The Deserted Village, A Poem

Original Text: 
Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (London: W. Griffin, 1770). PR 3486 A1 1770A ROBA.
2Where health and plenty cheer'd the labouring swain,
3Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
4And parting summer's lingering blooms delay'd:
5Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
6Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
7How often have I loiter'd o'er thy green,
8Where humble happiness endear'd each scene!
9How often have I paus'd on every charm,
10The shelter'd cot, the cultivated farm,
11The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
13The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
14For talking age and whisp'ring lovers made!
15How often have I blest the coming day,
16When toil remitting lent its turn to play,
17And all the village train, from labour free,
18Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree;
19While many a pastime circled in the shade,
20The young contending as the old survey'd;
21And many a gambol frolick'd o'er the ground,
22And sleights of art and feats of strength went round;
23And still, as each repeated pleasure tir'd,
24Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspir'd;
25The dancing pair that simply sought renown
26By holding out to tire each other down:
28While secret laughter titter'd round the place;
29The bashful virgin's sidelong looks of love,
30The matron's glance that would those looks reprove:
31These were thy charms, sweet village! sports like these
32With sweet succession, taught e'en toil to please:
33These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,
34These were thy charms--but all these charms are fled.
36Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
38And desolation saddens all thy green:
39One only master grasps the whole domain,
40And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain.
41No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,
42But, chok'd with sedges, works its weedy way;
43Along thy glades, a solitary guest,
44The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;
45Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,
46And tires their echoes with unvaried cries;
47Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
48And the long grass o'ertops the mould'ring wall;
49And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,
50Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
51     Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
52Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
54A breath can make them, as a breath has made:
55But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
56When once destroy'd, can never be supplied.
57     A time there was, ere England's griefs began,
58When every rood of ground maintain'd its man;
59For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
60Just gave what life requir'd, but gave no more:
61His best companions, innocence and health;
62And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
64Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
65Along the lawn, where scatter'd hamlets rose,
66Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,
67And every want to opulence allied,
68And every pang that folly pays to pride.
69Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
70Those calm desires that ask'd but little room,
71Those healthful sports that grac'd the peaceful scene,
72Liv'd in each look, and brighten'd all the green,--
73These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,
74And rural mirth and manners are no more.
75     Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,
76Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant's power.
77Here, as I take my solitary rounds,
78Amidst thy tangling walks and ruin'd grounds,
79And, many a year elaps'd, return to view
80Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,
81Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,
82Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.
83     In all my wand'rings round this world of care,
84In all my griefs--and God has giv'n my share--
85I still had hopes, my latest hours to crown,
86Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;
87To husband out life's taper at the close,
88And keep the flame from wasting by repose:
89I still had hopes, for pride attends us still,
90Amidst the swains to show my booklearn'd skill,
91Around my fire an evening group to draw,
92And tell of all I felt and all I saw;
93And as a hare whom hounds and horns pursue,
94Pants to the place from whence at first she flew,
95I still had hopes, my long vexations past,
96Here to return, and die at home at last.
97     O blest retirement, friend to life's decline,
98Retreats from care, that never must be mine!
99How happy he who crowns in shades like these
100A youth of labour with an age of ease;
101Who quits a world where strong temptations try,
102And, since 'tis hard to combat, learns to fly!
103For him no wretches, born to work and weep,
104Explore the mine, or tempt the dang'rous deep;
106To spurn imploring famine from the gate;
107But on he moves to meet his latter end,
108Angels around befriending virtue's friend;
110While resignation gently slopes the way;
111And, all his prospects bright'ning to the last,
112His heav'n commences ere the world be past!
113     Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening's close
114Up yonder hill the village murmur rose.
115There, as I past with careless steps and slow,
116The mingling notes came soften'd from below;
117The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung,
118The sober herd that low'd to meet their young,
119The noisy geese that gabbled o'er the pool,
120The playful children just let loose from school,
121The watch-dog's voice that bay'd the whisp'ring wind,
122And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind,--
123These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,
124And fill'd each pause the nightingale had made.
