This poem was first published in Songs in Wiltshire in 1909, and also appeared in Selected Poems.
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God rest thee! and have mercy for thy frailness
And hold thee in His memory. Many fall
That more may prosper by the settlement,
As arms before a city are built up
By others' ruin. So thy destiny
Will be writ down to many, who shall name thee
Their most unhappy counsellor. I knew thee
When thou wert sinless; sinless I. The world
Moved to a harmony and wronged us not,
And life was silken-sailed. Suspicion
Of latter change ne'er crossed us, and together
Hourly we grew, as young and tender blossoms
Upon the self-same stem; laughed, wept, and sung.
Now cleaved we fast together at the school,
Now topped the branching elm; together mixed
In childish sports and pastimes, wandering
In dewy meadows under trees, for ever
Weaving fresh flowers in simplicity.
And I remember, as 'twere yesterday,
The windows of thy eyes full for thy mother,
And red with weeping, knowing not that sorrow
Is parcel of this dowry, a spun thread,
Deep-woven with life's garment. Nurtured thus,
Yet following diverse fates instinctively,
As floods wave outward to the dropping moon,
We grew asunder. In thy sails a tempest
Blew with strange fury, but my bark swam on
O'er sunlight-stricken waters and strown calms,
Slower but safer. Swift and sure thy fall was,
Whereat the angels weep; but God, in mercy,
For so He sent His Mediator down
To sit in judgement upon men, will hold
Uneven balance, counting evil weakness,
And only mourning that the good He gave thee
Were swallowed up in this mortality.


It is almost certain that the suicide Alfred is writing about here is the same one recalled in A Wiltshire Village. This is certainly the verdict of Leonard Clark, who makes the connection, and although he does not offer any evidence, the fact that the theme of spoiled childhood innocence is predominant in both must be significant. Perhaps there is also a dark irony in the title of the poem in that 'lines' may refer both to poetry and railways. The suicide concerns the unnamed son of Jacky Bridges, the South Marston road-mender. Alfred describes Jacky's cottage, then continues:

..here his family of four - two boys and two girls - were born. There are all grown up, and scattered to the four winds almost, and one is dead. He committed suicide. Entering the army, he served through the South African War in the cavalry; but as is so often the case, he contracted habits of dissoluteness, from which he could never free himself afterwards. At last, out of work, disheartened and penniless, baffled by fate and fortune, and overtaken at length by that worst of all weaknesses, he gave way to the impulse of self-destruction, and so ended his life. Happening to be near the railway one afternoon, and seeing an express coming towards him, he ran down the steep bank, clapped his hands together as a swimmer would do in taking the water, and dived straight under the wheels of the engine. The old man, living alone - his wife had been many years dead - was stunned with the news, and overwhelmed with sorrow. The old villagers shook their heads. "Ah! he comes to a bad end. Know'd a ood. That sowjerin done summat for ee." His name is there, carved on the bark of the beeches that stand by the pool. Life is full of perils and pitfalls. We little dream, in days of childhood, what the future holds in store for us. If we knew, indeed, how many would face the ordeal?

See also Me and Alfred: Caroline Ockwell


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