1815
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The White Doe of Rylstone. Canto VII.

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

William Wordsworth


Quarterly Review: "Previously to the commencement of the seventh and last Canto, the story makes a pause. In the interval, 'despoil and desolation visit Rylstone's fair domain,' and Emily, having 'wander'd long and far,' at length, resuming fortitude, returns once more to 'her native wilds of Craven.' ... From this moment, on whatever side Emily looked, 'all was trouble-haunted ground;' so strongly did the sight of her former favourite recal to her memory the scenes and circumstances in which they had formerly met. She therefore once more quitted the neighbourhood, and secluded herself 'on the deep forth of Annerdale,' attended by her faithful friend the White Doe; and a very pleasing description follows of the mutual attachment which grew up between them, and the consolation which Emily in particular derived from it.... In this frame of mind she returned again to Rylstone, and with softened feelings was now able to visit the spots which had formerly overwhelmed her fortitude.... At length the feeble bands which tied Emily to this world were broken asunder by death — she was buried by the side of her mother in Rylstone church, and the White Doe, faithful to the memory as she had been to the person of her mistress, continued 'Haunting the spots with lonely cheer | Which her dear mistress once held dear [....]' Our readers now know why the 'White Doe' came from Rylstone to Bolton Priory every Sabbath day during the time of divine service. Whether the explanation will not, upon the whole, disappoint the curiosity which its mysterious appearance excited, we shall not attempt to determine: more particularly as the decision of the question will not very greatly affect the merits of the work, considered as a poem, however it may affect its popularity, considered as a story. In the former point of view, we think that our extracts will fully justify the praises which we have bestowed upon it; but we have also said, that it possesses great blemishes" 14 (October 1815) 221-23.

Sara Coleridge to Mrs. Henry M. Jones: "Mr. Wordsworth opens to us a world of suffering, and no writer of the present day, in my opinion, has dealt more largely or more nobly with the deepest pathos and the most exquisite sentiment; but for every sorrow he presents an antidote; he shows us how man may endure, as well as what he is doomed to suffer. The poem of the 'White Doe of Rylstone' is meant to exhibit the power of faith in upholding the most anguish-stricken soul through the severest trials, and the ultimate triumph of the spirit, even while the frail mortal body is giving way" July 1835; in Memoir and Letters (1874) 111.



Thou Spirit, whose angelic hand
Was to the Harp a strong command,
Called the submissive strings to wake
In glory for this Maiden's sake,
Say, Spirit! whither hath she fled
To hide her poor afflicted head?
What mighty forest in its gloom
Enfolds her? — is a rifted tomb
Within the wilderness her seat?
Some island which the wild waves beat,
Is that the Sufferer's last retreat?
Or some aspiring rock, that shrouds
Its perilous front in mists and clouds?
High-climbing rock-deep sunless dale—
Sea — desart — what do these avail?
Oh take her anguish and her fears
Into a calm recess of years!

'Tis done; — despoil and desolation
O'er Rylstone's fair domain have blown;
The walks and pools neglect hath sown
With weeds, the bowers are overthrown,
Or have given way to slow mutation,
While, in their ancient habitation
The Norton name hath been unknown:
The lordly Mansion of its pride
Is stripped; the ravage hath spread wide
Through park and field, a perishing
That mocks the gladness of the Spring!
And with this silent gloom agreeing
There is a joyless human Being,
Of aspect such as if the waste
Were under her dominion placed:
Upon a primrose bank, her throne
Of quietness, she sits alone;
There seated, may this Maid be seen,
Among the ruins of a wood,
Erewhile a covert bright and green,
And where full many a brave Tree stood;
That used to spread its boughs, and ring
With the sweet Bird's carolling.
Behold her, like a Virgin Queen,
Neglecting in imperial state
These outward images of fate,
And carrying inward a serene
And perfect sway, through many a thought
Of chance and change, that hath been brought
To the subjection of a holy,
Though stern and rigorous, melancholy!
The like authority, with grace
Of awfulness, is in her face,—
There hath she fixed it; yet it seems
To o'ershadow by no native right
That face, which cannot lose the gleams,
Lose utterly the tender gleams
Of gentleness and meek delight
And loving-kindness ever bright:
Such is her sovereign mien; — her dress
(A vest, with woollen cincture tied,
A hood of mountain-wool undyed)
Is homely, — fashioned to express
A wandering Pilgrim's humbleness.

And she hath wandered, long and far,
Beneath the light of sun and star;
Hath roamed in trouble and in grief,
Driven forward like a withered leaf,
Yea like a Ship at random blown
To distant places and unknown.
But now she dares to seek a haven
Among her native wilds of Craven;
Hath seen again her Father's Roof,
And put her fortitude to proof;
The mighty sorrow has been borne,
And she is thoroughly forlorn:
Her soul doth in itself stand fast,
Sustained by memory of the past
And strength of Reason; held above
The infirmities of mortal love;
Undaunted, lofty, calm, and stable,
And awfully impenetrable.

And so — beneath a mouldered tree,
A self-surviving leafless Oak,
By unregarded age from stroke
Of ravage saved — sate Emily.
There did she rest, with head reclined,
Herself most like a stately Flower,
(Such have I seen) whom chance of birth
Hath separated from its kind,
To live and die in a shady bower,
Single on the gladsome earth.

When, with a noise like distant thunder,
A troop of Deer came sweeping by;
And, suddenly, behold a wonder!
For, of that band of rushing Deer,
A single One in mid career
Hath stopped, and fixed its large full eye
Upon the Lady Emily,
A Doe most beautiful, clear-white,
A radiant Creature, silver-bright!

Thus checked, a little while it stayed;
A little thoughtful pause it made;
And then advanced with stealth-like pace,
Drew softly near her— and more near,
Stopped once again; — but, as no trace
Was found of any thing to fear,
Even to her feet the Creature came,
And laid its head upon her knee,
And looked into the Lady's face,
A look of pure benignity,
And fond unclouded memory.
It is, thought Emily, the same,
The very Doe of other years!
The pleading look the Lady viewed,
And, by her gushing thoughts subdued,
She melted into tears—
A flood of tears, that flowed apace
Upon the happy Creature's face.

Oh, moment ever blest! O Pair!
Beloved of heaven, heaven's choicest care!
This was for you a precious greeting,—
For both a bounteous, fruitful meeting.
Joined are they, and the sylvan Doe
Can she depart? can she forego
The Lady, once her playful Peer,
And now her sainted Mistress dear?
And will not Emily receive
This lovely Chronicler of things
Long past, delights and sorrowings?
Lone Sufferer! will not she believe
The promise in that speaking face,
And take this gift of Heaven with grace?

That day, the first of a re-union
Which was to teem with high communion
That day of balmy April weather,
They tarried in the wood together.
And when, ere fall of evening-dew
She from this sylvan haunt withdrew,
The White Doe tracked with faithful pace
The Lady to her Dwelling-place;
That nook where, on paternal ground,
A habitation she had found,
The Master of whose humble board
Once owned her Father for his Lord;
A Hut, by tufted Trees defended,
Where Rylstone Brook with Wharf is blended.

When Emily by morning light
Went forth, the Doe was there in sight.
She shrunk: — with one frail shock of pain,
Received and followed by a prayer,
Did she behold — saw once again;
Shun will she not, she feels, will bear;—
But wheresoever she looked round
All now was trouble-haunted ground.
So doth the Sufferer deem it good
Even once again this neighbourhood
To leave. — Unwooed, yet unforbidden,
The White Doe followed up the Vale,
Up to another Cottage — hidden
In the deep fork of Amerdale;
And there may Emily restore
Herself, in spots unseen before.—
Why tell of mossy rock, or tree,
By lurking Dernbrook's pathless side,
Haunts of a strengthening amity
That calmed her, cheared, and fortified?
For she hath ventured now to read
Of time, and place, and thought, and deed,
Endless history that lies
In her silent Follower's eyes!
Who with a power like human Reason
Discerns the favourable season,
Skilled to approach or to retire,—
From looks conceiving her desire,
From look, deportment, voice or mien,
That vary to the heart within.
If she too passionately writhed
Her arms, or over-deeply breathed,
Walked quick or slowly, every mood
In its degree was understood;
Then well may their accord be true,
And kindly intercourse ensue.
—Oh! surely 'twas a gentle rouzing
When she by sudden glimpse espied
The White Doe on the mountain browzing,
Or in the meadow wandered wide!
How pleased, when down the Straggler sank
Beside her, on some sunny bank!
How soothed, when in thick bower enclosed,
They like a nested Pair reposed!
Fair Vision! when it crossed the Maid
Within some rocky cavern laid,
The dark cave's portal gliding by,
White as the whitest cloud on high,
Floating through the azure sky.
—What now is left for pain or fear?
That Presence, dearer and more dear,
Did now a very gladness yield
At morning to the dewy field,
While they side by side were straying,
And the Shepherd's pipe was playing;
And with a deeper peace endued
The hour of moonlight solitude.

With her Companion, in such frame
Of mind, to Rylstone back she came,—
And, wandering through the wasted groves,
Received the memory of old Loves,
Undisturbed and undistrest,
Into a soul which now was blest
With a soft spring-day of holy,
Mild, delicious melancholy:
Not sunless gloom or unenlightened,
But by tender fancies brightened.

When the Bells of Rylstone played
Their Sabbath music — "God us ayde!"
That was the sound they seemed to speak;
Inscriptive legend, which I ween
May on those holy Bells be seen,
That legend and her Grandsire's name;
And oftentimes the Lady meek
Had in her Childhood read the same,
Words which she slighted at that day;
But now, when such sad change was wrought,
And of that lonely name she thought,
The Bells of Rylstone seemed to say,
While she sate listening in the shade,
With vocal music, " God us ayde!"
And all the Hills were glad to bear
Their part in this effectual prayer.

