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Monday, 10 November 2014

Happy Birthday! John Symonds Udal - author of 'Dorsetshire Folklore'

A judge, sportsman, antiquarian, collector, essayist, poet and a miscellaneous writer - John Symonds Udal, author of 'Dorsetshire Folklore', was born on this day, 10th November 1848 in West Bromwich, Staffordshire.

On Dorset Nature ever loves to smile,
To shed the bright effulgence of her grace,
And tend her offspring with unusual care.
In woodland scenes, stands Dorset unsurpassed;
Its winding lanes the lofty hedge-rows gird,
And, shielding off on either side the sun,
Cast cool refreshing shade on all beneath.
The fertile earth upheaves her teeming breast;
Then wild-flowers, countless in variety,
Bejewel the fresh green sward and sloping bank,
Whereon the primrose blooms its happy life away;
There modest strawberry hides its blushing face,

O'ersprinkled with the dew of early morn,
Till ruthless plucked, shakes off the pearly drop,
As if it wept to leave its native bed,
A last farewell to others nestling there.
Was ever thrush heard yet to sing so sweet?
Or ravished Philomel, in dulcet strains,
Her mournful tale, so plaintively relate?
The cuckoo's welcome cry, announcing spring,
Sounds clearer now than ever known before.
Those breezy downs, with gorse and fern o'er grown,
Whose fragrant breath, the balmy air pervades -
Exhilarating power! O potent spell!
That courses thro' the blood with bounding speed,
And swells the turgid veins in exercise!
Sure death or illness ne'er would come to earth,
Could all inhale such life-restoring breath.
Those hills of Pilsdon, Lewesdon, Colmer, - all -
Seen from whose heights, the ever-flashing sea
Seems to connect high heaven with earth below, -

The God-created with the nature-born ;
Hills that have stood the test of time's long age,
When first from Chaos, the Almighty One
Planted them there by will inscrutable,
To stand erect till Chaos come again.
The verdant meadows, when the summer sun
With scorching heat has turned the dewy swaths,
Exhale the fragrance of the new-mown hay;
And shouts of children in their playfulness,
Are lightly wafted o'er the distant fields.
The lowly valleys, thick with waving corn,
That like the breast of ocean ever heaves,
In ceaseless motion, to the wind's caress,
Though soon to fall beneath the reaper's hand,
Unconscious of its fate, nods dreamily.
Then as the sun in glowing splendour sinks,
And leaves a crimson track athwart the sky,
The laughter of the gleaners plodding home,
Bearing their long day's labour on their heads,
Disturb the nestling birds in every hedge,

And wake the stillness of the evening air.
No sooner passed than quiet reigns again, -
The danger gone, the frightened birds return
Whence they had fled before - the dying glow
Now faded from the still yet darkening sky -
Then sable Night arises in her shroud,
To hold her sway o'er all created things,
And spread her mantle o'er the face of earth.
There country seats from immemorial time,
Held by one family, are handed down
From generations past to those to come.
Old manor-houses, crumbling down with age,
With lofty halls and gloomy corridors,
Where ancient armour of th' illustrious dead,
That oft had stood the shock of clanging blows,
In tournament, or yet more deadly war,
Rests undisturbed amidst the sacred dust,
Sad relics of the ages past and gone.
The light now streaming thro' the windows stained
By mediaeval art indelibly,

Throws out the coats-of-arms of warriors
Who left that spacious hall, with retinues,
To fight the infidel and Saracen,
And shield the sepulchre of Him they loved.
And so the red Crusader's cross - as there -
Showed prominent upon the argent field.
How many knights have borne that shield in war?
Or passing down the oaken staircase broad,
Strode through the hall, in feudal days of yore?
Foul shame it is that what so nobly won,
And nobly kept for centuries intact,
Should then at last by spendthrift hands be lost!
Or yet that grand old timber in the park,
That watched the childhood of that mouldering house,
Should now be brought to bow their lofty heads
In shame, to see their founder's name disgraced!
Sure time it is that yon old hoary oak
Should fall a ruin in the raging storm,
Now that a stranger owns the residence

Which never yet a stranger claimed before!
But 'tis in homely country-farmhouses,
That Dorset must be held pre-eminent;
The holy flame of hospitality
Beams brightly on the inmates of them all,
And breathes a welcome to the passer-by.
Th' old-fashioned fireplace, with the crackling logs,
Sends forth a grateful heat to warm the guest;
And as the embers, charred, fall in the midst,
The sparks dart upwards thro' the caverned space,
And soar away to Erebus beyond.
When early autumn, in its annual round,
Begins to strew the ground with withered leaves,
The orchards bend beneath the onerous weight,
Pomona's hand so lavishly bestows;
And thro' the woods, and down the pleasant lanes,
The nut gath'rers reach down the hazel boughs,
With crooked sticks, and strip them of their fruit;
While village children, with the task overjoyed,

Heap up huge wicker baskets with the spoils
Of purple sloes and juicy blackberries.
The drooping willows stoop to kiss the stream,
Threading its way thro' meadow and thro' vale, -
Beneath whose banks the speckled trout lies hid,
Nor heeds the tempting fly, thrown skilfully, -
Now ever and anon more swiftly flows,
And dies in music as it floats away.
Whilst all around, the deep autumnal tints
Of ever-vary ing red and russet brown,
Point out rich beauties to the wondering eye,
That scarce could deem Creation was so grand.
Such, Dorset, are thy beauties to my mind,
And not to mine alone, but each, in truth,
To whom the voice of Nature is not dead,
Who holds a love for God's own handiwork,
And keeps his soul unfettered by the world.
'Marriage and Other Poems' by John Symonds Udal, 1876
Read more about his life - John Symonds Udal - A Dorset Folklorist
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