Dorothy Wordsworth, “Irregular Verses”

Dorothy Wordsworth, “Irregular Verses” (begun c. 1827)

(Text from Susan M. Levin, Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism [Rutgers 1987, 201-204])


Ah Julia! ask a Christmas rhyme

Of me who in the golden time

Of careless, hopeful, happy youth

Ne’er strove to decorate the truth

Contented to lay bare my                                                 5

To one dear Friend, who had her part

In all the love and all the care

And every joy that harboured there.

—To her I told in simple prose

Each girlish vision, as it rose                                                10

Before an active busy brain

That needed neither spur nor rein,

That still enjoyed the present hour

Yet for the future raised a tower

Of bliss more exquisite and pure                                           15

Bliss that (so deemed we) should endure

Maxims of caution, prudent fears

Vexed not the projects of those years

Simplicity our steadfast theme,

No works of Art adorned our scheme.—                                 20

A cottage in a verdant dell,

A foaming stream, a crystall Well,

A garden stored with fruit and flowers

And sunny seats and shady bowers,

A file of hives for humming bees                                          25

Under a row of stately trees

And, sheltering all this faery ground,

A belt of hills must wrap it round,

Not stern or mountainous, or bare,

Nor lacking herbs to scent the air;                                         30

Nor antient trees, nor scattered rocks,

And pastured by the blameless flocks

That print their green tracks to invite

Our wanderings to the topmost height.


   Such was the spot I fondly framed                                      35

When life was new, and hope untamed:

There with my one dear Friend would dwell,

Nor wish for aught beyond the dell.

   Alas! the cottage fled in air,

The streamlet never flowed:                                                 40

—Yet did those visions pass away

So gently that they seemed to stay,

Though in our riper years we each pursued a different way.


—We parted, sorrowful; by duty led;

My Friend, ere long a happy Wife                                        45

Was seen with dignity to tread

The paths of usefulness, in active life;

And such her course through later days;

The same her honour and her praise;

As thou canst witness, thou dear Maid,                              50

One of the Darlings of her care;

Thy Mother was that Friend who still repaid

Frank confidence with unshaken truth:

This was the glory of her youth,

A brighter gem than shines in prince’s diadem.                      55

   You ask why in that jocund time

Why did I not in jingling rhyme

Display those pleasant guileless dreams

That furnished still exhaustless themes?

—I reverenced the Poet’s skill,                                             60

And might have nursed a mounting Will

To imitate the tender Lays

Of them who sang in Nature’s praise;

But bashfulness, a struggling shame

A fear that elder heads might blame                                      65

—Or something worse—a lurking pride

Whispering my playmates would deride

Stifled ambition, checked the aim

If e’er by chance “the numbers came”

—Nay even the mild maternal smile,                                     70

That oft-times would repress, beguile

The over-confidence of youth,

Even that dear smile, to own the truth,

Was dreaded by a fond self-love;

“‘Twill glance on me—and to reprove                                   75

Or,” (sorest wrong in childhood’s school)

“Will point the sting of ridicule.”


   And now, dear Girl, I hear you ask

Is this your lightsome, chearful task?

You tell us tales of forty years,                                             80

Of hopes extinct, of childish fears,

Why cast among us thoughts of sadness

When we are seeking mirth and gladness?

   Nay, ill those words befit the Maid

Who pleaded for my Christmas rhyme                                   85

Mirthful she is; but placid—staid—

Her heart beats to no giddy chime

Though it with Chearfulness keep time

For Chearfulness, a willing guest,

Finds ever in her tranquil breast                                            90

A fostering home, a welcome rest.

And well she knows that, casting thought away,

We lose the best part of our day;

That joys of youth remembered when our youth is past

Are joys that to the end of life will last;                                 95


   And if this poor memorial strain,

Breathed from the depth of years gone by,

Should touch her Mother’s heart with tender pain,

Or call a tear into her loving eye,

She will not check the tear or still the rising sigh.                 100

—The happiest heart is given to sadness;

The saddest heart feels deepest gladness.


Thou dost not ask, thou dost not need

A verse from me; nor wilt thou heed

A greeting masked in laboured rhyme                                  105

From one whose heart has still kept time

With every pulse of thine.