Lyrical Ballads Vol II 1800

19. Ruth

When Ruth was left half desolate,
Her Father took another Mate;
And so, not seven years old,
The slighted Child at her own will
Went wandering over dale and hill
In thoughtless freedom bold.

And she had made a pipe of straw
And from that oaten pipe could draw
All sounds of winds and floods;
Had built a bower upon the green,
As if she from her birth had been
An Infant of the woods.

There came a Youth from Georgia's shore,
A military Casque he wore
With splendid feathers drest;
He brought them from the Cherokees;
The feathers nodded in the breeze
And made a gallant crest.

From Indian blood you deem him sprung:
Ah no! he spake the English tongue
And bare a Soldier's name;
And when America was free
From battle and from jeopardy
He cross the ocean came.

With hues of genius on his cheek
In finest tones the Youth could speak.
- While he was yet a Boy
The moon, the glory of the sun,
And streams that murmur as they run
Had been his dearest joy.

He was a lovely Youth! I guess
The panther in the wilderness
Was not so fair as he;
And when he chose to sport and play,
No dolphin ever was so gay
Upon the tropic sea.

Among the Indians he had fought,
And with him many tales he brought
Of pleasure and of fear,
Such tales as told to any Maid
By such a Youth in the green shade
Were perilous to hear

He told of Girls, a happy rout,
Who quit their fold with dance and shout
Their pleasant Indian Town
To gather strawberries all day long,
Returning with a choral song
When day-light is gone down.

He spake of plants divine and strange
That ev'ry day their blossoms change,
Ten thousand lovely hues!
With budding, fading, faded flowers
They stand the wonder of the bowers
From morn to evening dews.

He told of the Magnolia, spread
High as a cloud, high over head!
The Cypress and her spire,
Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam
Cover a hundred leagues and seem
To set the hills on fire.

(The splendid appearance of these scarlet flowers, which are scattered with such profusion over the Hills in the Southern parts of North America is frequently mentioned by Bartram in his Travels.)

The Youth of green Savannahs spake,
And many an endless endless lake
With all its fairy crowds
Of islands that together lie
As quietly as spots of sky
Among the evening clouds.

And then he said "How sweet it were
A fisher or a hunter there,
A gardener in the shade,
Still wandering with an easy mind
To build a household fire and find
A home in every glade."

"What days and what sweet years! Ah me!
Our life were life indeed, with thee
So pass'd in quiet bliss,
And all the while" said he "to know
That we were in a world of woe.
On such an earth as this!"

And then he someitimes interwove
Dear thoughts about a Father's love,
"For there," said he, "are spun
Around the heart such tender ties
That our own children to our eyes
Are dearer than the sun."

"Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me
My helpmate in the woods to be,
Our shed at night to rear;
Or run, my own adopted bride,
A sylvan huntress at my side
And drive the flying deer."

"Beloved Ruth!" No more he said
Sweet Ruth alone at midnight shed
A solitary tear,
She thought again - and did agree
With him to sail across the sea,
And drive the flying deer.

"And now, as fitting is and right,
We in the Church our faith will plight,
A Husband and a Wife."
Even so they did; and I may say
That to sweet Ruth that happy day
Was more than human life.

Through dream and vision did she sink,
Delighted all the while to think
That on those lonesome floods
And green Savannahs she should share
His board with lawful joy, and bear
His name in the wild woods.

But, as you have before been told,
This Stripling, sportive gay and bold,
And, with his dancing crest,
So beautiful, through savage lands
Had roam'd about with vagrant bands
Of Indians in the West.

The wind, the tempest roaring high,
The tumult of a tropic sky
Might well be dangerous food.
For him, a Youth to whom was given
So much of earth so much of Heaven,
And such impetuous blood.

Whatever in those climes he found
Irregular in sight and sound
Did to his mind impart
A kindred impulse, seem'd allied
To his own powers, and justified
The workings of his heart.

Nor less to feed voluptuous thought
The beauteous forms of Nature wrought,
Fair trees and lovely flowers;
The breezes their own languor lent,
The stars had feelings which they sent
Into those magic bowers.

Yet, in his worst pursuits, I ween,
That sometimes there did intervene
Pure hopes of high intent:
For passions link'd to forms so fair
And stately, needs must have their share
Of noble sentiment.

But ill he liv'd, much evil saw
With men to whom no better law
Nor better life was known;
Deliberately and undeceiv'd
Those wild men's vices he receiv'd,
And gave them back his own.

His genius and his moral frame
Were thus impair'd, and he became
The slave of low desires;
A man who without self-controul
Would seek what the degraded soul
Unworthily admires.

And yet he with no feign'd delight
Had woo'd the Maiden, day and night
Had luv'd her, night and morn;
What could he less than love a Maid
Whose heart with so much nature play'd
So kind and so forlorn?

But now the pleasant dream was gone,
No hope, no wish remain'd, not one,
They stirr'd him now no more,
New objects did new pleasure give,
And once again he wish'd to live
As lawless as before.

Meanwhile as thus with him it fared,
They for the voyage were prepared
And went to the sea-shore,
But, when they thither came, the Youth
Deserted his poor Bride, and Ruth
Could never find him more.

"God help thee Ruth!" - Such pains she had
That she in half a year was mad
And in a prison hous'd
And there, exulting in her wrongs,
Among the music of her songs
She fearfully carouz'd.

Yet sometimes milder hours she knew,
Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew,
Nor pastmes of the May,
They all were with her in her cell,
And a wild brook with dhearful knell
Did o'er the pebbles play.

When Ruth three seasons thus had lain
There came a respite to her pain,
She from her prison fled;
But of the Vagrant none took thought,
And where it liked her best she sought
Her shelter and her bread.

Among the fields she breath'd again:
The master-current of her brain
Ran permanent and free,
And to the pleasant Banks of Tone
She took her way, to dwell alone
Under the greenwood tree.

(The Tone is a River of Somersetshire at no great distance from the Quantock Hills. These Hills, which are alluded to a few Stanzas below, are extremely beautiful, and in most places richly covered with Coppice woods.)

The engines of her grief, the tools
That shap'd her sorrow, rocks and pools,
And airs that gently stir
The vernal leaves, she loved them still,
Nor ever tax'd them with the ill
Which had been done to her.

A Barn her winter bed supplies,
But till the warmth of summer skies
And summer days is gone,
(And in this tale we all agree)
She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,
And other home has none.

If she is press'd by want of food
She from her dwelling in the wood
Repairs to a road side,
And there she begs at one steep place,
Where up and down with easy pace
The horseman-travellers ride.

That oaten pipe of hers is mute
Or thrown away, but with the flute
Her loneliness she cheers;
This flute made of a hemock stalk
At evening in his homeward walk
The Quantock Woodman hears.

I, too, have pass'd her on the hills
Setting her little water-mills
By spurts and fountains wild,
Such small machinery as she turn'd
Ere she had wept, ere she had mourn'd
A young and happy Child!

Farewell! and when thy days are told
Ill-fated Ruth! in hallow'd mold
Thy corpse shall buried be,
For thee a funeral bell shall ring,
And all the congregation sing
A Christian psalm for thee.