George Crabbe.

The poetical works of George Crabbe online

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Alas ! for Peter not a helping hand.
So was he hated, could he now command ;
Alone he row'd his boat, alone he cast
His nets beside, or made his anchor fast :
To hold a rope, or hear a curse was none ;
He toil'd and rail'd : he groan'd and swore alone.

Thus by himself compell'd to live each day,
To wait for certain hours the tide's delay ;
At the same times the same dull views to sec,
The bountling marsh-bank and the blighted tree ;
The water only, when the tides were high,
"When low, the mud half cover'd and half dry ;
The sunburnt tar that blistei-s on the planks.
And bank-side stakes in their uneven ranks ;
Heaps of entangled weeds that slowly float.
As the tide rolls by the impeded boat.

When tides were neap, and, in the sultry day,
Through the tall bounding nmd-banks made their way,
■WhiclTon each side rose swelling, and below
The dark warm flood ran silently and slow ;
There anchoring, Peter chose from man to hide,
There hang his head, and view the lazy tide
In its hot slimy channel slowly glide ;



THE BOROUGH — PETER GRIMES. 229

Whoro the smtill eels that left the deeper way
For the warm shore, within the shallows play ;
Where gaping: mussels, left upon the muil,
Slope their slow passac^e to the fallen flood ; —
Here dull and hopeless he'd lie down and trace
How sidelong crabs had scrawl'd their crooked race,
Or sadly listen to the tuneless cry
Of fishing gull or clanging golden-eye ;
What time the sex-birds to the marsh would come,
And the louil bittern from the bulrush homo,
Gave from the salt ditch side the bellowing boom :
He nursed the feelings these dull scenes produce,
And loved to stop beside the opening sluice ;
Where the small stream, confined in narrow bound.
Ran with a dull, unvaried, sadd'ning sound ;
Where all, presented to the eye or ear,
Opprcss'd the soul with misery, grief, and fear.

Besides these objects, there were places three.
Which Peter seem'd with certain dread to see ;
When he drew near them, ho would turn from each.
And loudly whistle till he pass'd the reach.*

A change of scene to him brought no relief,
In town, 'twas plain, men took him for a thief:
The sailoi's' wives would stop him in the street,
And say, "Now, Peter, thou'st no boy to beat ;"
Infants at play, when they perceived him, ran,
Warning each other, — " That's the wicked man ! "
He growl'd an oath, and in an angry tone
Cureed the whole place, and wish'd to be alone.

Alone he was, tlie same dull scenes in view.
And still more gloomy in his sight they grew ;
Though man he hateil, yet employ'd alone
At bootless labour, he would swear and groan.
Cursing the shoals that glided by the spot,
And gulls that caught them when his arts could not.

Cold nervous tremblings shook his sturdy frame.
And strange disease — he couldn't say tlio name ;
Wild were his dreams, and oft he rose in frigLl,
Waked by his view of horrors in the night —
Horrors that would the sternest minds amaze,
Horrors that demons might be proud to raise:
And though he felt forsaken, grieveil at heart.
To think he lived from all mankiuil apart ;
Yet, if a man ajiproach'd, in terror he would start.

A winter pass'd since Peter saw the town.
And summer lodgers were again come down ;
These, idly curious, with thoir glasses spied
The shijis in bay as anchor'd for the tide, —
The river's craft, the bustl'j ol the ([uay.
And seafiort views, which landmen love to sec.

One, up the river, had a man and bout

• The roachea In a river ai-e those parts which extend il-om point to point Johnson
hM not the word precisely in this sense ; l)iit it is very coinmoii, and 1 b:;Iieve used n li'*i«*
•oeyer a navigable river can be touud lu thb country.



230 crabbe's roEMR.

Seen day by day, now anchov'd, now afloat ;

Fisher he seom'd, .yet used no net nor hook ;

Of sea-fowl swimming by no heed he took,

But on the gliiling waves still fix'd his lazy look :

At certain stations he would view the stream,

As if he stood bewilder'd in a dream,

Or that some power had chain'd him for a time,

To feel a curse or meditate on crime.

