Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Robert Prince and the DP Team
WITH OTHER POEMS.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
By W. WORDSWORTH.
Quam nihil ad genium, Papiniane, tuum!
Expostulation and Reply
The Tables turned; an Evening Scene, on the same subject
Animal Tranquillity and Decay, a Sketch
The Complaint of a forsaken Indian Woman
The Last of the Flock
Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree which stands near the Lake of
The Foster-Mother's Tale
Goody Blake and Harry Gill
We are Seven
Anecdote for Fathers
Lines written at a small distance from my House and sent me by my
little Boy to the Person to whom they are addressed
The Female Vagrant
Simon Lee, the old Huntsman
Lines written in early Spring
The Nightingale, written in April, 1798.
Lines written when sailing in a Boat at Evening
Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames
The Idiot Boy
The Mad Mother
The Ancient Mariner
Lines written above Tintern Abbey
The First Volume of these Poems has already been submitted to
general perusal. It was published, as an experiment which, I hoped,
might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical
arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of
vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure
may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.
I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect of
those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased with
them would read them with more than common pleasure: and on the
other hand I was well aware that by those who should dislike them
they would be read with more than common dislike. The result has
differed from my expectation in this only, that I have pleased a
greater number, than I ventured to hope I should please.
For the sake of variety and from a consciousness of my own weakness
I was induced to request the assistance of a Friend, who furnished me
with the Poems of the ANCIENT MARINER, the FOSTER-MOTHER'S TALE, the
NIGHTINGALE, the DUNGEON, and the Poem entitled LOVE. I should not,
however, have requested this assistance, had I not believed that the
poems of my Friend would in a great measure have the same tendency
as my own, and that, though there would be found a difference, there
would be found no discordance in the colours of our style; as our
opinions on the subject of poetry do almost entirely coincide.
Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems
from a belief, that if the views, with which they were composed,
were indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well
adapted to interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in the
multiplicity and in the quality of its moral relations: and on this
account they have advised me to prefix a systematic defence of the
theory, upon which the poems were written. But I was unwilling to
undertake the task, because I knew that on this occasion the Reader
would look coldly upon my arguments, since I might be suspected of
having been principally influenced by the selfish and foolish hope
of _reasoning_ him into an approbation of these particular Poems:
and I was still more unwilling to undertake the task, because
adequately to display my opinions and fully to enforce my arguments
would require a space wholly disproportionate to the nature of a
preface. For to treat the subject with the clearness and coherence,
of which I believe it susceptible, it would be necessary to give a
full account of the present state of the public taste in this country,
and to determine how far this taste is healthy or depraved; which
again could not be determined, without pointing out, in what manner
language and the human mind act and react on each other, and without
retracing the revolutions not of literature alone but likewise of
society itself. I have therefore altogether declined to enter
regularly upon this defence; yet I am sensible, that there would be
some impropriety in abruptly obtruding upon the Public, without a
few words of introduction, Poems so materially different from those,
upon which general approbation is at present bestowed.
It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes
a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of
association, that he not only thus apprizes the Reader that certain
classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that
others will be carefully excluded. This exponent or symbol held
forth by metrical language must in different aeras of literature
have excited very different expectations: for example, in the age of
Catullus Terence and Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian, and
in our own country, in the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont and
Fletcher, and that of Donne and Cowley, or Dryden, or Pope. I will
not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise which
by the act of writing in verse an Author in the present day makes to
his Reader; but I am certain it will appear to many persons that I
have not fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily
contracted. I hope therefore the Reader will not censure me, if I
attempt to state what I have proposed to myself to perform, and also,
(as far as the limits of a preface will permit) to explain some of
the chief reasons which have determined me in the choice of my
purpose: that at least he may be spared any unpleasant feeling of
disappointment, and that I myself may be protected from the most
dishonorable accusation which can be brought against an Author,
namely, that of an indolence which prevents him from endeavouring to
ascertain what is his duty, or, when his duty is ascertained
prevents him from performing it.
The principal object then which I proposed to myself in these Poems
was to make the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in
them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature:
chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in
a state of excitement. Low and rustic life was generally chosen
because in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a
better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under
restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because
in that situation our elementary feelings exist in a state of
greater simplicity and consequently may be more accurately
contemplated and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of
rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the
necessary character of rural occupations are more easily comprehended;
and are more durable; and lastly, because in that situation the
passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent
forms of nature. The language too of these men is adopted (purified
indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and
rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly
communicate with the best objects from which the best part of
language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in
society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse,
being less under the action of social vanity they convey their
feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions.
Accordingly such a language arising out of repeated experience and
regular feelings is a more permanent and a far more philosophical
language than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets,
who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their
art in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of
men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression in
order to furnish food for fickle tastes and fickle appetites of
their own creation.
[Footnote 1: It is worth while here to observe that the affecting
parts of Chaucer are almost always expressed in language pure and
universally intelligible even to this day.]
I cannot be insensible of the present outcry against the triviality
and meanness both of thought and language, which some of my
contemporaries have occasionally introduced into their metrical
compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect where it exists, is
more dishonorable to the Writer's own character than false
refinement or arbitrary innovation, though I should contend at the
same time that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its
consequences. From such verses the Poems in these volumes will be
found distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of
them has a worthy _purpose_. Not that I mean to say, that I always
began to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived; but I
believe that my habits of meditation have so formed my feelings, as
that my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those
feelings, will be found to carry along with them a _purpose_. If in
this opinion I am mistaken I can have little right to the name of a
Poet. For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feelings; but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be
attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a
man who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility had
also thought long and deeply. For our continued influxes of feeling
are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the
representatives of all our past feelings; and as by contemplating
the relation of these general representatives to each other, we
discover what is really important to men, so by the repetition and
continuance of this act feelings connected with important subjects
will be nourished, till at length, if we be originally possessed of
much organic sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced that
by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits we
shall describe objects and utter sentiments of such a nature and in
such connection with each other, that the understanding of the being
to whom we address ourselves, if he be in a healthful state of
association, must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, his
taste exalted, and his affections ameliorated.
