I.It is the thirty-first of March,
A gusty evening — half-past seven;
The moon is shining o’er the larch,
A simple shape — a cock’d-up arch,
Rising bigger than a star,
Though the stars are thick in Heaven.
II.Gentle moon! how canst thou shine
Over graves and over trees,
With as innocent a look
As my own grey eyeball sees,
When I gaze upon a brook?
III.Od’s me! how the moon doth shine:
It doth make a pretty glitter,
Playing in the waterfall;
As when Lucy Gray doth litter
Her baby-house with bugles small.
IV.Beneath the ever blessed moon
An old man o’er an old grave stares,
You never look’d upon his fellow;
His brow is covered with grey hairs,
As though they were an umbrella.
V.He hath a noticeable look, 1
This old man hath — this grey old man;
He gazes at the graves, and seems,
With over waiting, over wan,
Like Susan Harvey’s 2 pan of creams.
VI.’T is Peter Bell — ’t is Peter Bell,
Who never stirreth in the day;
His hand is wither’d — he is old!
On Sundays he is us’d to pray,
In winter he is very cold. 3
VII.I’ve seen him in the month of August,
At the wheatfield, hour by hour,
Picking ear,— by ear,— by ear,—
Through wind,— and rain,— and sun,— and shower,
From year,— to year,— to year,— to year.
VIII.You never saw a wiser man,
He knows his Numeration Table;
He counts the sheep of Harry Gill, 4
Every night that he is able,
When the sheep are on the hill.
IX.Betty Foy — My Betty Foy,—
Is the aunt of Peter Bell;
And credit me, as I would have you,
Simon Lee was once his nephew,
And his niece is Alice Fell. 5
X.He is rurally related;
Peter Bell hath country cousins,
(He had once a worthy mother)
Bells and Peters by the dozens,
But Peter Bell he hath no brother.
XI.Not a brother owneth he,
Peter Bell he hath no brother,
His mother had no other son,
No other son e’er call’d her mother;
Peter Bell hath brother none.
XII.Hark! the churchyard brook is singing
Its evening song amid the leaves;
And the peering moon doth look
Sweetly on that singing brook,
Round 6 and sad as though it grieves.
XIII.Peter Bell doth lift his hand,
That thin hand, which in the light
Looketh like to oiled paper;
Paper oiled,— oily bright,—
And held up to a waxen taper.
XIV.The hand of Peter Bell is busy,
Under the pent-house of his hairs;
His eye is like a solemn sermon;
The little flea severely fares,
’Tis a sad day for the vermin.
XV.He is thinking of the Bible —
Peter Bell is old and blest;
He doth pray and scratch away,
He doth scratch, and bitten, pray
To flee away, and be at rest.
XVI.At home his foster child is cradled —
Four brown bugs are feeding there; 7
Catch as many, sister Ann,
Catch as many as you can 8
And yet the little insects spare.
XVII.Why should blessed insects die?
The flea doth skip o’er Betty Foy,
Like a little living thing:
Though it hath not fin or wing,
Hath it not a moral joy?
XVIII.I the poet of the mountain,
Of the waterfall and fell,
I the mighty mental medlar,
I the lonely lyric pedlar,
I the Jove of Alice Fell,
XIX.I the Recluse — a gentle man, 9
A gentle man — a simple creature,
Who would not hurt — God shield the thing,—
The merest, meanest May-bug’s wing,
Am tender in my tender nature.
XX.I do doat on my dear wife,
On the linnet, on the worm,
I can see sweet written salads
Growing in the Lyric Ballads,
And always find them green and firm.
XXI.Peter Bell is laughing now,
Like a dead man making faces;
Never saw I smile so old,
On face so wrinkled and so cold,
Since the Idiot Boy’s grimaces.
XXII.He is thinking of the moors,
Where I saw him in his breeches;
Ragged though they were, a pair
Fit for a grey old man to wear;
Saw him poking,— gathering leeches. 10
XXIII.And gather’d leeches are to him,
To Peter Bell, like gather’d flowers;
They do yield him such delight,
As roses poach’d from porch at night,
Or pluck’d from oratoric 11 bowers.
XXIV.How that busy smile doth hurry
O’er the cheek of Peter Bell;
He is surely in a flurry,
Hurry skurry — hurry skurry,
Such delight I may not tell.
XXV.His stick is made of wilding wood,
His hat was formerly of felt,
His duffel cloak of wool is made,
His stockings are from stock in trade,
His belly’s belted with a belt.
