Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
The Hermit
By Thomas Parnell (1679–1718)
FAR in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well:
Remote from man, with God he passed the days,        5
Pray’r all his business, all his pleasure praise.
  A life so sacred, such serene repose,
Seemed heav’n itself till one suggestion rose;
That vice should triumph, virtue vice obey,
This sprung some doubt of Providence’s sway:        10
His hopes no more a certain prospect boast,
And all the tenour of his soul is lost.
So when a smooth expanse receives imprest
Calm Nature’s image on its watery breast,
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,        15
And skies beneath with answ’ring colours glow;
But if a stone the gentle scene divide,
Swift ruffling circles curl on every side,
And glimmering fragments of a broken sun,
Banks, trees, and skies, in thick disorder run.        20
  To clear this doubt, to know the world by sight,
To find if books, or swains, report it right
(For yet by swains alone the world he knew,
Whose feet came wand’ring o’er the nightly dew),
He quits his cell: the pilgrim-staff he bore,        25
And fixed the scallop in his hat before;
Then with the sun a rising journey went,
Sedate to think and watching each event.
  The morn was wasted in the pathless grass,
And long and lonesome was the wild to pass;        30
And when the southern sun had warmed the day,
A youth came posting o’er a crossing way—
His raiment decent, his complexion fair,
And soft in graceful ringlets waved his hair.
Then, near approaching, ‘Father, hail!’ he cried;        35
‘And hail, my son!’ the reverend sire replied.
Words followed words, from question answer flowed,
And talk of various kind deceived the road;
Till, each with other pleased, and loth to part,
While in their age they differ, join in heart:        40
Thus stands an aged elm, in ivy bound;
Thus youthful ivy clasps an elm around.
  Now sunk the sun; the closing hour of day
Came onward, mantled o’er with sober grey;
Nature in silence bid the world repose;        45
When near the road a stately palace rose:
There by the moon through ranks of trees they pass,
Whose verdure crowned their sloping sides of grass.
It chanced the noble master of the dome
Still made his house the wand’ring stranger’s home;        50
Yet still the kindness, from a thirst of praise,
Proved the vain flourish of expensive ease.
The pair arrived: the liv’ried servants wait;
Their lord receives them at the pompous gate;
The table groans with costly piles of food,        55
And all is more than hospitably good;
Then, led to rest, the day’s long toil they drown,
Deep sunk in sleep and silk and heaps of down.
  At length ’tis morn, and at the dawn of day
Along the wide canals the zephyrs play;        60
Fresh o’er the gay parterres the breezes creep,
And shake the neighbouring wood to banish sleep.
Up rise the guests, obedient to the call:
An early banquet decked the splendid hall;
Rich luscious wine a golden goblet graced,        65
Which the kind master forced the guests to taste;
Then, pleased and thankful, from the porch they go,
And, but the landlord, none had cause of woe—
His cup was vanished, for in secret guise
The younger guest purloined the glittering prize.        70
  As one who ’spies a serpent in his way,
Glist’ning and basking in the summer ray,
Disordered stops to shun the danger near,
Then walks with faintness on and looks with fear;
So seemed the sire, when, far upon the road,        75
The shining spoil his wily partner showed:
He stopped with silence, walked with trembling heart,
And much he wished, but durst not ask, to part;
Murmuring he lifts his eyes, and thinks it hard
That generous actions meet a base reward.        80
  While thus they pass, the sun his glory shrouds;
The changing skies hang out their sable clouds;
A sound in air presaged approaching rain,
And beasts to covert scud across the plain.
Warned by the signs, the wand’ring pair retreat,        85
To seek for shelter at a neighbouring seat.
’Twas built with turrets, on a rising ground,
And strong, and large, and unimproved around;
Its owner’s temper, tim’rous and severe,
Unkind and griping, caused a desert there.        90
  As near the miser’s heavy doors they drew,
Fierce rising gusts with sudden fury blew;
The nimble lightning, mixed with show’rs, began,
And o’er their heads loud-rolling thunders ran.
Here long they knock, but knock or call in vain,        95
Driv’n by the wind and battered by the rain.
At length some pity warmed the master’s breast
(’Twas then his threshold first received a guest):
Slow creaking, turns the door with jealous care,
And half he welcomes in the shivering pair;        100
One frugal faggot lights the naked walls,
And nature’s fervour through their limbs recalls;
Bread of the coarsest sort, with eager wine,
Each hardly granted, served them both to dine;
And when the tempest first appeared to cease,        105
A ready warning bid them part in peace.
With still remark the pond’ring hermit viewed
In one so rich a life so poor and rude;
‘And why should such,’ within himself he cried,
‘Lock the lost wealth a thousand want beside?’        110
But what new marks of wonder soon took place
In ev’ry settling feature of his face,
When from his vest the young companion bore
That cup the gen’rous landlord owned before,
And paid profusely, with the precious bowl,        115
The stinted kindness of this churlish soul!
  But now the clouds in airy tumult fly;
The sun, emerging, opes an azure sky;
A fresher green the smelling leaves display,
And, glittering as they tremble, cheer the day:        120
The weather courts them from the poor retreat,
And the glad master bolts the wary gate.
