Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works




          BRIGHT was the summer's noon when quickening steps
          Followed each other till a dreary moor
          Was crossed, a bare ridge clomb, upon whose top
          Standing alone, as from a rampart's edge,
          I overlooked the bed of Windermere,
          Like a vast river, stretching in the sun.
          With exultation, at my feet I saw
          Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays,
          A universe of Nature's fairest forms
          Proudly revealed with instantaneous burst,                  10
          Magnificent, and beautiful, and gay.
          I bounded down the hill shouting amain
          For the old Ferryman; to the shout the rocks
          Replied, and when the Charon of the flood
          Had staid his oars, and touched the jutting pier,
          I did not step into the well-known boat
          Without a cordial greeting. Thence with speed
          Up the familiar hill I took my way
          Towards that sweet Valley where I had been reared;
          'Twas but a short hour's walk, ere veering round            20
          I saw the snow-white church upon her hill
          Sit like a throned Lady, sending out
          A gracious look all over her domain.
          Yon azure smoke betrays the lurking town;
          With eager footsteps I advance and reach
          The cottage threshold where my journey closed.
          Glad welcome had I, with some tears, perhaps,
          From my old Dame, so kind and motherly,
          While she perused me with a parent's pride.
          The thoughts of gratitude shall fall like dew               30
          Upon thy grave, good creature! While my heart
          Can beat never will I forget thy name.
          Heaven's blessing be upon thee where thou liest
          After thy innocent and busy stir
          In narrow cares, thy little daily growth
          Of calm enjoyments, after eighty years,
          And more than eighty, of untroubled life;
          Childless, yet by the strangers to thy blood
          Honoured with little less than filial love.
          What joy was mine to see thee once again,                   40
          Thee and thy dwelling, and a crowd of things 
          About its narrow precincts all beloved,
          And many of them seeming yet my own!
          Why should I speak of what a thousand hearts
          Have felt, and every man alive can guess?
          The rooms, the court, the garden were not left
          Long unsaluted, nor the sunny seat
          Round the stone table under the dark pine,
          Friendly to studious or to festive hours;
          Nor that unruly child of mountain birth,                    50
          The famous brook, who, soon as he was boxed
          Within our garden, found himself at once,
          As if by trick insidious and unkind,
          Stripped of his voice and left to dimple down
          (Without an effort and without a will)
          A channel paved by man's officious care.
          I looked at him and smiled, and smiled again,
          And in the press of twenty thousand thoughts,
          "Ha," quoth I, "pretty prisoner, are you there!"
          Well might sarcastic Fancy then have whispered,             60
          "An emblem here behold of thy own life;
          In its late course of even days with all
          Their smooth enthralment;" but the heart was full,
          Too full for that reproach. My aged Dame
          Walked proudly at my side: she guided me;
          I willing, nay--nay, wishing to be led.
          --The face of every neighbour whom I met
          Was like a volume to me; some were hailed
          Upon the road, some busy at their work,
          Unceremonious greetings interchanged                        70
          With half the length of a long field between.
          Among my schoolfellows I scattered round
          Like recognitions, but with some constraint
          Attended, doubtless, with a little pride,
          But with more shame, for my habiliments,
          The transformation wrought by gay attire.
          Not less delighted did I take my place
          At our domestic table: and, dear Friend!
          In this endeavour simply to relate
          A Poet's history, may I leave untold                        80
          The thankfulness with which I laid me down
          In my accustomed bed, more welcome now
          Perhaps than if it had been more desired
          Or been more often thought of with regret;
          That lowly bed whence I had heard the wind
          Roar, and the rain beat hard; where I so oft
          Had lain awake on summer nights to watch
          The moon in splendour couched among the leaves
          Of a tall ash, that near our cottage stood;
          Had watched her with fixed eyes while to and fro            90
          In the dark summit of the waving tree
          She rocked with every impulse of the breeze.

            Among the favourites whom it pleased me well
          To see again, was one by ancient right
          Our inmate, a rough terrier of the hills;
          By birth and call of nature pre-ordained
          To hunt the badger and unearth the fox
          Among the impervious crags, but having been
          From youth our own adopted, he had passed
          Into a gentler service. And when first                     100
          The boyish spirit flagged, and day by day
          Along my veins I kindled with the stir,
          The fermentation, and the vernal heat
          Of poesy, affecting private shades
          Like a sick Lover, then this dog was used
          To watch me, an attendant and a friend,
          Obsequious to my steps early and late,
          Though often of such dilatory walk
          Tired, and uneasy at the halts I made.
          A hundred times when, roving high and low,                 110
          I have been harassed with the toil of verse,
          Much pains and little progress, and at once
          Some lovely Image in the song rose up
          Full-formed, like Venus rising from the sea;
          Then have I darted forwards to let loose
          My hand upon his back with stormy joy,
          Caressing him again and yet again.
          And when at evening on the public way
          I sauntered, like a river murmuring
          And talking to itself when all things else                 120
          Are still, the creature trotted on before;
          Such was his custom; but whene'er he met
          A passenger approaching, he would turn
          To give me timely notice, and straightway,
          Grateful for that admonishment, I hushed
          My voice, composed my gait, and, with the air
          And mien of one whose thoughts are free, advanced
          To give and take a greeting that might save
          My name from piteous rumours, such as wait
          On men suspected to be crazed in brain.                    130

            Those walks well worthy to be prized and loved--
          Regretted!--that word, too, was on my tongue,
          But they were richly laden with all good,
          And cannot be remembered but with thanks
          And gratitude, and perfect joy of heart--
          Those walks in all their freshness now came back
          Like a returning Spring. When first I made
          Once more the circuit of our little lake,
          If ever happiness hath lodged with man,
          That day consummate happiness was mine,                    140
          Wide-spreading, steady, calm, contemplative.
          The sun was set, or setting, when I left
          Our cottage door, and evening soon brought on
          A sober hour, not winning or serene,
          For cold and raw the air was, and untuned:
          But as a face we love is sweetest then
          When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look
          It chance to wear, is sweetest if the heart
          Have fulness in herself; even so with me
          It fared that evening. Gently did my soul                  150
          Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood
          Naked, as in the presence of her God.
          While on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch
          A heart that had not been disconsolate:
          Strength came where weakness was not known to be,
          At least not felt; and restoration came
          Like an intruder knocking at the door
          Of unacknowledged weariness. I took
          The balance, and with firm hand weighed myself.
          --Of that external scene which round me lay,               160
          Little, in this abstraction, did I see;
          Remembered less; but I had inward hopes
          And swellings of the spirit, was rapt and soothed,
          Conversed with promises, had glimmering views
          How life pervades the undecaying mind;
          How the immortal soul with God-like power
          Informs, creates, and thaws the deepest sleep
          That time can lay upon her; how on earth,
          Man, if he do but live within the light
          Of high endeavours, daily spreads abroad                   170
          His being armed with strength that cannot fail.
          Nor was there want of milder thoughts, of love,
          Of innocence, and holiday repose;
          And more than pastoral quiet, 'mid the stir
          Of boldest projects, and a peaceful end
          At last, or glorious, by endurance won.
          Thus musing, in a wood I sate me down
          Alone, continuing there to muse: the slopes
          And heights meanwhile were slowly overspread
          With darkness, and before a rippling breeze                180
          The long lake lengthened out its hoary line,
          And in the sheltered coppice where I sate,
          Around me from among the hazel leaves,
          Now here, now there, moved by the straggling wind,
          Came ever and anon a breath-like sound,
          Quick as the pantings of the faithful dog,
          The off and on companion of my walk;
          And such, at times, believing them to be,
          I turned my head to look if he were there;
          Then into solemn thought I passed once more.               190

            A freshness also found I at this time
          In human Life, the daily life of those
          Whose occupations really I loved;
          The peaceful scene oft filled me with surprise
          Changed like a garden in the heat of spring
          After an eight-days' absence. For (to omit
          The things which were the same and yet appeared
          Far otherwise) amid this rural solitude,
          A narrow Vale where each was known to all,
          'Twas not indifferent to a youthful mind                   200
          To mark some sheltering bower or sunny nook
          Where an old man had used to sit alone,
          Now vacant; pale-faced babes whom I had left
          In arms, now rosy prattlers at the feet
          Of a pleased grandame tottering up and down;
          And growing girls whose beauty, filched away
          With all its pleasant promises, was gone
          To deck some slighted playmate's homely cheek.

            Yes, I had something of a subtler sense,
          And often looking round was moved to smiles                210
          Such as a delicate work of humour breeds;
          I read, without design, the opinions, thoughts,
          Of those plain-living people now observed
          With clearer knowledge; with another eye
          I saw the quiet woodman in the woods,
          The shepherd roam the hills. With new delight,
          This chiefly, did I note my grey-haired Dame;
          Saw her go forth to church or other work
          Of state equipped in monumental trim;
          Short velvet cloak, (her bonnet of the like),              220
          A mantle such as Spanish Cavaliers
          Wore in old times. Her smooth domestic life,
          Affectionate without disquietude,
          Her talk, her business, pleased me; and no less
          Her clear though shallow stream of piety
          That ran on Sabbath days a fresher course;
          With thoughts unfelt till now I saw her read
          Her Bible on hot Sunday afternoons,
          And loved the book, when she had dropped asleep
          And made of it a pillow for her head.                      230

