Guilt and Sorrow; or, Incidents upon Salisbury Plain. William Wordsworth – 1791-1794.


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Hard is the life when naked and unhouzed
And wasted by the long day's fruitless pains,
The hungry savage, 'mid deep forests, rouzed
By storms, lies down at night on unknown plains
And lifts his head in fear, while famished trains
Of boars along the crashing forests prowl,
And heard in darkness, as the rushing rains
Put out his watch-fire, bears contending growl
And round his fenceless bed gaunt wolves in armies howl.

Yet is he strong to suffer, and his mind
Encounters all his evils unsubdued;
For happier days since at the breast he pined
He never knew, and when by foes pursued
With life he scarce has reached the fortress rude,
While with the war-song's peal the valleys shake,
What in those wild assemblies has he viewed
But men who all of his hard lot partake,
Repose in the same fear, to the same toil awake?

The thoughts which bow the kindly spirits down
And break the springs of joy, their deadly weight
Derive from memory of pleasures flown
Which haunts us in some sad reverse of fate,
Or from reflection on the state
Of those who on the couch of Affluence rest
By laughing Fortune's sparkling cup elate,
While we of comfort reft, by pain depressed,
No other pillow know than Penury's iron breast.

Hence where Refinement's genial influence calls
The soft affections from their wintry sleep
And the sweet tear of Love and Friendship falls
The willing heart in tender joy to steep,
When men in various vessels roam the deep
Of social life, and turns of chance prevail
Various and sad, how many thousands weep
Beset with foes more fierce than e'er assail
The savage without home in winter's keenest gale.

The troubled west was red with stormy fire,
O'er Sarum's plain the traveller with a sigh
Measured each painful step, the distant spire
That fixed at every turn his backward eye
Was lost, tho' still he turned, in the blank sky.
By thirst and hunger pressed he gazed around
And scarce could any trace of man descry,
Save wastes of corn that stretched without a bound,
But where the sower dwelt was nowhere to be found.

No shade was there, no meads of pleasant green,
No brook to wet his lips or soothe his ear,
Huge piles of corn-stack here and there were seen
But thence no smoke upwreathed his sight to cheer;
And see the homeward shepherd dim appear
Far off—He stops his feeble voice to strain;
No sound replies but winds that whistling near
Sweep the thin grass and passing, wildly plain;
Or desert lark that pours on high a wasted strain.

Long had each slope he mounted seemed to hide
Some cottage whither his tired feet might turn,
But now, all hope resigned, in tears he eyed
The crows in blackening eddies homeward borne,
Then sought, in vain, a shepherd's lowly thorn
Or hovel from the storm to shield his head.
On as he passed more wild and more forlorn
And vacant the huge plain around him spread;
Ah me! the wet cold ground must be his only bed.

Hurtle the rattling clouds together piled
By fiercer gales, and soon the storm must break.
He stood the only creature in the wild
On whom the elements their rage could wreak,
Save that the bustard of those limits bleak,
Shy tenant, seeing there a mortal wight
At that dread hour, outsent a mournful shriek
And half upon the ground, with strange affright.
Forced hard against the wind a thick unwieldy flight.

The Sun unheeded sunk, while on a mound
He stands beholding with astonished gaze,
Frequent upon the deep entrenched ground,
Strange marks of mighty arms of former days,
Then looking up at distance he surveys
What seems an antique castle spreading wide.
Hoary and naked are its walls and raise
Their brow sublime; while to those walls he hied
A voice as from a tomb in hollow accents cried:

'Oh from that mountain-pile avert thy face
Whate'er betide at this tremendous hour.
To hell's most cursed sprites the baleful place
Belongs, upreared by their magic power.
Though mixed with flame rush down the crazing shower
And o'er thy naked bed the thunder roll
Fly ere the fiends their prey unwares devour
Or grinning, on thy endless tortures scowl
Till very madness seem a mercy to thy soul.

'For oft at dead of night, when dreadful fire
Reveals that powerful circle's reddening stones,
'Mid priests and spectres grim and idols dire,
Far heard the great flame utters human moans,
Then all is hushed: again the desert groans,
A dismal light its farthest bounds illumes,
While warrior spectres of gigantic bones,
Forth-issuing from a thousand rifted tombs,
Wheel on their fiery steeds amid the infernal glooms.'

The voice was from beneath but face or form
He saw not, mocked as by a hideous dream.
Three hours he wildered through the watery storm
No moon to open the black clouds and stream
From narrow gulph profound one friendly beam;
No watch-dog howled from shepherd's homely shed.
Once did the lightning's pale abortive beam
Disclose a naked guide-post's double head,
Sole object where he stood had day its radiance spread.

'Twas dark and waste as ocean's shipless flood
Roaring with storms beneath night's starless gloom.
[Part Missing ]

Where the wet gypsey in her straw-built home
Warmed her wet limbs by fire of fern and broom.
No transient meteor burst upon his sight
Nor taper glimmered dim from sick man's room.
Along the moor no line of mournful light
From lamp of lonely toll-gate streamed athwart the night.

At length, deep hid in clouds, the moon arose
And spread a sickly glare. With flight unwilled,
Worn out and wasted, wishing the repose
Of death, he came where antient vows fulfilled,
Kind pious hands did to the Virgin build
A lonely Spital, the belated swain
From the night-terrors of that waste to shield.
But there no human being could remain
And now the walls are named the dead house of the plain.

Till then as if his terror dogged his road
He fled, and often backward cast his face;
And when the ambiguous gloom that ruin shewed
How glad he was at length to find a place
That bore of human hands the chearing trace:
Here shall he rest till Morn her eye unclose.
Ah me! that last of hopes is fled apace;
For, entering in, his hair in horror rose
To hear a voice that seemed to mourn in sorrow's throes.

It was the voice of one that sleeping mourned,
A human voice! and soon his terrors fled;
At dusk a female wanderer hither turned
And found a comfortless half-sheltered bed.
The moon a wan dead light around her shed;
He waked her and at once her spirits fail
Thrilled by the poignant dart of sudden dread,
For of that ruin she had heard a tale
That might with a child's fears the stoutest heart assail.

Had heard of one who forced from storms to shroud
Felt the loose walls of this decayed retreat
Rock to his horse's neighings shrill and loud,
While the ground rang by ceaseless pawing beat,
Till on a stone that sparkled to his feet
Struck and still struck again the troubled horse.
The man half raised that stone by pain and sweat,
Half raised; for well his arm might lose its force
Disclosing the grim head of a new murdered corse.

Such tales of the lone Spital she had learned,
And when that shape with eyes in sleep half-drowned
By the moon's sullen lamp she scarce discerned,
Cold stony horror all her senses bound.
But he to her low words of chearing sound
Addressed. With joy she heard such greeting kind
And much they conversed of that desert ground,
Which seemed to those of other worlds consigned
Whose voices still they heard as paused the hollow wind

The Woman told that through a hollow deep
As on she journeyed, far from spring or bower,
An old man beckoning from the naked steep
Came tottering sidelong down to ask the hour;
There never clock was heard from steeple tower.
From the wide corn the plundering crows to scare
He held a rusty gun. In sun and shower,
Old as he was, alone he lingered there,
His hungry meal too scant for dog that meal to share.

Much of the wonders of that boundless heath
He spoke, and of a swain who far astray
Reached unawares a height and saw beneath
Gigantic beings ranged in dread array.
Such beings thwarting oft the traveller's way
With shield and stone-ax stride across the wold.
Or, throned on that dread circle's summit gray
Of mountains hung in air, their state unfold,
And like a thousand Gods mysterious council hold.

And oft a night-fire mounting to the clouds
Reveals the desert and with dismal red
Clothes the black bodies of encircling crowds.
It is the sacrificial altar fed
With living men. How deep it groans, the dead
Thrilled in their yawning tombs their helms uprear;
The sword that slept beneath the warriour's head
Thunders in fiery air: red arms appear
Uplifted thro' the gloom and shake the rattling spear.

Not thus where clear moons spread their pleasing light.
Long bearded forms with wands uplifted shew
To vast assemblies, while each breath of night
Is hushed, the living fires that bright and slow
Rounding th'aetherial field in order go.
Then as they trace with awe their various files
All figured on the mystic plain below,
Still prelude of sweet sounds the moon beguiles
And charmed for many a league the hoary desert smiles.

