Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works




          EVEN as a river,--partly (it might seem)
          Yielding to old remembrances, and swayed
          In part by fear to shape a way direct,
          That would engulph him soon in the ravenous sea--
          Turns, and will measure back his course, far back,
          Seeking the very regions which he crossed
          In his first outset; so have we, my Friend!
          Turned and returned with intricate delay.
          Or as a traveller, who has gained the brow
          Of some aerial Down, while there he halts                   10
          For breathing-time, is tempted to review
          The region left behind him; and, if aught
          Deserving notice have escaped regard,
          Or been regarded with too careless eye,
          Strives, from that height, with one and yet one more
          Last look, to make the best amends he may:
          So have we lingered. Now we start afresh
          With courage, and new hope risen on our toil.
          Fair greetings to this shapeless eagerness,
          Whene'er it comes! needful in work so long,                 20
          Thrice needful to the argument which now
          Awaits us! Oh, how much unlike the past!

            Free as a colt at pasture on the hill,
          I ranged at large, through London's wide domain,
          Month after month. Obscurely did I live,
          Not seeking frequent intercourse with men,
          By literature, or elegance, or rank,
          Distinguished. Scarcely was a year thus spent
          Ere I forsook the crowded solitude,
          With less regret for its luxurious pomp,                    30
          And all the nicely-guarded shows of art,
          Than for the humble book-stalls in the streets,
          Exposed to eye and hand where'er I turned.

            France lured me forth; the realm that I had crossed
          So lately, journeying toward the snow-clad Alps.
          But now, relinquishing the scrip and staff,
          And all enjoyment which the summer sun
          Sheds round the steps of those who meet the day
          With motion constant as his own, I went
          Prepared to sojourn in a pleasant town,                     40
          Washed by the current of the stately Loire.

            Through Paris lay my readiest course, and there
          Sojourning a few days, I visited
          In haste, each spot of old or recent fame,
          The latter chiefly, from the field of Mars
          Down to the suburbs of St. Antony,
          And from Mont Martre southward to the Dome
          Of Genevieve. In both her clamorous Halls,
          The National Synod and the Jacobins,
          I saw the Revolutionary Power                               50
          Toss like a ship at anchor, rocked by storms;
          The Arcades I traversed, in the Palace huge
          Of Orleans; coasted round and round the line
          Of Tavern, Brothel, Gaming-house, and Shop,
          Great rendezvous of worst and best, the walk
          Of all who had a purpose, or had not;
          I stared and listened, with a stranger's ears,
          To Hawkers and Haranguers, hubbub wild!
          And hissing Factionists with ardent eyes,
          In knots, or pairs, or single. Not a look                   60
          Hope takes, or Doubt or Fear is forced to wear,
          But seemed there present; and I scanned them all,
          Watched every gesture uncontrollable,
          Of anger, and vexation, and despite,
          All side by side, and struggling face to face,
          With gaiety and dissolute idleness.

            Where silent zephyrs sported with the dust
          Of the Bastille, I sate in the open sun,
          And from the rubbish gathered up a stone,
          And pocketed the relic, in the guise                        70
          Of an enthusiast; yet, in honest truth,
          I looked for something that I could not find,
          Affecting more emotion than I felt;
          For 'tis most certain, that these various sights,
          However potent their first shock, with me
          Appeared to recompense the traveller's pains
          Less than the painted Magdalene of Le Brun,
          A beauty exquisitely wrought, with hair
          Dishevelled, gleaming eyes, and rueful cheek
          Pale and bedropped with overflowing tears.                  80

