William Wordsworth, from Descriptive Sketches

[Click on image to enlarge] Descriptive Sketches is one of William Wordsworth's first two books (the other is An Evening Walk); both were published by Joseph Johnson in January 1793. Descriptive Sketches describes Wordsworth's observations during a walking tour through the Alps in the summer of 1790, when the French were celebrating the first anniversary of the Fall of the Bastille. The concluding section of this poem, included here, describes the promise of the French Revolution in terms that enjoin biblical millennialism with the Roman poet Virgil's fourth eclogue, which envisions the return of the primeval golden age. But as we see in the later books of The Prelude (see NAEL 8, 2.381–89) and elsewhere, Wordsworth's ardor could not survive the Reign of Terror (1793–94) and the events that followed it. "The promise," as Wordsworth wrote in the revision quoted just below, was "too fair / For creatures doomed to breathe terrestrial air."









                          * * *

      — Tho' Liberty shall soon, indignant, raise
Red on his hills his beacon's comet blaze;
Bid from on high his lonely cannon sound,
And on ten thousand hearths his shout rebound;
His larum-bell from village-tow'r to tow'r
Swing on th' astounded ear its dull undying roar:
Yet, yet rejoice, tho' Pride's perverted ire
Rouze Hell's own aid, and wrap thy hills in fire.
Lo! from th' innocuous flames, a lovely birth!
With its own Virtues springs another earth;
Nature, as in her prime, her virgin reign
Begins, and Love and Truth compose her train;
With pulseless hand, and fix'd unwearied gaze,
Unbreathing Justice her still beam surveys:
No more, along thy vales and viny groves,
Whole hamlets disappearing as he moves,
With cheeks o'erspread by smiles of baleful glow,
On his pale horse shall fell Consumption go. >> note 1

      Oh give, great God, to Freedom's waves to ride
Sublime o'er Conquest, Avarice, and Pride,
To break, the vales where Death with Famine scow'rs,
And dark Oppression builds her thick-ribb'd tow'rs;
Where Machination her fell soul resigns,
Fled panting to the centre of her mines;
Where Persecution decks with ghastly smiles
Her bed, his mountains mad Ambition piles;
Where Discord stalks dilating, every hour,
And crouching fearful at the feet of Pow'r,
Like Lightnings eager for th' almighty word,
Look up for sign of havoc, Fire, and Sword;
— Give them, beneath their breast while Gladness springs,
To brood the nations o'er with Nile-like wings;
And grant that every sceptred child of clay,
Who cries, presumptuous, "here their tides shall stay,"
Swept in their anger from th' affrighted shore,
With all his creatures sink — to rise no more.

      To-night, my friend, within this humble cot
Be the dead load of mortal ills forgot,
Renewing, when the rosy summits glow
At morn, our various journey, sad and slow.

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