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24. “W. was only partly successful in composition.”

26. “W. composed a good deal all the morning.”

28. “W. could not compose much; fatigued himself with altering.”

30. “W. worked at his poem all the morning.”

Nov. 10. “W. at the sheepfold.”

12. “W. has been working at the sheepfold.”

Dec. 9. “W. finished his poem to-day.”‘

It is impossible to say with certainty that the entry under Dec. 9 refers to ‘Michael’, but if it does, it is evident that Wordsworth wrought continuously at this poem for nearly two months.

On April 9, 1801, Wordsworth wrote to Thomas Poole:

“In writing it” (‘Michael’), “I had your character often before my eyes; and sometimes thought that I was delineating such a man as you yourself would have been, under the same circumstances.”

The following is part of a letter written by Wordsworth to Charles James Fox in 1802, and sent with a copy of “Lyrical Ballads”:

“In the two poems, ‘The Brothers’ and ‘Michael’, I have attempted to draw a picture of the domestic affections, as I know they exist amongst a class of men who are now almost confined to the north of England. They are small independent ‘proprietors’ of land, here called ‘statesmen,’ men of respectable education, who daily labour on their own little properties. The domestic affections will always be strong amongst men who live in a country not crowded with population; if these men are placed above poverty. But, if they are proprietors of small estates which have descended to them from their ancestors, the power which these affections will acquire amongst such men, is inconceivable by those who have only had an opportunity of observing hired labourers, farmers, and the manufacturing poor. Their little tract of land serves as a kind of permanent rallying point for their domestic feelings, as a tablet on which they are written, which makes them objects of memory in a thousand instances, when they would otherwise be forgotten. It is a fountain fitted to the nature of social man, from which supplies of affection as pure as his heart was intended for, are daily drawn. This class of men is rapidly disappearing…. The two poems that I have mentioned were written with a view to show that men who do not wear fine clothes can feel deeply. ‘Pectus enim est quod disertos facit, et vis mentis. Ideoque imperitis quoque, si modo sint aliquo affectu concitati, verba non desunt.’ The poems are faithful copies from nature; and I hope whatever effect they may have upon you, you will at least be able to perceive that they may excite profitable sympathies in many kind and good hearts; and may in some small degree enlarge our feelings of reverence for our species, and our knowledge of human nature, by showing that our best qualities are possessed by men whom we are too apt to consider, not with reference to the points in which they resemble us, but to those in which they manifestly differ from us.” (See ‘Correspondence of Sir Thomas Hanmer’, by Sir Henry Burnbury, p. 436.)

A number of fragments, originally meant to be parts of ‘Michael’,–or at least written with such a possibility in view,–will be found in the Appendix to the eighth volume of this edition.–Ed.

* * * * *


‘The Sparrow’s Nest’, and the sonnet on Skiddaw, along with some translations from Chaucer, belong to the year 1801. During this year, however, ‘The Excursion’ was in progress. In its earlier stages, and before the plan of ‘The Recluse’ was matured, the introductory part was familiarly known, and talked of in the Wordsworth household, by the name of “The Pedlar.” The following extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal of 1801 will show the progress that was being made with it:

“Dec. 21.–Wm. sate beside me, and wrote ‘The Pedlar.’ 22nd.–W. composed a few lines of ‘The Pedlar.’ 23rd.–William worked at ‘The Ruined Cottage'” (this was the name of the first part of ‘The Excursion’, in which ‘The Pedlar’ was included), “and made himself very ill,” etc.


* * * * *


Composed 1801.–Published 1807

[Written in the orchard, Town-end, Grasmere. At the end of the garden of my father’s house at Cockermouth was a high terrace that commanded a fine view of the river Derwent and Cockermouth Castle. This was our favourite play-ground. The terrace wall, a low one, was covered with closely-clipt privet and roses, which gave an almost impervious shelter to birds who built their nests there. The latter of these stanzas [A] alludes to one of those nests.–I.F.]

This poem was first published in the series entitled “Moods of my own Mind,” in 1807. In 1815 it was included among the “Poems founded on the Affections,” and in 1845 was transferred to the “Poems referring to the Period of Childhood.”–Ed.

Behold, within the leafy shade,
Those bright blue eggs together laid! On me the chance-discovered sight
Gleamed like a vision of delight. [1] I started–seeming to espy 5 The home and sheltered bed,
The Sparrow’s dwelling, which, hard by My Father’s house, in wet or dry
My sister Emmeline and I
Together visited. 10

She looked at it and seemed to fear it; Dreading, tho’ wishing, to be near it: [2] Such heart was in her, being then
A little Prattler among men.
The Blessing of my later years 15 Was with me when a boy:
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears; And humble cares, and delicate fears;
A heart, the fountain of sweet tears; And love, and thought, and joy. 20

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


Look, five blue eggs are gleaming there! Few visions have I seen more fair,
Nor many prospects of delight
More pleasing than that simple sight! 1807.]

[Variant 2:


She look’d at it as if she fear’d it; Still wishing, dreading to be near it: 1807.]

* * * * *


[Footnote A: So it stands in the Fenwick note; but it should evidently read, “The following stanzas allude.”–Ed.]

Wordsworth’s “sister Emmeline” was his only sister, Dorothy; and in the MS. sent originally to the printer the line was “My sister Dorothy and I.” This poem is referred to in a subsequent one, ‘A Farewell’, l. 56. See page 326 of this volume.–Ed.

* * * * *


Composed 1801.–Published 1815

One of the “Miscellaneous Sonnets.” From 1836 onwards it bore the title ‘1801’.–Ed.

Pelion and Ossa flourish side by side, Together in immortal [1] books enrolled: His ancient dower Olympus hath not sold; And that inspiring Hill, which “did divide Into two ample horns his forehead wide,” [A] 5 Shines with poetic radiance as of old;
While not an English Mountain we behold By the celestial Muses glorified.
Yet round our sea-girt shore they rise in crowds: What was the great Parnassus’ self to Thee, 10 Mount Skiddaw? In his natural sovereignty Our British Hill is nobler [2] far; he shrouds His double front among Atlantic clouds, [3] And pours forth streams more sweet than Castaly.

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


illustrious … MS.]

[Variant 2:


fairer … 1815.]

[Variant 3:


His double-fronted head in higher clouds, 1815.

… among Atlantic clouds, MS.]

* * * * *


[Footnote A: See Spenser’s translation of ‘Virgil’s Gnat’, ll. 21-2:

‘Or where on Mount Parnasse, the Muses brood. Doth his broad forehead like two horns divide, And the sweet waves of sounding Castaly With liquid foot doth glide down easily.’