  While hence they walk, the pilgrim’s bosom wrought
With all the travail of uncertain thought:
His partner’s acts without their cause appear;        125
’Twas there a vice, and seemed a madness here;
Detesting that, and pitying this, he goes,
Lost and confounded with the various shows.
  Now night’s dim shades again involve the sky;
Again the wanderers want a place to lie;        130
Again they search, and find a lodging nigh:
The soil improved around, the mansion neat,
And neither poorly low nor idly great;
It seemed to speak its master’s turn of mind—
Content, and not for praise, but virtue kind.        135
Hither the walkers turn with weary feet,
Then bless the mansion and the master greet.
Their greeting, fair bestowed, with modest guise
The courteous master hears, and thus replies:
‘Without a vain, without a grudging heart,        140
To Him who gives us all I yield a part;
From Him you come, for Him accept it here,
A frank and sober, more than costly cheer.’
He spoke, and bid the welcome table spread,
Then talked of virtue till the time of bed,        145
When the grave household round his hall repair,
Warned by a bell, and close the hours with pray’r.
  At length the world, renewed by calm repose,
Was strong for toil; the dappled morn arose.
Before the pilgrims part, the younger crept        150
Near the closed cradle where an infant slept,
And writhed his neck: the landlord’s little pride
(O strange return!) grew black and gasped and died!
Horror of horrors! what! his only son!
How looked our hermit when the act was done?        155
Not hell, though hell’s black jaws in sunder part
And breathe blue fire, could more assault his heart.
  Confused, and struck with silence at the deed,
He flies, but, trembling, fails to fly with speed;
His steps the youth pursues. The country lay        160
Perplexed with roads; a servant showed the way.
A river crossed the path; the passage o’er
Was nice to find; the servant trod before;
Long arms of oak an open bridge supplied,
And deep the waves beneath the bending glide:        165
The youth, who seemed to watch a time to sin,
Approached the careless guide, and thrust him in;
Plunging he falls, and rising lifts his head,
Then flashing turns and sinks among the dead.
  Wild, sparkling rage inflames the father’s eyes;        170
He bursts the bands of fear, and madly cries,
‘Detested wretch!’—but scarce his speech began,
When the strange partner seemed no longer man:
His youthful face grew more serenely sweet;
His robe turned white, and flowed upon his feet;        175
Fair rounds of radiant points invest his hair;
Celestial odours breathe through purpled air;
And wings, whose colours glittered on the day,
Wide at his back their gradual plumes display.
The form ethereal bursts upon his sight,        180
And moves in all the majesty of light.
Though loud at first the pilgrim’s passion grew,
Sudden he gazed, and wist not what to do;
Surprise in secret chains his words suspends,
And in a calm his settling temper ends.        185
But silence here the beauteous angel broke;
The voice of music ravished as he spoke:
  ‘Thy pray’r, thy praise, thy life to vice unknown,
In sweet memorial rise before the throne:
These charms success in our bright region find,        190
And force an angel down to calm thy mind;
For this commissioned, I forsook the sky—
Nay, cease to kneel! thy fellow-servant I.
  ‘Then know the truth of government divine,
And let these scruples be no longer thine.        195
The Maker justly claims that world He made;
In this the right of Providence is laid;
Its sacred majesty through all depends
On using second means to work His ends:
’Tis thus, withdrawn in state from human eye,        200
The Pow’r exerts His attributes on high,
Your actions uses, not controls your will,
And bids the doubting sons of men be still.
What strange events can strike with more surprise
Than those which lately struck thy wond’ring eyes?        205
Yet, taught by these, confess th’ Almighty just,
And where you can’t unriddle, learn to trust!
  ‘The great vain man, who fared on costly food,
Whose life was too luxurious to be good,
Who made his ivory stands with goblets shine,        210
And forced his guests to morning draughts of wine,
Has, with cup, the graceless custom lost,
And still he welcomes but with less of cost.
The mean, suspicious wretch, whose bolted door
Ne’er moved in duty to the wand’ring poor,        215
With him I left the cup, to teach his mind
That Heav’n can bless if mortals will be kind.
Conscious of wanting worth, he views the bowl,
And feels compassion touch his grateful soul.
Thus artists melt the sullen ore of lead        220
With heaping coals of fire upon its head;
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And, loose from dross, the silver runs below.
Long had our pious friend in virtue trod,
But now the child half weaned his heart from God;        225
Child of his age, for him he lived in pain,
And measured back his steps to earth again.
To what excesses had his dotage run!
But God, to save the father, took the son.
To all but thee in fits he seemed to go,        230
And ’twas my ministry to deal the blow.
The poor fond parent, humbled in the dust,
Now owns in tears the punishment was just.
But how had all his fortune felt a wrack
Had that false servant sped in safety back!        235
This night his treasured heaps he meant to steal,
And what a fund of charity would fail!
  ‘Thus Heav’n instructs thy mind: this trial o’er,
Depart in peace, resign, and sin no more!’
  On sounding pinions here the youth withdrew;        240
The sage stood wond’ring as the seraph flew:
Thus looked Elisha, when, to mount on high,
His master took the chariot of the sky;
The fiery pomp ascending left the view;
The prophet gazed, and wished to follow too.        245
The bending hermit here a pray’r begun:
‘Lord, as in heaven, on earth Thy will be done!’
Then, gladly turning, sought his ancient place,
And passed a life of piety and peace.

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