Book 4: Summer Vacation

A pleasant sight it was when, having clomb
The Heights of Kendal, and that dreary moor
Was crossed, at length, as from a rampart's edge,
I overlooked the bed of Windermere.
I bounded down the hill, shouting amain
A lusty summons to the farther shore
For the old Ferryman; and when he came
I did not step into the well-known boat
Without a cordial welcome. Thence right forth
I took my way, now drawing towards home,
To that sweet Valley where I had been reared;
'Twas but a short hour's walk ere, veering round,
I saw the snow-white church upon its hill
Sit like a thronèd Lady, sending out
A gracious look all over its domain.
Glad greetings had I, and some tears, perhaps,
From my old Dame, so motherly and good,
While she perused me with a parent's pride.
The thoughts of gratitude shall fall like dew.
Upon thy grave, good creature! While my heart
Can beat I never will forget thy name.
Heaven's blessing be upon thee where thou liest
After thy innocent and busy stir
In narrow cares, thy little daily growth
Of calm enjoyments, after eighty years,
And more than eighty, of untroubled life,
Childless, yet by the strangers to thy blood
Honoured with little less than filial love.
Great joy was mine to see thee once again,
Thee and thy dwelling, and a throng of things
About its narrow precincts all beloved,
And many of them seeming yet my own!
Why should I speak of what a thousand hearts
Have felt, and every man alive can guess?
The rooms, the court, the garden were not left
Long unsaluted, and the spreading pine
And broad stone table underneath its boughs,
Our summer seat in many a festive hour;
And that unruly child of mountain birth,
The froward brook, which, soon as he was boxed
Within our garden, found himself at once,
As if by trick insidious and unkind,
Stripped of his voice and left to dimple down
(Without an effort and without a will)
A channel pavèd by the hand of man.
I looked at him and smiled, and smiled again,
And in the press of twenty thousand thoughts,
‘Ha,’ quoth I, ‘pretty prisoner, are you there!’
And now, reviewing soberly that hour,
I marvel that a fancy did not flash
Upon me, and a strong desire, straightway,
At sight of such an emblem that showed forth
So aptly my late course of even days
And all their smooth enthralment, to pen down
A satire on myself. My aged Dame
Was with me, at my side: she guided me;
I willing, nay—nay, wishing to be led.
—The face of every neighbour whom I met
Was as a volume to me; some I hailed
Far off, upon the road, or at their work,
Unceremonious greetings interchanged
With half the length of a long field between.
Among my schoolfellows I scattered round
A salutation that was more constrained,
Though earnest, doubtless with a little pride,
But with more shame, for my habiliments,
The transformation, and the gay attire.

Delighted did I take my place again
At our domestic table: and, dear Friend!
Relating simply as my wish hath been
A Poet's history, can I leave untold
The joy with which I laid me down at night
In my accustomed bed, more welcome now
Perhaps than if it had been more desired.
Or been more often thought of with regret?
That bed whence I had heard the roaring wind
And clamorous rain, that bed where I so oft
Had lain awake on breezy nights to watch
The moon in splendour couched among the leaves
Of a tall ash, that near our cottage stood;
Had watched her with fixed eyes while to and fro
In the dark summit of the moving tree
She rocked with every impulse of the wind.

Among the faces which it pleased me well
To see again, was one by ancient right
Our inmate, a rough terrier of the hills,
By birth and call of nature pre-ordained
To hunt the badger and unearth the fox
Among the impervious crags, but having been
From youth our own adopted, he had passed
Into a gentler service. And when first
The boyish spirit flagged, and day by day
Along my veins I kindled with the stir,
The fermentation, and the vernal heat
Of poesy, affecting private shades
Like a sick Lover, then this dog was used
To watch me, an attendant and a friend,
Obsequious to my steps early and late,
Though often of such dilatory walk
Tired, and uneasy at the halts I made.
A hundred times when, in these wanderings,
I have been busy with the toil of verse,
Great pains and little progress, and at once
Some fair enchanting Image in my mind
Rose up full-formed, like Venus from the sea,
Have I sprung forth towards him, and let loose
My hand upon his back with stormy joy,
Caressing him again and yet again.
And when in the public roads at eventide
I sauntered, like a river murmuring
And talking to itself, at such a season
It was his custom to jog on before;
But, duly, whensoever he had met
A passenger approaching, would he turn
To give me timely notice, and straightway,
Punctual to such admonishment, I hushed
My voice, composed my gait, and shaped myself
To give and take a greeting that might save
My name from piteous rumours, such as wait
On men suspected to be crazed in brain.

Those walks well worthy to be prized and loved—
Regretted!—that word, too, was on my tongue,
But they were richly laden with all good,
And cannot be remembered but with thanks
And gratitude, and perfect joy of heart—
Those walks did now like a returning Spring
Come back on me again. When first I made
Once more the circuit of our little lake,
If ever happiness hath lodged with man,
That day consummate happiness was mine,
Wide-spreading, steady, calm, contemplative.
The sun was set, or setting, when I left
Our cottage door, and evening soon brought on
A sober hour, not winning or serene,
For cold and raw the air was, and untuned;
But as a face we love is sweetest then
When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look
It chance to wear is sweetest if the heart
Have fulness in itself; even so with me
It fared that evening. Gently did my soul
Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood
Naked, as in the presence of her God,
As on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch
A heart that had not been disconsolate:
Strength came where weakness was not known to be,
At least not felt; and restoration came
Like an intruder knocking at the door
Of unacknowledged weariness. I took
The balance in my hand and weighed myself
I saw but little, and thereat was pleased;
Little did I remember, and even this
Still pleased me more; but I had hopes and peace
And swellings of the spirits, was rapt and soothed,
Conversed with promises, had glimmering views
How life pervades the undecaying mind;
How the immortal soul with God-like power
Informs, creates, and thaws the deepest sleep
That time can lay upon her; how on earth,
Man, if he do but live within the light
Of high endeavours, daily spreads abroad
His being with a strength that cannot fail.
Nor was there want of milder thoughts, of love,
Of innocence, and holiday repose;
And more than pastoral quiet, in the heart
Of amplest projects, and a peaceful end
At last, or glorious, by endurance won.
Thus musing, in a wood I sate me down
Alone, continuing there to muse: meanwhile
The mountain heights were slowly overspread
With darkness, and before a rippling breeze
The long lake lengthened out its hoary line,
And in the sheltered coppice where I sate,
Around me from among the hazel leaves,
Now here, now there, stirred by the straggling wind,
Came intermittingly a breath-like sound,
A respiration short and quick, which oft,
Yea, might I say, again and yet again,
Mistaking for the panting of my dog,
The off and on companion of my walk,
I turned my head, to look if he were there.

A freshness also found I at this time
In human Life, the life I mean of those
Whose occupations really I loved;
The prospect often touched me with surprise,
Crowded and full, and changed, as seemed to me,
Even as a garden in the heat of spring
After an eight-days' absence. For (to omit
The things which were the same and yet appeared
So different) amid this solitude,
The little Vale where was my chief abode,
'Twas not indifferent to a youthful mind
To note, perhaps, some sheltered seat in which
An old man had been used to sun himself,
Now empty; pale-faced babes whom I had left
In arms, known children of the neighbourhood,
Now rosy prattlers tottering up and down;
And growing girls whose beauty, filched away
With all its pleasant promises, was gone
To deck some slighted playmate's homely cheek.

Yes, I had something of another eye,
And often looking round was moved to smiles
Such as a delicate work of humour breeds;
I read, without design, the opinions, thoughts
Of those plain-living people, in a sense
Of love and knowledge; with another eye
I saw the quiet woodman in the woods,
The shepherd on the hills. With new delight,
This chiefly, did I view my grey-haired Dame;
Saw her go forth to church or other work
Of state, equipped in monumental trim;
Short velvet cloak (her bonnet of the like)
A mantle such as Spanish Cavaliers
Wore in old time. Her smooth domestic life,
Affectionate without uneasiness,
Her talk, her business, pleased me; and no less
Her clear though shallow stream of piety
That ran on Sabbath days a fresher course;
With thoughts unfelt till now I saw her read
Her Bible on the Sunday afternoons,
And loved the book, when she had dropped asleep
And made of it a pillow for her head.

Nor less do I remember to have felt,
Distinctly manifested at this time,
A dawning, even as of another sense,
A human-heartedness about my love
For objects hitherto the gladsome air
Of my own private being and no more:
Which I had loved, even as a blessèd spirit
Or Angel, if he were to dwell on earth,
Might love in individual happiness.
But now there opened on me other thoughts
Of change, congratulation and regret,
A new-born feeling! It spread far and wide;
The trees, the mountains shared it, and the brooks,
The stars of Heaven, now seen in their old haunts—
White Sirius glittering o'er the southern crags,
Orion with his belt, and those fair Seven,
Acquaintances of every little child,
And Jupiter, my own belovèd star!
Whatever shadings of mortality
Had fallen upon these objects heretofore
Were different in kind; not tender: strong,
Deep, gloomy were they and severe; the scatterings
Of childhood; and, moreover, had given way
In later youth to beauty, and to love
Enthusiastic, to delight and joy.

As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deeps,
Sees many beauteous sights—weeds, fishes, flowers,
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, from that which is indeed
The region, and the things which there abide
In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam
Of his own image, by a sunbeam now,
And motions that are sent he knows not whence,
Impediments that make his task more sweet;
Such pleasant office have we long pursued
Incumbent o'er the surface of past time
With like success, nor have we often looked
On more alluring shows (to me, at least,)
More soft, or less ambiguously descried,
Than those which now we have been passing by,
And where we still are lingering. Yet in spite
Of all these new employments of the mind,
There was an inner falling off—I loved,
Loved deeply, all that I had loved before,
More deeply even than ever: but a swarm
Of heady thoughts jostling each other, gawds,
And feast and dance, and public revelry,
And sports and games (less pleasing in themselves,
Than as they were a badge glossy and fresh
Of manliness and freedom) these did now
Seduce me from the firm habitual quest
Of feeding pleasures, from that eager zeal,
Those yearnings which had every day been mine—
A wild, unworldly-minded youth, given up
To Nature and to books, or, at the most,
From time to time, by inclination shipped,
One among many, in societies,
That were, or seemed, as simple as myself.
But now was come a change; it would demand
Some skill, and longer time than may be spared,
To paint, even to myself, these vanities,
And how they wrought. But, sure it is that now
Contagious air did oft environ me
Unknown among these haunts in former days.
The very garments that I wore appeared
To prey upon my strength, and stopped the course
And quiet stream of self-forgetfulness.
Something there was about me that perplexed
The authentic sight of reason, pressed too closely
On that religious dignity of mind
That is the very faculty of truth;
Which wanting, either, from the very first,
A function never lighted up, or else
Extinguished, man, a creature great and good,
Seems but a pageant plaything with vile claws,
And this great frame of breathing elements
A senseless idol.
That vague heartless chase
Of trivial pleasures was a poor exchange
For books and Nature at that early age.
'Tis true, some casual knowledge might be gained
Of character or life; but at that time,
Of manners put to school I took small note,
And all my deeper passions lay elsewhere.
Far better had it been to exalt the mind
By solitary study, to uphold
Intense desire by thought and quietness;
And yet, in chastisement of these regrets,
The memory of one particular hour
Doth here rise up against me. In a throng,
A festal company of maids and youths,
Old men, and matrons staid, promiscuous rout,
A medley of all tempers, I had passed
The night in dancing, gaiety, and mirth,
With din of instruments and shuffling feet,
And glancing forms, and tapers glittering,
And unaimed prattle flying up and down;
Spirits upon the stretch, and here and there
Slight shocks of young love-liking interspersed,
That mounted up like joy into the head,
And tingled through the veins. Ere we retired,
The cock had crowed, the sky was bright with day.
Two miles I had to walk along the fields
Before I reached my home. Magnificent
The morning was, a memorable pomp,
More glorious than I ever had beheld.
The sea was laughing at a distance; all
The solid mountains were as bright as clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drenched in empyrean light;
And in the meadows and the lower grounds
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn—
Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds,
And labourers going forth into the fields.
Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim
My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
A dedicated Spirit. On I walked
In blessedness, which even yet remains.

Strange rendezvous my mind was at that time,
A parti-coloured show of grave and gay,
Solid and light, short-sighted and profound;
Of inconsiderate habits and sedate,
Consorting in one mansion unreproved.
I knew the worth of that which I possessed,
Though slighted and misused. Besides, in truth,
That summer, swarming as it did with thoughts
Transient and loose, yet wanted not a store
Of primitive hours, when, by these hindrances
Unthwarted, I experienced in myself
Conformity as just as that of old
To the end and written spirit of God's works,
Whether held forth in Nature or in Man.

From many wanderings that have left behind
Remembrances not lifeless, I will here
Single out one, then pass to other themes.

A favourite pleasure hath it been with me,
From time of earliest youth, to walk alone
Along the public way, when, for the night
Deserted, in its silence it assumes
A character of deeper quietness
Than pathless solitudes. At such an hour
Once, ere these summer months were passed away,
I slowly mounted up a steep ascent.
Where the road's watery surface, to the ridge
Of that sharp rising, glittered in the moon
And seemed before my eyes another stream
Creeping with silent lapse to join the brook
That murmured in the valley. On I went
Tranquil, receiving in my own despite
Amusement, as I slowly passed along,
From such near objects as from time to time
Perforce intruded on the listless sense
Quiescent, and disposed to sympathy,
With an exhausted mind, worn out by toil,
And all unworthy of the deeper joy
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