William Wordsworth

Poems and extracts

The Discharged Soldier

The Old Cumberland Beggar

The London Beggar

To Toussaint L’Ouverture

Nutting

The Infant Babe

The Idiot Boy

“The Discharged Soldier,” from The Prelude, Book 4.

Once, when those summer months                                                     370
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                           380
 
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,                                     390
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,                                            400
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,                                          410
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,                                                      420
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.                                             430
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 demeanor calm,                                             440
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                                                         450
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 ! "                                           460
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.
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“The Old Cumberland Beggar”

Wordsworth prefixed the following note to the poem: “The class of beggars to which the old man here described belongs will probably soon be extinct. It consisted of poor and, mostly, old and infirm persons, who confined themselves to a stated round in their neighbourhood, and had certain fixed days on which, at different houses, they regularly received alms, sometimes of money, but mostly in provisions.” He further remarked that as a child he himself had been benefited by such a spectacle.” The political economists were about that time beginning their war on mendicity in all its forms, and, by implication if not directly, on almsgiving also.”

1          I saw an aged Beggar in my walk;
2          And he was seated, by the highway side,
3          On a low structure of rude masonry
4          Built at the foot of a huge hill, that they
5          Who lead their horses down the steep rough road
6          May thence remount at ease. The aged Man
7          Had placed his staff across the broad smooth stone
8          That overlays the pile; and, from a bag
9          All white with flour, the dole of village dames,
10        He drew his scraps and fragments, one by one;
11        And scanned them with a fixed and serious look
12        Of idle computation. In the sun,
13        Upon the second step of that small pile,
14        Surrounded by those wild, unpeopled hills,
15        He sat, and ate his food in solitude:
16        And ever, scattered from his palsied hand,
17        That, still attempting to prevent the waste,
18        Was baffled still, the crumbs in little showers
19        Fell on the ground; and the small mountain birds
20        Not venturing yet to peck their destined meal,
21        Approached within the length of half his staff.
22        Him from my childhood have I known; and then
23        He was so old, he seems not older now;
24        He travels on, a solitary Man,
25        So helpless in appearance, that from him
26        The sauntering Horseman throws not with a slack
27        And careless hand his alms upon the ground,
28        But stops,--that he may safely lodge the coin
29        Within the old Man's hat; nor quits him so,
30        But still, when he has given his horse the rein,
31        Watches the aged Beggar with a look
32        Sidelong, and half-reverted. She who tends
33        The toll-gate, when in summer at her door
34        She turns her wheel, if on the road she sees
35        The aged Beggar coming, quits her work,
36        And lifts the latch for him that he may pass.
37        The post-boy, when his rattling wheels o'ertake
38        The aged Beggar in the woody lane,
39        Shouts to him from behind; and if, thus warned,
40        The old Man does not change his course, the boy
41        Turns with less noisy wheels to the roadside,
42        And passes gently by, without a curse
43        Upon his lips, or anger at his heart.
44        He travels on, a solitary Man;
45        His age has no companion. On the ground
46        His eyes are turned, and, as he moves along,
47        They move along the ground; and, evermore,
48        Instead of common and habitual sight
49        Of fields, with rural works, of hill and dale,
50        And the blue sky, one little span of earth
51        Is all his prospect. Thus, from day to day,
52        Bow-bent, his eyes forever on the ground,
53        He plies his weary journey; seeing still,
54        And seldom knowing that he sees, some straw,
55        Some scattered leaf, or marks which, in one track,
56        The nails of cart or chariot-wheel have left
57        Impressed on the white road,--in the same line,
58        At distance still the same. Poor Traveller!
59        His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
60        Disturb the summer dust; he is so still
61        In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
62        Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
63        Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
64        The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
65        And urchins newly breeched--all pass him by:
66        Him even the slow-paced waggon leaves behind.
 
67        But deem not this Man useless.--Statesmen! ye
68        Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
69        Who have a broom still ready in your hands
70        To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
71        Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
72        Your talents, power, or wisdom, deem him not
73        A burden of the earth! 'Tis Nature's law
74        That none, the meanest of created things,
75        Of forms created the most vile and brute,
76        The dullest or most noxious, should exist
77        Divorced from good--a spirit and pulse of good,
78        A life and soul, to every mode of being
79        Inseparably linked. Then be assured
80        That least of all can aught--that ever owned
81        The heaven-regarding eye and front sublime
82        Which man is born to--sink, howe'er depressed,
83        So low as to be scorned without a sin;
84        Without offence to God cast out of view;
85        Like the dry remnant of a garden-flower
86        Whose seeds are shed, or as an implement
87        Worn out and worthless. While from door to door,
88        This old Man creeps, the villagers in him
89        Behold a record which together binds
90        Past deeds and offices of charity,
91        Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
92        The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
93        And that half-wisdom half-experience gives,
94        Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
95        To selfishness and cold oblivious cares,
96        Among the farms and solitary huts,
97        Hamlets and thinly-scattered villages,
98        Where'er the aged Beggar takes his rounds,
99        The mild necessity of use compels
100      The acts of love; and habit does the work
101      Of reason; yet prepares that after-joy
102      Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul,
103      By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued,
104      Doth find herself insensibly disposed
105      To virtue and true goodness.
 
106                                  Some there are
107      By their good works exalted, lofty minds
108      And meditative, authors of delight
109      And happiness, which to the end of time
110      Will live, and spread, and kindle: even such minds
111      In childhood, from this solitary Being,
112      Or from like wanderer, haply have received
113      (A thing more precious far than all that books
114      Or the solicitudes of love can do!)
115      That first mild touch of sympathy and thought,
116      In which they found their kindred with a world
117      Where want and sorrow were. The easy man
118      Who sits at his own door,--and, like the pear
119      That overhangs his head from the green wall,
120      Feeds in the sunshine; the robust and young,
121      The prosperous and unthinking, they who live
122      Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove
123      Of their own kindred;--all behold in him
124      A silent monitor, which on their minds
125      Must needs impress a transitory thought
126      Of self-congratulation, to the heart
127      Of each recalling his peculiar boons,
128      His charters and exemptions; and, perchance,
129      Though he to no one give the fortitude
130      And circumspection needful to preserve
131      His present blessings, and to husband up
132      The respite of the season, he, at least,
133      And 't is no vulgar service, makes them felt.
134      Yet further.--Many, I believe, there are
135      Who live a life of virtuous decency,
136      Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel
137      No self-reproach; who of the moral law
138      Established in the land where they abide
139      Are strict observers; and not negligent
140      In acts of love to those with whom they dwell,
141      Their kindred, and the children of their blood.
142      Praise be to such, and to their slumbers peace!
143      But of the poor man ask, the abject poor;
144      Go, and demand of him, if there be here
145      In this cold abstinence from evil deeds,
146      And these inevitable charities,
147      Wherewith to satisfy the human soul?
148      No--man is dear to man; the poorest poor
149      Long for some moments in a weary life
150      When they can know and feel that they have been,
151      Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
152      Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
153      As needed kindness, for this single cause,
154      That we have all of us one human heart.
 
155      --Such pleasure is to one kind Being known,
156      My neighbour, when with punctual care, each week
157      Duly as Friday comes, though pressed herself
158      By her own wants, she from her store of meal
159      Takes one unsparing handful for the scrip
160      Of this old Mendicant, and, from her door
161      Returning with exhilarated heart,
162      Sits by her fire, and builds her hope in heaven.
163      Then let him pass, a blessing on his head!
164      And while in that vast solitude to which
165      The tide of things has borne him, he appears
166      To breathe and live but for himself alone,
167      Unblamed, uninjured, let him bear about
168      The good which the benignant law of Heaven
169      Has hung around him: and, while life is his,
170      Still let him prompt the unlettered villagers
171      To tender offices and pensive thoughts.
 
172      --Then let him pass, a blessing on his head!
173      And, long as he can wander, let him breathe
174      The freshness of the valleys; let his blood
175      Struggle with frosty air and winter snows;
176      And let the chartered wind that sweeps the heath
177      Beat his grey locks against his withered face.
178      Reverence the hope whose vital anxiousness
179      Gives the last human interest to his heart.
180      May never HOUSE, misnamed of INDUSTRY,
181      Make him a captive!--for that pent-up din,
182      Those life-consuming sounds that clog the air,
183      Be his the natural silence of old age!
184      Let him be free of mountain solitudes;
185      And have around him, whether heard or not,
186      The pleasant melody of woodland birds.
187      Few are his pleasures: if his eyes have now
188      Been doomed so long to settle upon earth
189      That not without some effort they behold
190      The countenance of the horizontal sun,
191      Rising or setting, let the light at least
192      Find a free entrance to their languid orbs.
193      And let him, where and when he will, sit down
194      Beneath the trees, or on a grassy bank
195      Of highway side, and with the little birds
196      Share his chance-gathered meal; and, finally,
197      As in the eye of Nature he has lived,
198      So in the eye of Nature let him die!
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“The London Beggar” from The Prelude, Book 7.

How oft, amid those overflowing streets, 
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said 
Unto myself, " The face of every one 
That passes by me is a mystery ! " 
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed                            630
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how, 
Until the shapes before my eyes became 
A second-sight procession, such as glides 
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams ; 
And once, far-travelled in such mood, beyond 
The reach of common indication, lost 
Amid the moving pageant, I was smitten 
Abruptly, with the view (a sight not rare) 
Of a blind Beggar, who, with upright face, 
Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest                                    640
Wearing a written paper, to explain
His story, whence he came, and who he was. 
Caught by the spectacle my mind turned round 
As with the might of waters ; and apt type 
This label seemed of the utmost we can know, 
Both of ourselves and of the universe ; 
And, on the shape of that unmoving man 
His steadfast face and sightless eyes, I gazed, 
As if admonished from another world. 
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“To Toussaint L’Ouverture”

TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy of men!  
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den; -
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“Nutting”

—It seems a day
(I speak of one from many singled out)
One of those heavenly days that cannot die;
When, in the eagerness of boyish hope,
I left our cottage-threshold, sallying forth
With a huge wallet o'er my shoulders slung,
A nutting-crook in hand; and turned my steps
Tow'rd some far-distant wood, a Figure quaint,
Tricked out in proud disguise of cast-off weeds
Which for that service had been husbanded,
By exhortation of my frugal Dame—
Motley accoutrement, of power to smile
At thorns, and brakes, and brambles,—and, in truth,
More ragged than need was! O'er pathless rocks,
Through beds of matted fern, and tangled thickets,
Forcing my way, I came to one dear nook
Unvisited, where not a broken bough
Drooped with its withered leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation; but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung,
A virgin scene!—A little while I stood,
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in; and, with wise restraint
Voluptuous, fearless of a rival, eyed
The banquet;—or beneath the trees I sate
Among the flowers, and with the flowers I played;
A temper known to those, who, after long
And weary expectation, have been blest
With sudden happiness beyond all hope.
Perhaps it was a bower beneath whose leaves
The violets of five seasons re-appear
And fade, unseen by any human eye;
Where fairy water-breaks do murmur on
For ever; and I saw the sparkling foam,
And—with my cheek on one of those green stones
That, fleeced with moss, under the shady trees,
Lay round me, scattered like a flock of sheep—
I heard the murmur, and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease; and, of its joy secure,
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being: and, unless I now
Confound my present feelings with the past;
Ere from the mutilated bower I turned
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings,
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky.—
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“The Infant Babe” (from The Prelude)

Bless'd the infant Babe,
(For with my best conjectures I would trace
The progress of our Being) blest the Babe,
Nurs'd in his Mother's arms, the Babe who sleeps
Upon his Mother's breast, who, when his soul
Claims manifest kindred with an earthly soul,
Doth gather passion from his Mother's eye!
Such feelings pass into his torpid life
Like an awakening breeze, and hence his mind
Even [in the first trial of its powers]
Is prompt and watchful, eager to combine
In one appearance, all the elements
And parts of the same object, else detach'd
And loth to coalesce. Thus, day by day,
Subjected to the discipline of love,
His organs and recipient faculties
Are quicken'd, are more vigorous, his mind spreads,
Tenacious of the forms which it receives.
In one beloved presence, nay and more,
In that most apprehensive habitude
And those sensations which have been deriv'd
From this beloved Presence, there exists
A virtue which irradiates and exalts
All objects through all intercourse of sense.
No outcast he, bewilder'd and depress'd;
Along his infant veins are interfus'd
The gravitation and the filial bond
Of nature, that connect him with the world.
Emphatically such a Being lives,
An inmate of this active universe;
From nature largely he receives; nor so
Is satisfied, but largely gives again,
For feeling has to him imparted strength,
And powerful in all sentiments of grief,
Of exultation, fear, and joy, his mind,
Even as an agent of the one great mind,
Creates, creator and receiver both,
Working but in alliance with the works
Which it beholds.—Such, verily, is the first
Poetic spirit of our human life;
By uniform control of after years
In most abated or suppress'd, in some,
Through every change of growth or of decay,
Pre-eminent till death.
 
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

“The Idiot Boy”

'Tis eight o'clock,--a clear March night,
The moon is up,--the sky is blue,
The owlet, in the moonlight air,
Shouts from nobody knows where;
He lengthens out his lonely shout,
Halloo! halloo! a long halloo!

--Why bustle thus about your door,
What means this bustle, Betty Foy?
Why are you in this mighty fret?
And why on horseback have you set
Him whom you love, your Idiot Boy?

Scarcely a soul is out of bed;
Good Betty, put him down again;
His lips with joy they burr at you;
But, Betty! what has he to do
With stirrup, saddle, or with rein?

But Betty's bent on her intent;
For her good neighbour, Susan Gale,
Old Susan, she who dwells alone,
Is sick, and makes a piteous moan
As if her very life would fail.

There's not a house within a mile,
No hand to help them in distress;
Old Susan lies a-bed in pain,
And sorely puzzled are the twain,
For what she ails they cannot guess.

And Betty's husband's at the wood,
Where by the week he doth abide,
A woodman in the distant vale;
There's none to help poor Susan Gale;
What must be done? what will betide?

And Betty from the lane has fetched
Her Pony, that is mild and good;
Whether he be in joy or pain,
Feeding at will along the lane,
Or bringing faggots from the wood.

And he is all in travelling trim,--
And, by the moonlight, Betty Foy
Has on the well-girt saddle set
(The like was never heard of yet)
Him whom she loves, her Idiot Boy.

And he must post without delay
Across the bridge and through the dale,
And by the church, and o'er the down,
To bring a Doctor from the town,
Or she will die, old Susan Gale.

There is no need of boot or spur,
There is no need of whip or wand;
For Johnny has his holly-bough,
And with a 'hurly-burly' now
He shakes the green bough in his hand.

And Betty o'er and o'er has told
The Boy, who is her best delight,
Both what to follow, what to shun,
What do, and what to leave undone,
How turn to left, and how to right.

And Betty's most especial charge,
Was, 'Johnny! Johnny! mind that you
Come home again, nor stop at all,--
Come home again, whate'er befall,
My Johnny, do, I pray you do.'

To this did Johnny answer make,
Both with his head and with his hand,
And proudly shook the bridle too;
And then! his words were not a few,
Which Betty well could understand.

And now that Johnny is just going,
Though Betty's in a mighty flurry,
She gently pats the Pony's side,
On which her Idiot Boy must ride,
And seems no longer in a hurry.

But when the Pony moved his legs,
Oh! then for the poor Idiot Boy!
For joy he cannot hold the bridle,
For joy his head and heels are idle,
He's idle all for very joy.

And while the Pony moves his legs,
In Johnny's left hand you may see
The green bough motionless and dead:
The Moon that shines above his head
Is not more still and mute than he.

His heart it was so full of glee,
That till full fifty yards were gone,
He quite forgot his holly whip,
And all his skill in horsemanship:
Oh! happy, happy, happy John.

And while the Mother, at the door,
Stands fixed, her face with joy o'erflows,
Proud of herself, and proud of him,
She sees him in his travelling trim,
How quietly her Johnny goes.

The silence of her Idiot Boy,
What hopes it sends to Betty's heart!
He's at the guide-post--he turns right;
She watches till he's out of sight,
And Betty will not then depart.

Burr, burr--now Johnny's lips they burr,
As loud as any mill, or near it;
Meek as a lamb the Pony moves,
And Johnny makes the noise he loves, 0
And Betty listens, glad to hear it.

Away she hies to Susan Gale:
Her Messenger's in merry tune;
The owlets hoot, the owlets curr,
And Johnny's lips they burr, burr, burr,
As on he goes beneath the moon.

His steed and he right well agree;
For of this Pony there's a rumour,
That, should he lose his eyes and ears,
And should he live a thousand years,
He never will be out of humour.

But then he is a horse that thinks!
And when he thinks, his pace is slack;
Now, though he knows poor Johnny well,
Yet, for his life, he cannot tell
What he has got upon his back.

So through the moonlight lanes they go,
And far into the moonlight dale,
And by the church, and o'er the down,
To bring a Doctor from the town,
To comfort poor old Susan Gale.

And Betty, now at Susan's side,
Is in the middle of her story,
What speedy help her Boy will bring,
With many a most diverting thing,
Of Johnny's wit, and Johnny's glory.

And Betty, still at Susan's side,
By this time is not quite so flurried:
Demure with porringer and plate
She sits, as if in Susan's fate
Her life and soul were buried.

But Betty, poor good woman! she,
You plainly in her face may read it,
Could lend out of that moment's store
Five years of happiness or more
To any that might need it.

But yet I guess that now and then
With Betty all was not so well;
And to the road she turns her ears,
And thence full many a sound she hears,
Which she to Susan will not tell.

Poor Susan moans, poor Susan groans;
'As sure as there's a moon in heaven,'
Cries Betty, 'he'll be back again;
They'll both be here--'tis almost ten--
Both will be here before eleven.'

Poor Susan moans, poor Susan groans;
The clock gives warning for eleven;
'Tis on the stroke--'He must be near,'
Quoth Betty, 'and will soon be here,
As sure as there's a moon in heaven.'

The clock is on the stroke of twelve,
And Johnny is not yet in sight:
--The Moon's in heaven, as Betty sees,
But Betty is not quite at ease;
And Susan has a dreadful night.

And Betty, half an hour ago,
On Johnny vile reflections cast:
'A little idle sauntering Thing!'
With other names, an endless string;
But now that time is gone and past.

And Betty's drooping at the heart,
That happy time all past and gone,
'How can it be he is so late?
The Doctor, he has made him wait;
Susan! they'll both be here anon.'

And Susan's growing worse and worse,
And Betty's in a sad 'quandary';
And then there's nobody to say
If she must go, or she must stay!
--She's in a sad 'quandary'.

The clock is on the stroke of one;
But neither Doctor nor his Guide
Appears along the moonlight road;
There's neither horse nor man abroad,
And Betty's still at Susan's side.

And Susan now begins to fear
Of sad mischances not a few,
That Johnny may perhaps be drowned;
Or lost, perhaps, and never found;
Which they must both for ever rue.

She prefaced half a hint of this
With, 'God forbid it should be true!'
At the first word that Susan said
Cried Betty, rising from the bed,
'Susan, I'd gladly stay with you.

'I must be gone, I must away:
Consider, Johnny's but half-wise;
Susan, we must take care of him,
If he is hurt in life or limb'--
'Oh God forbid!' poor Susan cries.

'What can I do?' says Betty, going,
'What can I do to ease your pain?
Good Susan tell me, and I'll stay;
I fear you're in a dreadful way,
But I shall soon be back again.'

'Nay, Betty, go! good Betty, go!
There's nothing that can ease my pain,'
Then off she hies, but with a prayer
That God poor Susan's life would spare, 0
Till she comes back again.

So, through the moonlight lane she goes,
And far into the moonlight dale;
And how she ran, and how she walked,
And all that to herself she talked,
Would surely be a tedious tale.

In high and low, above, below,
In great and small, in round and square,
In tree and tower was Johnny seen,
In bush and brake, in black and green;
'Twas Johnny, Johnny, every where.

And while she crossed the bridge, there came
A thought with which her heart is sore--
Johnny perhaps his horse forsook,
To hunt the moon within the brook,
And never will be heard of more.

Now is she high upon the down,
Alone amid a prospect wide;
There's neither Johnny nor his Horse
Among the fern or in the gorse;
There's neither Doctor nor his Guide.

'O saints! what is become of him?
Perhaps he's climbed into an oak,
Where he will stay till he is dead;
Or, sadly he has been misled,
And joined the wandering gipsy-folk.

'Or him that wicked Pony's carried
To the dark cave, the goblin's hall;
Or in the castle he's pursuing
Among the ghosts his own undoing;
Or playing with the waterfall.'

At poor old Susan then she railed,
While to the town she posts away;
'If Susan had not been so ill,
Alas! I should have had him still,
My Johnny, till my dying day.'

Poor Betty, in this sad distemper,
The Doctor's self could hardly spare:
Unworthy things she talked, and wild;
Even he, of cattle the most mild,
The Pony had his share.

But now she's fairly in the town,
And to the Doctor's door she hies;
'Tis silence all on every side;
The town so long, the town so wide,
Is silent as the skies.

And now she's at the Doctor's door,
She lifts the knocker, rap, rap, rap;
The Doctor at the casement shows
His glimmering eyes that peep and doze!
And one hand rubs his old night-cap.

'O Doctor! Doctor! where's my Johnny?'
'I'm here, what is't you want with me?'
'O Sir! you know I'm Betty Foy,
And I have lost my poor dear Boy,
You know him--him you often see;

'He's not so wise as some folks be:'
'The devil take his wisdom!' said
The Doctor, looking somewhat grim,
'What, Woman! should I know of him?'
And, grumbling, he went back to bed!

'O woe is me! O woe is me!
Here will I die, here will I die;
I thought to find my lost one here,
But he is neither far nor near,
Oh! what a wretched Mother I!'

She stops, she stands, she looks about;
Which way to turn she cannot tell.
Poor Betty! it would ease her pain
If she had heart to knock again;
--The clock strikes three--a dismal knell!

Then up along the town she hies,
No wonder if her senses fail;
This piteous news so much it shocked her,
She quite forgot to send the Doctor,
To comfort poor old Susan Gale.

And now she's high upon the down,
And she can see a mile of road:
'O cruel! I'm almost threescore;
Such night as this was ne'er before,
There's not a single soul abroad.'

She listens, but she cannot hear
The foot of horse, the voice of man;
The streams with softest sound are flowing,
The grass you almost hear it growing,
You hear it now, if e'er you can.

The owlets through the long blue night
Are shouting to each other still:
Fond lovers! yet not quite hob nob,
They lengthen out the tremulous sob,
That echoes far from hill to hill.

Poor Betty now has lost all hope,
Her thoughts are bent on deadly sin,
A green-grown pond she just has past,
And from the brink she hurries fast,
Lest she should drown herself therein.

And now she sits her down and weeps;
Such tears she never shed before;
'Oh dear, dear Pony! my sweet joy!
Oh carry back my Idiot Boy! 0
And we will ne'er o'erload thee more.'

A thought is come into her head:
The Pony he is mild and good,
And we have always used him well;
Perhaps he's gone along the dell,
And carried Johnny to the wood.

Then up she springs as if on wings;
She thinks no more of deadly sin;
If Betty fifty ponds should see,
The last of all her thoughts would be
To drown herself therein.

O Reader! now that I might tell
What Johnny and his Horse are doing
What they've been doing all this time,
Oh could I put it into rhyme,
A most delightful tale pursuing!

Perhaps, and no unlikely thought!
He with his Pony now doth roam
The cliffs and peaks so high that are,
To lay his hands upon a star,
And in his pocket bring it home.

Perhaps he's turned himself about,
His face unto his horse's tail,
And, still and mute, in wonder lost,
All silent as a horseman-ghost,
He travels slowly down the vale.

And now, perhaps, is hunting sheep,
A fierce and dreadful hunter he;
Yon valley, now so trim and green,
In five months' time, should he be seen,
A desert wilderness will be!

Perhaps, with head and heels on fire,
And like the very soul of evil,
He's galloping away, away,
And so will gallop on for aye,
The bane of all that dread the devil!

I to the Muses have been bound
These fourteen years, by strong indentures:
O gentle Muses! let me tell
But half of what to him befell;
He surely met with strange adventures.

O gentle Muses! is this kind?
Why will ye thus my suit repel?
Why of your further aid bereave me?
And can ye thus unfriended leave me
Ye Muses! whom I love so well?

Who's yon, that, near the waterfall,
Which thunders down with headlong force,
Beneath the moon, yet shining fair,
As careless as if nothing were,
Sits upright on a feeding horse?

Unto his horse--there feeding free,
He seems, I think, the rein to give;
Of moon or stars he takes no heed;
Of such we in romances read:
--'Tis Johnny! Johnny! as I live.

And that's the very Pony, too!
Where is she, where is Betty Foy?
She hardly can sustain her fears;
The roaring waterfall she hears,
And cannot find her Idiot Boy.

Your Pony's worth his weight in gold:
Then calm your terrors, Betty Foy!
She's coming from among the trees,
And now all full in view she sees
Him whom she loves, her Idiot Boy.

And Betty sees the Pony too:
Why stand you thus, good Betty Foy?
It is no goblin, 'tis no ghost,
'Tis he whom you so long have lost,
He whom you love, your Idiot Boy.

She looks again--her arms are up--
She screams--she cannot move for joy;
She darts, as with a torrent's force,
She almost has o'erturned the Horse,
And fast she holds her Idiot Boy.

And Johnny burrs, and laughs aloud;
Whether in cunning or in joy
I cannot tell; but while he laughs,
Betty a drunken pleasure quaffs
To hear again her Idiot Boy.

And now she's at the Pony's tail,
And now is at the Pony's head,--
On that side now, and now on this;
And, almost stifled with her bliss,
A few sad tears does Betty shed.

She kisses o'er and o'er again
Him whom she loves, her Idiot Boy;
She's happy here, is happy there,
She is uneasy every where;
Her limbs are all alive with joy.

She pats the Pony, where or when
She knows not, happy Betty Foy!
The little Pony glad may be,
But he is milder far than she,
You hardly can perceive his joy.

'Oh! Johnny, never mind the Doctor;
You've done your best, and that is all:'
She took the reins, when this was said,
And gently turned the Pony's head 0
From the loud waterfall.

By this the stars were almost gone,
The moon was setting on the hill,
So pale you scarcely looked at her:
The little birds began to stir,
Though yet their tongues were still.

The Pony, Betty, and her Boy,
Wind slowly through the woody dale;
And who is she, betimes abroad,
That hobbles up the steep rough road?
Who is it, but old Susan Gale?

Long time lay Susan lost in thought;
And many dreadful fears beset her,
Both for her Messenger and Nurse;
And, as her mind grew worse and worse,
Her body--it grew better.

She turned, she tossed herself in bed,
On all sides doubts and terrors met her;
Point after point did she discuss;
And, while her mind was fighting thus,
Her body still grew better.

'Alas! what is become of them?
These fears can never be endured;
I'll to the wood.'--The word scarce said,
Did Susan rise up from her bed,
As if by magic cured.

Away she goes up hill and down,
And to the wood at length is come;
She spies her Friends, she shouts a greeting;
Oh me! it is a merry meeting
As ever was in Christendom.

The owls have hardly sung their last,
While our four travellers homeward wend;
The owls have hooted all night long,
And with the owls began my song,
And with the owls must end.

For while they all were travelling home,
Cried Betty, 'Tell us, Johnny, do,
Where all this long night you have been,
What you have heard, what you have seen:
And, Johnny, mind you tell us true.'

Now Johnny all night long had heard
The owls in tuneful concert strive;
No doubt too he the moon had seen;
For in the moonlight he had been
From eight o'clock till five.

And thus, to Betty's question, he
Made answer, like a traveller bold,
(His very words I give to you,)
'The cocks did crow to-whoo, to-whoo,
And the sun did shine so cold!'
--Thus answered Johnny in his glory,
And that was all his travel's story. 
Back to list of Wordsworth poems

Back to list of readings

%d bloggers like this: