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“The High Tide”

Poem by Jean Ingelow (1820-1897) found on pages 141-146 of J. Madison Watson’s Independent Fifth Reader.

Pa knew but did not tell us until later, that a crowd used to gather in the store beneath to hear us read. – Pioneer Girl

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote that while the family was living in rooms over the grocery store in Burr Oak, people would listen to Mary and Laura read aloud from the Independent Fifth Reader, practicing their elocution. One of the poems the girls read read was “The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, 1571.” It was written by Jean Ingelow, an English poet and novelist who lived from 1820 to 1897, and included in a book of her poems published in 1863. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were fans of Mrs. Ingelow’s work. A copy of the Fifth Reader can be found online HERE.

The title is shortened to “The High Tide” in the Reader; it also appears in print with the title, “The Brides of Enderby.” There is much published about Ingelow and her poem, a fictional retelling of two historical disasters. For insight into the poem read by Laura and Mary, click HERE. The illustration above is one by Louis Harlow for an 1891 publication of Ingelow’s poem. You can read this publication HERE.


1. The old mayor climbed the belfry tower, The ringers ran by two, by three; “Pull, if ye never pulled 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.'”

2. 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 flights of mews and peewits pied By millions crouched on the old sea wall.

3. I sat and spun within the doore: My thread brake off,– I raised 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 wanderest,– My sonne’s faire wife, Elizabeth.

4. “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:

5. “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, Come uppe Jetty, rise and follow, Jetty, to the milking shed.

6. If it be long, aye, long ago, When I beginne to think howe long, Againe I hear the Lindis flow, Swift as an arrowe, sharpe and strong; AAnd all the aire it seemeth mee Bin full of floating bells (sayth shee), That ring the tune of Enderby.

7. Alle fresh the level pasture lay, And not a shadowe might be seene, Save where, full fyve good miles away, The steeple towered from out the greene; And lo! the great bell farre and wide Was heard in all the country side That Saturday at eventide.

8. The swannerds, where thir sedges are, Moved on in sunset’s golden breath, The shepherde lads I heard affare, And my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth; Till, floating o’er the grassy sea, Came downe that kyndly message free, The “Brides of MAvis Enderby.”‘

9. Then some looked uppe into the sky, And all along where Lindis flows To where the goodly vessels like, 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!

1o. “For evil news from Mablethorpe, Of pyrate galleys warping down; For shippes ashore beyond the scorpe, They have not spared 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?'”

11. I looked without, and lo! my sonne Came riding downe with might and main; He raised a shout as he drew on, Till all the welkin rant again, “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” (A sweeter woman ne’er drew breath Than my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth.)

12. “The olde sea wall (he cried) is downe, The rising tide comes on apace, And boats adrift in yonder towne Go sailing uppe the market-place.” He shook as one that looks on death: “God save you, mother!” straight he sayth; “Where is my wife, Elizabeth?”

13. “Good sonne, where Lindis winds away With her two bairns I marked her long; And ere yon bells beganne to play, Afarre I heard her milking song.” He looked across the grassy sea, To right, to left, “Ho Enderby!” They rang “The Brides of Enderby!”

14. With that he cried and beat his breast; For lo! along the river’s bed A mighty eygre reared his crest, And uppe the Lindis raging sped. It swept with thunderous noises loud; Or like a demon in a shroud.

15. And rearing Lindis backward pressed, 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 mightly floods were out.

16. So farre, so fast the eygre drave, The heart had hardly time to beat, Before a shallow seetihing wave Sobbed 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.

17. Upon the roofe we sate that night, The noise of bells went sweeping by: I marked the lofty beacon light Stream from the church-tower, red and high– A lurid mark and dread to see; And awesome bells they were to mee, That in the dark rang “Enderby.”

18. They rang, the sailor lads to guide From roofe to roofe who fearless rowed; And I,– my sonne was at my side, And yet the ruddy bacon glowed: “And yet he moaned beneath his breath, “O come in life, or come in death! O lost! my love, Elizabeth.”

19. 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 they dwelling-place.

20. That flow strewed 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 mourne his own (she sayth); And sweter woman ne’er drew breath Than my sonne’s wife, Elizabeth.

21. 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, gloweth; From the meads where melick groweth, When the water winding downe, Onward floweth to the towne.

22. 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.”

          -Jean Ingelow


“The High Tide” (PG)