1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Stanzas written in my Pocket-Copy of Thomson's Castle of Indolence.

Poems by William Wordsworth: including Lyrical ballads, and the miscellaneous Pieces of the Author, with additional Poems, a new Preface and a supplementary Essay. 2 Vols.

William Wordsworth


Eight Spenserians, composed in 1802 while William Wordsworth was at work on "Resolution and Independence," and published (with changes) in 1815. Wordsworth composes verse characters of himself and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who had adopted "Satyrane" as a pen-name) to be joined to those in James Thomson's Castle of Indolence.

Robert Southey to John Rickman: "You are in great measure right about Coleridge; he is worse in body than you seem to believe, but the main cause lies in his own management of himself, or rather want of management. His mind is a perpetual St. Vitus's dance — eternal activity without action. At times he feels mortified that he should have done so little; but this feeling never produces any exertion.... Wordsworth will do better, and leave behind him a name, unique in his way; he will rank among the very first poets, and probably possesses a mass of merits superior to all, except only Shakspeare. This is doing much, yet would he be a happier man if he did more" 30 March 1804; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:277-78.

Mary Moorman: "It must always remain a mystery that Matthew Arnold in his notes on the poem made an erroneous identification; saying that the first four stanzas describe Coleridge, and the next three Wordsworth. It is of course the other way round. First there is his own self-portrait; his happiness; his restless comings and goings; his frequent fits of depression, illness, and exhaustion; his hours of silence and contemplation; his siestas in the orchard; his possession by the muse as by a daemon.... It is the privilege of poets to enter more completely into the beauty and interest of the passing moment than can most other men, and this poem of Wordsworth's — so skilfully imitating in its style the poetry of an earlier generation, yet remaining entirely original — has preserved for us their frequent and intense enjoyments, so eagerly shared, which were as real a part of their friendship as the communication of sorrow and 'dejection'" William Wordsworth, the Early Years (1957; 1969) 547, 549.

Alan Dugald McKillop: "A poetic adaptation of aspects of the personalities of Wordsworth and Coleridge to Thomson's vision of the delightful way of life in the Castle" James Thomson: The Castle of Indolence and Other Poems (1961) 65.

Compare John Keats's 1819 "Stanzas to Charles Armitage Brown" and the verse characters in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Letter to Maria Gisborne" (1820).



Within our happy Castle there dwelt One
Whom without blame I may not overlook;
For never sun on living creature shone
Who more devout enjoyment with us took.
Here on his hours he hung as on a book;
On his own time here would he float away,
As doth a fly upon a summer brook;
But go to-morrow — or belike to-day—
Seek for him, — he is fled; and whither none can say.

Thus often would he leave our peaceful home
And find elsewhere his business or delight;
Out of our Valley's limits did he roam:
Full many a time, upon a stormy night,
His voice came to us from the neighbouring height:
Oft did we see him driving full in view
At mid-day when the sun was shining bright;
What ill was on him, what he had to do,
A mighty wonder bred among our quiet crew.

Ah! piteous sight it was to see this man,
When he came back to us, a wither'd flower,—
Or like a sinful creature pale and wan.
Down would he sit; and without strength or power
Look at the common grass from hour to hour:
And oftentimes, how long I fear to say,
Where apple-trees in blossom made a bower,
Retired in that sunshiny shade he lay;
And, like a naked Indian, slept himself away.

Great wonder to our gentle Tribe it was
Whenever from our Valley he withdrew;
For happier soul no living creature has
Than he had, being here the long day through.
Some thought he was a lover, and did woo:
Some thought far worse of him, and judged him wrong:
But Verse was what he had been wedded to;
And his own mind did like a tempest strong
Come to him thus, and drove the weary Wight along.

With him there often walked in friendly guise
Or lay upon the moss by brook or tree
A noticeable Man with large dark eyes,
And a pale face, that seem'd undoubtedly
As if a blooming face it ought to be;
Heavy his low-hung lip did oft appear
Deprest by weight of musing Phantasy;
Profound his forehead was, though not severe;
Yet some did think that he had little business here:

Sweet heaven forefend! his was a lawful right;
Noisy he was, and gamesome as a boy;
His limbs would toss about him with delight
Like branches when strong winds the trees annoy.
Nor lacked his calmer hours device or toy,
To banish listnessness and irksome care;
He would have taught you how you might employ
Yourself; and many did to him repair,—
And, certes, not in vain; — he had inventions rare.

Expedients, too, of simplest sort he tried:
Long blades of grass, plucked round him as he lay;
Made — to his ear attentively applied—
A Pipe on which the wind would deftly play;
Glasses he had, that little things display,—
The beetle with his radiance manifold,
A mailed angel on a battle day;
And cups of flowers, and herbage green and gold;
And all the glorious sights which fairies do behold.

He would entice the other Man to hear
His music, and to view his imagery:
And, sooth, these two did love each other dear,
As far as love in such a place could be;
There did they dwell — from earthly labour free,
As happy spirits as were ever seen;
If but a bird, to keep them company,
Or butterfly sate down, they were, I ween,
As pleased as if the same had been a Maiden Queen.

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