1800
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Oak and the Broom, a Pastoral.

Lyrical Ballads, with other Poems. In Two Volumes. By W. Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth


In William Wordsworth's equivocal variation on the "Oak and Briar" fable from Spenser's Februarie the humble broom is left standing. The treatment of the theme bears comparison to that in "Resolution and Independence."

Anna Seward to Henry Francis Cary: "Wordsworth has genius — but his poetry is harsh, turgid, and obscure. He is chiefly a poetic landscape painter — but his pictures want distinctness" 4 March 1798; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 5:61.

British Critic: "It is not by pomp of words, but by energy thought, that sublimity is most successfully achieved; and we infinitely prefer the simplicity, even of the most unadorned tale in this volume, to all the meretricious frippery of the Darwinian taste" 14 (1799) 365.

Headnote in the Port Folio [Philadelphia]: "We are very enthusiastic admirers of the genius of Mr. Wordsworth, an Oxford scholar [sic], an original poet, and, as it appears, an amiable and humane man. He seems to have found or made a new walk in poetry, and we doubt not he will have many admiring followers. We cannot refrain from adding, that his Lyrical Ballads have reached the third edition in a very short period, and that a majority of critics, as well as readers of taste, have agreed that he has, like Gay, discovered the secret of exhibiting the most pleasing and the most interesting thoughts in the simplest expression" 4 (24 March 1804) 96.

Walter Scott: "With the name of Southey those of Coleridge and of Wordsworth are naturally and habitually associated. We do not hold, with the vulgar, that these ingenious and accomplished men are combined to overthrow the ancient land-marks of our poetry, and bring back the days of Withers and of Quarles" "Living Poets" in Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808 (1810) 2:426-27.

Leigh Hunt: "His fancy perhaps has gone little beyond books, but still it is of truly poetical character; he touches the affections pleasingly though not powerfully; and his oral vein stands him in stead, as it ought to do, of a good deal of dignity in other respects. What he wants in the gross, is a natural strength of thinking, and in particular, a real style of his own; for as his simplicity is more a thing of words than of thoughts, he naturally borrows his language from those who have thought for him. What Mr. Wordsworth conceals from you, or in fact overcomes by the growth of his own mind, Mr. Southey leaves open and bald, — a direct imitation, prominent with nothing but 'haths,' 'ands,' 'yeas,' 'evens,' and other fragments of old speech" notes to Feast of the Poets (1814) 81-82.

James Hogg: "I have only a single remark to make on the poetry of Wordsworth, and I do it because I never saw the remark made before. It relates to the richness of his works for quotations. For these they are a mine that is altogether inexhaustible. There is nothing in nature that you may not get a quotation out of Wordsworth to suit, and a quotation that breathes the very soul of poetry. There are only three books in the world that are worth the opening in search of mottos and quotations, and all of them are alike rich. These are, the Old Testament, Shakspeare, and the poetical works of Wordsworth, and, strange to say, the 'Excursion' abounds most in them" Autobiography in Works (1865) 464.



His simple truths did Andrew glean
Beside the babbling rills;
A careful student he had been
Among the woods and hills.
One winter's night, when through the Trees
The wind was thundering, on his knees
His youngest born did Andrew hold:
And while the rest, a ruddy quire,
Were seated round their blazing fire,
This Tale the Shepherd told.

"I saw a crag, a lofty stone
As ever tempest beat!
Out of its head an Oak had grown,
A Broom out of its feet.
The time was March, a cheerful noon—
The thaw-wind, with the breath of June,
Breathed gently from the warm South-west:
When in a voice sedate with age
This Oak, a giant and a sage,
His neighbour thus addressed:—

"Eight weary weeks, through rock and clay,
Along this mountain's edge
The Frost hath wrought both night and day,
Wedge driving after wedge.
Look up, and think, above your head
What trouble surely will be bred;
Last night I heard a crash — 'tis true,
The splinters took another road—
I see them yonder — what a load
For such a Thing as you!

You are preparing as before,
To deck your slender shape;
And yet, just three years back — no more—
You had a strange escape:
Down from yon Cliff a fragment broke,
It came, you know, with fire and smoke
And hither did it bend its way.
This pond'rous block was caught by me,
And o'er your head, as you may see,
'Tis hanging to this day.

The Thing had beeter been asleep,
Whatever thing it were,
Or Breeze, or Bird, of fleece of Sheep,
The first did plant you there.
For you and your green twigs decoy
The little witless Shepherd-boy
To come and slumber in your bower;
And, trust me, on some sultry noon,
Both you and he, Heaven knows how soon!
Will perish in one hour.

From me this friendly warning take"—
—The Broom began to doze,
And thus, to keep herself awake,
Did gently interpose.
"My thanks for your discourse are due;
That more than what you say is true,
I know, and I have known it long;
Frail is the bond by which we hold
Our being, whether young or old,
Wise, foolish, weak, or strong.

Disasters, do the best we can,
Will reach both great and small;
And he is oft the wisest man,
Who is not wise at all.
For me, why should I wish to roam?
This spot is my paternal home,
It is my pleasant Heritage;
My father many a happy year,
Spread here his careless blossoms, here
Attain'd a good old age.

Even such as his may be my lot.
What cause have I to haunt
My heart with terrors? Am I not
In truth a favour'd plant!
The Spring for me a garland weaves,
Of yellow flowers and verdant leaves,
And, when the Frost is in the sky,
My branches are so fresh and gay
That You might look at me and say,
This Plant can never die.

The butterfly, all green and gold,
To me hath often flown,
Here in my blossoms to behold
Wings lovely as his own.
When grass is chill with rain or dew,
Beneath my shade, the mother ewe
Lies with her infant lamb; I see
The love, they to each other make,
And the sweet joy, which they partake,
It is a joy to me."

Her voice was blithe, her heart was light;
The Broom might have pursued
Her speech, until the stars of night
Their journey had renew'd.
But in the branches of the Oak
Two Ravens now began to croak
Their nuptial song, a gladsome air;
And to her own green bower the breeze
That instant brought two stripling Bees
To feed and murmur there.

One night the Wind came from the North
And blew a furious blast,
At break of day I ventured forth,
And near the cliff I pass'd.
The storm had fallen upon the Oak
And struck him with a mighty stroke,
And whirl'd, and whirl'd him far away;
And in one hospitable Cleft,
The little careless Broom was left
To live for many a day.

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