Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE WAGGONER

                              CANTO FIRST

          'TIS spent--this burning day of June!
          Soft darkness o'er its latest gleams is stealing;
          The buzzing dor-hawk, round and round, is wheeling,--
          That solitary bird
          Is all that can be heard
          In silence deeper far than that of deepest noon!
            Confiding Glow-worms, 'tis a night
          Propitious to your earth-born light!
          But, where the scattered stars are seen
          In hazy straits the clouds between,                         10
          Each, in his station twinkling not,
          Seems changed into a pallid spot.
          The mountains against heaven's grave weight
          Rise up, and grow to wondrous height.
          The air, as in a lion's den,
          Is close and hot;--and now and then
          Comes a tired and sultry breeze
          With a haunting and a panting,
          Like the stifling of disease;
          But the dews allay the heat,                                20
          And the silence makes it sweet.
          Hush, there is some one on the stir!
          'Tis Benjamin the Waggoner;
          Who long hath trod this toilsome way,
          Companion of the night and day.
          That far-off tinkling's drowsy cheer,
          Mixed with a faint yet grating sound
          In a moment lost and found,
          The Wain announces--by whose side
          Along the banks of Rydal Mere                               30
          He paces on, a trusty Guide,--
          Listen! you can scarcely hear!
          Hither he his course is bending;--
          Now he leaves the lower ground,
          And up the craggy hill ascending
          Many a stop and stay he makes,
          Many a breathing-fit he takes;--
          Steep the way and wearisome,
          Yet all the while his whip is dumb!
            The Horses have worked with right good-will,              40
          And so have gained the top of the hill;
          He was patient, they were strong,
          And now they smoothly glide along,
          Recovering breath, and pleased to win
          The praises of mild Benjamin.
          Heaven shield him from mishap and snare!
          But why so early with this prayer?--
          Is it for threatenings in the sky?
          Or for some other danger nigh?
          No; none is near him yet, though he                         50
          Be one of much infirmity;
          For at the bottom of the brow,
          Where once the DOVE and OLIVE-BOUGH
          Offered a greeting of good ale
          To all who entered Grasmere Vale;
          And called on him who must depart
          To leave it with a jovial heart;
          There, where the DOVE and OLIVE-BOUGH
          Once hung, a Poet harbours now,
          A simple water-drinking Bard;                               60
          Why need our Hero then (though frail
          His best resolves) be on his guard?
          He marches by, secure and bold;
          Yet while he thinks on times of old,
          It seems that all looks wondrous cold;
          He shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head,
          And, for the honest folk within,
          It is a doubt with Benjamin
          Whether they be alive or dead!
            'Here' is no danger,--none at all!                        70
          Beyond his wish he walks secure;
          But pass a mile--and 'then' for trial,---
          Then for the pride of self-denial;
          If he resist that tempting door,
          Which with such friendly voice will call;
          If he resist those casement panes,
          And that bright gleam which thence will fall
          Upon his Leaders' bells and manes,
          Inviting him with cheerful lure:
          For still, though all be dark elsewhere,                    80
          Some shining notice will be 'there',
          Of open house and ready fare.
            The place to Benjamin right well
          Is known, and by as strong a spell
          As used to be that sign of love
          And hope--the OLIVE-BOUGH and DOVE;
          He knows it to his cost, good Man!
          Who does not know the famous SWAN?
          Object uncouth! and yet our boast,
          For it was painted by the Host;                             90
          His own conceit the figure planned,
          'Twas coloured all by his own hand;
          And that frail Child of thirsty clay,
          Of whom I sing this rustic lay,
          Could tell with self-dissatisfaction
          Quaint stories of the bird's attraction!
            Well! that is past--and in despite
          Of open door and shining light.
          And now the conqueror essays
          The long ascent of Dunmail-raise;                          100
          And with his team is gentle here
          As when he clomb from Rydal Mere;
          His whip they do not dread--his voice
          They only hear it to rejoice.
