Written at Town-end, Grasmere. The first eight stanzas were
composed extempore one winter evening in the cottage; when, after
having tired myself with labouring at an awkward passage in "The
Brothers," I started with a sudden impulse to this to get rid of
the other, and finished it in a day or two. My Sister and I had
past the place a few weeks before in our wild winter journey from
Sockburn on the banks of the Tees to Grasmere. A peasant whom we
met near the spot told us the story so far as concerned the name
of the Well, and the Hart, and pointed out the Stones. Both the
Stones and the Well are objects that may easily be missed; the
tradition by this time may be extinct in the neighbourhood: the
man who related it to us was very old.
Hart-Leap Well is a small spring of water, about five miles from
Richmond in Yorkshire, and near the side of the road that leads
from Richmond to Askrigg. Its name is derived from a remarkable
Chase, the memory of which is preserved by the monuments spoken of
in the second Part of the following Poem, which monuments do now
exist as I have there described them.
THE Knight had ridden down from Wensley Moor
With the slow motion of a summer's cloud,
And now, as he approached a vassal's door,
"Bring forth another horse!" he cried aloud.
"Another horse!"--That shout the vassal heard
And saddled his best Steed, a comely grey;
Sir Walter mounted him; he was the third
Which he had mounted on that glorious day.
Joy sparkled in the prancing courser's eyes;
The horse and horseman are a happy pair;
But, though Sir Walter like a falcon flies,
There is a doleful silence in the air.
A rout this morning left Sir Walter's Hall,
That as they galloped made the echoes roar;
But horse and man are vanished, one and all;
Such race, I think, was never seen before.
Sir Walter, restless as a veering wind,
Calls to the few tired dogs that yet remain:
Blanch, Swift, and Music, noblest of their kind,
Follow, and up the weary mountain strain.
The Knight hallooed, he cheered and chid them on
With suppliant gestures and upbraidings stern;
But breath and eyesight fail; and, one by one,
The dogs are stretched among the mountain fern.
Where is the throng, the tumult of the race?
The bugles that so joyfully were blown?
--This chase it looks not like an earthly chase;
Sir Walter and the Hart are left alone.
The poor Hart toils along the mountainside;
I will not stop to tell how far he fled,
Nor will I mention by what death he died;
But now the Knight beholds him lying dead.
Dismounting, then, he leaned against a thorn;
He had no follower, dog, nor man, nor boy:
He neither cracked his whip, nor blew his horn,
But gazed upon the spoil with silent joy.
Close to the thorn on which Sir Walter leaned,
Stood his dumb partner in this glorious feat;
Weak as a lamb the hour that it is yeaned;
And white with foam as if with cleaving sleet.
Upon his side the Hart was lying stretched:
His nostril touched a spring beneath a hill,
And with the last deep groan his breath had fetched
The waters of the spring were trembling still.
And now, too happy for repose or rest,
(Never had living man such joyful lot!)
Sir Walter walked all round, north, south, and west,
And gazed and gazed upon that darling spot.
And climbing up the hill--(it was at least
Four roods of sheer ascent) Sir Walter found
Three several hoof-marks which the hunted Beast
Had left imprinted on the grassy ground.
Sir Walter wiped his face, and cried, "Till now
Such sight was never seen by human eyes:
Three leaps have borne him from this lofty brow,
Down to the very fountain where he lies.
"I'll build a pleasure-house upon this spot,
And a small arbour, made for rural joy;
'Twill be the traveller's shed, the pilgrim's cot,
A place of love for damsels that are coy.
"A cunning artist will I have to frame
A basin for that fountain in the dell!
And they who do make mention of the same,
From this day forth, shall call it HART-LEAP WELL.
"And, gallant Stag! to make thy praises known,
Another monument shall here be raised;
Three several pillars, each a rough-hewn stone,
And planted where thy hoofs the turf have grazed.
"And, in the summer-time when days are long,
I will come hither with my Paramour;
And with the dancers and the minstrel's song
We will make merry in that pleasant bower.
"Till the foundations of the mountains fail
My mansion with its arbour shall endure;--
The joy of them who till the fields of Swale,
And them who dwell among the woods of Ure!"
