Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

The Brothers, a Pastoral Poem

This Poem was intended to be the concluding poem of a series of pastorals, the scene of which was laid among the mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland. I mention this to apologise for the abruptness with which the poem begins.

These Tourists, Heaven preserve us! needs must live

A profitable life: some glance along

Rapid and gay, as if the earth were air.

And they were butterflies to wheel about

Long as their summer lasted; some, as wise,

Upon the forehead of a jutting crag

Sit perch’d with book and pencil on their knee,

And look and scribble, scribble on and look,

Until a man might travel twelve stout miles,

Or reap an acre of his neighbour’s corn.

But, for that moping son of Idleness

Why can he tarry yonder? — In our church-yard

Is neither epitaph nor monument,

Tomb-stone nor name, only the turf we tread.

And a few natural graves. To Jane, his Wife,

Thus spake the homely Priest of Ennerdale.

It was a July evening, and he sate

Upon the long stone seat beneath the eaves

Of his old cottage, as it chanced that day,

Employ’d in winter’s work. Upon the stone

His Wife sate near him, teasing matted wool,

While, from the twin cards tooth’d with glittering wire,

He fed the spindle of his youngest child,

Who turn’d her large round wheel in the open air

With back and forward steps. Towards the field

In which the parish chapel stood alone,

Girt round with a bare ring of mossy wall,

While half an hour went by, the Priest had sent

Many a long look of wonder, and at last,

Risen from his seat, beside the snowy ridge

Of carded wool — which the old Man had piled

He laid his implements with gentle care,

Each in the other lock’d; and, down the path

Which from his cottage to the church-yard led,

He took his way, impatient to accost

The Stranger, whom he saw still lingering there.

’Twas one well known to him in former days,

A Shepherd-lad: who ere his thirteenth year

Had chang’d his calling, with the mariners

A fellow-mariner, and so had fared

Through twenty seasons; but he had been rear’d

Among the mountains, and he in his heart

Was half a Shepherd on the stormy seas.

Oft in the piping shrouds had Leonard heard

The tones of waterfalls, and inland sounds

Of caves and trees; and when the regular wind

Between the tropics fill’d the steady sail

And blew with the same breath through days and weeks,

Lengthening invisibly its weary line

Along the cloudless main, he, in those hours

Of tiresome indolence would often hang

Over the vessel’s aide, and gaze and gaze,

And, while the broad green wave and sparkling foam

Flash’d round him images and hues, that wrought

In union with the employment of his heart,

He, thus by feverish passion overcome,

Even with the organs of his bodily eye,

Below him, in the bosom of the deep

Saw mountains, saw the forms of sheep that graz’d

On verdant hills, with dwellings among trees,

And Shepherds clad in the same country grey

Which he himself had worn. 9

9 This description of the Calenture is sketched from an imperfect recollection of an admirable one in prose, by Mr. Gilbert, Author of the Hurricane.

                          And now at length,

From perils manifold, with some small wealth

Acquir’d by traffic in the Indian Isles,

To his paternal home he is return’d,

With a determin’d purpose to resume

The life which he liv’d there, both for the sake

Of many darling pleasures, and the love

Which to an only brother he has borne

In all his hardships, since that happy time

When, whether it blew foul or fair, they two

Were brother Shepherds on their native hills.

— They were the last of all their race; and now,

When Leonard had approach’d his home, his heart

Fail’d in him, and, not venturing to inquire

Tidings of one whom he so dearly lov’d,

Towards the church-yard he had turn’d aside,

That, as he knew in what particular spot

His family were laid, he thence might learn

If still his Brother liv’d, or to the file

Another grave was added. — He had found

Another grave, near which a full half hour

He had remain’d, but, as he gaz’d, there grew

Such a confusion in his memory,

That he began to doubt, and he had hopes

That he had seen this heap of turf before,

That it was not another grave, but one,

He had forgotten. He had lost his path,

As up the vale he came that afternoon,

Through fields which once had been well known to him.

