William Wordsworth

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Hart-Leap Well

from

Lyrical Ballads (Volume II, 1800)

Hart-Leap Well is a small spring of water, about five miles Richmond in Yorkshire, and near the side of the road which leads from Richmond to Askrigg. Its name is derived from a remarkable chase, the memory of which is preserved by the monuments spoken of in the Part of the following Poem, which monuments do now exist as I have there described them.

  The Knight had ridden down from Wensley moor
  With the slow motion of a summer's cloud;
  He turn'd aside towards a Vassal's door,
  And, Bring another Horse! he cried aloud.
 
5   Another Horse!--That shout the Vassal heard,
  And saddled his best steed, a comely Grey;
  Sir Walter mounted him; he was the third
  Which he had mounted on that glorious day.
 
  Joy sparkeled in the prancing Courser's eyes;
10   The horse and horsemen are a happy pair;
  But, though Sir Walter like a falcon flies,
  There is a doleful silence in the air.
 
  A rout this morning left Sir Walter's Hall,
  That as they gallop'd made the echoes roar;
15   But horse and man are vanish'd, one and all;
  Such race, I think, was never seen before.
 
  Sir Walter, restless as a veering wind,
  Calls to the few tired dogs that yet remain:
  Brach, Swift and Music, noblest of their kind,
20   Follow, and weary up the mountain strain.
 
  The Knight halloo'd, he chid and cheer'd them on
  With suppliant gestures and upbraidings stern;
  But breath and eye-sight fail, and, one by one,
  The dogs are stretch'd among the mountain fern.
 
25   Where is the throng, the tumult of the chace?
  The bugles that so joyfully were blown?
  -This race it looks not like an earthly race;
  Sir Walter and the Hart are left alone.
 
  The poor Hart toils along the mountain side;
30   I will not stop to tell how far he fled,
  Nor will I mention by what death he died;
  But now the Knight beholds him lying dead.
 
  Dismounting then, he lean'd against a thorn;
  He had no follower, dog, nor man, nor boy:
35   He neither smack'd his whip, nor blew his horn,
  But gaz'd upon the spoil with silent joy.
 
  Close to the thorn on which Sir Walter lean'd,
  Stood his dumb partner in this glorious act;
  Weak as a lamb the hour that it is yean'd,
40   And foaming like a mountain cataract.
 
  Upon his side the Hart was lying stretch'd:
  His nose half-touch'd a spring beneath a hill,
  And with the last deep groan his breath had fetch'd
  The waters of the spring were trembling still.
 
45   And now, too happy for repose or rest,
  Was never man in such a joyful case,
  Sir Walter walk'd all round, north, south and west,
  And gaz'd, and gaz'd upon that darling place.
 
  And turning up the hill, it was at least
50   Nine roods of sheer ascent, Sir Walter found
  Three several marks which with his hoofs the beast
  Had left imprinted on the verdant ground.
 
  Sir Walter wiped his face, and cried, Till now
  Such sight was never seen by living eyes:
55   Three leaps have borne him from this lofty brow,
  Down to the very fountain where he lies.
 
  I'll build a Pleasure-house upon this spot,
  And a small Arbour, made for rural joy;
  Twill be the traveller's shed, the pilgrim's cot,
60   A place of love for damsels that are coy.
 
  A cunning Artist will I have to frame
  A bason for that fountain in the dell;
  And they, who do make mention of the same,
  From this day forth, shall call it Hart-leap Well.
 
65   And, gallant brute! to make thy praises known,
  Another monument shall here be rais'd;
  Three several pillars, each a rough hewn stone,
  And planted where thy hoofs the turf have graz'd.
 
  And in the summer-time when days are long,
70   I will come hither with my paramour,
  And with the dancers, and the minstrel's song,
  We will make merry in that pleasant bower.
 
  Till the foundations of the mountains fail
  My mansion with its arbour shall endure,
75   -The joy of them who till the fields of Swale,
  And them who dwell among the woods of Ure.
 
  Then home he went, and left the Hart, stone-dead,
  With breathless nostrils stretch'd above the spring.
  And soon the Knight perform'd what he had said,
80   The fame whereof through many a land did ring.
 
  Ere thrice the moon into her port had steer'd,
  A cup of stone receiv'd the living well;
  Three pillars of rude stone Sir Walter rear'd,
  And built a house of pleasure in the dell.
 
85   And near the fountain, flowers of stature tall
  With trailing plants and trees were intertwin'd,
  Which soon composed a little sylvan hall,
  A leafy shelter from the sun and wind.
 
  And thither, when the summer days were long,
90   Sir Walter journey'd with his paramour;
  And with the dancers and the minstrel's song
  Made merriment within that pleasant bower.
 
  The Knight, Sir Walter, died in course of time,
  And his bones lie in his paternal vale.--
95   But there is matter for a second rhyme,
  And I to this would add another tale.
 
 
 
  PART SECOND.
 
  The moving accident is not my trade.
  To curl the blood I have no ready arts;
  'Tis my delight, alone in summer shade,
100   To pipe a simple song to thinking hearts,
 
  As I from Hawes to Richmond did repair,
  It chanc'd that I saw standing in a dell
  Three aspins at three corners of a square,
  And one, not four yards distant, near a well.
 
105   What this imported I could ill divine,
  And, pulling now the rein my horse to stop,
  I saw three pillars standing in a line,
  The last stone pillar on a dark hill-top.
 
  The trees were grey, with neither arms nor head;
110   Half-wasted the square mound of tawny green;
  So that you just might say, as then I said,
  Here in old time the hand of man has been.
 
  I look'd upon the hills both far and near;
  More doleful place did never eye survey;
115   It seem'd as if the spring-time came not here,
  And Nature here were willing to decay.
 
  I stood in various thoughts and fancies lost,
  When one who was in Shepherd's garb attir'd,
  Came up the hollow. Him did I accost,
120   And what this place might be I then inquir'd.
 
  The Shepherd stopp'd, and that same story told
  Which in my former rhyme I have rehears'd.
  A jolly place, said he, in times of old,
  But something ails it now; the spot is curs'd.
 
125   You see these lifeless stumps of aspin wood,
  Some say that they are beeches, others elms,
  These were the Bower; and here a Mansion stood,
  The finest palace of a hundred realms.
 
  The arbour does its own condition tell,
130   You see the stones, the fountain, and the stream,
  But as to the great Lodge, you might as well
  Hunt half a day for a forgotten dream.
 
  There's neither dog nor heifer, horse nor sheep,
  Will wet his lips within that cup of stone;
135   And, oftentimes, when all are fast asleep,
  This water doth send forth a dolorous groan.
 
  Some say that here a murder has been done,
  And blood cries out for blood: but, for my part,
  I've guess'd, when I've been sitting in the sun,
140   That it was all for that unhappy Hart.
 
  What thoughts must through the creature's brain have pass'd!
  To this place from the stone upon the steep
  Are but three bounds, and look, Sir, at this last!
  O Master! it has been a cruel leap.
 
145   For thirteen hours he ran a desperate race;
  And in my simple mind we cannot tell
  What cause the Hart might have to love this place,
  And come and make his death-bed near the well.
 
  Here on the grass perhaps asleep he sank,
150   Lull'd by this fountain in the summer-tide;
  This water was perhaps the first he drank
  When he had wander'd from his mother's side.
 
  In April here beneath the scented thorn
  He heard the birds their morning carols sing,
155   And he, perhaps, for aught we know, was born
  Not half a furlong from that self-same spring.
 
  But now here's neither grass nor pleasant shade;
  The sun on drearier hollow never shone:
  So will it be, as I have often said,
160   Till trees, and stones, and fountain all are gone.
 
  Grey-headed Shepherd, thou hast spoken well;
  Small difference lies between thy creed and mine;
  This beast not unobserv'd by Nature fell,
  His death was mourn'd by sympathy divine.
 
165   The Being, that is in the clouds and air,
  That is in the green leaves among the groves.
  Maintains a deep and reverential care
  For them the quiet creatures whom he loves.
 
  The Pleasure-house is dust:--behind, before,
170   This, is no common waste, no common gloom;
  But Nature, in due course of time, once more
  Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom.
 
  She leaves these objects to a slow decay
  That what we are, and have been, may be known;
175   But, at the coming of the milder day,
  These monuments shall all be overgrown.
 
  One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,
  Taught both by what she shews, and what conceals,
  Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
180   With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.

First published 1800.