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[From The Village, Book I.]
Fled are those times, when in harmonious strains,
The rustic poet praised his native plains :
No shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
Their country's beauty, or their nymph's rehearse ;
Yet still for these we frame the tender strain,
Still in our lays fond Corydons complain,
And shepherds' boys their amorous pains reveal,
The only pains, alas ! they never feel.
On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign,
If Tityrus found the golden age again,
Must sleepy bards the flattering dream prolong,
Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?
From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray,
Where Virgil, not where fancy, leads the way?
No; cast by fortune on a frowning coast,
Which neither groves nor happy valleys boast;
Where other cares than those the Muse relates,
And other shepherds dwell with other mates;
By such examples taught, I paint the cot,
As Truth will paint it and as bards will not :
Nor you, ye poor, of lettered scorn complain,
To you the smoothest song is smooth in vain ;
O’ercome by labour, and bowed down by time,
Feel you the barren flattery of a rhyme ?
Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread,
By winding myrtles round your ruin'd shed ? '
Can their light tales your weighty griefs o’erpower,
Or glad with airy mirth the toilsome hour?
Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its withered ears ;
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
Reign o'er the land and rob the blighted rye :
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war ;
There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil ;
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O’er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade ;
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around.
[From The Borough, Letter xxiii.]
Yes ! e'en in sleep the impressions all remain,
He hears the sentence and he feels the chain :
He see the judge and jury–when he shakes,
And loudly cries Not guilty !' and awakes :
Then chilling tremblings o'er his body creep,
Till worn-out nature is compelled to sleep.
Now comes the dream again: it shows each scene
With each small circumstance that comes between,
The call to suffering, and the very deed-
There crowds go with him, follow, and precede;
Some heartless shout, some pity, all condemn,
While he in fancied envy looks at them :
He seems the place for that sad act to see,
And dreams the very thirst which then will be :
A priest attends-it seems the one he knew
In his best days, beneath whose care he grew.
At this his terrors take a sudden flight,
He sees his native village with delight ;
The home, the chamber, where he once arrayed
His youthful person ; where he knelt and prayed :
Then too the comfort he enjoyed at home,
The days of joy; the joys themselves are come ;--
The hours of innocence; the timid look
Of his loved maid, when first her hand he took,
And told his hope ; her trembling joy appears,
Her forced reserve and his retreating fears.
All now is present; 'tis a moment's gleam,
Of former sunshine-stay delightful dream!
Let them within his pleasant garden walk,
Give him her arm, of blessings let them talk.
Yes! all are with him now, and all the while Life's early prospects and his Fanny's smile: Then come his sister and his village friend, And he will now the sweetest moments spend Life has to yield ;-No! never will he find Again on earth such pleasure in his mind : He goes through shrubby walks these friends among, Love in their looks and honour on the tongue : Nay, there's a charm beyond what nature shows, The bloom is softer and more sweetly glows. Pierced by no crime and urged by no desire For more than true and honest hearts require, They feel the calm delight, and thus proceed Through the green lane-then linger in the mead ; Stray o'er the heath in all its purple bloom, And pluck the blossoms where the wild bees hum ; Then through the broomy bound with ease they pass, And press the sandy sheep-walk's slender grass, Where dwarfish flowers among the gorse are spread, And the lamb browses by the linnet's bed ; Then 'cross the bounding brook they make their way O'er its rough bridge—and there behold the bay! The ocean smiling to the fervid sunThe waves that faintly fall and slowly runThe ships at distance and the boats at hand; And now they walk upon the seaside sand, Counting the number and what kind they be Ships softly sinking in the sleepy sea; Now arm in arm, now parted, they behold
The glittering waters on the shingles rolled ;
The timid girls, half dreading their design,
Dip the small foot in the retarded brine,
And search for crimson weeds, which spreading flow,
Or lie like pictures on the sand below;
With all those bright red pebbles, that the sun
Through the small waves so softly shines upon.
And those live lucid jellies which the eye
Delights to trace as they swim glittering by :
Pearl shells and rubied star-fish they admire,
And will arrange above the parlour fire-
Tokens of bliss! Oh! horrible ! a wave
Roars as it rises-Save me, Edward ! save!
She cries :-Alas! the watchman on his way
Calls, and lets in-truth, terror, and the day!
[From The Borough, Letter xii.]
Sad happy race! Soon raised and soon depressed, Your days all passed in jeopardy and jest; Poor without prudence, with afflictions vain, Not warned by misery, not enriched by gain : Whom justice, pitying, chides from place to place, A wandering, careless, wretched, merry race, Who cheerful looks assume, and play the parts Of happy rovers with repining hearts; Then cast off care, and, in the mimic pain Of tragic woe, feel spirits light and vain, Distress and hope—the mind's, the body's, wear, The man's affliction and the actor's tear : Alternate times of fasting and excess Are yours, ye smiling children of distress.
Slaves though ye be, your wandering freedom seems, And with your varying views and restless schemes, Your griefs are transient, as your joys are dreams.
THE FOUNDER OF THE ALMSHOUSE.
[From The Borough, Letter xiii. ]
Leave now our streets, and in yon plain behold
Those pleasant seats for the reduced and old ;
A merchant's gift, whose wife and children died ;
When he to saving all his powers applied ;
He wore his coat till bare was every thread,
And with the meanest fare his body fed.
He had a female cousin, who with care
Walked in his steps, and learned of him to spare ;
With emulation and success they strove,
Improving still, still seeking to improve,
As if that useful knowledge they would gain-
How little food would human life sustain :
No pauper came their table's crumbs to crave;
Scraping they lived, but not a scrap they gave :
When beggars saw the frugal merchant pass,
It moved their pity and they said 'Alas !
Hard is thy fate, my brother,' and they felt
A beggar's pride as they that pity dealt.
The dogs, who learn of man to scorn the poor,
Barked him away from every decent door ;
While they who saw him bare but thought him rich,
To show respect or scorn they knew not which.
But while our merchant seemed so base and mean,
He had his wanderings, sometimes not unseen ;
To scenes of various woe he nightly went,
And serious sums in healing misery spent ;
Oft has he cheered the wretched at a rate
For which he daily might have dined on plate ;
He has been seen-his hair all silver white,
Shaking and shivering—as he stole by night,
To feed unenvied on his still delight.
A twofold taste he had ; to give and spare,
Both were his duties, and had equal care.