1815
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The White Doe of Rylstone. Canto II.

The White Doe of Rylstone; or the Fate of the Nortons, a Poem. By William Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth


Quarterly Review: "The second Canto opens with some account of the banner which Emily, at her father's command, had embroidered for his followers. When the day for raising it was arrived, Francis once more resolved to risk his father's displeasure, by endeavouring to dissuade him from the dangerous enterprize in which he was embarking.... The remonstrance was in vain. His father indignantly turned to his son Richard, and, committing the banner to his charge, departed with the rest of his sons and all his tenantry, to join the rebel standard under the Earl of Northumberland. With thoughts of the most bitter despondency, Francis walked forth into the park, where he found his sister Emily, to whom he relates the departure of his father, and explains his own resolution of attending him 'unarmed and naked,' in order to seize whatever occasions may offer of interposing to prevent the ruin about to fall upon him and his house" 14 (October 1815) 214.

Blackwood's Magazine: "We must conclude, — and we do so with perfect confidence, that many who never have read this Poem, and not a few who may have read extracts from it with foolish and unbecoming levity, will feel and acknowledge, from the specimens we have now given, that the White Doe of Rylstone is a tale written with singularly beautiful simplicity of language, and with a power and pathos that have not been often excelled in English Poetry" 16 (July 1818) 381.

The Album: "We have known some of Mr. W.'s own poetry decried as an absurd and nonsensical imitation of him. Did any body ever read the White Doe of Rylstone? Some doubtless have attempted it; and let those unhappy persons call to mind the poetry — poetry! — which they there met with. Can they believe it possible, that the author of that tissue of infantine absurdity has been reckoned by some the first poet of his age — the nearest of all writers to Milton?" 1 (1822) 216.



The Harp in lowliness obeyed:
And first we sang of the green-wood shade,
And a solitary Maid;
Beginning, where the song must end,
With her, and with her sylvan Friend;
The friend who stood before her sight,
Her only unextinguished light,—
Her last companion in a dearth
Of love, upon a hopeless earth.

For She it was, — 'twas She who wrought
Meekly, with foreboding thought,
In vermeil colours and in gold
An unblessed work; which, standing by,
Her Father did with joy behold,—
Exulting in the imagery;
A Banner, one that did fulfil
Too perfectly his headstrong will:
For on this Banner had her hand
Embroidered (such was the command)
The Sacred Cross; and figured there
The five dear wounds our Lord did bear;
Full soon to be uplifted high,
And float in rueful company!

It was the time when England's Queen
Twelve years had reigned, a sovereign dread;
Nor yet the restless crown had been
Disturbed upon her virgin head;
But now the inly-working North
Was ripe to send its thousands forth,
A potent vassalage, to fight
In Percy's and in Neville's right,—
Two earls fast leagued in discontent,
Who gave their wishes open vent;
And boldly urged a general plea,
The rites of ancient piety
To be by force of arms renewed;
Glad prospect for the multitude!
And that same Banner, on whose breast
The blameless Lady had exprest,
Memorials chosen to give life,
And sunshine to a dangerous strife;
This Banner, waiting for the call,
Stood quietly in Rylstone Hall.

It came, — and Francis Norton said,
"O Father! rise not in this fray—
The hairs are white upon your head;
Dear Father, hear me when I say
It is for you too late a day!
Bethink you of your own good name;
A just and gracious queen have we,
A pure religion, and the claim
Of peace on our humanity.
'Tis meet that I endure your scorn,—
I am your son, your eldest born;
But not for lordship or for land,
My Father, do I clasp your knees—
The Banner touch not, stay your hand,—
This multitude of men disband,
And live at home in blissful ease;
For these my brethren's sake, for me;
And, most of all, for Emily!"

Loud noise was in the crowded hall.
And scarcely could the Father hear
That name — which had a dying fall,
The name of his only Daughter dear,—
And on the banner which stood near
He glanced a look of holy pride,
And his wet eyes were glorified;
Then seized the staff, and thus did say:
"Thou, Richard, bear'st thy father's name,
Keep thou this ensign till the day
When I of thee require the same:
Thy place be on my better hand,—
And seven as true as thou, I see,
Will cleave to this good cause and me."
He spake, and eight brave sons straightway
All followed him, a gallant band!

Forth when Sire and Sons appeared
A gratulating shout was reared,
With din of arms and minstrelsy,
From all his warlike tenantry,
All horsed and harnessed with him to ride;
—A shout to which the hills replied!

But Francis, in the vacant hall,
Stood silent under dreary weight,—
A phantasm, in which roof and wall
Shook — tottered — swam before his sight,
A phantasm like a dream of night.
Thus overwhelmed, and desolate,
He found his way to a postern-gate;
And, when he waked at length, his eye
Was on the calm and silent sky;
With air about him breathing sweet,
And earth's green grass beneath his feet;
Nor did he fail ere long to hear
A sound of military chear,
Faint — but it reached that sheltered spot;
He heard, and it disturbed him not.

There stood he, leaning on a lance
Which he had grasped unknowingly,—
Had blindly grasped in that strong trance,
That dimness of heart agony;
There stood he, cleansed from the despair
And sorrow of his fruitless prayer.
The past he calmly hath reviewed:
But where will be the fortitude
Of this brave Man, when he shall see
That Form beneath the spreading tree,
And know that it is Emily?
Oh! hide them from each other, hide,
Kind Heaven, this pair severely tried!

He saw her where in open view
She sate beneath the spreading yew,—
Her head upon her lap, concealing
In solitude her bitter feeling:
How could he chuse but shrink or sigh?
He shrunk, and muttered inwardly,
"Might ever son command a sire,
The act were justified to-day."
This to himself — and to the Maid,
Whom now he had approached, he said,
—"Gone are they, — they have their desire;
And I with thee one hour will stay,
To give thee comfort if I may."

He paused, her silence to partake,
And long it was before he spake:
Then, all at once, his thoughts turned round,
And fervent words a passage found.

"Gone are they, bravely, though misled,
With a dear Father at their head!
The Sons obey a natural lord;
The Father had given solemn word
To noble Percy, — and a force
Still stronger bends him to his course.
This said, our tears to-day may fall
As at an innocent funeral.
In deep and awful channel runs
This sympathy of Sire and Sons;
Untried our Brothers were beloved,
And now their faithfulness is proved;
For faithful we must call them, bearing
That soul of conscientious daring.
—There were they all in circle — there
Stood Richard, Ambrose, Christopher,
John with a sword that will not fail,
And Marmaduke in fearless mail,
And those bright Twins were side by side;
And there, by fresh hopes beautified,
Was He, whose arm yet lacks the power
Of man, our youngest, fairest flower!
I, in the right of eldest born,
And in a second father's place,
Presumed to stand against their scorn,
And meet their pity face to face;
Yea, trusting in God's holy aid,
I to my Father knelt and prayed;
And one, the pensive Marmaduke,
Methought, was yielding inwardly,
And would have laid his purpose by,
But for a glance of his Father's, eye,
Which I myself could scarcely brook.

Then be we, each, and all, forgiven!
Thee, chiefly thee, my Sister dear,
Whose pangs are registered in heaven,—
The stifled sigh, the hidden tear,
And smiles, that dared to take their place,
Meek filial smiles, upon thy face,
As that unhallowed Banner grew
Beneath a loving old man's view.
Thy part is done — thy painful part;
Be thou then satisfied in heart
A further, though far easier task
Than thine hath been, my duties ask;
With their's my efforts cannot blend,
I cannot for such cause contend;
Their aims I utterly forswear;
But I in body will be there.
Unarmed and naked will I go,
Be at their side, come weal or woe:
On kind occasions I may wait,
See, hear, obstruct, or mitigate.
Bare breast I take and an empty hand."—
Therewith he threw away the lance
Which he had grasped in that strong trance,
Spurned it — like something that would stand
Between him and the pure intent
Of love on which his soul was bent.

"For thee, for thee, is left the sense
Of trial past without offence
To God or Man; — such innocence,
Such consolation, and the excess
Of an unmerited distress;
In that thy very strength must lie.
—O Sister, I could prophesy!
The time is come that rings the knell
Of all we loved, and loved so well;—
Hope nothing, if I thus may speak
To thee a woman, and thence weak;
Hope nothing, I repeat; for we
Are doomed to perish utterly:
'Tis meet that thou with me divide
The thought while I am by thy side,
Acknowledging a grace in this,
A comfort in the dark abyss:
But look not for me when I am gone,
And be no farther wrought upon.
Farewell all wishes, all debate,
All prayers for this cause, or for that!
Weep, if that aid thee; but depend
Upon no help of outward friend;
Espouse thy doom at once, and cleave
To fortitude without reprieve.
For we must fall, both we and ours,—
This Mansion and these pleasant bowers;
Walks, pools, and arbours, homestead, hall,
Our fate is theirs, will reach them all;
The young Horse must forsake his manger,
And learn to glory in a Stranger;
The Hawk forget his perch, — the Hound
Be parted from his ancient ground:
The blast will sweep us all away,
One desolation, one decay!
And even this Creature!" which words saying
He pointed to a lovely Doe,
A few steps distant, feeding, straying;
Fair Creature, and more white than snow!
"Even she will to her peaceful woods
Return, and to her murmuring floods,
And be in heart and soul the same
She was before she hither came,—
Ere she had learned to love us all,
Herself beloved in Rylstone Hall.
—But thou, my Sister, doomed to be
The last leaf which by heaven's decree
Must hang upon a blasted tree;
If not in vain we have breathed the breath
Together of a purer faith—
If hand in hand we have been led
And thou, (O happy thought this day!)
Not seldom foremost in the way—
If on one thought our minds have fed,
And we have in one meaning read—
If, when at home our private weal
Hath suffered from the shock of zeal,
Together we have learned to prize
Forbearance, and self-sacrifice—
If we like combatants have fared,
And for this issue been prepared—
If thou art beautiful, and youth
And thought endue thee with all truth—
Be strong; — be worthy of the grace
Of God, and fill thy destined place:
A soul, by force of sorrows high,
Uplifted to the purest sky
Of undisturbed humanity!"

He ended, — or she heard no more:
He led her from the Yew-tree shade,
And at the Mansion's silent door,
He kissed the consecrated Maid;
And down the Valley he pursued,
Alone, the armed Multitude.

[pp. 25-39]

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