125But now the sounds of population fail,
126No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
127No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread,
128For all the bloomy flush of life is fled!
129All but yon widow'd, solitary thing,
130That feebly bends beside the plashy spring:
131She, wretched matron, forc'd in age for bread,
132To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,
133To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,
134To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn;
135She only left of all the harmless train,
136The sad historian of the pensive plain.
137     Near yonder copse, where once the garden smil'd,
138And still where many a garden flower grows wild;
139There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,
140The village preacher's modest mansion rose.
141A man he was to all the country dear,
143Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
144Nor e'er had changed, nor wish'd to change, his place;
145Unpractis'd he to fawn, or seek for power,
146By doctrines fashion'd to the varying hour;
147Far other aims his heart had learn'd to prize,
148More skill'd to raise the wretched than to rise.
149His house was known to all the vagrant train;
150He chid their wand'rings but reliev'd their pain;
151The long remember'd beggar was his guest,
152Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;
153The ruin'd spendthrift, now no longer proud,
154Claim'd kindred there, and had his claims allow'd;
156Sat by his fire, and talk'd the night away,
157Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
158Shoulder'd his crutch and show'd how fields were won.
159Pleas'd with his guests, the good man learn'd to glow,
160And quite forgot their vices in their woe;
161Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
162His pity gave ere charity began.
163     Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
164And e'en his failings lean'd to virtue's side;
165But in his duty prompt at every call,
166He watch'd and wept, he pray'd and felt for all;
167And, as a bird each fond endearment tries
168To tempt its new-fledg'd offspring to the skies,
169He tried each art, reprov'd each dull delay,
170Allur'd to brighter worlds, and led the way.
171     Beside the bed where parting life was laid,
172And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismay'd
173The rev'rend champion stood. At his control
174Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;
175Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise,
176And his last falt'ring accents whisper'd praise.
177     At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
178His looks adorn'd the venerable place;
179Truth from his lips prevail'd with double sway,
180And fools who came to scoff remain'd to pray.
181The service past, around the pious man,
182With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
183E'en children follow'd with endearing wile,
184And pluck'd his gown to share the good man's smile.
185His ready smile a parent's warmth exprest:
186Their welfare pleas'd him, and their cares distrest:
187To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
188But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven.
189As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
190Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
191Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
192Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
193     Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
194With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay,
195There, in his noisy mansion, skill'd to rule,
196The village master taught his little school.
197A man severe he was, and stern to view;
198I knew him well, and every truant knew;
199Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
200The day's disasters in his morning face;
201Full well they laugh'd with counterfeited glee
202At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;
203Full well the busy whisper circling round
204Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd.
206The love he bore to learning was in fault;
207The village all declar'd how much he knew;
208'Twas certain he could write, and cypher too:
211In arguing, too, the parson own'd his skill,
212For, ev'n though vanquish'd, he could argue still;
213While words of learned length and thundering sound
214Amazed the gazing rustics rang'd around;
215And still they gaz'd, and still the wonder grew,
216That one small head could carry all he knew.
217     But past is all his fame. The very spot
218Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot.
219Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,
220Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,
221Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspir'd,
222Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retir'd,
223Where village statesmen talk'd with looks profound,
224And news much older than their ale went round.
225Imagination fondly stoops to trace
226The parlour splendours of that festive place;
228The varnish'd clock that click'd behind the door;
229The chest contriv'd a double debt to pay,
230A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;
231The pictures plac'd for ornament and use,
233The hearth, except when winter chill'd the day,
234With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay;
235While broken tea-cups, wisely kept for show,
236Rang'd o'er the chimney, glisten'd in a row.
237     Vain transitory splendours! could not all
238Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall?
239Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart
240An hour's importance to the poor man's heart.
241Thither no more the peasant shall repair
242To sweet oblivion of his daily care;
243No more the farmer's news, the barber's tale,
244No more the woodman's ballad shall prevail;
245No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
246Relax his pond'rous strength, and lean to hear;
247The host himself no longer shall be found
249Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,
250Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.
251     Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
252These simple blessings of the lowly train;
253To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
254One native charm, than all the gloss of art;
255Spontaneous joys, where nature has its play,
256The soul adopts, and owns their firstborn sway;
257Lightly they frolic o'er the vacant mind,
259But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,
260With all the freaks of wanton wealth array'd--
261In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,
262The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;
263And, e'en while fashion's brightest arts decoy,
264The heart distrusting asks if this be joy.
265     Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen who survey
266The rich man's joys increase, the poor's decay,
267'Tis yours to judge, how wide the limits stand
268Between a splendid and a happy land.
269Proud swells the tide with loads of freighted ore,
270And shouting Folly hails them from her shore;
271Hoards e'en beyond the miser's wish abound,
272And rich men flock from all the world around.
273Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name
274That leaves our useful products still the same.
275Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride
276Takes up a space that many poor supplied;
277Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds,
278Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds:
279The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth
280Has robb'd the neighb'ring fields of half their growth:
281His seat, where solitary sports are seen,
282Indignant spurns the cottage from the green:
283Around the world each needful product flies,
284For all the luxuries the world supplies;
285While thus the land adorn'd for pleasure all,
286In barren splendour feebly waits the fall.
287     As some fair female unadorn'd and plain,
288Secure to please while youth confirms her reign,
289Slights every borrow'd charm that dress supplies,
290Nor shares with art the triumph of her eyes;
291But when those charms are past, for charms are frail,
292When time advances, and when lovers fail,
293She then shines forth, solicitous to bless,
294In all the glaring impotence of dress.
295Thus fares the land by luxury betray'd:
296In nature's simplest charms at first array'd,
297But verging to decline, its splendours rise,
298Its vistas strike, its palaces surprise;
299While, scourg'd by famine from the smiling land,
300The mournful peasant leads his humble band,
301And while he sinks, without one arm to save,
302The country blooms--a garden and a grave.
303     Where then, ah! where, shall poverty reside,
304To 'scape the pressure of contiguous pride?
306He drives his flock to pick the scanty blade,
307Those fenceless fields the sons of wealth divide,
308And ev'n the bare-worn common is denied.
309     If to the city sped--what waits him there?
310To see profusion that he must not share;
311To see ten thousand baneful arts combin'd
312To pamper luxury, and thin mankind;
313To see those joys the sons of pleasure know
314Extorted from his fellow-creature's woe.
315Here while the courtier glitters in brocade,
317Here while the proud their long-drawn pomps display,
320Here, richly deck'd, admits the gorgeous train:
321Tumultuous grandeur crowds the blazing square,
323Sure scenes like these no troubles e'er annoy!
324Sure these denote one universal joy!
325Are these thy serious thoughts.?--Ah, turn thine eyes
326Where the poor houseless shiv'ring female lies.
327She once, perhaps, in village plenty blest,
328Has wept at tales of innocence distrest;
329Her modest looks the cottage might adorn
330Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn:
331Now lost to all--her friends, her virtue fled,
332Near her betrayer's door she lays her head,
333And, pinch'd with cold, and shrinking from the shower,
334With heavy heart deplores that luckless hour,
335When idly first, ambitious of the town,
336She left her wheel and robes of country brown.
337     Do thine, sweet Auburn, thine, the loveliest train,--
338Do thy fair tribes participate her pain?
339Ev'n now, perhaps, by cold and hunger led,
340At proud men's doors they ask a little bread!
341     Ah, no! To distant climes, a dreary scene,
342Where half the convex world intrudes between,
343Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,
345Far different there from all that charm'd before,
346The various terrors of that horrid shore:
347Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray,
348And fiercely shed intolerable day;
349Those matted woods, where birds forget to sing,
350But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
351Those pois'nous fields with rank luxuriance crown'd,
352Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;
353Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
354The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
356And savage men more murd'rous still than they;
357While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,
358Mingling the ravag'd landscape with the skies.
