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In every village marked with little spire,
Embowered in trees, and hardly known to fame,
There dwells, in lowly shed, and mean attire,
A matron old, whom we schoolmistress name;
Who boasts unruly brats with birch to tame:
They grieven sore, in piteous durance pent,
Awed by the power of this relentless dame;
And ofttimes, on vagaries idly bent,
For unkempt hair, or task unconned, are sorely shent.
And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
Which learning near her little dome did stowe;
Whilom a twig of small regard to see,
Though now so wide its waving branches flow,
And work the simple vassals mickle woe;
For not a wind might curl the leaves that blew,
But their limbs shuddered, and their pulse beat low;
And as they looked, they found their horror grew, And shaped it into rods, and tingled at the view.
Near to this dome is found a patch so green,
On which the tribe their gambols do display;
And at the door imprisoning board is seen,
Lest weakly wights of smaller size should stray;
Eager, perdie, to bask in sunny day!
The noises intermixed, which thence resound,
Do learning's little tenement betray;
Where sits the dame, disguised in look profound, And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around.
Her cap, far whiter than the driven snow,
Emblem right meet of decency does yield:
Her apron dyed in grain, as blue, I trow,
As is the harebell that adorns the field;
And in her hand, for sceptre, she does wield
Tway birchen sprays; with anxious fear entwined,
With dark distrust, and sad repentance filled ;
And steadfast hate, and sharp affliction joined,
And fury uncontrolled, and chastisement unkind.
A russet stole was o'er her shoulders thrown;
A russet kirtle fenced the nipping air ;
'Twas simple russet, but it was her own;
'T was her own country bred the flock so fair !
'T was her own labour did the fleece prepare;
And, sooth to say, her pupils ranged around,
Through pious awe, did term it passing rare;
For they in gaping wonderment abound,
And think, no doubt, she been the greatest wight on ground.
Albeit ne flattery did corrupt her truth,
Ne pompous title did debauch her ear;
Goody, good woman, gossip, n'aunt, forsooth,
Or dame, the sole additions she did hear;
Yet these she challenged, these she held right dear;
Ne would esteem him act as mought behove,
Who should not honoured eld with these revere;
For never title yet so mean could prove,
But there was eke a mind which did that title love.
One ancient hen she took delight to feed,
The plodding pattern of the busy dame;
Which, ever and anon, impelled by need,
Into her school, begirt with chickens, came;
Such favour did her past deportment claim;
And, if neglect had lavished on the ground
Fragment of bread, she would collect the same;
For well she knew, and quaintly could expound,
Wiat sin it were to waste the smallest crumb she found.
Right well she knew each temper to descry,
To thwart the proud, and the submiss to raise ;
Some with vile copper-prize exalt on high,
And some entice with pittance small of praise;
And other some with baleful sprig she 'frays:
Even absent, she the reins of power doth hold,
While with quaint arts the giddy crowd she sways;
Forewarned, if little bird their pranks behold,
"T will whisper in her ear, and all the scene unfold.
Ah! luckless he, and born beneath the beam
Of evil star! it irks me whilst I write;
As erst the bard by Mulla's silver stream,
Oft, as he told of deadly dolorous plight,
Sighed as he sung, and did in tears indite;
For brandishing the rod, she doth begin
To loose the brogues, the stripling's late delighi;
And down they drop; appears his dainty skin,
Fair as the furry coat of whitest ermilin.
O ruthful scene! when, from a nook obscurt
His little sister doth his peril see,
All playful as she sat, she grows demure;
She finds full soon her wonted spirits flee,
She meditates a prayer to set him free;
Nor gentle pardon could this dame deny
(If gentle pardon could with dames agree)
To her sad grief that swells in either eye,
And wrings her so that all for pity she could die.
No longer can she now her shrieks command;
And hardly she forbears, through awful fear,
To rushen forth, and, with presumptuous hand,
To stay harsh justice in its mid career.
On thee she calls, on thee her parent dear;
(Ah! too remote to ward the shameful blow!)
She sees no kind domestic visage near,
And soon a flood of tears begins to flow,
And gives a loose at last to unavailing woe.
But ab! what pen his piteous plight may trace?
Or what device his loud laments explain-
The form uncouth of his disguised face-
The pallid hue that dyes his looks amain-
The pienteous shower that does his cheek distain
When he, in abject wise, implores the dame,
Ne hopeth aught of sweet reprieve to gain;
Or when from high she levels well her aim,
And, through the thatch, his cries each falling stroke proclaim.
But now Dan Phæbus gains the middle sky,
And liberty unbars her prison door ;
And like a rushing torrent out they fly;
And now the grassy cirque han covered o'er
With boisterous revel rout and wild uproar;
A thousand ways in wanton rings they run.
Heaven shield their short-lived pastimes I implore,
For well may freedom erst so dearly won
Appear to British elf more gladsome than the sun.
See in each sprite some various bent appear!
These rudely carol most incondite lay;
Those sauntering on the green, with jocund leer
Salute the stranger passing on his way ;
Some builden fragile tenements of clay;
Some to the standing lake their courses bend,
With pebbles smooth at duck and drake to play ;
Thilk to the huxter's savoury cottage tond,
In pastry kings and queens the allotted mite to spend.
Enjoy, poor imps! enjoy your sportive trade,
And chase gay flies, and cull the fairest flowers;
For when my bones in grass-green sods are laid,
Oh never may ye taste more careless hours
In knightly castles or in ladies' bowers.
Oh vain to seek delight in earthly thing !
But most in courts, where proud ambition towers;
Deluded wight! wao weens fair peace can spring Beneath the pompous dome of kesar or of king.