William Crowe, Lewesdon Hill

1788. Text below is from the 1827 edition.

Read by Wordsworth c. Nov-Dec 1795 while living at Racedown, Dorset, near Lewesdon Hill. For additional notes see below.

Up to thy summit, Lewesdon, to the brow 
Of yon proud rising, where the lonely thorn 
Bends from the rude South-east with top cut sheer 
By his keen breath, along the narrow track, 
By which the scanty-pastured sheep ascend 
Up to thy furze-clad summit, let me climb, --  
My morning exercise, -- and thence look round 
Upon the variegated scene, of hills 
And woods and fruitful vales, and villages 
Half hid in tufted orchards, and the sea 		10
Boundless, and studded thick with many a sail. 

Ye dew-fed vapours, nightly balm, exhaled 
From earth, young herbs and flowers, that in the morn 
Ascend as incense to the Lord of day, 
I come to breathe your odours; while they float 
Yet near this surface, let me walk embathed 
In your invisible perfumes, to health 
So friendly, nor less grateful to the mind, 
Administering sweet peace and cheerfulness. 

How changed is thy appearance, beauteous hill! 		20
Thou hast put off thy wintry garb, brown heath 
And russet fern, thy seemly-colour'd cloak 
To bide the hoary frosts and dripping rains 
Of chill December, and art gaily robed 
In livery of the spring: upon thy brow 
A cap of flowery hawthorn, and thy neck 
Mantled with new-sprung furze and spangles thick 
Of golden bloom: nor lack thee tufted woods 
Adown thy sides: tall oaks of lusty green, 
The darker fir, light ash, and the nesh tops 		30
Of the young hazel join, to form thy skirts 
In many a wavy fold of verdant wreath: --  
So gorgeously hath Nature drest thee up 
Against the birth of May: and, vested so, 
Thou dost appear more gracefully array'd 
Than Fashion's worshippers, whose gaudy shows, 
Fantastical as are a sick man's dreams, 
From vanity to costly vanity 
Change ofter than the moon. Thy comely dress, 
From sad to gay returning with the year, 		40
Shall grace thee still till Nature's self shall change. 

These are the beauties of thy woodland scene 
At each return of spring: yet some delight 
Rather to view the change; and fondly gaze 
On fading colours, and the thousand tints 
Which Autumn lays upon the varying leaf: 
I like them not, for all their boasted hues 
Are kin to Sickliness; mortal Decay 
Is drinking up their vital juice; that gone, 
They turn to sear and yellow. Should I praise 		50
Such false complexions, and for beauty take 
A look consumption-bred? As soon, if gray 
Were mixt in young Louisa's tresses brown, 
I'd call it beautiful variety, 
And therefore dote on her. Yet I can spy 
A beauty in that fruitful change, when comes 
The yellow Autumn and the hopes o'the year 
Brings on to golden ripeness; nor dispraise 
The pure and spotless form of that sharp time, 
When January spreads a pall of snow 			60
O'er the dead face of th'undistinguish'd earth. 
Then stand I in the hollow comb beneath, 
And bless this friendly mount, that weather-fends 
My reed-roof'd cottage, while the wintry blast 
From the thick north comes howling: till the Spring 
Return, who leads my devious steps abroad, 
To climb, as now, to Lewesdon's airy top. 

Above the noise and stir of yonder fields 
Uplifted, on this height I feel the mind 
Expand itself in wider liberty. 			70
The distant sounds break gently on my sense, 
Soothing to meditation: so methinks, 
Even so, sequester'd from the noisy world, 
Could I wear out this transitory being 
In peaceful contemplation and calm ease. 
But Conscience, which still censures on our acts, 
That awful voice within us, and the sense 
Of an Hereafter, wake and rouse us up 
From such unshaped retirement; which were else 
A blest condition on this earthly stage. 		80
For who would make his life a life of toil 
For wealth, o'erbalanced with a thousand cares; 
Or power, which base compliance must uphold; 
Or honour, lavish'd most on courtly slaves; 
Or fame, vain breath of a misjudging world; 
Who for such perishable gaudes would put 
A yoke upon his free unbroken spirit, 
And gall himself with trammels and the rubs 
Of this world's business; so he might stand clear 
Of judgment and the tax of idleness 			90
In that dread audit, when his mortal hours 
(Which now with soft and silent stealth pace by) 
Must all be counted for? But, for this fear, 
And to remove, according to our power, 
The wants and evils of our brother's state, 
'Tis meet we justle with the world; content, 
If by our sovereign Master we be found 
At last not profitless: for worldly meed, 
Given or withheld, I deem of it alike. 

From this proud eminence on all sides round 		100
Th' unbroken prospect opens to my view, 
On all sides large; save only where the head 
Of Pillesdon rises, Pillesdon's lofty Pen: 
So call (still rendering to his ancient name 
Observance due) that rival Height south-west, 
Which like a rampire bounds the vale beneath. 
There woods, there blooming orchards, there are seen 
Herds ranging, or at rest beneath the shade 
Of some wide-branching oak; there goodly fields 
Of corn, and verdant pasture, whence the kine 		110
Returning with their milky treasure home 
Store the rich dairy: such fair plenty fills 
The pleasant vale of Marshwood, pleasant now, 
Since that the Spring has deck'd anew the meads 
With flowery vesture, and the warmer sun 
Their foggy moistness drain'd; in wintry days 
Cold, vapourish, miry, wet, and to the flocks 
Unfriendly, when autumnal rains begin 
To drench the spungy turf: but ere that time 
The careful shepherd moves to healthier soil, 		120
Rechasing, lest his tender ewes should coath 
In the dank pasturage. Yet not the fields 
Of Evesham, nor that ample valley named 
Of the White Horse, its antique monument 
Carved in the chalky bourne, for beauty and wealth 
Might equal, though surpassing in extent, 
This fertile vale, in length from Lewesdon's base 
Extended to the sea, and water'd well 
By many a rill; but chief with thy clear stream, 
Thou nameless Rivulet, who, from the side 		130
Of Lewesdon softly welling forth, dost trip 
Adown the valley, wandering sportively. 
Alas, how soon thy little course will end! 
How soon thy infant stream shall lose itself 
In the salt mass of waters, ere it grow 
To name or greatness! Yet it flows along 
Untainted with the commerce of the world, 
Nor passing by the noisy haunts of men; 
But through sequester'd meads, a little space, 
Winds secretly, and in its wanton path 			140
May cheer some drooping flower, or minister 
Of its cool water to the thirsty lamb: 
Then falls into the ravenous sea, as pure 
As when it issued from its native hill. 

So to thine early grave didst thou run on, 
Spotless Francesca, so, after short course, 
Thine innocent and playful infancy 
Was swallowed up in death, and thy pure spirit 
In that illimitable gulf which bounds 
Our mortal continent. But not there lost, 		150
Not there extinguish'd, as some falsely teach, 
Who can talk much and learnedly of life, 
Who know our frame and fashion, who can tell 
The substance and the properties of man, 
As they had seen him made, -- aye and stood by 
Spies on Heaven's work. They also can discourse 
Wisely, to prove that what must be must be, 
And show how thoughts are jogg'd out of the brain 
By a mechanical impulse; pushing on 
The minds of us, poor unaccountables, 			160
To fatal resolution. Know they not, 
That in this mortal life, whate'er it be, 
We take the path that leads to good or evil, 
And therein find our bliss or misery? 
And this includes all reasonable ends 
Of knowledge or of being; farther to go 
Is toil unprofitable, and th' effect 
Most perilous wandering. Yet of this be sure, 
Where freedom is not, there no virtue is: 
If there be none, this world is all a cheat, 		170
And the divine stability of Heaven 
(That assured seat for good men after death) 
Is but a transient cloud, display'd so fair 
To cherish virtuous hope, but at our need 
Eludes the sense, and fools our honest faith, 
Vanishing in a lie. If this be so, 
Were it not better to be born a beast, 
Only to feel what is, and thus to 'scape 
The aguish fear that shakes the afflicted breast 
With sore anxiety of what shall be --  			180
And all for nought? Since our most wicked act 
Is not our sin, and our religious awe 
Delusion, if that strong Necessity 
Chains up our will. But that the mind is free, 
The Mind herself, best judge of her own state, 
Is feelingly convinced; nor to be moved 
By subtle words, that may perplex the head, 
But ne'er persuade the heart. Vain argument, 
That with false weapons of Philosophy 
Fights against Hope, and Sense, and Nature's strength! 	190