XXVI.His father was a bellman once,
His mother was a beldame old;
They kept a shop at Keswick Town,
Close by the Bell, (beyond the Crown.)
And pins and peppermint they sold.
XXVII.He is stooping now about
O’er the gravestones one and two;
The clock is now a striking eight,
Four more hours and ‘t will be late.
And Peter Bell hath much to do.
XXVIII.O’er the gravestones three and four.
Peter stoopeth old and wise;
He counteth with a wizard glee
The graves of all his family,
While the hooting owlet cries.
XXIX.Peter Bell, he readeth ably,
All his letters he can tell;
Roman W,— Roman S,
In a minute he can guess,
Without the aid of Dr. Bell.
XXX.Peter keeps a gentle pony,
But the pony is not here;
Susan who is very tall, 12
And very sick and sad withal,
Rides it slowly far and near.
XXXI.Hark! the voice of Peter Bell,
And the belfry bell is knelling;
It soundeth drowsily and dead,
As though a corse th’ ‘Excursion’ read;
Or Martha Ray her tale was telling.
XXXII.Do listen unto Peter Bell,
While your eyes with tears do glisten:
Silence! his old eyes do read
All, on which the boys do tread
When holidays do come — Do listen!
XXXIII.The ancient Marinere lieth here,
Never to rise, although he pray’d,—
But all men, all, must have their fallings;
And, like the Fear of Mr. Collins, 13
He died ‘of sounds himself had made.’
xxxiv.Dead mad mother, — Martha Ray,
Old Matthew too, and Betty Foy,
Lack-a-daisy! here’s a rout full;
Simon Lee whose age was doubtful, 14
Simon even the Fates destroy.
XXXV.Harry Gill is gone to rest,
Goody Blake is food for maggot;
They lie sweetly side by side,
Beautiful as when they died;
Never more shall she pick faggot.
XXXVI.Still he reads, and still the moon
On the churchyard’s mounds doth shine;
The brook is still demurely singing,
Again the belfry bell is ringing,
’T is nine o’clock, six, seven, eight, nine!
XXXVII.Patient Peter pores and proses
On, from simple grave to grave;
Here marks the children snatch’d to heaven,
None left to blunder ‘we are seven’;—
Even Andrew Jones 15 no power could save.
XXXVIII.What a Sexton’s work 16 is here,
Lord! the Idiot Boy is gone;
And Barbara Lewthwaite’s fate the same,
And cold as mutton is her lamb;
And Alice Fell is bone by bone.
XXXIX.And tears are thick with Peter Bell,
Yet still he sees one blessed tomb;
Tow’rds it he creeps with spectacles,
And bending on his leather knees,
He reads the Lakeiest Poet’s doom.
XL.The letters printed are by fate,
The death they say was suicide;
He reads —‘Here lieth W. W.
Who never more will trouble you, trouble you’:
The old man smokes who ’t is that died.
XLI.Go home, go home — old Man, go home;
Peter, lay thee down at night,
Thou art happy, Peter Bell,
Say thy prayers for Alice Fell,
Thou hast seen a blessed sight.
XLII.He quits that moonlight yard of skulls,
And still he feels right glad, and smiles
With moral joy at that old tomb;
Peter’s cheek recalls its bloom,
And as he creepeth by the tiles,
He mutters ever —‘W. W.
Never more will trouble you, trouble you.’
Here endeth the ballad of Peter Bell.
‘His teeth they chatter, chatter, chatter.’I should have introduced this fact in the text, but that Harry Gill would not rhyme. I reserve this for my blank verse.
‘Look! five blue eggs are gleaming there.’But the numbers are different, so I trust no one will differ with the numbers.
‘I surely not a man ungently made.’10 See my story of the Leech-gatherer, the finest poem in the world,— except this.
‘The Oak, a Giant and a Sage, His neighbour thus address’d.’12 ‘Long Susan lay deep lost in thought.’— The Idiot Boy.
‘In the sweet shire of Cardigan,These lines were written in the summer of 1798, and I bestowed great labour upon them.
Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall;
An old man dwells — a little man —
I’ve heard he once was tall;
Of years he has upon his back,
No doubt, a burthen weighty;
He says he is threescore and ten,
But others say he’s eighty.’
‘I hate that Andrew Jones — he’ll breed,’ etc.16 ‘Let thy wheelbarrow alone,’ etc. See my Poem to a Sexton.