Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works




          IT was a beautiful and silent day
          That overspread the countenance of earth,
          Then fading with unusual quietness,--
          A day as beautiful as e'er was given
          To soothe regret, though deepening what it soothed,
          When by the gliding Loire I paused, and cast
          Upon his rich domains, vineyard and tilth,
          Green meadow-ground, and many-coloured woods,
          Again, and yet again, a farewell look;
          Then from the quiet of that scene passed on,                10
          Bound to the fierce Metropolis. From his throne
          The King had fallen, and that invading host--
          Presumptuous cloud, on whose black front was written
          The tender mercies of the dismal wind
          That bore it--on the plains of Liberty
          Had burst innocuous. Say in bolder words,
          They--who had come elate as eastern hunters
          Banded beneath the Great Mogul, when he
          Erewhile went forth from Agra or Lahore,
          Rajahs and Omrahs in his train, intent                      20
          To drive their prey enclosed within a ring
          Wide as a province, but, the signal given,
          Before the point of the life-threatening spear
          Narrowing itself by moments--they, rash men,
          Had seen the anticipated quarry turned
          Into avengers, from whose wrath they fled
          In terror. Disappointment and dismay
          Remained for all whose fancies had run wild
          With evil expectations; confidence
          And perfect triumph for the better cause.                   30

            The State--as if to stamp the final seal
          On her security, and to the world
          Show what she was, a high and fearless soul,
          Exulting in defiance, or heart-stung
          By sharp resentment, or belike to taunt
          With spiteful gratitude the baffled League,
          That had stirred up her slackening faculties
          To a new transition--when the King was crushed,
          Spared not the empty throne, and in proud haste
          Assumed the body and venerable name                         40
          Of a Republic. Lamentable crimes,
          'Tis true, had gone before this hour, dire work
          Of massacre, in which the senseless sword
          Was prayed to as a judge; but these were past,
          Earth free from them for ever, as was thought,--
          Ephemeral monsters, to be seen but once!
          Things that could only show themselves and die.

            Cheered with this hope, to Paris I returned,
          And ranged, with ardour heretofore unfelt,
          The spacious city, and in progress passed                   50
          The prison where the unhappy Monarch lay,
          Associate with his children and his wife
          In bondage; and the palace, lately stormed
          With roar of cannon by a furious host.
          I crossed the square (an empty area then!)
          Of the Carrousel, where so late had lain
          The dead, upon the dying heaped, and gazed
          On this and other spots, as doth a man
          Upon a volume whose contents he knows
          Are memorable, but from him locked up,                      60
          Being written in a tongue he cannot read,
          So that he questions the mute leaves with pain,
          And half upbraids their silence. But that night
          I felt most deeply in what world I was,
          What ground I trod on, and what air I breathed.
          High was my room and lonely, near the roof
          Of a large mansion or hotel, a lodge
          That would have pleased me in more quiet times;
          Nor was it wholly without pleasure then.
          With unextinguished taper I kept watch,                     70
          Reading at intervals; the fear gone by
          Pressed on me almost like a fear to come.
          I thought of those September massacres,
          Divided from me by one little month,
          Saw them and touched: the rest was conjured up
          From tragic fictions or true history,
          Remembrances and dim admonishments.
          The horse is taught his manage, and no star
          Of wildest course but treads back his own steps;
          For the spent hurricane the air provides                    80
          As fierce a successor; the tide retreats
          But to return out of its hiding-place
          In the great deep; all things have second birth;
          The earthquake is not satisfied at once;
          And in this way I wrought upon myself,
          Until I seemed to hear a voice that cried,
          To the whole city, "Sleep no more." The trance
          Fled with the voice to which it had given birth;
          But vainly comments of a calmer mind
          Promised soft peace and sweet forgetfulness.                90
          The place, all hushed and silent as it was,
          Appeared unfit for the repose of night,
          Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam.

            With early morning towards the Palace-walk
          Of Orleans eagerly I turned: as yet
          The streets were still; not so those long Arcades;
          There, 'mid a peal of ill-matched sounds and cries,
          That greeted me on entering, I could hear
          Shrill voices from the hawkers in the throng,
          Bawling, "Denunciation of the Crimes                       100
          Of Maximilian Robespierre;" the hand,
          Prompt as the voice, held forth a printed speech,
          The same that had been recently pronounced,
          When Robespierre, not ignorant for what mark
          Some words of indirect reproof had been
          Intended, rose in hardihood, and dared
          The man who had an ill surmise of him
          To bring his charge in openness; whereat,
          When a dead pause ensued, and no one stirred,
          In silence of all present, from his seat                   110
          Louvet walked single through the avenue,
          And took his station in the Tribune, saying,
          "I, Robespierre, accuse thee!" Well is known
          The inglorious issue of that charge, and how
          He, who had launched the startling thunderbolt,
          The one bold man, whose voice the attack had sounded,
          Was left without a follower to discharge
          His perilous duty, and retire lamenting
          That Heaven's best aid is wasted upon men
          Who to themselves are false.
                                        But these are things         120
          Of which I speak, only as they were storm
          Or sunshine to my individual mind,
          No further. Let me then relate that now--
          In some sort seeing with my proper eyes
          That Liberty, and Life, and Death, would soon
          To the remotest corners of the land
          Lie in the arbitrement of those who ruled
          The capital City; what was struggled for,
          And by what combatants victory must be won;
          The indecision on their part whose aim                     130
          Seemed best, and the straightforward path of those
          Who in attack or in defence were strong
          Through their impiety--my inmost soul
          Was agitated; yea, I could almost
          Have prayed that throughout earth upon all men,
          By patient exercise of reason made
          Worthy of liberty, all spirits filled
          With zeal expanding in Truth's holy light,
          The gift of tongues might fall, and power arrive
          From the four quarters of the winds to do                  140
          For France, what without help she could not do,
          A work of honour; think not that to this
          I added, work of safety: from all doubt
          Or trepidation for the end of things
          Far was I, far as angels are from guilt.

            Yet did I grieve, nor only grieved, but thought
          Of opposition and of remedies:
          An insignificant stranger and obscure,
          And one, moreover, little graced with power
          Of eloquence even in my native speech,                     150
          And all unfit for tumult or intrigue,
          Yet would I at this time with willing heart
          Have undertaken for a cause so great
          Service however dangerous. I revolved,
          How much the destiny of Man had still
          Hung upon single persons; that there was,
          Transcendent to all local patrimony,
          One nature, as there is one sun in heaven;
          That objects, even as they are great, thereby
          Do come within the reach of humblest eyes;                 160
          That Man is only weak through his mistrust
          And want of hope where evidence divine
          Proclaims to him that hope should be most sure;
          Nor did the inexperience of my youth
          Preclude conviction, that a spirit strong
          In hope, and trained to noble aspirations,
          A spirit thoroughly faithful to itself,
          Is for Society's unreasoning herd
          A domineering instinct, serves at once
          For way and guide, a fluent receptacle                     170
          That gathers up each petty straggling rill
          And vein of water, glad to be rolled on
          In safe obedience; that a mind, whose rest
          Is where it ought to be, in self-restraint,
          In circumspection and simplicity,
          Falls rarely in entire discomfiture
          Below its aim, or meets with, from without,
          A treachery that foils it or defeats;
          And, lastly, if the means on human will,
          Frail human will, dependent should betray                  180
          Him who too boldly trusted them, I felt
          That 'mid the loud distractions of the world
          A sovereign voice subsists within the soul,
          Arbiter undisturbed of right and wrong,
          Of life and death, in majesty severe
          Enjoining, as may best promote the aims
          Of truth and justice, either sacrifice,
          From whatsoever region of our cares
          Or our infirm affections Nature pleads,
          Earnest and blind, against the stern decree.               190

            On the other side, I called to mind those truths
          That are the commonplaces of the schools--
          (A theme for boys, too hackneyed for their sires,)
          Yet, with a revelation's liveliness,
          In all their comprehensive bearings known
          And visible to philosophers of old,
          Men who, to business of the world untrained,
          Lived in the shade; and to Harmodius known
          And his compeer Aristogiton, known
          To Brutus--that tyrannic power is weak,                    200
          Hath neither gratitude, nor faith, nor love,
          Nor the support of good or evil men
          To trust in; that the godhead which is ours
          Can never utterly be charmed or stilled;
          That nothing hath a natural right to last
          But equity and reason; that all else
          Meets foes irreconcilable, and at best
          Lives only by variety of disease.

