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THE EXCURSION

BOOK SECOND

THE SOLITARY

 IN days of yore how fortunately fared The Minstrel! wandering on from hall to hall, Baronial court or royal; cheered with gifts Munificent, and love, and ladies' praise; Now meeting on his road an armed knight, Now resting with a pilgrim by the side Of a clear brook;--beneath an abbey's roof One evening sumptuously lodged; the next, Humbly in a religious hospital; Or with some merry outlaws of the wood; 10 Or haply shrouded in a hermit's cell. Him, sleeping or awake, the robber spared; He walked--protected from the sword of war By virtue of that sacred instrument His harp, suspended at the traveller's side; His dear companion wheresoe'er he went Opening from land to land an easy way By melody, and by the charm of verse. Yet not the noblest of that honoured Race Drew happier, loftier, more empassioned, thoughts 20 From his long journeyings and eventful life, Than this obscure Itinerant had skill To gather, ranging through the tamer ground Of these our unimaginative days; Both while he trod the earth in humblest guise Accoutred with his burthen and his staff; And now, when free to move with lighter pace. What wonder, then, if I, whose favourite school Hath been the fields, the roads, and rural lanes, Looked on this guide with reverential love? 30 Each with the other pleased, we now pursued Our journey, under favourable skies. Turn wheresoe'er we would, he was a light Unfailing: not a hamlet could we pass, Rarely a house, that did not yield to him Remembrances; or from his tongue call forth Some way-beguiling tale. Nor less regard Accompanied those strains of apt discourse, Which nature's various objects might inspire; And in the silence of his face I read 40 His overflowing spirit. Birds and beasts, And the mute fish that glances in the stream, And harmless reptile coiling in the sun, And gorgeous insect hovering in the air, The fowl domestic, and the household dog-- In his capacious mind, he loved them all: Their rights acknowledging he felt for all. Oft was occasion given me to perceive How the calm pleasures of the pasturing herd To happy contemplation soothed his walk; 50 How the poor brute's condition, forced to run Its course of suffering in the public road, Sad contrast! all too often smote his heart With unavailing pity. Rich in love And sweet humanity, he was, himself, To the degree that he desired, beloved. Smiles of good-will from faces that he knew Greeted us all day long; we took our seats By many a cottage-hearth, where he received The welcome of an Inmate from afar, 60 And I at once forgot, I was a Stranger. --Nor was he loth to enter ragged huts, Huts where his charity was blest; his voice Heard as the voice of an experienced friend. And, sometimes--where the poor man held dispute With his own mind, unable to subdue Impatience through inaptness to perceive General distress in his particular lot; Or cherishing resentment, or in vain Struggling against it; with a soul perplexed, 70 And finding in herself no steady power To draw the line of comfort that divides Calamity, the chastisement of Heaven, From the injustice of our brother men-- To him appeal was made as to a judge; Who, with an understanding heart, allayed The perturbation; listened to the plea; Resolved the dubious point; and sentence gave So grounded, so applied, that it was heard With softened spirit, even when it condemned. 80 Such intercourse I witnessed, while we roved, Now as his choice directed, now as mine; Or both, with equal readiness of will, Our course submitting to the changeful breeze Of accident. But when the rising sun Had three times called us to renew our walk, My Fellow-traveller, with earnest voice, As if the thought were but a moment old, Claimed absolute dominion for the day. We started--and he led me toward the hills, 90 Up through an ample vale, with higher hills Before us, mountains stern and desolate; But, in the majesty of distance, now Set off, and to our ken appearing fair Of aspect, with aerial softness clad, And beautified with morning's purple beams. The wealthy, the luxurious, by the stress Of business roused, or pleasure, ere their time, May roll in chariots, or provoke the hoofs Of the fleet coursers they bestride, to raise 100 From earth the dust of morning, slow to rise; And they, if blest with health and hearts at ease, Shall lack not their enjoyment:--but how faint Compared with ours! who, pacing side by side, Could, with an eye of leisure, look on all That we beheld; and lend the listening sense To every grateful sound of earth and air; Pausing at will--our spirits braced, our thoughts Pleasant as roses in the thickets blown, And pure as dew bathing their crimson leaves. 110 Mount slowly, sun! that we may journey long, By this dark hill protected from thy beams! Such is the summer pilgrim's frequent wish; But quickly from among our morning thoughts 'Twas chased away: for, toward the western side Of the broad vale, casting a casual glance, We saw a throng of people; wherefore met? Blithe notes of music, suddenly let loose On the thrilled ear, and flags uprising, yield Prompt answer; they proclaim the annual Wake, 120 Which the bright season favours.--Tabor and pipe In purpose join to hasten or reprove The laggard Rustic; and repay with boons Of merriment a party-coloured knot, Already formed upon the village-green. --Beyond the limits of the shadow cast By the broad hill, glistened upon our sight That gay assemblage. Round them and above, Glitter, with dark recesses interposed, Casement, and cottage-roof, and stems of trees 130 Half-veiled in vapoury cloud, the silver steam Of dews fast melting on their leafy boughs By the strong sunbeams smitten. Like a mast Of gold, the Maypole shines; as if the rays Of morning, aided by exhaling dew, With gladsome influence could re-animate The faded garlands dangling from its sides. Said I, "The music and the sprightly scene Invite us; shall we quit our road, and join These festive matins?"--He replied, "Not loth 140 To linger I would here with you partake, Not one hour merely, but till evening's close, The simple pastimes of the day and place. By the fleet Racers, ere the sun be set, The turf of yon large pasture will be skimmed; There, too, the lusty Wrestlers shall contend: But know we not that he, who intermits The appointed task and duties of the day, Untunes full oft the pleasures of the day; Checking the finer spirits that refuse 150 To flow when purposes are lightly changed? A length of journey yet remains untraced: Let us proceed." Then, pointing with his staff Raised toward those craggy summits, his intent He thus imparted:-- "In a spot that lies Among yon mountain fastnesses concealed, You will receive, before the hour of noon, Good recompense, I hope, for this day's toil, From sight of One who lives secluded there, Lonesome and lost: of whom, and whose past life, 160 (Not to forestall such knowledge as may be More faithfully collected from himself) This brief communication shall suffice. Though now sojourning there, he, like myself, Sprang from a stock of lowly parentage Among the wilds of Scotland, in a tract Where many a sheltered and well-tended plant, Bears, on the humblest ground of social life, Blossoms of piety and innocence. Such grateful promises his youth displayed: 170 And, having shown in study forward zeal, He to the Ministry was duly called; And straight, incited by a curious mind Filled with vague hopes, he undertook the charge Of Chaplain to a military troop Cheered by the Highland bagpipe, as they marched In plaided vest,--his fellow-countrymen. This office filling, yet by native power And force of native inclination made An intellectual ruler in the haunts 180 Of social vanity, he walked the world, Gay, and affecting graceful gaiety; Lax, buoyant--less a pastor with his flock Than a soldier among soldiers--lived and roamed Where Fortune led:--and Fortune, who oft proves The careless wanderer's friend, to him made known A blooming Lady--a conspicuous flower, Admired for beauty, for her sweetness praised; Whom he had sensibility to love, Ambition to attempt, and skill to win. 190 For this fair Bride, most rich in gifts of mind, Nor sparingly endowed with worldly wealth, His office he relinquished; and retired From the world's notice to a rural home. Youth's season yet with him was scarcely past, And she was in youth's prime. How free their love, How full their joy! 'Till, pitiable doom! In the short course of one undreaded year Death blasted all. Death suddenly o'erthrew Two lovely Children--all that they possessed! 200 The Mother followed:--miserably bare The one Survivor stood; he wept, he prayed For his dismissal, day and night, compelled To hold communion with the grave, and face With pain the regions of eternity. An uncomplaining apathy displaced This anguish; and, indifferent to delight, To aim and purpose, he consumed his days, To private interest dead, and public care. So lived he; so he might have died. But now, 210 To the wide world's astonishment, appeared A glorious opening, the unlooked-for dawn, That promised everlasting joy to France! Her voice of social transport reached even him! He broke from his contracted bounds, repaired To the great City, an emporium then Of golden expectations, and receiving Freights every day from a new world of hope. Thither his popular talents he transferred; And, from the pulpit, zealously maintained 220 The cause of Christ and civil liberty, As one, and moving to one glorious end. Intoxicating service! I might say A happy service; for he was sincere As vanity and fondness for applause, And new and shapeless wishes, would allow. That righteous cause (such power hath freedom) bound, For one hostility, in friendly league, Ethereal natures and the worst of slaves; Was served by rival advocates that came 230 From regions opposite as heaven and hell. One courage seemed to animate them all: And, from the dazzling conquests daily gained By their united efforts, there arose A proud and most presumptuous confidence In the transcendent wisdom of the age, And her discernment; not alone in rights, And in the origin and bounds of power Social and temporal; but in laws divine, Deduced by reason, or to faith revealed. 240 An overweening trust was raised; and fear Cast out, alike of person and of thing. Plague from this union spread, whose subtle bane The strongest did not easily escape; And He, what wonder! took a mortal taint. How shall I trace the change, how bear to tell That he broke faith with them whom he had laid In earth's dark chambers, with a Christian's hope! An infidel contempt of holy writ Stole by degrees upon his mind; and hence 250 Life, like that Roman Janus, double-faced; Vilest hypocrisy--the laughing, gay Hypocrisy, not leagued with fear, but pride. Smooth words he had to wheedle simple souls; But, for disciples of the inner school, Old freedom was old servitude, and they The wisest whose opinions stooped the least To known restraints; and who most boldly drew Hopeful prognostications from a creed, That, in the light of false philosophy, 260 Spread like a halo round a misty moon, Widening its circle as the storms advance. His sacred function was at length renounced; And every day and every place enjoyed The unshackled layman's natural liberty; Speech, manners, morals, all without disguise. I do not wish to wrong him; though the course Of private life licentiously displayed Unhallowed actions--planted like a crown Upon the insolent aspiring brow 270 Of spurious notions--worn as open signs Of prejudice subdued--still he retained, 'Mid much abasement, what he had received From nature, an intense and glowing mind. Wherefore, when humbled Liberty grew weak, And mortal sickness on her face appeared, He coloured objects to his own desire As with a lover's passion. Yet his moods Of pain were keen as those of better men, Nay keener, as his fortitude was less: 280 And he continued, when worse days were come, To deal about his sparkling eloquence, Struggling against the strange reverse with zeal That showed like happiness. But, in despite Of all this outside bravery, within, He neither felt encouragement nor hope: For moral dignity, and strength of mind, Were wanting; and simplicity of life; And reverence for himself; and, last and best, Confiding thoughts, through love and fear of Him 290 Before whose sight the troubles of this world Are vain, as billows in a tossing sea. The glory of the times fading away-- The splendour, which had given a festal air To self-importance, hallowed it, and veiled From his own sight--this gone, he forfeited All joy in human nature; was consumed, And vexed, and chafed, by levity and scorn, And fruitless indignation; galled by pride; Made desperate by contempt of men who throve 300 Before his sight in power or fame, and won, Without desert, what he desired; weak men, Too weak even for his envy or his hate! Tormented thus, after a wandering course Of discontent, and inwardly opprest With malady--in part, I fear, provoked By weariness of life--he fixed his home, Or, rather say, sate down by very chance, Among these rugged hills; where now he dwells, And wastes the sad remainder of his hours, 310 Steeped in a self-indulging spleen, that wants not Its own voluptuousness;--on this resolved, With this content, that he will live and die Forgotten,--at safe distance from 'a world Not moving to his mind.'" These serious words Closed the preparatory notices That served my Fellow-traveller to beguile The way, while we advanced up that wide vale. Diverging now (as if his quest had been Some secret of the mountains, cavern, fall 320 Of water, or some lofty eminence, Renowned for splendid prospect far and wide) We scaled, without a track to ease our steps, A steep ascent; and reached a dreary plain, With a tumultuous waste of huge hill tops Before us; savage region! which I paced Dispirited: when, all at once, behold! Beneath our feet, a little lowly vale, A lowly vale, and yet uplifted high Among the mountains; even as if the spot 330 Had been from eldest time by wish of theirs So placed, to be shut out from all the world! Urn-like it was in shape, deep as an urn; With rocks encompassed, save that to the south Was one small opening, where a heath-clad ridge Supplied a boundary less abrupt and close; A quiet treeless nook, with two green fields, A liquid pool that glittered in the sun, And one bare dwelling; one abode, no more! It seemed the home of poverty and toil, 340 Though not of want: the little fields, made green By husbandry of many