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THE DUNGEON.

Written by: William Wordsworth | Biography
 | Quotes (90) |

  And this place our forefathers made for man!
  This is the process of our love and wisdom
  To each poor brother who offends against us—
  Most innocent, perhaps—and what if guilty?
  Is this the only cure? Merciful God!
  Each pore and natural outlet shrivell'd up
  By ignorance and parching poverty,
  His energies roll back upon his heart,
  And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
  They break out on him, like a loathsome plague spot.
  Then we call in our pamper'd mountebanks—
  And this is their best cure! uncomforted.

  And friendless solitude, groaning and tears.
  And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
  Seen through the steams and vapour of his dungeon,
  By the lamp's dismal twilight! So he lies
  Circled with evil, till his very soul
  Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
  By sights of ever more deformity!

  With other ministrations thou, O nature!'
  Healest thy wandering and distempered child:
  Thou pourest on him thy soft influences.
  Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sheets,
  Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
  Till he relent, and can no more endure
  To be a jarring and a dissonant thing,
  Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
  But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
  His angry spirit healed and harmonized
  By the benignant touch of love and beauty.

SIMON LEE, THE OLD HUNTSMAN,
   With an incident in which he was concerned.

  In the sweet shire of Cardigan,
  Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall,
  An old man dwells, a little man,
  I've heard he once was tall.
  Of years he has upon his back,
  No doubt, a burthen weighty;
  He says he is three score and ten,
  But others say he's eighty.

  A long blue livery-coat has he,
  That's fair behind, and fair before;
  Yet, meet him where you will, you see
  At once that he is poor.
  Full five and twenty years he lived
  A running huntsman merry;
  And, though he has but one eye left,
  His cheek is like a cherry.

  No man like him the horn could sound,
  And no man was so full of glee;
  To say the least, four counties round.
  Had heard of Simon Lee;
  His master's dead, and no one now
  Dwells in the hall of Ivor;
  Men, dogs, and horses, all are dead;
  He is the sole survivor.

  His hunting feats have him bereft
  Of his right eye, as you may see:
  And then, what limbs those feats have left
  To poor old Simon Lee!
  He has no son, he has no child,
  His wife, an aged woman,
  Lives with him, near the waterfall,
  Upon the village common.

  And he is lean and he is sick,
  His dwindled body's half awry,
  His ancles they are swoln and thick;
  His legs are thin and dry.
  When he was young he little knew
  'Of husbandry or tillage;
  And now he's forced to work, though weak,
  —The weakest in the village.

  He all the country could outrun,
  Could leave both man and horse behind;
  And often, ere the race was done,
  He reeled and was stone-blind.
  And still there's something in the world
  At which his heart rejoices;
  For when the chiming bounds are out,
  He dearly loves their voices!

  Old Ruth works out of doors with him.
  And does what Simon cannot do;
  For she, not over stout of limb,
  Is stouter of the two.
  And though you with your utmost skill
  From labour could not wean them,
  Alas! 'tis very little, all
  Which they can do between them.

  Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,
  Not twenty paces from the door,
  A scrap of land they have, but they
  Are poorest of the poor.
  This scrap of land he from the heath
  Enclosed when he was stronger;
  But what avails the land to them,
  Which they can till no longer?

  Few months of life has he in store,
  As he to you will-tell,
  For still, the more he works, the more
  His poor old ancles swell.
  My gentle reader, I perceive
  How patiently you've waited,
  And I'm afraid that you expect
  Some tale will be related.

  O reader! had you in your mind
  Such stores as silent thought can bring,
  O gentle reader! you would find
  A tale in every thing.
  What more I have to say is short,
  I hope you'll kindly take it;
  It is no tale; but should you think,
  Perhaps a tale you'll make it.

  One summer-day I chanced to see
  This old man doing all he could
  About the root of an old tree,
  A stump of rotten wood.
  The mattock totter'd in his hand;
  So vain was his endeavour
  That at the root of the old tree
  He might have worked for ever.

  "You've overtasked, good Simon Lee,
  Give me your tool" to him I said;
  And at the word right gladly he
  Received my proffer'd aid.
  I struck, and with a single blow
  The tangled root I sever'd,
  At which the poor old man so long
  And vainly had endeavoured.

  The tears into his eyes were brought,
  And thanks and praises seemed to run
  So fast out of his heart, I thought
  They never would have done.
  —I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
  With coldness still returning.
  Alas! the gratitude of men
  Has oftner left me mourning.

LINES
   Written in early Spring
.

  I heard a thousand blended notes,
  While in a grove I sate reclined,
  In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
  Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

  To her fair works did nature link
  The human soul that through me ran;
  And much it griev'd my heart to think
  What man has made of man.

  Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
  The periwinkle trail'd its wreathes;
  And 'tis my faith that every flower
  Enjoys the air it breathes.

  The birds around me hopp'd and play'd:
  Their thoughts I cannot measure,
  But the least motion which they made,
  It seem'd a thrill of pleasure.

  The budding twigs spread out their fan,
  To catch the breezy air;
  And I must think, do all I can,
  That there was pleasure there.

  If I these thoughts may not prevent,
  If such be of my creed the plan,
  Have I not reason to lament
  What man has made of man?

The NIGHTINGALE.
  Written in April, 1798.

  No cloud, no relique of the sunken day
  Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip
  Of sullen Light, no obscure trembling hues.
  Come, we will rest on this old mossy Bridge!
  You see the glimmer of the stream beneath,
  But hear no murmuring: it flows silently
  O'er its soft bed of verdure. All is still,
  A balmy night! and tho' the stars be dim,
  Yet let us think upon the vernal showers
  That gladden the green earth, and we shall find
  A pleasure in the dimness of the stars.

  And hark! the Nightingale begins its song
  "Most musical, most melancholy" [4] Bird!
  A melancholy Bird? O idle thought!
  In nature there is nothing melancholy.
  —But some night wandering Man, whose heart was pierc'd
  With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,
  Or slow distemper or neglected love,
  (And so, poor Wretch! fill'd all things with himself
  And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale
  Of his own sorrows) he and such as he
  First named these notes a melancholy strain:
  And many a poet echoes the conceit;
  Poet, who hath been building up the rhyme

[Footnote 4: "Most musical, most melancholy." This passage in Milton possesses an excellence far superior to that of mere description: it is spoken in the character of the melancholy Man, and has therefore a dramatic propriety. The Author makes this remark, to rescue himself from the charge of having alluded with levity to a line in Milton: a charge than which none could be more painful to him, except perhaps that of having ridiculed his Bible.]

  When he had better far have stretch'd his limbs
  Beside a 'brook in mossy forest-dell
  By sun or moonlight, to the influxes
  Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements
  Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song
  And of his fame forgetful! so his fame
  Should share in nature's immortality,
  A venerable thing! and so his song
  Should make all nature lovelier, and itself
  Be lov'd, like nature!—But 'twill not be so;
  And youths and maidens most poetical
  Who lose the deep'ning twilights of the spring
  In ball-rooms and hot theatres, they still
  Full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs
  O'er Philomela's pity-pleading strains.
  My Friend, and my Friend's Sister! we have learnt
  A different lore: we may not thus profane
  Nature's sweet voices always full of love
  And joyance! Tis the merry Nightingale

  That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates
  With fast thick warble his delicious notes,
  As he were fearful, that an April night
  Would be too short for him to utter forth
  Hi? love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
  Of all its music! And I know a grove
  Of large extent, hard by a castle huge
  Which the great lord inhabits not: and so
  This grove is wild with tangling underwood,
  And the trim walks are broken up, and grass,
  Thin grass and king-cups grow within the paths.
  But never elsewhere in one place I knew
  So many Nightingales: and far and near
  In wood and thicket over the wide grove
  They answer and provoke each other's songs—
  With skirmish and capricious passagings,
  And murmurs musical and swift jug jug
  And one low piping sound more sweet than all—
  Stirring the air with such an harmony,
  That should you close your eyes, you might almost
  Forget it was not day!

                         A most gentle maid
  Who dwelleth in her hospitable home
  Hard by the Castle, and at latest eve,
  (Even like a Lady vow'd and dedicate
  To something more than nature in the grove)
  Glides thro' the pathways; she knows all their notes,
  That gentle Maid! and oft, a moment's space,
  What time the moon was lost behind a cloud,
  Hath heard a pause of silence: till the Moon
  Emerging, hath awaken'd earth and sky
  With one sensation, and those wakeful Birds
  Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy,
  At if one quick and sudden Gale had swept
  An hundred airy harps! And she hath watch'd
  Many a Nightingale perch giddily
  On blosmy twig still swinging from the breeze,
  And to that motion tune his wanton song,
  Like tipsy Joy that reels with tossing head.

  Farewell, O Warbler! till to-morrow eve,
  And you, my friends! farewell, a short farewell!
  We have been loitering long and pleasantly,
  And now for our dear homes.—That strain again!
  Full fain it would delay me!-My dear Babe,
  Who, capable of no articulate sound,
  Mars all things with his imitative lisp,
  How he would place his hand beside his ear,
  His little hand, the small forefinger up,
  And bid us listen! And I deem it wise
  To make him Nature's playmate. He knows well
  The evening star: and once when he awoke
  In most distressful mood (some inward pain
  Had made up that strange thing, an infant's dream)
  I hurried with him to our orchard plot,
  And he beholds the moon, and hush'd at once
  Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently,
  While his fair eyes that swam with undropt tears
  Did glitter in the yellow moon-beam! Well—
  It is a father's tale. But if that Heaven
  Should give me life, his childhood shall grow up
  Familiar with these songs, that with the night
  He may associate Joy! Once more farewell,
  Sweet Nightingale! once more, my friends! farewell.

LINES
  Written when sailing in a Boat At EVENING.

  How rich the wave, in front, imprest
  With evening twilights summer hues,
  While, facing thus the crimson west,
  The boat her silent path pursues!
  And see how dark the backward stream!
  A little moment past, so smiling!
  And still, perhaps, with faithless gleam,
  Some other loiterer beguiling.

  Such views the youthful bard allure,
  But, heedless of the following gloom,
  He deems their colours shall endure
  'Till peace go with him to the tomb.
  —And let him nurse his fond deceit,
  And what if he must die in sorrow!
  Who would not cherish dreams so sweet,
  Though grief and pain may come to-morrow?

LINES
  Written near Richmond upon the Thames.

  Glide gently, thus for ever glide,
  O Thames! that other bards may see,
  As lovely visions by thy side
  As now, fair river! come to me.
  Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
  Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
  'Till all our minds for ever flow,
  As thy deep waters now are flowing.

  Vain thought! yet be as now thou art,
  That in thy waters may be seen
  The image of a poet's heart,
  How bright, how solemn, how serene!
  Such as did once the poet bless,
  Who, pouring here a later ditty,
  Could find no refuge from distress,
  But in the milder grief of pity.

  Remembrance! as we float along,
  For him suspend the dashing oar,
  And pray that never child of Song
  May know his freezing sorrows more.
  How calm! how still! the only sound,
  The dripping of the oar suspended!
  —The evening darkness gathers round
  By virtue's holiest powers attended. [5]

[Footnote 5: Collins's Ode on the death of Thomson, the last written,
I believe, of the poems which were published during his life-time.
This Ode is also alluded to in the next stanza.]




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