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THE PRELUDE

BOOK SIXTH

CAMBRIDGE AND THE ALPS

          THE leaves were fading when to Esthwaite's banks
          And the simplicities of cottage life
          I bade farewell; and, one among the youth
          Who, summoned by that season, reunite
          As scattered birds troop to the fowler's lure,
          Went back to Granta's cloisters, not so prompt
          Or eager, though as gay and undepressed
          In mind, as when I thence had taken flight
          A few short months before. I turned my face
          Without repining from the coves and heights                 10
          Clothed in the sunshine of the withering fern;
          Quitted, not loth, the mild magnificence
          Of calmer lakes and louder streams; and you,
          Frank-hearted maids of rocky Cumberland,
          You and your not unwelcome days of mirth,
          Relinquished, and your nights of revelry,
          And in my own unlovely cell sate down
          In lightsome mood--such privilege has youth
          That cannot take long leave of pleasant thoughts.

            The bonds of indolent society                             20
          Relaxing in their hold, henceforth I lived
          More to myself. Two winters may be passed
          Without a separate notice: many books
          Were skimmed, devoured, or studiously perused,
          But with no settled plan. I was detached
          Internally from academic cares;
          Yet independent study seemed a course
          Of hardy disobedience toward friends
          And kindred, proud rebellion and unkind.
          This spurious virtue, rather let it bear                    30
          A name it now deserves, this cowardice,
          Gave treacherous sanction to that over-love
          Of freedom which encouraged me to turn
          From regulations even of my own
          As from restraints and bonds. Yet who can tell--
          Who knows what thus may have been gained, both then
          And at a later season, or preserved;
          What love of nature, what original strength
          Of contemplation, what intuitive truths
          The deepest and the best, what keen research,               40
          Unbiassed, unbewildered, and unawed?

            The Poet's soul was with me at that time;
          Sweet meditations, the still overflow
          Of present happiness, while future years
          Lacked not anticipations, tender dreams,
          No few of which have since been realised;
          And some remain, hopes for my future life.
          Four years and thirty, told this very week,
          Have I been now a sojourner on earth,
          By sorrow not unsmitten; yet for me                         50
          Life's morning radiance hath not left the hills,
          Her dew is on the flowers. Those were the days
          Which also first emboldened me to trust
          With firmness, hitherto but slightly touched
          By such a daring thought, that I might leave
          Some monument behind me which pure hearts
          Should reverence. The instinctive humbleness,
          Maintained even by the very name and thought
          Of printed books and authorship, began
          To melt away; and further, the dread awe                    60
          Of mighty names was softened down and seemed
          Approachable, admitting fellowship
          Of modest sympathy. Such aspect now,
          Though not familiarly, my mind put on,
          Content to observe, to achieve, and to enjoy.

            All winter long, whenever free to choose,
          Did I by night frequent the College grove
          And tributary walks; the last, and oft
          The only one, who had been lingering there
          Through hours of silence, till the porter's bell,           70
          A punctual follower on the stroke of nine,
          Rang with its blunt unceremonious voice;
          Inexorable summons! Lofty elms,
          Inviting shades of opportune recess,
          Bestowed composure on a neighbourhood
          Unpeaceful in itself. A single tree
          With sinuous trunk, boughs exquisitely wreathed,
          Grew there; an ash which Winter for himself
          Decked out with pride, and with outlandish grace:
          Up from the ground, and almost to the top,                  80
          The trunk and every master branch were green
          With clustering ivy, and the lightsome twigs
          And outer spray profusely tipped with seeds
          That hung in yellow tassels, while the air
          Stirred them, not voiceless. Often have I stood
          Foot-bound uplooking at this lovely tree
          Beneath a frosty moon. The hemisphere
          Of magic fiction, verse of mine perchance
          May never tread; but scarcely Spenser's self
          Could have more tranquil visions in his youth,              90
          Or could more bright appearances create
          Of human forms with superhuman powers,
          Than I beheld, loitering on calm clear nights
          Alone, beneath this fairy work of earth.