thrifty years, Paid cheerful tribute to the moorland house. --There crows the cock, single in his domain: The small birds find in spring no thicket there To shroud them; only from the neighbouring vales The cuckoo, straggling up to the hill tops, Shouteth faint tidings of some gladder place. Ah! what a sweet Recess, thought I, is here! Instantly throwing down my limbs at ease 350 Upon a bed of heath;--full many a spot Of hidden beauty have I chanced to espy Among the mountains; never one like this; So lonesome, and so perfectly secure; Not melancholy--no, for it is green, And bright, and fertile, furnished in itself With the few needful things that life requires. --In rugged arms how softly does it lie, How tenderly protected! Far and near We have an image of the pristine earth, 360 The planet in its nakedness: were this Man's only dwelling, sole appointed seat, First, last, and single, in the breathing world, It could not be more quiet; peace is here Or nowhere; days unruffled by the gale Of public news or private; years that pass Forgetfully; uncalled upon to pay The common penalties of mortal life, Sickness, or accident, or grief, or pain. On these and kindred thoughts intent I lay 370 In silence musing by my Comrade's side, He also silent; when from out the heart Of that profound abyss a solemn voice, Or several voices in one solemn sound, Was heard ascending; mournful, deep, and slow The cadence, as of psalms--a funeral dirge! We listened, looking down upon the hut, But seeing no one: meanwhile from below The strain continued, spiritual as before; And now distinctly could I recognise 380 These words:--"Shall in the grave thy love be known, In death thy faithfulness?"--"God rest his soul!' Said the old man, abruptly breaking silence,-- "He is departed, and finds peace at last!" This scarcely spoken, and those holy strains Not ceasing, forth appeared in view a band Of rustic persons, from behind the hut Bearing a coffin in the midst, with which They shaped their course along the sloping side Of that small valley, singing as they moved; 390 A sober company and few, the men Bare-headed, and all decently attired! Some steps when they had thus advanced, the dirge Ended; and, from the stillness that ensued Recovering, to my Friend I said, "You spake, Methought, with apprehension that these rites Are paid to Him upon whose shy retreat This day we purposed to intrude.'--"I did so, But let us hence, that we may learn the truth: Perhaps it is not he but some one else 400 For whom this pious service is performed; Some other tenant of the solitude." So, to a steep and difficult descent Trusting ourselves, we wound from crag to crag, Where passage could be won; and, as the last Of the mute train, behind the heathy top Of that off-sloping outlet, disappeared, I, more impatient in my downward course, Had landed upon easy ground; and there Stood waiting for my Comrade. When behold 410 An object that enticed my steps aside! A narrow, winding, entry opened out Into a platform--that lay, sheepfold-wise, Enclosed between an upright mass of rock And one old moss-grown wall;--a cool recess, And fanciful! For where the rock and wall Met in an angle, hung a penthouse, framed By thrusting two rude staves into the wall And overlaying them with mountain sods; To weather-fend a little turf-built seat 420 Whereon a full-grown man might rest, nor dread The burning sunshine, or a transient shower; But the whole plainly wrought by children's hands! Whose skill had thronged the floor with a proud show Of baby-houses, curiously arranged; Nor wanting ornament of walks between, With mimic trees inserted in the turf, And gardens interposed. Pleased with the sight, I could not choose but beckon to my Guide, Who, entering, round him threw a careless glance, 430 Impatient to pass on, when I exclaimed, "Lo! what is here?" and, stooping down, drew forth A book, that, in the midst of stones and moss And wreck of party-coloured earthen-ware, Aptly disposed, had lent its help to raise One of those petty structures. "His it must be!" Exclaimed the Wanderer, "cannot but be his, And he is gone!" The book, which in my hand Had opened of itself (for it was swoln With searching damp, and seemingly had lain 440 To the injurious elements exposed From week to week,) I found to be a work In the French tongue, a Novel of Voltaire, His famous Optimist. "Unhappy Man!" Exclaimed my Friend: "here then has been to him Retreat within retreat, a sheltering-place Within how deep a shelter! He had fits, Even to the last, of genuine tenderness, And loved the haunts of children: here, no doubt, Pleasing and pleased, he shared their simple sports, 450 Or sate companionless; and here the book, Left and forgotten in his careless way, Must by the cottage-children have been found: Heaven bless them, and their inconsiderate work! To what odd purpose have the darlings turned This sad memorial of their hapless friend!" "Me," said I, "most doth it surprise, to find Such book in such a place!"--"A book it is," He answered, "to the Person suited well, Though little suited to surrounding things: 460 'Tis strange, I grant; and stranger still had been To see the Man who owned it, dwelling here, With one poor shepherd, far from all the world!-- Now, if our errand hath been thrown away, As from these intimations I forebode, Grieved shall I be--less for my sake than yours, And least of all for him who is no more." By this, the book was in the old Man's hand; And he continued, glancing on the leaves An eye of scorn:--"The lover," said he, "doomed 470 To love when hope hath failed him--whom no depth Of privacy is deep enough to hide, Hath yet his bracelet or his lock of hair, And that is joy to him. When change of times Hath summoned kings to scaffolds, do but give The faithful servant, who must hide his head Henceforth in whatsoever nook he may, A kerchief sprinkled with his master's blood, And he too hath his comforter. How poor, Beyond all poverty how destitute, 480 Must that Man have been left, who, hither driven, Flying or seeking, could yet bring with him No dearer relique, and no better stay, Than this dull product of a scoffer's pen, Impure conceits discharging from a heart Hardened by impious pride!--I did not fear To tax you with this journey;"--mildly said My venerable Friend, as forth we stepped Into the presence of the cheerful light-- "For I have knowledge that you do not shrink 490 From moving spectacles;--but let us on." So speaking, on he went, and at the word I followed, till he made a sudden stand: For full in view, approaching through a gate That opened from the enclosure of green fields Into the rough uncultivated ground, Behold the Man whom he had fancied dead! I knew from his deportment, mien, and dress, That it could be no other; a pale face, A meagre person, tall, and in a garb 500 Not rustic--dull and faded like himself! He saw us not, though distant but few steps; For he was busy, dealing, from a store Upon a broad leaf carried, choicest strings Of red ripe currants; gift by which he strove, With intermixture of endearing words, To soothe a Child, who walked beside him, weeping As if disconsolate.--"They to the grave Are bearing him, my Little-one," he said, "To the dark pit; but he will feel no pain; 510 His body is at rest, his soul in heaven." More might have followed--but my honoured Friend Broke in upon the Speaker with a frank And cordial greeting.--Vivid was the light That flashed and sparkled from the other's eyes; He was all fire: no shadow on his brow Remained, nor sign of sickness on his face. Hands joined he with his Visitant,--a grasp, An eager grasp; and many moments' space-- When the first glow of pleasure was no more, 520 And, of the sad appearance which at once Had vanished, much was come and coming back-- An amicable smile retained the life Which it had unexpectedly received, Upon his hollow cheek. "How kind," he said, "Nor could your coming have been better timed; For this, you see, is in our narrow world A day of sorrow. I have here a charge"-- And, speaking thus, he patted tenderly The sun-burnt forehead of the weeping child-- 530 "A little mourner, whom it is my task To comfort;--but how came ye?--if yon track (Which doth at once befriend us and betray) Conducted hither your most welcome feet, Ye could not miss the funeral train--they yet Have scarcely disappeared." "This blooming Child," Said the old Man, "is of an age to weep At any grave or solemn spectacle, Inly distressed or overpowered with awe, He knows not wherefore;--but the boy today, 540 Perhaps is shedding orphan's tears; you also Must have sustained a loss."--"The hand of Death," He answered, "has been here; but could not well Have fallen more lightly, if it had not fallen Upon myself."--The other left these words Unnoticed, thus continuing-- "From yon crag, Down whose steep sides we dropped into the vale, We heard the hymn they sang--a solemn sound Heard anywhere; but in a place like this 'Tis more than human! Many precious rites 550 And customs of our rural ancestry Are gone, or stealing from us; this, I hope, Will last for ever. Oft on my way have I Stood still, though but a casual passenger, So much I felt the awfulness of life, In that one moment when the corse is lifted In silence, with a hush of decency; Then from the threshold moves with song of peace, And confidential yearnings, towards its home, Its final home on earth. What traveller--who-- 560 (How far soe'er a stranger) does not own The bond of brotherhood, when he sees them go, A mute procession on the houseless road; Or passing by some single tenement Or clustered dwellings, where again they raise The monitory voice? But most of all It touches, it confirms, and elevates, Then, when the body, soon to be consigned Ashes to ashes, dust bequeathed to dust, Is raised from the church-aisle, and forward borne 570 Upon the shoulders of the next in love, The nearest in affection or in blood; Yea, by the very mourners who had knelt Beside the coffin, resting on its lid In silent grief their unuplifted heads, And heard meanwhile the Psalmist's mournful plaint, And that most awful scripture which declares We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed! --Have I not seen--ye likewise may have seen-- Son, husband, brothers--brothers side by side, 580 And son and father also side by side, Rise from that posture:--and in concert move, On the green turf following the vested Priest, Four dear supporters of one senseless weight, From which they do not shrink, and under which They faint not, but advance towards the open grave Step after step--together, with their firm Unhidden faces: he that suffers most, He outwardly, and inwardly perhaps, The most serene, with most undaunted eye!-- 590 Oh! blest are they who live and die like these, Loved with such love, and with such sorrow mourned!" "That poor Man taken hence to-day," replied The Solitary, with a faint sarcastic smile Which did not please me, "must be deemed, I fear, Of the unblest; for he will surely sink Into his mother earth without such pomp Of grief, depart without occasion given By him for such array of fortitude. Full seventy winters hath he lived, and mark! 600 This simple Child will mourn his one short hour, And I shall miss him: scanty tribute! yet, This wanting, he would leave the sight of men, If love were his sole claim upon their care, Like a ripe date which in the desert falls Without a hand to gather it." At this I interposed, though loth to speak, and said, "Can it be thus among so small a band As ye must needs be here? in such a place I would not willingly, methinks, lose sight 610 Of a departing cloud."--"'Twas not for love"-- Answered the sick Man with a careless voice-- "That I came hither; neither have I found Among associates who have power of speech, Nor in such other converse as is here, Temptation so prevailing as to change That mood, or undermine my first resolve." Then, speaking in like careless sort, he said To my benign Companion,--"Pity 'tis That fortune did not guide you to this house 620 A few days earlier; then would you have seen What stuff the Dwellers in a solitude, That seems by Nature hollowed out to be The seat and bosom of pure innocence, Are made of; an ungracious matter this! Which, for truth's sake, yet in remembrance too Of past discussions with this zealous friend And advocate of humble life, I now Will force upon his notice; undeterred By the example of his own pure course, 630 And that respect and deference which a soul May fairly claim, by niggard age enriched In what she most doth value, love of God And his frail creature Man;--but ye shall hear. I talk--and ye are standing in the sun Without refreshment!" Quickly had he spoken, And, with light steps still quicker than his words, Led toward the Cottage. Homely was the spot; And, to my feeling, ere we reached the door, Had almost a forbidding nakedness; 640 Less fair, I grant, even painfully less fair, Than it appeared when from the beetling rock We had looked down upon it. All within, As left by the departed company, Was silent; save the solitary clock That on mine ear ticked with a mournful sound.-- Following our Guide we clomb the cottage-stairs And reached a small apartment dark and low, Which was no sooner entered than our Host Said gaily, "This is my domain, my cell, 650 My hermitage, my cabin, what you will-- I love it better than a snail his house. But now ye shall be feasted with our best." So, with more ardour than an unripe girl Left one day mistress of her mother's stores, He went about his hospitable task. My eyes were busy, and my thoughts no less, And pleased I looked upon my grey-haired Friend, As if to thank him; he returned that look, Cheered, plainly, and yet serious. What a wreck 660 Had we about us! scattered was the floor, And, in like sort, chair, window-seat, and shelf, With books, maps, fossils, withered plants and flowers, And tufts of mountain moss. Mechanic tools Lay intermixed with scraps of paper, some Scribbled with verse: a broken angling-rod And shattered telescope, together linked By cobwebs, stood within a dusty nook; And instruments of music, some half-made, Some in disgrace, hung dangling from the walls. 670 But speedily the promise was fulfilled; A feast before us, and a courteous Host Inviting us in glee to sit and eat. A napkin, white as foam of that rough brook By which it had been bleached, o'erspread the board; And was itself half-covered with a store Of dainties,--oaten bread, curd, cheese, and cream; And cakes of butter curiously embossed, Butter that had imbibed from meadow-flowers A golden hue, delicate as their own 680 Faintly reflected in a lingering stream. Nor lacked, for more delight on that warm day, Our table, small parade of garden fruits, And whortle-berries from the mountain side. The Child, who long ere this had stilled his sobs, Was now a help to his late comforter, And moved, a willing Page, as he was bid, Ministering to our need. In genial mood, While at our pastoral banquet thus we sate Fronting the window of that little cell, 690 I could not, ever and anon, forbear To glance an upward look on two huge Peaks That from some other vale peered into this. "Those lusty twins," exclaimed our host, "if here It were your lot to dwell, would soon become Your prized companions.--Many are the notes Which, in his tuneful course, the wind draws forth From rocks, woods, caverns, heaths, and dashing shores; And well those lofty brethren bear their part In the wild concert--chiefly when the storm 700 Rides high; then all the upper air they fill With roaring sound, that ceases not to flow, Like smoke, along the level of the blast, In mighty current; theirs, too, is the song Of stream and headlong flood that seldom fails; And, in the grim and breathless hour of noon, Methinks that I have heard them echo back The thunder's greeting. Nor have nature's laws Left them ungifted with a power to yield Music of finer tone; a harmony, 710 So do I call it, though it be the hand Of silence, though there be no voice;--the clouds, The mist, the shadows, light of golden suns, Motions of moonlight, all come thither--touch, And have an answer--thither come, and shape A language not unwelcome to sick hearts And idle spirits:--there the sun himself, At the calm close of summer's longest day, Rests his substantial orb;--between those heights And on the top of either pinnacle, 720 More keenly than elsewhere in night's blue vault, Sparkle the stars, as of their station proud. Thoughts are not busier in the mind of man Than the mute agents stirring there:--alone Here do I sit and watch----" A fall of voice, Regretted like the nightingale's last note, Had scarcely closed this high-wrought strain of rapture Ere with inviting smile the Wanderer said: "Now for the tale with which you threatened us!" "In truth the threat escaped me unawares: 730 Should the tale tire you, let this challenge stand For my excuse. Dissevered from mankind, As to your eyes and thoughts we must have seemed When ye looked down upon us from the crag, Islanders 'mid a stormy mountain sea, We are not so;--perpetually we touch Upon the vulgar ordinances of the world; And he, whom this our cottage hath to-day Relinquished, lived dependent for his bread Upon the laws of public charity. 740 The Housewife, tempted by such slender gains As might from that occasion be distilled, Opened, as she before had done for me, Her doors to admit this homeless Pensioner; The portion gave of coarse but wholesome fare Which appetite required--a blind dull nook, Such as she had, the 'kennel' of his rest! This, in itself not ill, would yet have been Ill borne in earlier life; but his was now The still contentedness of seventy years. 750 Calm did he sit under the wide-spread tree Of his old age: and yet less calm and meek, Winningly meek or venerably calm, Than slow and torpid; paying in this wise A penalty, if penalty it were, For spendthrift feats, excesses of his prime. I loved the old Man, for I pitied him! A task it was, I own, to hold discourse With one so slow in gathering up his thoughts, But he was a cheap pleasure to my eyes; 760 Mild, inoffensive, ready in 'his' way, And helpful to his utmost power: and there Our housewife knew full well what she possessed! He was her vassal of all labour, tilled Her garden, from the pasture fetched her kine; And, one among the orderly array Of hay-makers, beneath the burning sun Maintained his place; or heedfully pursued His course, on errands bound, to other vales, Leading sometimes an inexperienced child 770 Too young for any profitable task. So moved he like a shadow that performed Substantial service. Mark me now, and learn For what reward!--The moon her monthly round Hath not completed since our dame, the queen Of this one cottage and this lonely dale, Into my little sanctuary rushed-- Voice to a rueful treble humanized, And features in deplorable dismay. I treat the matter lightly, but, alas! 780 It is most serious: persevering rain Had fallen in torrents; all the mountain tops Were hidden, and black vapours coursed their sides; This had I seen, and saw; but, till she spake, Was wholly ignorant that my ancient Friend-- Who at her bidding, early and alone, Had clomb aloft to delve the moorland turf For winter fuel--to his noontide meal Returned not, and now, haply, on the heights Lay at the mercy of this raging storm. 790 'Inhuman!'--said I 'was an old Man's life Not worth the trouble of a thought?