See how the Sun, here clouded, afar off 
Pours down the golden radiance of his light 
Upon the enridged sea; where the black ship 
Sails on the phosphor-seeming waves. So fair, 
But falsely-flattering, was yon surface calm, 
When forth for India sail'd, in evil time, 
That Vessel, whose disastrous fate, when told, 
Fill'd every breast with horror, and each eye 
With piteous tears, so cruel was the loss. 
Methinks I see her, as, by the wintry storm 		200
Shatter'd and driven along past yonder Isle, 
She strove, her latest hope, by strength or art, 
To gain the port within it, or at worst 
To shun that harbourless and hollow coast 
From Portland eastward to the Promontory, 
Where still St. Alban's high built chapel stands. 
But art nor strength avail her -- on she drives, 
In storm and darkness to the fatal coast: 
And there 'mong rocks and high-o'erhanging cliffs 
Dash'd piteously, with all her precious freight 	210
Was lost, by Neptune's wild and foamy jaws 
Swallow'd up quick! The richliest-laden ship 
Of spicy Ternate, or that Annual, sent 
To the Philippines o'er the Southern main 
From Acapulco, carrying massy gold, 
Were poor to this; -- freighted with hopeful Youth, 
And Beauty, and high Courage undismayed 
By mortal terrors, and paternal Love 
Strong, and unconquerable even in death --  
Alas, they perish'd all, all in one hour! 		220

Now yonder high way view, wide-beaten, bare 
With ceaseless tread of men and beasts, and track 
Of many indenting wheels, heavy and light, 
That in their different courses as they pass, 
Rush violently down precipitate, 
Or slowly turn, oft resting, up the steep. 
Mark how that road, with mazes serpentine, 
From Shipton's bottom to the lofty down 
Winds like a path of pleasure, drawn by art 
Through park or flowery garden for delight. 		230
Nor less delightful this -- if, while he mounts 
Not wearied, the free Journeyer will pause 
To view the prospect oft, as oft to see 
Beauty still changing: yet not so contrived 
By fancy, or choice, but of necessity, 
By soft gradations of ascent to lead 
The labouring and way-worn feet along, 
And make their toil less toilsome. Half way up, 
Or nearer to the top, behold a cot, 
O'er which the branchy trees, those sycamores, 		240
Wave gently: at their roots a rustic bench 
Invites to short refreshment, and to taste 
What grateful beverage the house may yield 
After fatigue, or dusty heat; thence call'd 
The Traveller's Rest. Welcome, embower'd seat, 
Friendly repose to the slow passenger 
Ascending, ere he takes his sultry way 
Along th'interminable road, stretch'd out 
Over th'unshelter'd down; or when at last 
He has that hard and solitary path 			250
Measured by painful steps. And blest are they, 
Who in life's toilsome journey may make pause 
After a march of glory: yet not such 
As rise in causeless war, troubling the world 
By their mad quarrel, and in fields of blood 
Hail'd victors, thence renown'd, and call'd on earth 
Kings, heroes, demi-gods, but in high Heaven 
Thieves, ruffians, murderers; these find no repose: 
Thee rather, patriot Conqueror, to thee 
Belongs such rest; who in the western world, 		260
Thine own deliver'd country, for thyself 
Hast planted an immortal grove, and there, 
Upon the glorious mount of Liberty 
Reposing, sit'st beneath the palmy shade. 

And Thou, not less renown'd in like attempt 
Of high achievement, though thy virtue fail'd 
To save thy little country, Patriot Prince, 
Hero, Philosopher -- what more could they 
Who wisely chose thee, Paoli, to bless 
Thy native Isle, long struggling to be free? 		270
But Heaven allow'd not -- yet may'st thou repose 
After thy glorious toil, secure of fame 
Well-earn'd by virtue: while ambitious France, 
Who stretch'd her lawless hand to seize thine isle, 
Enjoys not rest or glory; with her prey 
Gorged but not satisfied, and craving still 
Against th'intent of Nature. See Her now 
Upon the adverse shore, her Norman coast, 
Plying her monstrous labour unrestrained! 
A rank of castles in the rough sea sunk, 		280
With towery shape and height, and armed heads 
Uprising o'er the surge; and these between, 
Unmeasurable mass of ponderous rock 
Projected many a mile to rear her wall 
Midst the deep waters. She, the mighty work 
Still urging, in her arrogant attempt, 
As with a lordly voice to the Ocean cries, 
'Hitherto come, no farther; here be staid 
'The raging of thy waves; within this bound 
'Be all my haven' -- and therewith takes in 		290
A space of amplest circuit, wide and deep, 
Won from the straiten'd main: nor less in strength 
Than in dimensions, giant-like in both, --  
On each side flank'd with citadels and towers 
And rocky walls, and arches massy proof 
Against the storm of war. Compared with this 
Less, and less hazardous emprize achieved 
Resistless Alexander, when he cast 
The strong foundations of that high-raised mound 
Deep in the hostile waves, his martial way, 		300
Built on before him up to sea-girt Tyre. 
Nor aught so bold, so vast, so wonderful, 
At Athos or the fetter'd Hellespont, 
Imagined in his pride that Asian vain, 
Xerxes, -- but ere he turn'd from Salamis 
Flying through the blood-red waves in one poor bark, 
Retarded by thick-weltering carcasses. 
Nor yet that elder work (if work it were, 
Not fable) raised upon the Phrygian shore, 
(Where lay the fleet confederate against Troy, 		310
A thousand ships behind the vasty mole 
All shelter'd) could with this compare, though built 
It seem'd, of greatness worthy to create 
Envy in the immortals; and at last 
Not overthrown without th' embattled aid 
Of angry Neptune. So may He once more 
Rise from his troubled bed, and send his waves, 
Urged on to fury by contending winds, 
With horned violence to push and whelm 
This pile, usurping on his watry reign! 		320

From hostile shores returning, glad I look 
On native scenes again; and first salute 
Thee, Burton, and thy lofty cliff, where oft 
The nightly blaze is kindled; further seen 
Than erst was that love-tended cresset, hung 
Beside the Hellespont: yet not like that 
Inviting to the hospitable arms 
Of Beauty and Youth, but lighted up, the sign 
Of danger, and of ambush'd foes to warn 
The stealth-approaching Vessel, homeward bound 		330
From Havre or the Norman isles, with freight 
Of wines and hotter drinks, the trash of France, 
Forbidden merchandize. Such fraud to quell 
Many a light skiff and well-appointed sloop 
Lies hovering near the coast, or hid behind 
Some curved promontory, in hope to seize 
These contraband: vain hope! on that high shore 
Station'd, th' associates of their lawless trade 
Keep watch, and to their fellows off at sea 
Give the known signal; they with fearful haste 		340
Observant, put about the ship, and plunge 
Into concealing darkness. As a fox, 
That from the cry of hounds and hunters' din 
Runs crafty down the wind, and steals away 
Forth from his cover, hopeful so t' elude 
The not yet following pack, -- if chance the shout 
Of eager or unpractised boy betray 
His meditated flight, back he retires 
To shelter him in the thick wood: so these 
Retiring, ply to south, and shun the land 		350
Too perilous to approach: and oft at sea 
Secure (or ever nigh the guarded coast 
They venture) to the trackless deep they trust 
Their forfeitable cargo, rundlets small, 
Together link'd upon their cable's length, 
And to the shelving bottom sunk and fixt 
By stony weights; till happier hour arrive 
To land it on the vacant beach unrisk'd. 

But what is yonder Hill, whose dusky brow 
Wears, like a regal diadem, the round 			360
Of ancient battlements and ramparts high, 
And frowns upon the vales? I know thee not --  
Thou hast no name, no honourable note, 
No chronicle of all thy warlike pride, 
To testify what once thou wert, how great, 
How glorious, and how fear'd. So perish all, 
Who seek their greatness in dominion held 
Over their fellows, or the pomp of war, 
And be as thou forgotten, and their fame 
Cancell'd like thine! But thee in after times 		370
Reclaim'd to culture, Shepherds visited, 
And call'd thee Orgarston; so thee they call'd 
Of Orgar, Saxon Earl, the wealthy sire 
Of fair Elfrida; She, whose happy Bard 
Has with his gentle witchery so wrought 
Upon our sense, that we can see no more 
Her mad ambition, treacherous cruelty, 
And purple robes of state with royal blood 
Inhospitably stain'd; but in their place 
Pure faith, soft manners, filial duty meek, 		380
Connubial love, and stoles of saintly white. 

Sure 'tis all false what poets fondly tell 
Of rural innocence and village love; 
Else had thy simple annals, Nethercombe, 
Who bosom'd in the vale below dost look 
This morn so cheerful, been unstain'd with crimes, 
Which the pale rustic shudders to relate. 
There lived, the blessing of her father's age, --  
I fable not, nor will with fabled names 
Varnish a melancholy tale all true, --  			390
A lowly maid; lowly, but like that flower, 
Which grows in lowly place, and thence has name, 
Lily o' the vale, within her parent leaves 
As in retreat she lives; yet fair and sweet 
Above the gaudiest Blooms, that flaunt abroad, 
And play with every wanton breath of Heaven. 
Thus innocent, her beauties caught the eye 
Of a young villager, whose vows of love 
Soon won her easy faith: her sire meantime, 
Alas! nor knowing nor suspecting ought, 		400
Till that her shape, erewhile so graceful seen, 
(Dian first rising after change was not 
More delicate) betray'd her secret act, 
And grew to guilty fulness: then farewell 
Her maiden dignity, and comely pride, 
And virtuous reputation. But this loss 
Worse follow'd, loss of shame, and wilful wreck 
Of what was left her yet of good, or fair, 
Or decent: now her meek and gentle voice 
To petulant turn'd; her simply-neat attire 		410
To sluttish tawdry: her once timid eye 
Grew fix'd, and parley'd wantonly with those 
It look'd on. Change detestable! For she, 
Erewhile the light of her fond father's house, 
Became a grievous darkness: but his heart 
Endured not long; all in despair he went 
Into the chambers of the grave, to seek 
A comfortless repose from sorrow and shame. 
What then befell this daughter desolate? 
For He, the partner of her earliest fault, 		420
Had left her, false perhaps, or in dislike 
Of her light carriage. What could then befall, 
What else, but of her self-injurious life 
The too sad penance -- hopeless penury, 
Loathsome disease unpitied, and thereto 
The brand of all-avoided infamy 
Set on her, like the fearful token o'er 
A plague-infested house: -- at length to death 
Impatient and distract she made bold way. 

Fain would I view thee, Corscombe, fain would hail 	430
The ground where Hollis lies; his choice retreat, 
Where, from the busy world withdrawn, he lived 
To generous Virtue, and the holy love 
Of Liberty, a dedicated spirit; 
And left his ashes there; still honouring 
Thy fields, with title given of patriot names, 
But more with his untitled sepulchre. 
That envious ridge conceals thee from my sight, 
Which, passing o'er thy place north-east, looks on 
To Sherburne's ancient towers and rich domains, 	440
The noble Digby's mansion; where he dwells 
Inviolate, and fearless of thy curse, 
War-glutted Osmund, superstitious Lord! 
Who with Heaven's justice for a bloody life 
Madest thy presumptuous bargain; giving more 
Than thy just having to redeem thy guilt, 
And darest bid th' Almighty to become 
The minister of thy curse. But sure it fell, 
So bigots fondly judged, full sure it fell 
With sacred vengeance pointed on the head 		450
Of many a bold usurper: chief on thine 
(Favourite of Fortune once, but last her thrall), 
Accomplish'd Raleigh! in that lawless day 
When, like a goodly hart, thou wert beset 
With crafty blood-hounds, lurching for thy life, 
While as they feign'd to chase thee fairly down; 
And that foul Scot, the minion-kissing King, 
Pursued with havoc in the tyrannous hunt. 