            Well might my wishes be intense, my thoughts
          Strong and perturbed, not doubting at that time            210
          But that the virtue of one paramount mind
          Would have abashed those impious crests--have quelled
          Outrage and bloody power, and--in despite
          Of what the People long had been and were
          Through ignorance and false teaching, sadder proof
          Of immaturity, and--in the teeth
          Of desperate opposition from without--
          Have cleared a passage for just government,
          And left a solid birthright to the State,
          Redeemed, according to example given                       220
          By ancient lawgivers.
                                 In this frame of mind,
          Dragged by a chain of harsh necessity,
          So seemed it,--now I thankfully acknowledge,
          Forced by the gracious providence of Heaven,--
          To England I returned, else (though assured
          That I both was and must be of small weight,
          No better than a landsman on the deck
          Of a ship struggling with a hideous storm)
          Doubtless, I should have then made common cause
          With some who perished; haply perished too,                230
          A poor mistaken and bewildered offering,--
          Should to the breast of Nature have gone back,
          With all my resolutions, all my hopes,
          A Poet only to myself, to men
          Useless, and even, beloved Friend! a soul
          To thee unknown!
                            Twice had the trees let fall
          Their leaves, as often Winter had put on
          His hoary crown, since I had seen the surge
          Beat against Albion's shore, since ear of mine
          Had caught the accents of my native speech                 240
          Upon our native country's sacred ground.
          A patriot of the world, how could I glide
          Into communion with her sylvan shades,
          Erewhile my tuneful haunt? It pleased me more
          To abide in the great City, where I found
          The general air still busy with the stir
          Of that first memorable onset made
          By a strong levy of humanity
          Upon the traffickers in Negro blood;
          Effort which, though defeated, had recalled                250
          To notice old forgotten principles,
          And through the nation spread a novel heat
          Of virtuous feeling. For myself, I own
          That this particular strife had wanted power
          To rivet my affections; nor did now
          Its unsuccessful issue much excite
          My sorrow; for I brought with me the faith
          That, if France prospered, good men would not long
          Pay fruitless worship to humanity,
          And this most rotten branch of human shame,                260
          Object, so seemed it, of superfluous pains
          Would fall together with its parent tree.
          What, then, were my emotions, when in arms
          Britain put forth her free-born strength in league,
          Oh, pity and shame! with those confederate Powers!
          Not in my single self alone I found,
          But in the minds of all ingenuous youth,
          Change and subversion from that hour. No shock
          Given to my moral nature had I known
          Down to that very moment; neither lapse                    270
          Nor turn of sentiment that might be named
          A revolution, save at this one time;
          All else was progress on the self-same path
          On which, with a diversity of pace,
          I had been travelling: this a stride at once
          Into another region. As a light
          And pliant harebell, swinging in the breeze
          On some grey rock--its birth-place--so had I
          Wantoned, fast rooted on the ancient tower
          Of my beloved country, wishing not                         280
          A happier fortune than to wither there:
          Now was I from that pleasant station torn
          And tossed about in whirlwind. I rejoiced,
          Yea, afterwards--truth most painful to record!--
          Exulted, in the triumph of my soul,
          When Englishmen by thousands were o'erthrown,
          Left without glory on the field, or driven,
          Brave hearts! to shameful flight. It was a grief,--
          Grief call it not, 'twas anything but that,--
          A conflict of sensations without name,                     290
          Of which 'he' only, who may love the sight
          Of a village steeple, as I do, can judge,
          When, in the congregation bending all
          To their great Father, prayers were offered up,
          Or praises for our country's victories;
          And, 'mid the simple worshippers, perchance
          I only, like an uninvited guest
          Whom no one owned, sate silent, shall I add,
          Fed on the day of vengeance yet to come.

            Oh! much have they to account for, who could tear,       300
          By violence, at one decisive rent,
          From the best youth in England their dear pride,
          Their joy, in England; this, too, at a time
          In which worst losses easily might wean
          The best of names, when patriotic love
          Did of itself in modesty give way,
          Like the Precursor when the Deity
          Is come Whose harbinger he was; a time
          In which apostasy from ancient faith
          Seemed but conversion to a higher creed;                   310
          Withal a season dangerous and wild,
          A time when sage Experience would have snatched
          Flowers out of any hedge-row to compose
          A chaplet in contempt of his grey locks.

            When the proud fleet that bears the red-cross flag
          In that unworthy service was prepared
          To mingle, I beheld the vessels lie,
          A brood of gallant creatures, on the deep;
          I saw them in their rest, a sojourner
          Through a whole month of calm and glassy days              320
          In that delightful island which protects
          Their place of convocation--there I heard,
          Each evening, pacing by the still sea-shore,
          A monitory sound that never failed,--
          The sunset cannon. While the orb went down
          In the tranquillity of nature, came
          That voice, ill requiem! seldom heard by me
          Without a spirit overcast by dark
          Imaginations, sense of woes to come,
          Sorrow for human kind, and pain of heart.                  330

            In France, the men, who, for their desperate ends,
          Had plucked up mercy by the roots, were glad
          Of this new enemy. Tyrants, strong before
          In wicked pleas, were strong as demons now;
          And thus, on every side beset with foes,
          The goaded land waxed mad; the crimes of few
          Spread into madness of the many; blasts
          From hell came sanctified like airs from heaven.
          The sternness of the just, the faith of those
          Who doubted not that Providence had times                  340
          Of vengeful retribution, theirs who throned
          The human Understanding paramount
          And made of that their God, the hopes of men
          Who were content to barter short-lived pangs
          For a paradise of ages, the blind rage
          Of insolent tempers, the light vanity
          Of intermeddlers, steady purposes
          Of the suspicious, slips of the indiscreet,
          And all the accidents of life--were pressed
          Into one service, busy with one work.                      350
          The Senate stood aghast, her prudence quenched,
          Her wisdom stifled, and her justice scared,
          Her frenzy only active to extol
          Past outrages, and shape the way for new,
          Which no one dared to oppose or mitigate.

            Domestic carnage now filled the whole year
          With feast-days; old men from the chimney-nook,
          The maiden from the bosom of her love,
          The mother from the cradle of her babe,
          The warrior from the field--all perished, all--            360
          Friends, enemies, of all parties, ages, ranks,
          Head after head, and never heads enough
          For those that bade them fall. They found their joy,
          They made it proudly, eager as a child,
          (If like desires of innocent little ones
          May with such heinous appetites be compared),
          Pleased in some open field to exercise
          A toy that mimics with revolving wings
          The motion of a wind-mill; though the air
          Do of itself blow fresh, and make the vanes                370
          Spin in his eyesight, 'that' contents him not,
          But with the plaything at arm's length, he sets
          His front against the blast, and runs amain,
          That it may whirl the faster.
                                         Amid the depth
          Of those enormities, even thinking minds
          Forgot, at seasons, whence they had their being
          Forgot that such a sound was ever heard
          As Liberty upon earth: yet all beneath
          Her innocent authority was wrought,
          Nor could have been, without her blessed name.             380
          The illustrious wife of Roland, in the hour
          Of her composure, felt that agony,
          And gave it vent in her last words. O Friend!
          It was a lamentable time for man,
          Whether a hope had e'er been his or not:
          A woful time for them whose hopes survived
          The shock; most woful for those few who still
          Were flattered, and had trust in human kind:
          They had the deepest feeling of the grief.
          Meanwhile the Invaders fared as they deserved:             390
          The Herculean Commonwealth had put forth her arms,
          And throttled with an infant godhead's might
          The snakes about her cradle; that was well,
          And as it should be; yet no cure for them
          Whose souls were sick with pain of what would be
          Hereafter brought in charge against mankind.
          Most melancholy at that time, O Friend!
          Were my day-thoughts,--my nights were miserable;
          Through months, through years, long after the last beat
          Of those atrocities, the hour of sleep                     400
          To me came rarely charged with natural gifts,
          Such ghastly visions had I of despair
          And tyranny, and implements of death;
          And innocent victims sinking under fear,
          And momentary hope, and worn-out prayer,
          Each in his separate cell, or penned in crowds
          For sacrifice, and struggling with fond mirth
          And levity in dungeons, where the dust
          Was laid with tears. Then suddenly the scene
          Changed, and the unbroken dream entangled me               410
          In long orations, which I strove to plead
          Before unjust tribunals,--with a voice
          Labouring, a brain confounded, and a sense,
          Death-like, of treacherous desertion, felt
          In the last place of refuge--my own soul.

            When I began in youth's delightful prime
          To yield myself to Nature, when that strong
          And holy passion overcame me first,
          Nor day nor night, evening or morn, was free
          From its oppression. But, O Power Supreme!                 420
          Without Whose call this world would cease to breathe
          Who from the fountain of Thy grace dost fill
          The veins that branch through every frame of life,
          Making man what he is, creature divine,
          In single or in social eminence,
          Above the rest raised infinite ascents
          When reason that enables him to be
          Is not sequestered--what a change is here!
          How different ritual for this after-worship,
          What countenance to promote this second love!              430
          The first was service paid to things which lie
          Guarded within the bosom of Thy will.
          Therefore to serve was high beatitude;
          Tumult was therefore gladness, and the fear
          Ennobling, venerable; sleep secure,
          And waking thoughts more rich than happiest dreams.

            But as the ancient Prophets, borne aloft
          In vision, yet constrained by natural laws
          With them to take a troubled human heart,
          Wanted not consolations, nor a creed                       440
          Of reconcilement, then when they denounced,
          On towns and cities, wallowing in the abyss
          Of their offences, punishment to come;
          Or saw, like other men, with bodily eyes,
          Before them, in some desolated place,
          The wrath consummate and the threat fulfilled;
          So, with devout humility be it said,
          So, did a portion of that spirit fall
          On me uplifted from the vantage-ground
          Of pity and sorrow to a state of being                     450
          That through the time's exceeding fierceness saw
          Glimpses of retribution, terrible,
          And in the order of sublime behests:
          But, even if that were not, amid the awe
          Of unintelligible chastisement,
          Not only acquiescences of faith
          Survived, but daring sympathies with power,
          Motions not treacherous or profane, else why
          Within the folds of no ungentle breast
          Their dread vibration to this hour prolonged?              460
          Wild blasts of music thus could find their way
          Into the midst of turbulent events;
          So that worst tempests might be listened to.
          Then was the truth received into my heart,
          That, under heaviest sorrow earth can bring,
          If from the affliction somewhere do not grow
          Honour which could not else have been, a faith,
          An elevation, and a sanctity,
          If new strength be not given nor old restored,
          The blame is ours, not Nature's. When a taunt              470
          Was taken up by scoffers in their pride,
          Saying, "Behold the harvest that we reap
          From popular government and equality,"
          I clearly saw that neither these nor aught
          Of wild belief engrafted on their names
          By false philosophy had caused the woe,
          But a terrific reservoir of guilt
          And ignorance filled up from age to age,
          That could no longer hold its loathsome charge,
          But burst and spread in deluge through the land.           480

            And as the desert hath green spots, the sea
          Small islands scattered amid stormy waves,
          So 'that' disastrous period did not want
          Bright sprinklings of all human excellence,
          To which the silver wands of saints in Heaven
          Might point with rapturous joy. Yet not the less,
          For those examples, in no age surpassed,
          Of fortitude and energy and love,
          And human nature faithful to herself
          Under worst trials, was I driven to think                  490
          Of the glad times when first I traversed France
          A youthful pilgrim; above all reviewed
          That eventide, when under windows bright
          With happy faces and with garlands hung,
          And through a rainbow-arch that spanned the street,
          Triumphal pomp for liberty confirmed,
          I paced, a dear companion at my side,
          The town of Arras, whence with promise high
          Issued, on delegation to sustain
          Humanity and right, 'that' Robespierre,                    500
          He who thereafter, and in how short time!
          Wielded the sceptre of the Atheist crew.
          When the calamity spread far and wide--
          And this same city, that did then appear
          To outrun the rest in exultation, groaned
          Under the vengeance of her cruel son,
          As Lear reproached the winds--I could almost
          Have quarrelled with that blameless spectacle
          For lingering yet an image in my mind
          To mock me under such a strange reverse.                   510

            O Friend! few happier moments have been mine
          Than that which told the downfall of this Tribe
          So dreaded, so abhorred. The day deserves
          A separate record. Over the smooth sands
          Of Leven's ample estuary lay
          My journey, and beneath a genial sun,
          With distant prospect among gleams of sky
          And clouds and intermingling mountain tops,
          In one inseparable glory clad,
          Creatures of one ethereal substance met                    520
          In consistory, like a diadem
          Or crown of burning seraphs as they sit
          In the empyrean. Underneath that pomp
          Celestial, lay unseen the pastoral vales
          Among whose happy fields I had grown up
          From childhood. On the fulgent spectacle,
          That neither passed away nor changed, I gazed
          Enrapt; but brightest things are wont to draw
          Sad opposites out of the inner heart,
          As even their pensive influence drew from mine.            530
          How could it otherwise? for not in vain
          That very morning had I turned aside
          To seek the ground where, 'mid a throng of graves,
          An honoured teacher of my youth was laid,
          And on the stone were graven by his desire
          Lines from the churchyard elegy of Gray.
          This faithful guide, speaking from his deathbed,
          Added no farewell to his parting counsel,
          But said to me, "My head will soon lie low;"
          And when I saw the turf that covered him,                  540
          After the lapse of full eight years, those words,
          With sound of voice and countenance of the Man,
          Came back upon me, so that some few tears
          Fell from me in my own despite. But now
          I thought, still traversing that widespread plain,
          With tender pleasure of the verses graven
          Upon his tombstone, whispering to myself:
          He loved the Poets, and, if now alive,
          Would have loved me, as one not destitute
          Of promise, nor belying the kind hope                      550
          That he had formed, when I, at his command,
          Began to spin, with toil, my earliest songs.

            As I advanced, all that I saw or felt
          Was gentleness and peace. Upon a small
          And rocky island near, a fragment stood,
          (Itself like a sea rock) the low remains
          (With shells encrusted, dark with briny weeds)
          Of a dilapidated structure, once
          A Romish chapel, where the vested priest
          Said matins at the hour that suited those                  560
          Who crossed the sands with ebb of morning tide.
          Not far from that still ruin all the plain
          Lay spotted with a variegated crowd
          Of vehicles and travellers, horse and foot,
          Wading beneath the conduct of their guide
          In loose procession through the shallow stream
          Of inland waters; the great sea meanwhile
          Heaved at safe distance, far retired. I paused,
          Longing for skill to paint a scene so bright
          And cheerful, but the foremost of the band                 570
          As he approached, no salutation given
          In the familiar language of the day,
          Cried, "Robespierre is dead!" nor was a doubt,
          After strict question, left within my mind
          That he and his supporters all were fallen.

            Great was my transport, deep my gratitude
          To everlasting Justice, by this fiat
          Made manifest. "Come now, ye golden times,"
          Said I forth-pouring on those open sands
          A hymn of triumph: "as the morning comes                   580
          From out the bosom of the night, come ye:
          Thus far our trust is verified; behold!
          They who with clumsy desperation brought
          A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else
          Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might
          Of their own helper have been swept away;
          Their madness stands declared and visible;
          Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth
          March firmly towards righteousness and peace."--
          Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how            590
          The madding factions might be tranquillised,
          And how through hardships manifold and long
          The glorious renovation would proceed.
          Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts
          Of exultation, I pursued my way
          Along that very shore which I had skimmed
          In former days, when--spurring from the Vale
          Of Nightshade, and St. Mary's mouldering fane,
          And the stone abbot, after circuit made
          In wantonness of heart, a joyous band                      600
          Of schoolboys hastening to their distant home
          Along the margin of the moonlight sea--
          We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand.



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