I have said that each of these poems has a purpose. I have also
informed my Reader what this purpose will be found principally to be:
namely to illustrate the manner in which our feelings and ideas are
associated in a state of excitement. But speaking in less general
language, it is to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when
agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature. This
object I have endeavoured in these short essays to attain by various
means; by tracing the maternal passion through many of its more
subtle windings, as in the poems of the IDIOT BOY and the MAD MOTHER;
by accompanying the last struggles of a human being at the approach
of death, cleaving in solitude to life and society, as in the Poem
of the FORSAKEN INDIAN; by shewing, as in the Stanzas entitled WE
ARE SEVEN, the perplexity and obscurity which in childhood attend
our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit that
notion; or by displaying the strength of fraternal, or to speak more
philosophically, of moral attachment when early associated with the
great and beautiful objects of nature, as in THE BROTHERS; or, as in
the Incident of SIMON LEE, by placing my Reader in the way of
receiving from ordinary moral sensations another and more salutary
impression than we are accustomed to receive from them. It has also
been part of my general purpose to attempt to sketch characters
under the influence of less impassioned feelings, as in the OLD MAN
TRAVELLING, THE TWO THIEVES, &c. characters of which the elements
are simple, belonging rather to nature than to manners, such as
exist now and will probably always exist, and which from their
constitution may be distinctly and profitably contemplated. I will
not abuse the indulgence of my Reader by dwelling longer upon this
subject; but it is proper that I should mention one other
circumstance which distinguishes these Poems from the popular Poetry
of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein developed gives
importance to the action and situation and not the action and
situation to the feeling. My meaning will be rendered perfectly
intelligible by referring my Reader to the Poems entitled POOR SUSAN
and the CHILDLESS FATHER, particularly to the last Stanza of the
I will not suffer a sense of false modesty to prevent me from
asserting, that I point my Reader's attention to this mark of
distinction far less for the sake of these particular Poems than
from the general importance of the subject. The subject is indeed
important! For the human mind is capable of excitement without the
application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very
faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this,
and who does not further know that one being is elevated above
another in proportion as he possesses this capability. It has
therefore appeared to me that to endeavour to produce or enlarge
this capability is one of the best services in which, at any period,
a Writer can be engaged; but this service, excellent at all times,
is especially so at the present day. For a multitude of causes
unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to
blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for
all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage
torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national
events which are daily taking place, and the encreasing accumulation
of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces
a craving for extraordinary incident which the rapid communication
of intelligence hourly gratifies. To this tendency of life and
manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have
conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder writers, I
had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton, are driven into
neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and
deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.--When I think upon
this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation I am almost
ashamed to have spoken of the feeble effort with which I have
endeavoured to counteract it; and reflecting upon the magnitude of
the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable
melancholy, had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and
indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain
powers in the great and permanent objects that act upon it which are
equally inherent and indestructible; and did I not further add to
this impression a belief that the time is approaching when the evil
will be systematically opposed by men of greater powers and with far
more distinguished success.
Having dwelt thus long on the subjects and aim of these Poems, I
shall request the Reader's permission to apprize him of a few
circumstances relating to their _style_, in order, among other
reasons, that I may not be censured for not having performed what I
never attempted. Except in a very few instances the Reader will find
no personifications of abstract ideas in these volumes, not that I
mean to censure such personifications: they may be well fitted for
certain sorts of composition, but in these Poems I propose to myself
to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of
men, and I do not find that such personifications make any regular
or natural part of that language. I wish to keep my Reader in the
company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall
interest him. Not but that I believe that others who pursue a
different track may interest him likewise: I do not interfere with
their claim, I only wish to prefer a different claim of my own.
There will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually
called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as
others ordinarily take to produce it; this I have done for the
reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of
men, and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to
myself to impart is of a kind very different from that which is
supposed by many persons to be the proper object of poetry. I do not
know how without being culpably particular I can give my Reader a
more exact notion of the style in which I wished these poems to be
written than by informing him that I have at all times endeavoured
to look steadily at my subject, consequently I hope it will be found
that there is in these Poems little falsehood of description, and
that my ideas are expressed in language fitted to their respective
importance. Something I must have gained by this practice, as it is
friendly to one property of all good poetry, namely good sense; but
it has necessarily cut me off from a large portion of phrases and
figures of speech which from father to son have long been regarded
as the common inheritance of Poets. I have also thought it expedient
to restrict myself still further, having abstained from the use of
many expressions, in themselves proper and beautiful, but which have
been foolishly repeated by bad Poets till such feelings of disgust
are connected with them as it is scarcely possible by any art of
association to overpower.
If in a Poem there should be found a series of lines, or even a
single line, in which the language, though naturally arranged and
according to the strict laws of metre, does not differ from that of
prose, there is a numerous class of critics who, when they stumble
upon these prosaisms as they call them, imagine that they have made
a notable discovery, and exult over the Poet as over a man ignorant
of his own profession. Now these men would establish a canon of
criticism which the Reader will conclude he must utterly reject if he
wishes to be pleased with these volumes. And it would be a most easy
task to prove to him that not only the language of a large portion
of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must
necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect
differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most
interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the
language of prose when prose is well written. The truth of this
assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost
all the poetical writings, even of Milton himself. I have not space
for much quotation; but, to illustrate the subject in a general
manner, I will here adduce a short composition of Gray, who was at
the head of those who by their reasonings have attempted to widen
the space of separation betwixt Prose and Metrical composition, and
was more than any other man curiously elaborate in the structure of
his own poetic diction.
In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or chearful fields resume their green attire:
These ears alas! for other notes repine;
_A different object do these eyes require;
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire;_
Yet Morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men;
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
To warm their little loves the birds complain.
_I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear
And weep the more because I weep in vain._
It will easily be perceived that the only part of this Sonnet which
is of any value is the lines printed in Italics: it is equally
obvious that except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word
"fruitless" for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language
of these lines does in no respect differ from that of prose.
Is there then, it will be asked, no essential difference between the
language of prose and metrical composition? I answer that there
neither is nor can be any essential difference. We are fond of
tracing the resemblance between Poetry and Painting, and, accordingly,
we call them Sisters: but where shall we find bonds of connection
sufficiently strict to typify the affinity betwixt metrical and
prose composition? They both speak by and to the same organs; the
bodies in which both of them are clothed may be said to be of the
same substance, their affections are kindred and almost identical,
not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry  sheds no tears
"such as Angels weep," but natural and human tears; she can boast of
no celestial Ichor that distinguishes her vital juices from those of
prose; the same human blood circulates through the veins of them both.
[Footnote 2: I here use the word "Poetry" (though against my own
judgment) as opposed to the word Prose, and synonomous with metrical
composition. But much confusion has been introduced into criticism
by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more
philosophical one of Poetry and Science. The only strict antithesis
to Prose is Metre.]
If it be affirmed that rhyme and metrical arrangement of themselves
constitute a distinction which overturns what I have been saying on
the strict affinity of metrical language with that of prose, and
paves the way for other distinctions which the mind voluntarily
admits, I answer that the distinction of rhyme and metre is regular
and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what is usually
called poetic diction, arbitrary and subject to infinite caprices
upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case
the Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet respecting what
imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion,
whereas in the other the metre obeys certain laws, to which the
Poet and Reader both willingly submit because they are certain,
and because no interference is made by them with the passion but
such as the concurring testimony of ages has shewn to heighten
and improve the pleasure which co-exists with it. It will now
be proper to answer an obvious question, namely, why, professing
these opinions have I written in verse? To this in the first place
I reply, because, however I may have restricted myself, there is
still left open to me what confessedly constitutes the most valuable
object of all writing whether in prose or verse, the great and
universal passions of men, the most general and interesting of
their occupations, and the entire world of nature, from which I am
at liberty to supply myself with endless combinations of forms and
imagery. Now, granting for a moment that whatever is interesting in
these objects may be as vividly described in prose, why am I to be
condemned if to such description I have endeavoured to superadd the
charm which by the consent of all nations is acknowledged to exist
in metrical language? To this it will be answered, that a very small
part of the pleasure given by Poetry depends upon the metre, and
that it is injudicious to write in metre unless it be accompanied
with the other artificial distinctions of style with which metre is
usually accompanied, and that by such deviation more will be lost
from the shock which will be thereby given to the Reader's
associations than will be counterbalanced by any pleasure which he
can derive from the general power of numbers. In answer to those who
thus contend for the necessity of accompanying metre with certain
appropriate colours of style in order to the accomplishment of its
appropriate end, and who also, in my opinion, greatly under-rate the
power of metre in itself, it might perhaps be almost sufficient to
observe that poems are extant, written upon more humble subjects,
and in a more naked and simple style than what I have aimed at,
which poems have continued to give pleasure from generation to
generation. Now, if nakedness and simplicity be a defect, the fact
here mentioned affords a strong presumption that poems somewhat less
naked and simple are capable of affording pleasure at the present day;
and all that I am now attempting is to justify myself for having
written under the impression of this belief.
But I might point out various causes why, when the style is manly,
and the subject of some importance, words metrically arranged will
long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind as he who is
sensible of the extent of that pleasure will be desirous to impart.
The end of Poetry is to produce excitement in coexistence with an
overbalance of pleasure. Now, by the supposition, excitement is an
unusual and irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not
in that state succeed each other in accustomed order. But if the
words by which this excitement is produced are in themselves powerful,
or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected
with them, there is some danger that the excitement may be carried
beyond its proper bounds. Now the co-presence of something regular,
something to which the mind has been accustomed when in an unexcited
or a less excited state, cannot but have great efficacy in tempering
and restraining the passion by an intertexture of ordinary feeling.
This may be illustrated by appealing to the Reader's own experience
of the reluctance with which he comes to the re-perusal of the
distressful parts of Clarissa Harlowe, or the Gamester. While
Shakespeare's writings, in the most pathetic scenes, never act upon
us as pathetic beyond the bounds of pleasure--an effect which is in
a great degree to be ascribed to small, but continual and regular
impulses of pleasurable surprise from the metrical arrangement.--On
the other hand (what it must be allowed will much more frequently
happen) if the Poet's words should be incommensurate with the passion,
and inadequate to raise the Reader to a height of desirable
excitement, then, (unless the Poet's choice of his metre has been
grossly injudicious) in the feelings of pleasure which the Reader
has been accustomed to connect with metre in general, and in the
feeling, whether chearful or melancholy, which he has been
accustomed to connect with that particular movement of metre, there
will be found something which will greatly contribute to impart
passion to the words, and to effect the complex end which the Poet
proposes to himself.
If I had undertaken a systematic defence of the theory upon which
these poems are written, it would have been my duty to develope the
various causes upon which the pleasure received from metrical
language depends. Among the chief of these causes is to be reckoned
a principle which must be well known to those who have made any of
the Arts the object of accurate reflection; I mean the pleasure
which the mind derives from the perception of similitude in
dissimilitude. This principle is the great spring of the activity of
our minds and their chief feeder. From this principle the direction
of the sexual appetite, and all the passions connected with it take
their origin: It is the life of our ordinary conversation; and upon
the accuracy with which similitude in dissimilitude, and
dissimilitude in similitude are perceived, depend our taste and our
moral feelings. It would not have been a useless employment to have
applied this principle to the consideration of metre, and to have
shewn that metre is hence enabled to afford much pleasure, and to
have pointed out in what manner that pleasure is produced. But my
limits will not permit me to enter upon this subject, and I must
content myself with a general summary.
I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in
tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of
reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion,
similar to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is
gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In
this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood
similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind
and in whatever degree, from various causes is qualified by various
pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are
voluntarily described, the mind will upon the whole be in a state of
enjoyment. Now if Nature be thus cautious in preserving in a state
of enjoyment a being thus employed, the Poet ought to profit by the
lesson thus held forth to him, and ought especially to take care,
that whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions,
if his Reader's mind be sound and vigorous, should always be
accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of
harmonious metrical language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and
the blind association of pleasure which has been previously received
from works of rhyme or metre of the same or similar construction,
all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which
is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling which
will always be found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the
deeper passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and
impassioned poetry; while in lighter compositions the ease and
gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves
confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader. I
might perhaps include all which it is _necessary_ to say upon this
subject by affirming what few persons will deny, that of two
descriptions either of passions, manners, or characters, each of
them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse,
the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once.
We see that Pope by the power of verse alone, has contrived to
render the plainest common sense interesting, and even frequently to
invest it with the appearance of passion. In consequence of these
convictions I related in metre the Tale of GOODY BLAKE and HARRY GILL,
which is one of the rudest of this collection. I wished to draw
attention to the truth that the power of the human imagination is
sufficient to produce such changes even in our physical nature as
might almost appear miraculous. The truth is an important one; the
fact (for it is a _fact_) is a valuable illustration of it. And I
have the satisfaction of knowing that it has been communicated to
many hundreds of people who would never have heard of it, had it not
been narrated as a Ballad, and in a more impressive metre than is
usual in Ballads.
Having thus adverted to a few of the reasons why I have written in
verse, and why I have chosen subjects from common life, and
endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men,
if I have been too minute in pleading my own cause, I have at the
same time been treating a subject of general interest; and it is for
this reason that I request the Reader's permission to add a few
words with reference solely to these particular poems, and to some
defects which will probably be found in them. I am sensible that my
associations must have sometimes been particular instead of general,
and that, consequently, giving to things a false importance,
sometimes from diseased impulses I may have written upon unworthy
subject; but I am less apprehensive on this account, than that my
language may frequently have suffered from those arbitrary
connections of feelings and ideas with particular words, from which
no man can altogether protect himself. Hence I have no doubt that in
some instances feelings even of the ludicrous may be given to my
Readers by expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic.
Such faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present,
and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly
take all reasonable pains to correct. But it is dangerous to make
these alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals, or
even of certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an
Author is not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be
done without great injury to himself: for his own feelings are his
stay and support, and if he sets them aside in one instance, he may
be induced to repeat this act till his mind loses all confidence in
itself and becomes utterly debilitated. To this it may be added,
that the Reader ought never to forget that he is himself exposed to
the same errors as the Poet, and perhaps in a much greater degree:
for there can be no presumption in saying that it is not probable he
will be so well acquainted with the various stages of meaning
through which words have passed, or with the fickleness or stability
of the relations of particular ideas to each other; and above all,
since he is so much less interested in the subject, he may decide
lightly and carelessly.
