Six Centuries of English Poetry - Tennyson to Chaucer
by James Baldwin
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Transcriber's Notes: Some typographical and punctuation errors have been corrected. A complete list follows the text. Words italicized in the original are surrounded by underscores. Words in bold in the original are surrounded by equal signs. Characters superscripted in the original are inclosed in {} brackets. More Transcriber's Notes follow the text.

Select English Classics










This is the first volume of a series of SELECT ENGLISH CLASSICS which the publishers have in course of preparation. The series will include an extensive variety of selections chosen from the different departments of English literature, and arranged and annotated for the use of classes in schools. It will embrace, among other things, representative specimens from all the best English writers, whether of poetry or of prose; selections from English dramatic literature, especially of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; choice extracts from the writings of the great essayists; selections from famous English allegories; a volume of elegies and elegiacal poetry; studies of English prose fiction, with illustrative specimens, etc. Each volume will contain copious notes, critical, explanatory, and biographical, besides the necessary vocabularies, glossaries, and indexes; and the series when complete will present a varied and comprehensive view of all that is best in English literature. For supplementary reading, as well as for systematic class instruction, the books will possess many peculiarly valuable as well as novel features; while their attractive appearance, combined with the sterling quality of their contents, will commend them for general reading and make them desirable acquisitions for every library.


There is but one study more interesting than the history of literature, and that is the study of literature itself. That the former should often be mistaken for the latter is scarcely to be wondered at when we consider the intimate and almost indivisible relationship existing between them. Yet, in truth, they are as capable of separate consideration as are music and the history of music.

[Sidenote: Anglo-Saxon Poetry.]

[Sidenote: The Transition Period.]

Any careful investigation of the history of English poetry would naturally begin at a point of time some six or seven hundred years earlier than that of Chaucer. From such investigation we should learn that even as early as the ninth century—perhaps, indeed, the eighth—there were in England some composers of verse in the Anglo-Saxon tongue; that the songs of these poets were chiefly of religion or of war, and that being written in a language very different from our modern English they can scarcely be considered as belonging properly to our literature; that among them, however, is a noble poem, "Beowulf," the oldest epic of any modern people, which was probably sung or recited by pagan minstrels long before it was written down in permanent form; that, after the conquest of England by the Normans, the early language of the English people underwent a long and tedious process of transition,—a blending, in a certain sense, with the Latinized and more polished tongue of their conquerors,—and that the result was the language which we now call English and are proud to claim as our own; that it was about three hundred years after the Norman Conquest, namely, in 1362, that this new tongue was officially recognized and authorized to be used in the courts at law throughout the land; and that about the same time Geoffrey Chaucer composed and wrote his first poems. We should learn, moreover, that, during the transition period mentioned above, there were many attempts at writing poetry, resulting in the production of tedious metrical romances (chiefly translated from the French) and interminable rhyming chronicles, pleasing, of course, to the people of that time, but wholly devoid of poetic excellence and unspeakably dull to modern readers; that these poems, so called, were little better than rhymed doggerels, written in couplets of eight-syllabled lines and having for their subjects the miraculous deeds of saints and heroes and the occurrence of supernatural or impossible phenomena; that the composers of these metrical romances and chronicles, although giving free rein to the imagination, were utterly destitute of poetic fancy and hence produced no true poetry; that, nevertheless, some writer was now and then inspired by a flash of real poetic fire, producing a few lines of remarkable freshness and beauty,—little lyrics shining forth like gems in the great mass of verbiage and rubbish and foretelling the glorious possibilities which were to be realized in the future.

[Sidenote: Piers Ploughman.]

Continuing this most interesting study, we should learn that just at the time that Chaucer was beginning the composition of his immortal works, there appeared an allegorical poem of considerable length, so earnest in tone, so richly imaginative, so full of picturesque descriptions, that it seemed rather a fulfilment than a prophecy; that this poem—called "The Vision of William concerning Piers Ploughman," and written by an obscure monk whose name was probably William Langland—was the greatest poem and the most popular that had ever been written in England, and yet that it failed in many ways of being true English poetry: its metre was irregular, and its rhythm was imperfect; its verses instead of rhyming were constructed in accordance with certain rules of alliteration; its subjects, while interesting, no doubt, to those for whom it was written, were not such as bring into play the highest powers of the imagination or incite the poetic fancy to its noblest flights. Then we should learn that while the ink from good Langland's pen was yet scarcely dry after his third revision of "Piers Ploughman," Geoffrey Chaucer came forward with his sweet imaginings bodied in immortal verse, his tuneful numbers, his "well of English undefiled,"—and English poetry, which now for more than five centuries has been the chief glory of our literature, had its true beginning.

[Sidenote: Three Schools of Poetry.]

Pursuing the study on lines which would now be more distinctly marked, we should observe that Chaucer's best poetry, as well as that of the poets who followed him in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was distinguished by its truthfulness to nature, by its expression in hearty and harmonious words of the finer emotions of the soul, and by the freedom and elasticity of its versification. We should learn that in the seventeenth century this style of poetry—sometimes called the romantic—was succeeded by another and very different fashion in poetic composition, introduced into England in imitation of continental and classical models: that this new style of versification—ignoring nature and making everything subservient to art—was purely artificial, characterized by "an oratorical pomp, a classical correctness, a theatrical dressing, abundance of moralizing"; and that, with Waller for its sponsor and Dryden and Pope for its high priests, it remained for a century and a half the favorite of the literary world, the model of poetic diction, the standard of poetic taste. We should learn that, towards the end of the eighteenth century, certain writers began to perceive that although attention to artistic rules in composition may be necessary to the best poetry, yet natural feeling, a cultivated imagination, and a fancy unrestrained by merely arbitrary limitations are even more indispensable; that these writers, rebelling against the established order of things, taught that there are elements of true poetry in the popular ballads of earlier times, that even the wearisome metrical romances of the Middle Ages are rich in suggestiveness and in materials for a nobler poetry, and that, instead of going to the classics and to society for subjects and models, the poet may find them in nature, in the life which is about him, and in a thousand sources never before suspected. Finally, we should learn that, at the very time when great revolutions in politics and philosophy were being inaugurated, a new spirit thus began to manifest itself in our literature,—a spirit of revolt against artificial restrictions and traditional methods,—which produced a glorious revival in English poetic composition and ushered in a third great school of poetry, distinguished for its breadth and freedom, as that which it superseded had been known for its elegance and precision.[6:1]

[Sidenote: The History of English Poetry.]

A study of the development of English poetry such as we have outlined above would involve a knowledge of the history of the English people and of the various circumstances and events which from time to time influenced our language and literature. It would also embrace many other topics, biographical, philological, rhetorical, and speculative, which have only a secondary relationship to the central idea of poetry. In fact, it would be a study not of poetry, but about poetry,—of the circumstances which suggested it, of the men who produced it, and of the origin of the word-forms and methods of versification which distinguish it. Such a study, altogether interesting and eminently profitable though it be, should not be undertaken by any student until he has acquired an extensive personal acquaintance with poetry itself. We may enjoy the beautiful creations of Tennyson, of Shelley, of Burns, even of Chaucer, without knowing one word of the history of poetry, without so much as knowing the names of the writers or the circumstances under which they wrote. But, on the other hand, to him who knows nothing of the masterpieces of our literature, save at second hand, the history of English letters must of necessity be dull, uninteresting, and often unintelligible. While to him who has prepared himself for its study by fitting himself for an appreciation of these noble creations and becoming thoroughly imbued with their spirit, what a field of delightful study does it offer!

[Sidenote: Object of this Book.]

[Sidenote: Methods of Study.]

