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Poems, 1799 by Robert Southey

Part 3 out of 3

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[Footnote 1: The stink-pots used on board the French ships. In the
engagement between the Mars and L'Hercule, some of our sailors were
shockingly mangled by them: One in particular, as described in the
Eclogue, lost both his eyes. It would be policy and humanity to employ
means of destruction, could they be discovered, powerful enough to
destroy fleets and armies, but to use any thing that only inflicts
additional torture upon the victims of our war systems, is cruel and



Father! here father! I have found a horse-shoe!
Faith it was just in time, for t'other night
I laid two straws across at Margery's door,
And afterwards I fear'd that she might do me
A mischief for't. There was the Miller's boy
Who set his dog at that black cat of hers,
I met him upon crutches, and he told me
'Twas all her evil eye.

'Tis rare good luck;
I would have gladly given a crown for one
If t'would have done as well. But where did'st find it?

Down on the Common; I was going a-field
And neighbour Saunders pass'd me on his mare;
He had hardly said "good day," before I saw
The shoe drop off; 'twas just upon my tongue
To call him back,--it makes no difference, does it.
Because I know whose 'twas?

Why no, it can't.
The shoe's the same you know, and you 'did find' it.

That mare of his has got a plaguey road
To travel, father, and if he should lame her,
For she is but tender-footed,--

Aye, indeed--
I should not like to see her limping back
Poor beast! but charity begins at home,
And Nat, there's our own horse in such a way
This morning!

Why he ha'nt been rid again!
Last night I hung a pebble by the manger
With a hole thro', and every body says
That 'tis a special charm against the hags.

It could not be a proper natural hole then,
Or 'twas not a right pebble,--for I found him
Smoking with sweat, quaking in every limb,
And panting so! God knows where he had been
When we were all asleep, thro' bush and brake
Up-hill and down-hill all alike, full stretch
At such a deadly rate!--

By land and water,
Over the sea perhaps!--I have heard tell
That 'tis some thousand miles, almost at the end
Of the world, where witches go to meet the Devil.
They used to ride on broomsticks, and to smear
Some ointment over them and then away
Out of the window! but 'tis worse than all
To worry the poor beasts so. Shame upon it
That in a Christian country they should let
Such creatures live!

And when there's such plain proof!
I did but threaten her because she robb'd
Our hedge, and the next night there came a wind
That made me shake to hear it in my bed!
How came it that that storm unroofed my barn,
And only mine in the parish? look at her
And that's enough; she has it in her face--
A pair of large dead eyes, rank in her head,
Just like a corpse, and purs'd with wrinkles round,
A nose and chin that scarce leave room between
For her lean fingers to squeeze in the snuff,
And when she speaks! I'd sooner hear a raven
Croak at my door! she sits there, nose and knees
Smoak-dried and shrivell'd over a starved fire,
With that black cat beside her, whose great eyes
Shine like old Beelzebub's, and to be sure
It must be one of his imps!--aye, nail it hard.

I wish old Margery heard the hammer go!
She'd curse the music.

Here's the Curate coming,
He ought to rid the parish of such vermin;
In the old times they used to hunt them out
And hang them without mercy, but Lord bless us!
The world is grown so wicked!

Good day Farmer!
Nathaniel what art nailing to the threshold?

A horse-shoe Sir, 'tis good to keep off witchcraft,
And we're afraid of Margery.

Poor old woman!
What can you fear from her?

What can we fear?
Who lamed the Miller's boy? who rais'd the wind
That blew my old barn's roof down? who d'ye think
Rides my poor horse a'nights? who mocks the hounds?
But let me catch her at that trick again,
And I've a silver bullet ready for her,
One that shall lame her, double how she will.

What makes her sit there moping by herself,
With no soul near her but that great black cat?
And do but look at her!

Poor wretch! half blind
And crooked with her years, without a child
Or friend in her old age, 'tis hard indeed
To have her very miseries made her crimes!
I met her but last week in that hard frost
That made my young limbs ache, and when I ask'd
What brought her out in the snow, the poor old woman
Told me that she was forced to crawl abroad
And pick the hedges, just to keep herself
From perishing with cold, because no neighbour
Had pity on her age; and then she cried,
And said the children pelted her with snow-balls,
And wish'd that she were dead.

I wish she was!
She has plagued the parish long enough!

Shame farmer!
Is that the charity your bible teaches?

My bible does not teach me to love witches.
I know what's charity; who pays his tithes
And poor-rates readier?

Who can better do it?
You've been a prudent and industrious man,
And God has blest your labour.

Why, thank God Sir,
I've had no reason to complain of fortune.

Complain! why you are wealthy. All the parish
Look up to you.

Perhaps Sir, I could tell
Guinea for guinea with the warmest of them.

You can afford a little to the poor,
And then what's better still, you have the heart
To give from your abundance.

God forbid
I should want charity!

Oh! 'tis a comfort
To think at last of riches well employ'd!
I have been by a death-bed, and know the worth
Of a good deed at that most awful hour
When riches profit not.
Farmer, I'm going
To visit Margery. She is sick I hear--
Old, poor, and sick! a miserable lot,
And death will be a blessing. You might send her
Some little matter, something comfortable,
That she may go down easier to the grave
And bless you when she dies.

What! is she going!
Well God forgive her then! if she has dealt
In the black art. I'll tell my dame of it,
And she shall send her something.

So I'll say;
And take my thanks for her's. ['goes']

That's a good man
That Curate, Nat, of ours, to go and visit
The poor in sickness; but he don't believe
In witchcraft, and that is not like a christian.

And so old Margery's dying!

But you know
She may recover; so drive t'other nail in!



Aye Charles! I knew that this would fix thine eye,
This woodbine wreathing round the broken porch,
Its leaves just withering, yet one autumn flower
Still fresh and fragrant; and yon holly-hock
That thro' the creeping weeds and nettles tall
Peers taller, and uplifts its column'd stem
Bright with the broad rose-blossoms. I have seen
Many a fallen convent reverend in decay,
And many a time have trod the castle courts
And grass-green halls, yet never did they strike
Home to the heart such melancholy thoughts
As this poor cottage. Look, its little hatch
Fleeced with that grey and wintry moss; the roof
Part mouldered in, the rest o'ergrown with weeds,
House-leek and long thin grass and greener moss;
So Nature wars with all the works of man.
And, like himself, reduces back to earth
His perishable piles.
I led thee here
Charles, not without design; for this hath been
My favourite walk even since I was a boy;
And I remember Charles, this ruin here,
The neatest comfortable dwelling place!
That when I read in those dear books that first
Woke in my heart the love of poesy,
How with the villagers Erminia dwelt,
And Calidore for a fair shepherdess
Forgot his quest to learn the shepherd's lore;
My fancy drew from, this the little hut
Where that poor princess wept her hopeless love,
Or where the gentle Calidore at eve
Led Pastorella home. There was not then
A weed where all these nettles overtop
The garden wall; but sweet-briar, scenting sweet
The morning air, rosemary and marjoram,
All wholesome herbs; and then, that woodbine wreath'd
So lavishly around the pillared porch
Its fragrant flowers, that when I past this way,
After a truant absence hastening home,
I could not chuse but pass with slacken'd speed
By that delightful fragrance. Sadly changed
Is this poor cottage! and its dwellers, Charles!--
Theirs is a simple melancholy tale,
There's scarce a village but can fellow it,
And yet methinks it will not weary thee,
And should not be untold.
A widow woman
Dwelt with her daughter here; just above want,
She lived on some small pittance that sufficed,
In better times, the needful calls of life,
Not without comfort. I remember her
Sitting at evening in that open door way
And spinning in the sun; methinks I see her
Raising her eyes and dark-rimm'd spectacles
To see the passer by, yet ceasing not
To twirl her lengthening thread. Or in the garden
On some dry summer evening, walking round
To view her flowers, and pointing, as she lean'd
Upon the ivory handle of her stick,
To some carnation whose o'erheavy head
Needed support, while with the watering-pot
Joanna followed, and refresh'd and trimm'd
The drooping plant; Joanna, her dear child,
As lovely and as happy then as youth
And innocence could make her.
Charles! it seems
As tho' I were a boy again, and all
The mediate years with their vicissitudes
A half-forgotten dream. I see the Maid
So comely in her Sunday dress! her hair,
Her bright brown hair, wreath'd in contracting curls,
And then her cheek! it was a red and white
That made the delicate hues of art look loathsome,
The countrymen who on their way to church
Were leaning o'er the bridge, loitering to hear
The bell's last summons, and in idleness
Watching the stream below, would all look up
When she pass'd by. And her old Mother, Charles!
When I have beard some erring infidel
Speak of our faith as of a gloomy creed,
Inspiring fear and boding wretchedness.
Her figure has recurr'd; for she did love
The sabbath-day, and many a time has cross'd
These fields in rain and thro' the winter snows.
When I, a graceless boy, wishing myself
By the fire-side, have wondered why 'she' came
Who might have sate at home.
One only care
Hung on her aged spirit. For herself,
Her path was plain before her, and the close
Of her long journey near. But then her child
Soon to be left alone in this bad world,--
That was a thought that many a winter night
Had kept her sleepless: and when prudent love
In something better than a servant's slate
Had placed her well at last, it was a pang
Like parting life to part with her dear girl.

One summer, Charles, when at the holydays
Return'd from school, I visited again
My old accustomed walks, and found in them.
A joy almost like meeting an old friend,
I saw the cottage empty, and the weeds
Already crowding the neglected flowers.
Joanna by a villain's wiles seduced
Had played the wanton, and that blow had reach'd
Her mother's heart. She did not suffer long,
Her age was feeble, and the heavy blow
Brought her grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

I pass this ruin'd dwelling oftentimes
And think of other days. It wakes in me
A transient sadness, but the feelings Charles
That ever with these recollections rise,
I trust in God they will not pass away.


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