            On the vague reading of a truant youth
          'Twere idle to descant. My inner judgment
          Not seldom differed from my taste in books,
          As if it appertained to another mind,
          And yet the books which then I valued most
          Are dearest to me 'now'; for, having scanned,              100
          Not heedlessly, the laws, and watched the forms
          Of Nature, in that knowledge I possessed
          A standard, often usefully applied,
          Even when unconsciously, to things removed
          From a familiar sympathy.--In fine,
          I was a better judge of thoughts than words,
          Misled in estimating words, not only
          By common inexperience of youth,
          But by the trade in classic niceties,
          The dangerous craft, of culling term and phrase            110
          From languages that want the living voice
          To carry meaning to the natural heart;
          To tell us what is passion, what is truth,
          What reason, what simplicity and sense.

            Yet may we not entirely overlook
          The pleasure gathered from the rudiments
          Of geometric science. Though advanced
          In these enquiries, with regret I speak,
          No farther than the threshold, there I found
          Both elevation and composed delight:                       120
          With Indian awe and wonder, ignorance pleased
          With its own struggles, did I meditate
          On the relation those abstractions bear
          To Nature's laws, and by what process led,
          Those immaterial agents bowed their heads
          Duly to serve the mind of earth-born man;
          From star to star, from kindred sphere to sphere,
          From system on to system without end.

            More frequently from the same source I drew
          A pleasure quiet and profound, a sense                     130
          Of permanent and universal sway,
          And paramount belief; there, recognised
          A type, for finite natures, of the one
          Supreme Existence, the surpassing life
          Which--to the boundaries of space and time,
          Of melancholy space and doleful time,
          Superior and incapable of change,
          Nor touched by welterings of passion--is,
          And hath the name of, God. Transcendent peace
          And silence did await upon these thoughts                  140
          That were a frequent comfort to my youth.

            'Tis told by one whom stormy waters threw,
          With fellow-sufferers by the shipwreck spared,
          Upon a desert coast, that having brought
          To land a single volume, saved by chance,
          A treatise of Geometry, he wont,
          Although of food and clothing destitute,
          And beyond common wretchedness depressed,
          To part from company and take this book
          (Then first a self-taught pupil in its truths)             150
          To spots remote, and draw his diagrams
          With a long staff upon the sand, and thus
          Did oft beguile his sorrow, and almost
          Forget his feeling: so (if like effect
          From the same cause produced, 'mid outward things
          So different, may rightly be compared),
          So was it then with me, and so will be
          With Poets ever. Mighty is the charm
          Of those abstractions to a mind beset
          With images and haunted by herself,                        160
          And specially delightful unto me
          Was that clear synthesis built up aloft
          So gracefully; even then when it appeared
          Not more than a mere plaything, or a toy
          To sense embodied: not the thing it is
          In verity, an independent world,
          Created out of pure intelligence.

            Such dispositions then were mine unearned
          By aught, I fear, of genuine desert--
          Mine, through heaven's grace and inborn aptitudes.         170
          And not to leave the story of that time
          Imperfect, with these habits must be joined,
          Moods melancholy, fits of spleen, that loved
          A pensive sky, sad days, and piping winds,
          The twilight more than dawn, autumn than spring;
          A treasured and luxurious gloom of choice
          And inclination mainly, and the mere
          Redundancy of youth's contentedness.
          --To time thus spent, add multitudes of hours
          Pilfered away, by what the Bard who sang                   180
          Of the Enchanter Indolence hath called
          "Good-natured lounging," and behold a map
          Of my collegiate life--far less intense
          Than duty called for, or, without regard
          To duty, 'might' have sprung up of itself
          By change of accidents, or even, to speak
          Without unkindness, in another place.
          Yet why take refuge in that plea?--the fault,
          This I repeat, was mine; mine be the blame.

            In summer, making quest for works of art,                190
          Or scenes renowned for beauty, I explored
          That streamlet whose blue current works its way
          Between romantic Dovedale's spiry rocks;
          Pried into Yorkshire dales, or hidden tracts
          Of my own native region, and was blest
          Between these sundry wanderings with a joy
          Above all joys, that seemed another morn
          Risen on mid noon; blest with the presence, Friend
          Of that sole Sister, her who hath been long
          Dear to thee also, thy true friend and mine,               200
          Now, after separation desolate,
          Restored to me--such absence that she seemed
          A gift then first bestowed. The varied banks
          Of Emont, hitherto unnamed in song,
          And that monastic castle, 'mid tall trees,
          Low standing by the margin of the stream,
          A mansion visited (as fame reports)
          By Sidney, where, in sight of our Helvellyn,
          Or stormy Cross-fell, snatches he might pen
          Of his Arcadia, by fraternal love                          210
          Inspired;--that river and those mouldering towers
          Have seen us side by side, when, having clomb
          The darksome windings of a broken stair,
          And crept along a ridge of fractured wall,
          Not without trembling, we in safety looked
          Forth, through some Gothic window's open space,
          And gathered with one mind a rich reward
          From the far-stretching landscape, by the light
          Of morning beautified, or purple eve;
          Or, not less pleased, lay on some turret's head,           220
          Catching from tufts of grass and hare-bell flowers
          Their faintest whisper to the passing breeze,
          Given out while mid-day heat oppressed the plains.

            Another maid there was, who also shed
          A gladness o'er that season, then to me,
          By her exulting outside look of youth
          And placid under-countenance, first endeared;
          That other spirit, Coleridge! who is now
          So near to us, that meek confiding heart,
          So reverenced by us both. O'er paths and fields            230
          In all that neighbourhood, through narrow lanes
          Of eglantine, and through the shady woods,
          And o'er the Border Beacon, and the waste
          Of naked pools, and common crags that lay
          Exposed on the bare fell, were scattered love,
          The spirit of pleasure, and youth's golden gleam.
          O Friend! we had not seen thee at that time,
          And yet a power is on me, and a strong
          Confusion, and I seem to plant thee there.
          Far art thou wandered now in search of health              240
          And milder breezes,--melancholy lot!
          But thou art with us, with us in the past,
          The present, with us in the times to come.
          There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair,
          No languor, no dejection, no dismay,
          No absence scarcely can there be, for those
          Who love as we do. Speed thee well! divide
          With us thy pleasure; thy returning strength,
          Receive it daily as a joy of ours;
          Share with us thy fresh spirits, whether gift              250
          Of gales Etesian or of tender thoughts.

            I, too, have been a wanderer; but, alas!
          How different the fate of different men.
          Though mutually unknown, yea nursed and reared
          As if in several elements, we were framed
          To bend at last to the same discipline,
          Predestined, if two beings ever were,
          To seek the same delights, and have one health,
          One happiness. Throughout this narrative,
          Else sooner ended, I have borne in mind                    260
          For whom it registers the birth, and marks the growth,
          Of gentleness, simplicity, and truth,
          And joyous loves, that hallow innocent days
          Of peace and self-command. Of rivers, fields,
          And groves I speak to thee, my Friend! to thee,
          Who, yet a liveried schoolboy, in the depths
          Of the huge city, on the leaded roof
          Of that wide edifice, thy school and home,
          Wert used to lie and gaze upon the clouds
          Moving in heaven; or, of that pleasure tired,              270
          To shut thine eyes, and by internal light
          See trees, and meadows, and thy native stream,
          Far distant, thus beheld from year to year
          Of a long exile. Nor could I forget,
          In this late portion of my argument,
          That scarcely, as my term of pupilage
          Ceased, had I left those academic bowers
          When thou wert thither guided. From the heart
          Of London, and from cloisters there, thou camest.
          And didst sit down in temperance and peace,                280
          A rigorous student. What a stormy course
          Then followed. Oh! it is a pang that calls
          For utterance, to think what easy change
          Of circumstances might to thee have spared
          A world of pain, ripened a thousand hopes,
          For ever withered. Through this retrospect
          Of my collegiate life I still have had
          Thy after-sojourn in the self-same place
          Present before my eyes, have played with times
          And accidents as children do with cards,                   290
          Or as a man, who, when his house is built,
          A frame locked up in wood and stone, doth still,
          As impotent fancy prompts, by his fireside,
          Rebuild it to his liking. I have thought
          Of thee, thy learning, gorgeous eloquence,
          And all the strength and plumage of thy youth,
          Thy subtle speculations, toils abstruse
          Among the schoolmen, and Platonic forms
          Of wild ideal pageantry, shaped out
          From things well-matched or ill, and words for things,     300
          The self-created sustenance of a mind
          Debarred from Nature's living images,
          Compelled to be a life unto herself,
          And unrelentingly possessed by thirst
          Of greatness, love, and beauty. Not alone,
          Ah! surely not in singleness of heart
          Should I have seen the light of evening fade
          From smooth Cam's silent waters: had we met,
          Even at that early time, needs must I trust
          In the belief, that my maturer age,                        310
          My calmer habits, and more steady voice,
          Would with an influence benign have soothed,
          Or chased away, the airy wretchedness
          That battened on thy youth. But thou hast trod
          A march of glory, which doth put to shame
          These vain regrets; health suffers in thee, else
          Such grief for thee would be the weakest thought
          That ever harboured in the breast of man.