Long as I have detained my Reader, I hope he will permit me to
caution him against a mode of false criticism which has been applied
to Poetry in which the language closely resembles that of life and
nature. Such verses have been triumphed over in parodies of which
Dr. Johnson's Stanza is a fair specimen.
"I put my hat upon my head,
And walk'd into the Strand,
And there I met another man
Whose hat was in his hand."
Immediately under these lines I will place one of the most justly
admired stanzas of the "_Babes_ in the Wood."
"These pretty Babes with hand in hand
Went wandering up and down;
But never more they saw the Man
Approaching from the Town."
In both of these stanzas the words, and the order of the words, in
no respect differ from the most unimpassioned conversation. There
are words in both, for example, "the Strand," and "the Town,"
connected with none but the most familiar ideas; yet the one stanza
we admit as admirable, and the other as a fair example of the
superlatively contemptible. Whence arises this difference? Not from
the metre, not from the language, not from the order of the words;
but the _matter_ expressed in Dr. Johnson's stanza is contemptible.
The proper method of treating trivial and simple verses to which
Dr. Johnson's stanza would be a fair parallelism is not to say this
is a bad kind of poetry, or this is not poetry, but this wants sense;
it is neither interesting in itself, nor can _lead_ to any thing
interesting; the images neither originate in that sane state of
feeling which arises out of thought, nor can excite thought or
feeling in the Reader. This is the only sensible manner of dealing
with such verses: Why trouble yourself about the species till you
have previously decided upon the genus? Why take pains to prove that
an Ape is not a Newton when it is self-evident that he is not a man.
I have one request to make of my Reader, which is, that in judging
these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and not
by reflection upon what will probably be the judgment of others. How
common is it to hear a person say, "I myself do not object to this
style of composition or this or that expression, but to such and
such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous." This mode
of criticism so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgment is
almost universal: I have therefore to request that the Reader would
abide independently by his own feelings, and that if he finds
himself affected he would not suffer such conjectures to interfere
with his pleasure.
If an Author by any single composition has impressed us with respect
for his talents, it is useful to consider this as affording a
presumption, that, on other occasions where we have been displeased,
he nevertheless may not have written ill or absurdly; and, further,
to give him so much credit for this one composition as may induce us
to review what has displeased us with more care than we should
otherwise have bestowed upon it. This is not only an act of justice,
but in our decisions upon poetry especially, may conduce in a high
degree to the improvement of our own taste: for an _accurate_ taste
in Poetry and in all the other arts, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has
observed, is an _acquired_ talent, which can only be produced by
thought and a long continued intercourse with the best models of
composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as
to prevent the most inexperienced Reader from judging for himself,
(I have already said that I wish him to judge for himself;) but
merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if
Poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the
judgment may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily
will be so.
I know that nothing would have so effectually contributed to further
the end which I have in view as to have shewn of what kind the
pleasure is, and how the pleasure is produced which is confessedly
produced by metrical composition essentially different from what I
have here endeavoured to recommend; for the Reader will say that he
has been pleased by such composition and what can I do more for him?
The power of any art is limited and he will suspect that if I propose
to furnish him with new friends it is only upon condition of his
abandoning his old friends. Besides, as I have said, the Reader is
himself conscious of the pleasure which he has received from such
composition, composition to which he has peculiarly attached the
endearing name of Poetry; and all men feel an habitual gratitude,
and something of an honorable bigotry for the objects which have
long continued to please them: we not only wish to be pleased, but
to be pleased in that particular way in which we have been
accustomed to be pleased. There is a host of arguments in these
feelings; and I should be the less able to combat them successfully,
as I am willing to allow, that, in order entirely to enjoy the
Poetry which I am recommending, it would be necessary to give up
much of what is ordinarily enjoyed. But would my limits have
permitted me to point out how this pleasure is produced, I might
have removed many obstacles, and assisted my Reader in perceiving
that the powers of language are not so limited as he may suppose; and
that it is possible that poetry may give other enjoyments, of a purer,
more lasting, and more exquisite nature. But this part of my subject
I have been obliged altogether to omit: as it has been less my
present aim to prove that the interest excited by some other kinds
of poetry is less vivid, and less worthy of the nobler powers of the
mind, than to offer reasons for presuming, that, if the object which
I have proposed to myself were adequately attained, a species of
poetry would be produced, which is genuine poetry; in its nature
well adapted to interest mankind permanently, and likewise important
in the multiplicity and quality of its moral relations. From what
has been said, and from a perusal of the Poems, the Reader will be
able clearly to perceive the object which I have proposed to myself:
he will determine how far I have attained this object; and, what is
a much more important question, whether it be worth attaining; and
upon the decision of these two questions will rest my claim to the
approbation of the public.
EXPOSTULATION AND REPLY.
"Why, William, on that old grey stone,
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away?"
"Where are your books? that light bequeath'd
To beings else forlorn and blind!
Up! Up! and drink the spirit breath'd
From dead men to their kind."
"You look round on your mother earth,
As if she for no purpose bore you;
As if you were her first-born birth,
And none had lived before you!"
One morning thus, by Esthwaite lake,
When life was sweet, I knew not why,
To me my good friend Matthew spake,
And thus I made reply.
"The eye it cannot chuse but see,
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
Against, or with our will."
"Nor less I deem that there are powers
Which of themselves our minds impress,
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness."
"Think you, mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?"
"--Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away."
THE TABLES TURNED;
_An Evening Scene, on the same Subject_,
Up! up! my friend, and clear your looks,
Why all this toil and trouble?
Up! up! my friend, and quit your books,
Or surely you'll grow double.
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! 'tis dull and endless strife,
Come, here the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music; on my life
There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
And he is no mean preacher;
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by chearfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man;
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mishapes the beauteous forms of things;
--We murder to dissect.
Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
_ANIMAL TRANQUILLITY & DECAY_
The little hedge-row birds
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought--He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
--I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
That he was going many miles to take
A last leave of his son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight had been brought to Falmouth,
And there was lying in an hospital.
THE COMPLAINT OF A FORSAKEN INDIAN WOMAN.
[_When a Northern Indian, from sickness, is unable to continue his
journey with his companions; he is left behind, covered over with
Deer-skins, and is supplied with water, food, and fuel if the
situation of the place will afford it. He is informed of the track
which his companions intend to pursue, and if he is unable to follow,
or overtake them, he perishes alone in the Desart; unless he should
have the good fortune to fall in with some other Tribes of Indians.
It is unnecessary to add that the females are equally, or still more,
exposed to the same fate. See that very interesting work_, Hearne's
Journey _from_ Hudson's Bay _to the_ Northern Ocean. _In the high
Northern Latititudes, as the same writer informs us, when the
Northern Lights vary their position in the air, they make a rustling
and a crackling noise. This circumstance is alluded to in the first
stanza of the following poem._]
THE COMPLAINT, etc.
Before I see another day,
Oh let my body die away!
In sleep I heard the northern gleams;
The stars they were among my dreams;
In sleep did I behold the skies,
I saw the crackling flashes drive;
And yet they are upon my eyes,
And yet I am alive.
Before I see another day,
Oh let my body die away!
My fire is dead: it knew no pain;
Yet is it dead, and I remain.
All stiff with ice the ashes lie;
And they are dead, and I will die.
When I was well, I wished to live,
For clothes, for warmth, for food, and fire;
But they to me no joy can give,
No pleasure now, and no desire.
Then here contented will I lie;
Alone I cannot fear to die.
Alas! you might have dragged me on
Another day, a single one!
Too soon despair o'er me prevailed;
Too soon my heartless spirit failed;
When you were gone my limbs were stronger,
And Oh how grievously I rue,
That, afterwards, a little longer,
My friends, I did not follow you!
For strong and without pain I lay,
My friends, when you were gone away.
My child! they gave thee to another,
A woman who was not thy mother.
When from my arms my babe they took,
On me how strangely did he look!
Through his whole body something ran,
A most strange something did I see;
--As if he strove to be a man,
That he might pull the sledge for me.
And then he stretched his arms, how wild!
Oh mercy! like a little child.
My little joy! my little pride!
In two days more I must have died.
Then do not weep and grieve for me;
I feel I must have died with thee.
Oh wind that o'er my head art flying,
The way my friends their course did bend,
I should not feel the pain of dying,
Could I with thee a message send.
Too soon, my friends, you went away;
For I had many things to say.
I'll follow you across the snow,
You travel heavily and slow:
In spite of all my weary pain,
I'll look upon your tents again.
My fire is dead, and snowy white
The water which beside it stood;
The wolf has come to me to-night,
And he has stolen away my food.
For ever left alone am I,
Then wherefore should I fear to die?
My journey will be shortly run,
I shall not see another sun,
I cannot lift my limbs to know
If they have any life or no.
My poor forsaken child! if I
For once could have thee close to me,
With happy heart I then should die,
And my last thoughts would happy be.
I feel my body die away,
I shall not see another day.
THE LAST OF THE FLOCK.
In distant countries I have been,
And yet I have not often seen
A healthy man, a man full grown,
Weep in the public roads alone.
But such a one, on English ground,
And in the broad high-way, I met;
Along the broad high-way he came,
His cheeks with tears were wet.
Sturdy he seemed, though he was sad;
And in his arms a lamb he had.
He saw me, and he turned aside,
As if he wished himself to hide:
Then with his coat he made essay
To wipe those briny tears away.
I follow'd him, and said, "My friend
What ails you? wherefore weep you so?"
--"Shame on me, Sir! this lusty lamb,
He makes my tears to flow.
To-day I fetched him from the rock;
He is the last of all my flock."
When I was young, a single man,
And after youthful follies ran.
Though little given to care and thought,
Yet, so it was, a ewe I bought;
And other sheep from her I raised,
As healthy sheep as you might see,
And then I married, and was rich
As I could wish to be;
Of sheep I numbered a full score,
And every year increas'd my store.
Year after year my stock it grew,
And from this one, this single ewe,
Full fifty comely sheep I raised,
As sweet a flock as ever grazed!
Upon the mountain did they feed;
They throve, and we at home did thrive.
--This lusty lamb of all my store
Is all that is alive;
And now I care not if we die,
And perish all of poverty.
Six children, Sir! had I to feed,
Hard labour in a time of need!
My pride was tamed, and in our grief,
I of the parish ask'd relief.
They said I was a wealthy man;
My sheep upon the mountain fed,
And it was fit that thence I took
Whereof to buy us bread:
"Do this; how can we give to you,"
They cried, "what to the poor is due?"
I sold a sheep as they had said,
And bought my little children bread,
And they were healthy with their food;
For me it never did me good.
A woeful time it was for me,
To see the end of all my gains,
The pretty flock which I had reared
With all my care and pains,
To see it melt like snow away!
For me it was a woeful day.
Another still! and still another!
A little lamb, and then its mother!
It was a vein that never stopp'd,
Like blood-drops from my heart they dropp'd.
Till thirty were not left alive
They dwindled, dwindled, one by one,
And I may say that many a time
I wished they all were gone:
They dwindled one by one away;
For me it was a woeful day.
To wicked deeds I was inclined,
And wicked fancies cross'd my mind,
And every man I chanc'd to see,
I thought he knew some ill of me.
No peace, no comfort could I find,
No ease, within doors or without,
And crazily, and wearily
I went my work about.
Oft-times I thought to run away;
For me it was a woeful day.
Sir! 'twas a precious flock to me,
As dear as my own children be;
For daily with my growing store
I loved my children more and more.
Alas! it was an evil time;
God cursed me in my sore distress,
I prayed, yet every day I thought
I loved my children less;
And every week, and every day,
My flock, it seemed to melt away.
They dwindled. Sir, sad sight to see!
From ten to five, from five to three,
A lamb, a weather, and a ewe;
And then at last, from three to two;
And of my fifty, yesterday
I had but only one,
And here it lies upon my arm,
Alas! and I have none;
To-day I fetched it from the rock;
It is the last of all my flock.
_Left upon a seat in a YEW-TREE, which stands near the
Lake of ESTHWAITE, on a desolate part of the shore,
yet commanding a beautiful prospect_.
--Nay, Traveller! rest. This lonely yew-tree stands
Far from all human dwelling: what if here
No sparkling rivulet spread the verdant herb;
What if these barren boughs the bee not loves;
Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves,
That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind
By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.
--Who he was
That piled these stones, and with the mossy sod
First covered o'er and taught this aged tree
With its dark arms to form a circling bower,
I well remember.--He was one who owned
No common soul. In youth by science nursed
And led by nature into a wild scene
Of lofty hopes, he to the world went forth,
A favored being, knowing no desire
Which genius did not hallow, 'gainst the taint
Of dissolute tongues, and jealousy, and hate
And scorn, against all enemies prepared.
All but neglect. The world, for so it thought,
Owed him no service: he was like a plant
Fair to the sun, the darling of the winds,
But hung with fruit which no one, that passed by,
Regarded, and, his spirit damped at once,
With indignation did he turn away
And with the food of pride sustained his soul
In solitude.--Stranger! these gloomy boughs
Had charms for him; and here he loved to sit,
His only visitants a straggling sheep,
The stone-chat, or the glancing sand-piper;
And on these barren rocks, with juniper,
And heath, and thistle, thinly sprinkled o'er,
Fixing his downcast eye, he many an hour
A morbid pleasure nourished, tracing here
An emblem of his own unfruitful life:
And lifting up his head, he then would gaze
On the more distant scene; how lovely 'tis
Thou seest, and he would gaze till it became
Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain
The beauty still more beauteous. Nor, that time
When Nature had subdued him to herself
Would he forget those beings, to whose minds,
Warm from the labours of benevolence,
The world, and man himself, appeared a scene
Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh
With mournful joy, to think that others felt
What he must never feel: and so, lost man!
On visionary views would fancy feed,
Till his eye streamed with tears. In this deep vale
He died, this seat his only monument.
If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Of young imagination have kept pure,
Stranger! henceforth be warned; and know, that pride,
Howe'er disguised in its own majesty,
Is littleness; that he, who feels contempt
For any living thing, hath faculties
Which he has never used; that thought with him
Is in its infancy. The man, whose eye
Is ever on himself, doth look on one,
The least of nature's works, one who might move
The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds
Unlawful, ever. O, be wiser thou!
Instructed that true knowledge leads to love,
True dignity abides with him alone
Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,
Can still suspect, and still revere himself,
In lowliness of heart.
THE FOSTER-MOTHER'S TALE.
_A Narration in Dramatic Blank Verse_.
But that entrance, Mother!
Can no one hear? It is a perilous tale!
My husband's father told it me,
Poor old Leoni!--Angels rest his soul!
He was a woodman, and could fell and saw
With lusty arm. You know that huge round beam
Which props the hanging wall of the old chapel?
Beneath that tree, while yet it was a tree
He found a baby wrapt in mosses, lined
With thistle beards, and such small locks of wool
As hang on brambles. Well, he brought him home,
And reared him at the then Lord Velez' cost.
And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,
A pretty boy, but most unteachable--
And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead.
But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes,
And whistled, as he were a bird himself:
And all the autumn 'twas his only play
To get the seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them
With earth and water, on the stumps of trees.
A Friar, who gathered simples in the wood,
A grey-haired man--he loved this little boy,
The boy loved him--and, when the Friar taught him,
He soon could write with the pen: and from that time,
Lived chiefly at the Convent or the Castle.
So he became a very learned youth.
But Oh! poor wretch!--he read, and read, and read,
Till his brain turned--and ere his twentieth year,
He had unlawful thoughts of many things:
And though he prayed, he never loved to pray
With holy men, nor in a holy place--
But yet his speech, it was so soft and sweet,
The late Lord Velez ne'er was wearied with him.
And once, as by the north side of the Chapel
They stood together, chained in deep discourse,
The earth heaved under them with such a groan,
That the wall tottered, and had well-nigh fallen
Right on their heads. My Lord was sorely frightened;
A fever seized him, and he made confession
Of all the heretical and lawless talk
Which brought this judgment: so the youth was seized
And cast into that cell. My husband's father
Sobbed like a child--it almost broke his heart:
And once as he was working in the cellar,
He heard a voice distinctly; 'twas the youth's
Who sang a doleful song about green fields,
How sweet it were on lake or wild savannah,
To hunt for food, and be a naked man,
And wander up and down at liberty.
Leoni doted on the youth, and now
His love grew desperate; and defying death,
He made that cunning entrance I described:
And the young man escaped.
'Tis a sweet tale.
And what became of him?
He went on ship-board
With those bold voyagers, who made discovery
Of golden lands. Leoni's younger brother
Went likewise, and when he returned to Spain,
He told Leoni, that the poor mad youth,
Soon after they arrived in that new world,
In spite of his dissuasion, seized a boat,
And all alone, set sail by silent moonlight
Up a great river, great as any sea,
And ne'er was heard of more: but 'tis supposed,
He lived and died among the savage men.
GOODY BLAKE & HARRY GILL,
A TRUE STORY,
Oh! what's the matter? what's the matter?
What is't that ails young Harry Gill?
That evermore his teeth they chatter,
Chatter, chatter, chatter still.
Of waistcoats Harry has no lack,
Good duffle grey, and flannel fine;
He has a blanket on his back,
And coats enough to smother nine.
In March, December, and in July,
'Tis all the same with Harry Gill;
The neighbours tell, and tell you truly,
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
At night, at morning, and at noon,
'Tis all the same with Harry Gill;
Beneath the sun, beneath the moon,
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
Young Harry was a lusty drover,
And who so stout of limb as he?
His cheeks were red as ruddy clover,
His voice was like the voice of three.
Auld Goody Blake was old and poor,
Ill fed she was, and thinly clad;
And any man who pass'd her door,
Might see how poor a hut she had.
All day she spun in her poor dwelling,
And then her three hours' work at night!
Alas! 'twas hardly worth the telling,
It would not pay for candle-light.
--This woman dwelt in Dorsetshire,
Her hut was on a cold hill-side,
And in that country coals are dear,
For they come far by wind and tide.
By the same fire to boil their pottage,
Two poor old dames as I have known,
Will often live in one small cottage,
But she, poor woman, dwelt alone.
'Twas well enough when summer came,
The long, warm, lightsome summer-day,
Then at her door the _canty_ dame
Would sit, as any linnet gay.
But when the ice our streams did fetter,
Oh! then how her old bones would shake!
You would have said, if you had met her,
'Twas a hard time for Goody Blake.
Her evenings then were dull and dead;
Sad case it was, as you may think,
For very cold to go to bed,
And then for cold not sleep a wink.
Oh joy for her! whene'er in winter
The winds at night had made a rout,
And scatter'd many a lusty splinter,
And many a rotten bough about.
Yet never had she, well or sick,
As every man who knew her says,
A pile before hand, wood or stick,
Enough to warm her for three days.
Now when the frost was past enduring,
And made her poor old bones to ache,
Could any thing be more alluring,
Than an old hedge to Goody Blake?
And now and then, it must be said,
When her old bones were cold and chill,
She left her fire, or left her bed,
To seek the hedge of Harry Gill.
Now Harry he had long suspected
This trespass of old Goody Blake,
And vow'd that she should be detected,
And he on her would vengeance take.
And oft from his warm fire he'd go,
And to the fields his road would take,
And there, at night, in frost and snow,
He watch'd to seize old Goody Blake.
And once, behind a rick of barley,
Thus looking out did Harry stand;
The moon was full and shining clearly,
And crisp with frost the stubble land.
--He hears a noise--he's all awake--
Again?--on tip-toe down the hill
He softly creeps--'Tis Goody Blake,
She's at the hedge of Harry Gill.
Right glad was he when he beheld her;
Stick after stick did Goody pull,
He stood behind a bush of elder,
Till she had filled her apron full.
When with her load she turned about,
The bye-road back again to take,
He started forward with a shout,
And sprang upon poor Goody Blake.
And fiercely by the arm he took her,
And by the arm he held her fast,
And fiercely by the arm he shook her,
And cried, "I've caught you then at last!"
Then Goody, who had nothing said,
Her bundle from her lap let fall;
And kneeling on the sticks, she pray'd
To God that is the judge of all.
She pray'd, her wither'd hand uprearing,
While Harry held her by the arm--
"God! who art never out of hearing,
O may he never more be warm!"
The cold, cold moon above her head,
Thus on her knees did Goody pray,
Young Harry heard what she had said;
And icy-cold he turned away.
He went complaining all the morrow
That he was cold and very chill:
His face was gloom, his heart was sorrow,
Alas! that day for Harry Gill!