The object of the present compilation is to aid in this preparatory work,—that is, to offer a plan for promoting the study OF poetry before the broader but less important study ABOUT poetry is undertaken. To this end we present for the student's consideration a few representative poems written at different times and by men of widely different tastes and talents during the six centuries which may be said to have elapsed since the formation of the modern English tongue. Our chief aim is to lead to such a study of these selections as shall help the reader to perceive and appreciate their true poetic qualities and enter into full sympathy with the thoughts and feelings which their writers intended to express. The first object to be sought in the study of these poems is the perception of those characteristic excellences which have made them universally admired and placed them among the classics of our language. To accomplish this object rationally and successfully, it is best to begin with those productions which are nearest to us in point of time and which are more in harmony with our own thoughts, and therefore easiest to understand and enjoy. An attempt to pursue these studies in chronological order, beginning with the works of Chaucer and the older poets, would oblige the student to encounter at the outset so many purely mechanical difficulties that he would fail to discern the spiritual qualities of truth, beauty, and goodness, which are the very essence of all genuine poetry. He would very naturally acquire a distaste for poetry long before he was able to understand it, and while he might attain to some considerable knowledge of the history of poetical literature, that literature itself would remain to him practically a sealed book. Hence, in the study of this subject, as in that of other branches, the true method is to present first that which is the least difficult, to "proceed from the known to the unknown," to begin with that which is near at hand and from it to proceed to the consideration of things more remote. Not only are the most of Tennyson's poems easily understood, but their beauty is readily apparent even to the most superficial readers. By the time we have read and extracted all the sweets from three or four of these, we shall be prepared to go a step farther and undertake the study of Wordsworth's immortal productions,—productions but little more difficult and but little less poetic. Thus, step by step, we may review the six centuries of English poetry which lie behind, and when at last we reach the time of Chaucer we shall be able to take hold of his works with understanding and with the zest which is begotten of true sympathy and appreciation. After the book has been thus completed, it may be well to run through it again, reversing the order of the lessons and this time considering the subjects in strict chronological order. Our first study of the book will have introduced us to English poetry, our second study of it will have given us some insight into the history of its development.

It is well to remember, while pursuing this course, that a taste for poetry is not acquired or fostered by an analysis of grammatical forms or by any study of words merely as such. To analyze a puzzling sentence or to trace the derivation of an interesting word to its roots sometimes helps one to understand a difficult expression or to perceive in it a meaning hitherto unsuspected; but to make the study of any selection consist largely of exercises of this kind is to substitute grammar or philology for literature. So, also, should it be borne in mind that while it is often interesting and sometimes necessary to become acquainted with certain details relative to the life of an author—the date of his birth, the character of his education, the influences which shaped his life and his work—yet such knowledge belongs to biography and is in no sense literature. The study of authors should never be substituted for the study of their works, and is usually profitable only so far as it helps the student to understand the peculiarities which distinguish those works and which are the result of certain personal characteristics. And yet it is no uncommon thing to find students acquainted with the minutest particulars in the lives of the great writers, while of the masterpieces of thought and expression, which are the glory of our literature, they betray a deplorable ignorance. Nor is this the case with pupils at school alone. "For once that we take down a Milton, and read a book of that 'voice,' as Wordsworth says, 'whose sound is like the sea,' we take up fifty times a magazine with something about Milton, or about Milton's grandmother, or a book stuffed with curious facts about the houses in which he lived, and the juvenile ailments of his first wife."[9:1]

[Sidenote: Practical Suggestions.]

In the study of the selections contained in this volume, the following method is recommended:—

1. The piece should be thoroughly committed to memory.

2. It should be recited or read by each member of the class in such manner as to bring out, if possible, his understanding of the meaning of every passage.

3. Study the poem as a whole, and let each pupil point out the beauties of thought or expression which distinguish it as a poetical composition.

4. Now study each stanza, or each independent thought, in its order, and endeavor to understand each word or expression just as the poet intended that it should be understood. The Notes appended to most of the selections are intended rather to suggest the line of study in this regard than to serve as exhaustive aids. The pupil should, so far as possible, investigate for himself and make his own discoveries. Questions concerning the derivation of words and the syntax of sentences are to be discussed only so far as they will aid in the understanding of some passage or of the piece as a whole.

5. Learn some of the most important facts connected with the author's life. What were the conditions under which he wrote this piece? What was the character of his education and of the other influences which shaped his life and distinguished his works? Learn what some of the leading critics have said concerning his works as a poet.

6. Finally, read the poem again, as a whole, and discuss its qualities as a work of literary art, and again point out its distinctive beauties and characteristic excellences.

The extracts given at the beginning of each Century will serve to keep in mind the leading peculiarities which distinguished the poetry of each period; and the lists of poets and their works will be found valuable for purposes of reference. Before beginning the study of the selections both teacher and pupils should read this Introduction carefully.


[6:1] See the quotation from Taine, page 15.

[9:1] Frederic Harrison: On the Choice of Books.





BY ALFRED TENNYSON:— The Lady of Shalott 17 The Brook 25 The Lotus Eaters 28

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH:— Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood 37 The Two April Mornings 49 The Solitary Reaper 51

BY S. T. COLERIDGE:— Christabel. Part I 55

BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY:— To a Skylark 67 Hymn of Pan 71 From Epipsychidion 74

BY JOHN KEATS:— Ode to a Nightingale 83 From The Eve of St. Agnes 87

BY ROBERT BURNS:— The Cotter's Saturday Night 97 To a Mountain Daisy 107 For a' that and a' that 109

BY WILLIAM COWPER:— Boadicea 113 On the Receipt of my Mother's Picture 115 Epitaph on a Hare 120

BY OLIVER GOLDSMITH:— The Village Parson 124 The Village Schoolmaster 125

BY THOMAS GRAY:— The Bard 129

BY ALEXANDER POPE:— From the Essay on Criticism 141 Ode on St. Cecilia's Day 147

BY JOHN DRYDEN:— Alexander's Feast 159 The Fire of London 169 Reason and Religion 174

BY JOHN MILTON:— On the Morning of Christ's Nativity 177 Wordsworth's Sonnet to Milton 196

BY ROBERT HERRICK:— To Phillis 197 The Mad Maid's Song 199 A Thanksgiving to God 200

BY EDMUND WALLER:— Song: Go, lovely Rose 203 Of English Verse 204 On a Girdle 205

BY BEN JONSON:— An Ode to Himself 207 To Cynthia 209 To the Memory of William Shakespeare 210 Herrick's Ode for Ben Jonson 214

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:— Venus's Advice to Adonis on Hunting 217 A Morning Song for Imogen 219 Sigh no more, Ladies 220 Sunshine and Cloud (Sonnet xxxiii.) 220 The World's Way (Sonnet lxvi.) 221

BY EDMUND SPENSER:— The Cave of Mammon 223 Prothalamion; or, a Spousall Verse 235

BY THOMAS WYATT:— A Love Song 247 The Courtier's Life 248

BY THE EARL OF SURREY:— From Virgil's neid 249 Sonnet: Geraldine 250 On the Death of Sir Thomas Wyatt 251

BALLADS:— Waly, waly 253 Sir Patrick Spens 255 The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington 259 Robin Hood and the Widow's three Sons 261

BY JOHN SKELTON:— To Maystress Margaret Hussey 269 Cardinal Wolsey 270

BY JOHN LYDGATE:— A Visit to London 273 The Golden Age 275

BY ROBERT HENRYSON:— The Garmond of Fair Ladies 277

BY WILLIAM DUNBAR:— A May Morning 279

BY GAWAIN DOUGLAS:— In Praise of Honour 281

BY GEOFFREY CHAUCER:— From the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales 287


The Nineteenth Century.

"Now appeared the English romantic school, a sect of 'dissenters in poetry,' who spoke out aloud, kept themselves close together, and repelled settled minds by the audacity and novelty of their theories. They had violently broken with tradition, and leaped over all classical culture, to take their models from the Renaissance and the middle-age. They sought, in the old national ballads and ancient poetry of foreign lands, the fresh and primitive accent which had been wanting in classical literature, and whose presence seemed to them to be a sign of truth and beauty. They proposed to adapt to poetry the ordinary language of conversation, such as is spoken in the middle and lower classes, and to replace studied phrases and a lofty vocabulary by natural tones and plebeian words. In place of the classic mould, they tried stanzas, sonnets, ballads, blank verse, with the roughness and subdivisions of the primitive poets. . . . Some had culled gigantic legends, piled up dreams, ransacked the East, Greece, Arabia, the Middle Ages, and overloaded the human imagination with hues and fancies from every clime. Others had buried themselves in metaphysics and moral philosophy, had mused indefatigably on the condition of man, and spent their lives on the sublime and the monotonous. Others, making a medley of crime and heroism, had conducted, through darkness and flashes of lightning, a train of contorted and terrible figures, desperate with remorse, relieved by their grandeur. Men wanted to rest after so many efforts and so much success. On the going out of the imaginative, sentimental, and Satanic school, Tennyson appeared exquisite. All the forms and ideas which had pleased them were found in him, but purified, modulated, set in a splendid style. He completed an age."—TAINE.

