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Poem by Robert Southey


Jaspar was poor, and want and vice
Had made his heart like stone,
And Jaspar look'd with envious eyes
On riches not his own.

On plunder bent abroad he went
Towards the close of day,
And loitered on the lonely road
Impatient for his prey.

No traveller came, he loiter'd long
And often look'd around,
And paus'd and listen'd eagerly
To catch some coming sound.

He sat him down beside the stream
That crossed the lonely way,
So fair a scene might well have charm'd
All evil thoughts away;

He sat beneath a willow tree
That cast a trembling shade,
The gentle river full in front
A little island made,

Where pleasantly the moon-beam shone
Upon the poplar trees,
Whose shadow on the stream below
Play'd slowly to the breeze.

He listen'd--and he heard the wind
That waved the willow tree;
He heard the waters flow along
And murmur quietly.

He listen'd for the traveller's tread,
The nightingale sung sweet,--
He started up, for now he heard
The sound of coming feet;

He started up and graspt a stake
And waited for his prey;
There came a lonely traveller
And Jaspar crost his way.

But Jaspar's threats and curses fail'd
The traveller to appal,
He would not lightly yield the purse
That held his little all.

Awhile he struggled, but he strove
With Jaspar's strength in vain;
Beneath his blows he fell and groan'd,
And never spoke again.

He lifted up the murdered man
And plunged him in the flood,
And in the running waters then
He cleansed his hands from blood.

The waters closed around the corpse
And cleansed his hands from gore,
The willow waved, the stream flowed on
And murmured as before.

There was no human eye had seen
The blood the murderer spilt,
And Jaspar's conscience never knew
The avenging goad of guilt.

And soon the ruffian had consum'd
The gold he gain'd so ill,
And years of secret guilt pass'd on
And he was needy still.

One eve beside the alehouse fire
He sat as it befell,
When in there came a labouring man
Whom Jaspar knew full well.

He sat him down by Jaspar's side
A melancholy man,
For spite of honest toil, the world
Went hard with Jonathan.

His toil a little earn'd, and he
With little was content,
But sickness on his wife had fallen
And all he had was spent.

Then with his wife and little ones
He shared the scanty meal,
And saw their looks of wretchedness,
And felt what wretches feel.

That very morn the Landlord's power
Had seized the little left,
And now the sufferer found himself
Of every thing bereft.

He lent his head upon his hand,
His elbow on his knee,
And so by Jaspar's side he sat
And not a word said he.

Nay--why so downcast? Jaspar cried,
Come--cheer up Jonathan!
Drink neighbour drink! 'twill warm thy heart,
Come! come! take courage man!

He took the cup that Jaspar gave
And down he drain'd it quick
I have a wife, said Jonathan,
And she is deadly sick.

She has no bed to lie upon,
I saw them take her bed.
And I have children--would to God
That they and I were dead!

Our Landlord he goes home to night
And he will sleep in peace.
I would that I were in my grave
For there all troubles cease.

In vain I pray'd him to forbear
Tho' wealth enough has he--
God be to him as merciless
As he has been to me!

When Jaspar saw the poor man's soul
On all his ills intent,
He plied him with the heartening cup
And with him forth he went.

This landlord on his homeward road
'Twere easy now to meet.
The road is lonesome--Jonathan,
And vengeance, man! is sweet.

He listen'd to the tempter's voice
The thought it made him start.
His head was hot, and wretchedness
Had hardened now his heart.

Along the lonely road they went
And waited for their prey,
They sat them down beside the stream
That crossed the lonely way.

They sat them down beside the stream
And never a word they said,
They sat and listen'd silently
To hear the traveller's tread.

The night was calm, the night was dark,
No star was in the sky,
The wind it waved the willow boughs,
The stream flowed quietly.

The night was calm, the air was still,
Sweet sung the nightingale,
The soul of Jonathan was sooth'd,
His heart began to fail.

'Tis weary waiting here, he cried,
And now the hour is late,--
Methinks he will not come to night,
'Tis useless more to wait.

Have patience man! the ruffian said,
A little we may wait,
But longer shall his wife expect
Her husband at the gate.

Then Jonathan grew sick at heart,
My conscience yet is clear,
Jaspar--it is not yet too late--
I will not linger here.

How now! cried Jaspar, why I thought
Thy conscience was asleep.
No more such qualms, the night is dark,
The river here is deep,

What matters that, said Jonathan,
Whose blood began to freeze,
When there is one above whose eye
The deeds of darkness sees?

We are safe enough, said Jaspar then
If that be all thy fear;
Nor eye below, nor eye above
Can pierce the darkness here.

That instant as the murderer spake
There came a sudden light;
Strong as the mid-day sun it shone,
Though all around was night.

It hung upon the willow tree,
It hung upon the flood,
It gave to view the poplar isle
And all the scene of blood.

The traveller who journies there
He surely has espied
A madman who has made his home
Upon the river's side.

His cheek is pale, his eye is wild,
His look bespeaks despair;
For Jaspar since that hour has made
His home unshelter'd there.

And fearful are his dreams at night
And dread to him the day;
He thinks upon his untold crime
And never dares to pray.

The summer suns, the winter storms,
O'er him unheeded roll,
For heavy is the weight of blood
Upon the maniac's soul. 

Robert Southey

Robert Southey's other poems:
  1. For the Cenotaph at Ermenonville
  2. St. Bartholomews Day
  3. For a Tablet at Penshurst
  4. For a Tablet at Silbury Hill
  5. For a Monument at Taunton

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