* * * * *



Wordsworth’s modernisations of Chaucer were all written in 1801. Two of them were from the Canterbury Tales, but his version of one of these–‘The Manciple’s Tale’–has never been printed. Of the three poems which were published, the first–‘The Prioress’ Tale’–was included in the edition of 1820. The ‘Troilus and Cressida’ and ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ were included in the “Poems of Early and Late Years” (1842); but they had been published the year before, in a small volume entitled ‘The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernised’ (London, 1841), a volume to which Elizabeth Barrett, Leigh Hunt, R. H. Home, Thomas Powell, and others contributed. Wordsworth wrote thus of the project to Mr. Powell, in an unpublished and undated letter, written probably in 1840:

“I am glad that you enter so warmly into the Chaucerian project, and that Mr. L. Hunt is disposed to give his valuable aid to it. For myself, I cannot do more than I offered, to place at your disposal ‘The Prioress’ Tale’ already published, ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’, ‘The Manciple’s Tale’, and I rather think (but I cannot just now find it) a small portion of the ‘Troilus and Cressida’. You ask my opinion about that poem. Speaking from a recollection only, of many years past, I should say it would be found too long and probably tedious. ‘The Knight’s Tale’ is also very long; but, though Dryden has executed it, in his own way observe, with great spirit and harmony, he has suffered so much of the simplicity, and with that of the beauty and occasional pathos of the original to escape, that I should be pleased to hear that a new version was to be attempted upon my principle by some competent person. It would delight me to read every part of Chaucer over again–for I reverence and admire him above measure–with a view to your work; but my eyes will not permit me to do so. Who will undertake the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales? For your publication that is indispensable, and I fear it will prove very difficult. It is written, as you know, in the couplet measure; and therefore I have nothing to say upon its metre, but in respect to the poems in stanza, neither in ‘The Prioress’ Tale’ nor in ‘The Cuckoo and Nightingale’ have I kept to the rule of the original as to the form, and number, and position of the rhymes; thinking it enough if I kept the same number of lines in each stanza; and this is, I think, all that is necessary, and all that can be done without sacrificing the substance of sense too often to the mere form of sound.”

In a subsequent letter to Professor Henry Reed of Philadelphia, dated “Rydal Mount, January 13th, 1841,” Wordsworth said:

“So great is my admiration of Chaucer’s genius, and so profound my reverence for him as an instrument in the hands of Providence, for spreading the light of literature through his native land, that notwithstanding the defects and faults in this publication” (referring, I presume, to the volume, ‘The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernised’), “I am glad of it, as a means of making many acquainted with the original, who would otherwise be ignorant of everything about him but his name.”


* * * * *


Translated 1801. [A]–Published 1820

“Call up him who left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold.” [B]

In the following Piece I have allowed myself no farther deviations from the original than were necessary for the fluent reading, and instant understanding, of the Author: so much however is the language altered since Chaucer’s time, especially in pronunciation, that much was to be removed, and its place supplied with as little incongruity as possible. The ancient accent has been retained in a few conjunctions, such as _also_ and _alway_, from a conviction that such sprinklings of antiquity would be admitted, by persons of taste, to have a graceful accordance with the subject.–W. W. (1820).

The fierce bigotry of the Prioress forms a fine back ground for her tender-hearted sympathies with the Mother and Child; and the mode in which the story is told amply atones for the extravagance of the miracle.–W. W. (added in 1827).

In the editions of 1820 and 1827 ‘The Prioress’ Tale’ followed ‘The White Doe of Rylstone’. In 1832 it followed the “Inscriptions”; and in 1836 it was included among the “Poems founded on the Affections.” In 1845 it found its appropriate place in the “Selections from Chaucer modernised.”–Ed.

I “O Lord, our Lord! how wondrously,” (quoth she) “Thy name in this large world is spread abroad! For not alone by men of dignity
Thy worship is performed and precious laud; But by the mouths of children, gracious God! 5 Thy goodness is set forth; they when they lie Upon the breast thy name do glorify.

II “Wherefore in praise, the worthiest that I may, Jesu! of thee, and the white Lily-flower Which did thee bear, and is a Maid for aye, 10 To tell a story I will use my power; Not that I may increase her honour’s dower, For she herself is honour, and the root Of goodness, next her Son, our soul’s best boot.

III “O Mother Maid! O Maid and Mother free! 15 O bush unburnt! burning in Moses’ sight! That down didst ravish from the Deity, Through humbleness, the spirit that did alight Upon thy heart, whence, through that glory’s might, Conceived was the Father’s sapience, 20 Help me to tell it in thy reverence!

IV “Lady! thy goodness, thy magnificence, Thy virtue, and thy great humility, Surpass all science and all utterance; For sometimes, Lady! ere men pray to thee 25 Thou goest before in thy benignity, The light to us vouchsafing of thy prayer, To be our guide unto thy Son so dear.

V “My knowledge is so weak, O blissful Queen! To tell abroad thy mighty worthiness, 30 That I the weight of it may not sustain; But as a child of twelvemonths old or less, That laboureth his language to express, Even so fare I; and therefore, I thee pray, Guide thou my song which I of thee shall say. 35

VI “There was in Asia, in a mighty town, ‘Mong Christian folk, a street where Jews might be, Assigned to them and given them for their own By a great Lord, for gain and usury, Hateful to Christ and to his company; 40 And through this street who list might ride and wend; Free was it, and unbarred at either end.

VII “A little school of Christian people stood Down at the farther end, in which there were A nest of children come of Christian blood, 45 That learned in that school from year to year Such sort of doctrine as men used there, That is to say, to sing and read also, As little children in their childhood do.

VIII “Among these children was a Widow’s son, 50 A little scholar, scarcely seven years old, [C] Who day by day unto this school hath gone, And eke, when he the image did behold Of Jesu’s Mother, as he had been told, This Child was wont to kneel adown and say 55 _Ave Marie_, as he goeth by the way.

IX “This Widow thus her little Son hath taught Our blissful Lady, Jesu’s Mother dear, To worship aye, and he forgat it not; For simple infant hath a ready ear. 60 Sweet is the holiness of youth: and hence, Calling to mind this matter when I may, Saint Nicholas in my presence standeth aye, For he so young to Christ did reverence. [D]

X “This little Child, while in the school he sate 65 His Primer conning with an earnest cheer, [E] The whilst the rest their anthem-book repeat The _Alma Redemptoris_ did he hear; And as he durst he drew him near and near, And hearkened to the words and to the note, 70 Till the first verse he learned it all by rote.

XI “This Latin knew he nothing what it said, For he too tender was of age to know; But to his comrade he repaired, and prayed That he the meaning of this song would show, 75 And unto him declare why men sing so; This oftentimes, that he might be at ease, This child did him beseech on his bare knees.

