Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TALES OF THE HALL: BOOK 4. THE ADVENTURES OF RICHARD, by GEORGE CRABBE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

TALES OF THE HALL: BOOK 4. THE ADVENTURES OF RICHARD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Eight days had past; the brothers now could meet
Last Line: And all that boys acquire whom men neglect.'

EIGHT days had past; the Brothers now could meet
With ease, and take the customary seat.
'These,' said the host, for he perceived where stray'd
His brother's eye, and what he now survey'd;
'These are the costly trifles that we buy,
Urged by the strong demands of vanity,
The thirst and hunger of a mind diseased,
That must with purchased flattery be appeased;
But yet, 'tis true, the things that you behold
Serve to amuse us as we're getting old:
These pictures, as I heard our artists say,
Are genuine all, and I believe they may;
They cost the genuine sums, and I should grieve
If, being willing, I could not believe.
And there is music; when the ladies come,
With their keen looks they scrutinize the room
To see what pleases, and I must expect
To yield them pleasure, or to find neglect:
For, as attractions from our person fly,
Our purses, Richard, must the want supply;
Yet would it vex me could the triflers know
That they can shut out comfort or bestow.
'But see this room: here, Richard, you will find
Books for all palates, food for every mind;
This readers term the ever-new delight,
And so it is, if minds have appetite:
Mine once was craving; great my joy, indeed,
Had I possess'd such food when I could feed;
When at the call of every new-born wish
I could have keenly relish'd every dish --
Now, Richard, now, I stalk around and look
Upon the dress and title of a book,
Try half a page, and then can taste no more,
But the dull volume to its place restore;
Begin a second slowly to peruse,
Then cast it by, and look about for news
The news itself grows dull in long debates, --
I skip, and see what the conclusion states;
And many a speech, with zeal and study made
Cold and resisting spirits to persuade,
Is lost on mine; alone, we cease to feel
What crowds admire, and wonder at their zeal.
'But how the day? No fairer will it be?
Walk you? Alas! 'tis requisite for me --
Nay, let me not prescribe -- my friends and guests are free.'

It was a fair and mild autumnal sky,
And earth's ripe treasures met th' admiring eye,
As a rich beauty, when her bloom is lost,
Appears with more magnificence and cost:
The wet and heavy grass, where feet had stray'd,
Not yet erect, the wanderer's way betray'd;
Showers of the night had swell'd the deep'ning rill,
The morning breeze had urged the quick'ning mill;
Assembled rooks had wing'd their sea-ward flight,
By the same passage to return at night,
While proudly o'er them hung the steady kite,
Then turn'd him back, and left the noisy throng,
Nor deign'd to know them as he sail'd along.
Long yellow leaves, from oziers, strew'd around,
Choked the small stream, and hush'd the feeble sound;
While the dead foliage dropt from loftier trees
Our squire beheld not with his wonted ease,
But to his own reflections made reply,
And said aloud, 'Yes! doubtless we must die.'
'We must;' said Richard, 'and we would not live
To feel what dotage and decay will give;
But we yet taste whatever we behold,
The morn is lovely, though the air is cold:
There is delicious quiet in this scene,
At once so rich, so varied, so serene;
Sounds too delight us, -- each discordant tone
Thus mingled please, that fail to please alone;
This hollow wind, this rustling of the brook,
The farm-yard noise, the woodman at yon oak --
See, the axe falls! -- now listen to the stroke!
That gun itself, that murders all this peace,
Adds to the charm, because it soon must cease.'
'No doubt,' said George, 'the country has its charms!
My farm behold! the model for all farms!
Look at that land -- you find not there a weed,
We grub the roots, and suffer none to seed.
'To land like this no botanist will come,
To seek the precious ware he hides at home;
Pressing the leaves and flowers with effort nice,
As if they came from herbs in Paradise;
Let them their favourites with my neighbours see,
They have no -- what? -- no habitat with me.
'Now see my flock, and hear its glory; -- none
Have that vast body and that slender bone;
They are the village boast, the dealer's theme,
Fleece of such staple! flesh in such esteem!'
'Brother,' said Richard, 'do I hear aright?
Does the land truly give so much delight?'
'So says my bailiff: sometimes I have tried
To catch the joy, but nature has denied;
It will not be -- the mind has had a store
Laid up for life, and will admit no more:
Worn out in trials, and about to die,
In vain to these we for amusement fly;
We farm, we garden, we our poor employ,
And much command, though little we enjoy;
Or, if ambitious, we employ our pen,
We plant a desert, or we drain a fen;
And -- here, behold my medal! -- this will show
What men may merit when they nothing know.'
'Yet reason here,' said Richard, 'joins with pride: --'
'I did not ask th' alliance,' George replied --
'I grant it true, such trifle may induce
A dull, proud man to wake and be of use;
And there are purer pleasures, that a mind
Calm and uninjured may in villas find;
But where th' affections have been deeply tried,
With other food that mind must be supplied:
'Tis not in trees or medals to impart
The powerful medicine for an aching heart;
The agitation dies, but there is still
The backward spirit, the resisting will.
Man takes his body to a country seat,
But minds, dear Richard, have their own retreat;
Oft when the feet are pacing o'er the green
The mind is gone where never grass was seen,
And never thinks of hill, or vale, or plain,
Till want of rest creates a sense of pain,
That calls that wandering mind, and brings it home again.
No more of farms: but here I boast of minds
That make a friend the richer when he finds;
These shalt thou see; -- but, Richard, be it known,
Who thinks to see must in his turn be shown: --
But now farewell! to thee will I resign
Woods, walks, and valleys! take them till we dine.'

The Brothers dined, and with that plenteous fare
That seldom fails to dissipate our care,
At least the lighter kind; and oft prevails
When reason, duty, nay, when kindness fails.
Yet food and wine, and all that mortals bless
Lead them to think of peril and distress;
Cold, hunger, danger, solitude, and pain,
That men in life's adventurous ways sustain.
'Thou hast sail'd far, dear brother,' said the 'squire --
'Permit me of these unknown lands t' inquire,
Lands never till'd, where thou hast wondering been,
And all the marvels thou hast heard and seen:
Do tell me something of the miseries felt
In climes where travellers freeze, and where they melt;
And be not nice, -- we know 'tis not in men,
Who travel far, to hold a steady pen:
Some will, 'tis true, a bolder freedom take,
And keep our wonder always wide awake;
We know of those whose dangers far exceed
Our frail belief, that trembles as we read;
Such as in deserts burn, and thirst, and die,
Save a last gasp that they recover by:
Then, too, their hazard from a tyrant's arms,
A tiger's fury, or a lady's charms;
Beside th' accumulated evils borne
From the bold outset to the safe return.
These men abuse; but thou hast fair pretence
To modest dealing, and to mild good sense;
Then let me hear thy struggles and escapes
In the far lands of crocodiles and apes:
Say, hast thou, Bruce-like, knelt upon the bed
Where the young Nile uplifts his branchy head?
Or been partaker of th' unhallow'd feast,
Where beast-like man devours his fellow beast,
And churn'd the bleeding life? while each great dame
And sovereign beauty bade adieu to shame?
Or did the storm, that thy wreck'd pinnace bore,
Impel thee gasping on some unknown shore;
Where, when thy beard and nails were savage grown,
Some swarthy princess took thee for her own,
Some danger-dreading Yarico, who, kind,
Sent thee away, and, prudent, staid behind?
'Come -- I am ready wonders to receive,
Prone to assent, and willing to believe.'
Richard replied: 'It must be known, to you,
That tales improbable may yet be true;
And yet it is a foolish thing to tell
A tale that shall be judged improbable;
While some impossibilities appear
So like the truth, that we assenting hear:
Yet, with your leave, I venture to relate
A chance-affair, and fact alone will state;
Though, I confess, it may suspicion breed,
And you may cry, "Improbable, indeed!"

'When first I tried the sea, I took a trip,
But duty none, in a relation's ship;
Thus, unengaged, I felt my spirits light,
Kept care at distance, and put fear to flight;
Oft this same spirit in my friends prevail'd,
Buoyant in dangers, rising when assail'd;
When, as the gale at evening died away,
And die it will with the retiring day,
Impatient then, and sick of very ease,
We loudly whistled for the slumbering breeze.
'One eve it came; and, frantic in my joy,
I rose and danced, as idle as a boy:
The cabin-lights were down, that we might learn
A trifling something from the ship astern;
The stiffening gale bore up the growing wave,
And wilder motion to my madness gave:
Oft have I since, when thoughtful and at rest,
Believed some maddening power my mind possess'd;
For, in an instant, as the stern sank low,
(How moved I knew not -- What can madness know?)
Chance that direction to my motion gave,
And plunged me headlong in the roaring wave:
Swift flew the parting ship, -- the fainter light
Withdrew, -- or horror took them from my sight.
'All was confused above, beneath, around;
All sounds of terror; no distinguish'd sound
Could reach me, now on sweeping surges tost,
And then between the rising billows lost;
An undefined sensation stopp'd my breath;
Disorder'd views and threat'ning signs of death
Met in one moment, and a terror gave --
I cannot paint it -- to the moving grave.
My thoughts were all distressing, hurried, mix'd,
On all things fixing, not a moment fix'd:
Vague thoughts of instant danger brought their pain,
New hopes of safety banish'd them again;
Then the swoln billow all these hopes destroy'd,
And left me sinking in the mighty void:
Weaker I grew, and grew the more dismay'd,
Of aid all hopeless, yet in search of aid;
Struggling awhile upon the wave to keep,
Then, languid, sinking in the yawning deep:
So tost, so lost, so sinking in despair,
I pray'd in heart an indirected prayer,
And then once more I gave my eyes to view
The ship now lost, and bade the light adieu!
From my chill'd frame th' enfeebled spirit fled,
Rose the tall billows round my deep'ning bed,
Cold seized my heart, thought ceased, and I was dead.
'Brother, I have not, -- man has not the power
To paint the horrors of that life-long hour;
Hour! -- but of time I knew not -- when I found
Hope, youth, life, love, and all they promised, drown'd;
When all so indistinct, so undefined,
So dark and dreadful, overcame the mind;
When such confusion on the spirit dwelt,
That, feeling much, it knew not what it felt.
'Can I, my brother -- ought I to forget
That night of terror? No! it threatens yet.
Shall I days, months -- nay, years, indeed, neglect,
Who then could feel what moments must effect,
Were aught effected? who, in that wild storm,
Found there was nothing I could well perform;
For what to us are moments, what are hours,
If lost our judgment, and confused our powers?
'Oft in the times when passion strives to reign,
When duty feebly holds the slacken'd chain,
When reason slumbers, then remembrance draws
This view of death, and folly makes a pause --
The view o'ercomes the vice, the fear the frenzy awes.
'I know there wants not this to make it true,
What danger bids be done, in safety do;
Yet such escapes may make our purpose sure,
Who slights such warning may be too secure.'
'But the escape!' -- 'Whate'er they judged might save
Their sinking friend they cast upon the wave;
Something of these my heaven-directed arm
Unconscious seized, and held as by a charm:
The crew astern beheld me as I swam,
And I am saved -- O! let me say I am.'

'Brother,' said George, 'I have neglected long
To think of all thy perils: -- it was wrong;
But do forgive me; for I could not be
Than of myself more negligent of thee.
Now tell me, Richard, from the boyish years
Of thy young mind, that now so rich appears,
How was it stored? 'twas told me, thou wert wild,
A truant urchin, -- a neglected child.
I heard of this escape, and sat supine
Amid the danger that exceeded thine;
Thou couldst but die -- the waves could but infold
Thy warm gay heart, and make that bosom cold --
While I -- -- but no! Proceed, and give me truth;
How past the years of thy unguided youth?
Thy father left thee to the care of one
Who could not teach, could ill support a son;
Yet time and trouble feeble minds have stay'd,
And fit for long-neglected duties made:
I see thee struggling in the world, as late
Within the waves, and with an equal fate,
By Heaven preserved -- but tell me, whence and how
Thy gleaning came? -- a dexterous gleaner thou!'
'Left by that father, who was known to few,
And to that mother, who has not her due
Of honest fame,' said Richard, 'our retreat
Was a small cottage, for our station meet,
On Barford Downs: that mother, fond and poor,
There taught some truths, and bade me seek for more,
Such as our village-school and books a few
Supplied; but such I cared not to pursue;
I sought the town, and to the ocean gave
My mind and thoughts, as restless as the wave:
Where crowds assembled, I was sure to run,
Hear what was said, and mused on what was done;
Attentive listening in the moving scene,
And often wondering what the men could mean.
When ships at sea made signals of their need,
I watch'd on shore the sailors, and their speed:
Mix'd in their act, nor rested till I knew
Why they were call'd, and what they were to do.
'Whatever business in the port was done,
I, without call, was with the busy one;
Not daring question, but with open ear
And greedy spirit, ever bent to hear.
'To me the wives of seamen loved to tell
What storms endanger'd men esteem'd so well;
What wond'rous things in foreign parts they saw,
Lands without bounds, and people without law.
'No ships were wreck'd upon that fatal beach,
But I could give the luckless tale of each;
Eager I look'd, till I beheld a face
Of one disposed to paint their dismal case;
Who gave the sad survivors' doleful tale,
From the first brushing of the mighty gale
Until they struck; and, suffering in their fate,
I long'd the more they should its horrors state;
While some, the fond of pity, would enjoy
The earnest sorrows of the feeling boy.
I sought the men return'd from regions cold,
The frozen straits, where icy mountains roll'd;
Some I could win to tell me serious tales
Of boats uplifted by enormous whales,
Or, when harpoon'd, how swiftly through the sea
The wounded monsters with the cordage flee;
Yet some uneasy thoughts assail'd me then,
The monsters warr'd not with, nor wounded men:
The smaller fry we take, with scales and fins,
Who gasp and die -- this adds not to our sins;
But so much blood! warm life, and frames so large
To strike, to murder -- seem'd an heavy charge.
'They told of days, where many goes to one --
Such days as ours; and how a larger sun,
Red, but not flaming, roll'd, with motion slow,
On the world's edge, and never dropt below.
'There were fond girls, who took me to their side
To tell the story how their lovers died;
They praised my tender heart, and bade me prove
Both kind and constant when I came to love.
In fact, I lived for many an idle year
In fond pursuit of agitations dear;
For ever seeking, ever pleased to find,
The food I loved, I thought not of its kind;
It gave affliction while it brought delight,
And joy and anguish could at once excite.
'One gusty day, now stormy and now still,
I stood apart upon the western hill,
And saw a race at sea: a gun was heard,
And two contending boats in sail appear'd:
Equal awhile; then one was left behind,
And for a moment had her chance resign'd,
When, in that moment, up a sail they drew --
Not used before -- their rivals to pursue.
Strong was the gale! in hurry now there came
Men from the town, their thoughts, their fears the same;
And women too! affrighted maids and wives,
All deeply feeling for their sailors' lives.
'The strife continued; in a glass we saw
The desperate efforts, and we stood in awe,
When the last boat shot suddenly before,
Then fill'd, and sank -- and could be seen no more!
'Then were those piercing shrieks, that frantic flight,
All hurried! all in tumult and affright!
A gathering crowd from different streets drew near,
All ask, all answer -- none attend, none hear!
'One boat is safe; and see! she backs her sail
To save the sinking -- Will her care avail?
'O! how impatient on the sands we tread,
And the winds roaring, and the women led,
As up and down they pace with frantic air,
And scorn a comforter, and will despair;
They know not who in either boat is gone,
But think the father, husband, lover, one.
'And who is she apart? She dares not come
To join the crowd, yet cannot rest at home:
With what strong interest looks she at the waves,
Meeting and clashing o'er the seamen's graves:
'Tis a poor girl betroth'd -- a few hours more,
And he will lie a corpse upon the shore.
'Strange, that a boy could love these scenes, and cry
In very pity -- but that boy was I.
With pain my mother would my tales receive,
And say, "my Richard, do not learn to grieve."
One wretched hour had past before we knew
Whom they had saved! Alas! they were but two,
An orphan'd lad and widow'd man -- no more!
And they unnoticed stood upon the shore,
With scarce a friend to greet them -- widows view'd
This man and boy, and then their cries renew'd: --
'Twas long before the signs of wo gave place
To joy again; grief sat on every face.
'Sure of my mother's kindness, and the joy
She felt in meeting her rebellious boy,
I at my pleasure our new seat forsook,
And, undirected, these excursions took:
I often rambled to the noisy quay,
Strange sounds to hear, and business strange to me;
Seamen and carmen, and I know not who,
A lewd, amphibious, rude, contentious crew --
Confused as bees appear about their hive,
Yet all alert to keep their work alive.
'Here, unobserved as weed upon the wave,
My whole attention to the scene I gave;
I saw their tasks, their toil, their care, their skill.
Led by their own and by a master-will;
And though contending, toiling, tugging on,
The purposed business of the day was done.
'The open shops of craftsmen caught my eye,
And there my questions met the kind reply:
Men, when alone, will teach; but, in a crowd,
The child is silent, or the man is proud;
But, by themselves, there is attention paid
To a mild boy, so forward, yet afraid.
'I made me interest at the inn's fire-side,
Amid the scenes to bolder boys denied;
For I had patrons there, and I was one,
They judged, who noticed nothing that was done.
"A quiet lad!" would my protector say;
"To him, now, this is better than his play:
Boys are as men; some active, shrewd, and keen,
They look about if aught is to be seen;
And some, like Richard here, have not a mind
That takes a notice -- but the lad is kind."
'I loved in summer on the heath to walk,
And seek the shepherd -- shepherds love to talk:
His superstition was of ranker kind,
And he with tales of wonder stored my mind;
'Wonders that he in many a lonely eve
Had seen, himself, and therefore must believe.
His boy, his Joe, he said, from duty ran,
Took to the sea, and grew a fearless man:
"On yonder knoll -- the sheep were in the fold --
His spirit past me, shivering-like and cold!
I felt a fluttering, but I knew not how,
And heard him utter, like a whisper, 'now!'
Soon came a letter from a friend -- to tell
That he had fallen, and the time he fell."
'Even to the smugglers' hut the rocks between,
I have, adventurous in my wandering, been:
Poor, pious Martha served the lawless tribe,
And could their merits and their faults describe;
Adding her thoughts; "I talk, my child, to you,
Who little think of what such wretches do."
'I loved to walk where none had walk'd before,
About the rocks that ran along the shore;
Or far beyond the sight of men to stray,
And take my pleasure when I lost my way;
For then 'twas mine to trace the hilly heath,
And all the mossy moor that lies beneath:
Here had I favourite stations, where I stood
And heard the murmurs of the ocean-flood,
With not a sound beside, except when flew
Aloft the lapwing, or the gray curlew,
Who with wild notes my fancied power defied,
And mock'd the dreams of solitary pride.
'I loved to stop at every creek and bay
Made by the river in its winding way,
And call to memory -- not by marks they bare,
But by the thoughts that were created there.
'Pleasant it was to view the sea-gulls strive
Against the storm, or in the ocean dive,
With eager scream, or when they dropping gave
Their closing wings to sail upon the wave:
Then as the winds and waters raged around,
And breaking billows mix'd their deafening sound,
They on the rolling deep securely hung,
And calmly rode the restless waves among.
Nor pleased it less around me to behold,
Far up the beach, the yesty sea-foam roll'd;
Or from the shore upborn, to see on high,
Its frothy flakes in wild confusion fly:
While the salt spray that clashing billows form,
Gave to the taste a feeling of the storm.
'Thus, with my favourite views, for many an hour
Have I indulged the dreams of princely power;
When the mind, wearied by excursions bold,
The fancy jaded, and the bosom cold,
Or when those wants, that will on kings intrude,
Or evening-fears, broke in on solitude;
When I no more my fancy could employ,
I left in haste what I could not enjoy,
And was my gentle mother's welcome boy.
'But now thy walk, -- this soft autumnal gloom
Bids no delay -- at night I will resume
My subject, showing, not how I improved
In my strange school, but what the things I loved,
My first-born friendships, ties by forms uncheck'd,
And all that boys acquire whom men neglect.'

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