William Wordsworth

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The Brothers, A Pastoral Poem

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Lyrical Ballads (Volume II, 1800)

These Tourists, Heaven preserve us! needs must live
  A profitable life: some glance along
  Rapid and gay, as if the earth were air.
  And they were butterflies to wheel about
5   Long as their summer lasted; some, as wise,
  Upon the forehead of a jutting crag
  Sit perch'd with book and pencil on their knee,
  And look and scribble, scribble on and look,
  Until a man might travel twelve stout miles,
10   Or reap an acre of his neighbour's corn.
 
  But, for that moping son of Idleness
  Why can he tarry yonder? - In our church-yard
  Is neither epitaph nor monument,
  Tomb-stone nor name, only the turf we tread.
15   And a few natural graves. To Jane, his Wife,
  Thus spake the homely Priest of Ennerdale.
  It was a July evening, and he sate
  Upon the long stone seat beneath the eaves
  Of his old cottage, as it chanced that day,
20   Employ'd in winter's work. Upon the stone
  His Wife sate near him, teasing matted wool,
  While, from the twin cards tooth'd with glittering wire,
  He fed the spindle of his youngest child,
  Who turn'd her large round wheel in the open air
25   With back and forward steps. Towards the field
  In which the parish chapel stood alone,
  Girt round with a bare ring of mossy wall,
  While half an hour went by, the Priest had sent
  Many a long look of wonder, and at last,
30   Risen from his seat, beside the snowy ridge
  Of carded wool - which the old Man had piled
  He laid his implements with gentle care,
  Each in the other lock'd; and, down the path
  Which from his cottage to the church-yard led,
35   He took his way, impatient to accost
  The Stranger, whom he saw still lingering there.
 
  'Twas one well known to him in former days,
  A Shepherd-lad: who ere his thirteenth year
  Had chang'd his calling, with the mariners
40   A fellow-mariner, and so had fared
  Through twenty seasons; but he had been rear'd
  Among the mountains, and he in his heart
  Was half a Shepherd on the stormy seas.
  Oft in the piping shrouds had Leonard heard
45   The tones of waterfalls, and inland sounds
  Of caves and trees; and when the regular wind
  Between the tropics fill'd the steady sail
  And blew with the same breath through days and weeks,
  Lengthening invisibly its weary line
50   Along the cloudless main, he, in those hours
  Of tiresome indolence would often hang
  Over the vessel's aide, and gaze and gaze,
  And, while the broad green wave and sparkling foam
  Flash'd round him images and hues, that wrought
55   In union with the employment of his heart,
  He, thus by feverish passion overcome,
  Even with the organs of his bodily eye,
  Below him, in the bosom of the deep
  Saw mountains, saw the forms of sheep that graz'd
60   On verdant hills, with dwellings among trees,
  And Shepherds clad in the same country grey
  Which he himself had worn. 2
 
  And now at length,
  From perils manifold, with some small wealth
65   Acquir'd by traffic in the Indian Isles,
  To his paternal home he is return'd,
  With a determin'd purpose to resume
  The life which he liv'd there, both for the sake
  Of many darling pleasures, and the love
70   Which to an only brother he has borne
  In all his hardships, since that happy time
  When, whether it blew foul or fair, they two
  Were brother Shepherds on their native hills.
  - They were the last of all their race; and now,
75   When Leonard had approach'd his home, his heart
  Fail'd in him, and, not venturing to inquire
  Tidings of one whom he so dearly lov'd,
  Towards the church-yard he had turn'd aside,
  That, as he knew in what particular spot
80   His family were laid, he thence might learn
  If still his Brother liv'd, or to the file
  Another grave was added. - He had found
  Another grave, near which a full half hour
  He had remain'd, but, as he gaz'd, there grew
85   Such a confusion in his memory,
  That he began to doubt, and he had hopes
  That he had seen this heap of turf before,
  That it was not another grave, but one,
  He had forgotten. He had lost his path,
90   As up the vale he came that afternoon,
  Through fields which once had been well known to him.
  And Oh! what joy the recollection now
  Sent to his heart! he lifted up his eyes,
  And looking round he thought that he perceiv'd
95   Strange alteration wrought on every side
  Among the woods and fields, and that the rocks,
  And the eternal hills, themselves were chang'd.
 
  By this the Priest who down the field had come
  Unseen by Leonard, at the church-yard gate
100   Stopp'd short, and thence, at leisure, limb by limb
  He scann'd him with a gay complacency.
  Aye, thought the Vicar, smiling to himself;
  'Tis one of those who needs must leave the path
  Of the world's business, to go wild alone:
105   His arms have a perpetual holiday,
  The happy man will creep about the fields
  Following his fancies by the hour, to bring
  Tears down his check, or solitary smiles
  Into his face, until the setting sun
110   Write Fool upon his forehead. Planted thus
  Beneath a shed that overarch'd the gate
  Of this rude church-yard, till the stars appear'd
  The good man might have commun'd with himself
  But that the Stranger, who had left the grave,
115   Approach'd; he recogniz'd the Priest at once,
  And after greetings interchang'd, and given
  By Leonard to the Vicar as to one
  Unknown to him, this dialogue ensued.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  You live, Sir, in these dales, a quiet life:
120   Your years make up one peaceful family;
  And who would grieve and fret, if, welcome come
  And welcome gone, they are so like each other,
  They cannot be remember'd. Scarce a funeral
  Comes to this church-yard once, in eighteen months;
125   And yet, some changes must take place among you.
  And you, who dwell here, even among these rocks
  Can trace the finger of mortality,
  And see, that with our threescore years and ten
  We are not all that perish. - I remember,
130   For many years ago I pass'd this road,
  There was a foot-way all along the fields
  By the brook-side - 'tis gone - and that dark cleft!
  To me it does not seem to wear the face
  Which then it had.
 
  PRIEST.
 
135   Why, Sir, for aught I know,
  That chasm is much the same -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  But, surely, yonder -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Aye, there indeed, your memory is a friend
  That does not play you false. - On that tall pike,
140   (It is the loneliest place of all these hills)
  There were two Springs which bubbled side by side,
  As if they had been made that they might be
  Companions for each other: ten years back,
  Close to those brother fountains, the huge crag
145   Was rent with lightning - one is dead and gone,
  The other, left behind, is flowing still. -
  For accidents and changes such as these,
  Why we have store of them! a water-spout
  Will bring down half a mountain; what a feast
150   For folks that wander up and down like you,
  To see an acre's breadth of that wide cliff
  One roaring cataract - a sharp May storm
  Will come with loads of January snow,
  And in one night send twenty score of sheep
155   To feed the ravens, or a Shepherd dies
  By some untoward death among the rocks:
  The ice breaks up and sweeps away a bridge -
  A wood is fell'd: - and then for our own homes!
  A child is born or christen'd, a field plough'd,
160   A daughter sent to service, a web spun,
  The old house cloth is deck'd with a new face;
  And hence, so far from wanting facts or dates
  To chronicle the time, we all have here
  A pair of diaries, one serving, Sir,
165   For the whole dale, and one for each fire-side,
  Your's was a stranger's judgment: for historians
  Commend me to these vallies.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  Yet your church-yard
  Seems, if such freedom may be used with you,
170   To say that you are heedless of the past.
  Here's neither head nor foot-stone, plate of brass,
  Cross-bones or skull, type of our earthly state
  Or emblem of our hopes: the dead man's home
  Is but a fellow to that pasture field.
 
  PRIEST.
 
175   Why there, Sir, is a thought that's new to me.
  The Stone-cutters, 'tis true, might beg their bread
  If every English church-yard were like ours:
  Yet your conclusion wanders from the truth.
 
  We have no need of names and epitaphs,
180   We talk about the dead by our fire-sides.
  And then for our immortal part, we want
  No symbols, Sir, to tell us that plain tale:
  The thought of death sits easy on the man
  Who has been born and dies among the mountains:
 
  LEONARD.
 
185   Your dalesmen, then, do in each other's thoughts
  Possess a kind of second life: no doubt
  You, Sir, could help me to the history
  Of half these Graves?
 
  PRIEST.
 
  With what I've witness'd; and with what I've heard,
190   Perhaps I might, and, on a winter's evening,
  If you were seated at my chimney's nook
  By turning o'er these hillocks one by one,
  We two could travel, Sir, through a strange round,
  Yet all in the broad high-way of the world.
195   Now there's a grave - your foot is half upon it,
  It looks just like the rest, and yet that man
  Died broken-hearted.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  'Tis a common case,
  We'll take another: who is he that lies
200   Beneath yon ridge, the last of those three graves; -
  It touches on that piece of native rock
  Left in the church-yard wall.
 
  PRIEST.
 
  That's Walter Ewbank.
  He had as white a head and fresh a cheek
205   As ever were produc'd by youth and age
  Engendering in the blood of hale fourscore.
  For five long generations had the heart
  Of Walter's forefathers o'erflow'd the bounds
  Of their inheritance, that single cottage,
210   You see it yonder, and those few green fields.
  They toil'd and wrought, and still, from sire to son,
  Each struggled, and each yielded as before
  A little - yet a little - and old Walter,
  They left to him the family heart, and land
215   With other burthens than the crop it bore.
  Year after year the old man still preserv'd
  A chearful mind, and buffeted with bond,
  Interest and mortgages; at last he sank,
  And went into his grave before his time.
220   Poor Walter! whether it was care that spurr'd him
  God only knows, but to the very last
  He had the lightest foot in Ennerdale:
  His pace was never that of an old man:
  I almost see him tripping down the path
225   With his two Grandsons after him - but you,
  Unless our Landlord be your host to-night,
  Have far to travel, and in these rough paths
  Even in the longest day of midsummer -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  But these two Orphans!
 
  PRIEST.
 
230   Orphans! such they were -
  Yet not while Walter liv'd - for, though their Parents
  Lay buried side by side as now they lie,
  The old Man was a father to the boys,
  Two fathers in one father: and if tears
235   Shed, when he talk'd of them where they were not,
  And hauntings from the infirmity of love,
  Are aught of what makes up a mother's heart,
  This old Man in the day of his old age
  Was half a mother to them. - If you weep, Sir,
240   To hear a stranger talking about strangers,
  Heaven bless you when you are among your kindred!
  Aye. You may turn that way - it is a grave
  Which will bear looking at.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  These Boys I hope
245   They lov'd this good old Man -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  They did - and truly,
  But that was what we almost overlook'd,
  They were such darlings of each other. For
  Though from their cradles they had liv'd with Walter,
250   The only kinsman near them in the house,
  Yet he being old, they had much love to spare,
  And it all went into each other's hearts.
  Leonard, the elder by just eighteen months,
  Was two years taller: 'twas a joy to see,
255   To hear, to meet them! from their house the School
  Was distant three short miles, and in the time
  Of storm and thaw, when every water-course
  And unbridg'd stream, such as you may have notic'd
  Crossing our roads at every hundred steps,
260   Was swoln into a noisy rivulet,
  Would Leonard then, when elder boys perhaps
  Remain'd at home, go staggering through the fords
  Bearing his Brother on his back. - I've seen him,
  On windy days, in one of those stray brooks,
265   Aye, more than once I've seen him mid-leg deep,
  Their two books lying both on a dry stone
  Upon the hither side: - and once I said,
  As I remember, looking round these rocks
  And hills on which we all of us were born,
270   That God who made the great book of the world
  Would bless such piety -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  It may be then -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Never did worthier lads break English bread:
  The finest Sunday that the Autumn saw,
275   With all its mealy clusters of ripe nuts,
  Could never keep these boys away from church,
  Or tempt them to an hour of sabbath breach.
  Leonard and James! I warrant, every corner
  Among these rocks and every hollow place
280   Where foot could come, to one or both of them
  Was known as well as to the flowers that grew there.
  Like roe-bucks they went bounding o'er the hills:
  They play'd like two young ravens on the crags:
  Then they could write, aye and speak too, as well
285   As many of their betters - and for Leonard!
  The very night before he went away,
  In my own house I put into his hand
  A Bible, and I'd wager twenty pounds,
  That, if he is alive, he has it yet.
 
