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But might I give advice to you,
Whom in my fear I love so well,
From men of pensive virtue go,
Dread beings! and your empire show
On hearts like that of Peter Bell!
Your presence I have often felt
In darkness and the stormy night;
And well I know, if need there be,
Ye can put forth your agency
When earth is calm, and heaven is bright.
Then, coming from the wayward world,
That powerful world in which ye dwell,
Come, spirits of the mind! and try
To-night, beneath the moonlight sky,
What may be done with Peter Bell!
Oh, would that some more skilful voice
My further labour might prevent !
Kind listeners, that around me sit,
I feel that I am all unfit
For such high argument.
I've played and danced with my narration
I loitered long ere I began:
Ye waited then on my good pleasure,
Pour out indulgence still, in measure
As liberal as ye can!
Our travellers, ye remember well,
Are thridding a sequestered lane;
And Peter many tricks is trying,
And many anodynes applying,
To ease his conscience of its pain.
By this his heart is lighter far;
And, finding that he can account
So clearly for that crimson stain,
His evil spirit up again
Does like an empty bucket mount.
And Peter is a deep logician Who hath no lack of wit mercurial; “Blood drops-leaves rustle—yet,” quoth he, “This poor man never, but for me, Could have had Christian burial.
“And, say the best you can, 'tis plain,
That here hath been some wicked dealing;
No doubt the devil in me wrought;
I'm not the man who could have thought
An ass like this was worth the stealing!”
So from his pocket Peter takes
His shining horn tobacco-box;
And, in a light and careless way,
As men who with their purpose play,
Upon the lid he knocks.
Let them whose voice can stop the clouds-
Whose cunning eye can see the wind
Tell to a curious world the cause
Why, making here a sudden pause,
The ass turned round his head and grinned.
Appalling process! I have marked
The like on heath-in lonely wood,
And, verily, have seldom met
A spectacle more hideous-yet
It suited Peter's present mood.
And, grinning in his turn, his teeth
He in jocose defiance showed-
When, to confound his spiteful mirth,
A murmur, pent within the earth,
In the dead earth beneath the road,
Rolled audibly!—it swept along-
A muffled noise-a rumbling sound !
"Twas by a troop of miners made,
Plying with gunpowder their trade,
Some twenty fathoms underground.
Small cause of dire effect !—for, surely,
It ever mortal, king or cotter,
Believed that earth was charged to quake
And yawn for his unworthy sake,
"Twas Peter Bell the potter!
But, as an oak in breathless air
Will stand though to the centre hewn;
Or as the weakest things, if frost
Have stiffened them, maintain their post;
So he, beneath the gazing moon!
Meanwhile the pair have reached a spot
Where, sheltered by a rocky cove,
A little chapel stands alone,
With greenest ivy overgrown,
And tufted with an ivy grove.
Dying insensibly away
From human thoughts and purposes,
The building seems, wall, roof, and tower,
To bow to some transforming power,
And blend with the surrounding trees.
Deep-sighing as he passed along,
Quoth Peter, “In the shire of Fife,
Mid such a ruin, following still
From land to land a lawless will,
I married my sixth wite!”
The unheeding ass moves slowly on,
And now is passing by an inn
Brimful of a carousing crew,
That make, with curses not a few,
An uproar and a drunken din.
I cannot well express the thoughts
Which Peter in those noises found ;-
A stifling power compressed his frame,
As if confusing darkness came
Over that dull and dreary sound.
For well did Peter know the sound;
The language of those drunken joys
To him, a jovial soul, I ween,
But a few hours ago, had been
A gladsome and a welcome noise.
Now, turned adrift into the past,
He finds no solace in his course;
Like planet-stricken men of yore,
He trembles, smitten to the core
By strong compunction and remorse.
But, more than all, his heart is stung
To think of one, almost a child;
A sweet and playful Highland girl,
As light and beauteous as a squirrel,
As beauteous and as wild !
A lonely house her dwelling was,
A cottage in a heathy dell;
And she put on her gown of green,
And left her mother at sixteen,
And followed Peter Bell.
But many good and pious thoughts
Had she; and, in the kirk to pray,
Two long Scotch miles, through rain or snow,
To kirk she had been used to go,
Twice every Sabbath-day.
And when she followed Peter Bell
It was to lead an honest life;
For he, with tongue not used to falter,
Had pledged his troth before the altar
To love her as his wedded wife.
A mother's hope is hers: but soon
She drooped and pined like one forlorn;
From Scripture she a name did borrow;
Benoni, or the child of sorrow,
She called her babe unborn.
For she had learned how Peter lived,
And took it in most grievous part;
She to the very bone was worn,
And, ere that little child was born,
Died of a broken heart.
And now the spirits of the mind
Are busy with poor Peter Bell;
Upon the rights of visual sense
Usurping, with a prevalence
More terrible than magic spell.