The White Doe of Rylstone. Canto IV.

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

William Wordsworth

Quarterly Review: "The fourth Canto brings the reader back to Rylstone Hall. The description, with which it begins, of the old mansion by moonlight, is among the most successful passages of the poem. The sober tone of the language is well suited to the repose which belongs to the subject.... While Emily is still musing upon the recollections which the scenes around her bring to mind, and offering up a prayer for the success of her brother Francis, all which is told with considerable pathos, she sees an old man, who had grown grey in friendship with her father, and whose offer of service she accepts by requesting him to repair to the army, and procure a report of whatever had happened since the departure of her father and brothers: — unconscious that their fate was already decided; that the rebels had been dispersed; and her father and all her brothers, except Francis, taken prisoners, in an assault upon Barnard Castle" 14 (October 1815) 217-19.

Henry Fothergill Chorley: "Scott would have plunged heart and soul into The Rising of the North, and told the tale with the zeal and breathlessness of an eyewitness and an actor. Mr. Wordsworth reviews the scene from above and at a distance; and the solitary and faithful animal that haunts the graves of the Nortons, comes, we cannot but think, closer to his sympathies, than either the rash father and his eight staunch sons, or the one, who from conscience, keeps himself aloof from the fray, and, from duty, shares the fate of his family. At least the loveliest part of the legend of Rylstone lies in its prologue, and in the moonlight scene at the opening of the Fourth Canto. In such descriptive passages as these Mr. Wordsworth is unrivalled" Authors of England (1838) 90.

Henry Crabb Robinson: "Read The White Doe of Rylstone, by Wordsworth. This legendary tale will be less popular than Walter Scott's, from the want of that vulgar intelligibility, and that freshness and vivacity of description, which please even those who are not of the vulgar. Still, the poem will be better liked than better pieces of Wordsworth's writing. There are a delicate sensibility and exquisite moral running through the whole, but it is not the happiest of his narrative poems" 4 June 1815; in Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence (1872) 1:254.

John Wilson: "THE SHEPHERD. Now sir, this I wull say for the Lake folk, that they, ane an a', without exceptions, excel in painting she-characters. Wudsworth, Wulson, Soothey, Coalrich, and yourself, sir [The Opium Eater], (for confound me gin you're no a poet,) make me far mair in love with the 'Women-Folk — the Women-Folk,' (wait a wee and you'll hear me sing that sang,) than Tam Muir and a' that crew" Blackwood's Magazine (October 1823) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 1:374.

From cloudless ether looking down,
The Moon, this tranquil evening, sees
A Camp, and a beleaguered Town,
And Castle like a stately crown,
On the steep rocks of winding Tees;—
And, southward far, with moors between,
Hill-tops, and floods, and forests green,
The bright Moon sees that valley small
Where Rylstone's old sequestered Hall
A venerable image yields
Of quiet to the neighbouring fields;
While from one pillared chimney breathes
The silver smoke, and mounts in wreaths.
—The courts are hushed; — for timely sleep
The Grey-hounds to their kennel creep;
The Peacock in the broad ash-tree
Aloft is roosted for the night,
He who in proud prosperity
Of colours manifold and bright
Walked round, affronting the day-light;
And higher still, above the bower
Where he is perched, from yon lone Tower
The Hall-clock in the clear moon-shine
With glittering finger points at nine.
—Ah! who could think that sadness here
Had any sway? or pain, or fear?
A soft and lulling sound is heard
Of streams inaudible by day;
The garden pool's dark surface — stirred
By the night insects in their play—
Breaks into dimples small and bright;
A thousand, thousand rings of light
That shape themselves and disappear
Almost as soon as seen: — and, lo!
Not distant far, the milk-white Doe:
The same fair Creature which was nigh
Feeding in tranquillity,
When Francis uttered to the Maid
His last words in the yew-tree shade;—
The same fair Creature, who hath found
Her way into forbidden ground;
Where now, within this spacious plot
For pleasure made, a goodly spot,
With lawns, and beds of flowers, and shades
Of trellis-work in long arcades,
And cirque and crescent framed by wall
Of close-clipt foliage green and tall,
Converging walks, and fountains gay,
And terraces in trim array,—
Beneath yon cypress spiring high,
With pine and cedar spreading wide
Their darksome boughs on either side,
In open moonlight doth she lie;
Happy as others of her kind,
That, far from human neighbourhood,
Range — unrestricted as the wind—
Through park, or chase, or savage wood.

But where at this still hour is she,
The consecrated Emily?
Even while I speak, behold the Maid
Emerging from the cedar shade
To open moonshine, where the Doe
Beneath the cypress-spire is laid;
Like a patch of April snow,
Upon a bed of herbage green,
Lingering in a woody glade,
Or behind a rocky screen;
Lonely relic! which, if seen
By the Shepherd, is passed by
With an inattentive eye.
—Nor more regard doth she bestow
Upon the uncomplaining Doe!

Yet the meek Creature was not free,
Erewhile, from some perplexity:
For thrice hath she approached, this day,
The thought-bewildered Emily;
Endeavouring, in her gentle way,
Some smile or look of love to gain,—
Encouragement to sport or play;
Attempts which by the unhappy Maid
Have all been slighted or gainsaid.
—O welcome to the viewless breeze!
'Tis fraught with acceptable feeling,
And instantaneous sympathies
Into the Sufferer's bosom stealing;—
Ere she hath reached yon rustic Shed
Hung with late-flowering woodbine spread
Along the walls and overhead,
The fragrance of the breathing flowers
Revives a memory of those hours
When here, in this remote Alcove,
(While from the pendant woodbine came
Like odours, sweet as if the same)
A fondly anxious Mother strove
To teach her salutary fears
And mysteries above her years.
—Yes, she is soothed: — an Image faint—
And yet not faint — a presence bright
Returns to her; — 'tis that bless'd Saint
Who with mild looks and language mild
Instructed here her darling Child,
While yet a prattler on the knee,
To worship in simplicity
The invisible God, and take for guide
The faith reformed and purified.

'Tis flown — the Vision, and the sense
Of that beguiling influence!
"But oh! thou Angel from above,
Thou Spirit of maternal love,
That stood'st before my eyes, more clear
Than Ghosts are fabled to appear
Sent upon embassies of fear;
As thou thy presence hast to me
Vouchsafed — in radiant ministry
Descend on Francis: — through the air
Of this sad earth to him repair,
Speak to him with a voice, and say,
'That he must cast despair away!'"

Then from within the embowered retreat
Where she had found a grateful seat
Perturbed she issues. — She will go;
Herself will follow to the war,
And clasp her Father's knees; — ah, no!
She meets the insuperable bar,
The injunction by her Brother laid;
His parting charge — but ill obeyed!
That interdicted all debate,
All prayer for this cause or for that;
All efforts that would turn aside
The headstrong current of their fate:
Her duty is to stand and wait;
In resignation to abide
The shock, and finally secure
O'er pain and grief a triumph pure.
—She knows, she feels it, and is cheared;
At least her present pangs are checked.
—And now an ancient Man appeared,
Approaching her with grave respect.
Down the smooth walk which then she trod
He paced along the silent sod,
And greeting her thus gently spake,
"An old Man's privilege I take;
Dark is the time — a woeful day!
Dear daughter of affliction, say
How can I serve you? point the way."

"Rights have you, and may well be bold:
You with my Father have grown old
In friendship; — go — from him — from me—
Strive to avert this misery.
This would I beg; but on my mind
A passive stillness is enjoined.
—If prudence offer help or aid,
On you is no restriction laid;
You not forbidden to recline
With hope upon the Will Divine."

"Hope," said the Sufferer's zealous Friend,
"Must not forsake us till the end.—
In Craven's wilds is many a den,
To shelter persecuted Men:
Far underground is many a cave,
Where they might lie as in the grave,
Until this storm hath ceased to rave;
Or let them cross the River Tweed,
And be at once from peril freed!"

—"Ah tempt me not!" she faintly sighed;
"I will not counsel nor exhort,—
With my condition satisfied;
But you, at least, may make report
Of what befalls; — be this your task—
This may be done; — 'tis all I ask!"

She spake — and from the Lady's sight
The Sire, unconscious of his age,
Departed promptly as a Page
Bound on some errand of delight.
—The noble Francis — wise as brave,
Thought he, may have the skill to save:
With hopes in tenderness concealed,
Unarmed he followed to the field.
Him will I seek: the insurgent Powers
Are now besieging Barnard's Towers,—
"Grant that the Moon which shines this night
May guide them in a prudent flight!"

But quick the turns of chance and change,
And knowledge has a narrow range;
Whence idle fears, and needless pain,
And wishes blind, and efforts vain.
Their flight the fair Moon may not see;
For, from mid-heaven, already she
Hath witnessed their captivity.
She saw the desperate assault
Upon that hostile Castle made;—
But dark and dismal is the Vault
Where Norton and his Sons are laid!
Disastrous issue! — He had said
"This night yon haughty Towers must yield,
Or we for ever quit the field.
—Neville is utterly dismayed,
For promise fails of Howard's aid;
And Dacre to our call replies
That he is unprepared to rise.
My heart is sick; — this weary pause
Must needs be fatal to the cause.
The breach is open — on the Wall,
This night, the Banner shall be planted!"
—'Twas done: — his Sons were with him — all;—
They belt him round with hearts undaunted;
And others follow — Sire and Son,
Leap down into the court — "'Tis won"—
They shout aloud — but Heaven decreed
Another close
To that brave deed
Which struck with terror friends and foes!
The friend shrinks back — the foe recoils
From Norton and his filial band;
But they, now caught within the toils,
Against a thousand cannot stand;—
The foe from numbers courage drew,
And overpowered that gallant few.
"A rescue for the Standard!" cried
The Father from within the walls;
But, see, the sacred Standard falls!—
Confusion through the Camp spreads wide:
Some fled — and some their fears detained;
But ere the Moon had sunk to rest
In her pale chambers of the West,
Of that rash levy nought remained.

[pp. 65-77]