Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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THE EXCURSION

BOOK FIRST

THE WANDERER

 'TWAS summer, and the sun had mounted high: Southward the landscape indistinctly glared Through a pale steam; but all the northern downs, In clearest air ascending, showed far off A surface dappled o'er with shadows flung From brooding clouds; shadows that lay in spots Determined and unmoved, with steady beams Of bright and pleasant sunshine interposed; To him most pleasant who on soft cool moss Extends his careless limbs along the front 10 Of some huge cave, whose rocky ceiling casts A twilight of its own, an ample shade, Where the wren warbles, while the dreaming man, Half conscious of the soothing melody, With side-long eye looks out upon the scene, By power of that impending covert, thrown To finer distance. Mine was at that hour Far other lot, yet with good hope that soon Under a shade as grateful I should find Rest, and be welcomed there to livelier joy. 20 Across a bare wide Common I was toiling With languid steps that by the slippery turf Were baffled; nor could my weak arm disperse The host of insects gathering round my face, And ever with me as I paced along. Upon that open moorland stood a grove, The wished-for port to which my course was bound. Thither I came, and there, amid the gloom Spread by a brotherhood of lofty elms, Appeared a roofless Hut; four naked walls 30 That stared upon each other!--I looked round, And to my wish and to my hope espied The Friend I sought; a Man of reverend age, But stout and hale, for travel unimpaired. There was he seen upon the cottage-bench, Recumbent in the shade, as if asleep; An iron-pointed staff lay at his side. Him had I marked the day before--alone And stationed in the public way, with face Turned toward the sun then setting, while that staff 40 Afforded, to the figure of the man Detained for contemplation or repose, Graceful support; his countenance as he stood Was hidden from my view, and he remained Unrecognised; but, stricken by the sight, With slackened footsteps I advanced, and soon A glad congratulation we exchanged At such unthought-of meeting.--For the night We parted, nothing willingly; and now He by appointment waited for me here, 50 Under the covert of these clustering elms. We were tried Friends: amid a pleasant vale, In the antique market-village where was passed My school-time, an apartment he had owned, To which at intervals the Wanderer drew, And found a kind of home or harbour there. He loved me, from a swarm of rosy boys Singled out me, as he in sport would say, For my grave looks, too thoughtful for my years. As I grew up, it was my best delight 60 To be his chosen comrade. Many a time, On holidays, we rambled through the woods: We sate--we walked; he pleased me with report Of things which he had seen; and often touched Abstrusest matter, reasonings of the mind Turned inward; or at my request would sing Old songs, the product of his native hills; A skilful distribution of sweet sounds, Feeding the soul, and eagerly imbibed As cool refreshing water, by the care 70 Of the industrious husbandman, diffused Through a parched meadow-ground, in time of drought. Still deeper welcome found his pure discourse; How precious, when in riper days I learned To weigh with care his words, and to rejoice In the plain presence of his dignity! Oh! many are the Poets that are sown By Nature; men endowed with highest gifts, The vision and the faculty divine; Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse, 80 (Which, in the docile season of their youth, It was denied them to acquire, through lack Of culture and the inspiring aid of books, Or haply by a temper too severe, Or a nice backwardness afraid of shame) Nor having e'er, as life advanced, been led By circumstance to take unto the height The measure of themselves, these favoured Beings, All but a scattered few, live out their time, Husbanding that which they possess within, 90 And go to the grave, unthought of. Strongest minds Are often those of whom the noisy world Hears least; else surely this Man had not left His graces unrevealed and unproclaimed. But, as the mind was filled with inward light, So not without distinction had he lived, Beloved and honoured--far as he was known. And some small portion of his eloquent speech, And something that may serve to set in view The feeling pleasures of his loneliness, 100 His observations, and the thoughts his mind Had dealt with--I will here record in verse; Which, if with truth it correspond, and sink Or rise as venerable Nature leads, The high and tender Muses shall accept With gracious smile, deliberately pleased, And listening Time reward with sacred praise. Among the hills of Athol he was born; Where, on a small hereditary farm, An unproductive slip of rugged ground, 110 His Parents, with their numerous offspring, dwelt; A virtuous household, though exceeding poor! Pure livers were they all, austere and grave, And fearing God; the very children taught Stern self-respect, a reverence for God's word, And an habitual piety, maintained With strictness scarcely known on English ground. From his sixth year, the Boy of whom I speak, In summer, tended cattle on the