant bear,
Nor I those toils, those pleasing toils partake,
For my sweet babes, and for my husband's sake?
Oh could I, much-lov'd master of my heart!
In all thy labours bear an equal part;
Could I, dear pledges of our faithful love!
For you successful in my labours prove;
Labours would quickly lose their name with me,
And hardest toils sincerest pleasures be!
Blest hope! — blest Marian, to the field I go,
To thee the hope, to thee the art I owe!"
Thus led by lovely virtue's pure intent,
The joyful mother to the reapers went:
And sure that God, who virtue loves to bless,
Crown'd her approv'd endeavour with success:
For thro' the harvest chearfully she wrought,
And home more hire than any reaper brought:
For short of others tho' her strength might fall,
In application she excell'd them all!
No loit'rer: every moment she'd improve;
Such is the force of true maternal love!
Now that the harvest is again come round,
Again, fair reaper, in the field she's found:
And with her, as you see, this pretty guest,
Who waits for succour from her plenteous breast:
Thyrsis each morn to field the cradle brings;
And thus the babe, beneath its mother's wings,
Due nourishment supply'd, securely sleeps,
Uninterrupted, while the matron reaps!
True mother, — who herself the food supplies,
The daintier lady to her child denies:
By lust, or pride, or folly led astray,
Unnatural more, than monsters of the sea!
Cruel alike both to themselves and young,
Such mothers merit scorn from ev'ry tongue:
Why doth the great Creator, wise and good,
Fill their fair breasts with such salubrious food,
That food if to their offspring they refuse,
And sores and sickness before duty chuse?
Oh Mira, beyond these, how art thou blest,
Thy infant pressing fond thy yielding breast!
With such a woman, Argol, let me say,
'Tis joy to share the labours of the day.
Sure, sensible of this, they all unite
To make her toils, deserving mother! light:
Sure, by each nameless, by each gentle care
They mitigate the ills she needs must bear?
Just as he spoke, the smiling mother came,
Sweet was her aspect, and her words the same:
Her tenderness diffus'd a nameless grace
O'er the fair features of her blooming face,
While at the cradle's side she anxious stood;
When the just-waken'd babe its mother view'd;
And, smiling, with an eager joy, expands,
Sweet innocent! its little dimpled hands.
With rapt'rous bliss she caught it to her breast,
And on the stubble-ground sat down to rest:
The crowing infant to the nipple clung,
While o'er it with fond joy the ravish'd mother hung!
The good old man, enchanted with delight,
Cry'd, "Argol, there, — there, Argol, is a sight!
"Blest mother! may thy labours prosperous prove:
May all thy children well repay thy love!"
More he'd have said; but lo! a tear would start,
And all his soul rose throbbing in his heart:
The mother, pleas'd, beheld his burden'd eye,
And thank'd him with a tear of social joy.