And Oh! what joy the recollection now

Sent to his heart! he lifted up his eyes,

And looking round he thought that he perceiv’d

Strange alteration wrought on every side

Among the woods and fields, and that the rocks,

And the eternal hills, themselves were chang’d.

By this the Priest who down the field had come

Unseen by Leonard, at the church-yard gate

Stopp’d short, and thence, at leisure, limb by limb

He scann’d him with a gay complacency.

Aye, thought the Vicar, smiling to himself;

’Tis one of those who needs must leave the path

Of the world’s business, to go wild alone:

His arms have a perpetual holiday,

The happy man will creep about the fields

Following his fancies by the hour, to bring

Tears down his check, or solitary smiles

Into his face, until the setting sun

Write Fool upon his forehead. Planted thus

Beneath a shed that overarch’d the gate

Of this rude church-yard, till the stars appear’d

The good man might have commun’d with himself

But that the Stranger, who had left the grave,

Approach’d; he recogniz’d the Priest at once,

And after greetings interchang’d, and given

By Leonard to the Vicar as to one

Unknown to him, this dialogue ensued.

LEONARD.

You live, Sir, in these dales, a quiet life:

Your years make up one peaceful family;

And who would grieve and fret, if, welcome come

And welcome gone, they are so like each other,

They cannot be remember’d. Scarce a funeral

Comes to this church-yard once, in eighteen months;

And yet, some changes must take place among you.

And you, who dwell here, even among these rocks

Can trace the finger of mortality,

And see, that with our threescore years and ten

We are not all that perish. — I remember,

For many years ago I pass’d this road,

There was a foot-way all along the fields

By the brook-side —’tis gone — and that dark cleft!

To me it does not seem to wear the face

Which then it had.

PRIEST.

                  Why, Sir, for aught I know,

That chasm is much the same —

LEONARD.

                              But, surely, yonder —

PRIEST.

Aye, there indeed, your memory is a friend

That does not play you false. — On that tall pike,

(It is the loneliest place of all these hills)

There were two Springs which bubbled side by side,

As if they had been made that they might be

Companions for each other: ten years back,

Close to those brother fountains, the huge crag

Was rent with lightning — one is dead and gone,

The other, left behind, is flowing still. —

For accidents and changes such as these,

Why we have store of them! a water-spout

Will bring down half a mountain; what a feast

For folks that wander up and down like you,

To see an acre’s breadth of that wide cliff

One roaring cataract — a sharp May storm

Will come with loads of January snow,

And in one night send twenty score of sheep

To feed the ravens, or a Shepherd dies

By some untoward death among the rocks:

The ice breaks up and sweeps away a bridge —

A wood is fell’d:— and then for our own homes!

A child is born or christen’d, a field plough’d,

A daughter sent to service, a web spun,

The old house cloth is deck’d with a new face;

And hence, so far from wanting facts or dates

To chronicle the time, we all have here

A pair of diaries, one serving, Sir,

For the whole dale, and one for each fire-side,

Your’s was a stranger’s judgment: for historians

Commend me to these vallies.

LEONARD.

                             Yet your church-yard

Seems, if such freedom may be used with you,

To say that you are heedless of the past.

Here’s neither head nor foot-stone, plate of brass,

Cross-bones or skull, type of our earthly state

Or emblem of our hopes: the dead man’s home

Is but a fellow to that pasture field.

PRIEST.

Why there, Sir, is a thought that’s new to me.

The Stone-cutters, ’tis true, might beg their bread

If every English church-yard were like ours:

Yet your conclusion wanders from the truth.

We have no need of names and epitaphs,

We talk about the dead by our fire-sides.

And then for our immortal part, we want

No symbols, Sir, to tell us that plain tale:

The thought of death sits easy on the man

Who has been born and dies among the mountains:

LEONARD.

Your dalesmen, then, do in each other’s thoughts

Possess a kind of second life: no doubt

You, Sir, could help me to the history

Of half these Graves?

PRIEST.

With what I’ve witness’d; and with what I’ve heard,

Perhaps I might, and, on a winter’s evening,

If you were seated at my chimney’s nook

By turning o’er these hillocks one by one,

We two could travel, Sir, through a strange round,

Yet all in the broad high-way of the world.

Now there’s a grave — your foot is half upon it,

It looks just like the rest, and yet that man

Died broken-hearted.

LEONARD.

                     ’Tis a common case,

We’ll take another: who is he that lies

Beneath yon ridge, the last of those three graves; —

It touches on that piece of native rock

Left in the church-yard wall.

PRIEST.

                             That’s Walter Ewbank.

He had as white a head and fresh a cheek

As ever were produc’d by youth and age

Engendering in the blood of hale fourscore.

For five long generations had the heart

Of Walter’s forefathers o’erflow’d the bounds

Of their inheritance, that single cottage,

You see it yonder, and those few green fields.

They toil’d and wrought, and still, from sire to son,

Each struggled, and each yielded as before

A little — yet a little — and old Walter,

They left to him the family heart, and land

With other burthens than the crop it bore.

Year after year the old man still preserv’d

A chearful mind, and buffeted with bond,

Interest and mortgages; at last he sank,

And went into his grave before his time.

Poor Walter! whether it was care that spurr’d him

God only knows, but to the very last

He had the lightest foot in Ennerdale:

His pace was never that of an old man:

I almost see him tripping down the path

With his two Grandsons after him — but you,

Unless our Landlord be your host to-night,

Have far to travel, and in these rough paths

Even in the longest day of midsummer —

LEONARD.

But these two Orphans!

PRIEST.

                        Orphans! such they were —

Yet not while Walter liv’d — for, though their Parents

Lay buried side by side as now they lie,

The old Man was a father to the boys,

Two fathers in one father: and if tears

Shed, when he talk’d of them where they were not,

And hauntings from the infirmity of love,

Are aught of what makes up a mother’s heart,

This old Man in the day of his old age

Was half a mother to them. — If you weep, Sir,

To hear a stranger talking about strangers,

Heaven bless you when you are among your kindred!

Aye. You may turn that way — it is a grave

Which will bear looking at.

LEONARD.

                           These Boys I hope

They lov’d this good old Man —

PRIEST.

                               They did — and truly,

But that was what we almost overlook’d,

They were such darlings of each other. For

Though from their cradles they had liv’d with Walter,

The only kinsman near them in the house,

Yet he being old, they had much love to spare,

And it all went into each other’s hearts.

Leonard, the elder by just eighteen months,

Was two years taller: ’twas a joy to see,

To hear, to meet them! from their house the School

Was distant three short miles, and in the time

Of storm and thaw, when every water-course

And unbridg’d stream, such as you may have notic’d

Crossing our roads at every hundred steps,

Was swoln into a noisy rivulet,

Would Leonard then, when elder boys perhaps

Remain’d at home, go staggering through the fords

Bearing his Brother on his back. — I’ve seen him,

On windy days, in one of those stray brooks,

Aye, more than once I’ve seen him mid-leg deep,

Their two books lying both on a dry stone

Upon the hither side:— and once I said,

As I remember, looking round these rocks

And hills on which we all of us were born,

That God who made the great book of the world

Would bless such piety —

LEONARD.

                        It may be then —

PRIEST.

Never did worthier lads break English bread:

The finest Sunday that the Autumn saw,

With all its mealy clusters of ripe nuts,

Could never keep these boys away from church,

Or tempt them to an hour of sabbath breach.

Leonard and James! I warrant, every corner

Among these rocks and every hollow place

Where foot could come, to one or both of them

Was known as well as to the flowers that grew there.

Like roe-bucks they went bounding o’er the hills:

They play’d like two young ravens on the crags:

Then they could write, aye and speak too, as well

As many of their betters — and for Leonard!

The very night before he went away,

In my own house I put into his hand

A Bible, and I’d wager twenty pounds,

That, if he is alive, he has it yet.

LEONARD.

It seems, these Brothers have not liv’d to be

A comfort to each other. —

PRIEST.

                           That they might

Live to that end, is what both old and young

In this our valley all of us have wish’d,

And what, for my part, I have often pray’d:

But Leonard —

LEONARD.

              Then James still is left among you —

PRIEST.

’Tis of the elder Brother I am speaking:

They had an Uncle, he was at that time

A thriving man, and traffick’d on the seas:

And, but for this same Uncle, to this hour

Leonard had never handled rope or shroud.

For the Boy lov’d the life which we lead here;

And, though a very Stripling, twelve years old;

His soul was knit to this his native soil.

But, as I said, old Walter was too weak

To strive with such a torrent; when he died,

The estate and house were sold, and all their sheep,

A pretty flock, and which, for aught I know,

Had clothed the Ewbauks for a thousand years.

Well — all was gone, and they were destitute.

And Leonard, chiefly for his brother’s sake,

Resolv’d to try his fortune on the seas.

’Tis now twelve years since we had tidings from him.

If there was one among us who had heard

That Leonard Ewbank was come home again,

From the great Gavel 10, down by Leeza’s Banks,

And down the Enna, far as Egremont,

The day would be a very festival,

And those two bells of ours, which there you see

Hanging in the open air — but, O good Sir!

This is sad talk — they’ll never sound for him

Living or dead — When last we heard of him

He was in slavery among the Moors

Upon the Barbary Coast —’Twas not a little

That would bring down his spirit, and, no doubt,

Before it ended in his death, the Lad

Was sadly cross’d — Poor Leonard! when we parted,

He took me by the hand and said to me,

If ever the day came when he was rich,

He would return, and on his Father’s Land

He would grow old among us.

10 The great Gavel, so called I imagine, from its resemblance to the Gable end of a house, is one of the highest of the Cumberland mountains. It stands at the head of the several vales of Ennerdale, Wastdale, and Borrowdale.

The Leeza is a River which follows into the Lake of Ennerdale: on issuing from the Lake, it changes its name, and is called the End, Eyne, or Enna. It falls into the sea a little below Egremont.]

LEONARD.

                           If that day

Should come, ‘twould needs be a glad day for him;

He would himself, no doubt, be as happy then

As any that should meet him —

PRIEST.

                              Happy, Sir —

LEONARD.

You said his kindred all were in their graves,

And that he had one Brother —

PRIEST.

                              That is but

A fellow tale of sorrow. From his youth

James, though not sickly, yet was delicate,

And Leonard being always by his side

Had done so many offices about him,

That, though he was not of a timid nature,

Yet still the spirit of a mountain boy

In him was somewhat check’d, and when his Brother

Was gone to sea and he was left alone

The little colour that he had was soon

Stolen from his cheek, he droop’d, and pin’d and pin’d;

LEONARD.

But these are all the graves of full grown men!

PRIEST.

Aye, Sir, that pass’d away: we took him to us.

He was the child of all the dale — he liv’d

Three months with one, and six months with another:

And wanted neither food, nor clothes, nor love,

And many, many happy days were his.

But, whether blithe or sad, ’tis my belief

His absent Brother still was at his heart.

And, when he liv’d beneath our roof, we found

(A practice till this time unknown to him)

That often, rising from his bed at night,

He in his sleep would walk about, and sleeping

He sought his Brother Leonard — You are mov’d!

Forgive me, Sir: before I spoke to you,

I judg’d you most unkindly.

LEONARD.

                          But this youth,

How did he die at last?

PRIEST.

                        One sweet May morning,

It will be twelve years since, when Spring returns,

He had gone forth among the new-dropp’d lambs,

With two or three companions whom it chanc’d

Some further business summon’d to a house

Which stands at the Dale-head. James, tir’d perhaps,

Or from some other cause remain’d behind.

You see yon precipice — it almost looks

Like some vast building made of many crags,

And in the midst is one particular rock

That rises like a column from the vale,

Whence by our Shepherds it is call’d, the Pillar.

James, pointing to its summit, over which

They all had purpos’d to return together,

Inform’d them that he there would wait for them:

They parted, and his comrades pass’d that way

Some two hours after, but they did not find him

At the appointed place, a circumstance

Of which they took no heed: but one of them,

Going by chance, at night, into the house

Which at this time was James’s home, there learn’d

That nobody had seen him all that day:

The morning came, and still, he was unheard of:

The neighbours were alarm’d, and to the Brook

Some went, and some towards the Lake; ere noon

They found him at the foot of that same Rock

Dead, and with mangled limbs. The third day after

I buried him, poor Lad, and there he lies.

LEONARD.

And that then is his grave! — Before his death

You said that he saw many happy years?

PRIEST.

Aye, that he did —

LEONARD.

                  And all went well with him —

PRIEST.

If he had one, the Lad had twenty homes.

LEONARD.

And you believe then, that his mind was easy —

PRIEST.

Yes, long before he died, he found that time

Is a true friend to sorrow, and unless

His thoughts were turn’d on Leonard’s luckless fortune,

He talk’d about him with a chearful love.

LEONARD.

He could not come to an unhallow’d end!

PRIEST.

Nay, God forbid! You recollect I mention’d

A habit which disquietude and grief

Had brought upon him, and we all conjectur’d

That, as the day was warm, he had lain down

Upon the grass, and, waiting for his comrades

He there had fallen asleep, that in his sleep

He to the margin of the precipice

Had walk’d, and from the summit had fallen head-long,

And so no doubt he perish’d: at the time,

We guess, that in his hands he must have had

His Shepherd’s staff; for midway in the cliff

It had been caught, and there for many years

It hung — and moulder’d there.

                              The Priest here ended —

The Stranger would have thank’d him, but he felt

Tears rushing in; both left the spot in silence,

And Leonard, when they reach’d the church-yard gate,

As the Priest lifted up the latch, turn’d round,

And, looking at the grave, he said, “My Brother.”

The Vicar did not hear the words: and now,

Pointing towards the Cottage, he entreated

That Leonard would partake his homely fare:

The other thank’d him with a fervent voice,

But added, that, the evening being calm,

He would pursue his journey. So they parted.

It was not long ere Leonard reach’d a grove

That overhung the road: he there stopp’d short,

And, sitting down beneath the trees, review’d

All that the Priest had said: his early years

Were with him in his heart: his cherish’d hopes,

And thoughts which had been his an hour before.

All press’d on him with such a weight, that now,

This vale, where he had been so happy, seem’d

A place in which he could not bear to live:

So he relinquish’d all his purposes.

He travell’d on to Egremont; and thence,

That night, address’d a letter to the Priest

Reminding him of what had pass’d between them.

And adding, with a hope to be forgiven,

That it was from the weakness of his heart,

He had not dared to tell him, who he was.

This done, he went on shipboard, and is now

A Seaman, a grey headed Mariner.

NOTE I.

Page 26 — line 20 “There were two springs that bubbled side by side.” The impressive circumstance here described, actually took place some years ago in this country, upon an eminence called Kidstow Pike, one of the highest of the mountains that surround Hawes-water. The summit of the pike was stricken by lightning; and every trace of one of the fountains disappeared, while the other continued to flow as before.

NOTE II.

Page 29 — line 5 “The thought of death sits easy on the man,” &c. There is not any thing more worthy of remark in the manners of the inhabitants of these mountains, than the tranquillity, I might say indifference, with which they think and talk upon the subject of death. Some of the country church-yards, as here described, do not contain a single tombstone, and most of them have a very small number.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30