Texts, 1798

3. Wordsworth in 1798: Lyrical Ballads; Coleridge, the "Conversation Poems"

"Lines Written in Early Spring"
"The Last of the Flock"
"Lines Written near Richmond"

"The Eolian Harp" (first published as "Effusion XXXV")
"Frost at Midnight"



It is the honourable characteristic of poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The evidence of this fact is to be sought not in the writings of critics, but in those of poets themselves.

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.

Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word 'poetry' (a word of very disputed meaning) to stand in the way of their gratification, but that while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and, if the answer be favourable to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures: our own pre- established codes of decision.

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed. It must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them that, wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

An accurate taste in poetry and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for himself, but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

The tale of 'Goody Blake and Harry Gill' is founded on a well- authenticated fact which happened in Warwickshire. Of the other poems in the collection, it may be proper to say that they are either absolute inventions of the author or facts which took place within his personal observation or that of his friends.

The poem of 'The Thorn', as the reader will soon discover, is not supposed to be spoken in the author's own person: the character of the loquacious narrator will sufficiently show itself in the course of the story. 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere' was professedly written in imitation of the style, as well as of the spirit, of the elder poets. But with a few exceptions, the author believes that the language adopted in it has been equally intelligible for these three last centuries. The lines entitled 'Expostulation and Reply', and those which follow, arose out of conversation with a friend [i.e. William Hazlitt] who was somewhat unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy.


I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sat reclined
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did nature link					5
The human soul that through me ran,
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose-tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;				10
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made --			15
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.					20

If I these thoughts may not prevent,
If such be of my creed the plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


In distant countries I have been,
And yet I have not often seen
A healthy man, a man full grown,
Weep in the public roads alone.						
But such a one on English ground					5
And in the broad highway, I met; 
Along the broad highway he came,
His cheeks with tears were wet.
Sturdy he seemed, though he was sad,
And in his arms a lamb he had.					10

He saw me and he turned aside
As if he wished himself to hide;
Then with his coat he made essay
To wipe those briny tears away.
I followed him, and said, 'My friend,				15
What ails you? Wherefore weep you so?'
'Shame on me, sir! This lusty lamb,
He makes my tears to flow;
Today I fetched him from the rock --
He is the last of all my flock.					20

When I was young, a single man,
And after youthful follies ran,
Though little given to care and thought,
Yet so it was a ewe I bought;
And other sheep from her I raised,				25
As healthy sheep as you might see.
And then I married, and was rich
As I could wish to be;
Of sheep I numbered a full score,
And every year increased my store.				30

Year after year my stock it grew,
And from this one, this single ewe,
Full fifty comely sheep I raised --
As sweet a flock as ever grazed!
Upon the mountain did they feed,					35
They throve, and we at home did thrive. 
This lusty lamb of all my store
Is all that is alive;
And now I care not if we die
And perish all of poverty.						40

Ten children, sir, had I to feed --
Hard labour in a time of need!
My pride was tamed, and in our grief
I of the parish asked relief.
They said I was a wealthy man;					45
My sheep upon the mountain fed
And it was fit that thence I took
Whereof to buy us bread.
"Do this. How can we give to you",
They cried, "what to the poor is due?"			50

I sold a sheep as they had said,
And bought my little children bread,
And they were healthy with their food;
For me it never did me good.
A woeful time it was for me						55
To see the end of all my gains,
The pretty flock which I had reared
With all my care and pains,
To see it melt like snow away!
For me it was a woeful day.						60

Another still, and still another!
A little lamb and then its mother!
It was a vein that never stopped,
Like blood-drops from my heart they dropped
Till thirty were not left alive;					65
They dwindled, dwindled, one by one,
And I may say that many a time
I wished they all were gone:
They dwindled one by one away --
For me it was a woeful day.						70

To wicked deeds I was inclined,
And wicked fancies crossed my mind,
And every man I chanced to see,
I thought he knew some ill of me.
No peace, no comfort could I find,				75
No ease, within doors or without,
And crazily, and wearily,
I went my work about.
Oft-times I thought to run away;
For me it was a woeful day.						80

Sir, 'twas a precious flock to me,
As dear as my own children be;
For daily with my growing store
I loved my children more and more.
Alas, it was an evil time,						85
God cursed me in my sore distress;
I prayed, yet every day I thought
I loved my children less;
And every week, and every day
My flock, it seemed to melt away.					90

They dwindled, sir, sad sight to see,
From ten to five, from five to three --
A lamb, a wether, and a ewe;
And then at last, from three to two.
And of my fifty, yesterday						95
I had but only one,
And here it lies upon my arm --
Alas, and I have none!
Today I fetched it from the rock;
It is the last of all my flock.'		


How rich the wave in front, impressed
With evening twilight's summer hues,
While, facing thus the crimson west,
The boat her silent path pursues!
And see how dark the backward stream,					5
A little moment past, so smiling!
And still, perhaps, with faithless gleam,
Some other loiterer beguiling.

Such views the youthful bard allure,
But heedless of the following gloom,					10
He deems their colours shall endure
Till peace go with him to the tomb.
And let him nurse his fond deceit,
And what if he must die in sorrow?
Who would not cherish dreams so sweet,				15
Though grief and pain may come tomorrow?

Glide gently, thus forever glide,
Oh Thames! that other bards may see	
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river; come to me!						20
Oh glide, fair stream, forever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
Till all our minds forever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.

Vain thought! Yet be as now thou art,					25
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poet's heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Such heart did once the poet bless						
Who, pouring here a later ditty,						30
Could find no refuge from distress
But in the milder grief of pity.

Remembrance! as we glide along,
For him suspend the dashing oar,						
And pray that never child of song						35
May kno his freezing sorrows more.
How calm, how still! the only sound
The dripping of the oar suspended!
The evening darkness gathers round
By virtue's holiest powers attended.					40


My pensive Sara, thy soft cheek reclined	
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our cot, our cot o'ergrown			
With white-flowered jasmine and the broad-leaved myrtle
(Meet emblems they of innocence and love),	 				5
And watch the clouds that late were rich with light
Slow-sad'ning round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such should wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatched from yon bean-field! And the world so hushed!	 	10
The stilly murmur of the distant sea						
Tells us of silence. And that simplest lute
Placed lengthways in the clasping casement -- hark
How by the desultory breeze caressed!						
Like some coy maid half-yielding to her lover,	 			15
It pours such sweet upbraidings as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong. And now its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound	 					20
As twilight elfins make when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from fairyland,
Where melodies round honey-dropping flowers
Footless and wild, like birds of paradise,
Nor pause nor perch, hov'ring on untamed wing.	 			25
     And thus, my love, as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquillity,	 						30
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,
And many idle flitting fantasies
Traverse my indolent and passive brain --
As wild and various as the random gales
That swell or flutter on this subject lute!	 				35
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps,
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the soul of each, and God of all?					 	40	
     But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, oh beloved woman! -- nor such thoughts						
Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek daughter in the family of Christ,	 					45
Well hast thou said and holily dispraised
These shapings of the unregenerate mind,
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain philosophy's aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of Him,	 					50
Th' INCOMPREHENSIBLE! save when with awe
I praise him, and with faith that inly feels --
Who with his saving mercies healed me,
A sinful and most miserable man
Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess	 					55
Peace, and this cot, and thee, heart-honoured maid!


[See also revised versions of this poem, published in 1817 and 1834]

The frost performs its secret ministry
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud -- and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
 Have left me to that solitude which suits	 				5
Abstruser musings, save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! -- so calm that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,	 				10
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! The thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;	
Only that film which fluttered on the grate	 				15
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form
With which I can hold commune. Idle thought!	 				20
But still the living spirit in our frame
That loves not to behold a lifeless thing,
Transfuses into all its own delights
Its own volition -- sometimes with deep faith
And sometimes with fantastic playfulness.					 	25
     Ah me! amused by no such curious toys
Of the self-watching subtilizing mind,
How often in my early schoolboy days,
With most believing superstitious wish
Presageful have I gazed upon the bars,	 					30
To watch the stranger there! -- and oft belike,
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birthplace, and the old church-tower	
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening all the hot fair-day,	 				35
So sweetly that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I till the soothing things I dreamt
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!	 		40
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book;
Save if the door half-opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,	 				45
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face --
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My playmate when we both were clothed alike!
     Dear babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings heard in this dead calm	 			50
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought;
My babe so beautiful, it fills my heart
With tender gladness thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore	 			55
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe, shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags	 				60
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags; so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language which thy God					 	65
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal teacher! He shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
     Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,	 		70
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreasts sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while all the thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall	 		75
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or whether the secret ministry of cold
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon;
Like those, my babe, which ere tomorrow's warmth	 			80
Have capped their sharp keen points with pendulous drops,
Will catch thine eye, and with their novelty
Suspend thy little soul; then make thee shout
And stretch and flutter from thy mother's arms,
As thou would'st fly for very eagerness.						85

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