XII “His Schoolfellow, who elder was than he, Answered him thus:–‘This song, I have heard say, 80 Was fashioned for our blissful Lady free; Her to salute, and also her to pray To be our help upon our dying day:
If there is more in this, I know it not: Song do I learn,–small grammar I have got.’ 85

XIII “‘And is this song fashioned in reverence Of Jesu’s Mother?’ said this Innocent; ‘Now, certes, I will use my diligence To con it all ere Christmas-tide be spent; Although I for my Primer shall be shent, 90 And shall be beaten three times in an hour, Our Lady I will praise with all my power.’

XIV “His Schoolfellow, whom he had so besought, As they went homeward taught him privily And then he sang it well and fearlessly, 95 From word to word according to the note: Twice in a day it passed through his throat; Homeward and schoolward whensoe’er he went, On Jesu’s Mother fixed was his intent.

XV “Through all the Jewry (this before said I) 100 This little Child, as he came to and fro, Full merrily then would he sing and cry, O _Alma Redemptoris!_ high and low: The sweetness of Christ’s Mother pierced so His heart, that her to praise, to her to pray, 105 He cannot stop his singing by the way.

XVI “The Serpent, Satan, our first foe, that hath His wasp’s nest in Jew’s heart, upswelled–‘O woe, O Hebrew people!’ said he in his wrath, ‘Is it an honest thing? Shall this be so? 110 That such a Boy where’er he lists [1] shall go In your despite, and sing his hymns and saws, Which is against the reverence of our laws!’

XVII “From that day forward have the Jews conspired Out of the world this Innocent to chase; 115 And to this end a Homicide they hired, That in an alley had a privy place, And, as the Child ‘gan to the school to pace, This cruel Jew him seized, and held him fast And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast. 120

XVIII “I say that him into a pit they threw, A loathsome pit, whence noisome scents exhale; O cursed folk! away, ye Herods new! What may your ill intentions you avail? Murder will out; certes it will not fail; 125 Know, that the honour of high God may spread, The blood cries out on your accursed deed.

XIX “O Martyr ‘stablished in virginity! Now may’st thou sing for aye before the throne, Following the Lamb celestial,” quoth she, 130 “Of which the great Evangelist, Saint John, In Patmos wrote, who saith of them that go Before the Lamb singing continually, That never fleshly woman they did know.

XX “Now this poor widow waiteth all that night 135 After her little Child, and he came not; For which, by earliest glimpse of morning light, With face all pale with dread and busy thought, She at the School and elsewhere him hath sought, Until thus far she learned, that he had been 140 In the Jews’ street, and there he last was seen.

XXI “With Mother’s pity in her breast enclosed She goeth, as she were half out of her mind, To every place wherein she hath supposed By likelihood her little Son to find; 145 And ever on Christ’s Mother meek and kind She cried, till to the Jewry she was brought, And him among the accursed Jews she sought.

XXII “She asketh, and she piteously doth pray To every Jew that dwelleth in that place 150 To tell her if her child had passed that way; They all said–Nay; but Jesu of his grace Gave to her thought, that in a little space She for her Son in that same spot did cry Where he was cast into a pit hard by. 155

XXIII “O thou great God that dost perform thy laud By mouths of Innocents, lo! here thy might; This gem of chastity, this emerald, And eke of martyrdom this ruby bright, There, where with mangled throat he lay upright, 160 The _Alma Redemptoris_ ‘gan to sing So loud, that with his voice the place did ring.

XXIV “The Christian folk that through the Jewry went Come to the spot in wonder at the thing; And hastily they for the Provost sent; 165 Immediately he came, not tarrying,
And praiseth Christ that is our heavenly King, And eke his Mother, honour of Mankind: Which done, he bade that they the Jews should bind.

XXV “This Child with piteous lamentation then 170 Was taken up, singing his song alway; And with procession great and pomp of men To the next Abbey him they bare away; His Mother swooning by the body [2] lay: And scarcely could the people that were near 175 Remove this second Rachel from the bier.

XXVI “Torment and shameful death to every one This Provost doth for those bad Jews prepare That of this murder wist, and that anon: Such wickedness his judgments cannot spare; 180 Who will do evil, evil shall he bear; Them therefore with wild horses did he draw, And after that he hung them by the law.

XXVII “Upon his bier this Innocent doth lie Before the altar while the Mass doth last: 185 The Abbot with his convent’s company Then sped themselves to bury him full fast; And, when they holy water on him cast, Yet spake this Child when sprinkled was the water; And sang, O _Alma Redemptoris Mater!_ 190

XXVIII “This Abbot, for he was a holy man, As all Monks are, or surely ought to be, [3] In supplication to the Child began
Thus saying, ‘O dear Child! I summon thee In virtue of the holy Trinity 195 Tell me the cause why thou dost sing this hymn, Since that thy throat is cut, as it doth seem.’

XXIX “‘My throat is cut unto the bone, I trow,’ Said this young Child, ‘and by the law of kind I should have died, yea many hours ago; 200 But Jesus Christ, as in the books ye find, Will that his glory last, and be in mind; And, for the worship of his Mother dear, Yet may I sing, _O Alma!_ loud and clear.

XXX “‘This well of mercy, Jesu’s Mother sweet, 205 After my knowledge I have loved alway; And in the hour when I my death did meet To me she came, and thus to me did say, “Thou in thy dying sing this holy lay,” As ye have heard; and soon as I had sung 210 Methought she laid a grain upon my tongue.

XXXI “‘Wherefore I sing, nor can from song refrain, In honour of that blissful Maiden free, Till from my tongue off-taken is the grain; And after that thus said she unto me; 215 “My little Child, then will I come for thee Soon as the grain from off thy tongue they take: Be not dismayed, I will not thee forsake!”‘

XXXII “This holy Monk, this Abbot–him mean I, Touched then his tongue, and took away the grain; 220 And he gave up the ghost full peacefully; And, when the Abbot had this wonder seen, His salt tears trickled down like showers of rain; And on his face he dropped upon the ground, And still he lay as if he had been bound. 225

XXXIII “Eke the whole Convent on the pavement lay, Weeping and praising Jesu’s Mother dear; And after that they rose, and took their way, And lifted up this Martyr from the bier, And in a tomb of precious marble clear 230 Enclosed his uncorrupted body sweet.–[F] Where’er he be, God grant us him to meet!

XXXIV “Young Hew of Lincoln! in like sort laid low By cursed Jews–thing well and widely known, For it was done a little while ago–[4] 235 Pray also thou for us, while here we tarry Weak sinful folk, that God, with pitying eye, In mercy would his mercy multiply
On us, for reverence of his Mother Mary!”

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


… list … 1820.]

[Variant 2:


… by the Bier … 1820.]

[Variant 3:


This Abbot who had been a holy man
And was, as all Monks are, or ought to be, [a] 1820.]

[Variant 4:


For not long since was dealt the cruel blow, 1820.]

* * * * *


[Footnote A:

“Friday, 4th December 1801…. William translating ‘The Prioress’ Tale’.”

