1800
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Wedding.

Annual Anthology. Volume II. [Robert Southey, ed.]

Robert Southey


Not seen. In Robert Southey's dialogue the Traveller is taken aback when the Woman expresses her expectation that nothing good will come of the marriage of two upstanding villagers. She proceeds to read him a lecture on the miseries of the poor, to which he replys, "You have taught me | To give sad meaning to the village bells!" The poem was written with the date "Bristol, 1800."

Robert Southey to William Taylor of Norwich: "The following eclogue does not please me so much as the first [The Old Mansion House], but it is true to nature. It wants something. I had introduced it by some descriptive lines; but they were useless, and now it seems to want description. Again I have a traveller, and as I am afraid I shall want another of these peripatetics, this is a reason for making the first the owner of the mansion [copies The Wedding]. Perhaps you will find many of the expressions provincialisms, which are familiar to my ears. I am apprehensive of this fault. For the rest, it is I think dramatic, but something is wanting" 5 September 1798; in J. W. Robberds, Memoir of the Life and Writings of William Taylor of Norwich (1843) 1:221.

William Taylor of Norwich to Robert Southey: "I cannot find a fault with the new eclogue, for which I am very sorry; and yet I do not prefer it to the other. I read it to Mrs. John Taylor. 'It quite goes to my heart,' she says; especially the 'God forgive me! but I often wish | To see them in their coffins.' That inflicts a shudder, and rivets itself in the remembrance. This is the more pathetic eclogue. The other selects more originally the features for description" J. W. Robberds, Memoir of the Life and Writings of William Taylor of Norwich (1843) 1:227.

Robert Southey to C. W. W. Wynn, "My Eclogues, varying in subject, are yet too monotonous, in being all rather upon melancholy subjects" 9 January 1799; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:5.



TRAVELLER.
I pray you, wherefore are the village bells
Ringing so merrily?

WOMAN.
A wedding, Sir, . .
Two of the village folk. And they are right
To make a merry time on't while they may!
Come twelve-months hence, I warrant them they'd go
To church again more willingly than now,
If all might be undone.

TRAVELLER.
An ill-match'd pair,
So I conceive you. Youth perhaps and age?

WOMAN.
No, . . both are young enough.

TRAVELLER.
Perhaps the man then,
A lazy idler, . . one who better likes
The alehouse than his work?

WOMAN.
Why, Sir, for that
He always was a well-condition'd lad,
One who'd work hard and well; and as for drink,
Save now and then mayhap at Christmas time,
Sober as wife could wish.

TRAVELLER.
Then is the girl
A shrew, or else untidy; . . one to welcome
Her husband with a rude unruly tongue!
Or drive him from a foul and wretched home
To look elsewhere for comfort. Is it so?

WOMAN.
She's notable enough; and as for temper
The best good-humour'd girl! You see yon house,
There by the aspen-tree, whose grey leaves shine
In the wind? she lived a servant at the farm.
And often, as I came to weeding here,
I've heard her singing as she milk'd her cows
So cheerfully, . . I did not like to hear her,
Because it made me think upon the days
When I had got as little on my mind,
And was as cheerful too. But she would marry,
And folks must reap as they have sown. God help her!

TRAVELLER.
Why Mistress, if they both are well inclined,
Why should not both be happy?

WOMAN.
They've no money.

TRAVELLER.
But both can work; and sure as cheerfully
She'd labour for herself as at the farm.
And he wo'n't work the worse because he knows
That she will make his fire-side ready for him,
And watch for his return.

WOMAN.
All very well,
A little while.

TRAVELLER.
And what if they are poor?
Riches can't always purchase happiness;
And much we know will be expected there
Where much was given.

WOMAN.
All this I have heard at church!
And when I walk in the church-yard, or have been
By a death-bed, 'tis mighty comforting.
But when I hear my children cry for hunger,
And see them shiver in their rags, . . God help me!
I pity those for whom these bells ring up
So merrily upon their wedding-day,
Because I think of mine.

TRAVELLER.
You have known trouble;
These haply may be happier.

WOMAN.
Why for that
I've had my share; some sickness and some sorrow
Well will it be for them to know no worse.
Yet I had rather hear a daughter's knell
Than her wedding-peal, Sir, if I thought her fate
Promised no better things.

TRAVELLER.
Sure, sure, good woman,
You look upon the world with jaundiced eyes!
All have their cares; those who are poor want wealth,
They who have wealth want more; so are we all
Dissatisfied, yet all live on, and each
Has his own comforts.

WOMAN.
Sir! d'ye see that horse
Turn'd out to common here by the way-side?
He's high in bone, you may tell every rib
Even at this distance. Mind him! how he turns
His head, to drive away the flies that feed
On his gall'd shoulder! There's just grass enough
To disappoint his whetted appetite.
You see his comforts, Sir!

TRAVELLER.
A wretched beast!
Hard labour and worse usage he endures
From some bad master. But the lot of the poor
Is not like his.

WOMAN.
In truth it is not, Sir!
For when the horse lies down at night, no cares
About to-morrow vex him in his dreams:
He knows no quarter-day, and when he gets
Some musty hay or patch of hedge-row grass,
He has no hungry children to claim part
Of his half meal!

TRAVELLER.
'Tis idleness makes want,
And idle habits. If the man will go
And spend his evenings by the alehouse fire,
Whom can he blame if there be want at home?

WOMAN.
Aye! idleness! the rich folks never fail
To find some reason why the poor deserve
Their miseries! . . Is it idleness, I pray you,
That brings the fever or the ague fit?
That makes the sick one's sickly appetite
From dry bread and potatoes turn away?
Is it idleness that makes small wages fail
For growing wants? . . Six years agone, these bells
Rung on my wedding-day, and I was told
What I might look for, . . but I did not heed
Good counsel. I had lived in service, Sir;
Knew never what it was to want a meal;
Lay down without one thought to keep me sleepless
Or trouble me in sleep; had for a Sunday
My linen gown, and when the pedlar came
Could buy me a new ribbon . . . And my husband, . .
A towardly young man and well to do, . .
He had his silver buckles and his watch;
There was not in the village one who look'd
Sprucer on holidays. We married, Sir,
And we had children, but while wants increased
Wages stood still. The silver buckles went,
So went the watch; and when the holiday coat
Was worn to work, no new one in its place.
For me . . you see my rags! but I deserve them,
For wilfully, like this new-married pair,
I went to my undoing.

TRAVELLER.
But the parish . . .

WOMAN.
Aye, it falls heavy there; and yet their pittance
Just serves to keep life in. A blessed prospect,
To slave while there is strength, in age the workhouse,
A parish shell at last, and the little bell
Toll'd hastily for a pauper's funeral!

TRAVELLER.
Is this your child?

WOMAN.
Aye, Sir; and were he drest
And clean'd, he'd be as fine a boy to look on
As the Squire's young master. These thin rags of his
Let comfortably in the summer wind;
But when the winter comes, it pinches me
To see the little wretch; I've three besides;
And, . . God forgive me! but I often wish
To see them in their coffins . . . God reward you!
God bless you for your charity!

TRAVELLER.
You have taught me
To give sad meaning to the village bells!

[Poems (1844) 158-59]