How is it vanish'd in a hasty spleen, 
The Tor of Glastonbury! Even but now 			460
I saw the hoary pile cresting the top 
Of that north-western hill; and in this Now 
A cloud hath pass'd on it, and its dim bulk 
Becomes annihilate, or if not, a spot 
Which the strain'd vision tires itself to find. 

And even so fares it with the things of earth 
Which seem most constant: there will come the cloud 
That shall infold them up, and leave their place 
A seat for Emptiness. Our narrow ken 
Reaches too far, when all that we behold 		470
Is but the havoc of wide-wasting Time, 
Or what he soon shall spoil. His outspread wings 
(Which bear him like an eagle o'er the earth) 
Are plumed in front so downy soft, they seem 
To foster what they touch, and mortal fools 
Rejoice beneath their hovering: woe the while! 
For in that indefatigable flight 
The multitudinous strokes incessantly 
Bruise all beneath their cope, and mark on all 
His secret injury; on the front of man 			480
Gray hairs and wrinkles; still as Time speeds on 
Hard and more hard his iron pennons beat 
With ceaseless violence; nor overpass, 
Till all the creatures of this nether world 
Are one wide quarry: following dark behind, 
The cormorant Oblivion swallows up 
The carcasses that Time has made his prey. 

But, hark! the village clock strikes nine -- the chimes 
Merrily follow, tuneful to the sense 
Of the pleased clown attentive, while they make 	490
False-measured melody on crazy bells. 
O wond'rous Power of modulated sound! 
Which, like the air (whose all-obedient shape 
Thou makest thy slave), canst subtilly pervade 
The yielded avenues of sense, unlock 
The close affections, by some fairy path 
Winning an easy way through every ear, 
And with thine unsubstantial quality 
Holding in mighty chains the hearts of all; 
All, but some cold and sullen-temper'd spirits, 	500
Who feel no touch of sympathy or love. 

Yet what is music, and the blended power 
Of voice with instruments of wind and string? 
What but an empty pageant of sweet noise? 
'Tis past: and all that it has left behind 
Is but an echo dwelling in the ear 
Of the toy-taken fancy, and beside, 
A void and countless hour in life's brief day. 

But ill accords my verse with the delights 
Of this gay month: -- and see the Villagers 		510
Assembling jocund in their best attire 
To grace this genial morn. Now I descend 
To join the worldly crowd; perchance to talk, 
To think, to act as they: then all these thoughts, 
That lift th'expanded heart above this spot 
To heavenly musing, these shall pass away 
(Even as this goodly prospect from my view) 
Hidden by near and earthy-rooted cares. 
So passeth human life -- our better mind 
Is as a Sunday's garment, then put on 			520
When we have nought to do; but at our work 
We wear a worse for thrift. Of this enough: 
To-morrow for severer thought; but now 
To breakfast, and keep festival to-day.

The Wordsworths moved to Racedown in Dorset at the end of September 1795, which is within about three mile's walk of Lewesdon Hill. Their friend Azariah Pinney sent Wordsworth a copy of Crowe's poem on November 20. Kenneth Johnston describes the poem as "a hill-by-hill Whiggish survey poem" (The Hidden Wordsworth 473). Duncan Wu describes "Its account of the 'prospect' from the top of Lewesdon Hill" as "a forerunner of the Wordsworthian view along the Wye" (Wordsworth's Reading 42). The poem was also read by Coleridge in 1795.

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Document prepared October 12th 2001/ Revised August 18th 2007