The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, 1571

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The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, 1571 is a poem written by Jean Ingelow (1820–97).

Her best-known poem, it cleverly used poetic licence to merge together two flood disasters from her native county. The sixteenth-century calamity inspired the theme and tempo but the story originated from the flooding at Fosdyke in 1810, when a Mr Birkett's servant girl lost her life while milking the cows.[1]

The old mayor climb’d the belfry tower,	
  The ringers ran by two, by three;	
“Pull, if ye never pull’d before;	
  Good ringers, pull your best,” quoth he.	
“Play uppe, play uppe, O Boston bells!
Ply all your changes, all your swells,	
  Play uppe, ‘The Brides of Enderby.’ ”	
 
Men say it was a stolen tyde—	
  The Lord that sent it, He knows all;	
But in myne ears doth still abide
  The message that the bells let fall:	
And there was nought of strange, beside	
The flight of mews and peewits pied	
  By millions crouch’d on the old sea wall.	
 
I sat and spun within the doore,
  My thread brake off, I rais’d myne eyes;	
The level sun, like ruddy ore,	
  Lay sinking in the barren skies;	
And dark against day’s golden death	
She moved where Lindis wandereth,
My sonne’s faire wife, Elizabeth.	
 
“Cusha! Cusha! Cusha!” calling,	
Ere the early dews were falling,	
Farre away I heard her song,	
“Cusha! Cusha!” all along;
Where the reedy Lindis floweth,	
    Floweth, floweth,	
From the meads where melick groweth	
Faintly came her milking song—	
 
“Cusha! Cusha! Cusha!” calling,
“For the dews will soone be falling;	
Leave your meadow grasses mellow,	
    Mellow, mellow;	
Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow;	
Come uppe, Whitefoot, come uppe, Lightfoot;
Quit the stalks of parsley hollow,	
    Hollow, hollow;	
Come uppe, Jetty, rise and follow,	
From the clovers lift your head;	
Come uppe, Whitefoot, come uppe, Lightfoot,
Come uppe, Jetty, rise and follow,	
Jetty, to the milking shed.”	
 
If it be long, ay, long ago,	
  When I beginne to think howe long,	
Againe I hear the Lindis flow,
  Swift as an arrowe, sharpe and strong;	
And all the aire, it seemeth mee,	
Bin full of floating bells (sayth shee),	
That ring the tune of Enderby.	
 
Alle fresh the level pasture lay,
  And not a shadowe mote be seene,	
Save where full fyve good miles away	
  The steeple tower’d from out the greene;	
And lo! the great bell farre and wide	
Was heard in all the country side
That Saturday at eventide.	
 
The swanherds where their sedges are	
  Mov’d on in sunset’s golden breath,	
The shepherde lads I heard afarre,	
  And my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth;
Till floating o’er the grassy sea	
Came downe that kyndly message free,	
The “Brides of Mavis Enderby.”	
 
Then some look’d uppe into the sky,	
  And all along where Lindis flows
To where the goodly vessels lie,	
  And where the lordly steeple shows.	
They sayde, “And why should this thing be?	
What danger lowers by land or sea?	
They ring the tune of Enderby!
 
“For evil news from Mablethorpe,	
  Of pyrate galleys warping down;	
For shippes ashore beyond the scorpe,	
  They have not spar’d to wake the towne:	
But while the west bin red to see,
And storms be none, and pyrates flee,	
Why ring ‘The Brides of Enderby’?”	
 
I look’d without, and lo! my sonne	
  Came riding downe with might and main:	
He rais’d a shout as he drew on,
  Till all the welkin rang again,	
“Elizabeth! Elizabeth!”	
(A sweeter woman ne’er drew breath	
Than my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth.)	
 
“The olde sea wall (he cried) is downe,
  The rising tide comes on apace,	
And boats adrift in yonder towne	
  Go sailing uppe the marketplace.”	
He shook as one that looks on death:	
“God save you, mother!” straight he saith;
“Where is my wife, Elizabeth?”	
 
“Good sonne, where Lindis winds her way,	
  With her two bairns I marked her long;	
And ere you bells beganne to play	
  Afar I heard her milking song.”
He looked across the grassy lea,	
To right, to left, “Ho, Enderby!”	
They rang “The Brides of Enderby!”	
 
With that he cried and beat his breast;	
  For, lo! along the river’s bed
A mighty eygre rear’d his crest,	
  And uppe the Lindis raging sped.	
It swept with thunderous noises loud;	
Shap’d like a curling snow-white cloud,	
Or like a demon in a shroud.
 
And rearing Lindis backward press’d	
  Shook all her trembling bankes amaine;	
Then madly at the eygre’s breast	
  Flung uppe her weltering walls again.	
Then bankes came downe with ruin and rout—
Then beaten foam flew round about—	
Then all the mighty floods were out.	
 
So farre, so fast the eygre drave,	
  The heart had hardly time to beat	
Before a shallow seething wave
  Sobb’d in the grasses at oure feet:	
The feet had hardly time to flee	
Before it brake against the knee,	
And all the world was in the sea.	
 
Upon the roofe we sate that night,
  The noise of bells went sweeping by;	
I mark’d the lofty beacon light	
  Stream from the church tower, red and high—	
A lurid mark and dread to see;	
And awsome bells they were to mee,
That in the dark rang “Enderby.”	
 
They rang the sailor lads to guide	
  From roofe to roofe who fearless row’d;	
And I—my sonne was at my side,	
And yet the ruddy beacon glow’d:
And yet he moan’d beneath his breath,	
“O come in life, or come in death!	
O lost! my love, Elizabeth.”	
 
And didst thou visit him no more?	
  Thou didst, thou didst, my daughter deare;
The waters laid thee at his doore,	
  Ere yet the early dawn was clear.	
Thy pretty bairns in fast embrace,	
The lifted sun shone on thy face,	
Downe drifted to thy dwelling place.
 
That flow strew’d wrecks about the grass,	
  That ebbe swept out the flocks to sea;	
A fatal ebbe and flow, alas!	
  To manye more than myne and mee;	
But each will mourn his own (she saith);
And sweeter woman ne’er drew breath	
Than my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth.	
 
I shall never hear her more	
By the reedy Lindis shore,	
“Cusha! Cusha! Cusha!” calling,
Ere the early dews be falling;	
I shall never hear her song,	
“Cusha! Cusha!” all along	
Where the sunny Lindis floweth,	
    Goeth, floweth;
From the meads where melick groweth,	
  When the water winding down,	
  Onward floweth to the town.	
 
I shall never see her more	
Where the reeds and rushes quiver,
    Shiver, quiver;	
Stand beside the sobbing river,	
Sobbing, throbbing, in its falling	
To the sandy lonesome shore;	
I shall never hear her calling,
“Leave your meadow grasses mellow,	
    Mellow, mellow;	
Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow;	
Come uppe, Whitefoot, come uppe, Lightfoot;	
Quit your pipes of parsley hollow,
    Hollow, hollow;	
Come uppe, Lightfoot, rise and follow;	
    Lightfoot, Whitefoot,	
From your clovers lift the head;	
Come uppe, Jetty, follow, follow,
Jetty, to the milking shed.”

References

  1. Minor Victorian Poets and Authors - Reviews, etc.