Nor lacked she Reason's firmest power;
But with the White Doe at her side
Up doth she climb to Norton Tower,
And thence looks round her far and wide.
Her fate there measures, — all is stilled,—
The feeble hath subdued her heart;
Behold the prophecy fulfilled,
Fulfilled, and she sustains her part!
But here her Brother's words have failed,—
Here hath a milder doom prevailed;
That she, of him and all bereft,
Hath yet this faithful Partner left,—
This single Creature that disproves
His words, remains for her, and loves.
If tears are shed, they do not fall
For loss of him, for one or all;
Yet, sometimes, sometimes doth she weep
Moved gently in her soul's soft sleep;
A few tears down her cheek descend
For this her last and living Friend.

Bless, tender Hearts, their mutual lot,
And bless for both this savage spot!
Which Emily doth sacred hold
For reasons dear and manifold—
Here hath she, here before her sight,
Close to the summit of this height,
The grassy rock-encircled Pound
In which the Creature first was found.
So beautiful the spotless Thrall,
(A lovely Youngling white as foam,)
That it was brought to Rylstone-hall;
Her youngest Brother led it home,
The youngest, then a lusty Boy,
Brought home the prize — and with what joy!

But most to Bolton's sacred Pile,
On favouring nights, she loved to go:
There ranged through cloister, court, and aisle,
Attended by the soft-paced Doe;
Nor did she fear in the still moonshine
To look upon Saint Mary's shrine;
Nor on the lonely turf that showed
Where Francis slept in his last abode.
For that she came; there oft and long
She sate in meditation strong:
And, when she from the abyss returned
Of thought, she neither shrunk nor mourned;
Was happy that she lived to greet
Her mute Companion as it lay
In love and pity at her feet;
How happy in her turn to meet
That recognition! the mild glance
Beamed from that gracious countenance;—
Communication, like the ray
Of a new morning, to the nature
And prospects of the inferior Creature!

A mortal Song we frame, by dower
Encouraged of celestial power;
Power which the viewless Spirit shed
By whom we were first visited;
Whose voice we heard, whose hand and wings
Swept like a breeze the conscious strings,
When, left in solitude, erewhile
We stood before this ruined Pile,
And, quitting unsubstantial dreams,
Sang in this Presence kindred themes;
Distress and desolation spread
Through human hearts, and pleasure dead,—
Dead — but to live again on Earth,
A second and yet nobler birth;
Dire overthrow, and yet how high
The re-ascent in sanctity!
From fair to fairer; day by day
A more divine and loftier way!
Even such this blessed Pilgrim trod,
By sorrow lifted tow'rds her God;
Uplifted to the purest sky
Of undisturbed mortality.
Her own thoughts loved she; and could bend
A dear look to her lowly Friend,—
There stopped; — her thirst was satisfied
With what this innocent spring supplied—
Her sanction inwardly she bore,
And stood apart from human cares:
But to the world returned no more,
Although with no unwilling mind
Help did she give at need, and joined
The Wharfdale Peasants in their prayers.
At length, thus faintly, faintly tied
To earth, she was set free, and died.
Thy soul, exalted Emily,
Maid of the blasted Family,
Rose to the God from whom it came!
—In Rylstone Church her mortal frame
Was buried by her Mother's side.

Most glorious sunset! — and a ray
Survives — the twilight of this day;
In that fair Creature whom the fields
Support, and whom the forest shields;
Who, having filled a holy place,
Partakes in her degree heaven's grace;
And bears a memory and a mind
Raised far above the law of kind;
Haunting the spots with lonely chear
Which her dear Mistress once held dear:
Loves most what Emily loved most—
The enclosure of this Church-yard ground;
Here wanders like a gliding Ghost,
And every Sabbath here is found;
Comes with the People when the Bells
Are heard among the moorland dells,
Finds entrance through yon arch, where way
Lies open on the Sabbath-day;
Here walks amid the mournful waste
Of prostrate altars, shrines defaced,
And floors encumbered with rich show
Of fret-work imagery laid low;
Paces softly, or makes halt,
By fractured cell, or tomb, or vault,
By plate of monumental brass
Dim-gleaming among weeds and grass,
And sculptured Forms of Warriors brave;
But chiefly by that single grave,
That one sequestered hillock green,
The pensive Visitant is seen.
There doth the gentle Creature lie
With those adversities unmoved;
Calm Spectacle, by earth and sky
In their benignity approved!
And aye, methinks, this hoary Pile,
Subdued by outrage and decay,
Looks down upon her with a smile,
A gracious smile, that seems to say,
"Thou, thou art not a Child of Time,
But Daughter of the Eternal Prime!"

[pp. 111-130]