While thus they talk the churlish storms relent;
And round those broken walls the dying wind
In feeble murmurs told his rage was spent.
With sober sympathy and tranquil mind
Gently the Woman gan her wounds unbind.
Might Beauty charm the canker worm of pain
The rose on her sweet cheek had ne'er declined:
Moved she not once the prime of Keswick's plain
While Hope and Love and joy composed her smiling train?

Like swans, twin swans, that when on the sweet brink
Of Derwent's stream the south winds hardly blow,
'Mid Derwent's water-lillies swell and sink
In union, rose her sister breasts of snow,
(Fair emblem of two lovers' hearts that know
No separate impulse) or like infants played,
Like infants strangers yet to pain and woe.
Unwearied Hope to tend their motions made
Long Vigils, and Delight her cheek between them laid.

And are ye spread ye glittering dews of youth
For this, that Frost may gall the tender flower
In joy's fair breast with more untimely tooth?
Unhappy man! thy sole delightful hour
Flies first; it is thy miserable dower
Only to taste of joy that thou may'st pine
A loss, which rolling suns shall ne'er restore.
New suns roll on and scatter as they shine
No second spring, but pain, till death release thee, thine.

'By Derwent's side my father's cottage stood,'
The mourner thus her artless story told.
'A little flock and what the finny flood
Supplied, to him were more than mines of gold.
Light was my sleep; my days in transport rolled:
With thoughtless joy I stretched along the shore
My parent's nets, or watched, when from the fold
High o'er the cliffs I led his fleecy store,
A dizzy depth below! his boat and twinkling oar.

'Can I forget my seat beneath the thorn
My garden stored with peas and mint and thyme,
And rose and lilly for the sabbath mom;
The church-inviting bell's delightful chime,
The merriment and song at shearing time,
My hen's rich nest with long grass overgrown,
The cowslip gathering at the morning prime,
The hazel copse with teeming clusters brown,

'Can I forget the casement where I fed
The red-breast when the fields were whitened o'er,
My snowy kerchiefs on the hawthorn spread
My humming wheel and glittering table store,
The well-known knocking at the evening door,
The hunted slipper and the blinded game,
The dance that loudly beat the merry floor,
The ballad chaunted round the brightening flame
While down the ravaged hills the storm unheeded came?

'The suns of eighteen summers danced along
Joyous as in the pleasant morn of May.
At last by cruel chance and wilful wrong
My father's substance fell into decay.
Oppression trampled on his tresses grey:
His little range of water was denied;
Even to the bed where his old body lay
His all was seized; and weeping side by side
Turned out on the cold winds, alone we wandered wide.

'Can I forget that miserable hour
When from the last hill-top my sire surveyed,
Peering above the trees, the steeple-tower
That on his marriage-day sweet music made?
There at my birth my mother's bones were laid
And there, till then, he hoped his own might rest.
Bidding me trust in God he stood and prayed:
I could not pray, by human grief oppressed,
Viewing our glimmering cot through tears that never ceased.

'There was a youth whose tender voice and eye
Might add fresh happiness to happiest days.
At uprise of the sun when he was by
The birds prolonged with joy their choicest lays,
The soft pipe warbled out a wilder maze,
The silent moon of evening, hung above,
Showered through the waving lime-trees mellower rays;
Warm was the breath of night: his voice of love
Charmed the rude winds to sleep by river, field or grove.

'His father bid him to a distant town
To ply remote from groves the artist's trade.
What tears of bitter grief till then unknown,
What tender vows our last sad kiss delayed!
To him our steps we turned, by hope upstayed.
Oh with what bliss upon his neck I wept;
And her whom he had loved in joy, he said,
He well could love in grief. his faith he kept,
And sheltered from the winds once more my father slept.

'Four years each day with daily bread was blessed,
By constant toil and constant prayer supplied.
Three lovely infants lay within my breast
And often viewing their sweet smiles I sighed
And knew not why. My happy father died
Just as the children's meal began to fail.
For War the nations to the field defied.
The loom stood still; unwatched, the idle gale
Wooed in deserted shrouds the unregarding sail.

'How changed at once! for Labour's chearful hum
Silence and Fear, and Misery's weeping train.
But soon with proud parade the noisy drum
Beat round to sweep the streets of want and pain.
My husband's arms now only served to strain
Me and his children hungering in his view.
He could not beg: my prayers and tears were vain;
To join those miserable men he flew.
We reached the western world a poor devoted crew.

'Oh dreadful price of being! to resign
All that is dear in being; better far
In Want's most lonely cave till death to pine
Unseen, unheard, unwatched by any star.
Better before proud Fortune's sumptuous car
Obvious our dying bodies to obtrude,
Than dog-like wading at the heels of War
Protract a cursed existence with the brood
That lap, their very nourishment, their brother's blood.

'The pains and plagues that on our heads came down,
Disease and Famine, Agony and Fear,
In wood or wilderness, in camp or town,
It would thy brain unsettle even to hear.
All perished, all in one remorseless year,
Husband and children one by one, by sword
And scourge of fiery fever: every tear
Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board
A British ship I waked as from a trance restored.'

Here paused she of all present thought forlorn,
Living once more those hours that sealed her doom.
Meanwhile he looked and saw the smiling morn
All unconcerned with their unrest resume
Her progress through the brightening eastern gloom.
Oh when shall such fair hours their gleams bestow
To bid the grave its opening clouds illume?
Fled each fierce blast and hellish fiend, and lo!
Day fresh from ocean wave uprears his lovely brow.

'Oh come,' he said, 'come after weary night
So ruinous far other scene to view.'
So forth she came and eastward looked. The sight
O'er her moist eyes meek dawn of gladness threw
That tinged with faint red smile her faded hue.
Not lovelier did the morning star appear
Parting the lucid mist and bathed in dew,
The whilst her comrade to her pensive chear
Tempered sweet words of hope and the lark warbled near.

They looked and saw a lengthening road and wain
Descending a bare slope not far remote.
The downs all glistered dropt with freshening rain;
The carman whistled loud with chearful note;
The cock scarce heard at distance sounds his throat;
But town or farm or hamlet none they viewed,
Only were told there stood a lonely cot
Full two miles distant. Then, while they pursued
Their journey, her sad tale the mourner thus renewed.

'Peaceful as this immeasurable plain
By these extended beams of dawn impressed,
In the calm sunshine slept the glittering main.
The very ocean has its hour of rest
Ungranted to the human mourner's breast.
Remote from man and storms of mortal care,
With wings which did the world of waves invest,
The Spirit of God diffused through balmy air
Quiet that might have healed, if aught could heal, Despair.

'Ah! how unlike each smell, each sight and sound
That late the stupor of my spirit broke.
Of noysome hospitals the groan profound,
The mine's dire earthquake, the bomb's thunder stroke;
Heart sickening Famine's grim despairing look;
The midnight flames in thundering deluge spread;
The stormed town's expiring shriek that woke
Far round the griesly phantoms of the dead,
And pale with ghastly light the victor's human head.

'Some mighty gulf of separation passed
I seemed transported to another world:
A dream resigned with pain when from the mast
The impatient mariner the sail unfurled,
And whistling called the wind that hardly curled
The silent seas. The pleasant thoughts of home
With tears his weather-beaten cheek impearled:
For me, farthest from earthly port to roam
Was best; my only wish to shun where man might come.

'And oft, robbed of my perfect mind, I thought
At last my feet a resting-place had found.
"Here will I weep in peace," so Fancy wrought,
"Roaming the illimitable waters round,
Here gaze, of every friend but Death disowned,
All day, my ready tomb the ocean flood."
To break my dream the vessel reached its bound
And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
'And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.

'Three years a wanderer round my native coast
My eyes have watched yon sun declining tend
Down to the land where hope to me was lost;
And now across this waste my steps I bend:
Oh! tell me whither, for no earthly friend
Have I, no house in prospect but the tomb.'
She ceased. The city's distant spires ascend
Like flames which far and wide the west illume,
Scattering from out the sky the rear of night's thin gloom.

Along the fiery east the Sun, a show
More gorgeous still! pursued his proud career.
But human sufferings and that tale of woe
Had dimmed the traveller's eye with Pity's tear,
And in the youthful mourner's doom severe
He half forgot the terrors of the night,
Striving with counsel sweet her soul to chear,
Her soul for ever widowed of delight.
He too had withered young in sorrow's deadly blight.

But now from a hill summit down they look
Where through a narrow valley's pleasant scene
A wreath of vapour tracked a winding brook
Babbling through groves and lawns and meads of green.
A smoking cottage peeped the trees between,
The woods resound the linnet's amorous lays,
And melancholy lowings intervene
Of scattered herds that in the meadows graze,
While through the furrowed grass the merry milkmaid strays.

Adieu ye friendless hope-forsaken pair!
Yet friendless ere ye take your several road,
Enter that lowly cot and ye shall share
Comforts by prouder mansions unbestowed.
For you yon milkmaid bears her brimming load,
For you the board is piled with homely bread,
And think that life is like this desart broad,
Where all die, happiest find is but a shed
And a green spot 'mid wastes interminably spread.

Though from huge wickers paled with circling fire
No longer horrid shrieks and dying cries
To ears of Daemon-Gods in peals aspire,
To Daemon-Gods a human sacrifice;
Though Treachery her sword no longer dyes
In the cold blood of Truce, still, reason's ray,
What does it more than while the tempests rise,
With starless glooms and sounds of loud dismay,
Reveal with still-born glimpse the terrors of our way?

For proof, if man thou lovest, turn thy eye
On realms which least the cup of Misery taste.
For want how many men and children die?
How many at Oppression's portal placed
Receive the scanty dole she cannot waste,
And bless, as she has taught, her hand benign?
How many by inhuman toil debased,
Abject, obscure, and brute to earth incline
Unrespited, forlorn of every spark divine?

Nor only is the walk of private life
Unblessed by justice and the kindly train
Of Peace and Truth, while Injury and Strife,
Outrage and deadly Hate usurp their reign;
From the pale line to either frozen main
The nations, though at home in bonds they drink
The dregs of wretchedness, for empire strain,
And crushed by their own fetters helpless sink,
Move their galled limbs in fear and eye each silent sink.

Lo! where the Sun exulting in his might
In haste the fiery top of Andes scales
And flings deep silent floods of purple light
Down to the sea through long Peruvian vales,
At once a thousand streams and gentle gales
Start from their slumber breathing scent and song.
But now no joy of man or woman hails
That star as once, ere with him came the throng
Of Furies and grim Death by Avarice lashed along.

Oh that a slave who on his naked knees
Weeps tears of fear at Superstition's nod,
Should rise a monster Tyrant and o'er seas
And mountains stretch so far his cruel rod
To bruise meek nature in her lone abode.
Is it for this the planet of the pole
Sends through the storms its stedfast light abroad?
Through storms we ride with Misery to her goal:
Nor star nor needle know the tempests of the soul.

How changed that paradise, those happy bounds
Where once through his own groves the Hindoo strayed;
No more the voice of jocund toil resounds
Along the crowded banyan's high arcade.

[Lines 473-504 are missing]

How weak the solace such fond thoughts afford,
When with untimely stroke the virtuous bleed.
Say, rulers of the nations, from the sword
Can ought but murder, pain, and tears proceed?
Oh! what can war but endless war still breed?
Or whence but from the labours of the sage
Can poor benighted mortals pin the meed
Of happiness and virtue, how assuage
But by his gentle words their self-consuming rage?

Insensate they who think, at Wisdom's porch
That Exile, Terror, Bonds, and Force may stand:
That Truth with human blood can feed her torch,
And justice balance with her gory hand
Scales whose dire weights of human heads demand
A Nero's arm. Must Law with iron scourge
Still torture crimes that grew a monstrous band
Formed by his care, and still his victim urge,
With voice that breathes despair, to death's tremendous verge?

[Lines 523-539 are missing]

Who fierce on kingly crowns hurled his own lightning blaze.

Heroes of Truth pursue your march, uptear
Th' Oppressor's dungeon from its deepest base;
High o'er the towers of Pride undaunted rear
Resistless in your might the herculean mace
Of Reason; let foul Error's monster race
Dragged from their dens start at the light with pain
And die; pursue your toils, till not a trace
Be left on earth of Superstition's reign,
Save that eternal pile which frowns on Sarum's plain.

Poet's Corner

Like so many, my first contact with poetry was at school. In my teens I tried my hand at poetry and found that I rather enjoyed it. As a musician, poetry enabled me to write songs - really cool to be a teenager and strumming out your own songs (badly in my case) on the guitar. I decided to build this site alongside a corresponding YouTube channel (Poets' Corner) and include both a narrated version of each poem along with the printed version. Having always loved (and many times visited) The Lake District in northwest England it seemed only right to start with Wiliam Wordsworth and, once I've created a significant body of his work, I'll start working on other poets.

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