“Saturday, 5th. William finished ‘The Prioress’ Tale’, and after tea, Mary and he wrote it out”

(Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal).–Ed.]

[Footnote B: See ‘Il Penseroso’, l. 110.–Ed.]

[Footnote C: Chaucer’s phrase is “a litel clergeon,” Wordsworth’s, “a little scholar;” but “clergeon” is a chorister, not a scholar.–Ed.]

[Footnote D:

“Chaucer’s text is:

‘Thus hath this widow her litel child i-taught Our blissful lady, Criste’s moder deere, To worschip ay, and he forgat it nought; For sely child wil alway soone leere.’

‘For sely child wil alway soone leere,’ i.e. for a happy child will always learn soon. Wordsworth renders:

‘For simple infant hath a ready ear,’

and adds:

‘Sweet is the holiness of youth,’

extending the stanza to receive this addition from seven to eight lines, with an altered rhyme-system.”

(Professor Edward Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’, No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote E: Chaucer’s text is:

‘This litel child his litel book lernynge As he sat in the schole in his primere.’


[Footnote F: Chaucer’s text is:

‘And in a tombe of marble stoones clere Enclosed they this litel body swete.’


* * * * *


[Sub-Footnote a: This was erased in the ‘Errata’ of 1820, but it may be reproduced here.–Ed.]

* * * * *


Translated 1801. [A]–Published 1841 [B]

I The God of Love–_ah, benedicite!_ How mighty and how great a Lord is he! For he of low hearts can make high, of high He can make low, and unto death bring nigh; And hard hearts he can make them kind and free. [1] 5

II Within a little time, as hath been found, He can make sick folk whole and fresh and sound: Them who are whole in body and in mind, He can make sick,–bind can he and unbind All that he will have bound, or have unbound. 10

III To tell his might my wit may not suffice; Foolish men he can make them out of wise;– For he may do all that he will devise; Loose livers he can make abate their vice, And proud hearts can make tremble in a trice. 15

IV In brief, the whole of what he will, he may; Against him dare not any wight say nay; To humble or afflict whome’er he will, To gladden or to grieve, he hath like skill; But most his might he sheds on the eve of May. 20

V For every true heart, gentle heart and free, That with him is, or thinketh so to be, Now against May shall have some stirring–whether To joy, or be it to some mourning; never At other time, methinks, in like degree. 25

VI For now when they may hear the small birds’ song, And see the budding leaves the branches throng, This unto their remembrance doth bring All kinds of pleasure mix’d with sorrowing; And longing of sweet thoughts that ever long. 30

VII And of that longing heaviness doth come, Whence oft great sickness grows of heart and home; Sick are they all for lack of their desire; And thus in May their hearts are set on fire, So that they burn forth in great martyrdom. 35

VIII In sooth, I speak from feeling, what though now Old am I, and to genial pleasure slow; Yet have I felt of sickness through the May, Both hot and cold, and heart-aches every day,– How hard, alas! to bear, I only know. 40

IX Such shaking doth the fever in me keep Through all this May that I have little sleep; And also ’tis not likely unto me,
That any living heart should sleepy be In which Love’s dart its fiery point doth steep. 45

X But tossing lately on a sleepless bed, I of a token thought which Lovers heed; How among them it was a common tale, That it was good to hear the Nightingale, Ere the vile Cuckoo’s note be uttered. 50

XI And then I thought anon as it was day, I gladly would go somewhere to essay If I perchance a Nightingale might hear, For yet had I heard none, of all that year, And it was then the third night of the May. 55

XII And soon as I a glimpse of day espied, No longer would I in my bed abide, But straightway to a wood that was hard by, Forth did I go, alone and fearlessly, And held the pathway down by a brook-side; 60

XIII Till to a lawn I came all white and green, I in so fair a one had never been. The ground was green, with daisy powdered over; Tall were the flowers, the grove a lofty cover, All green and white; and nothing else was seen. [C] 65

XIV There sate I down among the fair fresh flowers, And saw the birds come tripping from their bowers, Where they had rested them all night; and they, Who were so joyful at the light of day, Began to honour May with all their powers. 70

XV Well did they know that service all by rote, And there was many and many a lovely note, Some, singing loud, as if they had complained; Some with their notes another manner feigned; And some did sing all out with the full throat. 75

XVI They pruned themselves, and made themselves right gay, Dancing and leaping light upon the spray; And ever two and two together were, The same as they had chosen for the year, Upon Saint Valentine’s returning day. 80

XVII Meanwhile the stream, whose bank I sate upon, Was making such a noise as it ran on Accordant to the sweet Birds’ harmony; Methought that it was the best melody Which ever to man’s ear a passage won. 85

XVIII And for delight, but how I never wot, I in a slumber and a swoon was caught, Not all asleep and yet not waking wholly; And as I lay, the Cuckoo, bird unholy, Broke silence, or I heard him in my thought. 90

XIX And that was right upon a tree fast by, And who was then ill satisfied but I? Now, God, quoth I, that died upon the rood, From thee and thy base throat, keep all that’s good, Full little joy have I now of thy cry. 95

XX And, as I with the Cuckoo thus ‘gan chide, In the next bush that was me fast beside, I heard the lusty Nightingale so sing, That her clear voice made a loud rioting, Echoing through all the green wood wide. [D] 100

XXI Ah! good sweet Nightingale! for my heart’s cheer, Hence hast thou stayed a little while too long; For we have had [2] the sorry Cuckoo here, And she hath been before thee with her song; Evil light on her! she hath done me wrong. 105

XXII But hear you now a wondrous thing, I pray; As long as in that swooning-fit I lay, Methought I wist right well what these birds meant, And had good knowing both of their intent, And of their speech, and all that they would say. 110

XXIII The Nightingale thus in my hearing spake:– Good Cuckoo, seek some other bush or brake, And, prithee, let us that can sing dwell here; For every wight eschews thy song to hear, Such uncouth singing verily dost thou make. 115

XXIV What! quoth she then, what is’t that ails thee now? It seems to me I sing as well as thou; For mine’s a song that is both true and plain,– Although I cannot quaver so in vain As thou dost in thy throat, I wot not how. 120

XXV All men may understanding have of me, But, Nightingale, so may they not of thee; For thou hast many a foolish and quaint cry:– Thou say’st, OSEE, OSEE, then how may I Have knowledge, I thee pray, what this may be? 125

XXVI Ah, fool! quoth she, wist thou not what it is? Oft as I say OSEE, OSEE, I wis,
Then mean I, that I should be wondrous fain That shamefully they one and all were slain, Whoever against Love mean aught amiss. 130

XXVII And also would I that they all were dead, Who do not think in love their life to lead; For who is both the God of Love to obey, Is only fit to die, I dare well say, And for that cause OSEE I cry; take heed! 135

XXVIII Ay, quoth the Cuckoo, that is a quaint law, That all must love or die; but I withdraw, And take my leave of all such company, For mine intent it neither is to die, Nor ever while I live Love’s yoke to draw. 140

XXIX For lovers of all folk that be alive, The most disquiet have and least do thrive; Most feeling have of sorrow [3] woe and care, And the least welfare cometh to their share; What need is there against the truth to strive? 145

XXX What! quoth she, thou art all out of thy mind, That in thy churlishness a cause canst find To speak of Love’s true Servants in this mood; For in this world no service is so good To every wight that gentle is of kind. 150

XXXI For thereof comes all goodness and all worth; All gentiless [4] and honour thence come forth; Thence worship comes, content and true heart’s pleasure, And full-assured trust, joy without measure, And jollity, fresh cheerfulness, and mirth; 155

XXXII And bounty, lowliness, and courtesy, And seemliness, and faithful company, And dread of shame that will not do amiss; For he that faithfully Love’s servant is, Rather than be disgraced, would chuse to die. 160

XXXIII And that the very truth it is which I Now say–in such belief I’ll live and die; And Cuckoo, do thou so, by my advice. Then, quoth she, let me never hope for bliss, If with that counsel I do e’er comply. 165

XXXIV Good Nightingale! thou speakest wondrous fair, Yet for all that, the truth is found elsewhere; For Love in young folk is but rage, I wis; And Love in old folk a great dotage is; Who most it useth, him ’twill most impair. 170

XXXV For thereof come all contraries to gladness; Thence sickness comes, and overwhelming sadness, Mistrust and jealousy, despite, debate, Dishonour, shame, envy importunate, Pride, anger, mischief, poverty, and madness. 175

XXXVI Loving is aye an office of despair, And one thing is therein which is not fair; For whoso gets of love a little bliss, Unless it alway stay with him, I wis He may full soon go with an old man’s hair. 180

XXXVII And, therefore, Nightingale! do thou keep nigh, For trust me well, in spite of thy quaint cry, If long time from thy mate thou be, or far, Thou’lt be as others that forsaken are; Then shall thou raise a clamour as do I. 185

XXXVIII Fie, quoth she, on thy name, Bird ill beseen! The God of Love afflict thee with all teen, For thou art worse than mad a thousand fold; For many a one hath virtues manifold, Who had been nought, if Love had never been. 190

XXXIX For evermore his servants Love amendeth, And he from every blemish them defendeth; And maketh them to burn, as in a fire, In loyalty, and worshipful desire, And, when it likes him, joy enough them sendeth. 195

XL Thou Nightingale! the Cuckoo said, be still, For Love no reason hath but his own will;– For to th’ untrue he oft gives ease and joy; True lovers doth so bitterly annoy, He lets them perish through that grievous ill. 200

XLI With such a master would I never be; [E] For he, in sooth, is blind, and may not see, And knows not when he hurts and when he heals; Within this court full seldom Truth avails, So diverse in his wilfulness is he. 205

XLII Then of the Nightingale did I take note, How from her inmost heart a sigh she brought, And said, Alas! that ever I was born, Not one word have I now, I am so forlorn,– And with that word, she into tears burst out. 210

XLIII Alas, alas! my very heart will break, Quoth she, to hear this churlish bird thus speak Of Love, and of his holy services; Now, God of Love! thou help me in some wise, That vengeance on this Cuckoo I may wreak. 215

XLIV And so methought I started up anon, And to the brook I ran and got a stone, Which at the Cuckoo hardily I cast, And he for dread did fly away full fast; And glad, in sooth, was I when he was gone. 220

XLV And as he flew, the Cuckoo, ever and aye, Kept crying, “Farewell!–farewell, Popinjay!” As if in scornful mockery of me;
And on I hunted him from tree to tree, Till he was far, all out of sight, away. 225

XLVI Then straightway came the Nightingale to me, And said, Forsooth, my friend, do I thank thee, That thou wert near to rescue me; and now Unto the God of Love I make a vow, That all this May I will thy songstress be. 230

XLVII Well satisfied, I thanked her, and she said, By this mishap no longer be dismayed, Though thou the Cuckoo heard, ere thou heard’st me; Yet if I live it shall amended be, When next May comes, if I am not afraid. 235

XLVIII And one thing will I counsel thee also, The Cuckoo trust not thou, nor his Love’s saw; All that she said is an outrageous lie. Nay, nothing shall me bring thereto, quoth I, For Love, and it hath done me mighty woe. 240

XLIX Yea, hath it? use, quoth she, this medicine; This May-time, every day before thou dine, Go look on the fresh daisy; then say I, Although for pain thou may’st be like to die, Thou wilt be eased, and less wilt droop and pine. 245

L And mind always that thou be good and true, And I will sing one song, of many new, For love of thee, as loud as I may cry; And then did she begin this song full high, “Beshrew all them that are in love untrue.” 250

LI And soon as she had sung it to the end, Now farewell, quoth she, for I hence must wend; And, God of Love, that can right well and may, Send unto thee as mickle joy this day, As ever he to Lover yet did send. 255

LII Thus takes the Nightingale her leave of me; I pray to God with her always to be, And joy of love to send her evermore; And shield us from the Cuckoo and her lore, For there is not so false a bird as she. 260

LIII Forth then she flew, the gentle Nightingale, To all the Birds that lodged within that dale, And gathered each and all into one place; And them besought to hear her doleful case, And thus it was that she began her tale. 265

LIV The Cuckoo–’tis not well that I should hide How she and I did each the other chide, And without ceasing, since it was daylight; And now I pray you all to do me right Of that false Bird whom Love can not abide. 270

LV Then spake one Bird, and full assent all gave; This matter asketh counsel good as grave, For birds we are–all here together brought; And, in good sooth, the Cuckoo here is not; And therefore we a Parliament will have. 275

LVI And thereat shall the Eagle be our Lord, And other Peers whose names are on record; A summons to the Cuckoo shall be sent, And judgment there be given; or that intent Failing, we finally shall make accord. 280

LVII And all this shall be done, without a nay, The morrow after Saint Valentine’s day, Under a maple that is well beseen, Before the chamber-window of the Queen, At Woodstock, on the meadow green and gay. 285

LVIII She thanked them; and then her leave she took, And flew into a hawthorn by that brook; And there she sate and sung–upon that tree– “For term of life Love shall have hold of me”– So loudly, that I with that song awoke. 290

Unlearned Book and rude, as well I know, For beauty thou hast none, nor eloquence, Who did on thee the hardiness bestow To appear before my Lady? but a sense Thou surely hast of her benevolence, 295 Whereof her hourly bearing proof doth give; For of all good she is the best alive.

