November 12 1814: Wordsworth’s ‘Yarrow Visited’

On November 12 1814, William Wordsworth writes to Robert Pearce Gillies, who has said some nice things about Wordsworth’s poem ‘Yarrow Visited’. 

Rydal Mount, Nov. 12, 18 14.

You are a most indulgent and good-natured critic, or I think you would hardly have been so much pleased with Yarrow Visited, We think it heavier than my things generally are, and nothing but a wish to show to Mr. Hogg that my inclination towards him, and his proposed work, were favourable, could have induced me to part with it in that state. I have composed three new stanzas in place of the three first, and another to be inserted before the two last, and have made some alterations in other parts; therefore, when you see Mr. Hogg, beg from me that he will not print the poem till he has read the copy which I have added to Miss E. Wilson’s MS., as I scarcely doubt, notwithstanding the bias of first impressions, that he will prefer it.

In the same MS. you will find a sonnet addressed to yourself, which I should have mentioned before, but for a reason of the same kind as kept you silent on the subject of yours. I am not a little concerned that you continue to suffer from morbid feelings, and still more that you regard them as incurable. . . . But this I can confidently say, that poetry and the poetic spirit will either help you, or harm you, as you use them. If you find in yourself more of the latter effect than of the former, forswear the Muses, and apply tooth and nail to law, to mathematics, to mechanics, to anything, only escape from your insidious foe. But if you are benefited by your intercourse with the lyre, then give yourself up to it, with the enthusiasm which I am sure is natural to you. I should like to be remembered to Mr. Lappenberg, to Mr. Hogg, and our friends in Queen Street, of course. Mr. Sharpe, I hope, does not forget me. Adieu, most faithfully, and
with great respect.


William Wordsworth.

Yarrow Visited. September, 1814

And is this—Yarrow?—This the stream
Of which my fancy cherished,
So faithfully, a waking dream?
An image that hath perished!
O that some Minstrel’s harp were near,
To utter notes of gladness,
And chase this silence from the air,
That fills my heart with sadness!

Yet why?—a silvery current flows
With uncontrolled meanderings;
Nor have these eyes by greener hills
Been soothed, in all my wanderings.
And, through her depths, Saint Mary’s Lake
Is visibly delighted;
For not a feature of those hills
Is in the mirror slighted.

A blue sky bends o’er Yarrow vale,
Save where that pearly whiteness
Is round the rising sun diffused,
A tender hazy brightness;
Mild dawn of promise! that excludes
All profitless dejection;
Though not unwilling here to admit
A pensive recollection.

Where was it that the famous Flower
Of Yarrow Vale lay bleeding?
His bed perchance was yon smooth mound
On which the herd is feeding:
And haply from this crystal pool,
Now peaceful as the morning,
The Water-wraith ascended thrice—
And gave his doleful warning.

Delicious is the Lay that sings
The haunts of happy Lovers,
The path that leads them to the grove,
The leafy grove that covers:
And Pity sanctifies the Verse
That paints, by strength of sorrow,
The unconquerable strength of love;
Bear witness, rueful Yarrow!

But thou, that didst appear so fair
To fond imagination,
Dost rival in the light of day
Her delicate creation:
Meek loveliness is round thee spread,
A softness still and holy;
The grace of forest charms decayed,
And pastoral melancholy.

That region left, the vale unfolds
Rich groves of lofty stature,
With Yarrow winding through the pomp
Of cultivated nature;
And, rising from those lofty groves,
Behold a Ruin hoary!
The shattered front of Newark’s Towers,
Renowned in Border story.

Fair scenes for childhood’s opening bloom,
For sportive youth to stray in;
For manhood to enjoy his strength;
And age to wear away in!
Yon cottage seems a bower of bliss,
A covert for protection
Of tender thoughts, that nestle there—
The brood of chaste affection.

How sweet, on this autumnal day,
The wild-wood fruits to gather,
And on my True-love’s forehead plant
A crest of blooming heather!
And what if I enwreathed my own!
‘Twere no offence to reason;
The sober Hills thus deck their brows
To meet the wintry season.

I see—but not by sight alone,
Loved Yarrow, have I won thee;
A ray of fancy still survives—
Her sunshine plays upon thee!
Thy ever-youthful waters keep
A course of lively pleasure;
And gladsome notes my lips can breathe,
Accordant to the measure.

The vapours linger round the Heights,
They melt, and soon must vanish;
One hour is theirs, nor more is mine—
Sad thought, which I would banish,
But that I know, where’er I go,
Thy genuine image, Yarrow!
Will dwell with me—to heighten joy,
And cheer my mind in sorrow.




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