There was a Boy

Original Text: 
William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, 2nd edn. (London: Longman, 1800). No. 5, 1 (c.1,2), 2(c.1) (Victoria College Library, Toronto).
3At evening, when the earliest stars began
4To move along the edges of the hills,
5Rising or setting, would he stand alone,
6Beneath the trees, or by the glimmering lake;
7And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
8Pressed closely palm to palm and to his mouth
9Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
10Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls
11That they might answer him.--And they would shout
12Across the watery vale, and shout again,
13Responsive to his call,--with quivering peals,
14And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
15Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
16Of jocund din! And, when there came a pause
17Of silence such as baffled his best skill:
18Then, sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
19Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
20Has carried far into his heart the voice
21Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene
22Would enter unawares into his mind
23With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
24Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received
25Into the bosom of the steady lake.
26      This boy was taken from his mates, and died
27In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old.
29Where he was born and bred: the churchyard hangs
30Upon a slope above the village-school;
31And through that churchyard when my way has led
32On summer-evenings, I believe that there
33A long half-hour together I have stood
34Mute--looking at the grave in which he lies!


1] Later incorporated in The Prelude, V, 364-97. Composed in Germany in November 1798. In the earliest manuscript (Nov. 1798), the poem or reminiscence ends with line 25, there is no reference to death, and the remembered boy who mimicked the owls was the poet himself. Back to Line
2] Winander: Windermere, the largest of the English lakes, in Cumbria. Back to Line
28] The vale of Esthwaite with its village of Hawkshead, the school which Wordsworth attended, and the nearby churchyard as here described. The schoolmate whose grave was in the churchyard was probably John Vickers who died in 1782, when Wordsworth was twelve. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.332.