  LEONARD.
 
290   It seems, these Brothers have not liv'd to be
  A comfort to each other. -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  That they might
  Live to that end, is what both old and young
  In this our valley all of us have wish'd,
295   And what, for my part, I have often pray'd:
  But Leonard -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  Then James still is left among you -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  'Tis of the elder Brother I am speaking:
  They had an Uncle, he was at that time
300   A thriving man, and traffick'd on the seas:
  And, but for this same Uncle, to this hour
  Leonard had never handled rope or shroud.
  For the Boy lov'd the life which we lead here;
  And, though a very Stripling, twelve years old;
305   His soul was knit to this his native soil.
  But, as I said, old Walter was too weak
  To strive with such a torrent; when he died,
  The estate and house were sold, and all their sheep,
  A pretty flock, and which, for aught I know,
310   Had clothed the Ewbauks for a thousand years.
  Well - all was gone, and they were destitute.
  And Leonard, chiefly for his brother's sake,
  Resolv'd to try his fortune on the seas.
  'Tis now twelve years since we had tidings from him.
315   If there was one among us who had heard
  That Leonard Ewbank was come home again,
  From the great Gavel2, down by Leeza's Banks,
  And down the Enna, far as Egremont,
  The day would be a very festival,
320   And those two bells of ours, which there you see
  Hanging in the open air - but, O good Sir!
  This is sad talk - they'll never sound for him
  Living or dead - When last we heard of him
  He was in slavery among the Moors
325   Upon the Barbary Coast - 'Twas not a little
  That would bring down his spirit, and, no doubt,
  Before it ended in his death, the Lad
  Was sadly cross'd - Poor Leonard! when we parted,
  He took me by the hand and said to me,
330   If ever the day came when he was rich,
  He would return, and on his Father's Land
  He would grow old among us.
 
 
  LEONARD.
 
  If that day
  Should come, 'twould needs be a glad day for him;
335   He would himself, no doubt, be as happy then
  As any that should meet him -
 
  PRIEST.
  Happy, Sir -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  You said his kindred all were in their graves,
  And that he had one Brother -
 
  PRIEST.
340   That is but
  A fellow tale of sorrow. From his youth
  James, though not sickly, yet was delicate,
  And Leonard being always by his side
  Had done so many offices about him,
345   That, though he was not of a timid nature,
  Yet still the spirit of a mountain boy
  In him was somewhat check'd, and when his Brother
  Was gone to sea and he was left alone
  The little colour that he had was soon
350   Stolen from his cheek, he droop'd, and pin'd and
  pin'd:
  LEONARD.
 
  But these are all the graves of full grown men!
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Aye, Sir, that pass'd away: we took him to us.
  He was the child of all the dale - he liv'd
  Three months with one, and six months with another:
355   And wanted neither food, nor clothes, nor love,
  And many, many happy days were his.
  But, whether blithe or sad, 'tis my belief
  His absent Brother still was at his heart.
  And, when he liv'd beneath our roof, we found
360   (A practice till this time unknown to him)
  That often, rising from his bed at night,
  He in his sleep would walk about, and sleeping
  He sought his Brother Leonard - You are mov'd!
  Forgive me, Sir: before I spoke to you,
365   I judg'd you most unkindly.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  But this youth,
  How did he die at last?
 
  PRIEST.
 
  One sweet May morning,
  It will be twelve years since, when Spring returns,
370   He had gone forth among the new-dropp'd lambs,
  With two or three companions whom it chanc'd
  Some further business summon'd to a house
  Which stands at the Dale-head. James, tir'd perhaps,
  Or from some other cause remain'd behind.
375   You see yon precipice - it almost looks
  Like some vast building made of many crags,
  And in the midst is one particular rock
  That rises like a column from the vale,
  Whence by our Shepherds it is call'd, the Pillar.
380   James, pointing to its summit, over which
  They all had purpos'd to return together,
  Inform'd them that he there would wait for them:
  They parted, and his comrades pass'd that way
  Some two hours after, but they did not find him
385   At the appointed place, a circumstance
  Of which they took no heed: but one of them,
  Going by chance, at night, into the house
  Which at this time was James's home, there learn'd
  That nobody had seen him all that day:
390   The morning came, and still, he was unheard of:
  The neighbours were alarm'd, and to the Brook
  Some went, and some towards the Lake; ere noon
  They found him at the foot of that same Rock
  Dead, and with mangled limbs. The third day after
395   I buried him, poor Lad, and there he lies.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  And that then is his grave! - Before his death
  You said that he saw many happy years?
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Aye, that he did -
 
  LEONARD.
 
  And all went well with him -
 
  PRIEST.
 
400   If he had one, the Lad had twenty homes.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  And you believe then, that his mind was easy -
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Yes, long before he died, he found that time
  Is a true friend to sorrow, and unless
  His thoughts were turn'd on Leonard's luckless fortune,
405   He talk'd about him with a chearful love.
 
  LEONARD.
 
  He could not come to an unhallow'd end!
 
  PRIEST.
 
  Nay, God forbid! You recollect I mention'd
  A habit which disquietude and grief
  Had brought upon him, and we all conjectur'd
410   That, as the day was warm, he had lain down
  Upon the grass, and, waiting for his comrades
  He there had fallen asleep, that in his sleep
  He to the margin of the precipice
  Had walk'd, and from the summit had fallen head-long,
415   And so no doubt he perish'd: at the time,
  We guess, that in his hands he must have had
  His Shepherd's staff; for midway in the cliff
  It had been caught, and there for many years
  It hung - and moulder'd there.
 
420   The Priest here ended -
  The Stranger would have thank'd him, but he felt
  Tears rushing in; both left the spot in silence,
  And Leonard, when they reach'd the church-yard gate,
  As the Priest lifted up the latch, turn'd round,
425   And, looking at the grave, he said, My Brother.
  The Vicar did not hear the words: and now,
  Pointing towards the Cottage, he entreated
  That Leonard would partake his homely fare:
  The other thank'd him with a fervent voice,
430   But added, that, the evening being calm,
  He would pursue his journey. So they parted.
 
  It was not long ere Leonard reach'd a grove
  That overhung the road: he there stopp'd short,
  And, sitting down beneath the trees, review'd
435   All that the Priest had said: his early years
  Were with him in his heart: his cherish'd hopes,
  And thoughts which had been his an hour before.
  All press'd on him with such a weight, that now,
  This vale, where he had been so happy, seem'd
440   A place in which he could not bear to live:
  So he relinquish'd all his purposes.
  He travell'd on to Egremont; and thence,
  That night, address'd a letter to the Priest
  Reminding him of what had pass'd between them.
445   And adding, with a hope to be forgiven,
  That it was from the weakness of his heart,
  He had not dared to tell him, who he was.
 
  This done, he went on shipboard, and is now
  A Seaman, a grey headed Mariner.
 
 
 
 
 
  1 This Poem was intended to be the concluding poem of a series of pastorals, the scene of which was laid among the mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland. I mention this to apologise for the abruptness with which the poem begins.
  2 This description of the Calenture is sketched from an imperfect recollection of an admirable one in prose, by Mr. Gilbert, Author of the Hurricane.
  3 The great Gavel, so called I imagine, from its resemblance to the Gable end of a house, is one of the highest of the Cumberland mountains. It stands at the head of the several vales of Ennerdale, Wastdale, and Borrowdale. The Leeza is a River which follows into the Lake of Ennerdale: on issuing from the Lake, it changes its name, and is called the End, Eyne, or Enna. It falls into the sea a little below Egremont.

First published 1800.

Contributed by Robert Clark.