            But hence to my more permanent abode
          I hasten; there, by novelties in speech,
          Domestic manners, customs, gestures, looks,
          And all the attire of ordinary life,
          Attention was engrossed; and, thus amused,
          I stood 'mid those concussions, unconcerned,
          Tranquil almost, and careless as a flower
          Glassed in a green-house, or a parlour shrub
          That spreads its leaves in unmolested peace,
          While every bush and tree, the country through,             90
          Is shaking to the roots: indifference this
          Which may seem strange: but I was unprepared
          With needful knowledge, had abruptly passed
          Into a theatre, whose stage was filled
          And busy with an action far advanced.
          Like others, I had skimmed, and sometimes read
          With care, the master pamphlets of the day;
          Nor wanted such half-insight as grew wild
          Upon that meagre soil, helped out by talk
          And public news; but having never seen                     100
          A chronicle that might suffice to show
          Whence the main organs of the public power
          Had sprung, their transmigrations, when and how
          Accomplished, giving thus unto events
          A form and body; all things were to me
          Loose and disjointed, and the affections left
          Without a vital interest. At that time,
          Moreover, the first storm was overblown,
          And the strong hand of outward violence
          Locked up in quiet. For myself, I fear                     110
          Now, in connection with so great a theme,
          To speak (as I must be compelled to do)
          Of one so unimportant; night by night
          Did I frequent the formal haunts of men,
          Whom, in the city, privilege of birth
          Sequestered from the rest, societies
          Polished in arts, and in punctilio versed;
          Whence, and from deeper causes, all discourse
          Of good and evil of the time was shunned
          With scrupulous care; but these restrictions soon          120
          Proved tedious, and I gradually withdrew
          Into a noisier world, and thus ere long
          Became a patriot; and my heart was all
          Given to the people, and my love was theirs.

            A band of military Officers,
          Then stationed in the city, were the chief
          Of my associates: some of these wore swords
          That had been seasoned in the wars, and all
          Were men well-born; the chivalry of France.
          In age and temper differing, they had yet                  130
          One spirit ruling in each heart; alike
          (Save only one, hereafter to be named)
          Were bent upon undoing what was done:
          This was their rest and only hope; therewith
          No fear had they of bad becoming worse,
          For worst to them was come; nor would have stirred,
          Or deemed it worth a moment's thought to stir,
          In anything, save only as the act
          Looked thitherward. One, reckoning by years,
          Was in the prime of manhood, and erewhile                  140
          He had sate lord in many tender hearts;
          Though heedless of such honours now, and changed:
          His temper was quite mastered by the times,
          And they had blighted him, had eaten away
          The beauty of his person, doing wrong
          Alike to body and to mind: his port,
          Which once had been erect and open, now
          Was stooping and contracted, and a face,
          Endowed by Nature with her fairest gifts
          Of symmetry and light and bloom, expressed,                150
          As much as any that was ever seen,
          A ravage out of season, made by thoughts
          Unhealthy and vexatious. With the hour,
          That from the press of Paris duly brought
          Its freight of public news, the fever came,
          A punctual visitant, to shake this man,
          Disarmed his voice and fanned his yellow cheek
          Into a thousand colours; while he read,
          Or mused, his sword was haunted by his touch
          Continually, like an uneasy place                          160
          In his own body. 'Twas in truth an hour
          Of universal ferment; mildest men
          Were agitated, and commotions, strife
          Of passion and opinion, filled the walls
          Of peaceful houses with unquiet sounds.
          The soil of common life was, at that time,
          Too hot to tread upon. Oft said I then,
          And not then only, "What a mockery this
          Of history, the past and that to come!
          Now do I feel how all men are deceived,                    170
          Reading of nations and their works, in faith,
          Faith given to vanity and emptiness;
          Oh! laughter for the page that would reflect
          To future times the face of what now is!"
          The land all swarmed with passion, like a plain
          Devoured by locusts,--Carra, Gorsas,--add
          A hundred other names, forgotten now,
          Nor to be heard of more; yet, they were powers,
          Like earthquakes, shocks repeated day by day,
          And felt through every nook of town and field.             180

            Such was the state of things. Meanwhile the chief
          Of my associates stood prepared for flight
          To augment the band of emigrants in arms
          Upon the borders of the Rhine, and leagued
          With foreign foes mustered for instant war.
          This was their undisguised intent, and they
          Were waiting with the whole of their desires
          The moment to depart.
                                 An Englishman,
          Born in a land whose very name appeared
          To license some unruliness of mind;
          A stranger, with youth's further privilege,                190
          And the indulgence that a half-learnt speech
          Wins from the courteous; I, who had been else
          Shunned and not tolerated, freely lived
          With these defenders of the Crown, and talked,
          And heard their notions; nor did they disdain
          The wish to bring me over to their cause.