That day he wore a riding-coat,
But not a whit the warmer he:
Another was on Thursday brought,
And ere the Sabbath he had three.
'Twas all in vain, a useless matter,
And blankets were about him pinn'd;
Yet still his jaws and teeth they clatter,
Like a loose casement in the wind.
And Harry's flesh it fell away;
And all who see him say 'tis plain,
That, live as long as live he may,
He never will be warm again.
No word to any man he utters,
A-bed or up, to young or old;
But ever to himself he mutters,
"Poor Harry Gill is very cold."
A-bed or up, by night or day;
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
Now think, ye farmers all, I pray,
Of Goody Blake and Harry Gill.
There is a thorn; it looks so old,
In truth you'd find it hard to say,
How it could ever have been young,
It looks so old and grey.
Not higher than a two years' child
It stands erect this aged thorn;
No leaves it has, no thorny points;
It is a mass of knotted joints,
A wretched thing forlorn.
It stands erect, and like a stone
With lichens it is overgrown.
Like rock or stone, it is o'ergrown
With lichens to the very top,
And hung with heavy tufts of moss,
A melancholy crop:
Up from the earth these mosses creep,
And this poor thorn! they clasp it round
So close, you'd say that they were bent
With plain and manifest intent,
To drag it to the ground;
And all had join'd in one endeavour
To bury this poor thorn for ever.
High on a mountain's highest ridge,
Where oft the stormy winter gale
Cuts like a scythe, while through the clouds
It sweeps from vale to vale;
Not five yards from the mountain-path,
This thorn you on your left espy;
And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water, never dry;
I've measured it from side to side:
'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.
And close beside this aged thorn,
There is a fresh and lovely sight,
A beauteous heap, a hill of moss,
Just half a foot in height.
All lovely colours there you see,
All colours that were ever seen,
And mossy network too is there,
As if by hand of lady fair
The work had woven been,
And cups, the darlings of the eye,
So deep is their vermillion dye.
Ah me! what lovely tints are there!
Of olive green and scarlet bright,
In spikes, in branches, and in stars,
Green, red, and pearly white.
This heap of earth o'ergrown with moss,
Which close beside the thorn you see,
So fresh in all its beauteous dyes,
Is like an infant's grave in size
As like as like can be:
But never, never any where,
An infant's grave was half so fair.
Now would you see this aged thorn,
This pond and beauteous hill of moss,
You must take care and chuse your time
The mountain when to cross.
For oft there sits, between the heap
That's like an infant's grave in size
And that same pond of which I spoke,
A woman in a scarlet cloak,
And to herself she cries,
"Oh misery! oh misery!
Oh woe is me! oh misery!"
At all times of the day and night
This wretched woman thither goes,
And she is known to every star,
And every wind that blows;
And there beside the thorn she sits
When the blue day-light's in the skies,
And when the whirlwind's on the hill,
Or frosty air is keen and still,
And to herself she cries,
"Oh misery! oh misery!
Oh woe is me! oh misery;"
"Now wherefore thus, by day and night,
In rain, in tempest, and in snow
Thus to the dreary mountain-top
Does this poor woman go?
And why sits she beside the thorn
When the blue day-light's in the sky,
Or when the whirlwind's on the hill,
Or frosty air is keen and still,
And wherefore does she cry?--
Oh wherefore? wherefore? tell me why
Does she repeat that doleful cry?"
I cannot tell; I wish I could;
For the true reason no one knows,
But if you'd gladly view the spot,
The spot to which she goes;
The heap that's like an infant's grave,
The pond--and thorn, so old and grey.
Pass by her door--tis seldom shut--
And if you see her in her hut,
Then to the spot away!--
I never heard of such as dare
Approach the spot when she is there.
"But wherefore to the mountain-top,
Can this unhappy woman go,
Whatever star is in the skies,
Whatever wind may blow?"
Nay rack your brain--'tis all in vain,
I'll tell you every thing I know;
But to the thorn and to the pond
Which is a little step beyond,
I wish that you would go:
Perhaps when you are at the place
You something of her tale may trace.
I'll give you the best help I can:
Before you up the mountain go,
Up to the dreary mountain-top,
I'll tell you all I know.
'Tis now some two and twenty years,
Since she (her name is Martha Ray)
Gave with a maiden's true good will
Her company to Stephen Hill;
And she was blithe and gay,
And she was happy, happy still
Whene'er she thought of Stephen Hill.
And they had fix'd the wedding-day,
The morning that must wed them both;
But Stephen to another maid
Had sworn another oath;
And with this other maid to church
Unthinking Stephen went--
Poor Martha! on that woful day
A cruel, cruel fire, they say,
Into her bones was sent:
It dried her body like a cinder,
And almost turn'd her brain to tinder.
They say, full six months after this,
While yet the summer leaves were green,
She to the mountain-top would go,
And there was often seen.
'Tis said, a child was in her womb,
As now to any eye was plain;
She was with child, and she was mad,
Yet often she was sober sad
From her exceeding pain.
Oh me! ten thousand times I'd rather,
That he had died, that cruel father!
Sad case for such a brain to hold
Communion with a stirring child!
Sad case, as you may think, for one
Who had a brain so wild!
Last Christmas when we talked of this,
Old Farmer Simpson did maintain,
That in her womb the infant wrought
About its mother's heart, and brought
Her senses back again:
And when at last her time drew near,
Her looks were calm, her senses clear.
No more I know, I wish I did,
And I would tell it all to you;
For what became of this poor child
There's none that ever knew:
And if a child was born or no,
There's no one that could ever tell
And if 'twas born alive or dead,
There's no one knows, as I have said,
But some remember well,
That Martha Ray about this time
Would up the mountain often climb.
And all that winter, when at night
The wind blew from the mountain-peak,
'Twas worth your while, though in the dark,
The church-yard path to seek:
For many a time and oft were heard
Cries coming from the mountain-head,
Some plainly living voices were,
And others, I've heard many swear,
Were voices of the dead:
I cannot think, whate'er they say,
They had to do with Martha Ray.
But that she goes to this old thorn,
The thorn which I've described to you,
And there sits in a scarlet cloak,
I will be sworn is true.
For one day with my telescope,
To view the ocean wide and bright,
When to this country first I came,
Ere I had heard of Martha's name,
I climbed the mountain's height:
A storm came on, and I could see
No object higher than my knee.
'Twas mist and rain, and storm and rain,
No screen, no fence could I discover,
And then the wind! in faith, it was
A wind full ten times over.
Hooked around, I thought I saw
A jutting crag, and off I ran,
Head-foremost, through the driving rain,
The shelter of the crag to gain,
And, as I am a man,
Instead of jutting crag, I found
A woman seated on the ground.
I did not speak--I saw her face,
In truth it was enough for me;
I turned about and heard her cry,
"O misery! O misery!"
And there she sits, until the moon
Through half the clear blue sky will go,
And when the little breezes make
The waters of the pond to shake,
As all the country know
She shudders, and you hear her cry,
"Oh misery! oh misery!"
"But what's the thorn? and what's the pond?
And what's the hill of moss to her?
And what's the creeping breeze that comes
The little pond to stir?"
I cannot tell; but some will say
She hanged her baby on the tree,
Some say she drowned it in the pond,
Which is a little step beyond,
But all and each agree,
The little babe was buried there,
Beneath that hill of moss so fair.
I've heard, the moss is spotted red
With drops of that poor infant's blood;
But kill a new-born infant thus!
I do not think she could.
Some say, if to the pond you go,
And fix on it a steady view,
The shadow of a babe you trace,
A baby and a baby's face,
And that it looks at you;
Whene'er you look on it, 'tis plain
The baby looks at you again.
And some had sworn an oath that she
Should be to public justice brought;
And for the little infant's bones
With spades they would have sought.
But then the beauteous bill of moss
Before their eyes began to stir;
And for full fifty yards around,
The grass it shook upon the ground;
But all do still aver
The little babe is buried there.
Beneath that hill of moss so fair.
I cannot tell how this may be,
But plain it is, the thorn is bound
With heavy tufts of moss, that strive
To drag it to the ground.
And this I know, full many a time,
When she was on the mountain high,
By day, and in the silent night;
When all the stars shone clear and bright,
That I have heard her cry,
"Oh misery! oh misery!
O woe is me! oh misery!"
_WE ARE SEVEN._
A simple child, dear brother Jim,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl,
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster'd round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair,
--Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they, I pray you tell?"
She answered, "Seven are we,
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea."
"Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother,
And in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother."
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet you are seven; I pray you tell
Sweet Maid, how this may be?"
Then did the little Maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree."
"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little Maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side."
"My stockings there I often knit,
My 'kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit--
I sit and sing to them."
"And often after sunset, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there."
"The first that died was little Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain,
And then she went away."
"So in the church-yard she was laid,
And all the summer dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I."
"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."
"How many are you then," said I,
"If they two are in Heaven?"
The little Maiden did reply,
"O Master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
_ANECDOTE for FATHERS,
Shewing how the practice of Lying may be taught._
I have a boy of five years old,
His face is fair and fresh to see;
His limbs are cast in beauty's mould,
And dearly he loves me.
One morn we stroll'd on our dry walk,
Our quiet house all full in view,
And held such intermitted talk
As we are wont to do.
My thoughts on former pleasures ran;
I thought of Kilve's delightful shore,
My pleasant home, when Spring began,
A long, long year before.
A day it was when I could bear
To think, and think, and think again;
With so much happiness to spare,
I could not feel a pain.
My boy was by my side, so slim
And graceful in his rustic dress!
And oftentimes I talked to him
In very idleness.
The young lambs ran a pretty race;
The morning sun shone bright and warm;
"Kilve," said I, "was a pleasant place,
And so is Liswyn farm."
"My little boy, which like you more,"
I said and took him by the arm--
"Our home by Kilve's delightful shore,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
"And tell me, had you rather be,"
I said and held-him by the arm,
"At Kilve's smooth shore by the green sea,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
In careless mood he looked at me,
While still I held him by the arm,
And said, "At Kilve I'd rather be
Than here at Liswyn farm."
"Now, little Edward, say why so;
My little Edward, tell me why;"
"I cannot tell, I do not know."
"Why this is strange," said I.
"For, here are woods and green hills warm:
There surely must some reason be
Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm,
For Kilve by the green sea."
At this, my boy hung down his head,
He blush'd with shame, nor made reply;
And five times to the child I said,
"Why, Edward, tell me, why?"
His head he raised--there was in sight,
It caught his eye, he saw it plain--
Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane.
Then did the boy his tongue unlock,
And thus to me he made reply;
"At Kilve there was no weather-cock,
And that's the reason why."
Oh dearest, dearest boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.
Written at a small distance from my House, and sent by
my little boy to the person to whom they are addressed._
It is the first mild day of March:
Each minute sweeter than before,
The red-breast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door.
There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.
My Sister! ('tis a wish of mine)
Now that our morning meal is done,
Make haste, your morning task resign;
Come forth and feel the sun.
Edward will come with you, and pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress,
And bring no book, for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
No joyless forms shall regulate
Our living Calendar:
We from to-day, my friend, will date
The opening of the year.
Love, now an universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth,
--It is the hour of feeling.
One moment now may give us more
Than fifty years of reason;
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.
Some silent laws our hearts may make,
Which they shall long obey;
We for the year to come may take
Our temper from to-day.
And from the blessed power that rolls
About, below, above;
We'll frame the measure of our souls,
They shall be tuned to love.
Then come, my sister I come, I pray,
With speed put on your woodland dress,
And bring no book; for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
_THE FEMALE VAGRANT_
By Derwent's side my Father's cottage stood,
(The Woman thus her artless story told)
One field, a flock, and what the neighbouring flood
Supplied, to him were more than mines of gold.
Light was my sleep; my days in transport roll'd:
With thoughtless joy I stretch'd along the shore
My father's nets, or from the mountain fold
Saw on the distant lake his twinkling oar
Or watch'd his lazy boat still less'ning more and more
My father was a good and pious man,
An honest man by honest parents bred,
And I believe that, soon as I began
To lisp, he made me kneel beside my bed,
And in his hearing there my prayers I said:
And afterwards, by my good father taught,
I read, and loved the books in which I read;
For books in every neighbouring house I sought,
And nothing to my mind a sweeter pleasure brought.
Can I forget what charms did once adorn
My garden, stored with pease, and mint, and thyme,
And rose and lilly for the sabbath morn?
The sabbath bells, and their delightful chime;
The gambols and wild freaks at shearing time;
My hen's rich nest through long grass scarce espied;
The cowslip-gathering at May's dewy prime;
The swans, that, when I sought the water-side,
From far to meet me came, spreading their snowy pride.
The staff I yet remember which upbore
The bending body of my active sire;
His seat beneath the honeyed sycamore
When the bees hummed, and chair by winter fire;
When market-morning came, the neat attire
With which, though bent on haste, myself I deck'd;
My watchful dog, whose starts of furious ire,
When stranger passed, so often I have check'd;
The red-breast known for years, which at my casement peck'd.
The suns of twenty summers danced along,--
Ah! little marked, how fast they rolled away:
Then rose a stately hall our woods among,
And cottage after cottage owned its sway.
No joy to see a neighbouring house, or stray
Through pastures not his own, the master took;
My Father dared his greedy wish gainsay;
He loved his old hereditary nook,
And ill could I the thought of such sad parting brook.
But when he had refused the proffered gold,
To cruel injuries he became a prey,
Sore traversed in whate'er he bought and sold:
His troubles grew upon him day by day,
Till all his substance fell into decay.
His little range of water was denied; 
All but the bed where his old body lay.
All, all was seized, and weeping, side by side,
We sought a home where we uninjured might abide.