Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SPIRIT; FOUNDED ON FACT, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE SPIRIT; FOUNDED ON FACT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Now which is the road across the common
Last Line: "tis only old gaffer's grey mare!"
Subject(s): Animals; Facades; Fear; Ghosts; Horses; Night; Spiritual Life; Supernatural; Appearances; Bedtime


"Now which is the road across the common,
Good woman! in pity declare;
No path can I trace, for the night is dark,
And I fear me, before the far turnpike I mark,
Some grim-visaged ghost will appear."

"The ghost never walks till the clock strikes twelve,
And this is the first of the night,"
Cried the woman. "Now, why dost thou look at me so?
And why do thine eyes so fearfully glow?
Good stranger, forbear thy affright.

"I tell thee that across the common,
This cart-track thy horse must pursue,
Till close by thy feet two gibbets thou meet,
Where the rains and the tempests the highwayman beat,
That a traveller once murder'd like you."

The horseman replied, "I have no terror
Of men who in midnight plan;
But a ghost that pops on one before or behind,
And around him sees clearly while mortals are blind,—
Ay, that tries the heart of the man.

"Is there no road but by those gibbets?"
"No road," the woman replied.
"But though with the wind each murderer swings
They both of them are harmless things,
And so are the ravens beside."

"What! are there ravens there?—those creatures
That are so black and blue!
But, are they ravens? I inquire,
For I have heard by the winter's fire,
That phantoms the dead pursue."

The woman replied, "They are night-ravens
That pick the dead men's eyes;
And they cry qua, with their hollow jaw;
Methinks I one this moment saw!
To the banquet at hand he flies.

"Now fare thee well!" The traveller silent,
Whilst terror consumed his soul,
Went musing on. The night was still,
And every star had drunk his fill
At the brim of oblivion's bowl.

And now he near to the gibbets approach'd!
The black men waved in the air;
He raised his head, and cast a glance,
Yet heeded them not, though they seem'd to dance,
For he determined not to fear.

Wherefore, he cried, should men incline
To fear where no danger is found!
He scarce had said, when in the dark night,
Beside him appear'd a spirit in white!
He trembled, and could not look round.

He gallop'd away! the spirit pursued!
And the murderer's irons they screak!
The gibbets are past, and now fast and more fast,
The horseman and spirit outstrip the loud blast,
Though neither have courage to speak.

Now both on the verge of the common arrive,
Where a gate the free passage denied:
The horseman his arm outstretch'd to expand
The gate to admit him, when cold o'er his hand,
The mouth of the spirit did glide.

He started! and swift through the still darker lane
Gallop'd fast from the being he fear'd;
But yet, as the shadow the substance pursues,
The spirit behind, by a side-glance he views,
And more luminous now it appear'd!

The turnpike he reach'd; "Oh, tell me," he cried,
"I can neither look round nor go on;
What spirit is this which has followed me here
From the common? Good master, I dreadfully fear;
Speak! speak! or my sense will be gone!

"Ah, Jenny!" he cried, "thou crafty old jade!
Is it thee? I'll beat thy bones bare.
Good gentleman, fear not; no spirit is nigh,
Which has follow'd you here from the common hard by,
'Tis only old Gaffer's grey mare!"





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