This known, some curious, some in pity went, •

And others question'd— " Wretch, dost thou repent ?

He heard, he trembled, and in fear resign'd

His boat : new terror fill'd his restless mind ;

Furious he grew, and up the country ran.

And there they seized him— a distemper'd man:—

Him we received, and to a parish bed,

Follow'd and cursed, the groaning man was led.

Here, when they saw him, whom tliey used to shun,

A lost, 'lone man, so harass'd and undone ;

Our gentle females, ever prompt to feel.

Perceived compassion on their anger steal ;

His crimes they could not from their memories blot,

But they were grieved, and trembled at his lot.
A priest too came, to whom his words are told ;

And all the signs they shudder'd to behold.

"Look ! look ! " they cried ; "his limbs with horror shake,

And as he grinds his teeth, what noise they make !

How glare his angry eyes, and yet he's not awake :
See ! what cold drops "upon his forehead stand,
And how he clenches that broad bony hand."

The priest attending, found he spoke at times
As one alluding to his fears and crimes ;
" It was the fall," he mutter'd, " I can show
The manner how,— I never struck a blow :"
And then aloud,—" Unhand mo, free my cham ;
On oath he full— it struck him to the brain :—
Why ask my father ?— that old man will swear
Against my life ; besides, he wasn't there :
What, all agreed '—Am I to die to-day?—
My Lord, in mercy give me time to pray."

Then as they watch'd him, calmer he became,
And grew so weak he couldn't move his frame.
But murmuring spake— while they could see and hoar
The start of terror and the groan of fear ;_
See the large dcw-bc^ds on his forehead rise,
And the cold death-drop glaze his sunken eyes :
Nor yet he died, but with imwonted force
Secni'd with some fancied being to discourse :
He knew not us, or with accustom 'd art
He hid the knowledge, yet o-Nposed his heart ;
'Twas part confession and the rest defence,
A madman's tale, with gleams of waking sense.

" I'll tell you all," he said, " the very day
When the old man first placed them in my way :
My father's spirit— he who always tried



THE BOROUGH — PETEB GRIMES. 231

To give me trouble, when he lived and died —
When he was gone, he could not be content
To see my days in painfiil labour spent,
But would appoint his meetings, and he made
Me watch at these, and so neglect my trade.

"'Twas one hot noon, all silent, still, serenf",
No living being had I lately seen ;
I paddled up and down and dipp'd my net,
But (such his pleasure) I could nothing get, —
A father's pleasure, when his toil was done,
To plague and torture thus an only son !
And so I sat and look'd upon the stream.
How it ran on, and felt as in a dream :
But dream it was not : No ! — I fix'd my eyes
On the mid stream, and saw the spirits rise :
I saw my father on the water stand.
And hold a thin pale boy in either hand ;
And there they glided ghastly on the top
Of the salt flood, and never touch'd a drop :
I would have struck them, but they knew th' intent.
And smiled upon the oar, and down they went.

" Now, from that day, whenever I began
To dip my net, there stood the hard old man —
He and those boys : I humbled me and pray'd
They would be gone ; they heeded not, but stay'd :
Nor could I turn, nor would the boat go by,
But, gazing on the spirits, there was I :
They bade me leap to death, but I was loth to die :
And every day, as sure as day arose.
Would these three spirits meet me ere the close ;

To hoar and mark them daily was my doom,

And 'Come,' they said, with weak, sad voices, 'come.'

To row away, with all my strength I tried,

But there were they hard by me in the tide.

The three unbodied forms— and ' Come, ' still ' come, ' they ericil .
' ' Fathers should pity — but this old man shook

His hoary locks, and froze me by a look :

Thrice when I struck them, through the water came

A hollow groan, that weaken'd all my frame :

' Father,' said I, ' have mercy :' — he replied,

I know not what, — the angry spirit lied, —

' Didst thou not draw thy knife ? ' said he : — 'Twas true,

But I had pity, and my arm withdrew :

He crieil for mercy, which I kindly gave,

But he has no compassion in his gi-ave.

' ' There were three places, where they ever rose, —

The whole long river has not such as those —

Places accursed, where, if a man remain,

He'll see the things which strike him to the brain ;

And there they made me on my paddle lean,

And look at them for hours ; — accursed scene !

When they would glide to that smooth eddy-space,

Then bid mo leap and join them in the place ;

And at my groans each little villain sprite



232 craebe's poems.

Enjoy'd my pnins and vanish'd in delight.

" In one fierce summer day, when my poor brain
Was burning hot, and cruel was my pain,
Then came this father-foe, and there he stood
With his two boys again upon the flood :
There was more uiisdiief in their eyes, more glco
In their pale faces, when they glared at mo :
Still did they force me on the oar to rest,
And when they saw me fainting and oppress'd,
He with his hand, the old man, scoop'd the flood.
And there came flame about him mix'd with blood :
lie bade me stoop and look upon the place,
Then flung the hot red liquor in my face :
Burning it blazed, and then I roar'd for pain,
I thought the demons would have turn'd my brain.

" Still there they stood, and forced me to behold
A place of horrors — tliey can not be told —
Where the flood opcn'd, there I heard the shriek
Of tortured guilt — no earthly tongue can speak :
' All days alike ! for ever ! ' did they say,
' And unremitted torments every day' —
Yes, so they said " — But here he ceased and g^zcd
On all around, affrighten'd nnd amazed :
And still he tried to speak, and look'd in dread
Of frighten'd females gathering round his bed ;
Then dropp'd exha\isted, and appear'd at rest,
Till the strong foe the vital powers possess'd ;
Then with an inward, broken voice he cried,
" Again they come ! " and mutter'd as ho djod.



LETTER XXIII.

Think my foi-mcr state a happy dream.
From which uw;ilccd, tiie truth of wluit we are,
Shows us b\it tliis, — X am sworn brother now
To grim Necessity, an<l lie and I
Will keep a league till doat h.

SuAKspEAKK. — Richard If.

PRISONS.

The Mind of Man accommodates itself 'o all Situations ; rrisons otherwise would be in-
tolorablo— Debtors : their diderent kinds: three j)artii'ularly defcribed ; other* mor«
briefly — An arrested Prisoner ; hia Account oi his I'eeliU)^ and his Bituation— Th»«
Alleviations ol a I'rison — Prisoners for Crimes — Two condcniiied : a vindictive Pemalif :
a Highwayman — The Interval between Condemnation and Execution— liifl feelings a*
the Time approaches— His Dream.

'Tis well — that man to all the varying states
Of good and ill his mind accommodates ;
He not alone progressive grief sustains.
But soon submits to uncxjierienccd pains :
Change after change, all climes his body bears ;
His mind repeated shocks of changing cares :
Faith and fair Virtue arm the nobler brciist ;
Hope and mere want oi feeling aid the rest.



THE BOROUGH — PRISONS. 233

Or who could bear to lose the balmy air
Of summer's breath, from all things fi-esh and fair,
With all that man admires or loves below ;
All earth and water, wood and vale bestow,
AVherc rosy pleasures smile, whence real blessings flow ;
"With sight and sound of every kind that lives.
And crowning all with joy that freedom gives ?

Who eouM from tliesc, in some unhappy day.
Bear to be drawn by ruthless anus away,
To the vile nuisance of a noisome room.
Where only insolence and misery come ?
(Save that the curious will by chance appear,
Or some in pity drop a fruitless tear) ;
To a damp prison, where the very sight
Of the warm sun is favour and not right ;
Where all we bear or see the feelings shock.
The oath and groan, the fetter and the lock ?

Who could bear this and live ?— Oh ! many a year
All this is borne, and miseries more severe ;
And some there are, familiar with the scene.
Who live in mirth, though few become serene.

Far as I might the inward man perceive,
There was a constant effort — not to grieve :
Not to despair, for better days would come.
And the freed debtor smile again at home :
Subdued his habits, he may peace regain.
And bless the woes that were not sent in vain.

Thus might we class the debtors here confined,
The more deceived, the more deceitful kind ;
Here are the guilty race, who mean to live
Ob credit, that credulity will give ;
Who j)urchase, conscious they can never pay ;
Who know their fate, and traffic to betray ;
On whom no pity, fear, remorse, prevail.
Their aim a statute, their resource a jail ; —
These as the public spoilers we regard.
No dun so harsh, no creilitor so hard.

A second kind are they, who truly strive
To keep their sinking credit long alive ;
Success, nay prudence, they may want, but yet
They would bo solvent, and deplore a debt ;
All means they use, to all expedients run.
And are by slow sad steps at last undone :
Justly, perhaps, you blame their want of skill,
But mourn their feelings and absolve their will.

There is a debtor, who his triHing all
Spreads in a shop ; it would not fill a stall :
There at one window his temptation lays,
And in new modes disposes and disjilays :
Alxtve the door you shall his name behold.
And what ho vends in ample letters told,
The words " llepository," " Warcliouso," all
He uses to enlarge concerns so small :
He to his goods assigns some beauty's name,



234 crabbe's poems.

Then in her reign, and hopes they'll share her fame,

And talks of credit, commerce, traffic, trade.

As one important by their profit mado;

But who can paint the vacancy, the gloom,

And spare dimensions of one backward room ?

Wherein he dines, if so 'tis fit to speak

Of one day's herring and the morrow's steak :

An anchorite in diet, all his care

Is to display his stock and vend his ware.

Long waiting hopeless, then he tries to meet
A kinder fortune in a distant street ;
There he again displays, increasing yet
Corroding sorrow and consuming debt :
Alas ! he wants the requisites to rise —
The true connections, the availing ties :
They who proceed on certainties advance, —
These are not times when men prevail by chance ;
But still he tries, till, after years of pain,
He finds, with anguish, he has tried in vain.
Debtors are those on whom 'tis hard to press,
'Tis base, impolitic, and merciless.

To these we add a miscellaneous kind,
By pleasure, pride, and indolence confined ;
Those whom no calls, no warnings could divert,
The unexperienced, and the inexpert ;
The builder, idler, schemer, gamester, sot, —
The follies different, but the same their lot ;
Victims of horses, lasses, drinking, dice.
Of every passion, humour, whim, and vice.

See ! that sad merchant, who but yesterday
Had a vast household in command and pay ;
He now entreats permission to employ
A boy he needs, and then entreats the boy.

And there sits one improvident but kind,
Bound for a friend, whom honour could not bind ;
Sighing, he speaks to any who appear,
" A treach'rous friend — 'twas that which sent me here :
I was too kind — I thought I could depend
On his bare word— he was a treach'rous friend."

A female too !— it is to her a home,
She came before — and she again will come :
Her friends have pity ; when their anger drops,
They take her home ; — she's tried her schools and shops —
Plan after plan ; — but fortune would not mond,
She to herself was still the treach'rous friend ;
And wheresoe'or began, all here was sure to end :
And there she sits, as thoughtless and as gay
As if she'd means, or not a debt to pay —
Or knew tomorrow she'd be call'd away —
Or felt a shilling, and could dine to-day.

While thus observing, I began to trace
The sober'd features of a well-known . ice ;
Looks once familiar, manners fbrni'cl to please,
And all illumiued by a heart at case ;



THE BOROUGH — PRISONS. 235

But fraud and flattery ever claim'd a part
(Still unresisted) of that easy heart ;
But he at length beholds me — " Ah! my friend !
And have thy pleasures this unlucky end 1"

" Too sure," he said, and smiling as he sigli'd ;
" I went astray, though Prudence seem'd my guide ;
All she proposed I in my heart approved,
And she was honour'd, but my pleasure loved —
Pleasure, the mistress to whose arms I fled.
From wifedike lectures angry Prudence read.

" Why speak the madness of a life like mine.
The powers of beauty, novelty, and wine 1
Why paint the wanton smile, the venal vow,
Or friends whose worth I can appreciate now ?
Oft I perceived my fate, and then would say,
' I'll think to-morrow, I must live to-day :'
So am I here — I own the laws are just —
And hero, where thought is painful, think I must :
But speech is pleasant ; this discourse with thee
Brings to my mind the sweets of liberty.
Breaks on the sameness of the place, and gives
The doubtful heart conviction that it lives.

" Let me describe my angixish in the hour
When law detain'd me and I felt its power.

"When, in that shipwreck, this I found my shoi-e,
And join'd the wretched, who were wreck'd before •
When I perceived each feature in the face,
Pinch'd through neglect or turbid by disgrace ;
When in these wasting forms affliction stood
In my afflicted view, it chill'd my blood ; —
And forth I rush'd, a quick retreat to make.
Till a loud laugh proolaim'd the dire mistake :
But when the groan had settled to a sigh,
When gloom beeainc familiar to the eye.
When I perceive how others seem to rest,
With every evil rankling in my breast, —
Led by example, I put on the man.
Sing off my sighs, and trifle as 1 can.

" Homer ! nay Pope ! (for never will I seek
Applause for learning — nought have I with Greek)
Gives us the secrets of his pagan hell.
Where ghost with ghost in sad communion dwell ;
Where shade meets shade, and round the gloomy meadd
They glide, and speak of old heroic deeds, —
What fields they conquer'd, and what foes they slew,
And sent to join the melancholy crew.
When a new sjiirit in that world was found,
A thou.sand shadowy forms came flitting round :
Those who had known him, fond inquiries made, —
' Of all we left, inform us, gentle shade,
Now a.s we lead thee in our realms to dwell,
Our twilight groves, and meads of asphodel.'

" What paints the poet, is our station hero.
Where wo like ghosts and flitting shades appear :



836 CRABBES POEMS,

Tlim is the hell he sings, and here we meet,
And fornaer deeds to new-made friends repeat ;
Heroic deeds, which here obtain lis fame.
And are in fact the causes why we came :
Yes ! this dim region is old Homer's hell,
Abate but groves and meads of asphodel.
Here, wherTa stranger fiom your world we spy.
We gather round him and for news ajiply ;
He hears unheeding, nor can speech endure.
But shivering gazes on the vast obscure :
We smiling pity, and by kindness sliow
We lelt his feelings and his terrors know ;
Then speak of comfort^time will give him sight
Where now 'tis dark ; where now 'tis woe— delight.

" ' Have hope,' we say, ' and soon the place to thee
Shall not a prison but a casllc be :
When to the wretch whom care and guilt confound.
The world's a jirison, with a wider bound ;
Go where he may, he feels himself confined.
And wears the fetters of an abject mind.'

" But now adieu ! those giant keys appear, — ■
Thou art not worthy to be innjate here :
Go to thy world, and to the young deslare
What we, our spirits and emfdoyments, are ;
Tell them how we the ills of life endure,
Our empire stable, and our state secure ;
Our dress, our diet, for their use describe,
And bid them haste to join the gen'rous tribe ;
Go to thy world, and leave us here to dwell,
Who to its joys and comforts bid farewell."

Farewell to these ; but other scenes i view,
And other griefs, and guilt of deeper hue ;
Where Conscience gives to outward ills her pain,
Gloom to the night, and pressure to the chain :
Here separate cells awhile in misery keep
Two doom'd to suffer ; there they strive for sleep ;
By day indulged, in larger space they range,
Their bondage certain, but their bounds have change.

One was a female, who had grievous ill
Wrought in revenge, and she enjoy'd it still :
With death before her, and her fate in view,
Unsatcd vengeance in her bosom grew :
Sullen she was and throat'ning ; in her eye
Glared the stern triumph that she dared to die :
But firfct a being in the world must leave —
'Twas once reproach ; 'twas now a short reprieve.

She was a pauper bound, who early gave
Her mind to vice, and doubly was a slave :
Upbraided, beaten, held by rough control.
Revenge sustain'd, inspired, and fill'd her soul :
She fired a full-stored barn, conl'css'd the fact,
And laugVi'd at law and justiHed the act :
Our gentle vicar tried his powers in vain,
She answcr'd not, or auswcr'd with disdain ;



THE BOROUGH — rKISONS, 237

Th' approaching fate she heard without a sigh,
And neither cared to live nor fear'd to die.

Not so he felt, who with her was to pay
The forfeit, life— with dread he view'd the day,
And that short space which yet for him remain' d,
Till with his limbs his faculties were chaiu'd :
He paced his narrow bounds some ease to find.
But found it not, — no comfort rcach'd his mind :
Each sense was palsied ; when he tasted food,
He sigh'd and said, " Enough — 'tis very good."
Since his dread sentence, nothing seem'd to be
As once it was — he seeing could not see,
Nor hearing, hear aright ; — when first I came
Within his view, I fancied there was shame,
I judged resentment ; I mistook the air, —
These fainter passions live not with desjiair ;
Or but exist and die : — Hope, fear, and love,
Joy, doubt, and hate, may other spirits move.
But touch not his, who every waking hour
Has one fix'd dread, and always feels its power.

" But will not Mercy r' — No ! she cannot plead
For such an outrage ; — •'twas a cruel deed :
He stopp'd a timid traveller ; — to his breast,
With oaths and curses, was the dagger press'd : — •
No ! he must suffer : pity we may find
For one man's pangs, but must not wrong mankind.

Still I beheld him, every thought employ'd
On one dire view ! — all others are destroy'd ;
This makes his features ghastly, gives the tone
or his few words resemblance to a groan ;
He takes his tasteless food, and when 'tis done,
Counts up his meals, now lessen'd by that one ;
For expectation is on Time intent,
Whether he brings us joy or punishment.

Yes! e'en in sleep the impressions all remain,
He hears the sentence and he feels the chain ;
He aces the judge and jury, when he shakes.
And loudly cries " Not guilty," and awakes :
Then chilling tremblings o'er his body creep,
Till worn-out nature is compell'd to sleep.

Now comes the dream again : it shows each scene,
With each small circumstance that comes between —
The call to suffering and the very deed —
There crowds go with iiitn, follow, and precede ;
Some heartless shout, some pity, all condemn,
While he in fancied envy looks at them :
He .seems the place for that sad act to see,
And dreams the very thirst which then will bo :
A priest attends — it seems, the one he knew
In his best days, beneath whose care ho grow.

At this his terrors tako a sudden flight,
Ho sees his native village with delight ;
The house, the chamber, where ho oneo arr.ay'd
His youthful person ; whoro he knolt and pray'd :



238 crabbe's poems.

Then too the comforts he enjoy'd at home,

The days of joy ; the joys themselves are come ; —

The hours of innocence ; — the timid look

Of his loved maid, when first her hand he took,

And told his hope ; her trembling joy appeare,

Her forced reserve and his retreating fears.

All now is present ; — 'tis a moment's gleam
Of former sunshine— stay, delightful dream !
Let him within his pleasant garden walk.
Give him her arm, of blessings let them talk.

Yes ! all are with him now, and all the while
Life's early prospects and his Fanny's smile :
Then come his sister and his village friend,
And ho will now the sweetest moments spend
Life has to yield ; — No ! never will he find
Again on earth such pleasure in his mind :
He goes through shrubbj' walks these friends among,
Love in their looks and honour on the tongue :
Nay, there's a charm bej'ond what nature shows,



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