--alas! This notice comes too late.' With joy I saw Her husband enter--from a distant vale. We sallied forth together; found the tools Which the neglected veteran had dropped, But through all quarters looked for him in vain. We shouted--but no answer! Darkness fell Without remission of the blast or shower, And fears for our own safety drove us home. 800 I, who weep little, did, I will confess, The moment I was seated here alone, Honour my little cell with some few tears Which anger and resentment could not dry. All night the storm endured; and, soon as help Had been collected from the neighbouring vale, With morning we renewed our quest: the wind Was fallen, the rain abated, but the hills Lay shrouded in impenetrable mist; And long and hopelessly we sought in vain: 810 Till, chancing on that lofty ridge to pass A heap of ruin--almost without walls And wholly without roof (the bleached remains Of a small chapel, where, in ancient time, The peasants of these lonely valleys used To meet for worship on that central height)-- We there espied the object of our search, Lying full three parts buried among tufts Of heath-plant, under and above him strewn, To baffle, as he might, the watery storm: 820 And there we found him breathing peaceably, Snug as a child that hides itself in sport 'Mid a green hay-cock in a sunny field. We spake--he made reply, but would not stir At our entreaty; less from want of power Than apprehension and bewildering thoughts. So was he lifted gently from the ground, And with their freight homeward the shepherds moved Through the dull mist, I following--when a step, A single step, that freed me from the skirts 830 Of the blind vapour, opened to my view Glory beyond all glory ever seen By waking sense or by the dreaming soul! The appearance, instantaneously disclosed, Was of a mighty city--boldly say A wilderness of building, sinking far And self-withdrawn into a boundless depth, Far sinking into splendour--without end! Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold, With alabaster domes, and silver spires, 840 And blazing terrace upon terrace, high Uplifted; here, serene pavilions bright, In avenues disposed; there, towers begirt With battlements that on their restless fronts Bore stars--illumination of all gems! By earthly nature had the effect been wrought Upon the dark materials of the storm Now pacified; on them, and on the coves And mountain-steeps and summits, whereunto The vapours had receded, taking there 850 Their station under a cerulean sky. Oh, 'twas an unimaginable sight! Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf, Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky, Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed, Molten together, and composing thus, Each lost in each, that marvellous array Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge Fantastic pomp of structure without name, In fleecy folds voluminous, enwrapped. 860 Right in the midst, where interspace appeared Of open court, an object like a throne Under a shining canopy of state Stood fixed; and fixed resemblances were seen To implements of ordinary use, But vast in size, in substance glorified; Such as by Hebrew Prophets were beheld In vision--forms uncouth of mightiest power For admiration and mysterious awe. This little Vale, a dwelling-place of Man, 870 Lay low beneath my feet; 'twas visible-- I saw not, but I felt that it was there. That which I 'saw' was the revealed abode Of Spirits in beatitude: my heart Swelled in my breast--'I have been dead,' I cried, 'And now I live! Oh! wherefore 'do' I live?' And with that pang I prayed to be no more!-- --But I forget our Charge, as utterly I then forgot him:--there I stood and gazed: The apparition faded not away, 880 And I descended. Having reached the house, I found its rescued inmate safely lodged, And in serene possession of himself, Beside a fire whose genial warmth seemed met By a faint shining from the heart, a gleam, Of comfort, spread over his pallid face. Great show of joy the housewife made, and truly Was glad to find her conscience set at ease; And not less glad, for sake of her good name, That the poor Sufferer had escaped with life. 890 But, though he seemed at first to have received No harm, and uncomplaining as before Went through his usual tasks, a silent change Soon showed itself: he lingered three short weeks; And from the cottage hath been borne to-day. So ends my dolorous tale, and glad I am That it is ended." At these words he turned-- And, with blithe air of open fellowship, Brought from the cupboard wine and stouter cheer, Like one who would be merry. Seeing this, 900 My grey-haired Friend said courteously--"Nay, nay, You have regaled us as a hermit ought; Now let us forth into the sun!"--Our Host Rose, though reluctantly, and forth we went. 


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