Imágenes de páginas

more or less bodily derangement. Nevertheless, I am at the close of my seventy-third year, in what may be called excellent health; so that intellectual labour is not necessarily unfavourable to longevity. But perhaps I ought here to add that mine has been generally carried on out of doors.

Let me here say a few words of this poem in the way of criticism. The subject being taken from feudal times has led to its being compared to some of Walter Scott's poems that belong to the same age and state of society. The comparison is inconsiderate. Sir Walter pursued the customary and very natural course of conducting an action, presenting various turns of fortune, to some outstanding point on which the mind might rest as a termination or catastrophe. The course I have attempted to pursue is entirely different. Everything that is attempted by the principal personages in "The White Doe" fails, so far as its object is external and substantial. So far as it is moral and spiritual it succeeds. The heroine of the poem knows that her duty is not to interfere with the current of events, either to forward or delay them, but

To abide

The shock, and finally secure

O'er pain and grief a triumph pure.

This she does in obedience to her brother's injunction, as most suitable to a mind and character that, under previous trials, has been proved to accord with his. She achieves this not without aid from the communication with the inferior Creature, which often leads her thoughts to revolve upon the past with a tender and humanising influence that exalts rather than depresses her. The anticipated heatification, if I may so say, of her mind, and the apotheosis of the companion of her solitude, are the points at which the Poem aims, and constitute its legitimate catastrophe, far too spiritual a one for instant or widely-spread sympathy, but not, therefore, the less fitted to make a deep and permanent impression upon that class of minds who think and feel more independently, than the many do, of the surfaces of things and interests transitory, because belonging more to the outward and social forms of life than to its internal spirit. How insignificant a thing, for example, does personal prowess appear compared with the fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom; in other words, with struggles for the sake of principle, in preference to victory gloried in for its own sake.]


DURING the Summer of 1807, I visited, for the first time, the beautiful country that surrounds Bolton Priory, in Yorkshire; and the Poem of the WHITE DOE, founded upon a Tradition connected with that place, was composed at the close of the same year.


IN trellised shed with clustering roses gay,*
And, MARY! oft beside our blazing fire,
When years of wedded life were as a day
Whose current answers to the heart's desire,
Did we together read in Spenser's Lay
How Una, sad of soul-in sad attire,

The gentle Una, of celestial birth,1

To seek her Knight went wandering o'er the earth.

Ah, then, Beloved! pleasing was the smart,

And the tear precious in compassion shed

For Her, who, pierced by sorrow's thrilling dart, Did meekly bear the pang unmerited;

Meek as that emblem of her lowly heart

The milk-white Lamb which in a line she led,

And faithful, loyal in her innocence,

Like the brave Lion slain in her defence.

Notes could we hear as of a faery shell
Attuned to words with sacred wisdom fraught;
Free Fancy prized each specious miracle,
And all its finer inspiration caught;

Till in the bosom of our rustic Cell,

We by a lamentable change were taught

That "bliss with mortal Man may not abide :"
How nearly joy and sorrow are allied!



The gentle Una, born of heavenly birth,

* In the orchard at Town-end Cottage, Grasmere.-ED.


For us the stream of fiction ceased to flow,
For us the voice of melody was mute.
-But, as soft gales dissolve the dreary snow,
And give the timid herbage leave to shoot,
Heaven's breathing influence failed not to bestow
A timely promise of unlooked-for fruit,

Fair fruit of pleasure and serene content
From blossoms wild of fancies innocent.

It soothed us-it beguiled us-then, to hear
Once more of troubles wrought by magic spell
And griefs whose aery motion comes not near
The pangs that tempt the Spirit to rebel:
Then, with mild Una in her sober cheer,
High over hill and low adown the dell
Again we wandered, willing to partake

All that she suffered for her dear Lord's sake.

Then, too, this Song of mine once more could please,
Where anguish, strange as dreams of restless sleep,
Is tempered and allayed by sympathies
Aloft ascending, and descending deep,

Even to the inferior Kinds; whom forest-trees
Protect from beating sunbeams, and the sweep
Of the sharp winds;-fair Creatures!-to whom Heaven
A calm and sinless life, with love, hath given.

This tragic Story cheered us; for it speaks
Of female patience winning firm repose;
And, of the recompense that conscience seeks,1
A bright, encouraging, example shows;



which conscience seeks,


Needful when o'er wide realms the tempest breaks,
Needful amid life's ordinary woes;—

Hence, not for them unfitted who would bless

A happy hour with holier happiness.

He serves the Muses erringly and ill,
Whose aim is pleasure light and fugitive:
O, that my mind were equal to fulfil
The comprehensive mandate which they give-
Vain aspiration of an earnest will!

Yet in this moral Strain a power may live,
Beloved Wife! such solace to impart

As it hath yielded to thy tender heart.

April 20, 1815.

"Action is transitory—a step, a blow,
The motion of a muscle-this way or that-
'Tis done; and in the after-vacancy

We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed:
Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark,
And has the nature of infinity.

Yet through that darkness (infinite though it seem
And irremovable) gracious openings lie,

By which the soul—with patient steps of thought
Now toiling, wafted now on wings of prayer—
May pass in hope, and though from mortal bonds
Yet undelivered, rise with sure ascent

Even to the fountain-head of peace divine." *

*The above extract, which follows the Dedication of the Poem to Mrs Wordsworth, is taken from his youthful tragedy of The Borderers. (See Vol. I. p. 167.) In the prefatory note to The Borderers-first published in 1842-Wordsworth says he would not have made use of these lines in The White Doe, if he could have foreseen the time when he would be induced to publish the tragedy.

In a note to the edition of 1836, he says,

"Action is transitory.'

"They that deny a God destroy Man's nobility: for certainly Man is of kinn to the Beast by his Body; and if he be not of kinn to God by his spirit, he is a base ignoble Creature. It destroys likewise Magnanimity, and the raising of humane Nature; for take an example of a Dogg, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on, when he finds himself maintained by a Man, who to him is instead of a God, or Melior Natura. Which courage is manifestly such, as that Creature without that confidence of a better Nature than his own could never attain. So Man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon Divine protection and favour, gathereth a force and faith which human Nature in itself could not obtain." LORD BACON.

Canto First.

FROM Bolton's old monastic tower *
The bells ring loud with gladsome power;

This and the five lines that follow were either read or recited by me, more than thirty years since, to the late Mr Hazlitt, who quoted some expressions in them (imperfectly remembered) in a work of his, published several years ago."

In the quarto edition of 1815 the following lines precede the extract from Lord Bacon; and in the edition of 1820, they succeed it.

"Weak is the will of Man, his judgment blind;
Remembrance persecutes, and Hope betrays;
Heavy is woe ;-and joy, for human kind,
A mournful thing, so transient is the blaze!"-
Thus might he paint our lot of mortal days,
Who wants the glorious faculty, assigned
To elevate the more-than-reasoning Mind,
And colour life's dark cloud with orient rays.
Imagination is that sacred power,
Imagination lofty and refined:

'Tis hers to pluck the amaranthine Flower

Of Faith, and round the Sufferer's temples bind

Wreaths that endure affliction's heaviest shower,

And do not shrink from sorrow's keenest wind.-ED.

"It is to be regretted that at the present day Bolton Abbey wants this ornament: but the Poem, according to the imagination of the Poet, is composed in Queen Elizabeth's time. 'Formerly,' says Dr Whitaker, 'over the Transept was a tower. This is proved not only from the mention of bells at the Dissolution, when they could have had no other place, but from the pointed roof of the Choir, which must have terminated westward, in some building of superior height to the ridge."" W. W., 1815.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »