Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825 / Leicestershire, England)

A School Eclogue


Hist, William! hist! what means that air so gay?
Thy looks, thy dress, bespeak some holiday:
Thy hat is brushed; thy hands, with wondrous pains,
Are cleansed from garden mould and inky stains;
Thy glossy shoes confess the lacquey's care;
And recent from the comb shines thy sleek hair.
What god, what saint, this prodigy has wrought?
Declare the cause, and ease my labouring thought?


Mamma prevails, and I am sent for home.


Thrice happy whom such welcome tidings greet!
Thrice happy who reviews his native seat!
For him the matron spreads her candied hoard,
And early strawberries crown the smiling board;
For him crushed gooseberries with rich cream combine,
And bending boughs their fragrant fruit resign:
Custards and sillabubs his taste invite;
Sports fill the day, and feasts prolong the night.
Think not I envy, I admire thy fate:
Yet, ah! what different tasks thy comrades wait!
Some in the grammar's thorny maze to toil,
Some with rude strokes the snowy paper soil,
Some o'er barbaric climes in maps to roam,
Far from their mother-tongue, and dear loved home.
Harsh names, of uncouth sound, their memories load,
And oft their shoulders feel the' unpleasant goad.


Doubt not our turn will come some future time.
Now, William, hear us twain contend in rime;
For yet thy horses have not eat their hay,
And unconsumed as yet the' allotted hour of play.


Then spout alternate, I consent to hear,—
Let no false rime offend my critic ear;—
But say, what prizes shall the victor hold?
I guess your pockets are not lined with gold!


A ship these hands have built, in every part
Carved, rigged, and painted, with the nicest art;
The ridgy sides are black with pitchy store,
From stem to stern 't is twice ten inches o'er.
The lofty mast, a straight smooth hazel framed,
The tackling silk, the Charming Sally named;
And,—but take heed lest thou divulge the tale,—
The lappet of my shirt supplied the sail;
An azure ribband for a pendant flies:—
Now, if thy verse excell, be this the prize.


For me at home the careful housewives make,
With plums and almonds rich, an ample cake.
Smooth is the top, a plain of shining ice,
The West its sweetness gives, the East its spice:
From soft Ionian isles, well known to fame,
Ulysses' once, the luscious currant came.
The green transparent citron Spain bestows,
And from her golden groves the orange glows.
So vast the heaving mass, it scarce has room
Within the oven's dark capacious womb;
'Twill be consigned to the next carrier's care,
I cannot yield it all,—be half thy share.


Well does the gift thy liquorish palate suit;
I know who robbed the orchard of its fruit.
When all were wrapt in sleep, one early morn,
While yet the dewdrop trembled on the thorn,
I marked when o'er the quickset hedge you leapt,
And, sly, beneath the gooseberry bushes crept;
Then shook the trees; a shower of apples fell,—
And where the hoard you kept I know full well;
The mellow gooseberries did themselves produce,
For through thy pocket oozed the viscous juice.


I scorn a telltale, or I could declare
How, leave unasked, you sought the neighbouring fair;
Then home by moonlight spurred your jaded steed,
And scarce returned before the hour of bed.
Think how thy trembling heart had felt affright,
Had not our master supped abroad that night.


On the smooth whitewashed ceiling near thy bed,
Mixed with thine own, is Anna's cypher read;
From wreaths of dusky smoke the letters flow;—
Whose hand the waving candle held, I know.
Fines and jobations shall thy soul appall,
Whene'er our mistress spies the sullied wall.


Unconned her lesson once, in idle mood,
Trembling before the master, Anna stood;
I marked what prompter near her took his place,
And, whispering, saved the virgin from disgrace:
Much is the youth belied, and much the maid,
Or more than words the whisper soft conveyed.


Think not I blush to own so bright a flame,
Even boys for her assume the lover's name;—
As far as alleys beyond taws we prize,
Or venison pasty ranks above school pies;
As much as peaches beyond apples please,
Or Parmesan excells a Suffolk cheese;
Or Palgrave donkeys lag behind a steed,—
So far do Anna's charms all other charms exceed.


Tell, if thou canst, where is that creature bred,
Whose wide-stretched mouth is larger than its head:
Guess, and my great Apollo thou shalt be,
And cake and ship shall both remain with thee.


Explain thou first, what portent late was seen,
With strides impetuous, posting o'er the green;
Three heads, like Cerberus, the monster bore,
And one was sidelong fixed, and two before;
Eight legs, depending from his ample sides,
Each well-built flank unequally divides;
For five on this, on that side three are found,
Four swiftly move, and four not touch the ground.
Long time the moving prodigy I viewed,
By gazing men, and barking dogs pursued.


Cease! cease your carols, both! for lo the bell,
With jarring notes, has rung out Pleasure's knell.
Your startled comrades, ere the game be done,
Quit their unfinished sports, and trembling run.
Haste to your forms before the master call!
With thoughtful step he paces o'er the hall,
Does with stern looks each playful loiterer greet,
Counts with his eye, and marks each vacant seat;
Intense the buzzing murmur grows around,
Loud through the dome the usher's strokes resound.
Sneak off, and to your places slily steal,
Before the prowess of his arm you feel.

Submitted: Monday, September 06, 2010


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