          To stand or go is at 'their' pleasure;
          Their efforts and their time they measure
          By generous pride within the breast;
          And, while they strain, and while they rest,
          He thus pursues his thoughts at leisure.
            Now am I fairly safe to-night--                          110
          And with proud cause my heart is light:
          I trespassed lately worse than ever--
          But Heaven has blest a good endeavour;
          And, to my soul's content, I find
          The evil One is left behind.
          Yes, let my master fume and fret,
          Here am I--with my horses yet!
          My jolly team, he finds that ye
          Will work for nobody but me!
          Full proof of this the Country gained;                     120
          It knows how ye were vexed and strained,
          And forced unworthy stripes to bear,
          When trusted to another's care.
          Here was it--on this rugged slope,
          Which now ye climb with heart and hope,
          I saw you, between rage and fear,
          Plunge, and fling back a spiteful ear,
          And ever more and more confused,
          As ye were more and more abused:
          As chance would have it, passing by                        130
          I saw you in that jeopardy:
          A word from me was like a charm;
          Ye pulled together with one mind;
          And your huge burthen, safe from harm,
          Moved like a vessel in the wind!
          --Yes, without me, up hills so high
          'Tis vain to strive for mastery.
          Then grieve not, jolly team! though tough
          The road we travel, steep, and rough;
          Though Rydal-heights and Dunmail-raise,                    140
          And all their fellow banks and braes,
          Full often make you stretch and strain,
          And halt for breath and halt again,
          Yet to their sturdiness 'tis owing
          That side by side we still are going!
            While Benjamin in earnest mood
          His meditations thus pursued,
          A storm, which had been smothered long,
          Was growing inwardly more strong;
          And, in its struggles to get free,                         150
          Was busily employed as he.
          The thunder had begun to growl--
          He heard not, too intent of soul;
          The air was now without a breath--
          He marked not that 'twas still as death.
          But soon large rain-drops on his head
          Fell with the weight of drops of lead;--
          He starts--and takes, at the admonition,
          A sage survey of his condition.
          The road is black before his eyes,                         160
          Glimmering faintly where it lies;
          Black is the sky--and every hill,
          Up to the sky, is blacker still--
          Sky, hill, and dale, one dismal room,
          Hung round and overhung with gloom;
          Save that above a single height
          Is to be seen a lurid light,
          Above Helm-crag--a streak half dead,
          A burning of portentous red;
          And near that lurid light, full well                       170
          The ASTROLOGER, sage Sidrophel,
          Where at his desk and book he sits,
          Puzzling aloft his curious wits;
          He whose domain is held in common
          With no one but the ANCIENT WOMAN,
          Cowering beside her rifted cell,
          As if intent on magic spell;--
          Dread pair, that, spite of wind and weather,
          Still sit upon Helm-crag together!
            The ASTROLOGER was not unseen                            180
          By solitary Benjamin;
          But total darkness came anon,
          And he and everything was gone:
          And suddenly a ruffling breeze,
          (That would have rocked the sounding trees
          Had aught of sylvan growth been there)
          Swept through the Hollow long and bare:
          The rain rushed down--the road was battered,
          As with the force of billows shattered;
          The horses are dismayed, nor know                          190
          Whether they should stand or go;
          And Benjamin is groping near them
          Sees nothing, and can scarcely hear them.
          He is astounded,--wonder not,--
          With such a charge in such a spot;
          Astounded in the mountain gap
          With thunder-peals, clap after clap,
          Close-treading on the silent flashes--
          And somewhere, as he thinks, by crashes
          Among the rocks; with weight of rain,                      200
          And sullen motions long and slow,
          That to a dreary distance go--
          Till, breaking in upon the dying strain,
          A rending o'er his head begins the fray again.
            Meanwhile, uncertain what to do,
          And oftentimes compelled to halt,
          The horses cautiously pursue
          Their way, without mishap or fault;
          And now have reached that pile of stones,
          Heaped over brave King Dunmail's bones;                    210
          His who had once supreme command,
          Last king of rocky Cumberland;
          His bones, and those of all his Power
          Slain here in a disastrous hour!
