Foldout : John Mitchell's School by Levi Haigh

For this poem, Levi Haigh was inspired by the ruins of the school which John Mitchell kept at his home at Laneside, Sowerby

What mean these stones in various heaps,
 And scattered fragments which I see?
Does not their presence here, to-day,
 Remind me of what used to be?

Though most uneven is the ground,
 And growing rank is every weed;
'Tis not a quarry I behold,
 Supplying builders' present need.

Each stone, among these several piles,
 Hath served its time and purpose well,
In that old building, low and long,
 The Mitchell family used to dwell.

Three cottages it long had been,
 But used awhile, as house and school,
Where Mitchell taught, both boys and girls,
 With full authority to rule.

And many children, living round,
 Attended this academy,
And gathered knowledge here that served
 To shape their moral destiny.

No Education Laws defined
 The time of lessons or of rest;
But Mitchell taught and ever sought
 To draw from each the very best.

Thus how to read and how to write,
 And how to reckon they were taught,
While various kinds of needle-work
 The girls, with nimble fingers wrought.

John Mitchell was a master true,
 And trained the boys in learning well,
His wife, as mistress o'er the girls,
 Made, for their good, her service tell.

Some from this school have sine become
 Most useful citizens in life,
And eulogize in glowing terms
 Their former master and his wife.

In every home around this spot,
 John Mitchell's School for many days,
Became a name expressed by all
 In tones of love, respect and praise

Thus for awhile it served a need,
 Till Laws of Education came,
And, with them, other kinds of schools,
 Though few to bear a better name.

To ordinary passers by,
 These stones no messages convey:
Their presence, her, make no appeal
 To stay their feet along the way.

But others, who attended school,
 Will pause, look on, gaze round, and think:
Reflecting o'er the change that's come,
 Since using pencil, pen and ink.

What recollections come to mind
 As fresh as on the very day
When something happened, long ago,
 While here at lessons or at play.

On this November afternoon,
 'Midst genial sun and balmy air,
A solitary tree assists
 These mounds their witness to declare.

No walls or window now remain,
 No doorways left their tales to tell:
Yet four large stones, erect and firm,
 Bear their own testimonies well.

Between those stones, for many years,
 Were grates where fires oft used to burn;
While, at their desks around these rooms,
 The pupils wrought their tasks to learn.

Near where I stand the master sat,
 While writing copies for the boys;
Correcting this, approving that,
 Amidst the bee-like humming noise.

Yes, noise! which when, too loud, he'd say
 "Now then, my lads, some one of you
Go round and take this stick in hand:"
 Two went – and th'others got their due.

If those who went were asked, to-day,
 About such things they'd be amused:
Remembering how, with boyish pride,
 They, such a custom, much abused.

There, on my right, the room for girls,
 Much like the boys' in every way:
They sat at desks around the sides,
 And, in the centre, infants gay.

There, on my left, the Master's house,
 Whose kindred rooms composed his home,
And, though not large or dignified,
 A home, in truth, it had become.

The school, in vision, reappears,
 The scholars, now, their lessons learn,
And, if some helpfulness they need,
 Round to the teacher's desk they turn.

The whitewashed walls of bluish tone,
 The rugless hearths, the bare-stone floor
The unbacked forms – unpolished desks,
 The Master's desk beside the door.

No decorations on the walls,
 Save flickering hues from glowing fire;
But such adornment was enough
 For those who knowledge would acquire.

The scholars, busy at their tasks,
 Would cease, and through the doorways file,
To run or skip along the lane,
 And join in games a little while.

No play-ground could they here enjoy,
 Save on this narrow country-lane,
Yet, there was room enough for those,
 Who wished in exercise to train.

One storey had that house and school,
 With floors much lower than the lane,
And thus a boy could reach the roof,
 Whose ridge was wavy, rough and plain.

Its chimney stacks were rude and square,
 Its grey-stone roof had beauty none;
No strip of garden by the lane
 For those who passed to look upon.

John and his wife, Priscilla, taught
 Their lessons long and taught them well:
And all they did, for others' good,
 No one can know, no one can tell.

But both are gone, for ever gone,
 The husband and his partner dear,
And would they not together weep
 If they now stood beside me here?

The poultry peck or wander round,
 Among these weather-beaten stones,
While Nature, with her weeds and flowers,
 For man's untidiness atones.

The various things I look upon
 Instruct my contemplative soul;
The coats of plaster speak to me
 And I can understand it all.

Those boys and girls who, months and years,
 Together met in school or class,
Took their own separate ways in life,
 Ne'er, here again, an hour to pass.

While many live, some lie asleep
 Who never will again return,
Time carries all upon its tide
 And, from it, all may lessons learn.

Man liveth but a little while
 To act his part and then retire;
But leaves an influence behind
 To blight a life, or to inspire.

This rigorous law none can escape
 It cares not, heeds not man's behest:
Whate'er the seed, will be the fruit
 It sets aside man's loud protest.

So father Time has wrought his will
 On Mitchell's School, which stood awhile,
One new, but, like the works of men,
 Which fashion soon rules out of style.

But so it was, and so it is;
 Men boast discovery, light and skill;
Their sun ascends; but soon declines,
 A little day their spheres to fill.

Such meditation haunts me now,
 As on this quiet scene I gaze,
Reminding me, in solitude,
 Of arduous toil and busy days.

Men soon may these rough heaps remove,
 And add this portion to the field;
Then stones and weeds would disappear
 That this plot also grass might yield.

Then all reminders of the past,
 The past of this historic spot,
Will be removed from every eye
 Of those who care and careth not.

All outward evidence may go,
 Yet, mental vision will retain
That long, old building, rude and low – 
 John Mitchell's School beside the land.

See Seven sisters of Sowerby

© Malcolm Bull 2018
Revised 17:12 /30th August 2018 / zz_34 / 10131

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