359Far different these from every former scene,
360The cooling brook, the grassy-vested green,
361The breezy covert of the warbling grove,
362That only shelter'd thefts of harmless love.
363     Good Heaven! what sorrows gloom'd that parting day,
364That call'd them from their native walks away;
365When the poor exiles, every pleasure past,
366Hung round their bowers, and fondly look'd their last,
367And took a long farewell, and wish'd in vain
368For seats like these beyond the western main,
369And shudd'ring still to face the distant deep,
370Return'd and wept, and still return'd to weep!
371The good old sire the first prepar'd to go
372To new found worlds, and wept for others' woe;
373But for himself, in conscious virtue brave,
374He only wish'd for worlds beyond the grave.
375His lovely daughter, lovelier in her tears,
376The fond companion of his helpless years,
377Silent went next, neglectful of her charms,
378And left a lover's for a father's arms.
379With louder plaints the mother spoke her woes,
380And bless'd the cot where every pleasure rose,
381And kiss'd her thoughtless babes with many a tear,
382And clasp'd them close, in sorrow doubly dear,
383Whilst her fond husband strove to lend relief
384In all the silent manliness of grief.
385     O luxury! thou curst by Heaven's decree,
386How ill exchang'd are things like these for thee!
387How do thy potions, with insidious joy,
388Diffuse their pleasures only to destroy!
389Kingdoms by thee, to sickly greatness grown,
390Boast of a florid vigour not their own.
391At every draught more large and large they grow,
392A bloated mass of rank unwieldy woe;
393Till sapp'd their strength, and every part unsound,
394Down, down they sink, and spread a ruin round.
395     Ev'n now the devastation is begun,
396And half the business of destruction done;
397Ev'n now, methinks, as pond'ring here I stand,
398I see the rural virtues leave the land.
399Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail,
400That idly waiting flaps with every gale,
401Downward they move, a melancholy band,
402Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.
403Contented toil, and hospitable care,
404And kind connubial tenderness, are there;
405And piety, with wishes placed above,
406And steady loyalty, and faithful love.
407And thou, sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,
408Still first to fly where sensual joys invade;
409Unfit in these degenerate times of shame
410To catch the heart, or strike for honest fame;
411Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,
412My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;
413Thou source of all my bliss, and all my woe,
414That found'st me poor at first, and keep'st me so;
415Thou guide by which the nobler arts excel,
416Thou nurse of every virtue, fare thee well!
417Farewell, and oh! where'er thy voice be tried,
419Whether where equinoctial fervours glow,
420Or winter wraps the polar world in snow,
421Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,
422Redress the rigours of th' inclement clime;
423Aid slighted truth, with thy persuasive strain
424Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;
425Teach him that states of native strength possest,
426Though very poor, may still be very blest;
429While self-dependent power can time defy,
430As rocks resist the billows and the sky.


1] First published in 1770. An earlier prose sketch of the poem may be found in an essay called The Revolution in Low Life (New Essays by Oliver Goldsmith, ed., Crane). In the Dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith writes: "I know you will object ... that the depopulation it [the poem] deplores is nowhere to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet's own imagination. To this I can scarce make any other answer than that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege; and that all my views and enquiries have led me to believe those miseries real, which I here attempt to display .... In regretting the depopulation of the country I inveigh against the increase of our luxuries; and here also I expect the shout of modern politicians against me. For twenty or thirty years past, it has been the fashion to consider luxury as one of the greatest national advantages; and all the wisdom of antiquity in that particular, as erroneous. Still, however. I must remain a professed ancient on that head, and continue to think those luxuries prejudicial to states, by which so many vices are introduced, and so many kingdoms have been undone."
Auburn: not an actual village; the poem contains idealized reminiscences of Lissoy, the Irish village where Goldsmith spent his early years, although the scene of the poem is definitely English rather than Irish. Back to Line
12] decent: comely (Lat. decens). Back to Line
27] mistrustless: unconscious. Back to Line
35] lawn: grassy plain. Back to Line
37] tyrant: a general reference to men who, having become rich by trade, buy the land for purposes of pleasure and display, thus dispossessing the peasantry. Back to Line
53] Cf. Burns's "Princes and lords are but the breath of kings" (A Cotter's Saturday Night, 165). Back to Line
63] See note to line 37. Back to Line
105] Cf. The Citizen of the World, 1762, I, 123: "I never see a nobleman's door half opened that some surly porter or footman does not stand full in the breach." Back to Line
109] unperceiv'd decay: cf. Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes, 291. Back to Line
142] forty pounds a year. Goldsmith's The Traveller is dedicated to his brother Henry, a clergyman, "a man who, despising fame and fortune, has retired early to happiness and obscurity with an income of forty pounds a year." The village preacher is, however, a composite portrait of Goldsmith's father, his brother Henry, and others. Back to Line
155] broken soldier: a demobilized veteran, probably of the Seven Years War. Back to Line
205] Not a defective rhyme at the time, as Goldsmith, in accordance with general practice, pronounced "fault" without the l. Back to Line
209] terms and tides: times, "Term" is the word used in connection with law-courts and universities (as in "Michaelmas term"); "tide" is used of church festivals (as in "Easter-tide"). Back to Line
210] gauge: measure the capacity of a barrel or keg. Back to Line
227] For a parallel version, also in verse but unidealized, see The Collected Letters of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Balderston, 64-65. Back to Line
232] The Twelve Good Rules: rules of conduct ascribed to King Charles I, printed on a broadside with a rude woodcut of the king's execution. The rules are as follows:
"1. Urge no healths.
2. Profane no divine ordinances.
3. Touch no state matters.
4. Reveal no secrets.
5. Pick no quarrels.
6. Make no comparisons.
7. Maintain no ill opinions.
8. Keep no bad company.
9. Encourage no vice.
10. Make no long meals.
11. Repeat no grievances.
12. Lay no wagers."
It is said that Queen Victoria kept a copy of these rules in the servants' hall in Windsor Castle.
Royal Game of Goose: a game somewhat like modern parchesi, played by two persons with dice on a board divided into compartments on some of which a goose was painted. "Royal" is a complimentary epithet often prefixed to the names of games, without any apparent meaning. Back to Line
248] mantling bliss: the cup of ale covered with foam. Back to Line
258] pomp: procession, or perhaps merely entertainment. Back to Line
305] Common land was the undivided and unenclosed land upon which all the members of a community had certain defined rights, as of cultivation, pasture, cutting wood, etc. By Enclosure Acts (especially numerous after 1760) this land was often converted into private property. Back to Line
316] artist: artisan; here, a tailor. Back to Line
318] black gibbet: gallows. In Goldsmith's time, capital crimes (including horse-stealing, forgery, shop-lifting, etc.) were numerous, and gallows were erected in every important quarter of the city. Back to Line
319] dome: building, house (Lat. domus). The poet may refer to such popular places of entertainment and amusement as Ranelagh and Vauxhall. Back to Line
322] chariots: coaches.
torches. In those days of dark streets, people of fashion went about at night accompanied by link-boys bearing torches. Back to Line
344] Altama: the Altamaha, a river in Georgia. Back to Line
355] tigers: poetic licence, since there are no tigers in the locality named. But cf. Goldsmith's Animated Nature (1774, iii, 244): "There is an animal of America, which is usually called the Red Tiger, but Mr. Buffon calls it the cougar, which, no doubt, is very different from the tiger of the east. Some, however, have thought proper to rank both together, and I will take leave to follow their example." Back to Line
418] Torno: Torne, a river on the border between Sweden and Finland; or possibly Torno, near Como on the shore of Lake Como in Italy.
Pambamarca: a mountain near Quito, Ecuador. Back to Line
427] In The Life of Samuel Johnson, under the year 1766, Boswell writes: "Dr. Johnson ... favoured me by marking the lines which he furnished to Goldsmith's Deserted Village, which are only the last four." Back to Line
428] mole: a massive breakwater or pier. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.237.