« AnteriorContinuar »
GUILT AND SORROW;
INCIDENTS UPON SALISBURY PLAIN.
ADVERTISEMENT, PREFIXED TO THE FIRST EDITION OF THIS POEM, PUBLISHED
No common soul. In youth by science nursed,
Nor less than one-third of the following poem, though it has from time to time been altered in the expression, was published so far back as the year 1798, under the title of "The Female Vagrant." The extract is of such length that an apology seems to be required for reprinting it here: but it was necessary to restore it to its original position, or the rest would have been unintelligible. The whole was written before the close of the year 1794, and I will detail, rather as matter of literary biography than for any other reason, the circumstances under which it was produced.
During the latter part of the summer of 1793, having passed a month in the Isle of Wight, in view of the fleet which was then preparing for sea off Portsmouth at the commencement of the war, I left the place with melancholy forebodings. The American war was still fresh in memory. The struggle which was beginning, and which many thought would be brought to a speedy close by the irresistible arms of Great Britain being added to those of the allies, I was assured in my own mind would be of long continuance, and productive of distress and misery beyond all possible calculation. This conviction was pressed upon me by having been a witness, during a long residence in revolutionary France, of the spirit which prevailed in that country. After leaving the Isle of Wight, I spent two days in wandering on foot over Salisbury Plain, which, though cultivation was then widely spread through parts of it, had upon the whole a still more impressive appearance than it now retains.
The monuments and traces of antiquity, scattered in abundance over that region, led me unavoidably to compare what we know or guess of those remote times with certain aspects of modern society, and with calamities, principally those consequent upon war, to which, more than other classes of men, the poor are subject. In those reflections, joined with particular facts that had come to my knowledge, the following stanzas originated.
In conclusion, to obviate some distraction in the minds of those who are well acquainted with Salisbury Plain, it may be proper to say, that of the features described as belonging to it, one or two are taken from other desolate parts of England.
If Thou be one whose heart the holy forms Of young imagination have kept pure, Stranger ! henceforth be warned ; and know that
pride, Howe'er disguised in its own majesty, Is littleness ; that he who feels contempt For any living thing, hath faculties Which he has never used ; that thought with him Is in its infancy. The man whose eye Is ever on himself doth look on one, The least of Nature's works, one who might move The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds Unlawful, ever. O be wiser, Thou ! Instructed that true knowledge leads to love ; True dignity abides with him alone Who, in the silent hour of inward thought, Can still suspect, and still revere himself, In lowliness of heart.
A TRAVELLER on the skirt of Sarum's Plain
Down fell in straggling locks his thin grey hair ; A Sailor he, who many a wretched hour
Hath told ; for, landing after labour hard, But faded, and stuck o'er with many a patch and Full long endured in hope of just reward, shred.
He to an armed fleet was forced away
By seamen, who perhaps themselves had shared While thus he journeyed, step by step led on,
Like fate; was hurried off, a helpless prey, He saw and passed a stately inn, full sure
'Gainst all that in his heart, or theirs perhaps, said That welcome in such house for him was none.
nay. No board inscribed the needy to allure Hung there, no bush proclaimed to old and poor
For years the work of carnage did not cease, And desolate, “ Here you will find a friend !”
And death's dire aspect daily he surveyed, The pendent grapes glittered above the door ;
Death's minister; then came his glad release, On he must pace, perchance 'till night descend,
And hope returned, and pleasure fondly made Where'er the dreary roads their bare white lines
Her dwelling in his dreams. By Fancy's aid
The happy husband flies, his arms to throw
Round his wife's neck; the prize of victory laid
know. Which oft as he looked back had fixed his eye, Was lost, though still he looked, in the blank sky.
VIII. Perplexed and comfortless he gazed around,
Vain hope ! for fraud took all that he had earned. And scarce could any trace of man descry,
The lion roars and gluts his tawny brood Save cornfields stretched and stretching without
Even in the desert's heart; but he, returned, bound;
Bears not to those he loves their needful food. But where the sower dwelt was nowhere to be His home approaching, but in such a mood found.
That from his sight his children might have run,
He met a traveller, robbed him, shed his blood; Iv.
And when the miserable work was done No tree was there, no meadow's pleasant green,
He fled, a vagrant since, the murderer's fate to No brook to wet his lip or soothe his ear ;
shun. Long files of corn-stacks here and there were seen, But not one dwelling-place his heart to cheer.
IX. Some labourer, thought he, may perchance be near; | From that day forth no place to him could be And so he sent a feeble shout-in vain ;
So lonely, but that thence might come a pang No voice made answer, he could only hear
Brought from without to inward misery. Winds rustling over plots of unripe grain,
Now, as he plodded on, with sullen clang Or whistling thro' thin grass along the unfurrowed
A sound of chains along the desert rang ; plain.
He looked, and saw upon a gibbet high
A human body that in irons swang, Long had he fancied each successive slope Uplifted by the tempest whirling by ; Concealed some cottage, whither he might turn And, hovering, round it often did a raven fly. And rest ; but now along heaven's darkening cope The crows rushed by in eddies, homeward borne. Thus warned he sought some shepherd's spreading | It was a spectacle which none might view, thorn
In spot so savage, but with shuddering pain ; Or hovel from the storm to shield his head, Nor only did for him at once renew But sought in vain ; for now, all wild, forlorn, All he had feared from man, but roused a train And vacant, a huge waste around him spread; Of the mind's phantoms, horrible as vain. The wet cold ground, he feared, must be his only The stones, as if to cover him from day, bed.
Rolled at his back along the living plain ;
He fell, and without sense or motion lay; And be it som for to the chill night shower
But, when the trance was gone, feebly pursued his And the sharp wind his head he oft hath bared; |
As one whose brain habitual phrensy fires
Disclose a naked guide-post's double head, Sight which tho’ lost at once a gleam of pleasure shed.
XVI. No swinging sign-board creaked from cottage elm To stay his steps with faintness overcome ; 'Twas dark and void as ocean's watery realm Roaring with storms beneath night's starless gloom; No gipsy cower'd o'er fire of furze or broom ; No labourer watched his red kiln glaring bright, Nor taper glimmered dim from sick man's room ; Along the waste no line of mournful light From lamp of lonely toll-gate streamed athwart
Hurtle the clouds in deeper darkness piled,
At length, though hid in clouds, the moon arose ;
of the plain.
Till to his flock the early shepherd goes,
Pile of Stone-henge! so proud to hint yet keep
When hearing a deep sigh, that seemed to come From one who mourned in sleep, he raised his
head, And saw a woman in the naked room Outstretched, and turning on a restless bed : The moon a wan dead light around her shed. He waked her-spake in tone that would not fail, He hoped, to calm her mind ; but ill he sped, For of that ruin she had heard a tale Which now with freezing thoughts did all her
powers assail ;
Rock to incessant neighings shrill and loud,
The bending body of my active sire ;
Our watchful house-dog, that would tease and tire XXI.
The stranger till its barking-fit I checked ; Such tale of this lone mansion she had learned
The red-breast, known for years, which at my And, when that shape, with eyes in sleep half casement pecked.
drowned, By the moon's sullen lamp she first discerned,
XXVI. Cold stony horror all her senses bound.
| The suns of twenty summers danced along, Her he addressed in words of cheering sound; Too little marked how fast they rolled away : Recovering heart, like answer did she make ;
But, through severe mischance and cruel wrong, And well it was that, of the corse there found,
My father's substance fell into decay : In converse that ensued she nothing spake ;
We toiled and struggled, hoping for a day She knew not what dire pangs in him such tale
When Fortune might put on a kinder look ;
But vain were wishes, efforts vain as they ;
He from his old hereditary nook
we took. In fainter howlings told its rage was spent :
XXVII. Meanwhile discourse ensued of various kind,
It was indeed a miserable hour Which by degrees a confidence of mind
| When, from the last hill-top, my sire surveyed, And mutual interest failed not to create.
Peering above the trees, the steeple tower And, to a natural sympathy resigned,
That on his marriage day sweet music made ! In that forsaken building where they sate
Till then, he hoped his bones might there be laid The Woman thus retraced her own untoward fate.
Close by my mother in their native bowers :
I could not pray :-through tears that fell in “By Derwent's side my father dwelt-a man
showers Of virtuous life, by pious parents bred;
| Glimmered our dear-loved home, alas ! no longer And I believe that, soon as I began
ours ! To lisp, he made me kneel beside my bed, And in his hearing there my prayers I said :
XXVIII. And afterwards, by my good father taught,
There was a Youth whom I had loved so long, I read, and loved the books in which I read ; That when I loved him not I cannot say : For books in every neighbouring house I sought,
| 'Mid the green mountains many a thoughtless song And nothing to my mind a sweeter pleasure brought. We two had sung, like gladsome birds in May ;
When we began to tire of childish play,
We seemed still more and more to prize each other: A little croft we owned-a plot of corn,
We talked of marriage and our marriage day ; A garden stored with peas, and mint, and thyme, | And I in truth did love him like a brother, And flowers for posies, oft on Sunday morn For never could I hope to meet with such another. Plucked while the church bells rang their earliest
Two years were passed since to a distant town
Like one revived, upon his neck I wept ;
And her whom he had loved in joy, he said, In wood or wilderness, in camp or town,
Husband and children ! one by one, by sword
And ravenous plague, all perished : every tear We lived in peace and comfort ; and were blest | Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board With daily bread, by constant toil supplied. A British ship I waked, as from a trance restored." Three lovely babes had lain upon my breast; And often, viewing their sweet smiles, I sighed,
xxxv. And knew not why. My happy father died,
Here paused she of all present thought forlorn, When threatened war reduced the children's meal:
Nor voice, nor sound, that moment's pain expressed, Thrice happy! that for him the grave could hide
| Yet Nature, with excess of grief o'erborne, The empty loom, cold hearth, and silent wheel, And tears that flowed for ills which patience might
From her full eyes their watery load released.
He too was mute; and, ere her weeping ceased, not heal.
He rose, and to the ruin's portal went,
And saw the dawn opening the silvery east 'Twas a hard change ; an evil time was come;
With rays of promise, north and southward sent ; We had no hope, and no relief could gain :
And soon with crimson fire kindled the firmament. But soon, with proud parade, the noisy drum Beat round to clear the streets of want and pain. My husband's arms now only served to strain | “O come,” he cried, “ come, after weary night Me and his children hungering in his view; Of such rough storm, this happy change to view." In such dismay my prayers and tears were vain : So forth she came, and eastward looked: the sigh To join those miserable men he flew,
Over her brow like dawn of gladness threw; And now to the sea-coast, with numbers more, we Upon her cheek, to which its youthful hue drew.
Seemed to return, dried the last lingering tear,
And from her grateful heart a fresh one drew : xxxII.
The whilst her comrade to her pensive cheer There were we long neglected, and we bore
Tempered fit words of hope; and the lark warbled Much sorrow ere the fleet its anchor weighed; Green fields before us, and our native shore, We breathed a pestilential air, that made Ravage for which no knell was heard. We prayed
They looked and saw a lengthening road, and wain For our departure; wished and wished-nor knew,
That rang down a bare slope not far remote : 'Mid that long sickness and those hopes delayed,
The barrows glistered bright with drops of rain, That happier days we never more must view.
Whistled the waggoner with merry note, The parting signal streamed—at last the land with
The cock far off sounded his clarion throat; drew.
But town, or farm, or hamlet, none they viewed,
Only were told there stood a lonely cot But the calm summer season now was past. A long mile thence. While thither they pursued On as we drove, the equinoctial deep
Their way, the Woman thus her mournful tale Ran mountains high before the howling blast,
renewed. And many perished in the whirlwind's sweep. We gazed with terror on their gloomy sleep,
XXXVIII. Untaught that soon such anguish must ensue,
“ Peaceful as this immeasurable plain Our hopes such harvest of affliction reap,
Is now, by beams of dawning light imprest, That we the mercy of the waves should rue :
In the calm sunshine slept the glittering main ; We reached the western world, a poor devoted
The very ocean hath its hour of rest. crew.
I too forgot the heavings of my breast.
How quiet 'round me ship and ocean were ! The pains and plagues that on our heads came As quiet all within me. I was blest, down,
And looked, and fed upon the silent air Disease and famine, agony and fear,
Until it seemed to bring a joy to my despair.