The Hermit

Original Text: 
Thomas Parnell, Poems on several occasions (London: B. Lintot, 1722). B-11 856 Fisher Rare Book Library
2From youth to age a rev'rend hermit grew;
3The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
4His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well:
5Remote from man, with God he pass'd the days,
6Pray'r all his bus'ness, all his pleasure praise.
7      A life so sacred, such serene repose,
8Seem'd heav'n itself, till one suggestion rose;
9That vice should triumph, virtue vice obey,
10This sprung some doubt of Providence's sway:
11His hopes no more a certain prospect boast,
12And all the tenor of his soul is lost.
13So when a smooth expanse receives imprest
14Calm nature's image on its wat'ry breast,
15Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
16And skies beneath with answering colours glow:
17But if a stone the gentle scene divide,
18Swift ruffling circles curl on ev'ry side,
19And glimm'ring fragments of a broken sun,
20Banks, trees, and skies, in thick disorder run.
21      To clear this doubt, to know the world by sight,
22To find if books, or swains, report it right,
23(For yet by swains alone the world he knew,
24Whose feet came wand'ring o'er the nightly dew,)
25He quits his cell; the pilgrim-staff he bore,
26And fix'd the scallop in his hat before;
27Then with the sun a rising journey went,
28Sedate to think, and watching each event.
29      The morn was wasted in the pathless grass,
30And long and lonesome was the wild to pass;
31But when the southern sun had warm'd the day,
32A youth came posting o'er a crossing way;
33His raiment decent, his complexion fair,
34And soft in graceful ringlets wav'd his hair.
35Then near approaching, "Father, hail!" he cried;
36"And hail, my son," the rev'rend sire replied;
37Words follow'd words, from question answer flow'd,
38And talk of various kind deceiv'd the road;
39Till each with other pleas'd, and loth to part,
40While in their age they differ, join in heart
41Thus stands an aged elm in ivy bound,
42Thus youthful ivy clasps an elm around.
43      Now sunk the sun; the closing hour of day
44Came onward, mantled o'er with sober gray;
45Nature in silence bid the world repose;
46When near the road a stately palace rose:
47There by the moon through ranks of trees they pass,
48Whose verdure crown'd their sloping sides of grass.
49It chanc'd the noble master of the dome
50Still made his house the wand'ring stranger's home;
51Yet still the kindness, from a thirst of praise,
52Prov'd the vain flourish of expensive ease.
53The pair arrive: the liv'ried servants wait;
54Their lord receives them at the pompous gate.
55The table groans with costly piles of food,
56And all is more than hospitably good.
57Then led to rest, the day's long toil they drown,
58Deep sunk in sleep, and silk, and heaps of down.
59      At length 'tis morn, and at the dawn of day,
60Along the wide canals the zephyrs play;
61Fresh o'er the gay parterres the breezes creep,
62And shake the neighb'ring wood to banish sleep.
63Up rise the guests, obedient to the call:
64An early banquet deck'd the splendid hall;
65Rich luscious wine a golden goblet grac'd,
66Which the kind master forc'd the guests to taste.
67Then, pleas'd and thankful, from the porch they go;
68And, but the landlord, none had cause of woe;
69His cup was vanish'd; for in secret guise
70The younger guest purloin'd the glitt'ring prize.
71      As one who spies a serpent in his way,
72Glist'ning and basking in the summer ray,
73Disorder'd stops to shun the danger near,
74Then walks with faintness on, and looks with fear;
75So seem'd the sire; when far upon the road,
76The shining spoil his wily partner show'd.
77He stopp'd with silence, walk'd with trembling heart,
78And much he wish'd, but durst not ask to part:
79Murmuring he lifts his eyes, and thinks it hard,
80That gen'rous actions meet a base reward.
81      While thus they pass, the sun his glory shrouds,
82The changing skies hang out their sable clouds;
83A sound in air presag'd approaching rain,
84And beasts to covert scud across the plain.
85Warn'd by the signs, the wand'ring pair retreat,
86To seek for shelter at a neighb'ring seat.
87'Twas built with turrets, on a rising ground,
88And strong, and large, and unimprov'd around;
89Its owner's temper, tim'rous and severe,
90Unkind and griping, caus'd a desert there.
91      As near the miser's heavy doors they drew,
92Fierce rising gusts with sudden fury blew;
93The nimble lightning mix'd with showers began,
94And o'er their heads loud rolling thunders ran.
95Here long they knock, but knock or call in vain,
96Driven by the wind, and batter'd by the rain.
97At length some pity warm'd the master's breast,
98('Twas then his threshold first receiv'd a guest,)
99Slow creaking turns the door with jealous care,
100And half he welcomes in the shiv'ring pair;
101One frugal faggot lights the naked walls,
102And Nature's fervour through their limbs recalls:
103Bread of the coarsest sort, with eager wine,
104Each hardly granted, serv'd them both to dine;
105And when the tempest first appear'd to cease,
106A ready warning bid them part in peace.
107With still remark the pond'ring hermit view'd
108In one so rich, a life so poor and rude;
109And why should such, within himself he cried,
110Lock the lost wealth a thousand want beside?
111But what new marks of wonder soon took place
112In every settling feature of his face,
113When from his vest the young companion bore
114That cup, the gen'rous landlord own'd before,
115And paid profusely with the precious bowl,
116The stinted kindness of this churlish soul!
117      But now the clouds in airy tumult fly;
118The sun emerging opes an azure sky;
119A fresher green the smelling leaves display,
120And glitt'ring as they tremble, cheer the day:
121The weather courts them from their poor retreat,
122And the glad master bolts the wary gate.
123      While hence they walk, the pilgrim's bosom wrought:
124Wlth all the travel of uncertain thought;
125His partner's acts without their cause appear,
126'Twas there a vice, and seem'd a madness here:
127Detesting that, and pitying this, he goes,
128Lost and confounded with the various shows.