            A passing word erewhile did lightly touch
          On wanderings of my own, that now embraced                 320
          With livelier hope a region wider far.

            When the third summer freed us from restraint,
          A youthful friend, he too a mountaineer,
          Not slow to share my wishes, took his staff,
          And sallying forth, we journeyed side by side,
          Bound to the distant Alps. A hardy slight,
          Did this unprecedented course imply,
          Of college studies and their set rewards;
          Nor had, in truth, the scheme been formed by me
          Without uneasy forethought of the pain,                    330
          The censures, and ill-omening, of those
          To whom my worldly interests were dear.
          But Nature then was sovereign in my mind,
          And mighty forms, seizing a youthful fancy,
          Had given a charter to irregular hopes.
          In any age of uneventful calm
          Among the nations, surely would my heart
          Have been possessed by similar desire;
          But Europe at that time was thrilled with joy,
          France standing on the top of golden hours,                340
          And human nature seeming born again.

            Lightly equipped, and but a few brief looks
          Cast on the white cliffs of our native shore
          From the receding vessel's deck, we chanced
          To land at Calais on the very eve
          Of that great federal day; and there we saw,
          In a mean city, and among a few,
          How bright a face is worn when joy of one
          Is joy for tens of millions. Southward thence
          We held our way, direct through hamlets, towns,            350
          Gaudy with reliques of that festival,
          Flowers left to wither on triumphal arcs,
          And window-garlands. On the public roads,
          And, once, three days successively, through paths
          By which our toilsome journey was abridged,
          Among sequestered villages we walked
          And found benevolence and blessedness
          Spread like a fragrance everywhere, when spring
          Hath left no corner of the land untouched;
          Where elms for many and many a league in files             360
          With their thin umbrage, on the stately roads
          Of that great kingdom, rustled o'er our heads,
          For ever near us as we paced along:
          How sweet at such a time, with such delight
          On every side, in prime of youthful strength,
          To feed a Poet's tender melancholy
          And fond conceit of sadness, with the sound
          Of undulations varying as might please
          The wind that swayed them; once, and more than once,
          Unhoused beneath the evening star we saw                   370
          Dances of liberty, and, in late hours
          Of darkness, dances in the open air
          Deftly prolonged, though grey-haired lookers on
          Might waste their breath in chiding.
                                                Under hills--
          The vine-clad hills and slopes of Burgundy,
          Upon the bosom of the gentle Saone
          We glided forward with the flowing stream.
          Swift Rhone! thou wert the 'wings' on which we cut
          A winding passage with majestic ease
          Between thy lofty rocks. Enchanting show                   380
          Those woods and farms and orchards did present,
          And single cottages and lurking towns,
          Reach after reach, succession without end
          Of deep and stately vales! A lonely pair
          Of strangers, till day closed, we sailed along
          Clustered together with a merry crowd
          Of those emancipated, a blithe host
          Of travellers, chiefly delegates, returning
          From the great spousals newly solemnised
          At their chief city, in the sight of Heaven.               390
          Like bees they swarmed, gaudy and gay as bees;
          Some vapoured in the unruliness of joy,
          And with their swords flourished as if to fight
          The saucy air. In this proud company
          We landed--took with them our evening meal,
          Guests welcome almost as the angels were
          To Abraham of old. The supper done,
          With flowing cups elate and happy thoughts
          We rose at signal given, and formed a ring
          And, hand in hand, danced round and round the board;       400
          All hearts were open, every tongue was loud
          With amity and glee; we bore a name
          Honoured in France, the name of Englishmen,
          And hospitably did they give us hail,
          As their forerunners in a glorious course;
          And round and round the board we danced again.
          With these blithe friends our voyage we renewed
          At early dawn. The monastery bells
          Made a sweet jingling in our youthful ears;
          The rapid river flowing without noise,                     410
          And each uprising or receding spire
          Spake with a sense of peace, at intervals
          Touching the heart amid the boisterous crew
          By whom we were encompassed. Taking leave
          Of this glad throng, foot-travellers side by side,
          Measuring our steps in quiet, we pursued
          Our journey, and ere twice the sun had set
          Beheld the Convent of Chartreuse, and there
          Rested within an awful 'solitude':
          Yes, for even then no other than a place                   420
          Of soul-affecting 'solitude' appeared
          That far-famed region, though our eyes had seen,
          As toward the sacred mansion we advanced,
          Arms flashing, and a military glare
          Of riotous men commissioned to expel
          The blameless inmates, and belike subvert
          That frame of social being, which so long
          Had bodied forth the ghostliness of things
          In silence visible and perpetual calm.
          --"Stay, stay your sacrilegious hands!"--The voice         430
          Was Nature's, uttered from her Alpine throne;
          I heard it then and seem to hear it now--
          "Your impious work forbear, perish what may,
          Let this one temple last, be this one spot
          Of earth devoted to eternity!"
          She ceased to speak, but while St. Bruno's pines
          Waved their dark tops, not silent as they waved,
          And while below, along their several beds,
          Murmured the sister streams of Life and Death,
          Thus by conflicting passions pressed, my heart             440
          Responded; "Honour to the patriot's zeal!
          Glory and hope to new-born Liberty!
          Hail to the mighty projects of the time!
          Discerning sword that Justice wields, do thou
          Go forth and prosper; and, ye purging fires,
          Up to the loftiest towers of Pride ascend,
          Fanned by the breath of angry Providence.
          But oh! if Past and Future be the wings
          On whose support harmoniously conjoined
          Moves the great spirit of human knowledge, spare           450
          These courts of mystery, where a step advanced
          Between the portals of the shadowy rocks
          Leaves far behind life's treacherous vanities,
          For penitential tears and trembling hopes
          Exchanged--to equalise in God's pure sight
          Monarch and peasant: be the house redeemed
          With its unworldly votaries, for the sake
          Of conquest over sense, hourly achieved
          Through faith and meditative reason, resting
          Upon the word of heaven-imparted truth,                    460
          Calmly triumphant; and for humbler claim
          Of that imaginative impulse sent
          From these majestic floods, yon shining cliffs,
          The untransmuted shapes of many worlds,
          Cerulean ether's pure inhabitants,
          These forests unapproachable by death,
          That shall endure as long as man endures,
          To think, to hope, to worship, and to feel,
          To struggle, to be lost within himself
          In trepidation, from the blank abyss                       470
          To look with bodily eyes, and be consoled."
          Not seldom since that moment have I wished
          That thou, O Friend! the trouble or the calm
          Hadst shared, when, from profane regards apart,
          In sympathetic reverence we trod
          The floors of those dim cloisters, till that hour,
          From their foundation, strangers to the presence
          Of unrestricted and unthinking man.
          Abroad, how cheeringly the sunshine lay
          Upon the open lawns! Vallombre's groves                    480
          Entering, we fed the soul with darkness; thence
          Issued, and with uplifted eyes beheld,
          In different quarters of the bending sky,
          The cross of Jesus stand erect, as if
          Hands of angelic powers had fixed it there,
          Memorial reverenced by a thousand storms;
          Yet then, from the undiscriminating sweep
          And rage of one State-whirlwind, insecure.

            'Tis not my present purpose to retrace
          That variegated journey step by step.                      490
          A march it was of military speed,
          And Earth did change her images and forms
          Before us, fast as clouds are changed in heaven.
          Day after day, up early and down late,
          From hill to vale we dropped, from vale to hill
          Mounted--from province on to province swept,
          Keen hunters in a chase of fourteen weeks,
          Eager as birds of prey, or as a ship
          Upon the stretch, when winds are blowing fair:
          Sweet coverts did we cross of pastoral life,               500
          Enticing valleys, greeted them and left
          Too soon, while yet the very flash and gleam
          Of salutation were not passed away.
          Oh! sorrow for the youth who could have seen,
          Unchastened, unsubdued, unawed, unraised
          To patriarchal dignity of mind,
          And pure simplicity of wish and will,
          Those sanctified abodes of peaceful man,
          Pleased (though to hardship born, and compassed round
          With danger, varying as the seasons change),               510
          Pleased with his daily task, or, if not pleased,
          Contented, from the moment that the dawn
          (Ah! surely not without attendant gleams
          Of soul-illumination) calls him forth
          To industry, by glistenings flung on rocks,
          Whose evening shadows lead him to repose.

            Well might a stranger look with bounding heart
          Down on a green recess, the first I saw
          Of those deep haunts, an aboriginal vale,
          Quiet and lorded over and possessed                        520
          By naked huts, wood-built, and sown like tents
          Or Indian cabins over the fresh lawns
          And by the river side.
                                  That very day,
          From a bare ridge we also first beheld
          Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
          To have a soulless image on the eye
          That had usurped upon a living thought
          That never more could be. The wondrous Vale
          Of Chamouny stretched far below, and soon
          With its dumb cataracts and streams of ice,                530
          A motionless array of mighty waves,
          Five rivers broad and vast, made rich amends,
          And reconciled us to realities;
          There small birds warble from the leafy trees,
          The eagle soars high in the element,
          There doth the reaper bind the yellow sheaf,
          The maiden spread the haycock in the sun,
          While Winter like a well-tamed lion walks,
          Descending from the mountain to make sport
          Among the cottages by beds of flowers.                     540

            Whate'er in this wide circuit we beheld,
          Or heard, was fitted to our unripe state
          Of intellect and heart. With such a book
          Before our eyes, we could not choose but read
          Lessons of genuine brotherhood, the plain
          And universal reason of mankind,
          The truths of young and old. Nor, side by side
          Pacing, two social pilgrims, or alone
          Each with his humour, could we fail to abound
          In dreams and fictions, pensively composed:                550
          Dejection taken up for pleasure's sake,
          And gilded sympathies, the willow wreath,
          And sober posies of funereal flowers,
          Gathered among those solitudes sublime
          From formal gardens of the lady Sorrow,
          Did sweeten many a meditative hour.

            Yet still in me with those soft luxuries
          Mixed something of stern mood, an underthirst
          Of vigour seldom utterly allayed:
          And from that source how different a sadness               560
          Would issue, let one incident make known.
          When from the Vallais we had turned, and clomb
          Along the Simplon's steep and rugged road,
          Following a band of muleteers, we reached
          A halting-place, where all together took
          Their noon-tide meal. Hastily rose our guide,
          Leaving us at the board; awhile we lingered,
          Then paced the beaten downward way that led
          Right to a rough stream's edge, and there broke off;
          The only track now visible was one                         570
          That from the torrent's further brink held forth
          Conspicuous invitation to ascend
          A lofty mountain. After brief delay
          Crossing the unbridged stream, that road we took,
          And clomb with eagerness, till anxious fears
          Intruded, for we failed to overtake
          Our comrades gone before. By fortunate chance,
          While every moment added doubt to doubt,
          A peasant met us, from whose mouth we learned
          That to the spot which had perplexed us first              580
          We must descend, and there should find the road,
          Which in the stony channel of the stream
          Lay a few steps, and then along its banks;
          And, that our future course, all plain to sight,
          Was downwards, with the current of that stream.
          Loth to believe what we so grieved to hear,
          For still we had hopes that pointed to the clouds,
          We questioned him again, and yet again;
          But every word that from the peasant's lips
          Came in reply, translated by our feelings,                 590
          Ended in this,--'that we had crossed the Alps'.

            Imagination--here the Power so called
          Through sad incompetence of human speech,
          That awful Power rose from the mind's abyss
          Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,
          At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;
          Halted without an effort to break through;
          But to my conscious soul I now can say--
          "I recognise thy glory:" in such strength
          Of usurpation, when the light of sense                     600
          Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
          The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
          There harbours; whether we be young or old,
          Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
          Is with infinitude, and only there;
          With hope it is, hope that can never die,
          Effort, and expectation, and desire,
          And something evermore about to be.
          Under such banners militant, the soul
          Seeks for no trophies, struggles for no spoils             610
          That may attest her prowess, blest in thoughts
          That are their own perfection and reward,
          Strong in herself and in beatitude
          That hides her, like the mighty flood of Nile
          Poured from his fount of Abyssinian clouds
          To fertilise the whole Egyptian plain.

            The melancholy slackening that ensued
          Upon those tidings by the peasant given
          Was soon dislodged. Downwards we hurried fast,
          And, with the half-shaped road which we had missed,        620
          Entered a narrow chasm. The brook and road
          Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy strait,
          And with them did we journey several hours
          At a slow pace. The immeasurable height
          Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
          The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
          And in the narrow rent at every turn
          Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn,
          The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
          The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,               630
          Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side
          As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
          And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
          The unfettered clouds and region of the Heavens,
          Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light--
          Were all like workings of one mind, the features
          Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;
          Characters of the great Apocalypse,
          The types and symbols of Eternity,
          Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.            640

            That night our lodging was a house that stood
          Alone within the valley, at a point
          Where, tumbling from aloft, a torrent swelled
          The rapid stream whose margin we had trod;
          A dreary mansion, large beyond all need,
          With high and spacious rooms, deafened and stunned
          By noise of waters, making innocent sleep
          Lie melancholy among weary bones.

            Uprisen betimes, our journey we renewed,
          Led by the stream, ere noon-day magnified                  650
          Into a lordly river, broad and deep,
          Dimpling along in silent majesty,
          With mountains for its neighbours, and in view
          Of distant mountains and their snowy tops,
          And thus proceeding to Locarno's Lake,
          Fit resting-place for such a visitant.
          Locarno! spreading out in width like Heaven,
          How dost thou cleave to the poetic heart,
          Bask in the sunshine of the memory;
          And Como! thou, a treasure whom the earth                  660
          Keeps to herself, confined as in a depth
          Of Abyssinian privacy. I spake
          Of thee, thy chestnut woods, and garden plots
          Of Indian corn tended by dark-eyed maids;
          Thy lofty steeps, and pathways roofed with vines,
          Winding from house to house, from town to town,
          Sole link that binds them to each other; walks,
          League after league, and cloistral avenues,
          Where silence dwells if music be not there:
          While yet a youth undisciplined in verse,                  670
          Through fond ambition of that hour I strove
          To chant your praise; nor can approach you now
          Ungreeted by a more melodious Song,
          Where tones of Nature smoothed by learned Art
          May flow in lasting current. Like a breeze
          Or sunbeam over your domain I passed
          In motion without pause; but ye have left
          Your beauty with me, a serene accord
          Of forms and colours, passive, yet endowed
          In their submissiveness with power as sweet                680
          And gracious, almost, might I dare to say,
          As virtue is, or goodness; sweet as love,
          Or the remembrance of a generous deed,
          Or mildest visitations of pure thought,
          When God, the giver of all joy, is thanked
          Religiously, in silent blessedness;
          Sweet as this last herself, for such it is.