Poets of the Nineteenth Century.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850). See biographical note, page 52.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). "The Lay of the Last Minstrel"; "The Lady of the Lake"; "Marmion"; "The Lord of the Isles"; short poems.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). See biographical note, page 65.

Robert Southey (1774-1843). "Thalaba"; "Roderick, the last of the Goths"; "Joan of Arc"; "Madoc"; "The Curse of Kehama"; numerous short poems.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834). Chiefly short poems.

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). "Gebir"; and other poems.

Thomas Campbell (1777-1844). "Gertrude of Wyoming"; "The Pleasures of Hope"; short poems.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852). "Irish Melodies"; "Lalla Rookh"; "Rhymes on the Road"; "The Loves of the Angels," etc.

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). "Francesca Rimini"; "A Legend of Florence"; "Stories in Verse," etc.

Bryan Waller Procter ("Barry Cornwall") (1787-1874). "A Sicilian Story"; "English Songs," etc.

Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel) (1788-1824). "Childe Harold"; "The Giaour"; "Bride of Abydos"; "The Corsair"; "Lara"; "Hebrew Melodies"; "Siege of Corinth"; "Parisina"; "Manfred"; "Don Juan," etc.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). See biographical note, page 81.

John Keats (1795-1821). See biographical note, page 93.

Thomas Hood (1799-1845). Numerous short poems, chiefly humorous.

Lord Macaulay (1800-1859). "Lays of Ancient Rome."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1809-1861). "Prometheus Bound"; "Casa Guidi Windows"; "Sonnets from the Portuguese"; "Aurora Leigh"; "Poems before Congress"; "Last Poems."

Alfred Tennyson (Lord Tennyson) (1809-). See biographical note, page 35.

Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton) (1809-1885). "Historical Poems"; "Poetry for the People"; "Poems of Many Years."

Robert Browning (1812-1889). "Christmas Eve and Easter Day"; "Men and Women"; "The Ring and the Book"; "Balaustion's Adventure"; "Fifine at the Fair"; "Aristophanes' Apology," etc.

William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1813-1865). "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers"; "Ballads of Scotland," etc.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861). "The Bothie"; "Ambarvalia," etc.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875). "Andromeda"; many short poems.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1889). "The Strayed Reveller and other Poems"; "Balder."

Adelaide Anne Procter (1825-1864). "Legends and Lyrics"; "A Chaplet of Verses."

Robert Bulwer-Lytton ("Owen Meredith") (1831-1892). "Lucile"; "Marah," etc.

Alfred Tennyson.



On either side the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye, That clothe the wold{1} and meet the sky: And through the fields the road runs by To many-towered Camelot{2}; And up and down the people go, Gazing where the lilies blow Round an island there below, The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver, Little breezes dusk{3} and shiver Through the wave that runs forever By the island in the river Flowing down to Camelot; Four gray walls, and four gray towers, Overlook a space of flowers, And the silent isle imbowers The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veiled, Slide the heavy barges, trailed{4} By slow horses; and unhailed The shallop flitteth silken-sailed, Skimming down to Camelot: But who hath seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand? Or is she known in all the land, The lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early In among the bearded barley, Hear a song that echoes cheerly From the river winding clearly, Down to towered Camelot: And by the moon the reaper weary, Piling sheaves in uplands airy, Listening, whispers, "'Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott."


There she weaves by night and day A magic web{5} with colors gay. She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the curse may be, And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear. There she sees the highway near Winding down to Camelot: There the river-eddy whirls, And there the surly village-churls, And the red cloaks of market girls Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad, An abbott on an ambling pad,{6} Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad Or long-haired page in crimson clad, Goes by to towered Camelot; And sometimes through the mirror blue, The knights come riding two and two: She hath no loyal knight and true, The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights To weave the mirrored magic sights, For often through the silent nights A funeral, with plumes and lights, And music, went to Camelot; Or, when the moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed. "I am half-sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott.{7}


A bow-shot from her bower-eaves, He rode between the barley-sheaves, The sun came dazzling through the leaves, And flamed upon the brazen greaves Of bold Sir Lancelot. A red-cross{8} knight forever kneeled To a lady in his shield That sparkled on the yellow field, Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glittered free, Like to some branch of stars we see Hung in the golden Galaxy.{9} The bridle-bells rang merrily As he rode down to Camelot: And from his blazoned baldric{10} slung A mighty silver bugle hung, And as he rode his armor rung, Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather, The helmet and the helmet-feather Burned like one burning flame together, As he rode down to Camelot. As often through the purple night, Below the starry clusters bright, Some bearded meteor,{11} trailing light, Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed; On burnished hooves his war-horse trode; From underneath his helmet flowed His coal-black curls as on he rode, As he rode down to Camelot. From the bank and from the river He flashed{12} into the crystal mirror, "Tirra lirra," by the river{13} Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom, She made three paces through the room, She saw the water-lily bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She looked down to Camelot. Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror cracked from side to side; "The curse is come upon me," cried The Lady of Shalott.


In the stormy east-wind straining, The pale yellow woods were waning, The broad stream in his banks complaining, Heavily the low sky raining Over towered Camelot; Down she came and found a boat Beneath a willow left afloat, And round about the prow she wrote, The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse— Like some bold ser in a trance, Seeing all his own mischance— With a glassy countenance Did she look to Camelot. And at the closing of the day She loosed the chain, and down she lay; The broad stream bore her far away, The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white That loosely flew to left and right— The leaves upon her falling light— Through the noises of the night She floated down to Camelot: And as the boat-head wound along The willowy hills and fields among, They heard her singing her last song, The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy, Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, Till her blood was frozen slowly, And her eyes were darkened wholly, Turned to towered Camelot; For ere she reached upon the tide The first house by the water-side, Singing in her song she died, The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony, By garden-wall and gallery, A gleaming shape she floated by, A corse between the houses high, Silent into Camelot. Out upon the wharfs they came, Knight and burgher, lord and dame, And round the prow they read her name, The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here? And in the lighted palace near Died the sound of royal cheer; And they crossed themselves for fear, All the knights at Camelot; But Lancelot mused a little space; He said, "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott."


This poem was written in 1832. Considered as a picture, or as a series of pictures, its beauty is unsurpassed. The story which is here so briefly told is founded upon a touching legend connected with the romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Tennyson afterwards (in 1859) expanded it into the Idyll called "Elaine," wherein he followed more closely the original narrative as related by Sir Thomas Malory.

Sir Lancelot was the strongest and bravest of the Knights of the Round Table, and for him Elaine, "the fair maid of Astolat," conceived a hopeless passion. "Her love was platonic and pure as that of a child, but it was masterful in its strength." Having learned that Lancelot was pledged to celibacy, she pined away and died. But before her death she called her brother, and having dictated a letter which he was to write, she spake thus:

"'While my body is whole, let this letter be put into my right hand, and my hand bound fast with the letter until I be cold, and let me be put in a fair bed with all my richest clothes that I have about me, and so let my bed and all my rich clothes be laid with me in a chariot to the next place whereas the Thames is, and there let me be put in a barge, and but one man with me, such as ye trust to steer me thither, and that my barge be covered with black samite over and over.' . . . So when she was dead, the corpse and the bed and all was led the next way unto the Thames, and there all were put in a barge on the Thames, and so the man steered the barge to Westminster, and there he rowed a great while to and fro, or any man espied."[23:A] At length the King and his Knights, coming down to the waterside, and seeing the boat and the lily maid of Astolat, they uplifted the hapless body of Elaine, and bore it to the hall.

"But Arthur spied the letter in her hand, Stoopt, took, brake seal, and read it; this was all: 'Most noble Lord, Sir Lancelot of the Lake, I, sometime called the maid of Astolat, Come, for you left me taking no farewell, Hither, to take my last farewell of you. I loved you, and my love had no return, And therefore my true love has been my death. . . . Pray for my soul and yield me burial. Pray for my soul thou too Sir Lancelot, As thou art a knight peerless.'"[24:A]

And so the maid was buried, "not as one unknown, nor meanly, but with gorgeous obsequies, and mass and rolling music, like a queen. And the story of her dolorous voyage was blazoned on her tomb in letters gold and azure."

1. wold. An open tract of hilly country, where but few trees are left. This word is more frequently used, however, to designate a forest or thick wood.

2. Camelot. It is supposed that this Camelot was Winchester. It was the seat of King Arthur's court, and visitors are still shown the remains of what appear to have been certain kinds of intrenchments, which the inhabitants call "King Arthur's Palace." Sir Thomas Malory says: "Sir Ballin's sword was put into marble stone, standing it upright as a great millstone, and it swam down the stream to the city of Camelot, that is, in English, Wincheste." There was another Camelot, also King Arthur's capital, on the river Camel, in Cornwall, to which Shakespeare makes reference in King Lear, II, ii. Tennyson, in "Gareth and Lynette," describes the appearance of the city when approached in the early morning:

"Far off they saw the silver-misty morn Rolling her smoke about the Royal mount, That rose between the forest and the field. At times the summit of the high city flash'd; At times the spires and turrets half-way down Prick'd thro' the mist; at times the great gate shone Only, that open'd on the field below: Anon, the whole fair city had disappear'd."

3. dusk. Produce a ruffled surface. A very rare use of this word. The river referred to is probably the Thames.

4. trailed. Lat. traho, to draw; Dutch treilen, to tow. What picture is presented to the imagination in the first five lines of this stanza? How do the barges differ in appearance and movement from the shallop mentioned two lines below?

5. web. Anything woven. stay. Stop.

6. pad. An easy-going saddle-horse; a palfrey. Describe the picture which is presented in this stanza.

7. Explain the meaning of the Lady's exclamation.

8. red-cross knight. A Knight wearing a red cross. One of King Arthur's Knights. The red-cross Knight in Spenser's Faerie Queene symbolizes holiness.

"And on his brest a bloodie crosse he bore, The deare remembrance of his dying Lord, For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore, And dead, as living ever, him ador'd; Upon his shield the like was also scor'd, For soveraine hope, which in his helpe he had. Right, faithfull, true he was in deede and word; But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad; Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad."

9. Galaxy. The milky-way. Gr. gala, galaktos, milk.

10. baldric. A belt thrown over the shoulder. From Lat. balteus.

11. bearded meteor. A shooting-star emitting rays of light in the direction in which it moves. The beard of a comet is the light which it throws out in front of it, in distinction from the tail or rays behind.

12. He flashed. His image was thrown upon and reflected from.

13. "Tirra lirra." French tire lire. Probably intended to imitate the note of the lark.


[23:A] Malory's King Arthur, Part III.

[24:A] Tennyson's Elaine.


I come from haunts of coot{1} and hern,{2} I make a sudden sally, And sparkle out among the fern, To bicker{3} down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down, Or slip between the ridges, By twenty thorps,{4} a little town, And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.

I chatter over stony ways, In little sharps and trebles, I bubble into eddying bays, I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret By many a field and fallow, And many a fairy foreland{5} set With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.

I wind about, and in and out, With here a blossom sailing, And here and there a lusty trout, And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake Upon me, as I travel, With many a silvery waterbreak Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots, I slide by hazel{6} covers; I move the sweet forget-me-nots That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom,{7} I glance, Among my skimming swallows; I make the netted sunbeams dance Against my shady shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars In brambly wildernesses; I linger by my shingly{8} bars; I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.


This little lyric forms a part of "an idyl" of the same title, published in 1855. The poet introduces it in the following manner:

"Here, by this brook, we parted; I to the East And he to Italy—too late—too late: . . . . . . . . . Yet the brook he loved . . . . . . . seems, as I re-listen to it, Prattling the primrose fancies of the boy, To me that loved him; for, 'O brook,' he says, 'O babbling brook,' says Edmund in his rhyme, 'Whence come you?' and the brook, why not? replies: 'I come from haunts of coot and hern,'" etc.

In reading this poem, observe how strikingly the sound is made to correspond to the sense.

1. coot. A wild water-fowl, resembling the duck.

2. hern. Heron.

3. bicker. To move unsteadily.

4. thorps. Small villages. A. S. thorpe. From Ger. trupp, a troop.

5. foreland. A promontory.

6. hazel covers. Hazel thickets.

7. gloom. Glimmer, shine obscurely.

8. shingly. Gravelly.


"Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land; "This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon." In the afternoon they came unto a land, In which it seemed always afternoon. All round the coast the languid air did swoon, Breathing like one that hath a weary dream. Full-faced above the valley stood the moon; And like a downward smoke, the slender stream Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.

A land of streams! some, like a downward smoke, Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go; And some through wavering lights and shadows broke Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below. They saw the gleaming river seaward flow From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops, Three silent pinnacles of aged snow, Stood sunset-flushed: and, dewed with showery drops, Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.

The charmed sunset lingered low adown In the red West: through mountain clefts the dale Was seen far inland, and the yellow down Bordered with palm, and many a winding vale And meadow, set with slender galingale; A land where all things always seemed the same! And round about the keel with faces pale, Dark faces pale against that rosy flame, The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem, Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave To each, but whoso did receive of them, And taste, to him the gushing of the wave Far, far away did seem to mourn and rave On alien shores; and if his fellow spake, His voice was thin, as voices from the grave; And deep-asleep he seemed, yet all awake, And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

They sat them down upon the yellow sand, Between the sun and moon upon the shore; And sweet it was to dream of Father-land, Of child and wife, and slave; but evermore Most weary seemed the sea, weary the oar, Weary the wandering fields of barren foam. Then some one said, "We will return no more;" And all at once they sang, "Our island home Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam."



There is sweet music here that softer falls Than petals from blown roses on the grass, Or night-dews on still waters between walls Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass; Music that gentlier on the spirit lies, Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes; Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies. Here are cool mosses deep. And thro' the moss the ivies creep, And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep, And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.


Why are we weighed upon with heaviness, And utterly consumed with sharp distress, While all things else have rest from weariness? All things have rest: why should we toil alone, We only toil, who are the first of things, And make perpetual moan, Still from one sorrow to another thrown: Nor ever fold our wings, And cease from wanderings, Nor steep our brows in slumber's holy balm; Nor hearken what the inner spirit sings, "There is no joy but calm!" Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?


Lo! in the middle of the wood, The folded leaf is woo'd from out the bud With winds upon the branch, and there Grows green and broad, and takes no care, Sun-steeped at noon, and in the moon Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow Falls, and floats adown the air. Lo! sweetened with the summer light, The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow, Drops in a silent autumn night. All its allotted length of days, The flower ripens in its place, Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil, Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil.


Hateful is the dark-blue sky, Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea. Death is the end of life; ah, why Should life all labour be? Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast, And in a little while our lips are dumb. Let us alone. What is it that will last? All things are taken from us, and become Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past. Let us alone. What pleasure can we have To war with evil? Is there any peace In ever climbing up the climbing wave? All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave In silence; ripen, fall, and cease: Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.


How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream, With half-shut eyes ever to seem Falling asleep in a half-dream! To dream and dream, like yonder amber light Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height; To hear each other's whispered speech; Eating the Lotos day by day, To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, And tender curving lines of creamy spray; To lend our hearts and spirits wholly To the influence of mild-minded melancholy; To muse and brood and live again in memory, With those old faces of our infancy Heaped over with a mound of grass, Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!


Dear is the memory of our wedded lives, And dear the last embraces of our wives And their warm tears: but all hath suffered change; For surely now our household hearths are cold: Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange: And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy. Or else the island-princes over-bold Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings Before them of the ten-years' war in Troy, And our great deeds, as half-forgotten things. Is there confusion in the little isle? Let what is broken so remain. The gods are hard to reconcile: 'Tis hard to settle order once again. There is confusion worse than death, Trouble on trouble, pain on pain, Long labour unto aged breath, Sore task to hearts worn out by many wars, And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.


But, propped on beds of amaranth and moly, How sweet (while warm airs lull us, blowing lowly) With half-dropped eyelids still, Beneath a heaven dark and holy, To watch the long bright river drawing slowly His waters from the purple hill— To hear the dewy echoes calling From cave to cave thro' the thick-twined vine— To watch the emerald-coloured water falling Thro' many a wov'n acanthus-wreath divine! Only to hear and see the far-off sparkling brine, Only to hear were sweet, stretched out beneath the pine.


The Lotos blooms below the barren peak: The Lotos blows by every winding creek: All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone: Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown. We have had enough of action, and of motion we, Rolled to starboard, rolled to larboard, when the surge was seething free, Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea. Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind, In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind. For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurled Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world: Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands, Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands, Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands. But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong, Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong; Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil, Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil, Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil; Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whispered, down in hell Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell, Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel. Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar; Oh, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.


"Thence for nine whole days was I borne by ruinous winds over the teeming deep; but on the tenth day we set foot on the land of the lotus-eaters, who eat a flowery food. So we stepped ashore and drew water, and straightway my company took their mid-day meal by the swift ships. Now when we had tasted meat and drink, I sent forth certain of my company to go and make search of what manner of men they were who here live upon the earth by bread, and I chose out two of my fellows, and sent a third with them as herald. Then straightway they went and mixed with the men of the lotus-eaters, and so it was that the lotus-eaters devised not death for our fellows, but gave them of the lotus to taste. Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide with the lotus-eating men, ever feeding on the lotus, and forgetful of his homeward way. Therefore I led them back to the ships weeping, and sore against their will, and dragged them beneath the benches, and bound them in the hollow barques. But I commanded the rest of my well-loved company to make speed and go on board the swift ships, lest haply any should eat of the lotus and be forgetful of returning."—Homer's Odyssey, ix, 80.

"In this poem, 'The Lotos-Eaters,' the artistic ideal of the young poet (it was written in 1830) found its most finished expression and its culminating point. Here he seems to have attained a consciousness that beyond the ideal which he had adopted there is another, larger, grander, and more satisfying. Nowhere else, perhaps, in the range of poetry, is the trance of a listless life so harmoniously married to appropriate melodies and appropriate accompaniments."—North British Review.


ALFRED TENNYSON was born at Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, in 1809. His early education was received at home from his father, who was rector of Somersby and vicar of Bennington and Grimsby. He was afterwards sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, where, at the age of twenty, he received the chancellor's medal for a poem in blank verse, entitled "Timbuctoo." In 1830 he published a small volume of "Poems chiefly Lyrical." A revised edition of this volume, published in 1833, contained "The Lady of Shalott," "The Lotos-Eaters," and others of his best-known short poems. In 1850, upon the death of Wordsworth, he was appointed poet-laureate. In the same year he was married to Emily, daughter of Henry Sellwood, Esq., and niece of Sir John Franklin. Since 1851, Tennyson has resided for the greater part of the time at Farringford, Freshwater, Isle of Wight. In December, 1883, he was made Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater.

"Mr. Tennyson," says R. H. Hutton, "was an artist even before he was a poet; in other words, the eye for beauty, grace, and harmony of effect was even more emphatically one of his original gifts than the voice for poetic utterance itself. This, probably, it is which makes his very earliest pieces appear so full of effort, and sometimes even so full of affectation. They were elaborate attempts to embody what he saw, before the natural voice of the poet had come to him. I think it possible to trace not only a pre-poetic period in his art, but to date the period at which the soul was 'infused' into his poetry, and the brilliant external figures became the dwelling-places of germinating poetic thoughts creating their own music. Curiously enough, the first poem where there is any trace of those musings of the Round Table to which he has directed so much of his maturest genius, is also a confession that the poet was sick of the magic mirror of fancy and its picture-shadows, and was turning away from them to the poetry of human life. Whenever Mr. Tennyson's pictorial fancy has had it in any degree in its power to run away with the guiding and controlling mind, the richness and the workmanship have to some extent overgrown the spiritual principle of his poems. It is obvious, for instance, that even in relation to natural scenery, what his poetical faculty delights in most are rich, luxuriant landscapes, in which either nature or man has accumulated a lavish variety of effects. It is in the scenery of the mill, the garden, the chase, the down, the rich pastures, the harvest-field, the palace pleasure-grounds, the Lord of Burleigh's fair domains, the luxuriant sylvan beauty, bearing testimony to the careful hand of man, 'the summer crisp with shining woods,' that Mr. Tennyson most delights. If he strays to rarer scenes, it is almost in search of richer and more luxuriant loveliness, like the tropical splendors of 'Enoch Arden' and the enervating skies which cheated the Lotos-Eaters of their longing for home."

"Mr. Tennyson," says a writer in the North British Review, "deserves an especial study, not only as a poet, but as a leader and a landmark of popular thought and feeling. As a poet, he belongs to the highest category of English writers; for poetry is the strongest and most vigorous branch of English literature. In this literature his works are evidently destined to secure a permanent place; for they express in language refined and artistic, but not unfamiliar, a large segment of the popular thought of the period over which they range. He has, moreover, a clearly marked if not strongly individualized style, which has served as a model for imitators, and as a starting-point for poets who have sought to improve upon it."

Principal Poems of Tennyson: Charge of the Light Brigade, written in 1854; Dora, 1842; The Dying Swan, 1830; Enoch Arden, 1864; Idylls of the King, 1859-1873,—to be read in the following order: The Coming of Arthur; Gareth and Lynette; Geraint and Enid; Merlin and Vivien; Lancelot and Elaine; The Holy Grail; Pelleas and Ettarre; The Last Tournament; Guinevere; The Passing of Arthur;—In Memoriam, 1850 (131 parts); Locksley Hall, 1842; Locksley Hall Sixty Years Afterwards, 1886; Maud, 1855 (3 parts); The Princess, 1847 (7 parts); Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, 1852.

DRAMATIC PIECES: Queen Mary, 1875; Harold, 1876; The Cup, 1881; The Falcon, 1882; Becket, 1884; The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian, 1892.

REFERENCES: Stedman's Victorian Poets; Van Dyke's The Poetry of Tennyson; Taine's History of English Literature, vol. IV; Kingsley's Miscellanies; Elsdale's Studies in the Idylls; Buchanan's Master Spirits; Tainsh's Studies in Tennyson; Hutton's Essays; Chapman's Companion to In Memoriam; Walters's In Tennyson Land.

William Wordsworth.



The Child is father{1} of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled{2} in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore;— Turn wheresoe'er I may, By night or day, The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where'er I go, That there hath passed away a glory from the earth.


Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song, And while the young lambs bound As to the tabor's{3} sound, To me alone there came a thought of grief: A timely utterance gave that thought relief, And I again am strong. The cataracts{4} blow their trumpets from the steep; No more shall grief of mine the season wrong; I hear the echoes{5} through the mountains throng; The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,{6} And all the earth is gay; Land and sea Give themselves up to jollity,{7} And with the heart of May{8} Doth every beast keep holiday. Thou child of joy, Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy shepherd-boy!


Ye blessed creatures, I have heard the call Ye to each other make; I see The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee; My heart is at your festival. My head hath its coronal,{9} The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all. Oh evil day if I were sullen While Earth herself is adorning This sweet May morning, And the children are culling On every side, In a thousand valleys far and wide, Fresh flowers, while the sun shines warm, And the babe leaps up{10} on his mother's arm: I hear, I hear, with joy I hear! —But there's a tree,{11} of many, one, A single field which I have looked upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone: The pansy{12} at my feet Doth the same tale repeat. Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


Our birth is but a sleep{13} and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home. Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The youth, who daily farther from the East Must travel, still is nature's priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.


Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own; Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind, And even with something of a mother's mind, And no unworthy aim, The homely nurse doth all she can To make her foster-child, her inmate man, Forget the glories he hath known, And that imperial palace whence he came.


