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CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE EXCURSION

BOOK FIRST

THE WANDERER

          'TWAS summer, and the sun had mounted high:
          Southward the landscape indistinctly glared
          Through a pale steam; but all the northern downs,
          In clearest air ascending, showed far off
          A surface dappled o'er with shadows flung
          From brooding clouds; shadows that lay in spots
          Determined and unmoved, with steady beams
          Of bright and pleasant sunshine interposed;
          To him most pleasant who on soft cool moss
          Extends his careless limbs along the front                  10
          Of some huge cave, whose rocky ceiling casts
          A twilight of its own, an ample shade,
          Where the wren warbles, while the dreaming man,
          Half conscious of the soothing melody,
          With side-long eye looks out upon the scene,
          By power of that impending covert, thrown
          To finer distance. Mine was at that hour
          Far other lot, yet with good hope that soon
          Under a shade as grateful I should find
          Rest, and be welcomed there to livelier joy.                20
          Across a bare wide Common I was toiling
          With languid steps that by the slippery turf
          Were baffled; nor could my weak arm disperse
          The host of insects gathering round my face,
          And ever with me as I paced along.

            Upon that open moorland stood a grove,
          The wished-for port to which my course was bound.
          Thither I came, and there, amid the gloom
          Spread by a brotherhood of lofty elms,
          Appeared a roofless Hut; four naked walls                   30
          That stared upon each other!--I looked round,
          And to my wish and to my hope espied
          The Friend I sought; a Man of reverend age,
          But stout and hale, for travel unimpaired.
          There was he seen upon the cottage-bench,
          Recumbent in the shade, as if asleep;
          An iron-pointed staff lay at his side.

            Him had I marked the day before--alone
          And stationed in the public way, with face
          Turned toward the sun then setting, while that staff        40
          Afforded, to the figure of the man
          Detained for contemplation or repose,
          Graceful support; his countenance as he stood
          Was hidden from my view, and he remained
          Unrecognised; but, stricken by the sight,
          With slackened footsteps I advanced, and soon
          A glad congratulation we exchanged
          At such unthought-of meeting.--For the night
          We parted, nothing willingly; and now
          He by appointment waited for me here,                       50
          Under the covert of these clustering elms.

            We were tried Friends: amid a pleasant vale,
          In the antique market-village where was passed
          My school-time, an apartment he had owned,
          To which at intervals the Wanderer drew,
          And found a kind of home or harbour there.
          He loved me, from a swarm of rosy boys
          Singled out me, as he in sport would say,
          For my grave looks, too thoughtful for my years.
          As I grew up, it was my best delight                        60
          To be his chosen comrade. Many a time,
          On holidays, we rambled through the woods:
          We sate--we walked; he pleased me with report
          Of things which he had seen; and often touched
          Abstrusest matter, reasonings of the mind
          Turned inward; or at my request would sing
          Old songs, the product of his native hills;
          A skilful distribution of sweet sounds,
          Feeding the soul, and eagerly imbibed
          As cool refreshing water, by the care                       70
          Of the industrious husbandman, diffused
          Through a parched meadow-ground, in time of drought.
          Still deeper welcome found his pure discourse;
          How precious, when in riper days I learned
          To weigh with care his words, and to rejoice
          In the plain presence of his dignity!

            Oh! many are the Poets that are sown
          By Nature; men endowed with highest gifts,
          The vision and the faculty divine;
          Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse,                    80
          (Which, in the docile season of their youth,
          It was denied them to acquire, through lack
          Of culture and the inspiring aid of books,
          Or haply by a temper too severe,
          Or a nice backwardness afraid of shame)
          Nor having e'er, as life advanced, been led
          By circumstance to take unto the height
          The measure of themselves, these favoured Beings,
          All but a scattered few, live out their time,
          Husbanding that which they possess within,                  90
          And go to the grave, unthought of. Strongest minds
          Are often those of whom the noisy world
          Hears least; else surely this Man had not left
          His graces unrevealed and unproclaimed.
          But, as the mind was filled with inward light,
          So not without distinction had he lived,
          Beloved and honoured--far as he was known.
          And some small portion of his eloquent speech,
          And something that may serve to set in view
          The feeling pleasures of his loneliness,                   100
          His observations, and the thoughts his mind
          Had dealt with--I will here record in verse;
          Which, if with truth it correspond, and sink
          Or rise as venerable Nature leads,
          The high and tender Muses shall accept
          With gracious smile, deliberately pleased,
          And listening Time reward with sacred praise.

            Among the hills of Athol he was born;
          Where, on a small hereditary farm,
          An unproductive slip of rugged ground,                     110
          His Parents, with their numerous offspring, dwelt;
          A virtuous household, though exceeding poor!
          Pure livers were they all, austere and grave,
          And fearing God; the very children taught
          Stern self-respect, a reverence for God's word,
          And an habitual piety, maintained
          With strictness scarcely known on English ground.

