Lyrical Ballads Vol I 1800

07. The Foster Mother's Tale

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A Narration in Dramatic Blank Verse

But that entrance, Mother!

FOSTER-MOTHER

Can no one hear? It is a perilous tale!

MARIA

No one

FOSTER-MOTHER

My husband's father told it me,
Poor old Leoni! - Angels rest his soul!
He was a woodman, and could fell and saw
With lusty arm. You know that huge round beam
Which props the hanging wall of the old chapel?
Beneath that tree, while yet it was a tree
He found a baby wrapt in mosses, lined
With thistle beards, and such small locks of wool
As hang on brambles. Well, he brought him home,
And reared him at the then Lord Velez' cost.
And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,
A pretty boy, but most unteachable -
And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead.
But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes,
And whistled, as he were a bird himself;
And all the autumn 'twas his only play
To get the seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them
With earth and water, on the stumps of trees.
A Friar, who gathered simples in the wood,
A grey-haired man - he loved this little boy,
The boy loved him - and, when the Friar taught him,
He soon could write with the pen: and from that time,
Loved chiefly at the Convent or the Castle.
So he became a very learned youth.
But Oh! poor wretch! - he read, and read, and read,
Till his brain turned - and ere his twentieth year,
He had unlawful thoughts of many things:
And though he prayed, he never loved to pray
With holy men, nor in a holy place -
But yet his speech, it was so soft and sweet,
The late Lord Velez ne'er was wearied with him
And once, as by the North side of the Chapel
They stood together, chained in deep discourse,
The earth heaved under them with such a groan,
That the wall tottered, and had well-nigh fallen
Right on their heads. My Lord was sorely frightened;
A fever seized him, and he made confession
Of all the heretical and lawless talk
Which brought this judgment; so the youth was seized
And cast into that cell. My husband's father
Sobbed like a child - it almost broke his heart;
And once as he was working in the cellar,
He heard a voice distinctly; 'twas the youth's
Who sang a doleful song about green fields,
How sweet it were on a lake or wild savannah,
To hunt for food, and be a naked man,
And wander up and down at liberty.
Leoni doted on the youth, and now
His love grew desperate; and defying death,
He mad that cunning entrance I described:
And the young man escaped.

MARIA

'Tis a sweet tale.
And what became of him?

FOSTER-MOTHER

He went on ship-board
With those bold voyagers, who made discovery
Of golden islands. Leoni's younger brother
Went likewise, and when he returned to Spain,
He told Leoni, that the poor mad youth,
Soon after they arrived in that new world,
In spite of his dissuasion, seized a boat,
And all alone, set sail by silent moonlight
Up a great river, great as any sea,
And ne'er was heard of more: but 'tis supposed,
He lived and died among the savage men.