Alas, poor Book! for thy unworthiness, To show to her some pleasant meanings writ In winning words, since through her gentiless, [5] 300 Thee she accepts as for her service fit! Oh! it repents me I have neither wit Nor leisure unto thee more worth to give; For of all good she is the best alive.

Beseech her meekly with all lowliness, 305 Though I be far from her I reverence, To think upon my truth and stedfastness, And to abridge my sorrow’s violence, Caused by the wish, as knows your sapience, She of her liking proof to me would give; 310 For of all good she is the best alive.

L’ENVOY Pleasure’s Aurora, Day of gladsomeness! Luna by night, with heavenly influence Illumined! root of beauty and goodnesse, Write, and allay, by your beneficence, 315 My sighs breathed forth in silence,–comfort give! Since of all good, you are the best alive.


* * * * *


[Variant 1: In 1819 Wordsworth wrote the opening stanza of his version of ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’, in the album of Mrs. Calvert at Keswick, thus:

‘The God of Love–ah, benedicite!’
How mighty and how great a Lord is He! High can he make the heart that’s low and poor, And high hearts low–through pains that they endure, And hard hearts, He can make them kind and free.

W. W., Nov. 27, 1819.]

[Variant 2:


… have heard … 1841.]

[Variant 3:


… sorrow’s … 1841.]

[Variant 4:


… gentleness … 1841.]

[Variant 5:


… gentleness, … 1841.]

* * * * *


[Footnote A: The following extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal show the date of the composition of this poem.

“Sunday, 6th December 1801. A very fine beautiful sun-shiny morning. William worked a while at Chaucer; then he set forward to walk into Easdale…. In the afternoon I read Chaucer aloud.”

“Monday, 7th…. William at work with Chaucer, ‘The God of Love’….”

“8th November … William worked at ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ till he was tired.”

“Wednesday, December 9th. I read ‘Palemon and Arcite’, William writing out his alterations of Chaucer’s ‘Cuckoo and Nightingale’.”

The question as to whether ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ was written by Chaucer or not, may be solved either way without affecting the literary value of Wordsworth’s “modernisation” of it.–Ed.]

[Footnote B: In ‘The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernised’.–Ed.]

[Footnote C:

“In ‘The Cuckoo and Nightingale’, a poem of the third of May–a date corresponding to the mid-May, the very heart of May according to our modern reckoning–the poet after a wakeful night rises, and goes forth at dawn, and comes to a ‘laund’ or plain ‘of white and green.’

‘So feire oon had I nevere in bene, The grounde was grene, y poudred with dayse, The floures and the gras ilike al hie, Al grene and white, was nothing elles sene.’

Nothing seen but the short green grass and the white daisies,–grass and daisies being of equal height. Unfortunately in Tyrwhitt’s text the description is nonsensical,

‘The flowres and the greves like hie.’

The daisy flowers are as high as the _groves_! Wordsworth retained the groves, but refused to make daisies of equal height with them.

‘Tall were the flowers, the grove a lofty cover, All green and white; and nothing else was seen.'”

(Professor Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’. No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote D:

“In Chaucer’s poem, after ‘the cuckoo, bird unholy,’ has said his evil say, the Nightingale breaks forth ‘so lustily,’

‘That with her clere voys she made rynge Thro out alle the grene wode wide,’

Wordsworth has taken a poet’s licence with these lines:

‘I heard the lusty Nightingale so sing, That her clear voice made ‘a loud rioting’, Echoing through all the green wood wide.’

This ‘loud rioting’ is Wordsworth’s, not Chaucer’s; and it belongs, as it were, to that other passage of his:

‘O Nightingale, thou surely art
A creature of a fiery heart,
These notes of thine–they pierce and pierce; Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
Thou sing’st as if the God of wine Had helped thee to a Valentine.'”

(Professor Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’, No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote E: From a manuscript in the Bodleian, as are also stanzas 44 and 45–W. W.

(1841), which are necessary to complete the sense–W. W. (added in 1842).]

* * * * *


Translated 1801.–Published 1841 [A]

Next morning Troilus began to clear
His eyes from sleep, at the first break of day, And unto Pandarus, his own Brother dear, For love of God, full piteously did say, We must the Palace see of Cresida; 5 For since we yet may have no other feast, Let us behold her Palace at the least!

And therewithal to cover his intent
A cause he found into the Town to go, [B] And they right forth to Cresid’s Palace went; 10 But, Lord, this simple Troilus was woe, Him thought his sorrowful heart would break [1] in two; For when he saw her doors fast bolted all, Well nigh for sorrow down he ‘gan to fall.

Therewith when this true Lover ‘gan behold, 15 How shut was every window of the place, Like frost he thought his heart was icy cold; For which, with changed, pale, and deadly face, Without word uttered, forth he ‘gan to pace; And on his purpose bent so fast to ride, 20 That no wight his continuance espied. [C]

Then said he thus,–O Palace desolate! O house of houses, once so richly dight! O Palace empty and disconsolate!
Thou lamp of which extinguished is the light; 25 O Palace whilom day that now art night, Thou ought’st to fall and I to die; since she Is gone who held us both in sovereignty.

O, of all houses once the crowned boast! Palace illumined with the sun of bliss; 30 O ring of which the ruby now is lost,
O cause of woe, that cause has [2] been of bliss: Yet, since I may no better, would I kiss Thy cold doors; but I dare not for this rout; Farewell, thou shrine of which the Saint is out! 35

Therewith he cast on Pandarus an eye, [3] With changed face, and piteous to behold; And when he might his time aright espy, Aye as he rode, to Pandarus he told
Both his new sorrow and his joys of old, 40 So piteously, and with so dead a hue,
That every wight might on his sorrow rue.

Forth from the spot he rideth up and down, And everything to his rememberance
Came as he rode by places of the town 45 Where he had felt such perfect pleasure once. Lo, yonder saw I mine own Lady dance,
And in that Temple she with her bright eyes, My Lady dear, first bound me captive-wise.

And yonder with joy-smitten heart have I 50 Heard my own Cresid’s laugh; and once at play I yonder saw her eke full blissfully;
And yonder once she unto me ‘gan say– Now, my sweet Troilus, love me well, I pray! And there so graciously did me behold, 55 That hers unto the death my heart I hold.

And at the corner of that self-same house Heard I my most beloved Lady dear,
So womanly, with voice melodious
Singing so well, so goodly, and so clear, 60 That in my soul methinks I yet do hear
The blissful sound; and in that very place My Lady first me took unto her grace.

O blissful God of Love! then thus he cried, When I the process have in memory, 65 How thou hast wearied [D] me on every side, Men thence a book might make, a history; What need to seek a conquest over me,
Since I am wholly at thy will? what joy Hast thou thy own liege subjects to destroy? 70

Dread Lord! so fearful when provoked, thine ire Well hast thou wreaked on me by pain and grief; Now mercy, Lord! thou know’st well I desire Thy grace above all pleasures first and chief; And live and die I will in thy belief; 75 For which I ask for guerdon but one boon, That Cresida again thou send me soon.

Constrain her heart as quickly to return, As thou dost mine with longing her to see, Then know I well that she would not sojourn. 80 Now, blissful Lord, so cruel do not be
Unto the blood of Troy, I pray of thee, As Juno was unto the Theban blood,
From whence to Thebes came griefs in multitude.

And after this he to the gate did go 85 Whence Cresid rode, as if in haste she was; And up and down there went, and to and fro, And to himself full oft he said, alas!
From hence my hope, and solace forth did pass. O would the blissful God now for his joy, 90 I might her see again coming to Troy!

And up to yonder hill was I her guide; Alas, and there I took of her my leave; Yonder I saw her to her Father ride,
For very grief of which my heart shall cleave;–95 And hither home I came when it was eve; And here I dwell an outcast from all joy, And shall, unless I see her soon in Troy.

And of himself did he imagine oft,
That he was blighted, pale, and waxen less 100 Than he was wont; and that in whispers soft Men said, what may it be, can no one guess Why Troilus hath all this heaviness?
All which he of himself conceited wholly Out of his weakness and his melancholy. 105

Another time he took into his head,
That every wight, who in the way passed by, Had of him ruth, and fancied that they said, I am right sorry Troilus will die:
And thus a day or two drove wearily; 110 As ye have heard; such life ‘gan he to lead As one that standeth betwixt hope and dread.

For which it pleased him in his songs to show The occasion of his woe, as best he might; And made a fitting song, of words [4] but few, 115 Somewhat his woeful heart to make more light; And when he was removed from all men’s sight, With a soft night voice, [5] he of his Lady dear, That absent was, ‘gan sing as ye may hear.

O star, of which I lost have all the light, 120 With a sore heart well ought I to bewail, That ever dark in torment, night by night, Toward my death with wind I steer and sail; [E] For which upon the tenth night if thou fail With thy bright beams to guide me but one hour, 125 My ship and me Charybdis will devour.

As soon as he this song had thus sung through, He fell again into his sorrows old;
And every night, as was his wont to do, Troilus stood the bright moon to behold; 130 And all his trouble to the moon he told, And said; I wis, when thou art horn’d anew, I shall be glad if all the world be true.

Thy horns were old as now upon that morrow, When hence did journey my bright Lady dear, 135 That cause is of my torment and my sorrow; For which, oh, gentle Luna, bright and clear, For love of God, run fast above [F] thy sphere; For when thy horns begin once more to spring, Then shall she come, that with her bliss may bring. 140

The day is more, and longer every night Than they were wont to be–for he thought so; And that the sun did take his course not right, By longer way than he was wont to go;
And said, I am in constant dread I trow, 145 That Phaeeton his son is yet alive,
His too fond father’s car amiss to drive.

Upon the walls fast also would he walk, To the end that he the Grecian host might see; And ever thus he to himself would talk:–150 Lo! yonder is my [6] own bright Lady free; Or yonder is it that the tents must be; And thence does come this air which is so sweet, That in my soul I feel the joy of it.

And certainly this wind, that more and more 155 By moments thus increaseth in my face,
Is of my Lady’s sighs heavy and sore; I prove it thus; for in no other space
Of all this town, save only in this place, Feel I a wind, that soundeth so like pain; 160 It saith, Alas, why severed are we twain?

A weary while in pain he tosseth thus, Till fully past and gone was the ninth night; And ever [7] at his side stood Pandarus, Who busily made use of all his might 165 To comfort him, and make his heart more light; [8] Giving him always hope, that she the morrow Of the tenth day will come, and end his sorrow.

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


… burst 1841.]

[Variant 2:


… hast … 1841.]

[Variant 3:


… his eye, 1841.]

[Variant 4:


… whose words … 1841.]

[Variant 5:


With a soft voice, … 1841.]

[Variant 6:


… mine … 1841.]

[Variant 7: The “even” of 1841 is evidently a misprint.]

[Variant 8:


… too light; 1841.]

* * * * *


[Footnote A: In ‘The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernised’. It is an extract from ‘Troilus and Cressida’, book v. ll. 518-686.–Ed.]

[Footnote B:

“Chaucer’s text is:

‘And therwithalle his meynye for to blende A cause he fonde in toune for to go.’

‘His meynye for to blende,’ i. e. to keep his household or his domestics in the dark. But Wordsworth writes:

‘And therewithal to cover his _intent_,’

possibly mistaking ‘meynye’ for ‘meaning’.”

(Professor Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’, No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote C:

“When Troilus sees the shut windows and desolate aspect of his lady’s house, his face grows blanched, and he rides past in haste, so fast, says Wordsworth,

‘That no wight his continuance espied.’

But in Chaucer he rides fast that his white face may not be noticed:

‘And as God wolde he gan so faste ride That no wight of his countenance espied.'”

(Professor Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’, No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote D: In Chaucer “werreyed” = warred on = fought against.–Ed.]

[Footnote E:

“‘Toward my death with wind I steer and sail.’

This is Urry’s version, but Chaucer’s text is,

‘Toward my death, with wind _in stern_ I sail,’

Troilus’ bark careering towards death, with all sails set, before a fierce stern-wind.”

(Professor Dowden, in the ‘Transactions of the Wordsworth Society’, No. III.)–Ed.]

[Footnote F: In Chaucer “aboute” = around.–Ed.]

* * * * *


The Lyrical Ballads and Sonnets which follow were written in 1802; but during that year Wordsworth continued mainly to work at ‘The Excursion’, as the following extracts from his sister’s Journal indicate:

“Feb. 1, 1802.–William worked hard at ‘The Pedlar,’ and tired himself.

2nd Feb.–Wm. worked at ‘The Pedlar.’ I read aloud the 11th book of ‘Paradise Lost’.

Thursday, 4th.–William thought a little about ‘The Pedlar.’

5th.–Wm. sate up late at ‘The Pedlar.’

7th.–W. was working at his poem. Wm. read ‘The Pedlar,’ thinking it was done. But lo! … it was uninteresting, and must be altered.”

Similar records occur each day in the Journal from the 10th to the 14th Feb. 1802.–Ed.

* * * * *


Composed March 11th and 12th, 1802.–Published 1807

[Written in Town-end, Grasmere. I met this woman near the Wishing-gate, on the high road that then led from Grasmere to Ambleside. Her appearance was exactly as here described, and such was her account, nearly to the letter.–I.F.]

One of the “Poems founded on the Affections.”–Ed.

One morning (raw it was and wet–
A foggy day in winter time)
A Woman on [1] the road I met,
Not old, though something past her prime: Majestic in her person, tall and straight; 5 And like a Roman matron’s was her mien and gait.

