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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(1772-1834 / Devon / England)

The Foster Mother's Tale. A Dramatic Fragment


Ter. But that entrance, Selma?
Sel. Can no one hear? It is a perilous tale!
Ter. No one.
Sel. My husband's father told it me,
Poor old Sesina -- angels rest his soul;
He was a woodman, and could fell and saw
With lusty arm. You know that huge round beam
Which props the hanging wall of the old chapel?
Beneath that tree, while yet it was a tree,
He found a baby wrapped in mosses, lined
With thistle-beards, and such small locks of wool
As hang on brambles. Well, he brought him home,
And reared him at the then Lord Valdez' cost,
And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,
A pretty boy, but nost unteachable--
And never learn'd a prayer, nor told a bead,
But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes,
And whistled, as he were a bird himself.
And all the autumn 'twas his only play
To gather seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them
With earth and water on the stumps of trees.
A Friar, who gathered simples in the wood,
A gray-haired man, he loved this little boy:
The boy loved him, and, when the Friar taught him,
He soon could write with the pen; and from that time
Lived chiefly at the convent or the castle.
So he became a rare and learned youth:
But O! poor wretch! he read, and read, and read,
Till his brain turned; and ere his twentieth year
He had unlawful thoughts of many things:
And though he prayed, he never loved to pray
With holy men, nor in a holy place.
But yet his speech, it was so soft and sweet,
The late Lord Valdez ne'er was wearied with him.
And once, as by the north side of the chapel
They stood together chained in deep discourse,
The earth heaved under them with such a groan,
That the wall tottered, and had well nigh fallen
Right on their heads. My Lord was sorely frightened!
A fever seized him, and he made confession
Of all the heretical and lawless talk
Which brought this judgement: so the youth was seized
And cast into that hole. My husband's father
Sobbed like a child -- it almost broke his heart:
And once as he was working near this dungeon,
He heard a voice distinctly; 'twas the youth's,
Who sung a doleful song about green fields,
How sweet it were on lake or wide savanna
To hunt for food, and be a naked man,
And wander up and down at liberty.
He always doted on the youth, and now
His love grew desperate; and defying death,
He made that cunning entrance I described,
And the young man escaped.
Ter. 'Tis a sweet tale:
Such as would lull a listening child to sleep,
His rosy face besoiled with unwiped tears.
And what became of him?
Sel. He went on shipboard
With those bold voyagers who made discovery
Of golden lands. Sesina's younger brother
Went likewise, and when he returned to Spain,
He told Sesina, that the poor mad youth,
Soon after they arrived in that new world,
In spite of his dissuasion, seized a boat,
And all alone, set sail by silent moonlight
Up a great river, great as any sea,
And ne'er was heard of more: but 'tis supposed,
He lived and died among the savage men.

Submitted: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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