hills; But, through the inclement and the perilous days 120 Of long-continuing winter, he repaired, Equipped with satchel, to a school, that stood Sole building on a mountain's dreary edge, Remote from view of city spire, or sound Of minster clock! From that bleak tenement He, many an evening, to his distant home In solitude returning, saw the hills Grow larger in the darkness; all alone Beheld the stars come out above his head, And travelled through the wood, with no one near 130 To whom he might confess the things he saw. So the foundations of his mind were laid. In such communion, not from terror free, While yet a child, and long before his time, Had he perceived the presence and the power Of greatness; and deep feelings had impressed So vividly great objects that they lay Upon his mind like substances, whose presence Perplexed the bodily sense. He had received A precious gift; for, as he grew in years, 140 With these impressions would he still compare All his remembrances, thoughts, shapes, and forms; And, being still unsatisfied with aught Of dimmer character, he thence attained An active power to fasten images Upon his brain; and on their pictured lines Intensely brooded, even till they acquired The liveliness of dreams. Nor did he fail, While yet a child, with a child's eagerness Incessantly to turn his ear and eye 150 On all things which the moving seasons brought To feed such appetite--nor this alone Appeased his yearning:--in the after-day Of boyhood, many an hour in caves forlorn, And 'mid the hollow depths of naked crags He sate, and even in their fixed lineaments, Or from the power of a peculiar eye, Or by creative feeling overborne, Or by predominance of thought oppressed, Even in their fixed and steady lineaments 160 He traced an ebbing and a flowing mind, Expression ever varying! Thus informed, He had small need of books; for many a tale Traditionary, round the mountains hung, And many a legend, peopling the dark woods, Nourished Imagination in her growth, And gave the Mind that apprehensive power By which she is made quick to recognise The moral properties and scope of things. But eagerly he read, and read again, 170 Whate'er the minister's old shelf supplied; The life and death of martyrs, who sustained, With will inflexible, those fearful pangs Triumphantly displayed in records left Of persecution, and the Covenant--times Whose echo rings through Scotland to this hour! And there, by lucky hap, had been preserved A straggling volume, torn and incomplete, That left half-told the preternatural tale, Romance of giants, chronicle of fiends, 180 Profuse in garniture of wooden cuts Strange and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire, Sharp-kneed, sharp-elbowed, and lean-ankled too, With long and ghostly shanks--forms which once seen Could never be forgotten! In his heart, Where Fear sate thus, a cherished visitant, Was wanting yet the pure delight of love By sound diffused, or by the breathing air, Or by the silent looks of happy things, Or flowing from the universal face 190 Of earth and sky. But he had felt the power Of Nature, and already was prepared, By his intense conceptions, to receive Deeply the lesson deep of love which he, Whom Nature, by whatever means, has taught To feel intensely, cannot but receive. Such was the Boy--but for the growing Youth What soul was his, when, from the naked top Of some bold headland, he beheld the sun Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked-- 200 Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness lay Beneath him:--Far and wide the clouds were touched, And in their silent faces could he read Unutterable love. Sound needed none, Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form, All melted into him; they swallowed up His animal being; in them did he live, And by them did he live; they were his life. 210 In such access of mind, in such high hour Of visitation from the living God, Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired. No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request; Rapt into still communion that transcends The imperfect offices of prayer and praise, His mind was a thanksgiving to the power That made him; it was blessedness and love! A Herdsman on the lonely mountain tops, Such intercourse was his, and in this sort 220 Was his existence oftentimes 'possessed'. O then how beautiful, how bright, appeared The written promise! Early had he learned To reverence the volume that displays The mystery, the life which cannot die; But in the mountains did he 'feel' his faith. All things, responsive to the writing, there Breathed immortality, revolving life, And greatness still revolving; infinite: There littleness was not; the least of things 230 Seemed infinite; and there his spirit shaped Her prospects, nor did he believe,--he 'saw'. What wonder if his being thus became Sublime and comprehensive! Low desires, Low thoughts had there no place; yet was his heart Lowly; for he was meek in gratitude, Oft as he called those ecstasies to mind, And whence they flowed; and from them he acquired Wisdom, which works through patience; thence he learned In oft-recurring hours of sober thought 240 To look on Nature with a humble heart. Self-questioned where it did not understand, And with a superstitious eye of love. So passed the time; yet to the nearest town He duly went with what small overplus His earnings might supply, and brought away The book that most had tempted his desires While at the stall he read. Among the hills He gazed upon that mighty orb of song, The divine Milton. Lore of different kind, 250 The annual savings of a toilsome life, His Schoolmaster supplied; books that explain The purer elements of truth involved In lines and numbers, and, by charm severe, (Especially perceived where nature droops And feeling is suppressed) preserve the mind Busy in solitude and poverty. These occupations oftentimes deceived The listless hours, while in the hollow vale, Hollow and green, he lay on the green turf 260 In pensive idleness. What could he do, Thus daily thirsting, in that lonesome life, With blind endeavours? Yet, still uppermost, Nature was at his heart as if he felt, Though yet he knew not how, a wasting power In all things that from her sweet influence Might tend to wean him. Therefore with her hues, Her forms, and with the spirit of her forms, He clothed the nakedness of austere truth. While yet he lingered in the rudiments 270 Of science, and among her simplest laws, His triangles--they were the stars of heaven, The silent stars! Oft did he take delight To measure the altitude of some tall crag That is the eagle's birth-place, or some peak Familiar with forgotten years, that shows, Inscribed upon its visionary sides, The history of many a winter storm, Or obscure records of the path of fire. And thus before his eighteenth year was told, 280 Accumulated feelings pressed his heart With still increasing weight; he was o'er-powered By Nature; by the turbulence subdued Of his own mind; by mystery and hope, And the first virgin passion of a soul Communing with the glorious universe. Full often wished he that the winds might rage When they were silent: far more fondly now Than in his earlier season did he love Tempestuous nights--the conflict and the sounds 290 That live in darkness. From his intellect And from the stillness of abstracted thought He asked repose; and, failing oft to win The peace required, he scanned the laws of light Amid the roar of torrents, where they send From hollow clefts up to the clearer air A cloud of mist that, smitten by the sun, Varies its rainbow hues. But vainly thus, And vainly by all other means, he strove To mitigate the fever of his heart. 300 In dreams, in study, and in ardent thought, Thus was he reared; much wanting to assist The growth of intellect, yet gaining more, And every moral feeling of his soul Strengthened and braced, by breathing in content The keen, the wholesome, air of poverty, And drinking from the well of homely life. --But, from past liberty, and tried restraints, He now was summoned to select the course Of humble industry that promised best 310 To yield him no unworthy maintenance. Urged by his Mother, he essayed to teach A village-school--but wandering thoughts were then A misery to him; and the Youth resigned A task he was unable to perform. That stern yet kindly Spirit, who constrains The Savoyard to quit his naked rocks, The free-born Swiss to leave his narrow vales, (Spirit attached to regions mountainous Like their own stedfast clouds) did now impel 320 His restless mind to look abroad with hope. --An irksome drudgery seems it to plod on, Through hot and dusty ways, or pelting storm, A vagrant Merchant under a heavy load, Bent as he moves, and needing frequent rest; Yet do such travellers find their own delight; And their hard service, deemed debasing now Gained merited respect in simpler times; When squire, and priest, and they who round them dwelt In rustic sequestration--all dependent 330 Upon the PEDLAR'S toil--supplied their wants, Or pleased their fancies, with the wares he brought. Not ignorant was the Youth that still no few Of his adventurous countrymen were led By perseverance in this track of life To competence and ease:--to him it offered Attractions manifold;--and this he chose. --His Parents on the enterprise bestowed Their farewell benediction, but with hearts Foreboding evil. From his native hills 340 He wandered far; much did he see of men, Their manners, their enjoyments, and pursuits, Their passions and their feelings; chiefly those Essential and eternal in the heart, That, 'mid the simpler forms of rural life, Exist more simple in their elements, And speak a plainer language. In the woods, A lone Enthusiast, and among the fields, Itinerant in this labour, he had passed The better portion of his time; and there 350 Spontaneously had his affections thriven Amid the bounties of the year, the peace And liberty of nature; there he kept In solitude and solitary thought His mind in a just equipoise of love. Serene it was, unclouded by the cares Of ordinary life; unvexed, unwarped By partial bondage. In his steady course, No piteous revolutions had he felt, No wild varieties of joy and grief. 360 Unoccupied by sorrow of its own, His heart lay open; and, by nature tuned And constant disposition of his thoughts To sympathy with man, he was alive To all that was enjoyed where'er he went, And all that was endured; for, in himself Happy, and quiet in his cheerfulness, He had no painful pressure from without That made him turn aside from wretchedness With coward fears. He could 'afford' to suffer 370 With those whom he saw suffer. Hence it came That in our best experience he was rich, And in the wisdom of our daily life. For hence, minutely, in his various rounds, He had observed the progress and decay Of many minds, of minds and bodies too; The history of many families; How they had prospered; how they were o'erthrown By passion or mischance, or such misrule Among the unthinking masters of the earth 380 As makes the nations groan. This active course He followed till provision for his wants Had been obtained;--the Wanderer then resolved To pass the remnant of his days, untasked With needless services, from hardship free. His calling laid aside, he lived at ease: But still he loved to pace the public roads And the wild paths; and, by the summer's warmth Invited, often would he leave his home And journey far, revisiting the scenes 390 That to his memory were most endeared. --Vigorous in health, of hopeful spirits, undamped By worldly-mindedness or anxious care; Observant, studious, thoughtful, and refreshed By knowledge gathered up from day to day; Thus had he lived a long and innocent life. The Scottish Church, both on himself and those With whom from childhood he grew up, had held The strong hand of her purity; and still Had watched him with an unrelenting eye. 400 This he remembered in his riper age With gratitude, and reverential thoughts. But by the native vigour of his mind, By his habitual wanderings out of doors, By loneliness, and goodness, and kind works, Whate'er, in docile childhood or in youth, He had imbibed of fear or darker thought Was melted all away; so true was this, That sometimes his religion seemed to me Self-taught, as of a dreamer in the woods; 410 Who to the model of his own pure heart Shaped his belief, as grace divine inspired, And human reason dictated with awe. --And surely never did there live on earth A man of kindlier nature. The rough sports And teasing ways of children vexed not him; Indulgent listener was he to the tongue Of garrulous age; nor did the sick man's tale, To his fraternal sympathy addressed, Obtain reluctant hearing. Plain his garb; 420 Such as might suit a rustic Sire, prepared For sabbath duties; yet he was a man Whom no one could have passed without remark. Active and nervous was his gait; his limbs And his whole figure breathed intelligence. Time had compressed the freshness of his cheek Into a narrower circle of deep red, But had not tamed his eye; that, under brows Shaggy and grey, had meanings which it brought From years of youth; which, like a Being made 430 Of many Beings, he had wondrous skill To blend with knowledge of the years to come, Human, or such as lie beyond the grave. _____________ So was He framed; and such his course of life Who now, with no appendage but a staff, The prized memorial of relinquished toils, Upon that cottage-bench reposed his limbs, Screened from the sun. Supine the Wanderer lay, His eyes as if in drowsiness half shut, The shadows of the breezy elms above 440 Dappling his face. He had not heard the sound Of my approaching steps, and in the shade Unnoticed did I stand some minutes' space. At length I hailed him, seeing that his hat Was moist with water-drops, as if the brim Had newly scooped a running stream. He rose, And ere our lively greeting into peace Had settled, "'Tis," said I, "a burning day: My lips are parched with thirst, but you, it seems Have somewhere found relief." He, at the word, 450 Pointing towards a sweet-briar, bade me climb The fence where that aspiring shrub looked out Upon the public way. It was a plot Of garden ground run wild, its matted weeds Marked with the steps of those, whom, as they passed, The gooseberry trees that shot in long lank slips, Or currants, hanging from their leafless stems, In scanty strings, had tempted to o'erleap The broken wall. I looked around, and there, Where two tall hedge-rows of thick alder boughs 460 Joined in a cold damp nook, espied a well Shrouded with willow-flowers and plumy fern. My thirst I slaked, and, from the cheerless spot Withdrawing, straightway to the shade returned Where sate the old Man on the cottage-bench; And, while, beside him, with uncovered head, I yet was standing, freely to respire, And cool my temples in the fanning air, Thus did he speak. "I see around me here Things which you cannot see: we die, my Friend, 470 Nor we alone, but that which each man loved And prized in his peculiar nook of earth Dies with him, or is changed; and very soon Even of the good is no memorial left. --The Poets, in their elegies and songs Lamenting the departed, call the groves, They call upon the hills and streams, to mourn, And senseless rocks; nor idly; for they speak, In these their invocations, with a voice Obedient to the strong creative power 480 Of human passion. Sympathies there are More tranquil, yet perhaps of kindred birth, That steal upon the meditative mind, And grow with thought. Beside yon spring I stood, And eyed its waters till we seemed to feel One sadness, they and I. For them a bond Of brotherhood is broken: time has been When, every day, the touch of human hand Dislodged the natural sleep that binds them up In mortal stillness; and they ministered 490 To human comfort. Stooping down to drink, Upon the slimy foot-stone I espied The useless fragment of a wooden bowl, Green with the moss of years, and subject only To the soft handling of the elements: There let it lie--how foolish are such thoughts! Forgive them;--never--never did my steps Approach this door but she who dwelt within A daughter's welcome gave me, and I loved her As my own child. Oh, Sir! the good die first, 500 And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust Burn to the socket. Many a passenger Hath blessed poor Margaret for her gentle looks, When she upheld the cool refreshment drawn From that forsaken spring; and no one came But he was welcome; no one went away But that it seemed she loved him. She is dead, The light extinguished of her lonely hut, The hut itself abandoned to decay, And she forgotten in the quiet grave. 550 I speak," continued he, "of One whose stock Of virtues bloomed beneath this lonely roof. She was a Woman of a steady mind, Tender and deep in her excess of love; Not speaking much, pleased rather with the joy Of her own thoughts: by some especial care Her temper had been framed, as if to make A Being, who by adding love to peace Might live on earth a life of happiness. Her wedded Partner lacked not on his side 560 The humble worth that satisfied her heart: Frugal, affectionate, sober, and withal Keenly industrious. She with pride would tell That he was often seated at his loom, In summer, ere the mower was abroad Among the dewy grass,--in early spring, Ere the last star had vanished.--They who passed At evening, from behind the garden fence Might hear his busy spade, which he would ply, After his daily work, until the light 570 Had failed, and every leaf and flower were lost In the dark hedges. So their days were spent In peace and comfort; and a pretty boy Was their best hope, next to the God in heaven. Not twenty years ago, but you I think Can scarcely bear it now in mind, there came Two blighting seasons, when the fields were left With half a harvest. It pleased Heaven to add A worse affliction in the plague of war: This happy Land was stricken to the heart! 580 A Wanderer then among the cottages, I, with my freight of winter raiment, saw The hardships of that season: many rich Sank down, as in a dream, among the poor; And of the poor did many cease to be, And their place knew them not. Meanwhile, abridged Of daily comforts, gladly reconciled To numerous self-denials, Margaret Went struggling on through those calamitous years With cheerful hope, until the second autumn, 590 When her life's Helpmate on a sick-bed lay, Smitten with perilous fever. In disease He lingered long; and, when his strength returned, He found the little he had stored, to meet The hour of accident or crippling age, Was all consumed. A second infant now Was added to the troubles of a time Laden, for them and all of their degree, With care and sorrow; shoals of artisans From ill-requited labour turned adrift 600 Sought daily bread from public charity, They, and their wives and children--happier far Could they have lived as do the little birds That peck along the hedge-rows, or the kite That makes her dwelling on the mountain rocks! A sad reverse it was for him who long Had filled with plenty, and possessed in peace, This lonely Cottage. At the door he stood, And whistled many a snatch of merry tunes That had no mirth in them; or with his knife 610 Carved uncouth figures on the heads of sticks-- Then, not less idly, sought, through every nook In house or garden, any casual work Of use or ornament; and with a strange, Amusing, yet uneasy, novelty, He mingled, where he might, the various tasks Of summer, autumn, winter, and of spring. But this endured not; his good humour soon Became a weight in which no pleasure was: And poverty brought on a petted mood 620 And a sore temper: day by day he drooped, And he would leave his work--and to the town Would turn without an errand his slack steps; Or wander here and there among the fields. One while he would speak lightly of his babes, And with a cruel tongue: at other times He tossed them with a false unnatural joy: And 'twas a rueful thing to see the looks Of the poor innocent children. 'Every smile,' Said Margaret to me, here beneath these trees, 'Made my heart bleed.'" At this the Wanderer paused; 630 And, looking up to those enormous elms, He said, "'Tis now the hour of deepest noon. At this still season of repose and peace, This hour when all things which are not at rest Are cheerful; while this multitude of flies With tuneful hum is filling all the air; Why should a tear be on an old Man's cheek? Why should we thus, with an untoward mind, And in the weakness of humanity, From natural wisdom turn our hearts away; 640 To natural comfort shut our eyes and ears; And, feeding on disquiet, thus disturb The calm of nature with our restless thoughts?" _____________ HE spake with somewhat of a solemn tone: But, when he ended, there was in his face Such easy cheerfulness, a look so mild, That for a little time it stole away All recollection; and that simple tale Passed from my mind like a forgotten sound. A while on trivial things we held discourse, 650 To me soon tasteless. In my own despite, I thought of that poor Woman as of one Whom I had known and loved. He had rehearsed Her homely tale with such familiar power, With such an active countenance, an eye So busy, that the things of which he spake Seemed present; and, attention now relaxed, A heart-felt chillness crept along my veins. I rose; and, having left the breezy shade, Stood drinking comfort from the warmer sun, 660 That had not cheered me long--ere, looking round Upon that tranquil Ruin, I returned, And begged of the old Man that, for my sake, He would resume his story. He replied, "It were a wantonness, and would demand Severe reproof, if we were men whose hearts Could hold vain dalliance with the misery Even of the dead; contented thence to draw A momentary pleasure, never marked By reason, barren of all future good. 670 But we have known that there is often found In mournful thoughts, and always might be found, A power to virtue friendly; were't not so, I am a dreamer among men, indeed An idle dreamer! 'Tis a common tale, An ordinary sorrow of man's life, A tale of silent suffering, hardly clothed In bodily form.--But without further bidding I will proceed. While thus it fared with them, To whom this cottage, till those hapless years, 680 Had been a blessed home, it was my chance To travel in a country far remote; And when these lofty elms once more appeared What pleasant expectations lured me on O'er the flat Common!--With quick step I reached The threshold, lifted with light hand the latch; But, when I entered, Margaret looked at me A little while; then turned her head away Speechless,--and, sitting down upon a chair, Wept bitterly. I wist not what to do, 690 Nor how to speak to her. Poor Wretch! at last She rose from off her seat, and then,--O Sir! I cannot 'tell' how she pronounced my name:-- With fervent love, and with a face of grief Unutterably helpless, and a look That seemed to cling upon me, she enquired If I had seen her husband. As she spake A strange surprise and fear came to my heart, Nor had I power to answer ere she told That he had disappeared--not two months gone. 700 He left his house: two wretched days had past, And on the third, as wistfully she raised Her head from off her pillow, to look forth, Like one in trouble, for returning light, Within her chamber-casement she espied A folded paper, lying as if placed To meet her waking eyes. This tremblingly She opened--found no writing, but beheld Pieces of money carefully enclosed, Silver and gold. 'I shuddered at the sight,' 710 Said Margaret, 'for I knew it was his hand That must have placed it there; and ere that day Was ended, that long anxious day, I learned, From one who by my husband had been sent With the sad news, that he had joined a troop Of soldiers, going to a distant land. --He left me thus--he could not gather heart To take a farewell of me; for he feared That I should follow with my babes, and sink Beneath the misery of that wandering life.' 720 This tale did Margaret tell with many tears: And, when she ended, I had little power To give her comfort, and was glad to take Such words of hope from her own mouth as served To cheer us both. But long we had not talked Ere we built up a pile of better thoughts, And with a brighter eye she looked around As if she had been shedding tears of joy. We parted.--'Twas the time of early spring; I left her busy with her garden tools; 730 And well remember, o'er that fence she looked, And, while I paced along the foot-way path, Called out, and sent a blessing after me, With tender cheerfulness, and with a voice That seemed the very sound of happy thoughts. I roved o'er many a hill and many a dale, With my accustomed load; in heat and cold, Through many a wood and many an open ground, In sunshine and in shade, in wet and fair, Drooping or blithe of heart, as might befall; 740 My best companions now the driving winds, And now the 'trotting brooks' and whispering trees, And now the music of my own sad steps, With many a short-lived thought that passed between, And disappeared. I journeyed back this way, When, in the warmth of midsummer, the wheat Was yellow; and the soft and bladed grass, Springing afresh, had o'er the hay-field spread Its tender verdure. At the door arrived, I found that she was absent. In the shade, 750 Where now we sit, I waited her return. Her cottage, then a cheerful object, wore Its customary look,--only, it seemed, The honeysuckle, crowding round the porch, Hung down in heavier tufts; and that bright weed, The yellow stone-crop, suffered to take root Along the window's edge, profusely grew, Blinding the lower panes. I turned aside, And strolled into her garden. It appeared To lag behind the season, and had lost 760 Its pride of neatness. Daisy-flowers and thrift Had broken their trim border-lines, and straggled O'er paths they used to deck: carnations, once Prized for surpassing beauty, and no less For the peculiar pains they had required, Declined their languid heads, wanting support. The cumbrous bind-weed, with its wreaths and bells, Had twined about her two small rows of peas, And dragged them to the earth. Ere this an hour Was wasted.--Back I turned my restless steps; 770 A stranger passed; and, guessing whom I sought, He said that she was used to ramble far.-- The sun was sinking in the west; and now I sate with sad impatience. From within Her solitary infant cried aloud; Then, like a blast that dies away self-stilled, The voice was silent. From the bench I rose; But neither could divert nor soothe my thoughts. The spot, though fair, was very desolate-- The longer I remained, more desolate: 780 And, looking round me, now I first observed The corner stones, on either side the porch, With dull red stains discoloured, and stuck o'er With tufts and hairs of wool, as if the sheep, That fed upon the Common, thither came Familiarly, and found a couching-place Even at her threshold. Deeper shadows fell From these tall elms; the cottage-clock struck eight;-- I turned, and saw her distant a few steps. Her face was pale and thin--her figure, too, 790 Was changed. As she unlocked the door, she said, 'It grieves me you have waited here so long, But, in good truth, I've wandered much of late; And sometimes--to my shame I speak--have need Of my best prayers to bring me back again. While on the board she spread our evening meal, She told me--interrupting not the work Which gave employment to her listless hands-- That she had parted with her elder child; To a kind master on a distant farm 800 Now happily apprenticed.--'I perceive You look at me, and you have cause; today I have been travelling far; and many days About the fields I wander, knowing this Only, that what I seek I cannot find; And so I waste my time: for I am changed; And to myself,' said she, 'have done much wrong And to this helpless infant. I have slept Weeping, and weeping have I waked; my tears Have flowed as if my body were not such 810 As others are; and I could never die. But I am now in mind and in my heart More easy; and I hope,' said she, 'that God Will give me patience to endure the things Which I behold at home.' It would have grieved Your very soul to see her. Sir, I feel The story linger in my heart; I fear 'Tis long and tedious; but my spirit clings To that poor Woman:--so familiarly Do I perceive her manner, and her look, 820 And presence; and so deeply do I feel Her goodness, that, not seldom, in my walks A momentary trance comes over me; And to myself I seem to muse on One By sorrow laid asleep; or borne away, A human being destined to awake To human life, or something very near To human life, when he shall come again For whom she suffered. Yes, it would have grieved Your very soul to see her: evermore 830 Her eyelids drooped, her eyes downward were cast; And, when she at her table gave me food, She did not look at me. Her voice was low, Her body was subdued. In every act Pertaining to her house-affairs, appeared The careless stillness of a thinking mind Self-occupied; to which all outward things Are like an idle matter. Still she sighed, But yet no motion of the breast was seen, No heaving of the heart. While by the fire 840 We sate together, sighs came on my ear, I knew not how, and hardly whence they came. Ere my departure, to her care I gave, For her son's use, some tokens of regard, Which with a look of welcome she received; And I exhorted her to place her trust In God's good love, and seek his help by prayer. I took my staff, and, when I kissed her babe, The tears stood in her eyes. I left her then With the best hope and comfort I could give: 850 She thanked me for my wish;--but for my hope It seemed she did not thank me. I returned, And took my rounds along this road again When on its sunny bank the primrose flower Peeped forth, to give an earnest of the Spring. I found her sad and drooping: she had learned No tidings of her husband; if he lived, She knew not that he lived; if he were dead, She knew not he was dead. She seemed the same In person and appearance; but her house 860 Bespake a sleepy hand of negligence; The floor was neither dry nor neat, the hearth Was comfortless, and her small lot of books, Which, in the cottage-window, heretofore Had been piled up against the corner panes In seemly order, now, with straggling leaves Lay scattered here and there, open or shut, As they had chanced to fall. Her infant Babe Had from his Mother caught the trick of grief, And sighed among its playthings. I withdrew, 870 And once again entering the garden saw, More plainly still, that poverty and grief Were now come nearer to her: weeds defaced The hardened soil, and knots of withered grass: No ridges there appeared of clear black mould, No winter greenness; of her herbs and flowers, It seemed the better part was gnawed away Or trampled into earth; a chain of straw, Which had been twined about the slender stem Of a young apple-tree, lay at its root; 880 The bark was nibbled round by truant sheep. --Margaret stood near, her infant in her arms, And, noting that my eye was on the tree, She said, 'I fear it will be dead and gone Ere Robert come again.' When to the House We had returned together, she enquired If I had any hope:--but for her babe And for her little orphan boy, she said, She had no wish to live, that she must die Of sorrow. Yet I saw the idle loom 890 Still in its place; his Sunday garments hung Upon the self-same nail; his very staff Stood undisturbed behind the door. And when, In bleak December, I retraced this way, She told me that her little babe was dead, And she was left alone. She now, released From her maternal cares, had taken up The employment common through these wilds, and gained, By spinning hemp, a pittance for herself; And for this end had hired a neighbour's boy 900 To give her needful help. That very time Most willingly she put her work aside, And walked with me along the miry road, Heedless how far; and, in such piteous sort That any heart had ached to hear her, begged That, wheresoe'er I went, I still would ask For him whom she had lost. We parted then-- Our final parting; for from that time forth Did many seasons pass ere I returned Into this tract again. Nine tedious years; 910 From their first separation, nine long years, She lingered in unquiet widowhood; A Wife and Widow. Needs must it have been A sore heart-wasting! I have heard, my Friend, That in yon arbour oftentimes she sate Alone, through half the vacant sabbath day; And, if a dog passed by, she still would quit The shade, and look abroad. On this old bench For hours she sate; and evermore her eye Was busy in the distance, shaping things 920 That made her heart beat quick. You see that path, Now faint,--the grass has crept o'er its grey line; There, to and fro, she paced through many a day Of the warm summer, from a belt of hemp That girt her waist, spinning the long-drawn thread With backward steps. Yet ever as there passed A man whose garments showed the soldier's red, Or crippled mendicant in sailor's garb, The little child who sate to turn the wheel Ceased from his task; and she with faltering voice 930 Made many a fond enquiry; and when they, Whose presence gave no comfort, were gone by, Her heart was still more sad. And by yon gate, That bars the traveller's road, she often stood, And when a stranger horseman came, the latch Would lift, and in his face look wistfully; Most happy, if, from aught discovered there Of tender feeling, she might dare repeat The same sad question. Meanwhile her poor Hut Sank to decay; for he was gone, whose hand, 940 At the first nipping of October frost, Closed up each chink, and with fresh bands of straw Chequered the green-grown thatch. And so she lived Through the long winter, reckless and alone; Until her house by frost, and thaw, and rain, Was sapped; and while she slept, the nightly damps Did chill her breast; and in the stormy day Her tattered clothes were ruffled by the wind, Even at the side of her own fire. Yet still She loved this wretched spot, nor would for worlds 950 Have parted hence; and still that length of road, And this rude bench, one torturing hope endeared, Fast rooted at her heart: and here, my Friend,-- In sickness she remained; and here she died; Last human tenant of these ruined walls!" The old Man ceased: he saw that I was moved; From that low bench, rising instinctively I turned aside in weakness, nor had power To thank him for the tale which he had told. I stood, and leaning o'er the garden wall 960 Reviewed that Woman's sufferings; and it seemed To comfort me while with a brother's love I blessed her in the impotence of grief. Then towards the cottage I returned; and traced Fondly, though with an interest more mild, That secret spirit of humanity Which, 'mid the calm oblivious tendencies Of nature, 'mid her plants, and weeds, and flowers, And silent overgrowings, still survived. The old Man, noting this, resumed, and said, 970 "My Friend! enough to sorrow you have given, The purposes of wisdom ask no more: Nor more would she have craved as due to One Who, in her worst distress, had ofttimes felt The unbounded might of prayer; and learned, with soul Fixed on the Cross, that consolation springs, From sources deeper far than deepest pain, For the meek Sufferer. Why then should we read The forms of things with an unworthy eye? She sleeps in the calm earth, and peace is here. 980 I well remember that those very plumes, Those weeds, and the high spear-grass on that wall, By mist and silent rain-drops silvered o'er, As once I passed, into my heart conveyed So still an image of tranquillity, So calm and still, and looked so beautiful Amid the uneasy thoughts which filled my mind, That what we feel of sorrow and despair From ruin and from change, and all the grief That passing shows of Being leave behind, 990 Appeared an idle dream, that could maintain, Nowhere, dominion o'er the enlightened spirit Whose meditative sympathies repose Upon the breast of Faith. I turned away, And walked along my road in happiness." He ceased. Ere long the sun declining shot A slant and mellow radiance, which began To fall upon us, while, beneath the trees, We sate on that low bench: and now we felt, Admonished thus, the sweet hour coming on. 1000 A linnet warbled from those lofty elms, A thrush sang loud, and other melodies, At distance heard, peopled the milder air. The old Man rose, and, with a sprightly mien Of hopeful preparation, grasped his staff; Together casting then a farewell look Upon those silent walls, we left the shade; And, ere the stars were visible, had reached A village-inn,--our evening resting-place. 


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