The ancient spirit is not dead;
Old times, thought I, are breathing there; Proud was I that my country bred
Such strength, a dignity so fair: 10 She begged an alms, like one in poor estate; I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate.

When from these lofty thoughts I woke, “What is it,” said I, “that you bear,
Beneath the covert of your Cloak, 15 Protected from this cold damp air?” [2] She answered, soon as she the question heard, “A simple burthen, Sir, a little Singing-bird.”

And, thus continuing, she said,
“I had a Son, who many a day 20 Sailed on the seas, but he is dead; [3] In Denmark he was cast away:
And I have travelled weary miles to see If aught which he had owned might still remain for me. [4]

“The bird and cage they both were his: 25 ‘Twas my Son’s bird; and neat and trim
He kept it: many voyages
The singing-bird had gone [5] with him; When last he sailed, he left the bird behind; From bodings, as might be, that hung upon his mind. [6] 30

“He to a fellow-lodger’s care
Had left it, to be watched and fed, And pipe its song in safety;–there [7] I found it when my Son was dead;
And now, God help me for my little wit! 35 I bear [8] it with me, Sir;–he took so much delight in it.”

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


… in … 1807.]

[Variant 2:


… I woke,
With the first word I had to spare I said to her, “Beneath your Cloak
What’s that which on your arm you bear?” 1807.

“What treasure,” said I,”do you bear, Beneath the covert of your Cloak
Protected from the cold damp air?” 1820.]

[Variant 3:


“I had a Son,–the waves might roar, He feared them not, a Sailor gay!
But he will cross the waves no more: 1820.

… cross the deep … 1827.

The text of 1832 returns to that of 1807. [a]]

[Variant 4:


And I have been as far as Hull, to see What clothes he might have left, or other property. 1807.

And I have travelled far as Hull, to see 1815.

And I have travelled many miles to see If aught which he had owned might still remain for me. 1820.]

[Variant 5:


This Singing-bird hath gone … 1807.

… had gone … 1820.]

[Variant 6:


As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind. 1807.]

[Variant 7:


Till he came back again; and there 1807.]

[Variant 8:


I trail … 1807.]

* * * * *


[Sub-Footnote a: This return, in 1832, to the original text of the poem was due to Barren Field’s criticism, the justice of which Wordsworth admitted.–Ed.]

In the Wordsworth household this poem went by the name of “The Singing Bird” as well as ‘The Sailor’s Mother’.

“Thursday (March 11th).–A fine morning. William worked at the poem of ‘The Singing Bird.’ …”

“Friday (March 12th).–William finished his poem of ‘The Singing Bird.'”

(Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal.)–Ed.

* * * * *


Composed March 12th and 13th, 1802.–Published 1807

[Written to gratify Mr. Graham of Glasgow, brother of the author of ‘The Sabbath’. He was a zealous coadjutor of Mr. Clarkson, and a man of ardent humanity. The incident had happened to himself, and he urged me to put it into verse, for humanity’s sake. The humbleness, meanness if you like, of the subject, together with the homely mode of treating it, brought upon me a world of ridicule by the small critics, so that in policy I excluded it from many editions of my poems, till it was restored at the request of some of my friends, in particular my son-in-law, Edward Quillinan.–I.F.]

It was only excluded from the editions of 1820, 1827, and 1832. In the edition of 1807 it was placed amongst a group of “Poems composed during a Tour, chiefly on foot.” In 1815, in 1836, and afterwards, it was included in the group “referring to the Period of Childhood.”

In Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, the following reference to this poem occurs:

“Feb. 16, 1802.–Mr. Graham said he wished William had been with him the other day. He was riding in a post-chaise, and he heard a strange cry that he could not understand. The sound continued, and he called to the chaise-driver to stop. It was a little girl that was crying as if her heart would burst. She had got up behind the chaise, and her cloak had been caught by the wheel, and was jammed in, and it hung there. She was crying after it, poor thing. Mr. Graham took her into the chaise, and her cloak was released from the wheel, but the child’s misery did not cease, for her cloak was torn to rags. It had been a miserable cloak before; but she had no other, and it was the greatest sorrow that could befall her. Her name was Alice Fell. She had no parents, and belonged to the next town. At the next town Mr. G. left money to buy her a new cloak.”

“Friday (March 12).–In the evening after tea William wrote ‘Alice Fell’.”

“Saturday Morning (13th March).–William finished ‘Alice Fell’….”


The post-boy drove with fierce career, For threatening clouds the moon had drowned; When, as we hurried on, my ear
Was smitten with a startling sound. [1]

As if the wind blew many ways, 5 I heard the sound,–and more and more;
It seemed to follow with the chaise, And still I heard it as before.

At length I to the boy called out;
He stopped his horses at the word, 10 But neither cry, nor voice, nor shout,
Nor aught else like it, could be heard.

The boy then smacked his whip, and fast The horses scampered through the rain;
But, hearing soon upon the blast 15 The cry, I bade him halt again. [2]

Forthwith alighting on the ground,
“Whence comes,” said I, “this piteous moan?” [3] And there a little Girl I found,
Sitting behind the chaise, alone. 20

“My cloak!” no other word she spake, But loud and bitterly she wept,
As if her innocent heart would break; [4] And down from off her seat [5] she leapt.

“What ails you, child?”–she sobbed “Look here!” 25 I saw it in the wheel entangled,
A weather-beaten rag as e’er
From any garden scare-crow dangled.

There, twisted between nave and spoke, It hung, nor could at once be freed; 30 But our joint pains unloosed the cloak, [6] A miserable rag indeed! [7]

“And whither are you going, child,
To-night along these lonesome ways?” “To Durham,” answered she, half wild–35 “Then come with me into the chaise.”

Insensible to all relief
Sat the poor girl, and forth did send Sob after sob, as if her grief [8]
Could never, never have an end. 40

“My child, in Durham do you dwell?”
She checked herself in her distress, And said, “My name is Alice Fell;
I’m fatherless and motherless.

“And I to Durham, Sir, belong.” 45 Again, [9] as if the thought would choke Her very heart, her grief grew strong;
And all was for her tattered cloak!

The chaise drove on; our journey’s end Was nigh; and, sitting by my side, 50 As if she had lost [10] her only friend She wept, nor would be pacified.

Up to the tavern-door we post;
Of Alice and her grief I told;
And I gave money to the host, 55 To buy a new cloak for the old.

“And let it be of duffil grey,
As warm a cloak as man can sell!”
Proud creature was she the next day, The little orphan, Alice Fell! 60

* * * * *


[Variant 1:


When suddenly I seem’d to hear
A moan, a lamentable sound. 1807.]

[Variant 2:


And soon I heard upon the blast
The voice, and bade …. 1807.]

[Variant 3: