Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE RUINED COTTAGE, by ROBERT SOUTHEY

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THE RUINED COTTAGE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Ay, charles! I knew that this would fix thine eye
Last Line: I trust in god they will not pass away.
Subject(s): Boys; Children; Home; Life Change Events; Memory; Men; Nostalgia; Widows & Widowers; Childhood

AY, Charles! I knew that this would fix thine eye,—
This woodbine wreathing round the broken porch,
Its leaves just withering, yet one autumn flower
Still fresh and fragrant; and yon hollyhock
That through the creeping weeds and nettles tall
Peers taller, and uplifts its column'd stem
Bright with the broad rose-blossoms. I have seen
Many a fallen convent reverend in decay,
And many a time have trod the castle courts
And grass-green halls, yet never did they strike
Home to the heart such melancholy thoughts
As this poor cottage. Look, its little hatch
Fleeced with that grey and wintry moss; the roof
Part moulder'd in, the rest o'ergrown with weeds,
House-leek, and long thin grass, and greener moss;
So Nature steals on all the works of man,
Sure conqueror she, reclaiming to herself
His perishable piles.
I led thee here,
Charles, not without design; for this hath been
My favourite walk even since I was a boy;
And I remember, Charles, this ruin here,
The neatest, comfortable dwelling place;
That when I read in those dear books which first
Woke in my heart the love of poesy,
How with the villagers Erminia dwelt,
And Calidore for a fair shepherdess
Forgot his quest to learn the shepherd's lore;
My fancy drew from this the little hut
Where that poor princess wept her hopeless love,
Or where the gentle Calidore at eve
Led Pastorella home. There was not then
A weed where all these nettles overtop
The garden wall; but sweet-briar, scenting sweet
The morning air, rosemary and marjoram,
All wholesome herbs; and then, that woodbine wreath'd
So lavishly around the pillared porch
Its fragrant flowers, that when I pass'd this way,
After a truant absence hastening home,
I could not choose but pass with slacken'd speed
By that delightful fragrance. Sadly changed
Is this poor cottage! and its dwellers, Charles!—
Theirs is a simple, melancholy tale,—
There's scarce a village but can fellow it,
And yet methinks it will not weary thee,
And should not be untold.
A widow woman
Dwelt with her daughter here; just above want,
She lived on some small pittance that sufficed,
In better times, the needful calls of life,
Not without comfort. I remember her
Sitting at evening in that open door-way,
And spinning in the sun; methinks I see her
Raising her eyes and dark-rimm'd spectacles
To see the passer-by, yet ceasing not
To twirl her lengthening thread. Or in the garden,
On some dry summer evening, walking round
To view her flowers, and pointing, as she lean'd
Upon the ivory handle of her stick,
To some carnation whose o'erheavy head
Needed support, while with the watering-pot
Joanna followed, and refresh'd and trimm'd
The drooping plant; Joanna, her dear child,
As lovely and as happy then as youth
And innocence could make her.
Charles! it seems
As though I were a boy again, and all
The mediate years, with their vicissitudes,
A half-forgotten dream. I see the maid
So comely in her Sunday dress! her hair,
Her bright brown hair, wreath'd in contracting curls,
And then her cheek! it was a red and white
That made the delicate hues of art look loathsome.
The countrymen who, on their way to church,
Were leaning o'er the bridge, loitering to hear
The bell's last summons, and in idleness
Watching the stream below, would all look up
When she pass'd by. And her old mother, Charles!
When I have heard some erring infidel
Speak of our faith as of a gloomy creed,
Inspiring fear and boding wretchedness,
Her figure has recurr'd; for she did love
The sabbath-day, and many a time hath cross'd
These fields in rain and through the winter snows,
When I, a graceless boy, wishing myself
By the fire-side, have wonder'd why she came
Who might have sate at home.
One only care
Hung on her aged spirit. For herself,
Her path was plain before her, and the close
Of her long journey near. But then her child,
Soon to be left alone in this bad world,—
That was a thought which many a winter night
Had kept her sleepless; and when prudent love
In something better than a servant's state
Had placed her well at last, it was a pang
Like parting life to part with her dear girl.

One summer, Charles, when at the holydays
Return'd from school, I visited again
My old accustom'd walks, and found in them
A joy almost like meeting an old friend,
I saw the cottage empty, and the weeds
Already crowding the neglected flowers.
Joanna, by a villain's wiles seduced,
Had played the wanton, and that blow had reach'd
Her mother's heart. She did not suffer long;
Her age was feeble, and the heavy blow
Brought her grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.
I pass this ruin'd dwelling oftentimes,
And think of other days. It wakes in me
A transient sadness; but the feelings, Charles,
Which ever with these recollections rise,
I trust in God they will not pass away.

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