The Village: Book I

Original Text: 
George Crabbe, The Village; a poem, in two books (London: J. Dodsley, 1783). E-10 649 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1The Village Life, and every care that reigns
2O'er youthful peasants and declining swains;
3What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
4Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
5What form the real picture of the poor,
6Demand a song--the Muse can give no more.
7     Fled are those times, when, in harmonious strains,
8The rustic poet praised his native plains:
9No shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
10Their country's beauty or their nymphs' rehearse;
11Yet still for these we frame the tender strain,
12Still in our lays fond Corydons complain,
13And shepherds' boys their amorous pains reveal,
14The only pains, alas! they never feel.
15     On Mincio's banks, in Caesar's bounteous reign,
16If Tityrus found the Golden Age again,
17Must sleepy bards the flattering dream prolong,
18Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?
19From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray,
20Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way?
21     Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains,
22Because the Muses never knew their pains:
23They boast their peasants' pipes; but peasants now
24Resign their pipes and plod behind the plough;
25And few, amid the rural-tribe, have time
26To number syllables, and play with rhyme;
27Save honest Duck, what son of verse could share
28The poet's rapture, and the peasant's care?
29Or the great labours of the field degrade,
30With the new peril of a poorer trade?
31     From this chief cause these idle praises spring,
32That themes so easy few forbear to sing;
33For no deep thought the trifling subjects ask;
34To sing of shepherds is an easy task:
35The happy youth assumes the common strain,
36A nymph his mistress, and himself a swain;
37With no sad scenes he clouds his tuneful prayer
38But all, to look like her, is painted fair.
39     I grant indeed that fields and flocks have charms
40For him that grazes or for him that farms;
41But when amid such pleasing scenes I trace
42The poor laborious natives of the place,
43And see the mid-day sun, with fervid ray,
44On their bare heads and dewy temples play;
45While some with feebler heads and fainter hearts,
46Deplore their fortune, yet sustain their parts:
47Then shall I dare these real ills to hide
48In tinsel trappings of poetic pride?
49     No; cast by Fortune on a frowning coast,
50Which neither groves nor happy valleys boast;
51Where other cares than those the Muse relates,
52And other shepherds dwell with other mates;
53By such examples taught, I paint the Cot,
54As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not:
55Nor you, ye poor, of letter'd scorn complain,
56To you the smoothest song is smooth in vain;
57O'ercome by labour, and bow'd down by time,
58Feel you the barren flattery of a rhyme?
59Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread,
60By winding myrtles round your ruin'd shed?
61Can their light tales your weighty griefs o'erpower
62Or glad with airy mirth the toilsome hour?
63     Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
64Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
65From thence a length of burning sand appears,
66Where the thin harvest waves its wither'd ears;
67Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
68Reign o'er the land, and rob the blighted rye:
69There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
70And to the ragged infant threaten war;
71There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil;
72There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
73Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
74The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
75O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
76And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade;
77With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
78And a sad splendour vainly shines around.
79So looks the nymph whom wretched arts adorn,
80Betray'd by man, then left for man to scorn;
81Whose cheek in vain assumes the mimic rose,
82While her sad eyes the troubled breast disclose;
83Whose outward splendour is but folly's dress,
84Exposing most, when most it gilds distress.
85     Here joyous roam a wild amphibious race,
86With sullen woe display'd in every face;
87Who, far from civil arts and social fly,
88And scowl at strangers with suspicious eye.
89     Here too the lawless merchant of the main
90Draws from his plough th' intoxicated swain;
91Want only claim'd the labour of the day,
92But vice now steals his nightly rest away.
93     Where are the swains, who, daily labour done,
94With rural games play'd down the setting sun;
95Who struck with matchless force the bounding ball,
96Or made the pond'rous quoit obliquely fall;
97While some huge Ajax, terrible and strong,
98Engaged some artful stripling of the throng,
99And fell beneath him, foil'd, while far around
100Hoarse triumph rose, and rocks return'd the sound?
101Where now are these?--Beneath yon cliff they stand,
102To show the freighted pinnace where to land;
103To load the ready steed with guilty haste,
104To fly in terror o'er the pathless waste,
105Or, when detected, in their straggling course,
106To foil their foes by cunning or by force;
107Or, yielding part (which equal knaves demand),
108To gain a lawless passport through the land.
109     Here, wand'ring long amid these frowning fields,
110I sought the simple life that Nature yields;
111Rapine and Wrong and Fear usurp'd her place,
112And a bold, artful, surly, savage race;
113Who, only skill'd to take the finny tribe,
114The yearly dinner, or septennial bribe,
115Wait on the shore, and, as the waves run high,
116On the tost vessel bend their eager eye,
117Which to their coast directs its vent'rous way;
118Theirs, or the ocean's, miserable prey.
