Robert Southey

The Retrospect

CORSTON, twelve years in various fortunes fled
Have passed with restless progress o’er my head,
Since in thy vale, beneath the master’s rule,
I dwelt an inmate of the village school.
Yet still will Memory’s busy eye retrace
Each little vestige of the well-known place;
Each wonted haunt and scene of youthful joy,
Where merriment has cheered the careless boy;
Well pleased will Fancy still the spot survey
Where once he triumphed in the boyish play,
Without one care where every morn he rose,
Where every evening sunk to calm repose.

Large was the house, though fallen, in course of fate,
From its old grandeur and manorial state.
Lord of the manor, here the jovial squire
Once called his tenants round the crackling fire;
Here, while the glow of joy suffused his face,
He told his ancient exploits in the chase,
And, proud his rival sportsmen to surpass,
He lit again the pipe and filled again the glass.

But now no more was heard at early morn
The echoing clangor of the huntsman’s horn;
No more the eager hounds with deepening cry
Leaped round him as they knew their pastime nigh;
The squire no more obeyed the morning call,
Nor favorite spaniels filled the sportsman’s hall;
For he, the last descendant of his race,
Slept with his fathers, and forgot the chase.
There now in petty empire o’er the school
The mighty master held despotic rule;
Trembling in silence all his deeds we saw,
His look a mandate and his word a law;
Severe his voice, severe and stern his mien,
And wondrous strict he was, and wondrous wise I ween.

*        *        *        *        *

Such was my state in those remembered years,
When two small acres bounded all my fears;
And therefore still with pleasure I recall
The tapestried school; the bright, brown-boarded hall;
The murmuring brook, that every morning saw
The due observance of the cleanly law;
The walnuts, where, when favor would allow,
Full oft I went to search each well-stripped bough;
The crab-tree, which supplied a secret hoard
With roasted crabs to deck the wintry board:
These trifling objects then my heart possessed,	
These trifling objects still remain impressed;
So, when with unskilled hand some idle hind
Carves his rude name within a sapling’s rind,
In after-years the peasant lives to see
The expanding letters grow as grows the tree;
Though every winter’s desolating sway
Shake the hoarse grove, and sweep the leaves away,
That rude inscription uneffaced will last,
Unaltered by the storm or wintry blast.

*        *        *        *        *

Cold was the morn, and bleak the wintry blast
Blew o’er the meadow, when I saw thee last.
My bosom bounded as I wandered round
With silent step the long-remembered ground,
Where I had loitered out so many an hour,
Chased the gay butterfly, and culled the flower,
Sought the swift arrow’s erring course to trace,
Or with mine equals vied amid the chase.
I saw the church where I had slept away
The tedious service of the summer day;
Or, hearing sadly all the preacher told,
In winter waked and shivered with the cold.
Oft have my footsteps roamed the sacred ground
Where heroes, kings, and poets sleep around;
Oft traced the mouldering castle’s ivied wall,
Or aged convent tottering to its fall;
Yet never had my bosom felt such pain,
As, Corston, when I saw thy scenes again;
For many a long-lost pleasure came to view,
For many a long-past sorrow rose anew;
Where whilom all were friends I stood alone,
Unknowing all I saw, of all I saw unknown.

English Poetry - E-mail