            When, passing through this narrow strait,
          Stony, and dark, and desolate,
          Benjamin can faintly hear
          A voice that comes from some one near,
          A female voice--Whoe'er you be,
          Stop," it exclaimed, "and pity me!"                        220
          And, less in pity than in wonder,
          Amid the darkness and the thunder,
          The Waggoner, with prompt command,
          Summons his horses to a stand.
            While, with increasing agitation,
          The Woman urged her supplication,
          In rueful words, with sobs between--
          The voice of tears that fell unseen;
          There came a flash--a startling glare,
          And all Seat-Sandal was laid bare!                         230
          'Tis not a time for nice suggestion,
          And Benjamin, without a question,
          Taking her for some way-worn rover,
          Said, "Mount, and get you under cover!"
            Another voice, in tone as hoarse
          As a swoln brook with rugged course,
          Cried out, "Good brother, why so fast?
          I've had a glimpse of you--'avast!'
          Or, since it suits you to be civil,
          Take her at once--for good and evil!"                      240
            "It is my Husband," softly said
          The Woman, as if half afraid:
          By this time she was snug within,
          Through help of honest Benjamin;
          She and her Babe, which to her breast
          With thankfulness the Mother pressed;
          And now the same strong voice more near
          Said cordially, "My Friend, what cheer?
          Rough doings these! as God's my judge,
          The sky owes somebody a grudge!                            250
          We've had in half an hour or less
          A twelvemonth's terror and distress!"
            Then Benjamin entreats the Man
          Would mount, too, quickly as he can:
          The Sailor--Sailor now no more,
          But such he had been heretofore--
          To courteous Benjamin replied,
          "Go you your way, and mind not me;
          For I must have, whate'er betide,
          My Ass and fifty things beside,--                          260
          Go, and I'll follow speedily!"
            The Waggon moves--and with its load
          Descends along the sloping road;
          And the rough Sailor instantly
          Turns to a little tent hard by:
          For when, at closing-in of day,
          The family had come that way,
          Green pasture and the soft warm air
          Tempted them to settle there.--
          Green is the grass for beast to graze,                     270
          Around the stones of Dunmail-raise!
            The Sailor gathers up his bed,
          Takes down the canvas overhead;
          And, after farewell to the place,
          A parting word--though not of grace,
          Pursues, with Ass and all his store,
          The way the Waggon went before.

                              CANTO SECOND

          IF Wytheburn's modest House of prayer,
          As lowly as the lowliest dwelling,
          Had, with its belfry's humble stock,                       280
          A little pair that hang in air,
          Been mistress also of a clock,
          (And one, too, not in crazy plight)
          Twelve strokes that clock would have been telling
          Under the brow of old Helvellyn--
          Its bead-roll of midnight,
          Then, when the Hero of my tale
          Was passing by, and, down the vale
          (The vale now silent, hushed I ween
          As if a storm had never been)                              290
          Proceeding with a mind at ease;
          While the old Familiar of the seas,
          Intent to use his utmost haste,
          Gained ground upon the Waggon fast,
          And gives another lusty cheer;
          For spite of rumbling of the wheels,
          A welcome greeting he can hear;--
          It is a fiddle in its glee
          Dinning from the CHERRY TREE!
            Thence the sound--the light is there--                   300
          As Benjamin is now aware,
          Who, to his inward thoughts confined,
          Had almost reached the festive door,
          When, startled by the Sailor's roar,
          He hears a sound and sees a light,
          And in a moment calls to mind
          That 'tis the village MERRY-NIGHT!
            Although before in no dejection,
          At this insidious recollection
          His heart with sudden joy is filled,--                     310
          His ears are by the music thrilled,
          His eyes take pleasure in the road
          Glittering before him bright and broad;
          And Benjamin is wet and cold,
          And there are reasons manifold
          That make the good, tow'rds which he's yearning,
          Look fairly like a lawful earning.
