William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 4

Summer Vacation

BRIGHT was the summer's noon when quickening steps Followed each other till a dreary moor Was crossed, a bare ridge clomb, upon whose top Standing alone, as from a rampart's edge, I overlooked the bed of Windermere, Like a vast river, stretching in the sun. With exultation, at my feet I saw Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays, A universe of Nature's fairest forms Proudly revealed with instantaneous burst, Magnificent, and beautiful, and gay. I bounded down the hill shouting amain For the old Ferryman; to the shout the rocks Replied, and when the Charon of the flood Had staid his oars, and touched the jutting pier, I did not step into the well-known boat Without a cordial greeting. Thence with speed Up the familiar hill I took my way Towards that sweet Valley where I had been reared; 'Twas but a short hour's walk, ere veering round I saw the snow-white church upon her hill Sit like a throned Lady, sending out A gracious look all over her domain. Yon azure smoke betrays the lurking town; With eager footsteps I advance and reach The cottage threshold where my journey closed. Glad welcome had I, with some tears, perhaps, From my old Dame, so kind and motherly, While she perused me with a parent's pride. The thoughts of gratitude shall fall like dew Upon thy grave, good creature! While my heart Can beat never will I forget thy name. Heaven's blessing be upon thee where thou liest After thy innocent and busy stir In narrow cares, thy little daily growth Of calm enjoyments, after eighty years, And more than eighty, of untroubled life; Childless, yet by the strangers to thy blood Honoured with little less than filial love. What joy was mine to see thee once again, Thee and thy dwelling, and a crowd of things About its narrow precincts all beloved, And many of them seeming yet my own! Why should I speak of what a thousand hearts Have felt, and every man alive can guess? The rooms, the court, the garden were not left Long unsaluted, nor the sunny seat Round the stone table under the dark pine, Friendly to studious or to festive hours; Nor that unruly child of mountain birth, The famous brook, who, soon as he was boxed Within our garden, found himself at once, As if by trick insidious and unkind, Stripped of his voice and left to dimple down (Without an effort and without a will) A channel paved by man's officious care. I looked at him and smiled, and smiled again, And in the press of twenty thousand thoughts, "Ha," quoth I, "pretty prisoner, are you there!" Well might sarcastic Fancy then have whispered, "An emblem here behold of thy own life; In its late course of even days with all Their smooth enthralment;" but the heart was full, Too full for that reproach. My aged Dame Walked proudly at my side: she guided me; I willing, nay--nay, wishing to be led. --The face of every neighbour whom I met Was like a volume to me; some were hailed Upon the road, some busy at their work, Unceremonious greetings interchanged With half the length of a long field between. Among my schoolfellows I scattered round Like recognitions, but with some constraint Attended, doubtless, with a little pride, But with more shame, for my habiliments, The transformation wrought by gay attire. Not less delighted did I take my place At our domestic table: and, dear Friend! In this endeavour simply to relate A Poet's history, may I leave untold The thankfulness with which I laid me down In my accustomed bed, more welcome now Perhaps than if it had been more desired Or been more often thought of with regret; That lowly bed whence I had heard the wind Roar, and the rain beat hard; where I so oft Had lain awake on summer nights to watch The moon in splendour couched among the leaves Of a tall ash, that near our cottage stood; Had watched her with fixed eyes while to and fro In the dark summit of the waving tree She rocked with every impulse of the breeze. Among the favourites whom it pleased me well To see again, was one by ancient right Our inmate, a rough terrier of the hills; By birth and call of nature pre-ordained To hunt the badger and unearth the fox Among the impervious crags, but having been From youth our own adopted, he had passed Into a gentler service. And when first The boyish spirit flagged, and day by day Along my veins I kindled with the stir, The fermentation, and the vernal heat Of poesy, affecting private shades Like a sick Lover, then this dog was used To watch me, an attendant and a friend, Obsequious to my steps early and late, Though often of such dilatory walk Tired, and uneasy at the halts I made. A hundred times when, roving high and low, I have been harassed with the toil of verse, Much pains and little progress, and at once Some lovely Image in the song rose up Full-formed, like Venus rising from the sea; Then have I darted forwards to let loose My hand upon his back with stormy joy, Caressing him again and yet again. And when at evening on the public way I sauntered, like a river murmuring And talking to itself when all things else Are still, the creature trotted on before; Such was his custom; but whene'er he met A passenger approaching, he would turn To give me timely notice, and straightway, Grateful for that admonishment, I hushed My voice, composed my gait, and, with the air And mien of one whose thoughts are free, advanced To give and take a greeting that might save My name from piteous rumours, such as wait On men suspected to be crazed in brain. Those walks well worthy to be prized and loved-- Regretted!--that word, too, was on my tongue, But they were richly laden with all good, And cannot be remembered but with thanks And gratitude, and perfect joy of heart-- Those walks in all their freshness now came back Like a returning Spring. When first I made Once more the circuit of our little lake, If ever happiness hath lodged with man, That day consummate happiness was mine, Wide-spreading, steady, calm, contemplative. The sun was set, or setting, when I left Our cottage door, and evening soon brought on A sober hour, not winning or serene, For cold and raw the air was, and untuned: But as a face we love is sweetest then When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look It chance to wear, is sweetest if the heart Have fulness in herself; even so with me It fared that evening. Gently did my soul Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood Naked, as in the presence of her God. While on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch A heart that had not been disconsolate: Strength came where weakness was not known to be, At least not felt; and restoration came Like an intruder knocking at the door Of unacknowledged weariness. I took The balance, and with firm hand weighed myself. --Of that external scene which round me lay, Little, in this abstraction, did I see; Remembered less; but I had inward hopes And swellings of the spirit, was rapt and soothed, Conversed with promises, had glimmering views How life pervades the undecaying mind; How the immortal soul with God-like power Informs, creates, and thaws the deepest sleep That time can lay upon her; how on earth, Man, if he do but live within the light Of high endeavours, daily spreads abroad His being armed with strength that cannot fail. Nor was there want of milder thoughts, of love, Of innocence, and holiday repose; And more than pastoral quiet, 'mid the stir Of boldest projects, and a peaceful end At last, or glorious, by endurance won. Thus musing, in a wood I sate me down Alone, continuing there to muse: the slopes And heights meanwhile were slowly overspread With darkness, and before a rippling breeze The long lake lengthened out its hoary line, And in the sheltered coppice where I sate, Around me from among the hazel leaves, Now here, now there, moved by the straggling wind, Came ever and anon a breath-like sound, Quick as the pantings of the faithful dog, The off and on companion of my walk; And such, at times, believing them to be, I turned my head to look if he were there; Then into solemn thought I passed once more. A freshness also found I at this time In human Life, the daily life of those Whose occupations really I loved; The peaceful scene oft filled me with surprise Changed like a garden in the heat of spring After an eight-days' absence. For (to omit The things which were the same and yet appeared Far otherwise) amid this rural solitude, A narrow Vale where each was known to all, 'Twas not indifferent to a youthful mind To mark some sheltering bower or sunny nook Where an old man had used to sit alone, Now vacant; pale-faced babes whom I had left In arms, now rosy prattlers at the feet Of a pleased grandame tottering up and down; And growing girls whose beauty, filched away With all its pleasant promises, was gone To deck some slighted playmate's homely cheek. Yes, I had something of a subtler sense, And often looking round was moved to smiles Such as a delicate work of humour breeds; I read, without design, the opinions, thoughts, Of those plain-living people now observed With clearer knowledge; with another eye I saw the quiet woodman in the woods, The shepherd roam the hills. With new delight, This chiefly, did I note my grey-haired Dame; Saw her go forth to church or other work Of state equipped in monumental trim; Short velvet cloak, (her bonnet of the like), A mantle such as Spanish Cavaliers Wore in old times. Her smooth domestic life, Affectionate without disquietude, Her talk, her business, pleased me; and no less Her clear though shallow stream of piety That ran on Sabbath days a fresher course; With thoughts unfelt till now I saw her read Her Bible on hot Sunday afternoons, And loved the book, when she had dropped asleep And made of it a pillow for her head. Nor less do I remember to have felt, Distinctly manifested at this time, A human-heartedness about my love For objects hitherto the absolute wealth Of my own private being and no more; Which I had loved, even as a blessed spirit Or Angel, if he were to dwell on earth, Might love in individual happiness. But now there opened on me other thoughts Of change, congratulation or regret, A pensive feeling! It spread far and wide; The trees, the mountains shared it, and the brooks, The stars of Heaven, now seen in their old haunts-- White Sirius glittering o'er the southern crags, Orion with his belt, and those fair Seven, Acquaintances of every little child, And Jupiter, my own beloved star! Whatever shadings of mortality, Whatever imports from the world of death Had come among these objects heretofore, Were, in the main, of mood less tender: strong, Deep, gloomy were they, and severe; the scatterings Of awe or tremulous dread, that had given way In later youth to yearnings of a love Enthusiastic, to delight and hope. As one who hangs down-bending from the side Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast Of a still water, solacing himself With such discoveries as his eye can make Beneath him in the bottom of the deep, Sees many beauteous sights--weeds, fishes, flowers, Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more, Yet often is perplexed, and cannot part The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky, Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth Of the clear flood, from things which there abide In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam Of his own image, by a sunbeam now, And wavering motions sent he knows not whence, Impediments that make his task more sweet; Such pleasant office have we long pursued Incumbent o'er the surface of past time With like success, nor often have appeared Shapes fairer or less doubtfully discerned Than these to which the Tale, indulgent Friend! Would now direct thy notice. Yet in spite Of pleasure won, and knowledge not withheld, There was an inner falling off--I loved, Loved deeply all that had been loved before, More deeply even than ever: but a swarm Of heady schemes jostling each other, gawds And feast and dance, and public revelry, And sports and games (too grateful in themselves, Yet in themselves less grateful, I believe, Than as they were a badge glossy and fresh Of manliness and freedom) all conspired To lure my mind from firm habitual quest Of feeding pleasures, to depress the zeal And damp those yearnings which had once been mine-- A wild, unworldly-minded youth, given up To his own eager thoughts. It would demand Some skill, and longer time than may be spared To paint these vanities, and how they wrought In haunts where they, till now, had been unknown. It seemed the very garments that I wore Preyed on my strength, and stopped the quiet stream Of self-forgetfulness. Yes, that heartless chase Of trivial pleasures was a poor exchange For books and nature at that early age. 'Tis true, some casual knowledge might be gained Of character or life; but at that time, Of manners put to school I took small note, And all my deeper passions lay elsewhere. Far better had it been to exalt the mind By solitary study, to uphold Intense desire through meditative peace; And yet, for chastisement of these regrets, The memory of one particular hour Doth here rise up against me. 'Mid a throng Of maids and youths, old men, and matrons staid, A medley of all tempers, I had passed The night in dancing, gaiety, and mirth, With din of instruments and shuffling feet, And glancing forms, and tapers glittering, And unaimed prattle flying up and down; Spirits upon the stretch, and here and there Slight shocks of young love-liking interspersed, Whose transient pleasure mounted to the head, And tingled through the veins. Ere we retired, The cock had crowed, and now the eastern sky Was kindling, not unseen, from humble copse And open field, through which the pathway wound, And homeward led my steps. Magnificent The morning rose, in memorable pomp, Glorious as e'er I had beheld--in front, The sea lay laughing at a distance; near, The solid mountains shone, bright as the clouds, Grain-tinctured, drenched in empyrean light; And in the meadows and the lower grounds Was all the sweetness of a common dawn-- Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds, And labourers going forth to till the fields. Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows Were then made for me; bond unknown to me Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly, A dedicated Spirit. On I walked In thankful blessedness, which yet survives. Strange rendezvous! My mind was at that time A parti-coloured show of grave and gay, Solid and light, short-sighted and profound; Of inconsiderate habits and sedate, Consorting in one mansion unreproved. The worth I knew of powers that I possessed, Though slighted and too oft misused. Besides, That summer, swarming as it did with thoughts Transient and idle, lacked not intervals When Folly from the frown of fleeting Time Shrunk, and the mind experienced in herself Conformity as just as that of old To the end and written spirit of God's works, Whether held forth in Nature or in Man, Through pregnant vision, separate or conjoined. When from our better selves we have too long Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop, Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, How gracious, how benign, is Solitude; How potent a mere image of her sway; Most potent when impressed upon the mind With an appropriate human centre--hermit, Deep in the bosom of the wilderness; Votary (in vast cathedral, where no foot Is treading, where no other face is seen) Kneeling at prayers; or watchman on the top Of lighthouse, beaten by Atlantic waves; Or as the soul of that great Power is met Sometimes embodied on a public road, When, for the night deserted, it assumes A character of quiet more profound Than pathless wastes. Once, when those summer months Were flown, and autumn brought its annual show Of oars with oars contending, sails with sails, Upon Winander's spacious breast, it chanced That--after I had left a flower-decked room (Whose in-door pastime, lighted up, survived To a late hour), and spirits overwrought Were making night do penance for a day Spent in a round of strenuous idleness-- My homeward course led up a long ascent, Where the road's watery surface, to the top Of that sharp rising, glittered to the moon And bore the semblance of another stream Stealing with silent lapse to join the brook That murmured in the vale. All else was still; No living thing appeared in earth or air, And, save the flowing water's peaceful voice, Sound there was none--but, lo! an uncouth shape, Shown by a sudden turning of the road, So near that, slipping back into the shade Of a thick hawthorn, I could mark him well, Myself unseen. He was of stature tall, A span above man's common measure, tall, Stiff, lank, and upright; a more meagre man Was never seen before by night or day. Long were his arms, pallid his hands; his mouth Looked ghastly in the moonlight: from behind, A mile-stone propped him; I could also ken That he was clothed in military garb, Though faded, yet entire. Companionless, No dog attending, by no staff sustained, He stood, and in his very dress appeared A desolation, a simplicity, To which the trappings of a gaudy world Make a strange back-ground. From his lips, ere long, Issued low muttered sounds, as if of pain Or some uneasy thought; yet still his form Kept the same awful steadiness--at his feet His shadow lay, and moved not. From self-blame Not wholly free, I watched him thus; at length Subduing my heart's specious cowardice, I left the shady nook where I had stood And hailed him. Slowly from his resting-place He rose, and with a lean and wasted arm In measured gesture lifted to his head Returned my salutation; then resumed His station as before; and when I asked His history, the veteran, in reply, Was neither slow nor eager; but, unmoved, And with a quiet uncomplaining voice, A stately air of mild indifference, He told in few plain words a soldier's tale-- That in the Tropic Islands he had served, Whence he had landed scarcely three weeks past; That on his landing he had been dismissed, And now was travelling towards his native home. This heard, I said, in pity, "Come with me." He stooped, and straightway from the ground took up An oaken staff by me yet unobserved-- A staff which must have dropped from his slack hand And lay till now neglected in the grass. Though weak his step and cautious, he appeared To travel without pain, and I beheld, With an astonishment but ill suppressed, His ghostly figure moving at my side; Nor could I, while we journeyed thus, forbear To turn from present hardships to the past, And speak of war, battle, and pestilence, Sprinkling this talk with questions, better spared, On what he might himself have seen or felt. He all the while was in demeanour calm, Concise in answer; solemn and sublime He might have seemed, but that in all he said There was a strange half-absence, as of one Knowing too well the importance of his theme, But feeling it no longer. Our discourse Soon ended, and together on we passed In silence through a wood gloomy and still. Up-turning, then, along an open field, We reached a cottage. At the door I knocked, And earnestly to charitable care Commended him as a poor friendless man, Belated and by sickness overcome. Assured that now the traveller would repose In comfort, I entreated that henceforth He would not linger in the public ways, But ask for timely furtherance and help Such as his state required. At this reproof, With the same ghastly mildness in his look, He said, "My trust is in the God of Heaven, And in the eye of him who passes me!" The cottage door was speedily unbarred, And now the soldier touched his hat once more With his lean hand, and in a faltering voice, Whose tone bespake reviving interests Till then unfelt, he thanked me; I returned The farewell blessing of the patient man, And so we parted. Back I cast a look, And lingered near the door a little space, Then sought with quiet heart my distant home.

Comment Section just now

Feel free to be first to leave comment.

8/2200 - 0