Behold the child{14} among his new-born blisses, A six years' darling of a pigmy size! See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies, Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses, With light upon him from his father's eyes! See at his feet some little plan or chart, Some fragment from his dream of human life, Shaped by himself with newly-learned art— A wedding or a festival, A mourning or a funeral; And this hath now his heart, And unto this he frames his song. Then will he fit his tongue To dialogues of business, love, or strife: But it will not be long Ere this be thrown aside, And with new joy and pride The little actor cons another part, Filling from time to time his 'humorous stage'{15} With all the persons, down to palsied age, That Life brings with her in her equipage, As if his whole vocation Were endless imitation.


Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie Thy soul's immensity; Thou, best philosopher, who yet dost keep Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind, That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep, Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,— Mighty prophet! seer blest!{16} On whom those truths do rest, Which we are toiling all our lives to find, In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; Thou, over whom thy immortality Broods like the day, a master o'er a slave, A presence which is not to be put by; Thou little child, yet glorious in the might Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height, Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke The years to bring the inevitable yoke, Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife? Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight, And custom lie upon thee with a weight, Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!


O joy, that in our embers Is something that doth live, That nature yet remembers What was so fugitive! The thought of our past years in me doth breed Perpetual benediction: not indeed For that which is most worthy to be blest— Delight and liberty, the simple creed Of childhood, whether busy or at rest, With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:— Not for these I raise The song of thanks and praise; But for those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings;{17} Blank misgivings{18} of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized, High instincts before which our mortal nature Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised: But for those first affections, Those shadowy recollections, Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain light of all our day, Are yet a master light of all our seeing; Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make Our noisy years seem moments in the being Of the eternal silence: truths that wake, To perish never; Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor, Nor man nor boy, Nor all that is at enmity with joy, Can utterly abolish or destroy! Hence in a season of calm weather, Though inland far we be, Our souls have sight of that immortal sea Which brought us hither, Can in a moment travel thither, And see the children sport upon the shore, And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.


Then sing, ye birds! sing, sing a joyous song! And let the young lambs bound As to the tabor's sound! We in thought will join your throng, Ye that pipe and ye that play, Ye that through your hearts to-day Feel the gladness of the May! What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now forever taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower? We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which, having been, must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering; In the faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind.


And O ye fountains, meadows, hills, and groves, Forebode not any severing of our loves! Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might; I only have relinquished one delight To live beneath your more habitual sway. I love the brooks, which down their channels fret, Even more than when I tripped lightly as they: The innocent brightness of a new-born day Is lovely yet: The clouds that gather round the setting sun{19} Do take a sober coloring from an eye That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality; Another race hath been, and other palms are won. Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


"This was composed," says Wordsworth, "during my residence at Town-End, Grasmere (1803-1806). Two years at least passed between the writing of the first four stanzas and the remaining part. To the attentive and competent reader the whole sufficiently explains itself, but there may be no harm in adverting here to particular feelings or experiences of my own mind on which the structure of the poem partly rests. Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being. I have said elsewhere:

'A simple child That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death?'[44:A]

"But it was not so much from the source of animal vivacity that my difficulty came, as from a sense of the indomitableness of the spirit within me. I used to brood over the stories of Enoch and Elijah, and almost persuade myself that, whatever might become of others, I should be translated in something of the same way to heaven. With a feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to reality. At that time I was afraid of mere processes. In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as is expressed in the lines, Obstinate questionings, etc. To that dream-like vividness and splendor which invests objects of sight in childhood every one, I believe, if he could look back, could bear testimony, and I need not dwell upon it here; but having in the poem regarded it as a presumptive evidence of a prior state of existence, I think it right to protest against a conclusion which has given pain to some good and pious persons, that I meant to inculcate such a belief. It is far too shadowy a notion to be recommended to faith as more than an element in our instincts of immortality. But let us bear in mind that, though the idea is not advanced in Revelation, there is nothing there to contradict it, and the fall of man presents an analogy in its favor. Accordingly, a pre-existent state has entered into the popular creeds of many nations, and among all persons acquainted with classic literature is known as an ingredient in Platonic philosophy. Archimedes said that he could move the world if he had a point whereon to rest his machine. Who has not felt the same aspirations as regards the world of his mind? Having to wield some of its elements when I was impelled to write this poem on the 'Immortality of the Soul,' I took hold of the notion of pre-existence as having sufficient foundation in humanity for authorizing me to make for my purpose the best use of it I could as a poet."

Lord Houghton says of this poem: "If I am asked what is the greatest poem in the English language, I never for a moment hesitate to say, Wordsworth's 'Ode on the Intimations of Immortality.'"

Principal Shairp says: "'The Ode on Immortality' marks the highest limit which the tide of poetic inspiration has reached in England within this century, or indeed since the days of Milton."

The idea of the pre-existence of the soul had already been treated by Henry Vaughan in "Silex Scintillans" (1655).

"Happy those infant days, when I Shined in my angel-infancy! Before I understood this place Appointed for my second race, Or taught my soul to fancy aught But a white, celestial thought; When yet I had not walked above A mile or two from my first Love, And looking back at that short space Could see a glimpse of his bright face."

Shelley, in "A Lament," hints at the same thought:

"O world! O life! O time! On whose last steps I climb, Trembling at that where I had stood before, When will return the glory of your prime? No more—oh, never more!

"Out of the day and night A joy has taken flight; Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar, Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight No more—oh, never more!"

1. The child is father, etc. These lines are from a short poem by Wordsworth, entitled "My Heart leaps up":

"My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky. So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The child is father of the man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety."

Compare with Milton's lines in 'Paradise Regained,' Bk. IV:

"The childhood shows the man As morning shows the day."

2. apparelled. From Fr. pareil, Lat. parilis. Other English words as pair, compare, etc., are similarly derived. To apparel is strictly to pair, to suit, to put like to like.

3. tabor. From Old Fr. tabour, Fr. tambour. Compare Eng. tambourine. Originally from the root tap, Gr. tup, to strike lightly. An ancient musical instrument,—a small one-ended drum having a handle projecting from the frame, by which it was held in the left hand, while it was beaten with a stick held in the right hand.

4. the cataracts. The poet has probably in mind the "ghills" or falls of his own lake country. The metaphor which he uses is a bold one.

5. the echoes. Compare with a similar line by Shelley:

"Lost Echo sits amid the voiceless mountains." —Adonais, 127.

6. the fields of sleep. "The yet reposeful, slumbering country side."—Hales. "The fields that were dark during the hours of sleep."—Knight.

7. jollity. Merriment. From Lat. jovialis. See Milton's 'L'Allegro,' 26:

"Haste thee nymph and bring with thee Jest and youthful jollity."

8. May. May, with the poets, is the month of gayety. The older poetry especially is full of May raptures. Chaucer says:

"For May will have no sluggardy a-night: The season pricketh every gentle heart, And maketh him out of his sleep to start."

9. coronal. A crown of flowers, a chaplet. As at the Roman banquets. On such occasions it was usual for the host to give chaplets to his guests. Festoons of flowers were also sometimes hung over their necks and breasts. The chaplet, or coronal, was regarded as a cheerful ornament and symbol of festivity.

10. the babe leaps up. That is for joy. See the poem, "My heart leaps up," on page 46.

11. there's a tree. Compare this thought with that contained in the following lines:

"Only, one little sight, one plant, . . . whene'er the leaf grows there Its drop comes from my heart, that's all." —Browning's May and Death.

12. pansy. The flower of thought. From Fr. pense, thought; penser, to think. "It probably derived its name, thought or fancy, from its fanciful appearance."—Nares. Another derivation of the word is from panacea, meaning all-heal, a name given by the Greeks to a plant which was popularly supposed to cure diseases and dispel sorrow. The notion that the pansy is a cure for grief is shown in its common English name, heart's-ease.

13. Our birth is but a sleep. The idea of pre-existence was a favorite one of the ancient philosophers. The doctrine of metempsychosis, a form of the same idea, was held by the ancient Egyptians and is still maintained by the Buddhists. Tennyson says:

"As old mythologies relate, Some draught of Lethe might await The slipping through from state to state.

"And if I lapsed from nobler place, Some legend of a fallen race Alone might hint of my disgrace."—Two Voices.