            With those delightful pathways we advanced,
          For two days' space, in presence of the Lake,
          That, stretching far among the Alps, assumed               690
          A character more stern. The second night,
          From sleep awakened, and misled by sound
          Of the church clock telling the hours with strokes
          Whose import then we had not learned, we rose
          By moonlight, doubting not that day was nigh,
          And that meanwhile, by no uncertain path,
          Along the winding margin of the lake,
          Led, as before, we should behold the scene
          Hushed in profound repose. We left the town
          Of Gravedona with this hope; but soon                      700
          Were lost, bewildered among woods immense,
          And on a rock sate down, to wait for day.
          An open place it was, and overlooked,
          From high, the sullen water far beneath,
          On which a dull red image of the moon
          Lay bedded, changing oftentimes its form
          Like an uneasy snake. From hour to hour
          We sate and sate, wondering, as if the night
          Had been ensnared by witchcraft. On the rock
          At last we stretched our weary limbs for sleep,            710
          But 'could not' sleep, tormented by the stings
          Of insects, which, with noise like that of noon,
          Filled all the woods: the cry of unknown birds;
          The mountains more by blackness visible
          And their own size, than any outward light;
          The breathless wilderness of clouds; the clock
          That told, with unintelligible voice,
          The widely parted hours; the noise of streams,
          And sometimes rustling motions nigh at hand,
          That did not leave us free from personal fear;             720
          And, lastly, the withdrawing moon, that set
          Before us, while she still was high in heaven;--
          These were our food; and such a summer's night
          Followed that pair of golden days that shed
          On Como's Lake, and all that round it lay,
          Their fairest, softest, happiest influence.

            But here I must break off, and bid farewell
          To days, each offering some new sight, or fraught
          With some untried adventure, in a course
          Prolonged till sprinklings of autumnal snow                730
          Checked our unwearied steps. Let this alone
          Be mentioned as a parting word, that not
          In hollow exultation, dealing out
          Hyperboles of praise comparative,
          Not rich one moment to be poor for ever;
          Not prostrate, overborne, as if the mind
          Herself were nothing, a mere pensioner
          On outward forms--did we in presence stand
          Of that magnificent region. On the front
          Of this whole Song is written that my heart                740
          Must, in such Temple, needs have offered up
          A different worship. Finally, whate'er
          I saw, or heard, or felt, was but a stream
          That flowed into a kindred stream; a gale,
          Confederate with the current of the soul,
          To speed my voyage; every sound or sight,
          In its degree of power, administered
          To grandeur or to tenderness,--to the one
          Directly, but to tender thoughts by means
          Less often instantaneous in effect;                        750
          Led me to these by paths that, in the main,
          Were more circuitous, but not less sure
          Duly to reach the point marked out by Heaven.

            Oh, most beloved Friend! a glorious time,
          A happy time that was; triumphant looks
          Were then the common language of all eyes;
          As if awaked from sleep, the Nations hailed
          Their great expectancy: the fife of war
          Was then a spirit-stirring sound indeed,
          A blackbird's whistle in a budding grove.                  760
          We left the Swiss exulting in the fate
          Of their near neighbours; and, when shortening fast
          Our pilgrimage, nor distant far from home,
          We crossed the Brabant armies on the fret
          For battle in the cause of Liberty.
          A stripling, scarcely of the household then
          Of social life, I looked upon these things
          As from a distance; heard, and saw, and felt,
          Was touched, but with no intimate concern;
          I seemed to move along them, as a bird                     770
          Moves through the air, or as a fish pursues
          Its sport, or feeds in its proper element;
          I wanted not that joy, I did not need
          Such help; the ever-living universe,
          Turn where I might, was opening out its glories,
          And the independent spirit of pure youth
          Called forth, at every season, new delights,
          Spread round my steps like sunshine o'er green fields.


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