            Nor less do I remember to have felt,
          Distinctly manifested at this time,
          A human-heartedness about my love
          For objects hitherto the absolute wealth
          Of my own private being and no more;
          Which I had loved, even as a blessed spirit
          Or Angel, if he were to dwell on earth,
          Might love in individual happiness.
          But now there opened on me other thoughts
          Of change, congratulation or regret,                       240
          A pensive feeling! It spread far and wide;
          The trees, the mountains shared it, and the brooks,
          The stars of Heaven, now seen in their old haunts--
          White Sirius glittering o'er the southern crags,
          Orion with his belt, and those fair Seven,
          Acquaintances of every little child,
          And Jupiter, my own beloved star!
          Whatever shadings of mortality,
          Whatever imports from the world of death
          Had come among these objects heretofore,                   250
          Were, in the main, of mood less tender: strong,
          Deep, gloomy were they, and severe; the scatterings
          Of awe or tremulous dread, that had given way
          In later youth to yearnings of a love
          Enthusiastic, to delight and hope.

            As one who hangs down-bending from the side
          Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
          Of a still water, solacing himself
          With such discoveries as his eye can make
          Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,                     260
          Sees many beauteous sights--weeds, fishes, flowers,
          Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
          Yet often is perplexed, and cannot part
          The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
          Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
          Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
          In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam
          Of his own image, by a sunbeam now,
          And wavering motions sent he knows not whence,
          Impediments that make his task more sweet;                 270
          Such pleasant office have we long pursued
          Incumbent o'er the surface of past time
          With like success, nor often have appeared
          Shapes fairer or less doubtfully discerned
          Than these to which the Tale, indulgent Friend!
          Would now direct thy notice. Yet in spite
          Of pleasure won, and knowledge not withheld,
          There was an inner falling off--I loved,
          Loved deeply all that had been loved before,
          More deeply even than ever: but a swarm                    280
          Of heady schemes jostling each other, gawds
          And feast and dance, and public revelry,
          And sports and games (too grateful in themselves,
          Yet in themselves less grateful, I believe,
          Than as they were a badge glossy and fresh
          Of manliness and freedom) all conspired
          To lure my mind from firm habitual quest
          Of feeding pleasures, to depress the zeal
          And damp those yearnings which had once been mine--
          A wild, unworldly-minded youth, given up                   290
          To his own eager thoughts. It would demand
          Some skill, and longer time than may be spared
          To paint these vanities, and how they wrought
          In haunts where they, till now, had been unknown.
          It seemed the very garments that I wore
          Preyed on my strength, and stopped the quiet stream
          Of self-forgetfulness.
                                  Yes, that heartless chase
          Of trivial pleasures was a poor exchange
          For books and nature at that early age.
          'Tis true, some casual knowledge might be gained           300
          Of character or life; but at that time,
          Of manners put to school I took small note,
          And all my deeper passions lay elsewhere.
          Far better had it been to exalt the mind
          By solitary study, to uphold
          Intense desire through meditative peace;
          And yet, for chastisement of these regrets,
          The memory of one particular hour
          Doth here rise up against me. 'Mid a throng
          Of maids and youths, old men, and matrons staid,           310
          A medley of all tempers, I had passed
          The night in dancing, gaiety, and mirth,
          With din of instruments and shuffling feet,
          And glancing forms, and tapers glittering,
          And unaimed prattle flying up and down;
          Spirits upon the stretch, and here and there
          Slight shocks of young love-liking interspersed,
          Whose transient pleasure mounted to the head,
          And tingled through the veins. Ere we retired,
          The cock had crowed, and now the eastern sky               320
          Was kindling, not unseen, from humble copse
          And open field, through which the pathway wound,
          And homeward led my steps. Magnificent
          The morning rose, in memorable pomp,
          Glorious as e'er I had beheld--in front,
          The sea lay laughing at a distance; near,
          The solid mountains shone, bright as the clouds,
          Grain-tinctured, drenched in empyrean light;
          And in the meadows and the lower grounds
          Was all the sweetness of a common dawn--                   330
          Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds,
          And labourers going forth to till the fields.
          Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim
          My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
          Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
          Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
          A dedicated Spirit. On I walked
          In thankful blessedness, which yet survives.

            Strange rendezvous! My mind was at that time
          A parti-coloured show of grave and gay,                    340
          Solid and light, short-sighted and profound;
          Of inconsiderate habits and sedate,
          Consorting in one mansion unreproved.
          The worth I knew of powers that I possessed,
          Though slighted and too oft misused. Besides,
          That summer, swarming as it did with thoughts
          Transient and idle, lacked not intervals
          When Folly from the frown of fleeting Time
          Shrunk, and the mind experienced in herself
          Conformity as just as that of old                          350
          To the end and written spirit of God's works,
          Whether held forth in Nature or in Man,
          Through pregnant vision, separate or conjoined.

            When from our better selves we have too long
          Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
          Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
          How gracious, how benign, is Solitude;
          How potent a mere image of her sway;
          Most potent when impressed upon the mind
          With an appropriate human centre--hermit,                  360
          Deep in the bosom of the wilderness;
          Votary (in vast cathedral, where no foot
          Is treading, where no other face is seen)
          Kneeling at prayers; or watchman on the top
          Of lighthouse, beaten by Atlantic waves;
          Or as the soul of that great Power is met
          Sometimes embodied on a public road,
          When, for the night deserted, it assumes
          A character of quiet more profound
          Than pathless wastes.
                                 Once, when those summer months      370
          Were flown, and autumn brought its annual show
          Of oars with oars contending, sails with sails,
          Upon Winander's spacious breast, it chanced
          That--after I had left a flower-decked room
          (Whose in-door pastime, lighted up, survived
          To a late hour), and spirits overwrought
          Were making night do penance for a day
          Spent in a round of strenuous idleness--
          My homeward course led up a long ascent,
          Where the road's watery surface, to the top                380
          Of that sharp rising, glittered to the moon
          And bore the semblance of another stream
          Stealing with silent lapse to join the brook
          That murmured in the vale. All else was still;
          No living thing appeared in earth or air,
          And, save the flowing water's peaceful voice,
          Sound there was none--but, lo! an uncouth shape,
          Shown by a sudden turning of the road,
          So near that, slipping back into the shade
          Of a thick hawthorn, I could mark him well,                390
          Myself unseen. He was of stature tall,
          A span above man's common measure, tall,
          Stiff, lank, and upright; a more meagre man
          Was never seen before by night or day.
          Long were his arms, pallid his hands; his mouth
          Looked ghastly in the moonlight: from behind,
          A mile-stone propped him; I could also ken
          That he was clothed in military garb,
          Though faded, yet entire. Companionless,
          No dog attending, by no staff sustained,                   400
          He stood, and in his very dress appeared
          A desolation, a simplicity,
          To which the trappings of a gaudy world
          Make a strange back-ground. From his lips, ere long,
          Issued low muttered sounds, as if of pain
          Or some uneasy thought; yet still his form
          Kept the same awful steadiness--at his feet
          His shadow lay, and moved not. From self-blame
          Not wholly free, I watched him thus; at length
          Subduing my heart's specious cowardice,                    410
          I left the shady nook where I had stood
          And hailed him. Slowly from his resting-place
          He rose, and with a lean and wasted arm
          In measured gesture lifted to his head
          Returned my salutation; then resumed
          His station as before; and when I asked
          His history, the veteran, in reply,
          Was neither slow nor eager; but, unmoved,
          And with a quiet uncomplaining voice,
          A stately air of mild indifference,                        420
          He told in few plain words a soldier's tale--
          That in the Tropic Islands he had served,
          Whence he had landed scarcely three weeks past;
          That on his landing he had been dismissed,
          And now was travelling towards his native home.
          This heard, I said, in pity, "Come with me."
          He stooped, and straightway from the ground took up
          An oaken staff by me yet unobserved--
          A staff which must have dropped from his slack hand
          And lay till now neglected in the grass.                   430
          Though weak his step and cautious, he appeared
          To travel without pain, and I beheld,
          With an astonishment but ill suppressed,
          His ghostly figure moving at my side;
          Nor could I, while we journeyed thus, forbear
          To turn from present hardships to the past,
          And speak of war, battle, and pestilence,
          Sprinkling this talk with questions, better spared,
          On what he might himself have seen or felt.
          He all the while was in demeanour calm,                    440
          Concise in answer; solemn and sublime
          He might have seemed, but that in all he said
          There was a strange half-absence, as of one
          Knowing too well the importance of his theme,
          But feeling it no longer. Our discourse
          Soon ended, and together on we passed
          In silence through a wood gloomy and still.
          Up-turning, then, along an open field,
          We reached a cottage. At the door I knocked,
          And earnestly to charitable care                           450
          Commended him as a poor friendless man,
          Belated and by sickness overcome.
          Assured that now the traveller would repose
          In comfort, I entreated that henceforth
          He would not linger in the public ways,
          But ask for timely furtherance and help
          Such as his state required. At this reproof,
          With the same ghastly mildness in his look,
          He said, "My trust is in the God of Heaven,
          And in the eye of him who passes me!"                      460

            The cottage door was speedily unbarred,
          And now the soldier touched his hat once more
          With his lean hand, and in a faltering voice,
          Whose tone bespake reviving interests
          Till then unfelt, he thanked me; I returned
          The farewell blessing of the patient man,
          And so we parted. Back I cast a look,
          And lingered near the door a little space,
          Then sought with quiet heart my distant home.



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