Book 6: Cambridge and the Alps

The leaves were yellow when to Furness Fells,
The haunt of shepherds, and to cottage life
I bade adieu; and, one among the flock
Who by that season are convened, like birds
Trooping together at the fowler's lure,
Went back to Granta's cloisters, not so fond,
Or eager, though as gay and undepressed
In spirit, as when I thence had taken flight
A few short months before. I turned my face
Without repining from the mountain pomp
Of autumn, and its beauty entered in
With calmer lakes and louder streams; and you,
Frank-hearted maids of rocky Cumberland,
You and your not unwelcome days of mirth,
I quitted, and your nights of revelry,
And in my own unlovely cell sate down
In lightsome mood—such privilege has youth
That cannot take long leave of pleasant thoughts.

We need not linger o'er the ensuing time,
But let me add at once that, now the bonds
Of indolent and vague society
Relaxing in their hold, I lived henceforth
More to myself, read more, reflected more,
Felt more, and settled daily into habits
More promising. Two winters may be passed
Without a separate notice; many books
Were read in process of this time, devoured,
Tasted or skimmed, or studiously perused,
Yet with no settled plan. I was detached
Internally from academic cares,
From every hope of prowess and reward,
And wished to be a lodger in that house
Of letters, and no more: and should have been
Even such, but for some personal concerns
That hung about me in my own despite
Perpetually, no heavy weight, but still
A baffling and a hindrance, a control
Which made the thought of planning for myself
A course of independent study seem
An act of disobedience towards them
Who loved me, proud rebellion and unkind.
This bastard virtue, rather let it have
A name it more deserves, this cowardice,
Gave treacherous sanction to that over-love
Of freedom planted in me from the very first,
And indolence, by force of which I turned
From regulations even of my own
As from restraints and bonds. And who can tell—
Who knows what thus may have been gained, both then
And at a later season, or preserved;
What love of Nature, what original strength
Of contemplation, what intuitive truths,
The deepest and the best, and what research
Unbiassed, unbewildered, and unawed?

The Poet's soul was with me at that time;
Sweet meditations, the still overflow
Of happiness and truth. A thousand hopes
Were mine, a thousand tender dreams, of which
No few have since been realized, and some
Do yet remain, hopes for my future life.
Four years and thirty, told this very week,
Have I been now a sojourner on earth,
And yet the morning gladness is not gone
Which then was in my mind. Those were the days
Which also first encouraged me to trust
With firmness, hitherto but lightly touched
With such a daring thought, that I might leave
Some monument behind me which pure hearts
Should reverence. The instinctive humbleness,
Upheld even by the very name and thought
Of printed books and authorship, began
To melt away; and further, the dread awe
Of mighty names was softened down and seemed
Approachable, admitting fellowship
Of modest sympathy. Such aspect now,
Though not familiarly, my mind put on;
I loved, and I enjoyed, that was my chief
And ruling business, happy in the strength
And loveliness of imagery and thought.

All winter long, whenever free to take
My choice, did I at night frequent our groves
And tributary walks; the last, and oft
The only one, who had been lingering there
Through hours of silence, till the porter's bell,
A punctual follower on the stroke of nine,
Rang with its blunt unceremonious voice,
Inexorable summons! Lofty elms,
Inviting shades of opportune recess,
Did give composure to a neighbourhood
Unpeaceful in itself. A single tree
There was, no doubt yet standing there, an ash
With sinuous trunk, boughs exquisitely wreathed:
Up from the ground and almost to the top
The trunk and master branches everywhere
Were green with ivy, and the lightsome twigs
And outer spray profusely tipped with seeds
That hung in yellow tassels and festoons,
Moving or still, a favourite trimmed out
By winter for himself, as if in pride,
And with outlandish grace. Oft have I stood
Foot-bound uplooking at this lovely tree
Beneath a frosty moon. The hemisphere
Of magic fiction, verse of mine perhaps
May never tread; but scarcely Spenser's self
Could have more tranquil visions in his youth,
More bright appearances could scarcely see
Of human forms and superhuman powers,
Than I beheld standing on winter nights
Alone, beneath this fairy work of earth.

'Twould be a waste of labour to detail
The rambling studies of a truant youth,
Which further may be easily divined,
What, and what kind they were. My inner knowledge,
(This barely will I note) was oft in depth
And delicacy like another mind
Sequestered from my outward taste in books,
And yet the books which then I loved the most
Are dearest to me now; for, being versed
In living Nature, I had there a guide
Which opened frequently my eyes, else shut,
A standard which was usefully applied,
Even when unconsciously, to other things
Which less I understood.—In general terms,
I was a better judge of thoughts than words,
Misled as to these latter, not alone
By common inexperience of youth,
But by the trade in classic niceties,
Delusion to young scholars incident
And old ones also, by that overprized
And dangerous craft of picking phrases out
From languages that want the living voice
To make of them a nature to the heart;
To tell us what is passion, what is truth,
What reason, what simplicity and sense.

Yet must I not entirely overlook
The pleasure gathered from the elements
Of geometric science. I had stepped
In these enquiries but a little way,
No farther than the threshold; with regret
Sincere I mention this; but there I found
Enough to exalt, to cheer me and compose:
With Indian awe and wonder, ignorance
Which even was cherished, did I meditate
Upon the alliance of those simple, pure
Proportions and relations with the frame
And laws of Nature, how they could become
Herein a leader to the human mind,
And made endeavours frequent to detect
The process by dark guesses of my own.
Yet from this source more frequently I drew
A pleasure calm and deeper, a still sense
Of permanent and universal sway
And paramount endowment in the mind,
An image not unworthy of the one
Surpassing life which—out of space and time,
Nor touched by welterings of passion—is,
And hath the name of, God. Transcendent peace
And silence did await upon these thoughts
That were a frequent comfort to my youth.

And as I have read of one by shipwreck thrown,
With fellow-sufferers whom the waves had spared,
Upon a region uninhabited,
An island of the deep, who having brought
To land a single volume and no more,
A treatise of Geometry, was used,
Although of food and clothing destitute,
And beyond common wretchedness depressed,
To part from company and take this book
(Then first a self-taught pupil in those truths)
To spots remote and corners of the isle
By the sea side, and draw his diagrams
With a long stick upon the sand, and thus
Did oft beguile his sorrow, and almost
Forget his feeling: even so (if things
Producing like effect, from outward cause
So different, may rightly be compared),
So was it with me then, and so will be
With Poets ever. Mighty is the charm
Of those abstractions to a mind beset
With images, and haunted by itself,
And specially delightful unto me
Was that clear synthesis built up aloft
So gracefully; even then when it appeared
No more than as a plaything, or a toy
Embodied to the sense: not what it is
In verity, an independent world,
Created out of pure intelligence.

Such dispositions then were mine, almost
Through grace of heaven and inborn tenderness.
And not to leave the picture of that time
Imperfect, with these habits I must rank
A melancholy from humours of the blood
In part, and partly taken up, that loved
A pensive sky, sad days, and piping winds,
The twilight more than dawn, autumn than spring;
A treasured and luxurious gloom of choice
And inclination mainly, and the mere
Redundancy of youth's contentedness.
—Add unto this a multitude of hours
Pilfered away by what the Bard who sang
Of the Enchanter Indolence hath called
‘Good-natured lounging’, and behold a map
Of my collegiate life—far less intense
Than duty called for, or without regard
To duty, might have sprung up of itself
By change of accidents, or even, to speak
Without unkindness, in another place.

In summer among distant nooks I roved,
Dovedale, or Yorkshire dales, or through bye-tracts
Of my own native region, and was blest
Between those sundry wanderings with a joy
Above all joys, that seemed another morn
Risen on mid noon, the presence, Friend, I mean
Of that sole Sister, she who hath been long
Thy treasure also, thy true friend and mine,
Now, after separation desolate,
Restored to me—such absence that she seemed
A gift then first bestowed. The gentle banks
Of Emont, hitherto unnamed in song,
And that monastic castle, on a flat
Low-standing by the margin of the stream,
A mansion not unvisited of old
By Sidney, where, in sight of our Helvellyn,
Some snatches he might pen, for aught we know,
Of his Arcadia, by fraternal love
Inspired;—that river and that mouldering dome
Have seen us sit in many a summer hour,
My sister and myself, when, having climbed
In danger through some window's open space,
We looked abroad, or on the turret's head
Lay listening to the wild flowers and the grass,
As they gave out their whispers to the wind.

Another maid there was, who also breathed
A gladness o'er that season, then to me,
By her exulting outside look of youth
And placid under-countenance, first endeared;
That other spirit, Coleridge! who is now
So near to us, that meek confiding heart,
So reverenced by us both. O'er paths and fields
In all that neighbourhood, through narrow lanes
Of eglantine, and through the shady woods,
And o'er the Border Beacon, and the waste
Of naked pools, and common crags that lay
Exposed on the bare fell, was scattered love,
A spirit of pleasure, and youth's golden gleam.
O Friend! we had not seen thee at that time,
And yet a power is on me, and a strong
Confusion, and I seem to plant thee there.
Far art thou wandered now in search of health,
And milder breezes,—melancholy lot!
But thou art with us, with us in the past,
The present, with us in the times to come.
There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair,
No languor, no dejection, no dismay,
No absence scarcely can there be, for those
Who love as we do. Speed thee well! divide
Thy pleasure with us; thy returning strength,
Receive it daily as a joy of ours;
Share with us thy fresh spirits, whether gift
Of gales Etesian or of loving thoughts.

I, too, have been a wanderer; but, alas!
How different is the fate of different men
Though twins almost in genius and in mind!
Unknown unto each other, yea, and breathing
As if in different elements, we were framed
To bend at last to the same discipline,
Predestined, if two beings ever were,
To seek the same delights, and have one health,
One happiness. Throughout this narrative,
Else sooner ended, I have known full well
For whom I thus record the birth and growth
Of gentleness, simplicity, and truth,
And joyous loves that hallow innocent days
Of peace and self-command. Of rivers, fields,
And groves I speak to thee, my Friend! to thee,
Who, yet a liveried schoolboy, in the depths
Of the huge city, on the leaded roof
Of that wide edifice, thy home and school,
Wast used to lie and gaze upon the clouds
Moving in heaven; or haply, tired of this,
To shut thine eyes, and by internal light
See trees, and meadows, and thy native stream,
Far distant, thus beheld from year to year
Of thy long exile. Nor could I forget,
In this late portion of my argument,
That scarcely had I finally resigned
My rights among those academic bowers
When thou wert thither guided. From the heart
Of London, and from cloisters there, thou cam'st,
And didst sit down in temperance and peace,
A rigorous student. What a stormy course
Then followed. Oh! it is a pang that calls
For utterance, to think how small a change
Of circumstances might to thee have spared
A world of pain, ripened ten thousand hopes,
For ever withered. Through this retrospect
Of my own college life I still have had
Thy after-sojourn in the self-same place
Present before my eyes, have played with times,
(I speak of private business of the thought)
And accidents as children do with cards,
Or as a man, who, when his house is built,
A frame locked up in wood and stone, doth still,
In impotence of mind, by his fireside
Rebuild it to his liking. I have thought
Of thee, thy learning, gorgeous eloquence,
And all the strength and plumage of thy youth,
Thy subtle speculations, toils abstruse
Among the schoolmen, and Platonic forms
Of wild ideal pageantry, shaped out
From things well-matched or ill, and words for things,
The self-created sustenance of a mind
Debarred from Nature's living images,
Compelled to be a life unto itself,
And unrelentingly possessed by thirst
Of greatness, love, and beauty. Not alone,
Ah! surely not in singleness of heart
Should I have seen the light of evening fade
Upon the silent Cam, if we had met,
Even at that early time; I needs must hope,
Must feel, must trust, that my maturer age,
And temperature less willing to be moved,
My calmer habits, and more steady voice,
Would with an influence benign have soothed,
Or chased away, the airy wretchedness
That battened on thy youth. But thou hast trod,
In watchful meditation thou hast trod,
A march of glory, which doth put to shame
These vain regrets; health suffers in thee, else
Such grief for thee would be the weakest thought
That ever harboured in the breast of man.

A passing word erewhile did lightly touch
On wanderings of my own; and now to these
My poem leads me with an easier mind.
The employments of three winters when I wore
A student's gown have been already told,
Or shadowed forth, as far as there is need.
When the third summer brought its liberty,
A fellow student and myself, he too
A mountaineer, together sallied forth
And, staff in hand, on foot pursued our way
Towards the distant Alps. An open slight
Of college cares and study was the scheme,
Nor entertained without concern for those
To whom my worldly interests were dear.
But Nature then was sovereign in my heart,
And mighty forms, seizing a youthful fancy,
Had given a charter to irregular hopes.
In any age, without an impulse sent
From work of nations, and their goings-on,
I should have been possessed by like desire;
But 'twas a time when Europe was rejoiced,
France standing on the top of golden hours,
And human nature seeming born again.
Bound, as I said, to the Alps, it was our lot
To land at Calais on the very eve
Of that great federal day; and there we saw,
In a mean city, and among a few,
How bright a face is worn when joy of one
Is joy of tens of millions. Southward thence
We took our way, direct through hamlets, towns,
Gaudy with reliques of that festival,
Flowers left to wither on triumphal arcs,
And window-garlands. On the public roads,
And, once, three days successively, through paths
By which our toilsome journey was abridged,
Among sequestered villages we walked
And found benevolence and blessedness
Spread like a fragrance everywhere, like spring
That leaves no corner of the land untouched:
Where elms for many and many a league in files,
With their thin umbrage, on the stately roads
Of that great kingdom, rustled o'er our heads,
For ever near us as we paced along:
'Twas sweet at such a time, with such delights
On every side, in prime of youthful strength,
To feed a Poet's tender melancholy
And fond conceit of sadness, to the noise
And gentle undulations which they made.
Unhoused, beneath the evening star we saw
Dances of liberty, and, in late hours
Of darkness, dances in the open air.
Among the vine-clad hills of Burgundy,
Upon the bosom of the gentle Saone
We glided forward with the f
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.