George Crabbe

Here you will find the Long Poem The Village: Book I of poet George Crabbe

The Village: Book I

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 flattering 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 peasants' 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 joyous 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