William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 10

Residence In France

IT was a beautiful and silent day That overspread the countenance of earth, Then fading with unusual quietness,-- A day as beautiful as e'er was given To soothe regret, though deepening what it soothed, When by the gliding Loire I paused, and cast Upon his rich domains, vineyard and tilth, Green meadow-ground, and many-coloured woods, Again, and yet again, a farewell look; Then from the quiet of that scene passed on, Bound to the fierce Metropolis. From his throne The King had fallen, and that invading host-- Presumptuous cloud, on whose black front was written The tender mercies of the dismal wind That bore it--on the plains of Liberty Had burst innocuous. Say in bolder words, They--who had come elate as eastern hunters Banded beneath the Great Mogul, when he Erewhile went forth from Agra or Lahore, Rajahs and Omrahs in his train, intent To drive their prey enclosed within a ring Wide as a province, but, the signal given, Before the point of the life-threatening spear Narrowing itself by moments--they, rash men, Had seen the anticipated quarry turned Into avengers, from whose wrath they fled In terror. Disappointment and dismay Remained for all whose fancies had run wild With evil expectations; confidence And perfect triumph for the better cause. The State--as if to stamp the final seal On her security, and to the world Show what she was, a high and fearless soul, Exulting in defiance, or heart-stung By sharp resentment, or belike to taunt With spiteful gratitude the baffled League, That had stirred up her slackening faculties To a new transition--when the King was crushed, Spared not the empty throne, and in proud haste Assumed the body and venerable name Of a Republic. Lamentable crimes, 'Tis true, had gone before this hour, dire work Of massacre, in which the senseless sword Was prayed to as a judge; but these were past, Earth free from them for ever, as was thought,-- Ephemeral monsters, to be seen but once! Things that could only show themselves and die. Cheered with this hope, to Paris I returned, And ranged, with ardour heretofore unfelt, The spacious city, and in progress passed The prison where the unhappy Monarch lay, Associate with his children and his wife In bondage; and the palace, lately stormed With roar of cannon by a furious host. I crossed the square (an empty area then!) Of the Carrousel, where so late had lain The dead, upon the dying heaped, and gazed On this and other spots, as doth a man Upon a volume whose contents he knows Are memorable, but from him locked up, Being written in a tongue he cannot read, So that he questions the mute leaves with pain, And half upbraids their silence. But that night I felt most deeply in what world I was, What ground I trod on, and what air I breathed. High was my room and lonely, near the roof Of a large mansion or hotel, a lodge That would have pleased me in more quiet times; Nor was it wholly without pleasure then. With unextinguished taper I kept watch, Reading at intervals; the fear gone by Pressed on me almost like a fear to come. I thought of those September massacres, Divided from me by one little month, Saw them and touched: the rest was conjured up From tragic fictions or true history, Remembrances and dim admonishments. The horse is taught his manage, and no star Of wildest course but treads back his own steps; For the spent hurricane the air provides As fierce a successor; the tide retreats But to return out of its hiding-place In the great deep; all things have second birth; The earthquake is not satisfied at once; And in this way I wrought upon myself, Until I seemed to hear a voice that cried, To the whole city, "Sleep no more." The trance Fled with the voice to which it had given birth; But vainly comments of a calmer mind Promised soft peace and sweet forgetfulness. The place, all hushed and silent as it was, Appeared unfit for the repose of night, Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam. With early morning towards the Palace-walk Of Orleans eagerly I turned: as yet The streets were still; not so those long Arcades; There, 'mid a peal of ill-matched sounds and cries, That greeted me on entering, I could hear Shrill voices from the hawkers in the throng, Bawling, "Denunciation of the Crimes Of Maximilian Robespierre;" the hand, Prompt as the voice, held forth a printed speech, The same that had been recently pronounced, When Robespierre, not ignorant for what mark Some words of indirect reproof had been Intended, rose in hardihood, and dared The man who had an ill surmise of him To bring his charge in openness; whereat, When a dead pause ensued, and no one stirred, In silence of all present, from his seat Louvet walked single through the avenue, And took his station in the Tribune, saying, "I, Robespierre, accuse thee!" Well is known The inglorious issue of that charge, and how He, who had launched the startling thunderbolt, The one bold man, whose voice the attack had sounded, Was left without a follower to discharge His perilous duty, and retire lamenting That Heaven's best aid is wasted upon men Who to themselves are false. But these are things Of which I speak, only as they were storm Or sunshine to my individual mind, No further. Let me then relate that now-- In some sort seeing with my proper eyes That Liberty, and Life, and Death, would soon To the remotest corners of the land Lie in the arbitrement of those who ruled The capital City; what was struggled for, And by what combatants victory must be won; The indecision on their part whose aim Seemed best, and the straightforward path of those Who in attack or in defence were strong Through their impiety--my inmost soul Was agitated; yea, I could almost Have prayed that throughout earth upon all men, By patient exercise of reason made Worthy of liberty, all spirits filled With zeal expanding in Truth's holy light, The gift of tongues might fall, and power arrive From the four quarters of the winds to do For France, what without help she could not do, A work of honour; think not that to this I added, work of safety: from all doubt Or trepidation for the end of things Far was I, far as angels are from guilt. Yet did I grieve, nor only grieved, but thought Of opposition and of remedies: An insignificant stranger and obscure, And one, moreover, little graced with power Of eloquence even in my native speech, And all unfit for tumult or intrigue, Yet would I at this time with willing heart Have undertaken for a cause so great Service however dangerous. I revolved, How much the destiny of Man had still Hung upon single persons; that there was, Transcendent to all local patrimony, One nature, as there is one sun in heaven; That objects, even as they are great, thereby Do come within the reach of humblest eyes; That Man is only weak through his mistrust And want of hope where evidence divine Proclaims to him that hope should be most sure; Nor did the inexperience of my youth Preclude conviction, that a spirit strong In hope, and trained to noble aspirations, A spirit thoroughly faithful to itself, Is for Society's unreasoning herd A domineering instinct, serves at once For way and guide, a fluent receptacle That gathers up each petty straggling rill And vein of water, glad to be rolled on In safe obedience; that a mind, whose rest Is where it ought to be, in self-restraint, In circumspection and simplicity, Falls rarely in entire discomfiture Below its aim, or meets with, from without, A treachery that foils it or defeats; And, lastly, if the means on human will, Frail human will, dependent should betray Him who too boldly trusted them, I felt That 'mid the loud distractions of the world A sovereign voice subsists within the soul, Arbiter undisturbed of right and wrong, Of life and death, in majesty severe Enjoining, as may best promote the aims Of truth and justice, either sacrifice, From whatsoever region of our cares Or our infirm affections Nature pleads, Earnest and blind, against the stern decree. On the other side, I called to mind those truths That are the commonplaces of the schools-- (A theme for boys, too hackneyed for their sires,) Yet, with a revelation's liveliness, In all their comprehensive bearings known And visible to philosophers of old, Men who, to business of the world untrained, Lived in the shade; and to Harmodius known And his compeer Aristogiton, known To Brutus--that tyrannic power is weak, Hath neither gratitude, nor faith, nor love, Nor the support of good or evil men To trust in; that the godhead which is ours Can never utterly be charmed or stilled; That nothing hath a natural right to last But equity and reason; that all else Meets foes irreconcilable, and at best Lives only by variety of disease. Well might my wishes be intense, my thoughts Strong and perturbed, not doubting at that time But that the virtue of one paramount mind Would have abashed those impious crests--have quelled Outrage and bloody power, and--in despite Of what the People long had been and were Through ignorance and false teaching, sadder proof Of immaturity, and--in the teeth Of desperate opposition from without-- Have cleared a passage for just government, And left a solid birthright to the State, Redeemed, according to example given By ancient lawgivers. In this frame of mind, Dragged by a chain of harsh necessity, So seemed it,--now I thankfully acknowledge, Forced by the gracious providence of Heaven,-- To England I returned, else (though assured That I both was and must be of small weight, No better than a landsman on the deck Of a ship struggling with a hideous storm) Doubtless, I should have then made common cause With some who perished; haply perished too, A poor mistaken and bewildered offering,-- Should to the breast of Nature have gone back, With all my resolutions, all my hopes, A Poet only to myself, to men Useless, and even, beloved Friend! a soul To thee unknown! Twice had the trees let fall Their leaves, as often Winter had put on His hoary crown, since I had seen the surge Beat against Albion's shore, since ear of mine Had caught the accents of my native speech Upon our native country's sacred ground. A patriot of the world, how could I glide Into communion with her sylvan shades, Erewhile my tuneful haunt? It pleased me more To abide in the great City, where I found The general air still busy with the stir Of that first memorable onset made By a strong levy of humanity Upon the traffickers in Negro blood; Effort which, though defeated, had recalled To notice old forgotten principles, And through the nation spread a novel heat Of virtuous feeling. For myself, I own That this particular strife had wanted power To rivet my affections; nor did now Its unsuccessful issue much excite My sorrow; for I brought with me the faith That, if France prospered, good men would not long Pay fruitless worship to humanity, And this most rotten branch of human shame, Object, so seemed it, of superfluous pains Would fall together with its parent tree. What, then, were my emotions, when in arms Britain put forth her free-born strength in league, Oh, pity and shame! with those confederate Powers! Not in my single self alone I found, But in the minds of all ingenuous youth, Change and subversion from that hour. No shock Given to my moral nature had I known Down to that very moment; neither lapse Nor turn of sentiment that might be named A revolution, save at this one time; All else was progress on the self-same path On which, with a diversity of pace, I had been travelling: this a stride at once Into another region. As a light And pliant harebell, swinging in the breeze On some grey rock--its birth-place--so had I Wantoned, fast rooted on the ancient tower Of my beloved country, wishing not A happier fortune than to wither there: Now was I from that pleasant station torn And tossed about in whirlwind. I rejoiced, Yea, afterwards--truth most painful to record!-- Exulted, in the triumph of my soul, When Englishmen by thousands were o'erthrown, Left without glory on the field, or driven, Brave hearts! to shameful flight. It was a grief,-- Grief call it not, 'twas anything but that,-- A conflict of sensations without name, Of which 'he' only, who may love the sight Of a village steeple, as I do, can judge, When, in the congregation bending all To their great Father, prayers were offered up, Or praises for our country's victories; And, 'mid the simple worshippers, perchance I only, like an uninvited guest Whom no one owned, sate silent, shall I add, Fed on the day of vengeance yet to come. Oh! much have they to account for, who could tear, By violence, at one decisive rent, From the best youth in England their dear pride, Their joy, in England; this, too, at a time In which worst losses easily might wean The best of names, when patriotic love Did of itself in modesty give way, Like the Precursor when the Deity Is come Whose harbinger he was; a time In which apostasy from ancient faith Seemed but conversion to a higher creed; Withal a season dangerous and wild, A time when sage Experience would have snatched Flowers out of any hedge-row to compose A chaplet in contempt of his grey locks. When the proud fleet that bears the red-cross flag In that unworthy service was prepared To mingle, I beheld the vessels lie, A brood of gallant creatures, on the deep; I saw them in their rest, a sojourner Through a whole month of calm and glassy days In that delightful island which protects Their place of convocation--there I heard, Each evening, pacing by the still sea-shore, A monitory sound that never failed,-- The sunset cannon. While the orb went down In the tranquillity of nature, came That voice, ill requiem! seldom heard by me Without a spirit overcast by dark Imaginations, sense of woes to come, Sorrow for human kind, and pain of heart. In France, the men, who, for their desperate ends, Had plucked up mercy by the roots, were glad Of this new enemy. Tyrants, strong before In wicked pleas, were strong as demons now; And thus, on every side beset with foes, The goaded land waxed mad; the crimes of few Spread into madness of the many; blasts From hell came sanctified like airs from heaven. The sternness of the just, the faith of those Who doubted not that Providence had times Of vengeful retribution, theirs who throned The human Understanding paramount And made of that their God, the hopes of men Who were content to barter short-lived pangs For a paradise of ages, the blind rage Of insolent tempers, the light vanity Of intermeddlers, steady purposes Of the suspicious, slips of the indiscreet, And all the accidents of life--were pressed Into one service, busy with one work. The Senate stood aghast, her prudence quenched, Her wisdom stifled, and her justice scared, Her frenzy only active to extol Past outrages, and shape the way for new, Which no one dared to oppose or mitigate. Domestic carnage now filled the whole year With feast-days; old men from the chimney-nook, The maiden from the bosom of her love, The mother from the cradle of her babe, The warrior from the field--all perished, all-- Friends, enemies, of all parties, ages, ranks, Head after head, and never heads enough For those that bade them fall. They found their joy, They made it proudly, eager as a child, (If like desires of innocent little ones May with such heinous appetites be compared), Pleased in some open field to exercise A toy that mimics with revolving wings The motion of a wind-mill; though the air Do of itself blow fresh, and make the vanes Spin in his eyesight, 'that' contents him not, But with the plaything at arm's length, he sets His front against the blast, and runs amain, That it may whirl the faster. Amid the depth Of those enormities, even thinking minds Forgot, at seasons, whence they had their being Forgot that such a sound was ever heard As Liberty upon earth: yet all beneath Her innocent authority was wrought, Nor could have been, without her blessed name. The illustrious wife of Roland, in the hour Of her composure, felt that agony, And gave it vent in her last words. O Friend! It was a lamentable time for man, Whether a hope had e'er been his or not: A woful time for them whose hopes survived The shock; most woful for those few who still Were flattered, and had trust in human kind: They had the deepest feeling of the grief. Meanwhile the Invaders fared as they deserved: The Herculean Commonwealth had put forth her arms, And throttled with an infant godhead's might The snakes about her cradle; that was well, And as it should be; yet no cure for them Whose souls were sick with pain of what would be Hereafter brought in charge against mankind. Most melancholy at that time, O Friend! Were my day-thoughts,--my nights were miserable; Through months, through years, long after the last beat Of those atrocities, the hour of sleep To me came rarely charged with natural gifts, Such ghastly visions had I of despair And tyranny, and implements of death; And innocent victims sinking under fear, And momentary hope, and worn-out prayer, Each in his separate cell, or penned in crowds For sacrifice, and struggling with fond mirth And levity in dungeons, where the dust Was laid with tears. Then suddenly the scene Changed, and the unbroken dream entangled me In long orations, which I strove to plead Before unjust tribunals,--with a voice Labouring, a brain confounded, and a sense, Death-like, of treacherous desertion, felt In the last place of refuge--my own soul. When I began in youth's delightful prime To yield myself to Nature, when that strong And holy passion overcame me first, Nor day nor night, evening or morn, was free From its oppression. But, O Power Supreme! Without Whose call this world would cease to breathe Who from the fountain of Thy grace dost fill The veins that branch through every frame of life, Making man what he is, creature divine, In single or in social eminence, Above the rest raised infinite ascents When reason that enables him to be Is not sequestered--what a change is here! How different ritual for this after-worship, What countenance to promote this second love! The first was service paid to things which lie Guarded within the bosom of Thy will. Therefore to serve was high beatitude; Tumult was therefore gladness, and the fear Ennobling, venerable; sleep secure, And waking thoughts more rich than happiest dreams. But as the ancient Prophets, borne aloft In vision, yet constrained by natural laws With them to take a troubled human heart, Wanted not consolations, nor a creed Of reconcilement, then when they denounced, On towns and cities, wallowing in the abyss Of their offences, punishment to come; Or saw, like other men, with bodily eyes, Before them, in some desolated place, The wrath consummate and the threat fulfilled; So, with devout humility be it said, So, did a portion of that spirit fall On me uplifted from the vantage-ground Of pity and sorrow to a state of being That through the time's exceeding fierceness saw Glimpses of retribution, terrible, And in the order of sublime behests: But, even if that were not, amid the awe Of unintelligible chastisement, Not only acquiescences of faith Survived, but daring sympathies with power, Motions not treacherous or profane, else why Within the folds of no ungentle breast Their dread vibration to this hour prolonged? Wild blasts of music thus could find their way Into the midst of turbulent events; So that worst tempests might be listened to. Then was the truth received into my heart, That, under heaviest sorrow earth can bring, If from the affliction somewhere do not grow Honour which could not else have been, a faith, An elevation, and a sanctity, If new strength be not given nor old restored, The blame is ours, not Nature's. When a taunt Was taken up by scoffers in their pride, Saying, "Behold the harvest that we reap From popular government and equality," I clearly saw that neither these nor aught Of wild belief engrafted on their names By false philosophy had caused the woe, But a terrific reservoir of guilt And ignorance filled up from age to age, That could no longer hold its loathsome charge, But burst and spread in deluge through the land. And as the desert hath green spots, the sea Small islands scattered amid stormy waves, So 'that' disastrous period did not want Bright sprinklings of all human excellence, To which the silver wands of saints in Heaven Might point with rapturous joy. Yet not the less, For those examples, in no age surpassed, Of fortitude and energy and love, And human nature faithful to herself Under worst trials, was I driven to think Of the glad times when first I traversed France A youthful pilgrim; above all reviewed That eventide, when under windows bright With happy faces and with garlands hung, And through a rainbow-arch that spanned the street, Triumphal pomp for liberty confirmed, I paced, a dear companion at my side, The town of Arras, whence with promise high Issued, on delegation to sustain Humanity and right, 'that' Robespierre, He who thereafter, and in how short time! Wielded the sceptre of the Atheist crew. When the calamity spread far and wide-- And this same city, that did then appear To outrun the rest in exultation, groaned Under the vengeance of her cruel son, As Lear reproached the winds--I could almost Have quarrelled with that blameless spectacle For lingering yet an image in my mind To mock me under such a strange reverse. O Friend! few happier moments have been mine Than that which told the downfall of this Tribe So dreaded, so abhorred. The day deserves A separate record. Over the smooth sands Of Leven's ample estuary lay My journey, and beneath a genial sun, With distant prospect among gleams of sky And clouds and intermingling mountain tops, In one inseparable glory clad, Creatures of one ethereal substance met In consistory, like a diadem Or crown of burning seraphs as they sit In the empyrean. Underneath that pomp Celestial, lay unseen the pastoral vales Among whose happy fields I had grown up From childhood. On the fulgent spectacle, That neither passed away nor changed, I gazed Enrapt; but brightest things are wont to draw Sad opposites out of the inner heart, As even their pensive influence drew from mine. How could it otherwise? for not in vain That very morning had I turned aside To seek the ground where, 'mid a throng of graves, An honoured teacher of my youth was laid, And on the stone were graven by his desire Lines from the churchyard elegy of Gray. This faithful guide, speaking from his deathbed, Added no farewell to his parting counsel, But said to me, "My head will soon lie low;" And when I saw the turf that covered him, After the lapse of full eight years, those words, With sound of voice and countenance of the Man, Came back upon me, so that some few tears Fell from me in my own despite. But now I thought, still traversing that widespread plain, With tender pleasure of the verses graven Upon his tombstone, whispering to myself: He loved the Poets, and, if now alive, Would have loved me, as one not destitute Of promise, nor belying the kind hope That he had formed, when I, at his command, Began to spin, with toil, my earliest songs. As I advanced, all that I saw or felt Was gentleness and peace. Upon a small And rocky island near, a fragment stood, (Itself like a sea rock) the low remains (With shells encrusted, dark with briny weeds) Of a dilapidated structure, once A Romish chapel, where the vested priest Said matins at the hour that suited those Who crossed the sands with ebb of morning tide. Not far from that still ruin all the plain Lay spotted with a variegated crowd Of vehicles and travellers, horse and foot, Wading beneath the conduct of their guide In loose procession through the shallow stream Of inland waters; the great sea meanwhile Heaved at safe distance, far retired. I paused, Longing for skill to paint a scene so bright And cheerful, but the foremost of the band As he approached, no salutation given In the familiar language of the day, Cried, "Robespierre is dead!" nor was a doubt, After strict question, left within my mind That he and his supporters all were fallen. Great was my transport, deep my gratitude To everlasting Justice, by this fiat Made manifest. "Come now, ye golden times," Said I forth-pouring on those open sands A hymn of triumph: "as the morning comes From out the bosom of the night, come ye: Thus far our trust is verified; behold! They who with clumsy desperation brought A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might Of their own helper have been swept away; Their madness stands declared and visible; Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth March firmly towards righteousness and peace."-- Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how The madding factions might be tranquillised, And how through hardships manifold and long The glorious renovation would proceed. Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts Of exultation, I pursued my way Along that very shore which I had skimmed In former days, when--spurring from the Vale Of Nightshade, and St. Mary's mouldering fane, And the stone abbot, after circuit made In wantonness of heart, a joyous band Of schoolboys hastening to their distant home Along the margin of the moonlight sea-- We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand.

Comment Section just now

Feel free to be first to leave comment.

8/2200 - 0