Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson

1830-1885

 

A Ballad Of The Gold Country

by Helen Hunt Jackson

Deep in the hill the gold sand burned;
The brook ran yellow with its gleams;
Close by, the seekers slept, and turned
And tossed in restless dreams.

At dawn they waked. In friendly cheer
Their dreams they told, by one, by one;
And each man laughed the dreams to hear,
But sighed when they were done.

Visions of golden birds that flew,
Of golden cloth piled fold on fold,
Of rain which shone, and filtered through
The air in showers of gold;

Visions of golden bells that rang,
Of golden chariots that rolled,
Visions of girls that danced and sang,
With hair and robes of gold;

Visions of golden stairs that led
Down golden shafts of depths untold,
Visions of golden skies that shed
Gold light on seas of gold.

Comrades, your dreams have many shapes,
Said one who, thoughtful, sat apart:
But I six nights have dreamed of grapes,
One dream which fills my heart.

A woman meets me, crowned with vine;
Great purple clusters fill her hands;
Her eyes divinely smile and shine,
As beckoning she stands.

I follow her a single pace;
She vanishes, like light or sound,
And leaves me in a vine-walled place,
Where grapes pile all the ground.

The comrades laughed: We know thee by
This fevered, drunken dream of thine.

Ha, ha, cried he, never have I
So much as tasted wine!

Now, follow ye your luring shapes
Of gold that clinks and gold that shines;
I shall await my maid of grapes,
And plant her trees and vines.

All through the hills the gold sand burned;
All through the lands ran yellow streams;
To right, to left, the seekers turned,
Led by the golden gleams.

The ruddy hills were gulfed and strained;
The rocky fields were torn and trenched;
The yellow streams were drained and drained,
Until their sources quenched.

The gold came fast; the gold came free:
The seekers shouted as they ran,
Now let us turn aside, and see
How fares that husbandman!

Ho here! ho there! good man," they cried,
And tossed gold nuggets at his feet;
"Serve us with wine! Where is thy bride
That told thee tales so sweet?

No wine as yet, my friends, to sell;
No bride to show,
he smiling said:
But here is water from my well;
And here is wheaten bread.

Is this thy tale? they jeering cried;
Who was it followed luring shapes?
And who has won? It seems she lied,
Thy maid of purple grapes!

When years have counted up to ten,
He answered gayly, smiling still,
Come back once more, my merry men,
And you shall have your fill

Of purple grapes and sparkling wine,
And figs, and nectarines like flames,
And sweeter eyes than maids' shall shine
In welcome at your names.

In scorn they heard; to scorn they laughed
The water and the wheaten bread;
We'll wait until a better draught
For thy bride's health,
they said.

* * * * *

The years ran fast. The seekers went
All up, all down the golden lands:
The streams grew pale; the hills were spent;
Slow ran the golden sands.

And men were beggars in a day,
For swift to come was swift to go;
What chance had got, chance flung away
On one more chance's throw.

And bleached and seamed and riven plains,
And tossed and tortured rocks like ghosts,
And blackened lines and charred remains,
And crumbling chimney-posts,

For leagues their ghastly records spread
Of youth, and years, and fortunes gone,
Like graveyards whose sad living dead
Had hopeless journeyed on.

* * * * *

The years had counted up to ten:
One night, as it grew chill and late,
The husbandman marked beggar-men
Who leaned upon his gate.

Ho here! good men, he eager cried,
Before the wayfarers could speak;
This is my vineyard. Far and wide,
For laborers I seek.

This year has doubled on last year;
The fruit breaks down my vines and trees;
Tarry and help, till wine runs clear,
And ask what price you please.

Purple and red, to left, to right,
For miles the gorgeous vintage blazed;
And all day long and into night
The vintage song was raised.

And wine ran free all thirst beyond,
And no hand stinted bread or meat;
And maids were gay, and men were fond,
And hours were swift and sweet.

The beggar-men they worked with will;
Their hands were thin and lithe and strong
Each day they ate good two days' fill,
They had been starved so long.

The vintage drew to end. New wine
From thousand casks was dripping slow,
And bare and yellow fields gave sign
For vintagers to go.

The beggar-men received their pay,
Bright yellow gold, -- twice their demand;
The master, as they turned away,
Held out his brawny hand,

And said: Good men, this time next year
My vintage will be bigger still;
Come back, if chance should bring you near,
And it should suit your will.

The beggars nodded. But at night
They said: "No more we go that way:
He did not know us then; he might
Upon another day!

Source:

Verses
Copyright 1888
Roberts Brothers, Boston
 
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