            From his sixth year, the Boy of whom I speak,
          In summer, tended cattle on the hills;
          But, through the inclement and the perilous days           120
          Of long-continuing winter, he repaired,
          Equipped with satchel, to a school, that stood
          Sole building on a mountain's dreary edge,
          Remote from view of city spire, or sound
          Of minster clock! From that bleak tenement
          He, many an evening, to his distant home
          In solitude returning, saw the hills
          Grow larger in the darkness; all alone
          Beheld the stars come out above his head,
          And travelled through the wood, with no one near           130
          To whom he might confess the things he saw.

            So the foundations of his mind were laid.
          In such communion, not from terror free,
          While yet a child, and long before his time,
          Had he perceived the presence and the power
          Of greatness; and deep feelings had impressed
          So vividly great objects that they lay
          Upon his mind like substances, whose presence
          Perplexed the bodily sense. He had received
          A precious gift; for, as he grew in years,                 140
          With these impressions would he still compare
          All his remembrances, thoughts, shapes, and forms;
          And, being still unsatisfied with aught
          Of dimmer character, he thence attained
          An active power to fasten images
          Upon his brain; and on their pictured lines
          Intensely brooded, even till they acquired
          The liveliness of dreams. Nor did he fail,
          While yet a child, with a child's eagerness
          Incessantly to turn his ear and eye                        150
          On all things which the moving seasons brought
          To feed such appetite--nor this alone
          Appeased his yearning:--in the after-day
          Of boyhood, many an hour in caves forlorn,
          And 'mid the hollow depths of naked crags
          He sate, and even in their fixed lineaments,
          Or from the power of a peculiar eye,
          Or by creative feeling overborne,
          Or by predominance of thought oppressed,
          Even in their fixed and steady lineaments                  160
          He traced an ebbing and a flowing mind,
          Expression ever varying!
                                    Thus informed,
          He had small need of books; for many a tale
          Traditionary, round the mountains hung,
          And many a legend, peopling the dark woods,
          Nourished Imagination in her growth,
          And gave the Mind that apprehensive power
          By which she is made quick to recognise
          The moral properties and scope of things.
          But eagerly he read, and read again,                       170
          Whate'er the minister's old shelf supplied;
          The life and death of martyrs, who sustained,
          With will inflexible, those fearful pangs
          Triumphantly displayed in records left
          Of persecution, and the Covenant--times
          Whose echo rings through Scotland to this hour!
          And there, by lucky hap, had been preserved
          A straggling volume, torn and incomplete,
          That left half-told the preternatural tale,
          Romance of giants, chronicle of fiends,                    180
          Profuse in garniture of wooden cuts
          Strange and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire,
          Sharp-kneed, sharp-elbowed, and lean-ankled too,
          With long and ghostly shanks--forms which once seen
          Could never be forgotten!
                                     In his heart,
          Where Fear sate thus, a cherished visitant,
          Was wanting yet the pure delight of love
          By sound diffused, or by the breathing air,
          Or by the silent looks of happy things,
          Or flowing from the universal face                         190
          Of earth and sky. But he had felt the power
          Of Nature, and already was prepared,
          By his intense conceptions, to receive
          Deeply the lesson deep of love which he,
          Whom Nature, by whatever means, has taught
          To feel intensely, cannot but receive.

            Such was the Boy--but for the growing Youth
          What soul was his, when, from the naked top
          Of some bold headland, he beheld the sun
          Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked--         200
          Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
          And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness lay
          Beneath him:--Far and wide the clouds were touched,
          And in their silent faces could he read
          Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
          Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
          The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form,
          All melted into him; they swallowed up
          His animal being; in them did he live,
          And by them did he live; they were his life.               210
          In such access of mind, in such high hour
          Of visitation from the living God,
          Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
          No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
          Rapt into still communion that transcends
          The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
          His mind was a thanksgiving to the power
          That made him; it was blessedness and love!

            A Herdsman on the lonely mountain tops,
          Such intercourse was his, and in this sort                 220
          Was his existence oftentimes 'possessed'.
          O then how beautiful, how bright, appeared
          The written promise! Early had he learned
          To reverence the volume that displays
          The mystery, the life which cannot die;
          But in the mountains did he 'feel' his faith.
          All things, responsive to the writing, there
          Breathed immortality, revolving life,
          And greatness still revolving; infinite:
          There littleness was not; the least of things              230
          Seemed infinite; and there his spirit shaped
          Her prospects, nor did he believe,--he 'saw'.
          What wonder if his being thus became
          Sublime and comprehensive! Low desires,
          Low thoughts had there no place; yet was his heart
          Lowly; for he was meek in gratitude,
          Oft as he called those ecstasies to mind,
          And whence they flowed; and from them he acquired
          Wisdom, which works through patience; thence he learned
          In oft-recurring hours of sober thought                    240
          To look on Nature with a humble heart.
          Self-questioned where it did not understand,
          And with a superstitious eye of love.

            So passed the time; yet to the nearest town
          He duly went with what small overplus
          His earnings might supply, and brought away
          The book that most had tempted his desires
          While at the stall he read. Among the hills
          He gazed upon that mighty orb of song,
          The divine Milton. Lore of different kind,                 250
          The annual savings of a toilsome life,
          His Schoolmaster supplied; books that explain
          The purer elements of truth involved
          In lines and numbers, and, by charm severe,
          (Especially perceived where nature droops
          And feeling is suppressed) preserve the mind
          Busy in solitude and poverty.
          These occupations oftentimes deceived
          The listless hours, while in the hollow vale,
          Hollow and green, he lay on the green turf                 260
          In pensive idleness. What could he do,
          Thus daily thirsting, in that lonesome life,
          With blind endeavours? Yet, still uppermost,
          Nature was at his heart as if he felt,
          Though yet he knew not how, a wasting power
          In all things that from her sweet influence
          Might tend to wean him. Therefore with her hues,
          Her forms, and with the spirit of her forms,
          He clothed the nakedness of austere truth.
          While yet he lingered in the rudiments                     270
          Of science, and among her simplest laws,
          His triangles--they were the stars of heaven,
          The silent stars! Oft did he take delight
          To measure the altitude of some tall crag
          That is the eagle's birth-place, or some peak
          Familiar with forgotten years, that shows,
          Inscribed upon its visionary sides,
          The history of many a winter storm,
          Or obscure records of the path of fire.

            And thus before his eighteenth year was told,            280
          Accumulated feelings pressed his heart
          With still increasing weight; he was o'er-powered
          By Nature; by the turbulence subdued
          Of his own mind; by mystery and hope,
          And the first virgin passion of a soul
          Communing with the glorious universe.
          Full often wished he that the winds might rage
          When they were silent: far more fondly now
          Than in his earlier season did he love
          Tempestuous nights--the conflict and the sounds            290
          That live in darkness. From his intellect
          And from the stillness of abstracted thought
          He asked repose; and, failing oft to win
          The peace required, he scanned the laws of light
          Amid the roar of torrents, where they send
          From hollow clefts up to the clearer air
          A cloud of mist that, smitten by the sun,
          Varies its rainbow hues. But vainly thus,
          And vainly by all other means, he strove
          To mitigate the fever of his heart.                        300

            In dreams, in study, and in ardent thought,
          Thus was he reared; much wanting to assist
          The growth of intellect, yet gaining more,
          And every moral feeling of his soul
          Strengthened and braced, by breathing in content
          The keen, the wholesome, air of poverty,
          And drinking from the well of homely life.
          --But, from past liberty, and tried restraints,
          He now was summoned to select the course
          Of humble industry that promised best                      310
          To yield him no unworthy maintenance.
          Urged by his Mother, he essayed to teach
          A village-school--but wandering thoughts were then
          A misery to him; and the Youth resigned
          A task he was unable to perform.

            That stern yet kindly Spirit, who constrains
          The Savoyard to quit his naked rocks,
          The free-born Swiss to leave his narrow vales,
          (Spirit attached to regions mountainous
          Like their own stedfast clouds) did now impel              320
          His restless mind to look abroad with hope.
          --An irksome drudgery seems it to plod on,
          Through hot and dusty ways, or pelting storm,
          A vagrant Merchant under a heavy load,
          Bent as he moves, and needing frequent rest;
          Yet do such travellers find their own delight;
          And their hard service, deemed debasing now
          Gained merited respect in simpler times;
          When squire, and priest, and they who round them dwelt
          In rustic sequestration--all dependent                     330
          Upon the PEDLAR'S toil--supplied their wants,
          Or pleased their fancies, with the wares he brought.
          Not ignorant was the Youth that still no few
          Of his adventurous countrymen were led
          By perseverance in this track of life
          To competence and ease:--to him it offered
          Attractions manifold;--and this he chose.
          --His Parents on the enterprise bestowed
          Their farewell benediction, but with hearts
          Foreboding evil. From his native hills                     340
          He wandered far; much did he see of men,
          Their manners, their enjoyments, and pursuits,
          Their passions and their feelings; chiefly those
          Essential and eternal in the heart,
          That, 'mid the simpler forms of rural life,
          Exist more simple in their elements,
          And speak a plainer language. In the woods,
          A lone Enthusiast, and among the fields,
          Itinerant in this labour, he had passed
          The better portion of his time; and there                  350
          Spontaneously had his affections thriven
          Amid the bounties of the year, the peace
          And liberty of nature; there he kept
          In solitude and solitary thought
          His mind in a just equipoise of love.
          Serene it was, unclouded by the cares
          Of ordinary life; unvexed, unwarped
          By partial bondage. In his steady course,
          No piteous revolutions had he felt,
          No wild varieties of joy and grief.                        360
          Unoccupied by sorrow of its own,
          His heart lay open; and, by nature tuned
          And constant disposition of his thoughts
          To sympathy with man, he was alive
          To all that was enjoyed where'er he went,
          And all that was endured; for, in himself
          Happy, and quiet in his cheerfulness,
          He had no painful pressure from without
          That made him turn aside from wretchedness
          With coward fears. He could 'afford' to suffer             370
          With those whom he saw suffer. Hence it came
          That in our best experience he was rich,
          And in the wisdom of our daily life.
          For hence, minutely, in his various rounds,
          He had observed the progress and decay
          Of many minds, of minds and bodies too;
          The history of many families;
          How they had prospered; how they were o'erthrown
          By passion or mischance, or such misrule
          Among the unthinking masters of the earth                  380
          As makes the nations groan.
                                       This active course
          He followed till provision for his wants
          Had been obtained;--the Wanderer then resolved
          To pass the remnant of his days, untasked
          With needless services, from hardship free.
          His calling laid aside, he lived at ease:
          But still he loved to pace the public roads
          And the wild paths; and, by the summer's warmth
          Invited, often would he leave his home
          And journey far, revisiting the scenes                     390
          That to his memory were most endeared.
          --Vigorous in health, of hopeful spirits, undamped
          By worldly-mindedness or anxious care;
          Observant, studious, thoughtful, and refreshed
          By knowledge gathered up from day to day;
          Thus had he lived a long and innocent life.

            The Scottish Church, both on himself and those
          With whom from childhood he grew up, had held
          The strong hand of her purity; and still
          Had watched him with an unrelenting eye.                   400
          This he remembered in his riper age
          With gratitude, and reverential thoughts.
          But by the native vigour of his mind,
          By his habitual wanderings out of doors,
          By loneliness, and goodness, and kind works,
          Whate'er, in docile childhood or in youth,
          He had imbibed of fear or darker thought
          Was melted all away; so true was this,
          That sometimes his religion seemed to me
          Self-taught, as of a dreamer in the woods;                 410
          Who to the model of his own pure heart
          Shaped his belief, as grace divine inspired,
          And human reason dictated with awe.
          --And surely never did there live on earth
          A man of kindlier nature. The rough sports
          And teasing ways of children vexed not him;
          Indulgent listener was he to the tongue
          Of garrulous age; nor did the sick man's tale,
          To his fraternal sympathy addressed,
          Obtain reluctant hearing.
                                     Plain his garb;                 420
          Such as might suit a rustic Sire, prepared
          For sabbath duties; yet he was a man
          Whom no one could have passed without remark.
          Active and nervous was his gait; his limbs
          And his whole figure breathed intelligence.
          Time had compressed the freshness of his cheek
          Into a narrower circle of deep red,
          But had not tamed his eye; that, under brows
          Shaggy and grey, had meanings which it brought
          From years of youth; which, like a Being made              430
          Of many Beings, he had wondrous skill
          To blend with knowledge of the years to come,
          Human, or such as lie beyond the grave.
                             _____________

            So was He framed; and such his course of life
          Who now, with no appendage but a staff,
          The prized memorial of relinquished toils,
          Upon that cottage-bench reposed his limbs,
          Screened from the sun. Supine the Wanderer lay,
          His eyes as if in drowsiness half shut,
          The shadows of the breezy elms above                       440
          Dappling his face. He had not heard the sound
          Of my approaching steps, and in the shade
          Unnoticed did I stand some minutes' space.
          At length I hailed him, seeing that his hat
          Was moist with water-drops, as if the brim
          Had newly scooped a running stream. He rose,
          And ere our lively greeting into peace
          Had settled, "'Tis," said I, "a burning day:
          My lips are parched with thirst, but you, it seems
          Have somewhere found relief." He, at the word,             450
          Pointing towards a sweet-briar, bade me climb
          The fence where that aspiring shrub looked out
          Upon the public way. It was a plot
          Of garden ground run wild, its matted weeds
          Marked with the steps of those, whom, as they passed,
          The gooseberry trees that shot in long lank slips,
          Or currants, hanging from their leafless stems,
          In scanty strings, had tempted to o'erleap
          The broken wall. I looked around, and there,
          Where two tall hedge-rows of thick alder boughs            460
          Joined in a cold damp nook, espied a well
          Shrouded with willow-flowers and plumy fern.
          My thirst I slaked, and, from the cheerless spot
          Withdrawing, straightway to the shade returned
          Where sate the old Man on the cottage-bench;
          And, while, beside him, with uncovered head,
          I yet was standing, freely to respire,
          And cool my temples in the fanning air,
          Thus did he speak. "I see around me here
          Things which you cannot see: we die, my Friend,            470
          Nor we alone, but that which each man loved
          And prized in his peculiar nook of earth
          Dies with him, or is changed; and very soon
          Even of the good is no memorial left.
          --The Poets, in their elegies and songs
          Lamenting the departed, call the groves,
          They call upon the hills and streams, to mourn,
          And senseless rocks; nor idly; for they speak,
          In these their invocations, with a voice
          Obedient to the strong creative power                      480
          Of human passion. Sympathies there are
          More tranquil, yet perhaps of kindred birth,
          That steal upon the meditative mind,
          And grow with thought. Beside yon spring I stood,
          And eyed its waters till we seemed to feel
          One sadness, they and I. For them a bond
          Of brotherhood is broken: time has been
          When, every day, the touch of human hand
          Dislodged the natural sleep that binds them up
          In mortal stillness; and they ministered                   490
          To human comfort. Stooping down to drink,
          Upon the slimy foot-stone I espied
          The useless fragment of a wooden bowl,
          Green with the moss of years, and subject only
          To the soft handling of the elements:
          There let it lie--how foolish are such thoughts!
          Forgive them;--never--never did my steps
          Approach this door but she who dwelt within
          A daughter's welcome gave me, and I loved her
          As my own child. Oh, Sir! the good die first,              500
          And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
          Burn to the socket. Many a passenger
          Hath blessed poor Margaret for her gentle looks,
          When she upheld the cool refreshment drawn
          From that forsaken spring; and no one came
          But he was welcome; no one went away
          But that it seemed she loved him. She is dead,
          The light extinguished of her lonely hut,
          The hut itself abandoned to decay,
          And she forgotten in the quiet grave.                      550

            I speak," continued he, "of One whose stock
          Of virtues bloomed beneath this lonely roof.
          She was a Woman of a steady mind,
          Tender and deep in her excess of love;
          Not speaking much, pleased rather with the joy
          Of her own thoughts: by some especial care
          Her temper had been framed, as if to make
          A Being, who by adding love to peace
          Might live on earth a life of happiness.
          Her wedded Partner lacked not on his side                  560
          The humble worth that satisfied her heart:
          Frugal, affectionate, sober, and withal
          Keenly industrious. She with pride would tell
          That he was often seated at his loom,
          In summer, ere the mower was abroad
          Among the dewy grass,--in early spring,
          Ere the last star had vanished.--They who passed
          At evening, from behind the garden fence
          Might hear his busy spade, which he would ply,
          After his daily work, until the light                      570
          Had failed, and every leaf and flower were lost
          In the dark hedges. So their days were spent
          In peace and comfort; and a pretty boy
          Was their best hope, next to the God in heaven.

            Not twenty years ago, but you I think
          Can scarcely bear it now in mind, there came
          Two blighting seasons, when the fields were left
          With half a harvest. It pleased Heaven to add
          A worse affliction in the plague of war:
          This happy Land was stricken to the heart!                 580
          A Wanderer then among the cottages,
          I, with my freight of winter raiment, saw
          The hardships of that season: many rich
          Sank down, as in a dream, among the poor;
          And of the poor did many cease to be,
          And their place knew them not. Meanwhile, abridged
          Of daily comforts, gladly reconciled
          To numerous self-denials, Margaret
          Went struggling on through those calamitous years
          With cheerful hope, until the second autumn,               590
          When her life's Helpmate on a sick-bed lay,
          Smitten with perilous fever. In disease
          He lingered long; and, when his strength returned,
          He found the little he had stored, to meet
          The hour of accident or crippling age,
          Was all consumed. A second infant now
          Was added to the troubles of a time
          Laden, for them and all of their degree,
          With care and sorrow; shoals of artisans
          From ill-requited labour turned adrift                     600
          Sought daily bread from public charity,
          They, and their wives and children--happier far
          Could they have lived as do the little birds
          That peck along the hedge-rows, or the kite
          That makes her dwelling on the mountain rocks!

            A sad reverse it was for him who long
          Had filled with plenty, and possessed in peace,
          This lonely Cottage. At the door he stood,
          And whistled many a snatch of merry tunes
          That had no mirth in them; or with his knife               610
          Carved uncouth figures on the heads of sticks--
          Then, not less idly, sought, through every nook
          In house or garden, any casual work
          Of use or ornament; and with a strange,
          Amusing, yet uneasy, novelty,
          He mingled, where he might, the various tasks
          Of summer, autumn, winter, and of spring.
          But this endured not; his good humour soon
          Became a weight in which no pleasure was:
          And poverty brought on a petted mood                       620
          And a sore temper: day by day he drooped,
          And he would leave his work--and to the town
          Would turn without an errand his slack steps;
          Or wander here and there among the fields.
          One while he would speak lightly of his babes,
          And with a cruel tongue: at other times
          He tossed them with a false unnatural joy:
          And 'twas a rueful thing to see the looks
          Of the poor innocent children. 'Every smile,'
          Said Margaret to me, here beneath these trees,
          'Made my heart bleed.'"
                                   At this the Wanderer paused;      630
          And, looking up to those enormous elms,
          He said, "'Tis now the hour of deepest noon.
          At this still season of repose and peace,
          This hour when all things which are not at rest
          Are cheerful; while this multitude of flies
          With tuneful hum is filling all the air;
          Why should a tear be on an old Man's cheek?
          Why should we thus, with an untoward mind,
          And in the weakness of humanity,
          From natural wisdom turn our hearts away;                  640
          To natural comfort shut our eyes and ears;
          And, feeding on disquiet, thus disturb
          The calm of nature with our restless thoughts?"
                             _____________

          HE spake with somewhat of a solemn tone:
          But, when he ended, there was in his face
          Such easy cheerfulness, a look so mild,
          That for a little time it stole away
          All recollection; and that simple tale
          Passed from my mind like a forgotten sound.
          A while on trivial things we held discourse,               650
          To me soon tasteless. In my own despite,
          I thought of that poor Woman as of one
          Whom I had known and loved. He had rehearsed
          Her homely tale with such familiar power,
          With such an active countenance, an eye
          So busy, that the things of which he spake
          Seemed present; and, attention now relaxed,
          A heart-felt chillness crept along my veins.
          I rose; and, having left the breezy shade,
          Stood drinking comfort from the warmer sun,                660
          That had not cheered me long--ere, looking round
          Upon that tranquil Ruin, I returned,
          And begged of the old Man that, for my sake,
          He would resume his story.

                                      He replied,
          "It were a wantonness, and would demand
          Severe reproof, if we were men whose hearts
          Could hold vain dalliance with the misery
          Even of the dead; contented thence to draw
          A momentary pleasure, never marked
          By reason, barren of all future good.                      670
          But we have known that there is often found
          In mournful thoughts, and always might be found,
          A power to virtue friendly; were't not so,
          I am a dreamer among men, indeed
          An idle dreamer! 'Tis a common tale,
          An ordinary sorrow of man's life,
          A tale of silent suffering, hardly clothed
          In bodily form.--But without further bidding
          I will proceed.
                           While thus it fared with them,
          To whom this cottage, till those hapless years,            680
          Had been a blessed home, it was my chance
          To travel in a country far remote;
          And when these lofty elms once more appeared
          What pleasant expectations lured me on
          O'er the flat Common!--With quick step I reached
          The threshold, lifted with light hand the latch;
          But, when I entered, Margaret looked at me
          A little while; then turned her head away
          Speechless,--and, sitting down upon a chair,
          Wept bitterly. I wist not what to do,                      690
          Nor how to speak to her. Poor Wretch! at last
          She rose from off her seat, and then,--O Sir!
          I cannot 'tell' how she pronounced my name:--
          With fervent love, and with a face of grief
          Unutterably helpless, and a look
          That seemed to cling upon me, she enquired
          If I had seen her husband. As she spake
          A strange surprise and fear came to my heart,
          Nor had I power to answer ere she told
          That he had disappeared--not two months gone.              700
          He left his house: two wretched days had past,
          And on the third, as wistfully she raised
          Her head from off her pillow, to look forth,
          Like one in trouble, for returning light,
          Within her chamber-casement she espied
          A folded paper, lying as if placed
          To meet her waking eyes. This tremblingly
          She opened--found no writing, but beheld
          Pieces of money carefully enclosed,
          Silver and gold. 'I shuddered at the sight,'               710
          Said Margaret, 'for I knew it was his hand
          That must have placed it there; and ere that day
          Was ended, that long anxious day, I learned,
          From one who by my husband had been sent
          With the sad news, that he had joined a troop
          Of soldiers, going to a distant land.
          --He left me thus--he could not gather heart
          To take a farewell of me; for he feared
          That I should follow with my babes, and sink
          Beneath the misery of that wandering life.'                720

            This tale did Margaret tell with many tears:
          And, when she ended, I had little power
          To give her comfort, and was glad to take
          Such words of hope from her own mouth as served
          To cheer us both. But long we had not talked
          Ere we built up a pile of better thoughts,
          And with a brighter eye she looked around
          As if she had been shedding tears of joy.
          We parted.--'Twas the time of early spring;
          I left her busy with her garden tools;                     730
          And well remember, o'er that fence she looked,
          And, while I paced along the foot-way path,
          Called out, and sent a blessing after me,
          With tender cheerfulness, and with a voice
          That seemed the very sound of happy thoughts.

            I roved o'er many a hill and many a dale,
          With my accustomed load; in heat and cold,
          Through many a wood and many an open ground,
          In sunshine and in shade, in wet and fair,
          Drooping or blithe of heart, as might befall;              740
          My best companions now the driving winds,
          And now the 'trotting brooks' and whispering trees,
          And now the music of my own sad steps,
          With many a short-lived thought that passed between,
          And disappeared.
                            I journeyed back this way,
          When, in the warmth of midsummer, the wheat
          Was yellow; and the soft and bladed grass,
          Springing afresh, had o'er the hay-field spread
          Its tender verdure. At the door arrived,
          I found that she was absent. In the shade,                 750
          Where now we sit, I waited her return.
          Her cottage, then a cheerful object, wore
          Its customary look,--only, it seemed,
          The honeysuckle, crowding round the porch,
          Hung down in heavier tufts; and that bright weed,
          The yellow stone-crop, suffered to take root
          Along the window's edge, profusely grew,
          Blinding the lower panes. I turned aside,
          And strolled into her garden. It appeared
          To lag behind the season, and had lost                     760
          Its pride of neatness. Daisy-flowers and thrift
          Had broken their trim border-lines, and straggled
          O'er paths they used to deck: carnations, once
          Prized for surpassing beauty, and no less
          For the peculiar pains they had required,
          Declined their languid heads, wanting support.
          The cumbrous bind-weed, with its wreaths and bells,
          Had twined about her two small rows of peas,
          And dragged them to the earth.
                                          Ere this an hour
          Was wasted.--Back I turned my restless steps;              770
          A stranger passed; and, guessing whom I sought,
          He said that she was used to ramble far.--
          The sun was sinking in the west; and now
          I sate with sad impatience. From within
          Her solitary infant cried aloud;
          Then, like a blast that dies away self-stilled,
          The voice was silent. From the bench I rose;
          But neither could divert nor soothe my thoughts.
          The spot, though fair, was very desolate--
          The longer I remained, more desolate:                      780
          And, looking round me, now I first observed
          The corner stones, on either side the porch,
          With dull red stains discoloured, and stuck o'er
          With tufts and hairs of wool, as if the sheep,
          That fed upon the Common, thither came
          Familiarly, and found a couching-place
          Even at her threshold. Deeper shadows fell
          From these tall elms; the cottage-clock struck eight;--
          I turned, and saw her distant a few steps.
          Her face was pale and thin--her figure, too,               790
          Was changed. As she unlocked the door, she said,
          'It grieves me you have waited here so long,
          But, in good truth, I've wandered much of late;
          And sometimes--to my shame I speak--have need
          Of my best prayers to bring me back again.
          While on the board she spread our evening meal,
          She told me--interrupting not the work
          Which gave employment to her listless hands--
          That she had parted with her elder child;
          To a kind master on a distant farm                         800
          Now happily apprenticed.--'I perceive
          You look at me, and you have cause; today
          I have been travelling far; and many days
          About the fields I wander, knowing this
          Only, that what I seek I cannot find;
          And so I waste my time: for I am changed;
          And to myself,' said she, 'have done much wrong
          And to this helpless infant. I have slept
          Weeping, and weeping have I waked; my tears
          Have flowed as if my body were not such                    810
          As others are; and I could never die.
          But I am now in mind and in my heart
          More easy; and I hope,' said she, 'that God
          Will give me patience to endure the things
          Which I behold at home.'
                                    It would have grieved
          Your very soul to see her. Sir, I feel
          The story linger in my heart; I fear
          'Tis long and tedious; but my spirit clings
          To that poor Woman:--so familiarly
          Do I perceive her manner, and her look,                    820
          And presence; and so deeply do I feel
          Her goodness, that, not seldom, in my walks
          A momentary trance comes over me;
          And to myself I seem to muse on One
          By sorrow laid asleep; or borne away,
          A human being destined to awake
          To human life, or something very near
          To human life, when he shall come again
          For whom she suffered. Yes, it would have grieved
          Your very soul to see her: evermore                        830
          Her eyelids drooped, her eyes downward were cast;
          And, when she at her table gave me food,
          She did not look at me. Her voice was low,
          Her body was subdued. In every act
          Pertaining to her house-affairs, appeared
          The careless stillness of a thinking mind
          Self-occupied; to which all outward things
          Are like an idle matter. Still she sighed,
          But yet no motion of the breast was seen,
          No heaving of the heart. While by the fire                 840
          We sate together, sighs came on my ear,
          I knew not how, and hardly whence they came.

            Ere my departure, to her care I gave,
          For her son's use, some tokens of regard,
          Which with a look of welcome she received;
          And I exhorted her to place her trust
          In God's good love, and seek his help by prayer.
          I took my staff, and, when I kissed her babe,
          The tears stood in her eyes. I left her then
          With the best hope and comfort I could give:               850
          She thanked me for my wish;--but for my hope
          It seemed she did not thank me.
                                           I returned,
          And took my rounds along this road again
          When on its sunny bank the primrose flower
          Peeped forth, to give an earnest of the Spring.
          I found her sad and drooping: she had learned
          No tidings of her husband; if he lived,
          She knew not that he lived; if he were dead,
          She knew not he was dead. She seemed the same
          In person and appearance; but her house                    860
          Bespake a sleepy hand of negligence;
          The floor was neither dry nor neat, the hearth
          Was comfortless, and her small lot of books,
          Which, in the cottage-window, heretofore
          Had been piled up against the corner panes
          In seemly order, now, with straggling leaves
          Lay scattered here and there, open or shut,
          As they had chanced to fall. Her infant Babe
          Had from his Mother caught the trick of grief,
          And sighed among its playthings. I withdrew,               870
          And once again entering the garden saw,
          More plainly still, that poverty and grief
          Were now come nearer to her: weeds defaced
          The hardened soil, and knots of withered grass:
          No ridges there appeared of clear black mould,
          No winter greenness; of her herbs and flowers,
          It seemed the better part was gnawed away
          Or trampled into earth; a chain of straw,
          Which had been twined about the slender stem
          Of a young apple-tree, lay at its root;                    880
          The bark was nibbled round by truant sheep.
          --Margaret stood near, her infant in her arms,
          And, noting that my eye was on the tree,
          She said, 'I fear it will be dead and gone
          Ere Robert come again.' When to the House
          We had returned together, she enquired
          If I had any hope:--but for her babe
          And for her little orphan boy, she said,
          She had no wish to live, that she must die
          Of sorrow. Yet I saw the idle loom                         890
          Still in its place; his Sunday garments hung
          Upon the self-same nail; his very staff
          Stood undisturbed behind the door.
                                              And when,
          In bleak December, I retraced this way,
          She told me that her little babe was dead,
          And she was left alone. She now, released
          From her maternal cares, had taken up
          The employment common through these wilds, and gained,
          By spinning hemp, a pittance for herself;
          And for this end had hired a neighbour's boy               900
          To give her needful help. That very time
          Most willingly she put her work aside,
          And walked with me along the miry road,
          Heedless how far; and, in such piteous sort
          That any heart had ached to hear her, begged
          That, wheresoe'er I went, I still would ask
          For him whom she had lost. We parted then--
          Our final parting; for from that time forth
          Did many seasons pass ere I returned
          Into this tract again.
                                  Nine tedious years;                910
          From their first separation, nine long years,
          She lingered in unquiet widowhood;
          A Wife and Widow. Needs must it have been
          A sore heart-wasting! I have heard, my Friend,
          That in yon arbour oftentimes she sate
          Alone, through half the vacant sabbath day;
          And, if a dog passed by, she still would quit
          The shade, and look abroad. On this old bench
          For hours she sate; and evermore her eye
          Was busy in the distance, shaping things                   920
          That made her heart beat quick. You see that path,
          Now faint,--the grass has crept o'er its grey line;
          There, to and fro, she paced through many a day
          Of the warm summer, from a belt of hemp
          That girt her waist, spinning the long-drawn thread
          With backward steps. Yet ever as there passed
          A man whose garments showed the soldier's red,
          Or crippled mendicant in sailor's garb,
          The little child who sate to turn the wheel
          Ceased from his task; and she with faltering voice         930
          Made many a fond enquiry; and when they,
          Whose presence gave no comfort, were gone by,
          Her heart was still more sad. And by yon gate,
          That bars the traveller's road, she often stood,
          And when a stranger horseman came, the latch
          Would lift, and in his face look wistfully;
          Most happy, if, from aught discovered there
          Of tender feeling, she might dare repeat
          The same sad question. Meanwhile her poor Hut
          Sank to decay; for he was gone, whose hand,                940
          At the first nipping of October frost,
          Closed up each chink, and with fresh bands of straw
          Chequered the green-grown thatch. And so she lived
          Through the long winter, reckless and alone;
          Until her house by frost, and thaw, and rain,
          Was sapped; and while she slept, the nightly damps
          Did chill her breast; and in the stormy day
          Her tattered clothes were ruffled by the wind,
          Even at the side of her own fire. Yet still
          She loved this wretched spot, nor would for worlds         950
          Have parted hence; and still that length of road,
          And this rude bench, one torturing hope endeared,
          Fast rooted at her heart: and here, my Friend,--
          In sickness she remained; and here she died;
          Last human tenant of these ruined walls!"

            The old Man ceased: he saw that I was moved;
          From that low bench, rising instinctively
          I turned aside in weakness, nor had power
          To thank him for the tale which he had told.
          I stood, and leaning o'er the garden wall                  960
          Reviewed that Woman's sufferings; and it seemed
          To comfort me while with a brother's love
          I blessed her in the impotence of grief.
          Then towards the cottage I returned; and traced
          Fondly, though with an interest more mild,
          That secret spirit of humanity
          Which, 'mid the calm oblivious tendencies
          Of nature, 'mid her plants, and weeds, and flowers,
          And silent overgrowings, still survived.
          The old Man, noting this, resumed, and said,               970
          "My Friend! enough to sorrow you have given,
          The purposes of wisdom ask no more:
          Nor more would she have craved as due to One
          Who, in her worst distress, had ofttimes felt
          The unbounded might of prayer; and learned, with soul
          Fixed on the Cross, that consolation springs,
          From sources deeper far than deepest pain,
          For the meek Sufferer. Why then should we read
          The forms of things with an unworthy eye?
          She sleeps in the calm earth, and peace is here.           980
          I well remember that those very plumes,
          Those weeds, and the high spear-grass on that wall,
          By mist and silent rain-drops silvered o'er,
          As once I passed, into my heart conveyed
          So still an image of tranquillity,
          So calm and still, and looked so beautiful
          Amid the uneasy thoughts which filled my mind,
          That what we feel of sorrow and despair
          From ruin and from change, and all the grief
          That passing shows of Being leave behind,                  990
          Appeared an idle dream, that could maintain,
          Nowhere, dominion o'er the enlightened spirit
          Whose meditative sympathies repose
          Upon the breast of Faith. I turned away,
          And walked along my road in happiness."

            He ceased. Ere long the sun declining shot
          A slant and mellow radiance, which began
          To fall upon us, while, beneath the trees,
          We sate on that low bench: and now we felt,
          Admonished thus, the sweet hour coming on.                1000
          A linnet warbled from those lofty elms,
          A thrush sang loud, and other melodies,
          At distance heard, peopled the milder air.
          The old Man rose, and, with a sprightly mien
          Of hopeful preparation, grasped his staff;
          Together casting then a farewell look
          Upon those silent walls, we left the shade;
          And, ere the stars were visible, had reached
          A village-inn,--our evening resting-place.


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