            Nor has thought time to come and go,
          To vibrate between yes and no;
          For, cries the Sailor, "Glorious chance                    320
          That blew us hither!--let him dance,
          Who can or will!--my honest soul,
          Our treat shall be a friendly bowl!"
          He draws him to the door--"Come in,
          Come, come," cries he to Benjamin!
          And Benjamin--ah, woe is me!
          Gave the word--the horses heard
          And halted, though reluctantly.
            "Blithe souls and lightsome hearts have we,
          Feasting at the CHERRY TREE!"                              330
          This was the outside proclamation,
          This was the inside salutation;
          What bustling--jostling--high and low!
          A universal overflow!
          What tankards foaming from the tap!
          What store of cakes in every lap!
          What thumping--stumping--overhead!
          The thunder had not been more busy:
          With such a stir you would have said,
          This little place may well be dizzy!                       340
          'Tis who can dance with greatest vigour--
          'Tis what can be most prompt and eager;
          As if it heard the fiddle's call,
          The pewter clatters on the wall;
          The very bacon shows its feeling,
          Swinging from the smoky ceiling!
            A steaming bowl, a blazing fire,
          What greater good can heart desire?
          'Twere worth a wise man's while to try
          The utmost anger of the sky:                               350
          To 'seek' for thoughts of a gloomy cast,
          If such the bright amends at last.
          Now should you say I judge amiss,
          The CHERRY TREE shows proof of this;
          For soon of all the happy there,
          Our Travellers are the happiest pair;
          All care with Benjamin is gone--
          A Caesar past the Rubicon!
          He thinks not of his long, long strife;--
          The Sailor, Man by nature gay,                             360
          Hath no resolves to throw away;
          And he hath now forgot his Wife,
          Hath quite forgotten her--or may be
          Thinks her the luckiest soul on earth,
          Within that warm and peaceful berth,
                Under cover,
                Terror over,
          Sleeping by her sleeping Baby,
            With bowl that sped from hand to hand,
          The gladdest of the gladsome band,                         370
          Amid their own delight and fun,
          They hear--when every dance is done,
          When every whirling bout is o'er--
          The fiddle's 'squeak'--that call to bliss,
          Ever followed by a kiss;
          They envy not the happy lot,
          But enjoy their own the more!
            While thus our jocund Travellers fare,
          Up springs the Sailor from his chair--
          Limps (for I might have told before                        380
          That he was lame) across the floor--
          Is gone--returns--and with a prize;
          With what?--a Ship of lusty size;
          A gallant stately Man-of-war,
          Fixed on a smoothly-sliding car.
          Surprise to all, but most surprise
          To Benjamin, who rubs his eyes,
          Not knowing that he had befriended
          A Man so gloriously attended!
            "This," cries the Sailor, "a Third-rate is--             390
          Stand back, and you shall see her gratis!
          This was the Flag-ship at the Nile,
          The Vanguard--you may smirk and smile,
          But, pretty Maid, if you look near,
          You'll find you've much in little here!
          A nobler ship did never swim,
          And you shall see her in full trim:
          I'll set, my friends, to do you honour,
          Set every inch of sail upon her."
          So said, so done; and masts, sails, yards,                 400
          He names them all; and interlards
          His speech with uncouth terms of art,
          Accomplished in the showman's part;
          And then, as from a sudden check,
          Cries out--"'Tis there, the quarter-deck
          On which brave Admiral Nelson stood--
          A sight that would have roused your blood!
          One eye he had, which, bright as ten,
          Burned like a fire among his men;
          Let this be land, and that be sea,                         410
          Here lay the French--and 'thus' came we!"
            Hushed was by this the fiddle's sound,
          The dancers all were gathered round,
          And, such the stillness of the house,
          You might have heard a nibbling mouse;
          While, borrowing helps where'er he may,
          The Sailor through the story runs
          Of ships to ships and guns to guns;
          And does his utmost to display
          The dismal conflict, and the might                         420
          And terror of that marvellous night!
          "A bowl, a bowl of double measure,"
          Cries Benjamin, "a draught of length,
          To Nelson, England's pride and treasure,
          Her bulwark and her tower of strength!"
