Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CROSS ROADS, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE CROSS ROADS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: There was an old man breaking stones
Last Line: And a stone is on her face.
Subject(s): Funerals; Girls; Labor & Laborers; Lunch; Murder; Rest; Soldiers; Story-telling; Travel; Burials; Work; Workers; Journeys; Trips


THERE was an old man breaking stones
To mend the turnpike way;
He sate him down beside a brook
And out his bread and cheese he took,
For now it was mid-day.

He leant his back against a post,
His feet the brook ran by;
And there were water-cresses growing,
And pleasant was the water's flowing,
For he was hot and dry.

A soldier with his knapsack on,
Came travelling o'er the down;
The sun was strong and he was tired;
And he of the old man inquired
How far to Bristol town.

Half an hour's walk for a young man,
By lanes and fields and stiles;
But you the foot-path do not know,
And if along the road you go,
Why then 'tis three good miles.

The soldier took his knapsack off,
For he was hot and dry;
And out his bread and cheese he took,
And he sat down beside the brook
To dine in company.

Old friend! in faith, the soldier says,
I envy you almost;
My shoulders have been sorely prest,
And I should like to sit and rest
My back against that post.

In such a sweltering day as this,
A knapsack is the devil!
And if on t'other side I sat,
It would not only spoil our chat,
But make me seem uncivil.

The old man laugh'd and moved—I wish
It were a great arm'd-chair!
But this may help a man at need!
And yet it was a cursed deed
That ever brought it there.

There's a poor girl lies buried here
Beneath this very place.
The earth upon her corpse is prest,
The stake is driven into her breast,
And a stone is on her face.

The soldier had but just leant back,
And now he half rose up.
There's sure no harm in dining here,
My friend? and yet to be sincere
I should not like to sup.

God rest her! she is still enough
Who sleeps beneath my feet!
The old man cried. No harm I trow
She ever did herself, though now
She lies where four roads meet.

I have past by about that hour
When men are not most brave;
It did not make my heart to fail,
And I have heard the nightingale
Sing sweetly on her grave.

I have past by about that hour
When ghosts their freedom have;
But there was nothing here to fright,
And I have seen the glow-worm's light
Shine on the poor girl's grave.

There's one who like a Christian lies
Beneath the church-tree's shade;
I'd rather go a long mile round
Than pass at evening through the ground
Wherein that man is laid.

There's one who in the churchyard lies
For whom the bell did toll;
He lies in consecrated ground,
But for all the wealth in Bristol town
I would not be with his soul!

Didst see a house below the hill,
Which the winds and the rains destroy?
'Twas then a farm where he did dwell,
And I remember it full well
When I was a growing boy.

And she was a poor parish girl
Who came up from the west;
From service hard she ran away,
And at that house in evil day,
Was taken in to rest.

The man he was a wicked man,
And an evil life he led;
Rage made his cheek grow deadly white,
And his gray eyes were large and light,
And in anger they grew red.

The man was bad, the mother worse,
Bad fruit of a bad stem;
'Twould make your hair to stand on end
If I should tell to you, my friend,
The things that were told of them!

Didst see an out-house, standing by?
The walls alone remain;
It was a stable then, but now
Its mossy roof has fallen through
All rotted by the rain.

The poor girl she had served with them
Some half-a-year or more,
When she was found hung up one day
Stiff as a corpse and cold as clay
Behind that stable door!

It is a wild and lonesome place,
No hut or house is near;
Should one meet a murderer there alone
'Twere vain to scream, and the dying groan
Would never reach mortal ear.

And there were strange reports about;
But still the coroner found
That she by her own hand had died,
And should buried be by the wayside,
And not in Christian ground.

This was the very place he chose,
Just where these four roads met,
And I was one among the throng
That hither followed them along,
I shall never the sight forget!

They carried her upon a board,
In the clothes in which she died;
I saw the cap blow off her head,
Her face was of a dark, dark red,
Her eyes were starting wide:

I think they could not have been closed
So widely did they strain.
I never saw so dreadful a sight,
And it often made me wake at night,
For I saw her face again.

They laid her here where four roads meet,
Beneath this very place.
The earth upon her corpse was prest,
This post is driven into her breast,
And a stone is on her face.





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