            But though untaught by thinking or by books
          To reason well of polity or law,
          And nice distinctions, then on every tongue,
          Of natural rights and civil; and to acts                   200
          Of nations and their passing interests,
          (If with unworldly ends and aims compared)
          Almost indifferent, even the historian's tale
          Prizing but little otherwise than I prized
          Tales of the poets, as it made the heart
          Beat high, and filled the fancy with fair forms,
          Old heroes and their sufferings and their deeds;
          Yet in the regal sceptre, and the pomp
          Of orders and degrees, I nothing found
          Then, or had ever, even in crudest youth,                  210
          That dazzled me, but rather what I mourned
          And ill could brook, beholding that the best
          Ruled not, and feeling that they ought to rule.

            For, born in a poor district, and which yet
          Retaineth more of ancient homeliness,
          Than any other nook of English ground,
          It was my fortune scarcely to have seen,
          Through the whole tenor of my school-day time,
          The face of one, who, whether boy or man,
          Was vested with attention or respect                       220
          Through claims of wealth or blood; nor was it least
          Of many benefits, in later years
          Derived from academic institutes
          And rules, that they held something up to view
          Of a Republic, where all stood thus far
          Upon equal ground; that we were brothers all
          In honour, as in one community,
          Scholars and gentlemen; where, furthermore,
          Distinction open lay to all that came,
          And wealth and titles were in less esteem                  230
          Than talents, worth, and prosperous industry,
          Add unto this, subservience from the first
          To presences of God's mysterious power
          Made manifest in Nature's sovereignty,
          And fellowship with venerable books,
          To sanction the proud workings of the soul,
          And mountain liberty. It could not be
          But that one tutored thus should look with awe
          Upon the faculties of man, receive
          Gladly the highest promises, and hail,                     240
          As best, the government of equal rights
          And individual worth. And hence, O Friend!
          If at the first great outbreak I rejoiced
          Less than might well befit my youth, the cause
          In part lay here, that unto me the events
          Seemed nothing out of nature's certain course,
          A gift that was come rather late than soon.
          No wonder, then, if advocates like these,
          Inflamed by passion, blind with prejudice,
          And stung with injury, at this riper day,                  250
          Were impotent to make my hopes put on
          The shape of theirs, my understanding bend
          In honour to their honour: zeal, which yet
          Had slumbered, now in opposition burst
          Forth like a Polar summer: every word
          They uttered was a dart, by counter-winds
          Blown back upon themselves; their reason seemed
          Confusion-stricken by a higher power
          Than human understanding, their discourse
          Maimed, spiritless; and, in their weakness strong,         260
          I triumphed.
                        Meantime, day by day, the roads
          Were crowded with the bravest youth of France,
          And all the promptest of her spirits, linked
          In gallant soldiership, and posting on
          To meet the war upon her frontier bounds.
          Yet at this very moment do tears start
          Into mine eyes: I do not say I weep--
          I wept not then,--but tears have dimmed my sight,
          In memory of the farewells of that time,
          Domestic severings, female fortitude                       270
          At dearest separation, patriot love
          And self-devotion, and terrestrial hope,
          Encouraged with a martyr's confidence;
          Even files of strangers merely seen but once,
          And for a moment, men from far with sound
          Of music, martial tunes, and banners spread,
          Entering the city, here and there a face,
          Or person, singled out among the rest,
          Yet still a stranger and beloved as such;
          Even by these passing spectacles my heart                  280
          Was oftentimes uplifted, and they seemed
          Arguments sent from Heaven to prove the cause
          Good, pure, which no one could stand up against,
          Who was not lost, abandoned, selfish, proud,
          Mean, miserable, wilfully depraved,
          Hater perverse of equity and truth.

