Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Descriptive Poems: III. Places
The Village Schoolmistress
William Shenstone (1714–1763)
 
From “The Schoolmistress”

AH me! full sorely is my heart forlorn,
  To think how modest worth neglected lies,
While partial Fame doth with her blasts adorn
  Such deeds alone as pride and pomp disguise;
  Deeds of ill sort, and mischievous emprise.        5
Lend me thy clarion, goddess! let me try
  To sound the praise of merit, ere it dies,
Such as I oft have chauncèd to espy,
Lost in the dreary shades of dull obscurity.
 
In every village marked with little spire,        10
  Embowered in trees, and hardly known to fame,
There dwells, in lowly shed and mean attire,
  A matron old, whom we Schoolmistress name;
  Who boasts unruly brats with birch to tame:
They grieven sore, in piteous durance pent,        15
  Awed by the power of this relentless dame;
And ofttimes, on vagaries idly bent,
For unkempt air, or task unconned, are sorely shent.
 
And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
  Which Learning near her little dome did stow,        20
Whilom a twig of small regard to see,
  Though now so wide its waving branches flow,
  And work the simple vassals mickle woe;
For not a wind might curl the leaves that blew,
  But their limbs shuddered, and their pulse beat low;        25
And as they looked, they found their horror grew,
And shaped it into rods, and tingled at the view.
*        *        *        *        *
Her cap, far whiter than the driven snow,
  Emblem right meet of decency does yield:
Her apron dyed in grain, as blue, I trowe,        30
  As is the harebell that adorns the field:
  And in her hand, for sceptre, she does wield
Tway birchen sprays; with anxious fear entwined,
  With dark distrust, and sad repentance filled;
And steadfast hate, and sharp affliction joined,        35
And fury uncontrolled, and chastisement unkind.
 
A russet stole was o’er her shoulders thrown;
  A russet kirtle fenced the nipping air:
’T was simple russet, but it was her own;
  ’T was her own country bred the flock so fair,        40
  ’T was her own labor did the fleece prepare;
And, sooth to say, her pupils, ranged around,
  Through pious awe, did term it passing rare;
For they in gaping wonderment abound,
And think, no doubt, she been the greatest wight on ground.        45
 
Albeit ne flattery did corrupt her truth,
  Ne pompous title did debauch her ear;
Goody, good-woman, gossip, n’aunt forsooth,
  Or dame, the sole additions she did hear;
  Yet these she challenged, these she held right dear:        50
Ne would esteem him act as mought behove,
  Who should not honor eld with these revere;
For never title yet so mean could prove,
But there was eke a mind which did that title love.
*        *        *        *        *
In elbow-chair (like that of Scottish stem,        55
  By the sharp tooth of cankering eld defaced,
In which, when he receives his diadem,
  Our sovereign prince and liefest liege is placed)
  The matron sat; and some with rank she graced,
(The source of children’s and of courtiers’ pride!)        60
  Redressed affronts,—for vile affronts there passed;
And warned them not the fretful to deride,
But love each other dear, whatever them betide.
 
Right well she knew each temper to descry,
  To thwart the proud, and the submiss to raise;        65
Some with vile copper-prize exalt on high,
  And some entice with pittance small of praise;
  And other some with baleful sprig she ’frays:
Even absent, she the reins of power doth hold,
  While with quaint arts the giddy crowd she sways;        70
Forewarned, if little bird their pranks behold,
’T will whisper in her ear, and all the scene unfold.
 
Lo! now with state she utters her command;
  Eftsoons the urchins to their tasks repair,
Their books of stature small they take in hand,        75
  Which with pellucid horn securèd are,
  To save from finger wet the letters fair:
The work so gay, that on their back is seen,
  Saint George’s high achievements does declare;
On which thilk wight that has y-gazing been,        80
Kens the forthcoming rod,—unpleasing sight, I ween!
*        *        *        *        *
But now Dan Phœbus gains the middle sky,
  And Liberty unbars her prison door;
And like a rushing torrent out they fly;
  And now the grassy cirque han covered o’er        85
  With boisterous revel rout and wild uproar;
A thousand ways in wanton rings they run.
  Heaven shield their short-lived pastimes, I implore;
  For well may freedom erst so dearly won
Appear to British elf more gladsome than the sun.        90
 
 
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