Then home he went, and left the Hart, stone-dead,
With breathless nostrils stretched above the spring.
--Soon did the Knight perform what he had said;
And far and wide the fame thereof did ring.
Ere thrice the Moon into her port had steered,
A cup of stone received the living well;
Three pillars of rude stone Sir Walter reared,
And built a house of pleasure in the dell.
And near the fountain, flowers of stature tall
With trailing plants and trees were intertwined,--
Which soon composed a little sylvan hall,
A leafy shelter from the sun and wind.
And thither, when the summer days were long,
Sir Walter led his wondering Paramour;
And with the dancers and the minstrel's song
Made merriment within that pleasant bower.
The Knight, Sir Walter, died in course of time,
And his bones lie in his paternal vale.--
But there is matter for a second rhyme,
And I to this would add another tale.
THE moving accident is not my trade;
To freeze the blood I have no ready arts:
'Tis my delight, alone in summer shade,
To pipe a simple song for thinking hearts. 0
As I from Hawes to Richmond did repair,
It chanced that I saw standing in a dell
Three aspens at three corners of a square;
And one, not four yards distant, near a well.
What this imported I could ill divine:
And, pulling now the rein my horse to stop,
I saw three pillars standing in a line,--
The last stone-pillar on a dark hill-top.
The trees were grey, with neither arms nor head;
Half wasted the square mound of tawny green;
So that you just might say, as then I said,
"Here in old time the hand of man hath been."
I looked upon the hill both far and near,
More doleful place did never eye survey;
It seemed as if the spring-time came not here,
And Nature here were willing to decay.
I stood in various thoughts and fancies lost,
When one, who was in shepherd's garb attired,
Came up the hollow:--him did I accost,
And what this place might be I then inquired.
The Shepherd stopped, and that same story told
Which in my former rhyme I have rehearsed.
"A jolly place," said he, "in times of old!
But something ails it now: the spot is curst.
"You see these lifeless stumps of aspen wood--
Some say that they are beeches, others elms--
These were the bower; and here a mansion stood,
The finest palace of a hundred realms!
"The arbour does its own condition tell;
You see the stones, the fountain, and the stream;
But as to the great Lodge! you might as well
Hunt half a day for a forgotten dream.
"There's neither dog nor heifer, horse nor sheep,
Will wet his lips within that cup of stone;
And oftentimes, when all are fast asleep,
This water doth send forth a dolorous groan.
"Some say that here a murder has been done,
And blood cries out for blood: but, for my part,
I've guessed, when I've been sitting in the sun,
That it was all for that unhappy Hart.
"What thoughts must through the creature's brain have past!
Even from the topmost stone, upon the steep,
Are but three bounds--and look, Sir, at this last--
O Master! it has been a cruel leap.
"For thirteen hours he ran a desperate race;
And in my simple mind we cannot tell
What cause the Hart might have to love this place,
And come and make his deathbed near the well.
"Here on the grass perhaps asleep he sank,
Lulled by the fountain in the summer-tide;
This water was perhaps the first he drank
When he had wandered from his mother's side.
"In April here beneath the flowering thorn
He heard the birds their morning carols sing;
And he, perhaps, for aught we know, was born
Not half a furlong from that self-same spring.
"Now, here is neither grass nor pleasant shade;
The sun on drearier hollow never shone;
So will it be, as I have often said,
Till trees, and stones, and fountain, all are gone."
"Grey-headed Shepherd, thou hast spoken well;
Small difference lies between thy creed and mine:
This Beast not unobserved by Nature fell;
His death was mourned by sympathy divine.
"The Being, that is in the clouds and air,
That is in the green leaves among the groves,
Maintains a deep and reverential care
For the unoffending creatures whom he loves.
"The pleasure-house is dust:--behind, before,
This is no common waste, no common gloom;
But Nature, in due course of time, once more
Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom.
"She leaves these objects to a slow decay,
That what we are, and have been, may be known;
But at the coming of the milder day,
These monuments shall all be overgrown.
"One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,
Taught both by what she shows, and what conceals;
Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels."