The Poor Of The Borough. Letter Xx: Ellen Orford - Poem by George Crabbe
'No charms she now can boast,'--'tis true,
But other charmers wither too:
'And she is old,'--the fact I know,
And old will other heroines grow;
But not like them has she been laid,
In ruin'd castle sore dismay'd;
Where naughty man and ghostly spright
Fill'd her pure mind with awe and dread,
Stalk'd round the room, put out the light,
And shook the curtains round her bed.
No cruel uncle kept her land,
No tyrant father forced her hand;
She had no vixen virgin-aunt,
Without whose aid she could not eat,
And yet who poison'd all her meat,
With gibe and sneer and taunt.
Yet of the heroine she'd a share, -
She saved a lover from despair,
And granted all his wish in spite
Of what she knew and felt was right:
But, heroine then no more,
She own'd the fault, and wept and pray'd
And humbly took the parish aid,
And dwelt among the poor.
OBSERVE yon tenement, apart and small,
Where the wet pebbles shine upon the wall;
Where the low benches lean beside the door,
And the red paling bounds the space before;
Where thrift and lavender, and lad's-love bloom, -
That humble dwelling is the widow's home;
There live a pair, for various fortunes known,
But the blind EUen will relate her own; -
Yet ere we hear the story she can tell,
On prouder sorrows let us briefly dwell.
I've often marvell'd, when, by night, by day,
I've mark'd the manners moving in my way,
And heard the language and beheld the lives
Of lass and lover, goddesses and wives,
That books, which promise much of life to give,
Should show so little how we truly live.
To me, it seems, their females and their men
Are but the creatures of the author's pen;
Nay, creatures borrow'd and again convey'd
From book to book--the shadows of a shade:
Life, if they'd search, would show them many a
The ruin sudden, and the misery strange!
With more of grievous, base, and dreadful things,
Than novelists relate or poet sings:
But they, who ought to look the world around,
Spy out a single spot in fairy-ground;
Where all, in turn, ideal forms behold,
And plots are laid and histories are told.
Time have I lent--I would their debt were less -
To flow'ry pages of sublime distress;
And to the heroine's soul-distracting fears
I early gave my sixpences and tears:
Oft have I travell'd in these tender tales,
To Darnley-Cottages and Maple-Vales,
And watch'd the fair-one from the first-born sigh,
When Henry pass'd and gazed in passing by;
Till I beheld them pacing in the park
Close by a coppice where 'twas cold and dark;
When such affection with such fate appear'd,
Want and a father to be shunn'd and fear'd,
Without employment, prospect, cot, or cash;
That I have judged th' heroic souls were rash.
Now shifts the scene,--the fair in tower
In all things suffers but in change of mind;
Now woo'd by greatness to a bed of state,
Now deeply threaten'd with a dungeon's grate;
Till, suffering much, and being tried enough,
She shines, triumphant maid!--temptation-proof.
Then was I led to vengeful monks, who mix
With nymphs and swains, and play unpriestly tricks;
Then view'd banditti who in forest wide,
And cavern vast, indignant virgins hide;
Who, hemm'd with bands of sturdiest rogues about,
Find some strange succour, and come virgins out.
I've watch'd a wint'ry night on castle-walls,
I've stalk'd by moonlight through deserted halls,
And when the weary world was sunk to rest,
I've had such sights as may not be express'd.
Lo! that chateau, the western tower decay'd,
The peasants shun it,--they are all afraid;
For there was done a deed!--could walls reveal,
Or timbers tell it, how the heart would feel!
Most horrid was it: --for, behold, the floor
Has stain of blood, and will be clean no more:
Hark to the winds! which through the wide saloon
And the long passage send a dismal tune, -
Music that ghosts delight in; and now heed
Yon beauteous nymph, who must unmask the deed;
See! with majestic sweep she swims alone,
Through rooms, all dreary, guided by a groan:
Though windows rattle, and though tap'stries shake,
And the feet falter every step they take,
'Mid moans and gibing sprights she silent goes,
To find a something, which will soon expose
The villanies and wiles of her determined foes:
And, having thus adventured, thus endured,
Fame, wealth, and lover, are for life secured.
Much have I fear'd, but am no more afraid,
When some chaste beauty, by some wretch betray'd,
Is drawn away with such distracted speed,
That she anticipates a dreadful deed:
Not so do I--Let solid walls impound
The captive fair, and dig a moat around;
Let there be brazen locks and bars of steel,
And keepers cruel, such as never feel;
With not a single note the purse supply,
And when she begs, let men and maids deny;
Be windows those from which she dares not fall,
And help so distant, 'tis in vain to call;
Still means of freedom will some power devise,
And from the baffled ruffian snatch his prize.
To Northern Wales, in some sequester'd spot,
I've follow'd fair Louisa to her cot:
Where, then a wretched and deserted bride,
The injur'd fair-one wished from man to hide;
Till by her fond repenting Belville found,
By some kind chance--the straying of a hound,
He at her feet craved mercy, nor in vain,
For the relenting dove flew back again.
There's something rapturous in distress, or oh!
Could Clementina bear her lot of woe?
Or what she underwent could maiden undergoe?
The day was fix'd; for so the lover sigh'd,
So knelt and craved, he couldn't be denied;
When, tale most dreadful! every hope adieu, -
For the fond lover is the brother too:
All other griefs abate; this monstrous grief
Has no remission, comfort, or relief;
Four ample volumes, through each page disclose, -
Good Heaven protect us! only woes on woes;
Till some strange means afford a sudden view
Of some vile plot, and every woe adieu!
Now, should we grant these beauties all endure
Severest pangs, they've still the speediest cure;
Before one charm be withered from the face,
Except the bloom, which shall again have place,
In wedlock ends each wish, in triumph all disgrace;
And life to come, we fairly may suppose,
One light, bright contrast to these wild dark woes.
These let us leave, and at her sorrows look,
Too often seen, but seldom in a book;
Let her who felt, relate them;--on her chair
The heroine sits--in former years, the fair,
Now aged and poor; but Ellen Orford knows
That we should humbly take what Heaven bestows.
'My father died--again my mother wed,
And found the comforts of her life were fled;
Her angry husband, vex'd through half his years
By loss and troubles, filled her soul with fears:
Their children many, and 'twas my poor place
To nurse and wait on all the infant-race;
Labour and hunger were indeed my part,
And should have strengthen'd an erroneous heart.
'Sore was the grief to see him angry come,
And teased with business, make distress at home;
The father's fury and the children's cries
I soon could bear, but not my mother's sighs;
For she look'd back on comforts, and would say,
'I wrong'd thee, Ellen,' and then turn away:
Thus, for my age's good, my youth was tried,
And this my fortune till my mother died.
'So, amid sorrow much and little cheer -
A common case--I pass'd my twentieth year;
For these are frequent evils; thousands share
An equal grief--the like domestic care.
'Then in my days of bloom, of health, and youth,
One, much above me, vow'd his love and truth:
We often met, he dreading to be seen,
And much I question'd what such dread might mean;
Yet I believed him true; my simple heart
And undirected reason took his part.
'Can he who loves me, whom I love, deceive?
Can I such wrong of one so kind believe,
Who lives but in my smile, who trembles when I
'He dared not marry, but we met to prove
What sad encroachments and deceits has love:
Weak that I was, when he, rebuked, withdrew,
I let him see that I was wretched too;
When less my caution, I had still the pain
Of his or mine own weakness to complain.
'Happy the lovers class'd alike in life,
Or happier yet the rich endowing wife;
But most aggrieved the fond believing maid.
Of her rich lover tenderly afraid:
You judge th' event; for grievous was my fate,
Painful to feel, and shameful to relate:
Ah! sad it was my burthen to sustain,
When the least misery was the dread of pain;
When I have grieving told him my disgrace,
And plainly mark'd indifference in his face.
'Hard! with these fears and terrors to behold
The cause of all, the faithless lover, cold;
Impatient grown at every wish denied,
And barely civil, soothed and gratified;
Peevish when urged to think of vows so strong,
And angry when I spake of crime and wrong.
All this I felt, and still the sorrow grew,
Because I felt that I deserved it too,
And begg'd my infant stranger to forgive
The mother's shame, which in herself must live.
When known that shame, I, soon expell'd from home,
With a frail sister shared a hovel's gloom;
There barely fed--(what could I more request?)
My infant slumberer sleeping at my breast,
I from my window saw his blooming bride,
And my seducer smiling at her side;
Hope lived till then; I sank upon the floor,
And grief and thought and feeling were no more:
Although revived, I judged that life would close,
And went to rest, to wonder that I rose:
My dreams were dismal,--wheresoe'er I stray'd,
I seem'd ashamed, alarm'd, despised, betray'd;
Always in grief, in guilt, disgraced, forlorn,
Mourning that one so weak, so vile, was born;
The earth a desert, tumult in the sea,
The birds affrighten'd fled from tree to tree,
Obscured the setting sun, and every thing like me.
But Heav'n had mercy, and my need at length
Urged me to labour, and renew'd my strength.
I strove for patience as a sinner must,
Yet felt th' opinion of the world unjust:
There was my lover, in his joy esteem'd,
And I, in my distress, as guilty deemed;
Yet sure, not all the guilt and shame belong
To her who feels and suffers for the wrong:
The cheat at play may use the wealth he's won,
But is not honour'd for the mischief done;
The cheat in love may use each villain art,
And boast the deed that breaks the victim's heart.
'Four years were past; I might again have found
Some erring wish, but for another wound:
Lovely my daughter grew, her face was fair,
But no expression ever brighten'd there;
I doubted long, and vainly strove to make
Some certain meaning of the words she spake;
But meaning there was none, and I survey'd
With dread the beauties of my idiot-maid.
Still I submitted;--Oh! 'tis meet and fit
In all we feel to make the heart submit;
Gloomy and calm my days, but I had then,
It seem'd, attractions for the eyes of men:
The sober master of a decent trade
O'erlook'd my errors, and his offer made;
Reason assented: --true, my heart denied,
'But thou,' I said,'shalt be no more my guide.'
'When wed, our toil and trouble, pains and care,
Of means to live procured us humble share;
Five were our sons,--and we, though careful, found
Our hopes declining as the year came round:
For I perceived, yet would not soon perceive,
My husband stealing from my view to grieve:
Silent he grew, and when he spoke he sigh'd,
And surly look'd, and peevishly replied:
Pensive by nature, he had gone of late
To those who preach'd of destiny and fate,
Of things foredoom'd, and of election-grace,
And how in vain we strive to run our race;
That all by works and moral worth we gain
Is to perceive our care and labour vain;
That still the more we pay, our debts the more
That he who feels not the mysterious call,
Lies bound in sin, still grov'ling from the fall.
My husband felt not: --our persuasion, prayer,
And our best reason, darken'd his despair;
His very nature changed; he now reviled
My former conduct,--he reproach'd my child:
He talked of bastard slips, and cursed his bed,
And from our kindness to concealment fled;
For ever to some evil change inclined,
To every gloomy thought he lent his mind,
Nor rest would give to us, nor rest himself could
His son suspended saw him, long bereft
Of life, nor prospect of revival left.
'With him died all our prospects, and once more
I shared th' allotments of the parish poor;
They took my children too, and this I know
Was just and lawful, but I felt the blow:
My idiot-maid and one unhealthy boy
Were left, a mother's misery and her joy.
'Three sons I follow'd to the grave, and one -
Oh! can I speak of that unhappy son?
Would all the memory of that time were fled,
And all those horrors, with my child, were dead!
Before the world seduced him, what a grace
And smile of gladness shone upon his face!
Then, he had knowledge; finely would he write;
Study to him was pleasure and delight;
Great was his courage, and but few could stand
Against the sleight and vigour of his hand;
The maidens loved him;--when he came to die,
No, not the coldest could suppress a sigh:
Here I must cease--how can I say, my child
Was by the bad of either sex beguiled?
Worst of the bad--they taught him that the laws
Made wrong and right; there was no other cause,
That all religion was the trade of priests,
And men, when dead, must perish like the beasts: -
And he, so lively and so gay, before -
Ah; spare a mother--I can tell no more.
'Int'rest was made that they should not destroy
The comely form of my deluded boy -
But pardon came not; damp the place and deep
Where he was kept, as they'd a tiger keep;
For he, unhappy! had before them all
Vow'd he'd escape, whatever might befall.
He'd means of dress, and dress'd beyond his means,
And so to see him in such dismal scenes,
I cannot speak it--cannot bear to tell
Of that sad hour--I heard the passing bell!
'Slowly they went; he smiled, and look'd so
Yet sure he shudder'd when he saw the cart,
And gave a look--until my dying day,
That look will never from my mind away:
Oft as I sit, and ever in my dreams,
I see that look, and they have heard my screams.
'Now let me speak no more--yet all declared
That one so young, in pity, should be spared.
And one so manly;--on his graceful neck,
That chains of jewels may be proud to deck,
To a small mole a mother's lips have press'd -
And there the cord--my breath is sore oppress'd.
'I now can speak again: --my elder boy
Was that year drown'd,--a seaman in a hoy:
He left a numerous race; of these would some
In their young troubles to my cottage come,
And these I taught--an humble teacher I -
Upon their heavenly Parent to rely.
'Alas! I needed such reliance more:
My idiot-girl, so simply gay before,
Now wept in pain: some wretch had found a time,
Depraved and wicked, for that coward crime;
I had indeed my doubt, but I suppress'd
The thought that day and night disturb'd my rest;
She and that sick-pale brother--but why strive
To keep the terrors of that time alive?
'The hour arrived, the new, th' undreaded pain,
That came with violence, and yet came in vain.
I saw her die: her brother too is dead;
Nor own'd such crime--what is it that I dread?
'The parish aid withdrawn, I look'd around,
And in my school a bless'd subsistence found -
My winter-calm of life: to be of use
Would pleasant thoughts and heavenly hopes produce;
I loved them all; it soothed me to presage
The various trials of their riper age,
Then dwell on mine, and bless the Power who gave
Pains to correct us, and remorse to save.
'Yes! these were days of peace, but they are
A trial came, I will believe, a last;
I lost my sight, and my employment gone,
Useless I live, but to the day live on;
Those eyes which long the light of heaven enjoy'd,
Were not by pain, by agony destroy'd:
My senses fail not all; I speak, I pray;
By night my rest, my food I take by day;
And, as my mind looks cheerful to my end,
I love mankind, and call my GOD my friend.'
Comments about The Poor Of The Borough. Letter Xx: Ellen Orford by George Crabbe
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