          When Benjamin had seized the bowl,
          The mastiff, from beneath the waggon,
          Where he lay, watchful as a dragon,
          Rattled his chain;--'twas all in vain,
          For Benjamin, triumphant soul!                             430
          He heard the monitory growl;
          Heard--and in opposition quaffed
          A deep, determined, desperate draught!
          Nor did the battered Tar forget,
          Or flinch from what he deemed his debt:
          Then, like a hero crowned with laurel,
          Back to her place the ship he led;
          Wheeled her back in full apparel;
          And so, flag flying at mast head,
          Re-yoked her to the Ass:--anon,                            440
          Cries Benjamin, "We must be gone.
          Thus, after two hours' hearty stay,
          Again behold them on their way!

                              CANTO THIRD

          RIGHT gladly had the horses stirred,
          When they the wished-for greeting heard,
          The whip's loud notice from the door,
          That they were free to move once more.
          You think, those doings must have bred
          In them disheartening doubts and dread;
          No, not a horse of all the eight,                          450
          Although it be a moonless night,
          Fears either for himself or freight;
          For this they know (and let it hide,
          In part, the offences of their guide)
          That Benjamin, with clouded brains,
          Is worth the best with all their pains;
          And, if they had a prayer to make,
          The prayer would be that they may take
          With him whatever comes in course,
          The better fortune or the worse;                           460
          That no one else may have business near them,
          And, drunk or sober, he may steer them.
            So, forth in dauntless mood they fare,
          And with them goes the guardian pair.
            Now, heroes, for the true commotion,
          The triumph of your late devotion
          Can aught on earth impede delight,
          Still mounting to a higher height;
          And higher still--a greedy flight!
          Can any low-born care pursue her,                          470
          Can any mortal clog come to her?
          No notion have they--not a thought,
          That is from joyless regions brought!
          And, while they coast the silent lake,
          Their inspiration I partake;
          Share their empyreal spirits--yea,
          With their enraptured vision, see--
          O fancy--what a jubilee!
          What shifting pictures--clad in gleams
          Of colour bright as feverish dreams!                       480
          Earth, spangled sky, and lake serene,
          Involved and restless all--a scene
          Pregnant with mutual exaltation,
          Rich change, and multiplied creation!
          This sight to me the Muse imparts;--
          And then, what kindness in their hearts!
          What tears of rapture, what vow-making,
          Profound entreaties, and hand-shaking!
          What solemn, vacant, interlacing,
          As if they'd fall asleep embracing!                        490
          Then, in the turbulence of glee,
          And in the excess of amity,
          Says Benjamin, "That Ass of thine,
          He spoils thy sport, and hinders mine:
          If he were tethered to the waggon,
          He'd drag as well what he is dragging,
          And we, as brother should with brother,
          Might trudge it alongside each other!"
            Forthwith, obedient to command,
          The horses made a quiet stand;                             500
          And to the waggon's skirts was tied
          The Creature, by the Mastiff's side,
          The Mastiff wondering, and perplext
          With dread of what will happen next;
          And thinking it but sorry cheer,
          To have such company so near!
            This new arrangement made, the Wain
          Through the still night proceeds again;
          No Moon hath risen her light to lend;
          But indistinctly may be kenned                             510
          The VANGUARD, following close behind,
          Sails spread, as if to catch the wind!
            "Thy wife and child are snug and warm,
          Thy ship will travel without harm;
          I like," said Benjamin, "her shape and stature:
          And this of mine--this bulky creature
          Of which I have the steering--this,
          Seen fairly, is not much amiss!
          We want your streamers, friend, you know;
          But, altogether as we go,                                  520
          We make a kind of handsome show!
          Among these hills, from first to last,
          We've weathered many a furious blast;
          Hard passage forcing on, with head
          Against the storm, and canvas spread.
          I hate a boaster; but to thee
          Will say't, who know'st both land and sea,
          The unluckiest hulk that stems the brine
          Is hardly worse beset than mine,
          When cross-winds on her quarter beat;                      530
          And, fairly lifted from my feet,
          I stagger onward--heaven knows how;
          But not so pleasantly as now:
          Poor pilot I, by snows confounded,
          And many a foundrous pit surrounded!
          Yet here we are, by night and day
          Grinding through rough and smooth our way;
          Through foul and fair our task fulfilling;
          And long shall be so yet--God willing!"
            "Ay," said the Tar, "through fair and foul--             540
          But save us from yon screeching owl!"
          That instant was begun a fray
          Which called their thoughts another way:
          The mastiff, ill-conditioned carl!
          What must he do but growl and snarl,
          Still more and more dissatisfied
          With the meek comrade at his side!
          Till, not incensed though put to proof,
          The Ass, uplifting a hind hoof,
          Salutes the Mastiff on the head;                           550
          And so were better manners bred,
          And all was calmed and quieted.
            "Yon screech-owl," says the Sailor, turning
          Back to his former cause of mourning,
          "Yon owl!--pray God that all be well!
          'Tis worse than any funeral bell;
          As sure as I've the gift of sight,
          We shall be meeting ghosts to-night!"
          --Said Benjamin, "This whip shall lay
          A thousand, if they cross our way.                         560
          I know that Wanton's noisy station,
          I know him and his occupation;
          The jolly bird hath learned his cheer
          Upon the banks of Windermere;
          Where a tribe of them make merry,
          Mocking the Man that keeps the ferry;
          Hallooing from an open throat,
          Like travellers shouting for a boat.
          --The tricks he learned at Windermere
          This vagrant owl is playing here--                         570
          That is the worst of his employment:
          He's at the top of his enjoyment!"
            This explanation stilled the alarm,
          Cured the foreboder like a charm;
          This, and the manner, and the voice,
          Summoned the Sailor to rejoice;
          His heart is up--he fears no evil
          From life or death, from man or devil;
          He wheels--and, making many stops,
          Brandished his crutch against the mountain tops;           580
          And, while he talked of blows and scars,
          Benjamin, among the stars,
          Beheld a dancing--and a glancing;
          Such retreating and advancing
          As, I ween, was never seen
          In bloodiest battle since the days of Mars!

                              CANTO FOURTH

          THUS they, with freaks of proud delight,
          Beguile the remnant of the night;
          And many a snatch of jovial song
          Regales them as they wind along;                           590
          While to the music, from on high,
          The echoes make a glad reply.--
          But the sage Muse the revel heeds
          No farther than her story needs;
          Nor will she servilely attend
          The loitering journey to its end.
          --Blithe spirits of her own impel
          The Muse, who scents the morning air,
          To take of this transported pair
          A brief and unreproved farewell;                           600
          To quit the slow-paced waggon's side,
          And wander down yon hawthorn dell,
          With murmuring Greta for her guide.
          --There doth she ken the awful form
          Of Raven-crag--black as a storm--
          Glimmering through the twilight pale;
          And Ghimmer-crag, his tall twin brother,
          Each peering forth to meet the other:--
          And, while she roves through St. John's Vale,
          Along the smooth unpathwayed plain,                        610
          By sheep-track or through cottage lane,
          Where no disturbance comes to intrude
          Upon the pensive solitude,
          Her unsuspecting eye, perchance,
          With the rude shepherd's favoured glance,
          Beholds the faeries in array,
          Whose party-coloured garments gay
          The silent company betray:
          Red, green, and blue; a moment's sight!
          For Skiddaw-top with rosy light                            620
          Is touched--and all the band take flight.
          --Fly also, Muse! and from the dell
          Mount to the ridge of Nathdale Fell;
          Thence, look thou forth o'er wood and lawn
          Hoar with the frost-like dews of dawn;
          Across yon meadowy bottom look,
          Where close fogs hide their parent brook;
          And see, beyond that hamlet small,
          The ruined towers of Threlkeld-hall,
          Lurking in a double shade,                                 630
          By trees and lingering twilight made!
          There, at Blencathara's rugged feet,
          Sir Lancelot gave a safe retreat
          To noble Clifford; from annoy
          Concealed the persecuted boy,
          Well pleased in rustic garb to feed
          His flock, and pipe on shepherd's reed
          Among this multitude of hills,
          Crags, woodlands, waterfalls, and rills;
          Which soon the morning shall enfold,                       640
          From east to west, in ample vest
          Of massy gloom and radiance bold.
            The mists, that o'er the streamlet's bed
          Hung low, begin to rise and spread;
          Even while I speak, their skirts of grey
          Are smitten by a silver ray;
          And lo!--up Castrigg's naked steep
          (Where, smoothly urged, the vapours sweep
          Along--and scatter and divide,
          Like fleecy clouds self-multiplied)                        650
          The stately waggon is ascending,
          With faithful Benjamin attending,
          Apparent now beside his team--
          Now lost amid a glittering steam:
          And with him goes his Sailor-friend,
          By this time near their journey's end;
          And, after their high-minded riot,
          Sickening into thoughtful quiet;
          As if the morning's pleasant hour
          Had for their joys a killing power.                        660
          And, sooth, for Benjamin a vein
          Is opened of still deeper pain
          As if his heart by notes were stung
          From out the lowly hedge-rows flung;
          As if the Warbler lost in light
          Reproved his soarings of the night,
          In strains of rapture pure and holy
          Upbraided his distempered folly.
            Drooping is he, his step is dull;
          But the horses stretch and pull;                           670
          With increasing vigour climb,
          Eager to repair lost time;
          Whether, by their own desert,
          Knowing what cause there is for shame,
          They are labouring to avert
          As much as may be of the blame,
          Which, they foresee, must soon alight
          Upon 'his' head, whom, in despite
          Of all his failings, they love best;
          Whether for him they are distrest,                         680
          Or, by length of fasting roused,
          Are impatient to be housed:
          Up against the hill they strain
          Tugging at the iron chain,
          Tugging all with might and main,
          Last and foremost, every horse
          To the utmost of his force!
          And the smoke and respiration,
          Rising like an exhalation,
          Blend with the mist--a moving shroud                       690
          To form, an undissolving cloud;
          Which, with slant ray, the merry sun
          Takes delight to play upon.
          Never golden-haired Apollo,
          Pleased some favourite chief to follow
          Through accidents of peace or war,
          In a perilous moment threw
          Around the object of his care
          Veil of such celestial hue;
          Interposed so bright a screen--                            700
          Him and his enemies between!
            Alas! what boots it?--who can hide,
          When the malicious Fates are bent
          On working out an ill intent?
          Can destiny be turned aside?
          No--sad progress of my story!
          Benjamin, this outward glory
          Cannot shield thee from thy Master,
          Who from Keswick has pricked forth,
          Sour and surly as the north;                               710
          And, in fear of some disaster,
          Comes to give what help he may,
          And to hear what thou canst say;
          If, as needs he must forebode,
          Thou hast been loitering on the road!
          His fears, his doubts, may now take flight--
          The wished-for object is in sight;
          Yet, trust the Muse, it rather hath
          Stirred him up to livelier wrath;
          Which he stifles, moody man!                               720
          With all the patience that he can;
          To the end that, at your meeting,
          He may give thee decent greeting.
            There he is--resolved to stop,
          Till the waggon gains the top;
          But stop he cannot--must advance:
          Him Benjamin, with lucky glance,
          Espies--and instantly is ready,
          Self-collected, poised, and steady:
          And, to be the better seen,                                730
          Issues from his radiant shroud,
          From his close-attending cloud,
          With careless air and open mien.
          Erect his port, and firm his going;
          So struts yon cock that now is crowing;
          And the morning light in grace
          Strikes upon his lifted face,
          Hurrying the pallid hue away
          That might his trespasses betray.
          But what can all avail to clear him,                       740
          Or what need of explanation,
          Parley or interrogation?
          For the Master sees, alas!
          That unhappy Figure near him,
          Limping o'er the dewy grass,
          Where the road it fringes, sweet,
          Soft and cool to way-worn feet;
          And, O indignity! an Ass,
          By his noble Mastiff's side,
          Tethered to the waggon's tail:                             750
          And the ship, in all her pride,
          Following after in full sail!
          Not to speak of babe and mother;
          Who, contented with each other,
          And snug as birds in leafy arbour,
          Find, within, a blessed harbour!
            With eager eyes the Master pries;
          Looks in and out, and through and through;
          Says nothing--till at last he spies
          A wound upon the Mastiff's head,                           760
          A wound, where plainly might be read
          What feats an Ass's hoof can do!
          But drop the rest:--this aggravation,
          This complicated provocation,
          A hoard of grievances unsealed;
          All past forgiveness it repealed;
          And thus, and through distempered blood
          On both sides, Benjamin the good,
          The patient, and the tender-hearted,
          Was from his team and waggon parted;                       770
          When duty of that day was o'er,
          Laid down his whip--and served no more,--
          Nor could the waggon long survive,
          Which Benjamin had ceased to drive:
          It lingered on;--guide after guide
          Ambitiously the office tried;
          But each unmanageable hill
          Called for 'his' patience and 'his' skill;--
          And sure it is, that through this night,
          And what the morning brought to light,                     780
          Two losses had we to sustain,
          We lost both WAGGONER and WAIN!

                             _____________

          Accept, O Friend, for praise or blame,
          The gift of this adventurous song;
          A record which I dared to frame,
          Though timid scruples checked me long;
          They checked me--and I left the theme
          Untouched--in spite of many a gleam
          Of fancy which thereon was shed,
          Like pleasant sunbeams shifting still                      790
          Upon the side of a distant hill:
          But Nature might not be gainsaid;
          For what I have and what I miss
          I sing of these;--it makes my bliss!
          Nor is it I who play the part,
          But a shy spirit in my heart,
          That comes and goes--will sometimes leap
          From hiding-places ten years deep;
          Or haunts me with familiar face,
          Returning, like a ghost unlaid,                            800
          Until the debt I owe be paid.
          Forgive me, then; for I had been
          On friendly terms with this Machine:
          In him, while he was wont to trace
          Our roads, through many a long year's space,
          A living almanack had we;
          We had a speaking diary,
          That in this uneventful place
          Gave to the days a mark and name
          By which we knew them when they came.                      810
          --Yes, I, and all about me here,
          Through all the changes of the year,
          Had seen him through the mountains go,
          In pomp of mist or pomp of snow,
          Majestically huge and slow:
          Or, with a milder grace adorning
          The landscape of a summer's morning;
          While Grasmere smoothed her liquid plain
          The moving image to detain;
          And mighty Fairfield, with a chime                         820
          Of echoes, to his march kept time;
          When little other business stirred,
          And little other sound was heard;
          In that delicious hour of balm,
          Stillness, solitude, and calm,
          While yet the valley is arrayed,
          On this side with a sober shade;
          On that is prodigally bright--
          Crag, lawn, and wood--with rosy light.
          --But most of all, thou Lordly Wain!                       830
          I wish to have thee here again,
          When windows flap and chimney roars,
          And all is dismal out of doors;
          And, sitting by my fire, I see
          Eight sorry carts, no less a train;
          Unworthy successors of thee,
          Come straggling through the wind and rain!
          And oft, as they pass slowly on,
          Beneath my windows, one by one,
          See, perched upon the naked height                         840
          The summit of a cumbrous freight,
          A single traveller--and there
          Another; then perhaps a pair--
          The lame, the sickly, and the old;
          Men, women, heartless with the cold;
          And babes in wet and starveling plight
          Which once, be weather as it might,
          Had still a nest within a nest,
          Thy shelter--and their mother's breast!
          Then most of all, then far the most,                       850
          Do I regret what we have lost;
          Am grieved for that unhappy sin
          Which robbed us of good Benjamin;
          And of his stately Charge, which none
          Could keep alive when He was gone!
                                                              1805.


CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors