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Edwin Morris

or; The Lake


This poem first appeared in the seventh edition of the Poems, 1851.

It was written at Llanberis. Several alterations were made in the eighth edition of 1853, since then none, with the exception of "breath" for "breaths" in line 66.

O Me, my pleasant rambles by the lake, My sweet, wild, fresh three-quarters of a year, My one Oasis in the dust and drouth Of city life! I was a sketcher then: See here, my doing: curves of mountain, bridge, Boat, island, ruins of a castle, built When men knew how to build, upon a rock, With turrets lichen-gilded like a rock: And here, new-comers in an ancient hold, New-comers from the Mersey, millionaires, Here lived the Hills--a Tudor-chimnied bulk Of mellow brickwork on an isle of bowers. O me, my pleasant rambles by the lake With Edwin Morris and with Edward Bull The curate; he was fatter than his cure.

But Edwin Morris, he that knew the names, Long-learned names of agaric, moss and fern, [1] Who forged a thousand theories of the rocks, Who taught me how to skate, to row, to swim, Who read me rhymes elaborately good, His own--I call'd him Crichton, for he seem'd All-perfect, finish'd to the finger nail.[2] And once I ask'd him of his early life, And his first passion; and he answer'd me; And well his words became him: was he not A full-cell'd honeycomb of eloquence Stored from all flowers? Poet-like he spoke.

"My love for Nature is as old as I; But thirty moons, one honeymoon to that, And three rich sennights more, my love for her. My love for Nature and my love for her, Of different ages, like twin-sisters grew, [3] Twin-sisters differently beautiful. To some full music rose and sank the sun, And some full music seem'd to move and change With all the varied changes of the dark, And either twilight and the day between; For daily hope fulfill'd, to rise again Revolving toward fulfilment, made it sweet To walk, to sit, to sleep, to wake, to breathe." [4]

Or this or something like to this he spoke. Then said the fat-faced curate Edward Bull, "I take it, God made the woman for the man, And for the good and increase of the world, A pretty face is well, and this is well, To have a dame indoors, that trims us up, And keeps us tight; but these unreal ways Seem but the theme of writers, and indeed Worn threadbare. Man is made of solid stuff. I say, God made the woman for the man, And for the good and increase of the world."

"Parson," said I, "you pitch the pipe too low: But I have sudden touches, and can run My faith beyond my practice into his: Tho' if, in dancing after Letty Hill, I do not hear the bells upon my cap, I scarce hear [5] other music: yet say on. What should one give to light on such a dream?" I ask'd him half-sardonically. "Give? Give all thou art," he answer'd, and a light Of laughter dimpled in his swarthy cheek; "I would have hid her needle in my heart, To save her little finger from a scratch No deeper than the skin: my ears could hear Her lightest breaths: her least remark was worth The experience of the wise. I went and came; Her voice fled always thro' the summer land; I spoke her name alone. Thrice-happy days! The flower of each, those moments when we met, The crown of all, we met to part no more."

Were not his words delicious, I a beast To take them as I did? but something jarr'd; Whether he spoke too largely; that there seem'd A touch of something false, some self-conceit, Or over-smoothness: howsoe'er it was, He scarcely hit my humour, and I said:--

"Friend Edwin, do not think yourself alone Of all men happy. Shall not Love to me, As in the Latin song I learnt at school, Sneeze out a full God-bless-you right and left? [6] But you can talk: yours is a kindly vein: I have I think--Heaven knows--as much within; Have or should have, but for a thought or two, That like a purple beech [7] among the greens Looks out of place: 'tis from no want in her: It is my shyness, or my self-distrust, Or something of a wayward modern mind Dissecting passion. Time will set me right."

So spoke I knowing not the things that were. Then said the fat-faced curate, Edward Bull: "God made the woman for the use of man, And for the good and increase of the world". And I and Edwin laugh'd; and now we paused About the windings of the marge to hear The soft wind blowing over meadowy holms And alders, garden-isles [8]; and now we left The clerk behind us, I and he, and ran By ripply shallows of the lisping lake, Delighted with the freshness and the sound. But, when the bracken rusted on their crags, My suit had wither'd, nipt to death by him That was a God, and is a lawyer's clerk, The rentroll Cupid of our rainy isles. [9]

'Tis true, we met; one hour I had, no more: She sent a note, the seal an _Elle vous suit_, [10] The close "Your Letty, only yours"; and this Thrice underscored. The friendly mist of morn Clung to the lake. I boated over, ran My craft aground, and heard with beating heart The Sweet-Gale rustle round the shelving keel; And out I stept, and up I crept: she moved, Like Proserpine in Enna, gathering flowers: [11] Then low and sweet I whistled thrice; and she, She turn'd, we closed, we kiss'd, swore faith, I breathed In some new planet: a silent cousin stole Upon us and departed: "Leave," she cried, "O leave me!" "Never, dearest, never: here I brave the worst:" and while we stood like fools Embracing, all at once a score of pugs And poodles yell'd within, and out they came Trustees and Aunts and Uncles. "What, with him! "Go" (shrill'd the cottonspinning chorus) "him!" I choked. Again they shriek'd the burthen "Him!" Again with hands of wild rejection "Go!-- Girl, get you in!" She went--and in one month [12] They wedded her to sixty thousand pounds, To lands in Kent and messuages in York, And slight Sir Robert with his watery smile And educated whisker. But for me, They set an ancient creditor to work: It seems I broke a close with force and arms: There came a mystic token from the king To greet the sheriff, needless courtesy! I read, and fled by night, and flying turn'd: Her taper glimmer'd in the lake below: I turn'd once more, close-button'd to the storm; So left the place, [13] left Edwin, nor have seen Him since, nor heard of her, nor cared to hear. Nor cared to hear? perhaps; yet long ago I have pardon'd little Letty; not indeed, It may be, for her own dear sake but this, She seems a part of those fresh days to me; For in the dust and drouth of London life She moves among my visions of the lake, While the prime swallow dips his wing, or then While the gold-lily blows, and overhead The light cloud smoulders on the summer crag.

[Footnote 1: Agaric (some varieties are deadly) is properly the fungus on the larch; it then came to mean fungus generally. Minshew calls it "a white soft mushroom". See Halliwell, 'Dict. of Archaic and Provincial Words, sub vocent'.]

[Footnote 2: The Latin factus 'ad unguem'. For Crichton, a half-mythical figure, see Tytler's 'Life' of him.]

[Footnote 3: 1851. Of different ages, like twin-sisters throve.]

[Footnote 4: 1853. To breathe, to wake.]

[Footnote 5: 1872. Have.]

[Footnote 6: The reference is to the 'Acme' and 'Septimius' of Catullus, xliv.--

Hoc ut dixit, Amor, sinistram, ut ante, Dextram sternuit approbationem.]

[Footnote 7: 1851. That like a copper beech.]

[Footnote 8: 1851.

garden-isles; and now we ran By ripply shallows.]

[Footnote 9: 1851. The rainy isles.]

[Footnote 10: Cf. Byron, 'Don Juan', i., xcvii.:--

The seal a sunflower--'elle vous suit partout'.]

[Footnote 11: 'Cf'. Milton, 'Par. Lost', iv., 268-9:--

Not that fair field Of Enna where Proserpine gathering flowers ... Was gather'd.]

[Footnote 12: 1851.

"Go Sir!" Again they shrieked the burthen "Him!" Again with hands of wild rejection "Go! Girl, get you in" to her--and in one month, etc.]

[Footnote 13: 1851.

I read and wish'd to crush the race of man, And fled by night; turn'd once upon the hills; Her taper glimmer'd in the lake; and then I left the place, etc.]


Lord Alfred Tennyson

Early Poems

Suppressed Poems

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