14. Behold the child. Pope gives a similar picture:

"Behold the child, by Nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw; Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight, A little louder, but as empty quite."—Essay on Man.

When Wordsworth wrote of

"A six years' darling of a pigmy size,"

he probably had in mind Hartley Coleridge, who was then a child of that age. See his poem "To Hartley Coleridge, Six Years Old."

15. humorous stage. See Shakespeare's lines beginning "All the world's a stage," "As You like It," Act ii, sc. 7. The word humorous has here a special sense, such as is used by Ben Jonson in his "Every Man in his Humor."

16. best philosopher . . . mighty prophet! seer blest! Stopford Brooke says: "These expressions taken separately have scarcely any recognizable meaning. By taking them all together, we feel rather than see that Wordsworth intended to say that the child, having lately come from a perfect existence, in which he saw truth directly, and was at home with God, retains, unknown to us, that vision;—and, because he does, is the best philosopher, since he sees at once that which we through philosophy are endeavoring to reach; is the mighty prophet, because in his actions and speech he tells unconsciously the truths he sees, but the sight of which we have lost; is more closely haunted by God, more near to the immortal life, more purely and brightly free because he half shares in the pre-existent life and glory out of which he has come."—Theology in the English Poets.

17. Fallings from us, vanishings. "Fits of utter dreaminess and abstraction, when nothing material seems solid, but everything mere mist and shadow."—Hales.

18. Blank misgivings. Compare Tennyson, "Two Voices":

"Moreover, something is or seems, That touches me with mystic gleams, Like glimpses of forgotten dreams;

"Of something felt, like something here; Of something done, I know not where; Such as no language may declare."

19. The clouds that gather. Compare these lines with the following from Wordsworth's "Excursion":

"Ah! why in age Do we revert so fondly to the walks Of childhood, but that there the soul discerns The dear memorial footsteps unimpair'd Of her own native vigor, thence can hear Reverberations and a choral song, Commingling with the incense that ascends Undaunted toward the imperishable heavens, From her own lonely altar?"


[44:A] The first stanza of We are Seven, said to have been written by Coleridge.


We walked along, while bright and red Uprose the morning sun; And Matthew{1} stopped, he looked, and said, 'The will of God be done!'

A village schoolmaster was he, With hair of glittering gray; As blithe a man as you could see On a spring holiday.

And on that morning, through the grass, And by the steaming rills, We travelled merrily, to pass A day among the hills.

'Our work,' said I, 'was well begun: Then, from thy breast what thought, Beneath so beautiful a sun, So sad a sigh has brought?'

A second time did Matthew stop, And fixing still his eye Upon the eastern mountain-top, To me he made reply:

'Yon cloud with that long purple cleft Brings fresh into my mind A day like this which I have left Full thirty years behind.

And just above yon slope of corn Such colors, and no other, Were in the sky, that April morn, Of this the very brother.

With rod and line I sued the sport Which that sweet season gave, And, to the church-yard come, stopped short Beside my daughter's grave.

Nine summers had she scarcely seen, The pride of all the vale: And then she sang;—she would have been A very nightingale.

Six feet in earth my Emma lay; And yet I loved her more, For so it seemed, than till that day I e'er had loved before.

And, turning from her grave, I met, Beside the churchyard yew, A blooming girl, whose hair was wet With points of morning dew.

A basket on her head she bare; Her brow was smooth and white: To see a child so very fair, It was a pure delight!

No fountain from its rocky cave E'er tripped with foot so free; She seemed as happy as a wave That dances on the sea.

There came from me a sigh of pain Which I could ill confine; I looked at her, and looked again: And did not wish her mine!'

Matthew is in his grave, yet now, Methinks, I see him stand, As at that moment, with a bough Of wilding{2} in his hand.


This poem was written in 1799, and published the following year.

1. Matthew. This old schoolmaster is described elsewhere by Wordsworth as being "made up of several, both of his class and men of other occupations."

2. wilding. A twig from a wild apple tree.

"Ten ruddy wildings in the wood I found."—Dryden.


Behold her, single in the field, Yon solitary highland lass! Reaping and singing by herself; Stop here, or gently pass! Alone she cuts and binds the grain, And sings a melancholy strain; O listen! for the vale profound Is overflowing with the sound.

No nightingale did ever chaunt More welcome notes to weary bands Of travellers in some shady haunt Among Arabian sands: A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard In spring-time from a cuckoo-bird, Breaking the silence of the seas Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?— Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow For old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago: Or is it some more humble lay, Familiar matter of to-day? Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, That has been, or may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the maiden sang As if her song could have no ending; I saw her singing at her work, And o'er the sickle bending;— I listened, motionless and still; And, as I mounted up the hill, The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more.


WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was born at Cockermouth, a town in Cumberland, England, April 7, 1770. He went to school at Hawkshead, Lancashire, whence in his seventeenth year he was sent to St. John's College, Cambridge. In January, 1791, he took his degree at the University, but without having distinguished himself in any way. The next fifteen or sixteen months were spent in France, just then in the first wild hopes of the Revolution. "In the aspirations and hopes of the revolutionists he was an ardent sharer; he thought that the world's great age was beginning anew; and with all his soul he hailed so splendid an era. The ultimate degradation of that great movement by wild lawlessness, and then by most selfish ambition, alienated his sympathy for it." Towards the close of 1792 he returned to England, and passed the subsequent time among his friends in London and elsewhere till he settled with his sister at Racedown, Dorsetshire, in 1796. In the following year they removed to Alfoxden. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of Coleridge. Wordsworth had already published (1793) two little volumes of poetry, entitled Descriptive Sketches and The Evening Walk; but they showed little promise of the triumphs which were to crown his later life. In 1798 the first volume of the Lyrical Ballads was published at Bristol, which purported to be the joint work of himself and Mr. Coleridge, but to which the latter contributed only "The Ancient Mariner" and two or three shorter poems. After some months spent in Germany, Wordsworth and his sister established themselves at Grasmere, in the lake country. In 1800 he published the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads, and in 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson. From 1799 to 1814 he was mainly busy with his great philosophical poem, to be called "The Recluse," "containing views of Man, Nature, and Society," of which "The Prelude" was to be the introduction and "The Excursion" the Second and main Part. He designed that his minor pieces should be so arranged in connection with this work as to "give them claim to be likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in Gothic churches." This plan, however, was never carried out, as of the First and Third Parts only one book was written, and it has never been published. From 1814 until his death Wordsworth lived serenely and quietly at Rydal Mount, making occasional excursions into Scotland and Wales, and a tour upon the continent. In 1843, upon the death of Southey, he was appointed Poet-Laureate. His life was a long one, of steady work and much happiness. He died April 23, 1850.

The distinguishing feature of Wordsworth's poetry is well set forth in his own words:

"The moving accident is not my trade, To freeze the blood I have no ready arts; 'Tis my delight, alone in summer shade, To pipe a simple song for thinking hearts." —Hart-Leap Well, Part II.

"Every great poet," he said, "is a teacher; I wish either to be considered as a teacher or as nothing."

And he avowed that the purpose of his poetry was "to console the afflicted; to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier; to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous."

"Love had he found in huts where poor men lie, His daily teachings had been woods and rills, The silence that is in the starry sky, The sleep that is among the lonely hills."

"Wordsworth," says John Campbell Shairp, "was the first who, both in theory and practice, shook off the trammels of the so-called poetic diction which had tyrannized over English poetry for more than a century. This diction of course exactly represented the half-courtly, half-classical mode of thinking and feeling. As Wordsworth rebelled against this conventionality of spirit, so against the outward expression of it. The whole of the stock phrases and used-up metaphors he discarded, and returned to living language of natural feeling, as it is used by men, instead of the dead form of it which had got stereotyped in books. And just as in his subjects he had taken in from the waste much virgin soil, so in his diction he appropriated for poetic use a large amount of words, idioms, metaphors, till then by the poets disallowed. His shorter poems, both the earlier and the later, are, for the most part, very models of natural, powerful, and yet sensitive English; the language being, like a garment, woven out of, and transparent with, the thought."

Other Poems to be Read: We are Seven; The Pet Lamb; To a Highland Girl; Laodamia; Matthew; The Fountain; The Wishing Gate; To the Small Celandine; "Three Years She Grew"; "She was a Phantom of Delight"; At the Grave of Burns.

REFERENCES: Shairp's Studies in Poetry and Philosophy; Hazlitt's English Poets; De Quincey's Miscellaneous Works; Literature and Life, by E. P. Whipple; Wordsworth (English Men of Letters), by Goldwin Smith; Yesterdays with Authors, by James T. Fields; Among My Books, Second Series, by J. R. Lowell; Matthew Arnold's Introduction to the Poems of William Wordsworth.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



'Tis the middle of night by the castle clock, And the owls have awaken'd the crowing cock, Tu—whit!——Tu—whoo! And hark, again! the crowing cock, How drowsily it crew.

Sir Leoline, the Baron rich, Hath a toothless mastiff bitch; From her kennel beneath the rock She maketh answer to the clock, Four for the quarters, and twelve for the hour; Ever and aye, by shine and shower, Sixteen short howls, not over loud; Some say, she sees my lady's shroud.

Is the night chilly and dark? The night is chilly, but not dark. The thin gray cloud is spread on high, It covers but not hides the sky. The moon is behind, and at the full; And yet she looks both small and dull. The night is chill, the cloud is gray: 'Tis a month before the month of May, And the Spring comes slowly up this way.

The lovely lady, Christabel, Whom her father loves so well, What makes her in the wood so late, A furlong from the castle gate? She had dreams all yesternight Of her own betrothed knight; Dreams that made her moan and leap As on her bed she lay in sleep; And she in the midnight wood will pray For the weal of her lover that's far away.

She stole along, she nothing spoke, The sighs she heaved were soft and low, And naught was green upon the oak But moss and rarest mistletoe: She kneels beneath the huge oak tree, And in silence prayeth she.

The lady sprang up suddenly, The lovely lady, Christabel! It moaned as near as near can be, But what it is she cannot tell.— On the other side it seems to be Of the huge, broad-breasted, old oak tree.

The night is chill; the forest bare; Is it the wind that moaneth bleak? There is not wind enough in the air To move away the ringlet curl From the lovely lady's cheek— There is not wind enough to twirl The one red leaf, the last of its clan, That dances as often as dance it can, Hanging so light, and hanging so high, On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.

Hush, beating heart of Christabel! Jesu, Maria, shield her well! She folded her arms beneath her cloak, And stole to the other side of the oak. What sees she there?

There she sees a damsel bright, Drest in a silken robe of white, That shadowy in the moonlight shone: The neck that made that white robe wan, Her stately neck and arms were bare; Her blue-vein'd feet unsandal'd were, And wildly glitter'd here and there, The gems entangled in her hair. I guess, 'twas frightful there to see A lady so richly clad as she— Beautiful exceedingly!

"Mary, mother, save me now!" (Said Christabel,) "And who art thou?"

The lady strange made answer meet, And her voice was faint and sweet:— "Have pity on my sore distress, I scarce can speak for weariness: Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!" Said Christabel, "How camest thou here?" And the lady, whose voice was faint and sweet, Did thus pursue her answer meet:— "My sire is of a noble line, And my name is Geraldine: Five warriors seized me yestermorn, Me, even me, a maid forlorn: They choked my cries with force and fright, And tied me on a palfrey white. The palfrey was as fleet as wind, And they rode furiously behind. They spurred amain, their steeds were white: And once we cross'd the shade of night. As sure as Heaven shall rescue me, I have no thought what men they be; Nor do I know how long it is (For I have lain entranced I wis) Since one, the tallest of the five, Took me from the palfrey's back, A weary woman, scarce alive. Some mutter'd words his comrades spoke: He placed me underneath this oak; He swore they would return with haste; Whither they went I cannot tell— I thought I heard, some minutes past, Sounds as of a castle bell. Stretch forth thy hand" (thus ended she), "And help a wretched maid to flee."

Then Christabel stretch'd forth her hand And comforted fair Geraldine; "O well, bright dame! may you command The service of Sir Leoline; And gladly our stout chivalry Will he send forth and friends withal To guide and guard you safe and free Home to your noble father's hall."

She rose: and forth with steps they pass'd That strove to be, and were not, fast. Her gracious stars the lady blest, And thus spake on sweet Christabel: "All our household are at rest, The hall is silent as the cell; Sir Leoline is weak in health, And may not well awaken'd be, But we will move as if in stealth, And I beseech your courtesy, This night, to share your couch with me."

They cross'd the moat, and Christabel Took the key that fitted well; A little door she open'd straight, All in the middle of the gate; The gate that was iron'd within and without, Where an army in battle array had march'd out. The lady sank, belike through pain, And Christabel with might and main Lifted her up, a weary weight, Over the threshold of the gate: Then the lady rose again, And moved, as she were not in pain.

So free from danger, free from fear, They cross'd the court: right glad they were. And Christabel devoutly cried To the lady by her side; "Praise we the Virgin all divine Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!" "Alas, alas!" said Geraldine, "I cannot speak for weariness." So free from danger, free from fear, They cross'd the court: right glad they were.

Outside her kennel the mastiff old Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold. The mastiff old did not awake, Yet she an angry moan did make! And what can ail the mastiff bitch? Never till now she utter'd yell Beneath the eye of Christabel. Perhaps it is the owlet's scritch: For what can ail the mastiff bitch?

They pass'd the hall, that echoes still, Pass as lightly as you will! The brands were flat, the brands were dying, Amid their own white ashes lying; But when the lady pass'd, there came A tongue of light, a fit of flame; And Christabel saw the lady's eye, And nothing else saw she thereby, Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall, Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall. "O softly tread," said Christabel, "My father seldom sleepeth well."

Sweet Christabel her feet both bare, And, jealous of the listening air, They steal their way from stair to stair, Now in glimmer, and now in gloom, And now they pass the Baron's room, And still as death, with stifled breath! And now have reach'd her chamber door; And now doth Geraldine press down The rushes of the chamber floor.

The moon shines dim in the open air, And not a moonbeam enters here. But they without its light can see The chamber carved so curiously, Carved with figures strange and sweet, All made out of the carver's brain, For a lady's chamber meet: The lamp with twofold silver chain Is fasten'd to an angel's feet.

The silver lamp burns dead and dim; But Christabel the lamp will trim. She trimm'd the lamp, and made it bright, And left it swinging to and fro, While Geraldine, in wretched plight, Sank down upon the floor below.

"O weary lady, Geraldine, I pray you, drink this cordial wine! It is a wine of virtuous powers; My mother made it of wild flowers."

"And will your mother pity me, Who am a maiden most forlorn?" Christabel answered—"Woe is me! She died the hour that I was born. I have heard the gray-hair'd friar tell, How on her death-bed she did say, That she should hear the castle-bell Strike twelve upon my wedding-day. O mother dear! that thou wert here!" "I would," said Geraldine, "she were!"

But soon with altered voice, said she— "Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine! I have power to bid thee flee." Alas! what ails poor Geraldine? Why stares she with unsettled eye? Can she the bodiless dead espy? And why with hollow voice cries she, "Off, woman, off! this hour is mine— Though thou her guardian spirit be, Off, woman, off! 'tis given to me."

Then Christabel knelt by the lady's side, And raised to heaven her eyes so blue— "Alas!" said she, "this ghastly ride— Dear lady! it hath wilder'd you!" The lady wiped her moist cold brow, And faintly said, "'Tis over now!"

Again the wild-flower wine she drank: Her fair large eyes 'gan glitter bright, And from the floor whereon she sank, The lofty lady stood upright: She was most beautiful to see, Like a lady of a far countre.

And thus the lofty lady spake— "All they who live in the upper sky, Do love you, holy Christabel! And you love them, and for their sake And for the good which me befell, Even I in my degree will try, Fair maiden, to requite you well. But now unrobe yourself; for I Must pray, ere yet in bed I lie."

Quoth Christabel, "So let it be!" And as the lady bade, did she. Her gentle limbs did she undress, And lay down in her loveliness.

But through her brain of weal and woe So many thoughts move to and fro, That vain it were her lids to close; So half-way from the bed she rose, And on her elbow did recline To look at the lady Geraldine.

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