129      Now night's dim shades again involve the sky,
130Again the wanderers want a place to lie,
131Again they search, and find a lodging nigh:
132The soil improv'd around, the mansion neat,
133And neither poorly low, nor idly great:
134It seem'd to speak its master's turn of mind,
135Content, and not for praise, but virtue kind.
136      Hither the walkers turn with weary feet,
137Then bless the mansion, and the master greet:
138Their greeting fair bestow'd, with modest guise,
139The courteous master hears, and thus replies:
140      "Without a vain, without a grudging heart,
141To Him who gives us all, I yield a part;
142From Him you come, for Him accept it here,
143A frank and sober, more than costly cheer."
144He spoke, and bid the welcome table spread,
145Then talk'd of virtue till the time of bed,
146When the grave household round his hall repair,
147Warn'd by a bell, and close the hours with pray'r.
148      At length the world, renew'd by calm repose,
149Was strong for toil, the dappled morn arose.
150Before the pilgrims part, the younger crept
151Near the clos'd cradle where an infant slept,
152And writh'd his neck: the landlord's little pride,
153O strange return! grew black, and gasp'd, and died!
154Horrors of horrors! what! his only son!
155How look'd our hermit when the fact was done?
156Not hell, though hell's black jaws in sunder part,
157And breathe blue fire, could more assault his heart.
158      Confus'd, and struck with silence at the deed,
159He flies, but, trembling, fails to fly with speed.
160His steps the youth pursues: the country lay
161Perplex'd with roads, a servant show'd the way:
162A river cross'd the path; the passage o'er
163Was nice to find; the servant trod before:
164Long arms of oak an open bridge supplied,
165And deep the waves beneath the bending glide.
166The youth, who seem'd to watch a time to sin,
167Approach'd the careless guide, and thrust him in;
168Plunging he falls, and rising lifts his head,
169Then flashing turns, and sinks among the dead.
170      Wild, sparkling rage inflames the father's eyes,
171He bursts the bands of fear, and madly cries,
172"Detested wretch!"--but scarce his speech began,
173When the strange partner seem'd no longer man:
174His youthful face grew more serenely sweet;
175His robe turn'd white, and flow'd upon his feet,
176Fair rounds of radiant points invest his hair;
177Celestial odours breathe through purpled air;
178And wings, whose colours glitter'd on the day,
179Wide at his back their gradual plumes display.
180The form ethereal bursts upon his sight,
181And moves in all the majesty of light.
182      Though loud at first the pilgrim's passion grew,
183Sudden he gaz'd, and wist not what to do;
184Surprise in secret chains his words suspends,
185And in a calm his settling temper ends.
186But silence here the beauteous angel broke,
187(The voice of music ravish'd as he spoke).
188      "Thy prayer, thy praise, thy life to vice unknown,
189In sweet memorial rise before the throne:
190These charms, success in our bright region find,
191And force an angel down, to calm thy mind;
192For this, commission'd, I forsook the sky,
193Nay, cease to kneel--thy fellow-servant I.
194      "Then know the truth of government divine,
195And let these scruples be no longer thine.
196      "The Maker justly claims that world He made,
197In this the right of Providence is laid;
198Its sacred majesty through all depends
199On using second means to work his ends:
200'Tis thus, withdrawn in state from human eye,
201The Pow'r exerts his attributes on high,
202Your actions uses, nor controls your will,
203And bids the doubting sons of men be still.
204      "What strange events can strike with more surprise,
205Than those which lately struck thy wond'ring eyes?
206Yet taught by these, confess th' Almighty just,
207And where you can't unriddle, learn to trust!
208      "The great vain man, who far'd on costly food,
209Whose life was too luxurious to be good;
210Who made his iv'ry stands with goblets shine,
211And forc'd his guests to morning draughts of wine,
212Has, with the cup, the graceless custom lost,
213And still he welcomes, but with less of cost.
214      "The mean, suspicious wretch, whose bolted door
215Ne'er mov'd in duty to the wand'ring poor;
216With him I left the cup, to teach his mind
217That Heav'n can bless, if mortals will be kind.
218Conscious of wanting worth, he views the bowl,
219And feels compassion touch his grateful soul.
220Thus artists melt the sullen ore of lead,
221With heaping coals of fire upon its head;
222In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
223And loose from dross, the silver runs below.
224      "Long had our pious friend in virtue trod,
225But now the child half-wean'd his heart from God;
226(Child of his age) for him he liv'd in pain,
227And measur'd back his steps to earth again.
228To what excesses had this dotage run!
229But God, to save the father, took the son.
230To all but thee, in fits he seem'd to go,
231(And 'twas my ministry to deal the blow).
232The poor fond parent, humbled in the dust,
233Now owns in tears the punishment was just.
234      "But how had all his fortune felt a wrack,
235Had that false servant sped in safety back!
236This night his treasur'd heaps he meant to steal,
237And what a fund of charity would fail!
238      "Thus Heav'n instructs thy mind: this trial o'er,
239Depart in peace, resign, and sin no more."
240      On sounding pinions here the youth withdrew,
241The sage stood wondering as the seraph flew.
242Thus look'd Elisha, when, to mount on high,
243His master took the chariot of the sky;
244The fiery pomp ascending left the view;
245The prophet gaz'd, and wish'd to follow too.
246      The bending hermit here a prayer begun,
247"Lord! as in heav'n, on earth thy will be done!"
248Then gladly turning, sought his ancient place,
249And pass'd a life of piety and peace.


1] The story was taken from Familiar Letters, by James Howell (1645). Cf. Samuel Johnson's account of Parnell in Lives of the Poets. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.545; RPO 1996-2000.