Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WEDDING, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE WEDDING, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I pray you, wherefore are the village bells
Last Line: To give sad meaning to the village bells!
Subject(s): Bells; Idleness; Marriage; Poverty; Strangers; Travel; Villages; Laziness; Sloth; Indolence; Weddings; Husbands; Wives; Journeys; Trips


TRAVELLER.

I PRAY you, wherefore are the village bells
Ringing so merrily?

WOMAN.

A wedding, sir—
Two of the village folk. And they are right
To make a merry time on't while they may.
Come twelve months hence, I warrant them they'd go
To church again more willingly than now
So all might be undone.

TRAVELLER.

An ill-match'd pair,
So I conceive you. Youth, perhaps, and age?

WOMAN.

No—both are young enough.

TRAVELLER.

Perhaps, the man then—
A lazy idler, one who better likes
The alehouse than his work?

WOMAN.

Why, sir, for that,
He always was a well-conditioned lad,
One who'd work hard and well; and as for drink,
Save now and then, mayhap at Christmas time,
Sober as wife could wish.

TRAVELLER.

Then is the girl
A shrew, or else untidy? One who'd welcome
Her husband with a rude, unruly tongue,
Or drive him from a foul and wretched home
To look elsewhere for comfort? Is it so?

WOMAN.

She's notable enough; and as for temper,
The best good-humour'd girl! D'ye see that house?
There by the aspen-tree, whose grey leaves shine
In the wind? She lived a servant at the farm;
And often as I came to weeding here,
I've heard her singing as she milk'd her cows
So cheerfully. I did not like to hear her,
Because it made me think upon the days
When I had got as little on my mind,
And was as cheerful too. But she would marry,
And folks must reap as they have sown. God help her!

TRAVELLER.

Why, mistress, if they both are well inclined,
Why should not both be happy?

WOMAN.

They've no money.

TRAVELLER.

But both can work; and sure as cheerfully
She'd labour for herself as at the farm.
And he wont work the worse because he knows
That she will make his fire-side ready for him,
And watch for his return.

WOMAN.

All very well,
A little while.

TRAVELLER.

And what if they are poor?
Riches can't always purchase happiness;
And much we know will be expected there
Where much was given.

WOMAN.

All this I have heard at church!
And when I walk in the church-yard, or have been
By a death-bed, 'tis mighty comforting.
But when I hear my children cry for hunger,
And see them shiver in their rags—God help me!
I pity those for whom these bells ring up
So merrily upon their wedding-day,
Because I think of mine.

TRAVELLER.

You have known trouble;
These haply may be happier.

WOMAN.

Why, for that,
I've had my share; some sickness and some sorrow;
Well will it be for them to know no worse.
Yet had I rather hear a daughter's knell
Than her wedding peal, sir, if I thought her fate
Promised no better things.

TRAVELLER.

Sure, sure, good woman,
You look upon the world with jaundiced eyes!
All have their cares; those who are poor want wealth
Those who have wealth want more; so are we all
Dissatisfied, yet all live on, and each
Has his own comforts.

WOMAN.

Sir, d'ye see that horse
Turn'd out to common here by the way-side?
He's high in bone; you may tell every rib
Even at this distance. Mind him! How he turns
His head, to drive away the flies that feed
On his gall'd shoulder! There's just grass enough
To disappoint his whetted appetite.
You see his comforts, sir!

TRAVELLER.

A wretched beast!
Hard labour and worse usage he endures
From some bad master. But the lot of the poor
Is not like his.

WOMAN.

In truth it is not, sir!
For when the horse lies down at night, no cares
About to-morrow vex him in his dreams.
He knows no quarter-day; and when he gets
Some musty hay or patch of hedge-row grass,
He has no hungry children to claim part
Of his half meal!

TRAVELLER.

'Tis idleness makes want,
And idle habits. If the man will go
And spend his evenings by the alehouse fire,
Whom can be blame if there is want at home?

WOMAN.

Ay! idleness! The rich folks never fail
To find some reason why the poor deserve
Their miseries! Is it idleness, I pray you,
That brings the fever or the ague fit?
That makes the sick one's sickly appetite
Turn at the dry bread and potato meal?
Is it idleness that makes small wages fail
For growing wants? Six years agone, these bells
Rung on my wedding-day, and I was told
What I might look, for,—but I did not heed
Good counsel. I had lived in service, sir;
Knew never what it was to want a meal;
Laid down without one thought to keep me sleepless
Or trouble me tin sleep; had for a Sunday
My linen gown, and when the pedlar came,
Could buy me a new ribbon:—and my husband,—
A towardly young man and well to do;
He had his silver buckles and his watch;
There was not in the village one who look'd
Sprucer on holydays. We married, sir,
And we had children; but as wants increased,
Wages did not. The silver buckles went,
So went the watch; and when the holyday coat
Was worn to work, no new one in its place.
For me—you see my rags! But I deserve them,
For wilfully, like this new-married pair,
I went to my undoing.

TRAVELLER.

But the parish_____

WOMAN.

Ay, it falls heavy there, and yet their pittance
Just serves to keep life in. A blessed prospect,
to slave while there is strength, in age the workhouse
A parish shell at last, and the little bell
Toll'd hastily for a pauper's funeral!

TRAVELLER.

Is this your child?

WOMAN.

Ay, sir, and were he dress'd
And clean, he'd be as fine a boy to look on
As the squire's young master. These thin rags of
Let comfortably in the summer wind;
But when the winter comes, it pinches me
To see the little wretch! I've three besides,
And—God forgive me! but I often wish
To see them in their coffins.—God reward you!
God bless you for your charity!

You have taught me
To give sad meaning to the village bells!





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