Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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THE BROTHERS

      "THESE Tourists, heaven preserve us! needs must live
      A profitable life: some glance along,
      Rapid and gay, as if the earth were air,
      And they were butterflies to wheel about
      Long as the summer lasted: some, as wise,
      Perched on the forehead of a jutting crag,
      Pencil in hand and book upon the knee,
      Will look and scribble, scribble on and look,
      Until a man might travel twelve stout miles,
      Or reap an acre of his neighbour's corn.                        10
      But, for that moping Son of Idleness,
      Why can he tarry 'yonder'?--In our churchyard
      Is neither epitaph nor monument,
      Tombstone nor name--only the turf we tread
      And a few natural graves."
                                  To Jane, his wife,
      Thus spake the homely Priest of Ennerdale.
      It was a July evening; and he sate
      Upon the long stone-seat beneath the eaves
      Of his old cottage,--as it chanced, that day,
      Employed in winter's work. Upon the stone                       20
      His wife sate near him, teasing matted wool,
      While, from the twin cards toothed with glittering wire,
      He fed the spindle of his youngest child,
      Who, in the open air, with due accord
      Of busy hands and back-and-forward steps,
      Her large round wheel was turning. Towards the field
      In which the Parish Chapel stood alone,
      Girt round with a bare ring of mossy wall,
      While half an hour went by, the Priest had sent
      Many a long look of wonder: and at last,                        30
      Risen from his seat, beside the snow-white ridge
      Of carded wool which the old man had piled
      He laid his implements with gentle care,
      Each in the other locked; and, down the path
      That from his cottage to the church-yard led,
      He took his way, impatient to accost
      The Stranger, whom he saw still lingering there.
        'Twas one well known to him in former days,
      A Shepherd-lad; who ere his sixteenth year
      Had left that calling, tempted to entrust                       40
      His expectations to the fickle winds
      And perilous waters; with the mariners
      A fellow-mariner;--and so had fared
      Through twenty seasons; but he had been reared
      Among the mountains, and he in his heart
      Was half a shepherd on the stormy seas.
      Oft in the piping shrouds had Leonard heard
      The tones of waterfalls, and inland sounds
      Of caves and trees:--and, when the regular wind
      Between the tropics filled the steady sail,                     50
      And blew with the same breath through days and weeks,
      Lengthening invisibly its weary line
      Along the cloudless Main, he, in those hours
      Of tiresome indolence, would often hang
      Over the vessel's side, and gaze and gaze;
      And, while the broad blue wave and sparkling foam
      Flashed round him images and hues that wrought
      In union with the employment of his heart,
      He, thus by feverish passion overcome,                          60
      Even with the organs of his bodily eye,
      Below him, in the bosom of the deep,
      Saw mountains; saw the forms of sheep that grazed
      On verdant hills--with dwellings among trees,
      And shepherds clad in the same country grey
      Which he himself had worn.
                                    And now, at last,
      From perils manifold, with some small wealth
      Acquired by traffic 'mid the Indian Isles,
      To his paternal home he is returned,
      With a determined purpose to resume                             70
      The life he had lived there; both for the sake
      Of many darling pleasures, and the love
      Which to an only brother he has borne
      In all his hardships, since that happy time
      When, whether it blew foul or fair, they two
      Were brother-shepherds on their native hills.
      --They were the last of all their race: and now,
      When Leonard had approached his home, his heart
      Failed in him; and, not venturing to enquire
      Tidings of one so long and dearly loved,                        80
      He to the solitary churchyard turned;
      That, as he knew in what particular spot
      His family were laid, he thence might learn
      If still his Brother lived, or to the file
      Another grave was added.--He had found
      Another grave,--near which a full half-hour
      He had remained; but, as he gazed, there grew
      Such a confusion in his memory,
      That he began to doubt; and even to hope
      That he had seen this heap of turf before,--                    90
      That it was not another grave; but one
      He had forgotten. He had lost his path,
      As up the vale, that afternoon, he walked
      Through fields which once had been well known to him:
      And oh what joy this recollection now
      Sent to his heart! he lifted up his eyes,
      And, looking round, imagined that he saw
      Strange alteration wrought on every side
      Among the woods and fields, and that the rocks,
      And everlasting hills themselves were changed.                 100
        By this the Priest, who down the field had come,
      Unseen by Leonard, at the churchyard gate
      Stopped short,--and thence, at leisure, limb by limb
      Perused him with a gay complacency.
      Ay, thought the Vicar, smiling to himself,
      'Tis one of those who needs must leave the path
      Of the world's business to go wild alone:
      His arms have a perpetual holiday;
      The happy man will creep about the fields,
      Following his fancies by the hour, to bring                    110
      Tears down his cheek, or solitary smiles
      Into his face, until the setting sun
      Write fool upon his forehead.--Planted thus
      Beneath a shed that over-arched the gate
      Of this rude churchyard, till the stars appeared
      The good Man might have communed with himself,
      But that the Stranger, who had left the grave,
      Approached; he recognised the Priest at once,
      And, after greetings interchanged, and given
      By Leonard to the Vicar as to one                              120
      Unknown to him, this dialogue ensued.
        LEONARD. You live, Sir, in these dales, a quiet life:
      Your years make up one peaceful family;
      And who would grieve and fret, if, welcome come
      And welcome gone, they are so like each other,
      They cannot be remembered? Scarce a funeral
      Comes to this churchyard once in eighteen months;
      And yet, some changes must take place among you:
      And you, who dwell here, even among these rocks,
      Can trace the finger of mortality,                             130
      And see, that with our threescore years and ten
      We are not all that perish.----I remember,
      (For many years ago I passed this road)
      There was a foot-way all along the fields
      By the brook-side--'tis gone--and that dark cleft!
      To me it does not seem to wear the face
      Which then it had!
        PRIEST. Nay, Sir, for aught I know,
      That chasm is much the same--
        LEONARD. But, surely, yonder--                               140
        PRIEST. Ay, there, indeed, your memory is a friend
      That does not play you false.--On that tall pike
      (It is the loneliest place of all these hills)
      There were two springs which bubbled side by side,
      As if they had been made that they might be
      Companions for each other: the huge crag
      Was rent with lightning--one hath disappeared;
      The other, left behind, is flowing still.
      For accidents and changes such as these,
      We want not store of them;--a waterspout                       150
      Will bring down half a mountain; what a feast
      For folks that wander up and down like you,
      To see an acre's breadth of that wide cliff
      One roaring cataract! a sharp May-storm
      Will come with loads of January snow,
      And in one night send twenty score of sheep
      To feed the ravens; or a shepherd dies
      By some untoward death among the rocks:
      The ice breaks up and sweeps away a bridge;
      A wood is felled:--and then for our own homes!                 160
      A child is born or christened, a field ploughed,
      A daughter sent to service, a web spun,
      The old house-clock is decked with a new face;
      And hence, so far from wanting facts or dates
      To chronicle the time, we all have here
      A pair of diaries,--one serving, Sir,
      For the whole dale, and one for each fireside--
      Yours was a stranger's judgment: for historians,
      Commend me to these valleys!
        LEONARD. Yet your Churchyard                                 170
      Seems, if such freedom may be used with you,
      To say that you are heedless of the past:
      An orphan could not find his mother's grave:
      Here's neither head nor foot stone, plate of brass,
      Cross-bones nor skull,--type of our earthly state
      Nor emblem of our hopes: the dead man's home
      Is but a fellow to that pasture-field.
        PRIEST. Why, there, Sir, is a thought that's new to me!
      The stone-cutters, 'tis true, might beg their bread
      If every English churchyard were like ours;                    180
      Yet your conclusion wanders from the truth:
      We have no need of names and epitaphs;
      We talk about the dead by our firesides.
      And then, for our immortal part! 'we' want
      No symbols, Sir, to tell us that plain tale:
      The thought of death sits easy on the man
      Who has been born and dies among the mountains.
        LEONARD. Your Dalesmen, then, do in each other's thoughts
      Possess a kind of second life: no doubt
      You, Sir, could help me to the history                         190
      Of half these graves?
        PRIEST. For eight-score winters past,
      With what I've witnessed, and with what I've heard,
      Perhaps I might; and, on a winter-evening,
      If you were seated at my chimney's nook,
      By turning o'er these hillocks one by one,
      We two could travel, Sir, through a strange round;
      Yet all in the broad highway of the world.
      Now there's a grave--your foot is half upon it,--
      It looks just like the rest; and yet that man                  200
      Died broken-hearted.
        LEONARD. 'Tis a common case.
      We'll take another: who is he that lies
      Beneath yon ridge, the last of those three graves?
      It touches on that piece of native rock
      Left in the church-yard wall.
        PRIEST. That's Walter Ewbank.
      He had as white a head and fresh a cheek
      As ever were produced by youth and age
      Engendering in the blood of hale fourscore.                    210
      Through five long generations had the heart
      Of Walter's forefathers o'erflowed the bounds
      Of their inheritance, that single cottage--
      You see it yonder! and those few green fields.
      They toiled and wrought, and still, from sire to son,
      Each struggled, and each yielded as before
      A little--yet a little,--and old Walter,
      They left to him the family heart, and land
      With other burthens than the crop it bore.
      Year after year the old man still kept up                      220
      A cheerful mind,--and buffeted with bond,
      Interest, and mortgages; at last he sank,
      And went into his grave before his time.
      Poor Walter! whether it was care that spurred him
      God only knows, but to the very last
      He had the lightest foot in Ennerdale:
      His pace was never that of an old man:
      I almost see him tripping down the path
      With his two grandsons after him:--but you,
      Unless our Landlord be your host tonight,                      230
      Have far to travel,--and on these rough paths
      Even in the longest day of midsummer--
        LEONARD. But those two Orphans!
        PRIEST. Orphans!--Such they were--
      Yet not while Walter lived: for, though their parents
      Lay buried side by side as now they lie,
      The old man was a father to the boys,
      Two fathers in one father: and if tears,
      Shed when he talked of them where they were not,
      And hauntings from the infirmity of love,                      240
      Are aught of what makes up a mother's heart,
      This old Man, in the day of his old age,
      Was half a mother to them.--If you weep, Sir,
      To hear a stranger talking about strangers,
      Heaven bless you when you are among your kindred!
      Ay--you may turn that way--it is a grave
      Which will bear looking at.
        LEONARD. These boys--I hope
      They loved this good old Man?--
        PRIEST. They did--and truly:                                 250
      But that was what we almost overlooked,
      They were such darlings of each other. Yes,
      Though from the cradle they had lived with Walter,
      The only kinsman near them, and though he
      Inclined to both by reason of his age,
      With a more fond, familiar, tenderness;
      They, notwithstanding, had much love to spare,
      And it all went into each other's hearts.
      Leonard, the elder by just eighteen months,
      Was two years taller: 'twas a joy to see,                      260
      To hear, to meet them!--From their house the school
      Is distant three short miles, and in the time
      Of storm and thaw, when every watercourse
      And unbridged stream, such as you may have noticed
      Crossing our roads at every hundred steps,
      Was swoln into a noisy rivulet,
      Would Leonard then, when eider boys remained
      At home, go staggering through the slippery fords,
      Bearing his brother on his back. I have seen him,
      On windy days, in one of those stray brooks,                   270
      Ay, more than once I have seen him, midleg deep,
      Their two books lying both on a dry stone,
      Upon the hither side: and once I said,
      As I remember, looking round these rocks
      And hills on which we all of us were born,
      That God who made the great book of the world
      Would bless such piety--
        LEONARD. It may be then--
        PRIEST. Never did worthier lads break English bread:
      The very brightest Sunday Autumn saw                           280
      With all its mealy clusters of ripe nuts,
      Could never keep those boys away from church,
      Or tempt them to an hour of sabbath breach.
      Leonard and James! I warrant, every corner
      Among these rocks, and every hollow place
      That venturous foot could reach, to one or both
      Was known as well as to the flowers that grow there.
      Like roe-bucks they went bounding o'er the hills;
      They played like two young ravens on the crags:
      Then they could write, ay and speak too, as well               290
      As many of their betters--and for Leonard!
      The very night before he went away,
      In my own house I put into his hand
      A Bible, and I'd wager house and field
      That, if he be alive, he has it yet.
        LEONARD. It seems, these Brothers have not lived to be
      A comfort to each other--
        PRIEST. That they might
      Live to such end is what both old and young
      In this our valley all of us have wished,                      300
      And what, for my part, I have often prayed:
      But Leonard--
        LEONARD. Then James still is left among you!
        PRIEST. 'Tis of the elder brother I am speaking:
      They had an uncle;--he was at that time
      A thriving man, and trafficked on the seas:
      And, but for that same uncle, to this hour
      Leonard had never handled rope or shroud:
      For the boy loved the life which we lead here;
      And though of unripe years, a stripling only,                  310
      His soul was knit to this his native soil.
      But, as I said, old Walter was too weak
      To strive with such a torrent; when he died,
      The estate and house were sold; and all their sheep,
      A pretty flock, and which, for aught I know,
      Had clothed the Ewbanks for a thousand years:--
      Well--all was gone, and they were destitute,
      And Leonard, chiefly for his Brother's sake,
      Resolved to try his fortune on the seas.
      Twelve years are past since we had tidings from him.           320
      If there were one among us who had heard
      That Leonard Ewbank was come home again,
      From the Great Gavel, down by Leeza's banks,
      And down the Enna, far as Egremont,
      The day would be a joyous festival;
      And those two bells of ours, which there you see--
      Hanging in the open air--but, O good Sir!
      This is sad talk--they'll never sound for him--
      Living or dead.--When last we heard of him,
      He was in slavery among the Moors                              330
      Upon the Barbary coast.--'Twas not a little
      That would bring down his spirit; and no doubt,
      Before it ended in his death, the Youth
      Was sadly crossed.--Poor Leonard! when we parted,
      He took me by the hand, and said to me,
      If e'er he should grow rich, he would return,
      To live in peace upon his father's land,
      And any his bones among us.
        LEONARD. If that day
      Should come, 'twould needs be a glad day for him;              340
      He would himself, no doubt, be happy then
      As any that should meet him--
        PRIEST. Happy! Sir--
        LEONARD. You said his kindred all were in their graves,
      And that he had one Brother--
        PRIEST. That is but
      A fellow-tale of sorrow. From his youth
      James, though not sickly, yet was delicate;
      And Leonard being always by his side
      Had done so many offices about him,                            350
      That, though he was not of a timid nature,
      Yet still the spirit of a mountain-boy
      In him was somewhat checked; and, when his Brother
      Was gone to sea, and he was left alone,
      The little colour that he had was soon
      Stolen from his cheek; he drooped, and pined, and pined--
        LEONARD. But these are all the graves of full-grown men!
        PRIEST. Ay, Sir, that passed away: we took him to us;
      He was the child of all the dale--he lived
      Three months with one, and six months with another,            360
      And wanted neither food, nor clothes, nor love:
      And many, many happy days were his.
      But, whether blithe or sad, 'tis my belief
      His absent Brother still was at his heart.
      And, when he dwelt beneath our roof, we found
      (A practice till this time unknown to him)
      That often, rising from his bed at night,
      He in his sleep would walk about, and sleeping
      He sought his brother Leonard.--You are moved!
      Forgive me, Sir: before I spoke to you,                        370
      I judged you most unkindly.
        LEONARD. But this Youth,
      How did he die at last?
        PRIEST. One sweet May-morning,
      (It will be twelve years since when Spring returns)
      He had gone forth among the new-dropped lambs,
      With two or three companions, whom their course
      Of occupation led from height to height
      Under a cloudless sun--till he, at length,
      Through weariness, or, haply, to indulge                       380
      The humour of the moment, lagged behind.
      You see yon precipice;--it wears the shape
      Of a vast building made of many crags;
      And in the midst is one particular rock
      That rises like a column from the vale,
      Whence by our shepherds it is called, THE PILLAR.
      Upon its aery summit crowned with heath,
      The loiterer, not unnoticed by his comrades,
      Lay stretched at ease; but, passing by the place
      On their return, they found that he was gone.                  390
      No ill was feared; till one of them by chance
      Entering, when evening was far spent, the house
      Which at that time was James's home, there learned
      That nobody had seen him all that day:
      The morning came, and still he was unheard of:
      The neighbours were alarmed, and to the brook
      Some hastened; some ran to the lake: ere noon
      They found him at the foot of that same rock
      Dead, and with mangled limbs. The third day after
      I buried him, poor Youth, and there he lies!                   400
        LEONARD. And that then 'is' his grave!--Before his death
      You say that he saw many happy years?
        PRIEST. Ay, that he did--
        LEONARD. And all went well with him?--
        PRIEST. If he had one, the Youth had twenty homes.
        LEONARD. And you believe, then, that his mind was easy?--
        PRIEST. Yes, long before he died, he found that time
      Is a true friend to sorrow; and unless
      His thoughts were turned on Leonard's luckless fortune,
      He talked about him with a cheerful love.                      410
        LEONARD. He could not come to an unhallowed end!
        PRIEST. Nay, God forbid!--You recollect I mentioned
      A habit which disquietude and grief
      Had brought upon him; and we all conjectured
      That, as the day was warm, he had lain down
      On the soft heath,--and, waiting for his comrades,
      He there had fallen asleep; that in his sleep
      He to the margin of the precipice
      Had walked, and from the summit had fallen headlong:
      And so no doubt he perished. When the Youth                    420
      Fell, in his hand he must have grasped, we think,
      His shepherd's staff; for on that Pillar of rock
      It had been caught mid-way; and there for years
      It hung;--and mouldered there.
                                      The Priest here ended--
      The Stranger would have thanked him, but he felt
      A gushing from his heart, that took away
      The power of speech. Both left the spot in silence;
      And Leonard, when they reached the churchyard gate,
      As the Priest lifted up the latch, turned round,--
      And, looking at the grave, he said, "My Brother!"              430
      The Vicar did not hear the words: and now,
      He pointed towards his dwelling-place, entreating
      That Leonard would partake his homely fare:
      The other thanked him with an earnest voice;
      But added, that, the evening being calm,
      He would pursue his journey. So they parted.
        It was not long ere Leonard reached a grove
      That overhung the road: he there stopped short,
      And, sitting down beneath the trees, reviewed
      All that the Priest had said: his early years                  440
      Were with him:--his long absence, cherished hopes,
      And thoughts which had been his an hour before,
      All pressed on him with such a weight, that now,
      This vale, where he had been so happy, seemed
      A place in which he could not bear to live:
      So he relinquished all his purposes.
      He travelled back to Egremont: and thence,
      That night, he wrote a letter to the Priest,
      Reminding him of what had passed between them;
      And adding, with a hope to be forgiven,                        450
      That it was from the weakness of his heart
      He had not dared to tell him who he was.
      This done, he went on shipboard, and is now
      A Seaman, a grey-headed Mariner.
                                                              1800.


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