George Crabbe

(24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk)

Tale Vii - Poem by George Crabbe

THE WIDOW'S TALE.

To Farmer Moss, in Langar Vale, came down,
His only daughter, from her school in town;
A tender, timid maid! who knew not how
To pass a pig-sty, or to face a cow:
Smiling she came, with petty talents graced,
A fair complexion, and a slender waist.
Used to spare meals, disposed in manner pure,
Her father's kitchen she could ill endure:
Where by the steaming beef he hungry sat,
And laid at once a pound upon his plate;
Hot from the field, her eager brother seized
An equal part, and hunger's rage appeased;
The air surcharged with moisture, flagg'd around,
And the offended damsel sigh'd and frown'd;
The swelling fat in lumps conglomerate laid,
And fancy's sickness seized the loathing maid:
But when the men beside their station took,
The maidens with them, and with these the cook;
When one huge wooden bowl before them stood,
Fill'd with huge balls of farinaceous food;
With bacon, mass saline, where never lean
Beneath the brown and bristly rind was seen;
When from a single horn the party drew
Their copious draughts of heavy ale and new;
When the coarse cloth she saw, with many a stain
Soil'd by rude hinds who cut and came again -
She could not breathe; but with a heavy sigh,
Rein'd the fair neck, and shut th' offended eye;
She minced the sanguine flesh in frustums fine,
And wonder'd much to see the creatures dine;
When she resolved her father's heart to move,
If hearts of farmers were alive to love.
She now entreated by herself to sit
In the small parlour, if papa thought fit,
And there to dine, to read, to work alone -
'No!' said the Farmer in an angry tone;
'These are your school-taught airs; your mother's

pride
Would send you there; but I am now your guide. -
Arise betimes, our early meal prepare,
And, this despatch'd, let business be your care;
Look to the lasses, let there not be one
Who lacks attention, till her tasks be done;
In every household work your portion take,
And what you make not, see that others make:
At leisure times attend the wheel, and see
The whit'ning web besprinkled on the lea;
When thus employ'd, should our young neighbours

view,
A useful lass,--you may have more to do.'
Dreadful were these commands; but worse than

these
The parting hint--a Farmer could not please:
'Tis true she had without abhorrence seen
Young Harry Carr, when he was smart and clean:
But, to be married--be a farmer's wife -
A slave! a drudge!--she could not for her life.
With swimming eyes the fretful nymph withdrew,
And, deeply sighing, to her chamber flew;
There on her knees, to Heaven she grieving pray'd
For change of prospect to a tortured maid.
Harry, a youth whose late-departed sire
Had left him all industrious men require,
Saw the pale Beauty,--and her shape and air
Engaged him much, and yet he must forbear:
'For my small farm what can the damsel do?'
He said,--then stopp'd to take another view:
'Pity so sweet a lass will nothing learn
Of household cares,--for what can beauty earn
By those small arts which they at school attain,
That keep them useless, and yet make them vain?'
This luckless Damsel look'd the village round,
To find a friend, and one was quickly found:
A pensive Widow, whose mild air and dress
Pleased the sad nymph, who wish'd her soul's

distress
To one so seeming kind, confiding, to confess.
'What Lady that?' the anxious lass inquired,
Who then beheld the one she most admired:
'Here,' said the Brother, 'are no ladies seen -
That is a widow dwelling on the Green;
A dainty dame, who can but barely live
On her poor pittance, yet contrives to give;
She happier days has known, but seems at ease,
And you may call her lady if you please:
But if you wish, good sister, to improve,
You shall see twenty better worth your love.'
These Nancy met; but, spite of all they taught,
This useless Widow was the one she sought:
The father growl'd; but said he knew no harm
In such connexion that could give alarm;
'And if we thwart the trifler in her course,
'Tis odds against us she will take a worse.'
Then met the friends; the Widow heard the sigh
That ask'd at once compassion and reply: -
'Would you, my child, converse with one so poor,
Yours were the kindness--yonder is my door:
And, save the time that we in public pray,
From that poor cottage I but rarely stray.'
There went the nymph, and made her strong

complaints,
Painting her woe as injured feeling paints.
'Oh, dearest friend! do think how one must feel,
Shock'd all day long, and sicken'd every meal;
Could you behold our kitchen (and to you
A scene so shocking must indeed be new),
A mind like yours, with true refinement graced,
Would let no vulgar scenes pollute your taste:
And yet, in truth, from such a polish'd mind
All base ideas must resistance find,
And sordid pictures from the fancy pass,
As the breath startles from the polish'd glass.
'Here you enjoy a sweet romantic scene,
Without so pleasant, and within so clean;
These twining jess'mines, what delicious gloom
And soothing fragrance yield they to the room!
What lovely garden! there you oft retire,
And tales of woe and tenderness admire.
In that neat case your books, in order placed,
Soothe the full soul, and charm the cultur'd taste;
And thus, while all about you wears a charm,
How must you scorn the Farmer and the Farm!'
The Widow smiled, and 'Know you not,' said she,
'How much these farmers scorn or pity me;
Who see what you admire, and laugh at all they see?
True, their opinion alters not my fate,
By falsely judging of an humble state:
This garden you with such delight behold,
Tempts not a feeble dame who dreads the cold;
These plants which please so well your livelier

sense,
To mine but little of their sweets dispense:
Books soon are painful to my failing sight,
And oftener read from duty than delight;
(Yet let me own, that I can sometimes find
Both joy and duty in the act combined
But view me rightly, you will see no more
Than a poor female, willing to be poor;
Happy indeed, but not in books nor flowers,
Not in fair dreams, indulged in earlier hours,
Of never-tasted joys;--such visions shun,
My youthful friend, nor scorn the Farmer's Son.'
'Nay,' said the Damsel, nothing pleased to see
A friend's advice could like a Father's be,
'Bless'd in your cottage, you must surely smile
At those who live in our detested style:
To my Lucinda's sympathising heart
Could I my prospects and my griefs impart;,
She would console me; but I dare not show,
Ills that would wound her tender soul to know:
And I confess, it shocks my pride to tell
The secrets of the prison where I dwell;
For that dear maiden would be shock'd to feel
The secrets I should shudder to reveal;
When told her friend was by a parent ask'd,
'Fed you the swine?'--Good heaven! how I am task'd!

-
What! can you smile? Ah! smile not at the grief
That woos your pity and demands relief.'
'Trifles, my love: you take a false alarm;
Think, I beseech you, better of the Farm:
Duties in every state demand your care,
And light are those that will require it there.
Fix on the Youth a favouring eye, and these,
To him pertaining, or as his, will please.'
'What words,' the Lass replied, 'offend my ear!
Try you my patience? Can you be sincere?
And am I told a willing hand to give
To a rude farmer, and with rustics live?
Far other fate was yours;--some gentle youth
Admir'd your beauty, and avow'd his truth;
The power of love prevail'd, and freely both
Gave the fond heart, and pledged the binding oath;
And then the rival's plot, the parent's power,
And jealous fears, drew on the happy hour:
Ah! let not memory lose the blissful view,
But fairly show what love has done for you.'
'Agreed, my daughter; what my heart has known
Of Love's strange power, shall be with frankness

shown:
But let me warn you, that experience finds
Few of the scenes that lively hope designs.'
'Mysterious all,' said Nancy; 'you, I know,
Have suffered much; now deign the grief to show, -
I am your friend, and so prepare my heart
In all your sorrows to receive a part.'
The Widow answer'd: 'I had once, like you,
Such thoughts of love; no dream is more untrue;
You judge it fated, and decreed to dwell
In youthful hearts, which nothing can expel,
A passion doom'd to reign, and irresistible.
The struggling mind, when once subdued, in vain
Rejects the fury or defies the pain;
The strongest reason fails the flames t'allay,
And resolution droops and faints away:
Hence, when the destined lovers meet, they prove
At once the force of this all-powerful love;
Each from that period feels the mutual smart,
Nor seeks to cure it--heart is changed for heart;
Nor is there peace till they delighted stand,
And, at the altar--hand is join'd to hand.
'Alas! my child, there are who, dreaming so,
Waste their fresh youth, and waking feel the woe.
There is no spirit sent the heart to move
With such prevailing and alarming love;
Passion to reason will submit--or why
Should wealthy maids the poorest swains deny?
Or how could classes and degrees create
The slightest bar to such resistless fate?
Yet high and low, you see, forbear to mix;
No beggars' eyes the heart of kings transfix;
And who but am'rous peers or nobles sigh,
When titled beauties pass triumphant by?
For reason wakes, proud wishes to reprove;
You cannot hope, and therefore dare not love;
All would be safe, did we at first inquire -
'Does reason sanction what our hearts desire?'
But quitting precept, let example show
What joys from Love uncheck'd by prudence flow.
'A Youth my father in his office placed,
Of humble fortune, but with sense and taste;
But he was thin and pale, had downcast looks:
He studied much, and pored upon his books:
Confused he was when seen, and when he saw
Me or my sisters, would in haste withdraw;
And had this youth departed with the year,
His loss had cost us neither sigh nor tear.
'But with my father still the youth remain'd,
And more reward and kinder notice gain'd:
He often, reading, to the garden stray'd,
Where I by books or musing was delay'd;
This to discourse in summer evenings led,
Of these same evenings, or of what we read:
On such occasions we were much alone;
But, save the look, the manner, and the tone,
(These might have meaning,) all that we discuss'd
We could with pleasure to a parent trust.
'At length 'twas friendship--and my Friend and I
Said we were happy, and began to sigh;
My sisters first, and then my father, found
That we were wandering o'er enchanted ground:
But he had troubles in his own aifairs,
And would not bear addition to his cares:
With pity moved, yet angry, 'Child,' said he,
'Will you embrace contempt and beggary?'
Can you endure to see each other cursed
By want, of every human woe the worst?
Warring for ever with distress, in dread
Either of begging or of wanting bread;
While poverty, with unrelenting force,
Will your own offspring from your love divorce;
They, through your folly, must be doom'd to pine,
And you deplore your passion, or resign;
For if it die, what good will then remain?
And if it live, it doubles every pain.''
'But you were true,' exclaim'd the Lass,' and

fled
The tyrant's power who fill'd your soul with

dread?'
'But,' said the smiling Friend, 'he fill'd my mouth

with bread:
And in what other place that bread to gain
We long consider'd, and we sought in vain:
This was my twentieth year,--at thirty-five
Our hope was fainter, yet our love alive;
So many years in anxious doubt had pass'd.'
'Then,' said the Damsel, 'you were bless'd at

last?'
A smile again adorn'd the Widow's face,
But soon a starting tear usurp'd its place.
'Slow pass'd the heavy years, and each had more
Pains and vexations than the years before.
My father fail'd; his family was rent,
And to new states his grieving daughters sent:
Each to more thriving kindred found a way,
Guests without welcome,--servants without pay;
Our parting hour was grievous; still I feel
The sad, sweet converse at our final meal;
Our father then reveal'd his former fears,
Cause of his sternness, and then join'd our tears:
Kindly he strove our feelings to repress,
But died, and left us heirs to his distress.
The rich, as humble friends, my sisters chose;
I with a wealthy widow sought repose;
Who with a chilling frown her friend received,
Bade me rejoice, and wonder'd that I grieved:
In vain my anxious lover tried his skill,
To rise in life, he was dependent still:
We met in grief, nor can I paint the fears
Of these unhappy, troubled, trying years:
Our dying hopes and stronger fears between,
We felt no season peaceful or serene;
Our fleeting joys, like meteors in the night,
Shone on our gloom with inauspicious light;
And then domestic sorrows, till the mind,
Worn with distresses, to despair inclined;
Add too the ill that from the passion flows,
When its contemptuous frown the world bestows,
The peevish spirit caused by long delay,
When, being gloomy, we contemn the gay,
When, being wretched, we incline to hate
And censure others in a happier state;
Yet loving still, and still compell'd to move
In the sad labyrinth of lingering love:
While you, exempt from want, despair, alarm,
May wed--oh! take the Farmer and the Farm.'
'Nay,' said the nymph, 'joy smiled on you at

last?'
'Smiled for a moment,' she replied, 'and pass'd:
My lover still the same dull means pursued,
Assistant call'd, but kept in servitude;
His spirits wearied in the prime of life,
By fears and wishes in eternal strife;
At length he urged impatient--'Now consent;
With thee united, Fortune may relent.'
I paused, consenting; but a Friend arose,
Pleased a fair view, though distant, to disclose;
From the rough ocean we beheld a gleam
Of joy, as transient as the joys we dream;
By lying hopes deceived, my friend retired,
And sail'd--was wounded--reach'd us--and expired!
You shall behold his grave; and when I die,
There--but 'tis folly--I request to lie.'
'Thus,' said the lass, 'to joy you bade adieu!
But how a widow?--that cannot be true:
Or was it force, in some unhappy hour,
That placed you, grieving, in a tyrant's power?'
'Force, my young friend, when forty years are

fled,
Is what a woman seldom has to dread;
She needs no brazen locks nor guarding walls,
And seldom comes a lover though she calls:
Yet, moved by fancy, one approved my face,
Though time and tears had wrought it much disgrace.
'The man I married was sedate and meek,
And spoke of love as men in earnest speak;
Poor as I was, he ceaseless sought for years,
A heart in sorrow and a face in tears:
That heart I gave not; and 'twas long before
I gave attention, and then nothing more:
But in my breast some grateful feeling rose,
For one whose love so sad a subject chose;
Till long delaying, fearing to repent,
But grateful still, I gave a cold assent.
Thus we were wed; no fault had I to find,
And he but one: my heart could not be kind:
Alas! of every early hope bereft,
There was no fondness in my bosom left;
So had I told him, but had told in vain,
He lived but to indulge me and complain:
His was this cottage; he inclosed this ground.
And planted all these blooming shrubs around;
He to my room these curious trifles brought,
And with assiduous love my pleasure sought;
He lived to please me, and I ofttimes strove,
Smiling, to thank his unrequited love:
'Teach me,' he cried, 'that pensive mind to ease,
For all my pleasure is the hope to please.'
Serene though heavy, were the days we spent,
Yet kind each word, and gen'rous each intent;
But his dejection lessen'd every day,
And to a placid kindness died away:
In tranquil ease we pass'd our latter years,
By griefs untroubled, unassail'd by fears.
Let not romantic views your bosom sway;
Yield to your duties, and their call obey:
Fly not a Youth, frank, honest, and sincere;
Observe his merits, and his passion hear!
'Tis true, no hero, but a farmer, sues -
Slow in his speech, but worthy in his views;
With him you cannot that affliction prove,
That rends the bosom of the poor in love:
Health, comfort, competence, and cheerful days,
Your friends' approval, and your father's praise,
Will crown the deed, and you escape their fate
Who plan so wildly, and are wise too late.'
The Damsel heard; at first th' advice was

strange,
Yet wrought a happy, nay, a speedy change:
'I have no care,' she said, when next they met,
But one may wonder, he is silent yet;
He looks around him with his usual stare,
And utters nothing--not that I shall care.'
This pettish humour pleased th' experienced

Friend -
None need despair, whose silence can offend;
'Should I,' resumed the thoughtful Lass, 'consent
To hear the man, the man may now repent:
Think you my sighs shall call him from the plough,
Or give one hint, that 'You may woo me now?''
'Persist, my love,' replied the Friend, 'and

gain
A parent's praise, that cannot be in vain.'
The father saw the change, but not the cause,
And gave the alter'd maid his fond applause:
The coarser manners she in part removed,
In part endured, improving and improved;
She spoke of household works, she rose betimes,
And said neglect and indolence were crimes;
The various duties of their life she weigh'd,
And strict attention to her dairy paid;
The names of servants now familiar grew,
And fair Lucinda's from her mind withdrew;
As prudent travellers for their ease assume
Their modes and language to whose lands they come;
So to the Farmer this fair Lass inclined,
Gave to the business of the Farm her mind;
To useful arts she turned her hand and eye;
And by her manners told him--'You may try.'
Th' observing Lover more attention paid,
With growing pleasure, to the alter'd maid;
He fear'd to lose her, and began to see
That a slim beauty might a helpmate be:
'Twixt hope and fear he now the lass address'd,
And in his Sunday robe his love express'd:
She felt no chilling dread, no thrilling joy,
Nor was too quickly kind, too slowly coy;
But still she lent an unreluctant ear
To all the rural business of the year;
Till love's strong hopes endured no more delay,
And Harry ask'd, and Nancy named the day.
'A happy change! my Boy,' the father cried:
'How lost your sister all her school-day pride?'
The Youth replied, 'It is the Widow's deed;
The cure is perfect and was wrought with speed.
And comes there, Boy, this benefit of books,
Of that smart dress, and of those dainty looks?
We must be kind--some offerings from the Farm
To the White Cot will speak our feelings warm;
Will show that people, when they know the fact,
Where they have judged severely, can retract.
Oft have I smiled, when I beheld her pass
With cautious step as if she hurt the grass;
Where, if a snail's retreat she chanced to storm,
She look'd as begging pardon of the worm;
And what, said I, still laughing at the view,
Have these weak creatures in the world to do?
But some are made for action, some to speak;
And, while she looks so pitiful and meek,
Her words are weighty, though her nerves are weak.'
Soon told the village-bells the rite was done,
That joined the school-bred Miss and Farmer's Son;
Her former habits some slight scandal raised,
But real worth was soon perceived and praised;
She, her neat taste imparted to the Farm,
And he, th' improving skill and vigorous arm.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010



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