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William Wordsworth
Complete Poetical Works

MEMORIALS OF A TOUR ON THE CONTINENT

XI

ON APPROACHING THE STAUB-BACH, LAUTERBRUNNEN

UTTERED by whom, or how inspired--designed
For what strange service, does this concert reach
Our ears, and near the dwellings of mankind!
'Mid fields familiarized to human speech?--
No Mermaid's warble--to allay the wind
Driving some vessel toward a dangerous beach--
More thrilling melodies; Witch answering Witch,
To chant a love-spell, never intertwined
Notes shrill and wild with art more musical:
Alas! that from the lips of abject Want
Or Idleness in tatters mendicant
The strain should flow--free Fancy to enthral,
And with regret and useless pity haunt
This bold, this bright, this sky-born, WATERFALL!

NOTE

14 "The Staub-bach" is a narrow Stream, which, after a long course on the heights, comes to the sharp edge of a somewhat overhanging precipice, overleaps it with a bound, and, after a fall of 930 feet, forms again a rivulet. The vocal powers of these musical Beggars may seem to be exaggerated; but this wild and savage air was utterly unlike any sounds I had ever heard; the notes reached me from a distance, and on what occasion they were sung I could not guess, only they seemed to belong, in some way or other, to the Waterfall--and reminded me of religious services chanted to Streams and Fountains in Pagan times. Mr. Southey has thus accurately characterised the peculiarity of this music: "While we were at the Waterfall, some half-score peasants, chiefly women and girls, assembled just out of reach of the Spring, and set up-- surely, the wildest chorus that ever was heard by human ears,--a song not of articulate sounds, but in which the voice was used as a mere instrument of music, more flexible than any which art could produce,--sweet, powerful, and thrilling beyond description."--See Notes to "A Tale of Paraguay."