The Drunken Father

Poor Ellen married Andrew Hall,
Who dwells beside the moor,
Where yonder rose-tree shades the wall,
And woodbines grace the door.

Who does not know how blest, how loved
Were her mild laughing eyes
By every youth!--but Andrew proved
Unworthy of his prize.

In tippling was his whole delight,
Each sign-post barr'd his way;
He spent in muddy ale at night
The wages of the day.

Though Ellen still had charms, was young,
And he in manhood's prime,
She sad beside her cradle sung,
And sigh'd away her time.

One cold bleak night, the stars were hid,
In vain she wish'd him home;
Her children cried, half cheer'd, half chid,
'O when will father come!'

'Till Caleb, nine years old, upsprung,
And kick'd his stool aside,
And younger Mary round him clung,
'I'll go, and you shall guide.'

The children knew each inch of ground,
Yet Ellen had her fears;
Light from the lantern glimmer'd round,
And show'd her falling tears.

'Go by the mill and down the lane;
'Return the same way home:
'Perhaps you'll meet him, give him light;
'O how I _wish_ he'd come.'

Away they went, as close and true
As lovers in the shade,
And Caleb swung his father's staff
At every step he made.

The noisy mill-clack rattled on,
They saw the water flow,
And leap in silvery foam along,
Deep murmuring below.

'We'll soon be there,' the hero said,
'Come on, 'tis but a mile,--
'Here's where the cricket-match was play'd,
'And here's the shady stile.

'How the light shines up every bough!
'How strange the leaves appear!
'Hark!--What was that?--'tis silent now,
'Come, Mary, never fear.'

The staring oxen breathed aloud,
But never dream'd of harm;
A meteor glanced along the cloud
That hung o'er Wood-Hill Farm.

Old Caesar bark'd and howl'd hard by,
All else was still as death,
But Caleb was ashamed to cry,
And Mary held her breath.

At length they spied a distant light,
And heard a chorus brawl;
Wherever drunkards stopp'd at night,
Why there was Andrew Hall.

The house was full, the landlord gay,
The bar-maid shook her head,
And wish'd the boobies far away
That kept her out of bed.

There Caleb enter'd, firm, but mild,
And spoke in plaintive tone:--
'My mother could not leave the child,
'So we are come alone.'

E'en drunken Andrew felt the blow
That innocence can give,
When its resistless accents flow
To bid affection live.

'I'm coming, loves, I'm coming now,'--
Then, shuffling o'er the floor,
Contrived to make his balance true,
And led them from the door.

The plain broad path that brought him there
By day, though faultless then,
Was up and down and narrow grown,
Though wide enough for ten.

The stiles were wretchedly contrived,
The stars were all at play,
And many a ditch had moved itself
Exactly in his way.

But still conceit was uppermost,
That stupid kind of pride:--
'Dost think I cannot see a post?
'Dost think I want a guide?

'Why, Mary, how you twist and twirl!
'Why dost not keep the track?
'I'll carry thee home safe, my girl,'--
Then swung her on his back.

Poor Caleb muster'd all his wits
To bear the light ahead,
As Andrew reel'd and stopp'd by fits,
Or ran with thund'ring tread.

Exult, ye brutes, traduced and scorn'd,
Though true to nature's plan;
Exult, ye bristled, and ye horn'd,
When infants govern man.

Down to the mill-pool's dangerous brink
The headlong party drove;
The boy alone had power to think,
While Mary scream'd above.

'Stop!' Caleb cried, 'you've lost the path;
'The water's close before;
'I see it shine, 'tis very deep,--
'Why, don't you hear it roar?'

And then in agony exclaim'd,
'O where's my mother _now_?'
The Solomon of hops and malt
Stopp'd short and made a bow:

His head was loose, his neck disjointed,
It cost him little trouble;
But, to be stopp'd and disappointed,
Poh! danger was a bubble.

Onward be stepp'd, the boy alert,
Calling his courage forth,
Hung like a log on Andrew's skirt,
And down he brought them both.

The tumbling lantern reach'd the stream,
Its hissing light soon gone;
'Twas night, without a single gleam,
And terror reign'd alone.

A general scream the miller heard,
Then rubb'd his eyes and ran,
And soon his welcome light appear'd,
As grumbling he began:--

'What have we here, and whereabouts?
'Why what a hideous squall!
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"The Drunken Father" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 27 Feb. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/43434/the-drunken-father>.

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