119     As on their neighbouring beach yon swallows stand,
120And wait for favouring winds to leave the land;
121While still for flight the ready wing is spread:
122So waited I the favouring hour, and fled;
123Fled from those shores where guilt and famine reign,
124And cried, Ah! hapless they who still remain;
125Who still remain to hear the ocean roar,
126Whose greedy waves devour the lessening shore;
127Till some fierce tide, with more imperious sway,
128Sweeps the low hut and all it holds away;
129When the sad tenant weeps from door to door,
130And begs a poor protection from the poor!
131     But these are scenes where Nature's niggard hand
132Gave a spare portion to the famish'd land;
133Hers is the fault, if here mankind complain
134Of fruitless toil and labour spent in vain;
135But yet in other scenes more fair in view,
136Where Plenty smiles--alas! she smiles for few
137And those who taste not, yet behold her store,
138Are as the slaves that dig the golden ore,
139The wealth around them makes them doubly poor.
140     Or will you deem them amply paid in health,
141Labour's fair child, that languishes with wealth?
142Go then! and see them rising with the sun,
143Through a long course of daily toil to run;
144See them beneath the dog-star's raging heat,
145When the knees tremble and the temples beat;
146Behold them, leaning on their scythes, look o'er
147The labour past, and toils to come explore;
148See them alternate suns and showers engage,
149And hoard up aches and anguish for their age;
150Through fens and marshy moors their steps pursue,
151When their warm pores imbibe the evening dew;
152Then own that labour may as fatal be
153To these thy slaves, as thine excess to thee.
154     Amid this tribe too oft a manly pride
155Strives in strong toil the fainting heart to hide;
156There may you see the youth of slender frame
157Contend with weakness, weariness, and shame:
158Yet, urged along, and proudly loth to yield,
159He strives to join his fellows of the field.
160Till long-contending nature droops at last,
161Declining health rejects his poor repast,
162His cheerless spouse the coming danger sees,
163And mutual murmurs urge the slow disease.
164     Yet grant them health, 'tis not for us to tell,
165Though the head droops not, that the heart is well;
166Or will you praise that homely, healthy fare,
167Plenteous and plain, that happy peasants share!
168Oh! trifle not with wants you cannot feel,
169Nor mock the misery of a stinted meal;
170Homely, not wholesome, plain, not plenteous, such
171As you who praise would never deign to touch.
172     Ye gentle souls, who dream of rural ease,
173Whom the smooth stream and smoother sonnet please;
174Go! if the peaceful cot your praises share,
175Go look within, and ask if peace be there;
176If peace be his--that drooping weary sire,
177Or theirs, that offspring round their feeble fire;
178Or hers, that matron pale, whose trembling hand
179Turns on the wretched hearth th' expiring brand!
180     Nor yet can Time itself obtain for these
181Life's latest comforts, due respect and ease;
182For yonder see that hoary swain, whose age
183Can with no cares except his own engage;
184Who, propp'd on that rude staff, looks up to see
185The bare arms broken from the withering tree,
186On which, a boy, he climb'd the loftiest bough,
187Then his first joy, but his sad emblem now.
188     He once was chief in all the rustic trade;
189His steady hand the straightest furrow made;
190Full many a prize he won, and still is proud
191To find the triumphs of his youth allow'd;
192A transient pleasure sparkles in his eyes,
193He hears and smiles, then thinks again and sighs:
194For now he journeys to his grave in pain;
195The rich disdain him; nay, the poor disdain;
196Alternate masters now their slave command,
197Urge the weak efforts of his feeble hand,
198And, when his age attempts its task in vain,
199With ruthless taunts, of lazy poor complain.
200     Oft may you see him, when he tends the sheep,
201His winter-charge, beneath the hillock weep;
202Oft hear him murmur to the winds that blow
203O'er his white locks and bury them in snow,
204When, roused by rage and muttering in the morn,
205He mends the broken hedge with icy thorn:--
206     "Why do I live, when I desire to be
207At once from life and life's long labour free?
208Like leaves in spring, the young are blown away,
209Without the sorrows of a slow decay;
210I, like yon wither'd leaf, remain behind,
211Nipp'd by the frost, and shivering in the wind;
212There it abides till younger buds come on,
213As I, now all my fellow-swains are gone;
214Then, from the rising generation thrust,
215It falls, like me, unnoticed to the dust.
216     "These fruitful fields, these numerous flocks I see,
217Are others' gain, but killing cares to me;
218To me the children of my youth are lords,
219Cool in their looks, but hasty in their words:
220Wants of their own demand their care; and who
221Feels his own want and succours others too?
222A lonely, wretched man, in pain I go,
223None need my help, and none relieve my woe;
224Then let my bones beneath the turf be laid,
225And men forget the wretch they would not aid."
226     Thus groan the old, till, by disease oppress'd,
227They taste a final woe, and then they rest.
228     Theirs is yon house that holds the parish-poor,
229Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door;
230There, where the putrid vapours, flagging, play,
231And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day;--
232There children dwell who know no parents' care;
233Parents, who know no children's love, dwell there!
234Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
235Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed;
236Dejected widows with unheeded tears,
237And crippled age with more than childhood fears;
238The lame, the blind, and, far the happiest they!
239The moping idiot and the madman gay.
240     Here too the sick their final doom receive,
241Here brought, amid the scenes of grief, to grieve,
242Where the loud groans from some sad chamber flow,
243Mix'd with the clamours of the crowd below;
244Here, sorrowing, they each kindred sorrow scan,
245And the cold charities of man to man:
246Whose laws indeed for ruin'd age provide,
247And strong compulsion plucks the scrap from pride;
248But still that scrap is bought with many a sigh,
249And pride embitters what it can't deny.
250     Say ye, oppress'd by some fantastic woes,
251Some jarring nerve that baffles your repose;
252Who press the downy couch, while slaves advance
253With timid eye, to read the distant glance;
254Who with sad prayers the weary doctor tease,
255To name the nameless ever-new disease;
256Who with mock patience dire complaints endure,
257Which real pain and that alone can cure;
258How would ye bear in real pain to lie,
259Despised, neglected, left alone to die?
260How would ye bear to draw your latest breath,
261Where all that's wretched paves the way for death?
262     Such is that room which one rude beam divides,
263And naked rafters form the sloping sides;
264Where the vile bands that bind the thatch are seen,
265And lath and mud are all that lie between;
266Save one dull pane, that, coarsely patch'd, gives way
267To the rude tempest, yet excludes the day:
268Here, on a matted flock, with dust o'erspread,
269The drooping wretch reclines his languid head;
270For him no hand the cordial cup applies,
271Or wipes the tear that stagnates in his eyes;
272No friends with soft discourse his pain beguile,
273Or promise hope till sickness wears a smile.
274     But soon a loud and hasty summons calls,
275Shakes the thin roof, and echoes round the walls;
276Anon, a figure enters, quaintly neat,
277All pride and business, bustle and conceit;
278With looks unalter'd by these scenes of woe,
279With speed that, entering, speaks his haste to go,
280He bids the gazing throng around him fly,
281And carries fate and physic in his eye:
282A potent quack, long versed in human ills,
283Who first insults the victim whom he kills;
284Whose murd'rous hand a drowsy Bench protect,
285And whose most tender mercy is neglect.
286     Paid by the parish for attendance here,
287He wears contempt upon his sapient sneer;
288In haste he seeks the bed where Misery lies,
289Impatience mark'd in his averted eyes;
290And, some habitual queries hurried o'er,
291Without reply, he rushes on the door:
292His drooping patient, long inured to pain,
293And long unheeded, knows remonstrance vain;
294He ceases now the feeble help to crave
295Of man; and silent sinks into the grave.
296     But ere his death some pious doubts arise,
297Some simple fears, which "bold bad" men despise;
298Fain would he ask the parish-priest to prove
299His title certain to the joys above:
300For this he sends the murmuring nurse, who calls
301The holy stranger to these dismal walls:
302And doth not he, the pious man, appear,
303He, "passing rich with forty pounds a year"?
304Ah! no; a shepherd of a different stock,
305And far unlike him, feeds this little flock:
306A jovial youth, who thinks his Sunday's task
307As much as God or man can fairly ask;
308The rest he gives to loves and labours light,
309To fields the morning, and to feasts the night;
310None better skill'd the noisy pack to guide,
311To urge their chase, to cheer them or to chide;
312A sportsman keen, he shoots through half the day,
313And, skill'd at whist, devotes the night to play:
314Then, while such honours bloom around his head,
315Shall he sit sadly by the sick man's bed,
316To raise the hope he feels not, or with zeal
317To combat fears that e'en the pious feel?
318     Now once again the gloomy scene explore,
319Less gloomy now; the bitter hour is o'er,
320The man of many sorrows sighs no more.--
321Up yonder hill, behold how sadly slow
322The bier moves winding from the vale below;
323There lie the happy dead, from trouble free,
324And the glad parish pays the frugal fee:
325No more, O Death! thy victim starts to hear
326Churchwarden stern, or kingly overseer;
327No more the farmer claims his humble bow,
328Thou art his lord, the best of tyrants thou!
329     Now to the church behold the mourners come,
330Sedately torpid and devoutly dumb;
331The village children now their games suspend,
332To see the bier that bears their ancient friend;
333For he was one in all their idle sport,
334And like a monarch ruled their little court.
335The pliant bow he form'd, the flying ball,
336The bat, the wicket, were his labours all;
337Him now they follow to his grave, and stand
338Silent and sad, and gazing, hand in hand;
339While bending low, their eager eyes explore
340The mingled relics of the parish poor;
341The bell tolls late, the moping owl flies round,
342Fear marks the flight and magnifies the sound;
343The busy priest, detain'd by weightier care,
344Defers his duty till the day of prayer;
345And, waiting long, the crowd retire distress'd,
346To think a poor man's bones should lie unbless'd.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP 2.1