William Wordsworth

The Waggoner - Canto Third

RIGHT gladly had the horses stirred, When they the wished-for greeting heard, The whip's loud notice from the door, That they were free to move once more. You think, those doings must have bred In them disheartening doubts and dread; No, not a horse of all the eight, Although it be a moonless night, Fears either for himself or freight; For this they know (and let it hide, In part, the offences of their guide) That Benjamin, with clouded brains, Is worth the best with all their pains; And, if they had a prayer to make, The prayer would be that they may take With him whatever comes in course, The better fortune or the worse; That no one else may have business near them, And, drunk or sober, he may steer them. So, forth in dauntless mood they fare, And with them goes the guardian pair. Now, heroes, for the true commotion, The triumph of your late devotion Can aught on earth impede delight, Still mounting to a higher height; And higher still--a greedy flight! Can any low-born care pursue her, Can any mortal clog come to her? No notion have they--not a thought, That is from joyless regions brought! And, while they coast the silent lake, Their inspiration I partake; Share their empyreal spirits--yea, With their enraptured vision, see-- O fancy--what a jubilee! What shifting pictures--clad in gleams Of colour bright as feverish dreams! Earth, spangled sky, and lake serene, Involved and restless all--a scene Pregnant with mutual exaltation, Rich change, and multiplied creation! This sight to me the Muse imparts;-- And then, what kindness in their hearts! What tears of rapture, what vow-making, Profound entreaties, and hand-shaking! What solemn, vacant, interlacing, As if they'd fall asleep embracing! Then, in the turbulence of glee, And in the excess of amity, Says Benjamin, "That Ass of thine, He spoils thy sport, and hinders mine: If he were tethered to the waggon, He'd drag as well what he is dragging, And we, as brother should with brother, Might trudge it alongside each other!" Forthwith, obedient to command, The horses made a quiet stand; And to the waggon's skirts was tied The Creature, by the Mastiff's side, The Mastiff wondering, and perplext With dread of what will happen next; And thinking it but sorry cheer, To have such company so near! This new arrangement made, the Wain Through the still night proceeds again; No Moon hath risen her light to lend; But indistinctly may be kenned The VANGUARD, following close behind, Sails spread, as if to catch the wind! "Thy wife and child are snug and warm, Thy ship will travel without harm; I like," said Benjamin, "her shape and stature: And this of mine--this bulky creature Of which I have the steering--this, Seen fairly, is not much amiss! We want your streamers, friend, you know; But, altogether as we go, We make a kind of handsome show! Among these hills, from first to last, We've weathered many a furious blast; Hard passage forcing on, with head Against the storm, and canvas spread. I hate a boaster; but to thee Will say't, who know'st both land and sea, The unluckiest hulk that stems the brine Is hardly worse beset than mine, When cross-winds on her quarter beat; And, fairly lifted from my feet, I stagger onward--heaven knows how; But not so pleasantly as now: Poor pilot I, by snows confounded, And many a foundrous pit surrounded! Yet here we are, by night and day Grinding through rough and smooth our way; Through foul and fair our task fulfilling; And long shall be so yet--God willing!" "Ay," said the Tar, "through fair and foul-- But save us from yon screeching owl!" That instant was begun a fray Which called their thoughts another way: The mastiff, ill-conditioned carl! What must he do but growl and snarl, Still more and more dissatisfied With the meek comrade at his side! Till, not incensed though put to proof, The Ass, uplifting a hind hoof, Salutes the Mastiff on the head; And so were better manners bred, And all was calmed and quieted. "Yon screech-owl," says the Sailor, turning Back to his former cause of mourning, "Yon owl!--pray God that all be well! 'Tis worse than any funeral bell; As sure as I've the gift of sight, We shall be meeting ghosts to-night!" --Said Benjamin, "This whip shall lay A thousand, if they cross our way. I know that Wanton's noisy station, I know him and his occupation; The jolly bird hath learned his cheer Upon the banks of Windermere; Where a tribe of them make merry, Mocking the Man that keeps the ferry; Hallooing from an open throat, Like travellers shouting for a boat. --The tricks he learned at Windermere This vagrant owl is playing here-- That is the worst of his employment: He's at the top of his enjoyment!" This explanation stilled the alarm, Cured the foreboder like a charm; This, and the manner, and the voice, Summoned the Sailor to rejoice; His heart is up--he fears no evil From life or death, from man or devil; He wheels--and, making many stops, Brandished his crutch against the mountain tops; And, while he talked of blows and scars, Benjamin, among the stars, Beheld a dancing--and a glancing; Such retreating and advancing As, I ween, was never seen In bloodiest battle since the days of Mars!

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