Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Sweet Nature’s Voice

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Arthur Joseph Munby b. 1828

Sweet Nature’s Voice

HER Master gave the signal, with a look:

Then, timidly as if afraid, she took

In her rough hands the Laureate’s dainty book,

And straight began. But when she did begin,

Her own mute sense of poesy within

Broke forth to hail the poet, and to greet

His graceful fancies and the accents sweet

In which they are express’d. Oh, lately lost,

Long loved, long honor’d, and whose Captain’s post

No living bard is competent to fill—

How strange, to the deep heart that now is still,

And to the vanish’d hand, and to the ear

Whose soft melodious measures are so dear

To us who cannot rival them—how strange,

If thou, the lord of such a various range,

Hadst heard this new voice telling Arden’s tale!

For this was no prim maiden, scant and pale,

Full of weak sentiment, and thin delight

In pretty rhymes, who mars the resonant might

Of noble verse with arts rhetorical

And simulated frenzy: not at all!

This was a peasant woman; large and strong,

Redhanded, ignorant, unused to song—

Accustom’d rather to the rudest prose.

And yet, there lived within her rustic clothes

A heart as true as Arden’s; and a brain,

Keener than his, that counts it false and vain

To seem aught else than simply what she is.

How singular, her faculty of bliss!

Bliss in her servile work; bliss deep and full

In things beyond the vision of the dull,

Whate’er their rank: things beautiful as these

Sonorous lines and solemn harmonies

Suiting the tale they tell of; bliss in love—

Ah, chiefly that! which lifts her soul above

Its common life, and gives to labors coarse

Such fervor of imaginative force

As makes a passion of her basest toil.

Surely this servant-dress was but a foil

To her more lofty being! As she read,

Her accent was as pure, and all she said

As full of interest and of varied grace

As were the changeful moods, that o’er her face

Pass’d, like swift clouds across a windy sky,

At each sad stage of Enoch’s history.

Such ease, such pathos, such abandonment

To what she utter’d, moulded as she went

Her soft sweet voice, and with such self-control

Did she, interpreting the poet’s soul,

Bridle her own, that when the tale was done

I look’d at her, amaz’d: she seem’d like one

Who from some sphere of music had come down,

And donn’d the white cap and the cotton gown

As if to show how much of skill and art

May dwell unthought of, in the humblest heart.

Yet there was no great mystery to tell:

She felt it deeply, so she read it well.