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Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

English Eclogues IV - The Sailor's Mother


WOMAN.
Sir for the love of God some small relief
To a poor woman!


TRAVELLER.
Whither are you bound?
'Tis a late hour to travel o'er these downs,
No house for miles around us, and the way
Dreary and wild. The evening wind already
Makes one's teeth chatter, and the very Sun,
Setting so pale behind those thin white clouds,
Looks cold. 'Twill be a bitter night!


WOMAN.
Aye Sir
'Tis cutting keen! I smart at every breath,
Heaven knows how I shall reach my journey's end,
For the way is long before me, and my feet,
God help me! sore with travelling. I would gladly,
If it pleased God, lie down at once and die.


TRAVELLER.
Nay nay cheer up! a little food and rest
Will comfort you; and then your journey's end
Will make amends for all. You shake your head,
And weep. Is it some evil business then
That leads you from your home?


WOMAN.
Sir I am going
To see my son at Plymouth, sadly hurt
In the late action, and in the hospital
Dying, I fear me, now.


TRAVELLER.
Perhaps your fears
Make evil worse. Even if a limb be lost
There may be still enough for comfort left
An arm or leg shot off, there's yet the heart
To keep life warm, and he may live to talk
With pleasure of the glorious fight that maim'd him,
Proud of his loss. Old England's gratitude
Makes the maim'd sailor happy.


WOMAN.
'Tis not that--
An arm or leg--I could have borne with that.
'Twas not a ball, it was some cursed thing
That bursts and burns that hurt him. Something Sir
They do not use on board our English ships
It is so wicked!


TRAVELLER.
Rascals! a mean art
Of cruel cowardice, yet all in vain!


WOMAN.
Yes Sir! and they should show no mercy to them
For making use of such unchristian arms.
I had a letter from the hospital,
He got some friend to write it, and he tells me
That my poor boy has lost his precious eyes,
Burnt out. Alas! that I should ever live
To see this wretched day!--they tell me Sir
There is no cure for wounds like his. Indeed
'Tis a hard journey that I go upon
To such a dismal end!


TRAVELLER.
He yet may live.
But if the worst should chance, why you must bear
The will of heaven with patience. Were it not
Some comfort to reflect your son has fallen
Fighting his country's cause? and for yourself
You will not in unpitied poverty
Be left to mourn his loss. Your grateful country
Amid the triumph of her victory
Remember those who paid its price of blood,
And with a noble charity relieves
The widow and the orphan.


WOMAN.
God reward them!
God bless them, it will help me in my age
But Sir! it will not pay me for my child!


TRAVELLER.
Was he your only child?


WOMAN.
My only one,
The stay and comfort of my widowhood,
A dear good boy!--when first he went to sea
I felt what it would come to,--something told me
I should be childless soon. But tell me Sir
If it be true that for a hurt like his
There is no cure? please God to spare his life
Tho' he be blind, yet I should be so thankful!
I can remember there was a blind man
Lived in our village, one from his youth up
Quite dark, and yet he was a merry man,
And he had none to tend on him so well
As I would tend my boy!


TRAVELLER.
Of this be sure
His hurts are look'd to well, and the best help
The place affords, as rightly is his due,
Ever at hand. How happened it he left you?
Was a seafaring life his early choice?


WOMAN.
No Sir! poor fellow--he was wise enough
To be content at home, and 'twas a home
As comfortable Sir I even tho' I say it,
As any in the country. He was left
A little boy when his poor father died,
Just old enough to totter by himself
And call his mother's name. We two were all,
And as we were not left quite destitute
We bore up well. In the summer time I worked
Sometimes a-field. Then I was famed for knitting,
And in long winter nights my spinning wheel
Seldom stood still. We had kind neighbours too
And never felt distress. So he grew up
A comely lad and wonderous well disposed;
I taught him well; there was not in the parish
A child who said his prayers more regular,
Or answered readier thro' his catechism.
If I had foreseen this! but 'tis a blessing
We do'nt know what we're born to!


TRAVELLER.
But how came it
He chose to be a Sailor?


WOMAN.
You shall hear Sir;
As he grew up he used to watch the birds
In the corn, child's work you know, and easily done.
'Tis an idle sort of task, so he built up
A little hut of wicker-work and clay
Under the hedge, to shelter him in rain.
And then he took for very idleness
To making traps to catch the plunderers,
All sorts of cunning traps that boys can make--
Propping a stone to fall and shut them in,
Or crush them with its weight, or else a springe
Swung on a bough. He made them cleverly--
And I, poor foolish woman! I was pleased
To see the boy so handy. You may guess
What followed Sir from this unlucky skill.
He did what he should not when he was older:
I warn'd him oft enough; but he was caught
In wiring hares at last, and had his choice
The prison or the ship.


TRAVELLER.
The choice at least
Was kindly left him, and for broken laws
This was methinks no heavy punishment.


WOMAN.
So I was told Sir. And I tried to think so,
But 'twas a sad blow to me! I was used
To sleep at nights soundly and undisturb'd--
Now if the wind blew rough, it made me start
And think of my poor boy tossing about
Upon the roaring seas. And then I seem'd
To feel that it was hard to take him from me
For such a little fault. But he was wrong
Oh very wrong--a murrain on his traps!
See what they've brought him too!


TRAVELLER.
Well! well! take comfort
He will be taken care of if he lives;
And should you lose your child, this is a country
Where the brave sailor never leaves a parent
To weep for him in want.


WOMAN.
Sir I shall want
No succour long. In the common course of years
I soon must be at rest, and 'tis a comfort
When grief is hard upon me to reflect
It only leads me to that rest the sooner.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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