Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

Ruth

When Ruth was left half desolate,

Her Father took another Mate;

And so, not seven years old,

The slighted Child at her own will

Went wandering over dale and hill

In thoughtless freedom bold.

And she had made a pipe of straw

And from that oaten pipe could draw

All sounds of winds and floods;

Had built a bower upon the green,

As if she from her birth had been

An Infant of the woods.

There came a Youth from Georgia’s shore,

A military Casque he wore

With splendid feathers drest;

He brought them from the Cherokees;

The feathers nodded in the breeze

And made a gallant crest.

From Indian blood you deem him sprung:

Ah no! he spake the English tongue

And bare a Soldier’s name;

And when America was free

From battle and from jeopardy

He cross the ocean came.

With hues of genius on his cheek

In finest tones the Youth could speak.

— While he was yet a Boy

The moon, the glory of the sun,

And streams that murmur as they run

Had been his dearest joy.

He was a lovely Youth! I guess

The panther in the wilderness

Was not so fair as he;

And when he chose to sport and play,

No dolphin ever was so gay

Upon the tropic sea.

Among the Indians he had fought,

And with him many tales he brought

Of pleasure and of fear,

Such tales as told to any Maid

By such a Youth in the green shade

Were perilous to hear.

He told of Girls, a happy rout,

Who quit their fold with dance and shout

Their pleasant Indian Town

To gather strawberries all day long,

Returning with a choral song

When day-light is gone down.

He spake of plants divine and strange

That ev’ry day their blossoms change,

Ten thousand lovely hues!

With budding, fading, faded flowers

They stand the wonder of the bowers

From morn to evening dews.

He told of the Magnolia, 13 spread

High as a cloud, high over head!

The Cypress and her spire,

Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam 14

Cover a hundred leagues and seem

To set the hills on fire.

13 Magnolia grandiflora.

14 The splendid appearance of these scarlet flowers, which are scattered with such profusion over the Hills in the Southern parts of North America is frequently mentioned by Bartram in his Travels.

The Youth of green Savannahs spake,

And many an endless endless lake

With all its fairy crowds

Of islands that together lie

As quietly as spots of sky

Among the evening clouds:

And then he said “How sweet it were

A fisher or a hunter there,

A gardener in the shade,

Still wandering with an easy mind

To build a household fire and find

A home in every glade.”

“What days and what sweet years! Ah me!

Our life were life indeed, with thee

So pass’d in quiet bliss,

And all the while” said he “to know

That we were in a world of woe.

On such an earth as this!”

And then he sometimes interwove

Dear thoughts about a Father’s love,

“For there,” said he, “are spun

Around the heart such tender ties

That our own children to our eyes

Are dearer than the sun.”

Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me

My helpmate in the woods to be,

Our shed at night to rear;

Or run, my own adopted bride,

A sylvan huntress at my side

And drive the flying deer.

“Beloved Ruth!” No more he said

Sweet Ruth alone at midnight shed

A solitary tear,

She thought again — and did agree

With him to sail across the sea,

And drive the flying deer.

“And now, as fitting is and right,

We in the Church our faith will plight,

A Husband and a Wife.”

Even so they did; and I may say

That to sweet Ruth that happy day

Was more than human life.

Through dream and vision did she sink,

Delighted all the while to think

That on those lonesome floods

And green Savannahs she should share

His board with lawful joy, and bear

His name in the wild woods.

But, as you have before been told,

This Stripling, sportive gay and bold,

And, with his dancing crest,

So beautiful, through savage lands

Had roam’d about with vagrant bands

Of Indians in the West.

The wind, the tempest roaring high,

The tumult of a tropic sky

Might well be dangerous food.

For him, a Youth to whom was given

So much of earth so much of Heaven,

And such impetuous blood.

Whatever in those climes he found

Irregular in sight or sound

Did to his mind impart

A kindred impulse, seem’d allied

To his own powers, and justified

The workings of his heart.

Nor less to feed voluptuous thought

The beauteous forms of Nature wrought,

Fair trees and lovely flowers;

The breezes their own languor lent,

The stars had feelings which they sent

Into those magic bowers.

Yet, in his worst pursuits, I ween,

That sometimes there did intervene

Pure hopes of high intent:

For passions link’d to forms so fair

And stately, needs must have their share

Of noble sentiment.

But ill he liv’d, much evil saw

With men to whom no better law

Nor better life was known;

Deliberately and undeceiv’d

Those wild men’s vices he receiv’d,

And gave them back his own.

His genius and his moral frame

Were thus impair’d, and he became

The slave of low desires;

A man who without self-controul

Would seek what the degraded soul

Unworthily admires.

And yet he with no feign’d delight

Had woo’d the Maiden, day and night

Had luv’d her, night and morn;

What could he less than love a Maid

Whose heart with so much nature play’d

So kind and so forlorn?

But now the pleasant dream was gone,

No hope, no wish remain’d, not one,

They stirr’d him now no more,

New objects did new pleasure give,

And once again he wish’d to live

As lawless as before.

Meanwhile as thus with him it fared.

They for the voyage were prepared

And went to the sea-shore,

But, when they thither came, the Youth

Deserted his poor Bride, and Ruth

Could never find him more.

“God help thee Ruth!”— Such pains she had

That she in half a year was mad

And in a prison hous’d,

And there, exulting in her wrongs,

Among the music of her songs

She fearfully carouz’d.

Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,

Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew,

Nor pastimes of the May,

They all were with her in her cell,

And a wild brook with chearful knell

Did o’er the pebbles play.

When Ruth three seasons thus had lain

There came a respite to her pain,

She from her prison fled;

But of the Vagrant none took thought,

And where it liked her best she sought

Her shelter and her bread.

Among the fields she breath’d again:

The master-current of her brain

Ran permanent and free,

And to the pleasant Banks of Tone 15

She took her way, to dwell alone

Under the greenwood tree.

The engines of her grief, the tools

That shap’d her sorrow, rocks and pools,

And airs that gently stir

The vernal leaves, she loved them still,

Nor ever tax’d them with the ill

Which had been done to her.

15 The Tone is a River of Somersetshire at no great distance from the Quantock Hills. These Hills, which are alluded to a few Stanzas below, are extremely beautiful, and in most places richly covered with Coppice woods.

A Barn her winter bed supplies,

But till the warmth of summer skies

And summer days is gone,

(And in this tale we all agree)

She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,

And other home hath none.

If she is press’d by want of food

She from her dwelling in the wood

Repairs to a road side,

And there she begs at one steep place,

Where up and down with easy pace

The horsemen-travellers ride.

That oaten pipe of hers is mute

Or thrown away, but with a flute

Her loneliness she cheers;

This flute made of a hemlock stalk

At evening in his homeward walk

The Quantock Woodman hears.

I, too have pass’d her on the hills

Setting her little water-mills

By spouts and fountains wild,

Such small machinery as she turn’d

Ere she had wept, ere she had mourn’d

A young and happy Child!

Farewel! and when thy days are told

Ill-fated Ruth! in hallow’d mold

Thy corpse shall buried be,

For thee a funeral bell shall ring,

And all the congregation sing

A Christian psalm for thee.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wordsworth/william/lyrical/poem45.html

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