Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

The Foster–Mother’s Tale

A Narration in Dramatic Blank Verse

      But that entrance, Mother!

FOSTER-MOTHER.

Can no one hear? It is a perilous tale!

MARIA.

No one.

FOSTER-MOTHER.

      My husband’s father told it me,

Poor old Leoni! — Angels rest his soul!

He was a woodman, and could fell and saw

With lusty arm. You know that huge round beam

Which props the hanging wall of the old chapel?

Beneath that tree, while yet it was a tree

He found a baby wrapt in mosses, lined

With thistle beards, and such small locks of wool

As hang on brambles. Well, he brought him home,

And reared him at the then Lord Velez’ cost.

And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,

A pretty boy, but most unteachable —

And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead.

But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes,

And whistled, as he were a bird himself:

And all the autumn ’twas his only play

To get the seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them

With earth and water, on the stumps of trees.

A Friar, who gathered simples in the wood,

A grey-haired man — he loved this little boy,

The boy loved him — and, when the Friar taught him,

He soon could write with the pen: and from that time,

Lived chiefly at the Convent or the Castle.

So he became a very learned youth.

But Oh! poor wretch! — he read, and read, and read,

Till his brain turned — and ere his twentieth year,

He had unlawful thoughts of many things:

And though he prayed, he never loved to pray

With holy men, nor in a holy place —

But yet his speech, it was so soft and sweet,

The late Lord Velez ne’er was wearied with him.

And once, as by the north side of the Chapel

They stood together, chained in deep discourse,

The earth heaved under them with such a groan,

That the wall tottered, and had well-nigh fallen

Right on their heads. My Lord was sorely frightened;

A fever seized him, and he made confession

Of all the heretical and lawless talk

Which brought this judgment: so the youth was seized

And cast into that cell. My husband’s father

Sobbed like a child — it almost broke his heart:

And once as he was working in the cellar,

He heard a voice distinctly; ’twas the youth’s

Who sang a doleful song about green fields,

How sweet it were on lake or wild savannah,

To hunt for food, and be a naked man,

And wander up and down at liberty.

Leoni doted on the youth, and now

His love grew desperate; and defying death,

He made that cunning entrance I described:

And the young man escaped.

MARIA.

                         ’Tis a sweet tale.

And what became of him?

FOSTER-MOTHER.

                        He went on ship-board

With those bold voyagers, who made discovery

Of golden lands. Leoni’s younger brother

Went likewise, and when he returned to Spain,

He told Leoni, that the poor mad youth,

Soon after they arrived in that new world,

In spite of his dissuasion, seized a boat,

And all alone, set sail by silent moonlight

Up a great river, great as any sea,

And ne’er was heard of more: but ’tis supposed,

He lived and died among the savage men.

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