Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GRANDMOTHER'S TALE, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE GRANDMOTHER'S TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Harry! I'm tired of playing. We'll draw round
Last Line: From guilt, though not without a hope in christ.
Subject(s): England; Grandchildren; Grandparents; Guilt; Murder; Story-telling; English; Grandsons; Granddaughters; Grandmothers; Grandfathers; Great Grandfathers; Great Grandmothers


JANE.

HARRY! I'm tired of playing. We'll draw round
The fire; and grandmamma, perhaps, will tell us
One of her stories.

HARRY.

Ay, dear grandmamma!
A pretty story: something dismal now;
A bloody murder:

JANE.

Or about a ghost.

GRANDMOTHER.

Nay, nay, I should but frighten ye. You know
The other night when I was telling ye
About the light in the churchyard, how you trembled
Because the screech-owl hooted at the window,
And would not go to-bed.

JANE.

Why, grandmamma,
You said yourself you did not like to hear him.
Pray now! we wont be frightened.

GRANDMOTHER.

Well, well, children!
But you've heard all my stories. Let me see,—
Did I never tell you how the smuggler murdered
The woman down at Pill?

HARRY.

No,—never! never!

GRANDMOTHER.

Not how he cut her head off in the stable?

HARRY.

Oh!—now!—do tell us that!

GRANDMOTHER.

You must have heard
Your mother, children! often tell of her.
She used to weed in the garden here, and worm
Your uncle's dogs, and serve the house with coal:
And glad enough she was in winter time
To drive her asses here; it was cold work
To follow the slow beasts through sleet and snow;
And here she found a comfortable meal,
And a brave fire to thaw her, for poor Moll
Was always welcome.

HARRY.

Oh! 'twas blear-eyed Moll,
The collier woman—a great ugly woman.
I've heard of her.

GRANDMOTHER.

Ugly enough, poor soul.
At ten yards' distance you could hardly tell
If it were man or woman, for her voice
Was rough as our old mastiff's, and she wore
A man's old coat and hat,—and then her face!
There was a merry story told of her,
How when the press-gang came to take her husband,
As they were both in bed, she heard them coming,
Drest John up in her night-cap, and herself
Put on his clothes, and went before the captain.

JANE.

And so they prest a woman!

GRANDMOTHER.

'Twas a trick
She dearly loved to tell, and all the country
Soon knew the jest, for she was used to travel
For miles around. All weathers and all hours
She crossed the hill, as hardy as her beasts,
Bearing the wind and rain and winter frosts.
And if she did not reach her home at night,
She laid her down in the stable with her asses,
And slept as sound as they did.

HARRY.

With her asses?

GRANDMOTHER.

Yes, and she loved her beasts. For though, poor wretch,
She was a terrible reprobate, and swore
Like any trooper, she was always good
To the dumb creatures, never loaded them
Beyond their strength, and rather, I believe,
Would stint herself than let the poor beasts want,
Because, she said, they could not ask for food.
I never saw her stick fall heavier on them
Than just with its own weight. She little thought
This tender-heartedness would be her death.
There was a fellow who had oftentimes,
As if he took delight in cruelty,
Ill-used her asses. He was one who lived
By smuggling, and, for she had often met him
Crossing the down at night, she threatened him,
If he tormented them again, to inform
Of his unlawful ways. Well—so it was—
'Twas what they both were born to; he provoked her,
She laid an information, and one morning
They found her in the stable, her throat cut
From ear to ear, 'till the head only hung
Just by a bit of skin.

JANE.

Oh dear! oh dear!

HARRY.

I hope they hung the man!

GRANDMOTHER.

They took him up;
There was no proof, no one had seen the deed,
And he was set at liberty. But God,
Whose eye beholdeth all things, he had seen
The murder, and the murderer knew that God
Was witness to his crime. He fled the place;
But nowhere could he fly the avenging hand
Of Heaven! but nowhere could the murderer rest.
A guilty conscience haunted him; by day,
By night, in company, in solitude,
Restless and wretched, did he bear upon him
The weight of blood; her cries were in his ears;
Her stifled groans, as when he knelt upon her,
Always he heard; always he saw her stand
Before his eyes; even in the dead of night,
Distinctly seen as though in the broad sun,
She stood beside the murderer's bed and yawn'd
Her ghastly wound; till life itself became
A punishment at last he could not bear,
And he confess'd it all, and gave himself
To death; so terrible, he said, it was
To have a guilty conscience.

HARRY.

Was he hung then?

GRANDMOTHER.

Hung and anatomized. Poor, wretched man!
Your uncles went to see him on his trial;
He was so pale, so thin, so hollow-eyed,
And such a horror in his meagre face,
They said he look'd like one who never slept.
He begg'd the prayers of all who saw his end,
And met his death with fears that well might warn
From guilt, though not without a hope in Christ.





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