Back to the home of my youth!
To the lodge where the lilacs blew,
Where the sunrise laughed, and the wild bees quaffed
Their wine of clover and dew.
Back to the threshold of life
With its old-time roses of June.
To the barefoot joy of the bounding boy
And the call of his whistled tune!
I am with him, I look -with his eyes,
With his fancy I conjure and plan.
I know in his breast every riddle is guessed,
And what he will do when a man.
I am there as he trips away
Thro’ the flowers that bloom at his knee,
But the dooryard phlox and the hollyhocks
Were never so happy as he.
The glad dandelions feel
His step in the grass at the gate,
And the tansy yet and the bouncing-bet
Know him, and listen and wait.
I thrill to his ringing shout
And the cowbells clank in the lane—
And I pray God send the lane good end,
And the jolly lad home again.
He is gone in his careless hope,
And I beg of the Long Ago
For one day’s part of his boyhood heart,
In a breast too young for we.
Back to my healthy hills,
And the meadows of sun-sweet hay
Where the robin and lark from dawn till dark
Sang to my work and play!
There’s a thought in the ancient trees,
There’s a wish iu the whispering corn
That beckons and calls to the homestead walls
And the chamber where I was born.
I know from the silent door
Love’s dearest dwellers are flown
And the eyes that blessed my helpless rest
Sleep soundlier than my own,
But the scene and the sounds they knew,
And the charm of the life they chose,
Have sweetened their place, as the scented vase
Remembers its vanished rose.
The orchard rods when I name
Every apple and grape and pear,
And memory speaks in their juicy cheeks,
For the same old taste is there.
The wormwood and motherwort grow
The same bitter balm by the wall,
There’s a family hint in the catnip and mint,
There’s a dream in the smell of them all.
With the same young glow of delight
I am watching the kingbird go
With his bickering fling of beak and wing
In chase of his hen-hawk foe,
And I hear the brown thrasher at morn
Recite on his breezy bough,
And the phebe and wren are mocking again
At the cat on the barley-mow.
The ghost of the well-sweep bends
The length of its good gray arm;
O’er die curb’s wide brink I see it sink
Its battered bucket and bid me drink
To the cheeks of tan and the cheeks of pink
That washed in the water no drought could shrink
At the well of the old home farm;
And the thirst of my childhood sips
The sinless days that have been,
For, cool with the draught at my lips
Their light and their breath come in,
And the cost of my birth, with its patch of earth
Is the world of my living kin.
My gay field-cousins are all awake,
There are long-lost brothers in bush and brake
The past swims by where the redwings fly
And the sun stands still for my sake.
My youth is the wood-thrush’s song,
The sparrows chant winter away,
I am one of the springtide throng,
And fifty years are a day!
The squirrels know me and laugh and wink,
And the eyes of the wary woodchuck blink,
And the chipmunk smirks in his stonewall chink,
And a comrade’s welcome rings, I think,
In the wild heyday of the dandy jay
And the rataplan of the bobolink,
And the catbird dun and the pied chew ink
Chat and flutter, and mew and prink
By the alder-brook where I trapped the mink—
They all are spirits of hours complete,
Alive with a gladness obsolete,
And a message no man can say
To merrily greet the pilgrim feet
Of a tramp as merry as they.
There’s a hoary framework standing yet
By the garden-lot of the house domain,
And the moss of its withered boards is wet
With the drip of many an April rain,
And the winter frost and the summer sweat
Of moons we watched to their early wane.
That hoary building is manhood’s debt,
It shaped our dreamland “Castle in Spain,”
And grown-up babes will never forget
It’s antic lessons to limb and brain.
Here, careless of jacket and pantaloon,
We raced up the dizzy ladder-way
In the madcap rapture of life’s forenoon
Hunting eggs iu the scaffold hay,
Those stormy tumbles in mimic fight
Thro’ the timothy under the rafter peak,
And the romping rummage of depth and height
In the everywhere scramble of “hide-and-seek”!
They reddened our blood to a richer tone
And trained young gristle to manly bone.
That first boy-circus! That playhouse rare!
Noisy or quiet, the fun was there.
’Twas the cosset with horns beginnng to sprout,
The colt in the stable, the calf in the pen,
The swallows that darted in and out,
Or the stolen hatch of a hermit hen,
Or at “nooning” or night, when the work day rest
Gathered us all at the wide front door,
One pleasure that never lost its zest
In the long, full feast of the joys of Yore
Was the grandsire’s tingling anecdote
Or the “hired man’s” wonderful sailor yarn
As we lay and listened with open throat
In the fragrant shade of the big old barn.
There were days, perchance when the weather was dark
With cold rain drizzle or threatened snow,
Our neighbor youngsters would come for a lark,
And, whether they bro’t a dog or no,
The racket inside our echoing ark
Rattled its walls like a cyclone blow.
Not a straw it mattered to any lad
If the rank of the game were low or high;
We could waste every ounce of breath we had
On cheap “ring-rassle” and plain “hi-spy;”
And out Indian whoop to the roof ran mad,
And the tallyho yelp every lung let fly,
And the “rebel yells” beat all the bells
Of election night and Fourth o’ July.
Every juvenile shouter piped his share,
And the dog, he helped—if the dog was there.
Old Dobbin stamped in his bedded stall,
And squealed his “nay” to the hooting farce,
And Bess, and Brindle, and Crumple and Moll
Knocked their horns on the stanchion bars,
And the liens went soaring with crazy screams
And cackled their fright on the purline beams.
But our bedlam was short, for always before
The hullaballoo had reached its top
It crossed the yard to the kitchen door,
And, somehow or other, it had to stop.
The veto came by the woodshed path
To “give them, boys a lesson to learn;”
Twas the fine old farmer, whose reddest wrath
Swore never a wickeder word than “darn,’
But he looked as tall as the giant of Gath
When he hustled us out of the big old barn.
Gray trysting place of the bright lang syne,
Your thatch is thinning, your timbers lean,
Your glory began its slow decline
When the homestead lost its housewife queen;
But you cherished long in your spacious heart
The olden strength of memory’s thread
Round many a quaint industrial art
That earned and baked her family bread.
The boys grew men, and the men must go,
The horse must winter without his groom,
There were fewer cows in the cattle row,
And every stable had empty room;
x\nd useless there on their battered backs,
Telling the toil of a homespun life
That sowed and cradled, and whipped its flax,
Lay “break” and “hackle,” and swingle-knife,
And a wooden harrow lopped, heel and toe,
By the shaving-jack and the shingle-froe.
And the years must work their worst, alas,
And slight and damage and stealthy sift
Must slip to the superannuated class
The tools of grandmother’s indoor thrift.
Too rude for the younger world’s behoof,
With the powder-bug and the wasp and rat
They slumbered under the mansion roof
For prowling children to wonder at,
Till a busier generation came
And outlawed reverence left its track
To the rush of some house-cleaning dame
Who hated historic bric-a-brac.
Then out with the “mildewed jibbi-jings;”
And down form the sacred lumber room
With hurtle and boom of pan and broom
In a whirlwind went grandmother’s things,
And our dear old hayseed limbo hall
Welcomed the relics, and kept them all.
Back-door corner and manger nook,
Rack and bench and bunker and bin—
Not a place where a visitor cared to look
But held a piece of the century is.
Two black andirons the calf-crib took,
And a biscuit-baker of English tin,
In a cob-meal barrel hid, forsook,
A roasting-spit and a trammel crook,
A “bread-peel” hung on the bridlehook,
And a dinner-pot “crane” on the sickle-pin,
Anda “bannock-board,” dear to the forestick cook,
Forgotten and bare like a wooden book,
Lay shelved alone on a window-chain;
And the bones of a weaver, too dead to dream,
Stool and “Harness,” and treadle and drum,
“Sley,” and “bumper,” and shuttle and beam,
Waited in vain for the prophet dumb
Who never would call them seam to seam
Or gather its lost web, thread or thrum,
To the old hand-loom in its kingdom come.
There were wire-toothed carders to push and haul
And a distaff, capped like a dunce at school,
And a pair of spinning-mills, short and tall,
The wheel for flax, and the wheel for wool;
There were monstrous needles for knitting fast,
And the queer “clock-reel” that counted the yarn,
And the “swifts” that whirled on a spindle mast,
And the “warping-bars” and the spooling “scam”—
All down from the attic—a perished past
That lingered last in the big old barn.
O prints of the vanished hands
That nature will never restore!
O eloquent wrecks on the sands
Of a life that has ebbed from its shore!
O music that played in sunlight and shade
To ears that will listen no more!
In the record you read to my heart
Lies the spark of a fire grown cold.
I answer your voices that start
From the dead of my native fold,
And swear in the spell of your art
That has held my birthright unsold
To the threshold that saw me depart
I will go again when I am old!
We carry the beautiful word
Thro’ the forest and over the foam,
And a nest with its paradise bird
Is the thought and the vision of Home;
But its full incarnated truth
Never gathers invincible sway
Where its first dear lesson of youth
Is flung forgotten away,
And the old home sentiment sweet
Is its best in woman and man
When it rallies their filial feet
To the place where home began.
Then back to the kingdom we left!
To the silence that once was our song!
Our Eden, defaced and bereft,
Was the school where we learned to be strong.
When our mettlesome spirits have bent
Under trials that buffet and wound.
When the wings of ambition are spent,
And fancy lias swept to its bound,
We remember our countryside stent,
And our feet are once more on the ground.
Not a mouth shall our reverence mock
Who tread where our forefathers trod
When they pastured their pioneer flock
On the grass of the wilderness sod,
And built on the Puritan rock
Of faith in Omnipotent God.
Where they walked, where they rested, the earth
Is our mother as never elsewhere,
And we catch the stern vigor and worth
Of our kindred whose dwelling was there.
Nay, if haply the treasure they had
We may hold and enjoy for a day
The poem was read during the Old Home Week celebration in 1902
(All articles originally appeared in the Norwood Messenger unless otherwise noted)