1815
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

White Doe of Rylstone: Dedication.

The White Doe of Rylstone: or the Fate of the Nortons, a Poem by William Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth


The dedication to Mary Wordsworth, dated "Rydal Mount, Westmoreland, April 20, 1815," is in eight ottava rima stanzas. The poet introduces his tragic tale of religious faith under duress by recalling Una and Spenser's sage and serious muse: "Notes could we hear as of a faery shell | Attuned to words with sacred wisdom fraught; | Free Fancy prized each specious miracle, | And all its finer inspiration caught." On the passages adapted from Spenser see Alice Pattee Comparetti (1940) 195-97; the quotation "bliss with mortal Man may not abide" is adapted from Spenser's "That blisse may not abide in state of mortall men" Faerie Queene 1.8.44.9.

John Wilson: "Familiar friends are the poet of the White Doe and he of the Faerie Queen. Who knows that Spenser may not have read the Lyrical Ballads?" Blackwood's Magazine 34 (1833) 815.

Donald Davie: The White Doe is a "thoroughly Spenserian poem. For all the great difference between Spenser's opulent rhetoric and the sobriety of Wordsworth's language, although the structure has none of Spenser's complexity, although Wordsworth does not think in Spenser's terms, we infer a marked similarity between the ways of thought and feeling which produced the two poems" Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952) 118-19.

Greg Kucich: "Wordsworth found the part of Spenser closest to his heart in those stories [of melting tenderness] and took them as the model for his own tales of 'life's ordinary woes' (The White Doe of Rylstone, line 54), which is why Coleridge declared of Wordsworthian simplicity: 'I remember no poet whose writings would safelier stand the test of Mr. Wordsworth's theory, than Spenser'" Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (1991) 83.



In trellis'd shed with clustering roses gay,
And, MARY! oft beside our blazing fire,
When years of wedded life were as a day
Whose current answers to the heart's desire,
Did we together read in Spenser's Lay
How Una, sad of soul — in sad attire,
The gentle Una, born of heavenly birth,
To seek her Knight went wandering o'er the earth.

Ah, then, Beloved! pleasing was the smart,
And the tear precious in compassion shed
For Her, who, pierced by sorrow's thrilling dart,
Did meekly bear the pang unmerited;
Meek as that emblem of her lowly heart
The milk-white Lamb which in a line she led,—
And faithful, loyal in her innocence,
Like the brave Lion slain in her defence.

Notes could we hear as of a faery shell
Attuned to words with sacred wisdom fraught;
Free Fancy prized each specious miracle,
And all its finer inspiration caught;
'Till, in the bosom of our rustic Cell,
We by a lamentable change were taught
That "bliss with mortal Man may not abide:"—
How nearly joy and sorrow are allied!

For us the stream of fiction ceased to flow,
For us the voice of melody was mute.
—But, as soft gales dissolve the dreary snow
And give the timid herbage leave to shoot,
Heaven's breathing influence failed not to bestow
A timely promise of unlooked-for fruit,
Fair fruit of pleasure and serene content
From blossoms wild of fancies innocent.

It soothed us — it beguiled us — then, to hear
Once more of troubles wrought by magic spell;
And griefs whose aery motion comes not near
The pangs that tempt the Spirit to rebel;
Then, with mild Una in her sober chear,
High over hill and low adown the dell
Again we wandered, willing to partake
All that she suffered for her dear Lord's sake.

Then, too, this Song of mine once more could please,
Where, anguish, strange as dreams of restless sleep,
Is tempered and allayed by sympathies
Aloft ascending, and descending deep,
Even to the inferior Kinds; whom forest trees
Protect from beating sunbeams, and the sweep
Of the sharp winds; — fair Creatures! — to whom Heaven
A calm and sinless life, with love, hath given.

This tragic Story cheared us; for it speaks
Of female patience winning firm repose;
And of the recompense which conscience seeks
A bright, encouraging example shows;
Needful when o'er wide realms the tempest breaks,
Needful amid life's ordinary woes;—
Hence, not for them unfitted who would bless
A happy hour with holier happiness.

He serves the Muses erringly and ill,
Whose aim is pleasure light and fugitive:
O, that my mind were equal to fufill
The comprehensive mandate which they give—
Vain aspiration of an earnest will!
Yet in this moral Strain a power may live,
Beloved Wife! such solace to impart
As it hath yielded to thy tender heart.

[pp. ix-xi]