            Among that band of Officers was one,
          Already hinted at, of other mould--
          A patriot, thence rejected by the rest,
          And with an oriental loathing spurned,                     290
          As of a different caste. A meeker man
          Than this lived never, nor a more benign,
          Meek though enthusiastic. Injuries
          Made 'him' more gracious, and his nature then
          Did breathe its sweetness out most sensibly,
          As aromatic flowers on Alpine turf,
          When foot hath crushed them. He through the events
          Of that great change wandered in perfect faith,
          As through a book, an old romance, or tale
          Of Fairy, or some dream of actions wrought                 300
          Behind the summer clouds. By birth he ranked
          With the most noble, but unto the poor
          Among mankind he was in service bound,
          As by some tie invisible, oaths professed
          To a religious order. Man he loved
          As man; and, to the mean and the obscure,
          And all the homely in their homely works,
          Transferred a courtesy which had no air
          Of condescension; but did rather seem
          A passion and a gallantry, like that                       310
          Which he, a soldier, in his idler day
          Had paid to woman: somewhat vain he was,
          Or seemed so, yet it was not vanity,
          But fondness, and a kind of radiant joy
          Diffused around him, while he was intent
          On works of love or freedom, or revolved
          Complacently the progress of a cause,
          Whereof he was a part: yet this was meek
          And placid, and took nothing from the man
          That was delightful. Oft in solitude                       320
          With him did I discourse about the end
          Of civil government, and its wisest forms;
          Of ancient loyalty, and chartered rights,
          Custom and habit, novelty and change;
          Of self-respect, and virtue in the few
          For patrimonial honour set apart,
          And ignorance in the labouring multitude.
          For he, to all intolerance indisposed,
          Balanced these contemplations in his mind;
          And I, who at that time was scarcely dipped                330
          Into the turmoil, bore a sounder judgment
          Than later days allowed; carried about me,
          With less alloy to its integrity,
          The experience of past ages, as, through help
          Of books and common life, it makes sure way
          To youthful minds, by objects over near
          Not pressed upon, nor dazzled or misled
          By struggling with the crowd for present ends.

            But though not deaf, nor obstinate to find
          Error without excuse upon the side                         340
          Of them who strove against us, more delight
          We took, and let this freely be confessed,
          In painting to ourselves the miseries
          Of royal courts, and that voluptuous life
          Unfeeling, where the man who is of soul
          The meanest thrives the most; where dignity,
          True personal dignity, abideth not;
          A light, a cruel, and vain world cut off
          From the natural inlets of just sentiment,
          From lowly sympathy and chastening truth;                  350
          Where good and evil interchange their names,
          And thirst for bloody spoils abroad is paired
          With vice at home. We added dearest themes--
          Man and his noble nature, as it is
          The gift which God has placed within his power,
          His blind desires and steady faculties
          Capable of clear truth, the one to break
          Bondage, the other to build liberty
          On firm foundations, making social life,
          Through knowledge spreading and imperishable,              360
          As just in regulation, and as pure
          As individual in the wise and good.

            We summoned up the honourable deeds
          Of ancient Story, thought of each bright spot,
          That would be found in all recorded time,
          Of truth preserved and error passed away;
          Of single spirits that catch the flame from Heaven,
          And how the multitudes of men will feed
          And fan each other; thought of sects, how keen
          They are to put the appropriate nature on,                 370
          Triumphant over every obstacle
          Of custom, language, country, love, or hate,
          And what they do and suffer for their creed;
          How far they travel, and how long endure;
          How quickly mighty Nations have been formed,
          From least beginnings; how, together locked
          By new opinions, scattered tribes have made
          One body, spreading wide as clouds in heaven.
          To aspirations then of our own minds
          Did we appeal; and, finally, beheld                        380
          A living confirmation of the whole
          Before us, in a people from the depth
          Of shameful imbecility uprisen,
          Fresh as the morning star. Elate we looked
          Upon their virtues; saw, in rudest men,
          Self-sacrifice the firmest; generous love,
          And continence of mind, and sense of right,
          Uppermost in the midst of fiercest strife.

            Oh, sweet it is, in academic groves,
          Or such retirement, Friend! as we have known               390
          In the green dales beside our Rotha's stream,
          Greta, or Derwent, or some nameless rill,
          To ruminate, with interchange of talk,
          On rational liberty, and hope in man,
          Justice and peace. But far more sweet such toil--
          Toil, say I, for it leads to thoughts abstruse--
          If nature then be standing on the brink
          Of some great trial, and we hear the voice
          Of one devoted,--one whom circumstance
          Hath called upon to embody his deep sense                  400
          In action, give it outwardly a shape,
          And that of benediction, to the world.
          Then doubt is not, and truth is more than truth,--
          A hope it is, and a desire; a creed
          Of zeal, by an authority Divine
          Sanctioned, of danger, difficulty, or death.
          Such conversation, under Attic shades,
          Did Dion hold with Plato; ripened thus
          For a Deliverer's glorious task,--and such
          He, on that ministry already bound,                        410
          Held with Eudemus and Timonides,
          Surrounded by adventurers in arms,
          When those two vessels with their daring freight,
          For the Sicilian Tyrant's overthrow,
          Sailed from Zacynthus,--philosophic war,
          Led by Philosophers. With harder fate,
          Though like ambition, such was he, O Friend!
          Of whom I speak. So Beaupuis (let the name
          Stand near the worthiest of Antiquity)
          Fashioned his life; and many a long discourse,             420
          With like persuasion honoured, we maintained:
          He, on his part, accoutred for the worst,
          He perished fighting, in supreme command,
          Upon the borders of the unhappy Loire,
          For liberty, against deluded men,
          His fellow-countrymen; and yet most blessed
          In this, that he the fate of later times
          Lived not to see, nor what we now behold,
          Who have as ardent hearts as he had then.

            Along that very Loire, with festal mirth                 430
          Resounding at all hours, and innocent yet
          Of civil slaughter, was our frequent walk;
          Or in wide forests of continuous shade,
          Lofty and over-arched, with open space
          Beneath the trees, clear footing many a mile--
          A solemn region. Oft amid those haunts,
          From earnest dialogues I slipped in thought,
          And let remembrance steal to other times,
          When, o'er those interwoven roots, moss-clad,
          And smooth as marble or a waveless sea,                    440
          Some Hermit, from his cell forth-strayed, might pace
          In sylvan meditation undisturbed;
          As on the pavement of a Gothic church
          Walks a lone Monk, when service hath expired,
          In peace and silence. But if e'er was heard,--
          Heard, though unseen,--a devious traveller,
          Retiring or approaching from afar
          With speed and echoes loud of trampling hoofs
          From the hard floor reverberated, then
          It was Angelica thundering through the woods               450
          Upon her palfrey, or that gentle maid
          Erminia, fugitive as fair as she.
          Sometimes methought I saw a pair of knights
          Joust underneath the trees, that as in storm
          Rocked high above their heads; anon, the din
          Of boisterous merriment, and music's roar,
          In sudden proclamation, burst from haunt
          Of Satyrs in some viewless glade, with dance
          Rejoicing o'er a female in the midst,
          A mortal beauty, their unhappy thrall.                     460
          The width of those huge forests, unto me
          A novel scene, did often in this way
          Master my fancy while I wandered on
          With that revered companion. And sometimes--
          When to a convent in a meadow green,
          By a brook-side, we came, a roofless pile,
          And not by reverential touch of Time
          Dismantled, but by violence abrupt--
          In spite of those heart-bracing colloquies,
          In spite of real fervour, and of that                      470
          Less genuine and wrought up within myself--
          I could not but bewail a wrong so harsh,
          And for the Matin-bell to sound no more
          Grieved, and the twilight taper, and the cross
          High on the topmost pinnacle, a sign
          (How welcome to the weary traveller's eyes!)
          Of hospitality and peaceful rest.
          And when the partner of those varied walks
          Pointed upon occasion to the site
          Of Romorentin, home of ancient kings,                      480
          To the imperial edifice of Blois,
          Or to that rural castle, name now slipped
          From my remembrance, where a lady lodged,
          By the first Francis wooed, and bound to him
          In chains of mutual passion, from the tower,
          As a tradition of the country tells,
          Practised to commune with her royal knight
          By cressets and love-beacons, intercourse
          'Twixt her high-seated residence and his
          Far off at Chambord on the plain beneath;                  490
          Even here, though less than with the peaceful house
          Religious, 'mid those frequent monuments
          Of Kings, their vices and their better deeds,
          Imagination, potent to inflame
          At times with virtuous wrath and noble scorn,
          Did also often mitigate the force
          Of civic prejudice, the bigotry,
          So call it, of a youthful patriot's mind;
          And on these spots with many gleams I looked
          Of chivalrous delight. Yet not the less,                   500
          Hatred of absolute rule, where will of one
          Is law for all, and of that barren pride
          In them who, by immunities unjust,
          Between the sovereign and the people stand,
          His helper and not theirs, laid stronger hold
          Daily upon me, mixed with pity too
          And love; for where hope is, there love will be
          For the abject multitude, And when we chanced
          One day to meet a hunger-bitten girl,
          Who crept along fitting her languid gait                   510
          Unto a heifer's motion, by a cord
          Tied to her arm, and picking thus from the lane
          Its sustenance, while the girl with pallid hands
          Was busy knitting in a heartless mood
          Of solitude, and at the sight my friend
          In agitation said, "'Tis against 'that'
          That we are fighting," I with him believed
          That a benignant spirit was abroad
          Which might not be withstood, that poverty
          Abject as this would in a little time                      520
          Be found no more, that we should see the earth
          Unthwarted in her wish to recompense
          The meek, the lowly, patient child of toil,
          All institutes for ever blotted out
          That legalised exclusion, empty pomp
          Abolished, sensual state and cruel power
          Whether by edict of the one or few;
          And finally, as sum and crown of all,
          Should see the people having a strong hand
          In framing their own laws; whence better days              530
          To all mankind. But, these things set apart,
          Was not this single confidence enough
          To animate the mind that ever turned
          A thought to human welfare? That henceforth
          Captivity by mandate without law
          Should cease; and open accusation lead
          To sentence in the hearing of the world,
          And open punishment, if not the air
          Be free to breathe in, and the heart of man
          Dread nothing. From this height I shall not stoop          540
          To humbler matter that detained us oft
          In thought or conversation, public acts,
          And public persons, and emotions wrought
          Within the breast, as ever-varying winds
          Of record or report swept over us;
          But I might here, instead, repeat a tale,
          Told by my Patriot friend, of sad events,
          That prove to what low depth had struck the roots,
          How widely spread the boughs, of that old tree
          Which, as a deadly mischief, and a foul                    550
          And black dishonour, France was weary of.

            Oh, happy time of youthful lovers, (thus
          The story might begin,) oh, balmy time,
          In which a love-knot, on a lady's brow,
          Is fairer than the fairest star in Heaven!
          So might--and with that prelude 'did' begin
          The record; and, in faithful verse, was given
          The doleful sequel.
                               But our little bark
          On a strong river boldly hath been launched;
          And from the driving current should we turn                560
          To loiter wilfully within a creek,
          Howe'er attractive, Fellow voyager!
          Would'st thou not chide? Yet deem not my pains lost:
          For Vaudracour and Julia (so were named
          The ill-fated pair) in that plain tale will draw
          Tears from the hearts of others, when their own
          Shall beat no more. Thou, also, there may'st read,
          At leisure, how the enamoured youth was driven,
          By public power abased, to fatal crime,
          Nature's rebellion against monstrous law;                  570
          How, between heart and heart, oppression thrust
          Her mandates, severing whom true love had joined,
          Harassing both; until he sank and pressed
          The couch his fate had made for him; supine,
          Save when the stings of viperous remorse,
          Trying their strength, enforced him to start up,
          Aghast and prayerless. Into a deep wood
          He fled, to shun the haunts of human kind;
          There dwelt, weakened in spirit more and more;
          Nor could the voice of Freedom, which through France       580
          Full speedily resounded, public hope,
          Or personal memory of his own worst wrongs,
          Rouse him; but, hidden in those gloomy shades,
          His days he wasted,--an imbecile mind.



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