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- The Village and The Newspaper - 1/6 -

Transcribed by Mark Sherwood, e-mail:

The Village and The Newspaper by George Crabbe (1754-1832)

Contents The Village Book 1 Book 2 The Newspaper



The Subject proposed--Remarks upon Pastoral Poetry--A Tract of Country near the Coast described--An Impoverished Borough--Smugglers and their Assistants--Rude Manners of the Inhabitants--Ruinous Effects of the High Tide--The Village Life more generally considered: Evils of it--The Youthful Labourer--The Old Man: his Soliloquy--The Parish Workhouse: its Inhabitants--The sick Poor: their Apothecary--The dying Pauper--The Village Priest.

The Village Life, and every care that reigns O'er youthful peasants and declining swains; What labour yields, and what, that labour past, Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last; What form the real Picture of the Poor, Demand a song--the Muse can give no more. Fled are those times, when, in harmonious strains, The rustic poet praised his native plains: No Shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse, Their country's beauty or their nymphs rehearse; Yet still for these we frame the tender strain, Still in our lays fond Corydons complain, And shepherds' boys their amorous pains reveal, The only pains, alas! they never feel. On Mincio's banks, in Caesar's bounteous reign, If Tityrus found the Golden Age again, Must sleepy bards the nattering dream prolong, Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song? From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray, Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way? Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains, Because the Muses never knew their pains: They boast their peasant's pipes; but peasants now Resign their pipes and plod behind the plough; And few, amid the rural tribe, have time To number syllables and play with rhyme; Save honest DUCK, what son of verse could share The poet's rapture and the peasant's care? Or the great labours of the field degrade, With the new peril of a poorer trade? From this chief cause these idle praises spring, That themes so easy few forbear to sing; For no deep thought the trifling subjects ask; To sing of shepherds is an easy task: The happy youth assumes the common strain, A nymph his mistress, and himself a swain; With no sad scenes he clouds his tuneful prayer, But all, to look like her, is painted fair. I grant indeed that fields and flocks have charms For him that grazes or for him that farms; But when amid such pleasing scenes I trace The poor laborious natives of the place, And see the mid-day sun, with fervid ray, On their bare heads and dewy temples play; While some, with feebler heads and fainter hearts, Deplore their fortune, yet sustain their parts Then shall I dare these real ills to hide In tinsel trappings of poetic pride? No; cast by Fortune on a frowning coast, Which neither groves nor happy valleys boast; Where other cares than those the Muse relates, And other shepherds dwell with other mates; By such examples taught, I paint the Cot, As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not: Nor you, ye Poor, of letter'd scorn complain, To you the smoothest song is smooth in vain; O'ercome by labour, and bow'd down by time, Feel you the barren flattery of a rhyme? Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread, By winding myrtles round your ruin'd shed? Can their light tales your weighty griefs o'erpower, Or glad with airy mirth the toilsome hour? Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er, Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor; From thence a length of burning sand appears, Where the thin harvest waves its wither'd ears; Rank weeds, that every art and care defy, Reign o'er the land, and rob the blighted rye. There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar, And to the ragged infant threaten war; There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil, There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil; Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf, The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf; O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade, And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade. With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound, And a sad splendour vainly shines around. So looks the nymph whom wretched arts adorn, Betray'd by man, then left for man to scorn; Whose cheek in vain assumes the mimic rose, While her sad eyes the troubled breast disclose; Whose outward splendour is but folly's dress, Exposing most, when most it gilds distress. Here joyless roam a wild amphibious race, With sullen woe display'd in every face; Who, far from civil arts and social fly, And scowl at strangers with suspicious eye. Here too the lawless merchant of the main Draws from his plough th' intoxicated swain; Want only claim'd the labour of the day, But vice now steals his nightly rest away. Where are the swains, who, daily labour done, With rural games play'd down the setting sun; Who struck with matchless force the bounding ball, Or made the pond'rous quoit obliquely fall; While some huge Ajax, terrible and strong, Engaged some artful stripling of the throng. And fell beneath him, foil'd, while far around Hoarse triumph rose, and rocks return'd the sound? Where now are these?--Beneath yon cliff they stand, To show the freighted pinnace where to land; To load the ready steed with guilty haste, To fly in terror o'er the pathless waste, Or, when detected, in their straggling course, To foil their foes by cunning or by force; Or, yielding part (which equal knaves demand), To gain a lawless passport through the land. Here, wand'ring long, amid these frowning fields, I sought the simple life that Nature yields; Rapine and Wrong and Fear usurp'd her place, And a bold, artful, surly, savage race; Who, only skill'd to take the finny tribe, The yearly dinner, or septennial bribe, Wait on the shore, and, as the waves run high, On the tost vessel bend their eager eye, Which to their coast directs its vent'rous way; Theirs or the ocean's miserable prey. As on their neighbouring beach yon swallows stand, And wait for favouring winds to leave the land; While still for flight the ready wing is spread: So waited I the favouring hour, and fled; Fled from these shores where guilt and famine reign, And cried, Ah! hapless they who still remain; Who still remain to hear the ocean roar, Whose greedy waves devour the lessening shore; Till some fierce tide, with more imperious sway, Sweeps the low hut and all it holds away; When the sad tenant weeps from door to door; And begs a poor protection from the poor! But these are scenes where Nature's niggard hand Gave a spare portion to the famish'd land; Hers is the fault, if here mankind complain Of fruitless toil and labour spent in vain; But yet in other scenes more fair in view, When Plenty smiles--alas! she smiles for few - And those who taste not, yet behold her store, Are as the slaves that dig the golden ore - The wealth around them makes them doubly poor. Or will you deem them amply paid in health, Labour's fair child, that languishes with wealth? Go then! and see them rising with the sun, Through a long course of daily toil to run; See them beneath the Dog-star's raging heat, When the knees tremble and the temples beat; Behold them, leaning on their scythes, look o'er The labour past, and toils to come explore; See them alternate suns and showers engage, And hoard up aches and anguish for their age; Through fens and marshy moors their steps pursue, When their warm pores imbibe the evening dew; Then own that labour may as fatal be To these thy slaves, as thine excess to thee. Amid this tribe too oft a manly pride Strives in strong toil the fainting heart to hide; There may you see the youth of slender frame Contend with weakness, weariness, and shame; Yet, urged along, and proudly loth to yield, He strives to join his fellows of the field:

The Village and The Newspaper - 1/6

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