Home  »  library  »  poem  »  Pictures from ‘The Deserted Village’

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Pictures from ‘The Deserted Village’

By Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774)

SWEET Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,

Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant’s power.

Here, as I take my solitary rounds

Amidst thy tangling walks and ruined grounds,

And, many a year elapsed, return to view

Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,

Remembrance wakes, with all her busy train,

Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.

In all my wanderings round this world of care,

In all my griefs,—and God has given my share,—

I still had hopes, my latest hours to crown,

Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;

To husband out life’s taper at the close,

And keep the flame from wasting by repose.

I still had hopes—for pride attends us still—

Amidst the swains to show my book-learned skill;

Around my fire an evening group to draw,

And tell of all I felt, and all I saw;

And as a hare whom hounds and horns pursue

Pants to the place from whence at first she flew,

I still had hopes, my long vexations past,

Here to return—and die at home at last.

Oh, blest retirement! friend to life’s decline,

Retreat from care, that never must be mine,

How blest is he who crowns in shades like these

A youth of labor with an age of ease;

Who quits a world where strong temptations try,

And since ’tis hard to combat, learns to fly!

For him no wretches, born to work and weep,

Explore the mine, or tempt the dangerous deep;

No surly porter stands in guilty state,

To spurn imploring famine from the gate:

But on he moves to meet his latter end,

Angels around befriending virtue’s friend;

Bends to the grave with unperceived decay,

While resignation gently slopes the way;

And, all his prospects brightening to the last,

His heaven commences ere the world be past.

Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close

Up yonder hill the village murmur rose.

There, as I passed with careless steps and slow,

The mingling notes came softened from below:

The swain responsive as the milkmaid sung,

The sober herd that lowed to meet their young;

The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool;

The playful children just let loose from school;

The watch-dog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind,

And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind:

These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,

And filled each pause the nightingale had made.

But now the sounds of population fail;

No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale;

No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread,

But all the bloomy flush of life is fled.

All but yon widowed, solitary thing

That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;

She, wretched matron,—forced in age, for bread,

To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,

To pick her wintry fagot from the thorn,

To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn,—

She only left of all the harmless train,

The sad historian of the pensive plain.

Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,

And still where many a garden flower grows wild,

There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,

The village preacher’s modest mansion rose.

A man he was to all the country dear,

And passing rich with forty pounds a year.

Remote from towns he ran his godly race,

Nor e’er had changed, nor wished to change, his place:

Unpracticed he to fawn, or seek for power,

By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;

Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,

More skilled to raise the wretched than to rise.

His house was known to all the vagrant train,—

He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain;

The long-remembered beggar was his guest,

Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;

The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud,

Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed;

The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,

Sate by his fire, and talked the night away,

Wept o’er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,

Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.

Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow,

And quite forgot their vices in their woe;

Careless their merits or their faults to scan,

His pity gave ere charity began.

Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,

And e’en his failings leaned to virtue’s side:

But in his duty prompt at every call,

He watched and wept, he prayed and felt for all.

And as a bird each fond endearment tries

To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,

He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,

Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.

Beside the bed where parting life was laid,

And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed,

The reverend champion stood. At his control,

Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;

Comfort came down, the trembling wretch to raise,

And his last faltering accents whispered praise.

At church, with meek and unaffected grace,

His looks adorned the venerable place;

Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,

And fools who came to scoff remained to pray.

The service past, around the pious man,

With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;

Even children followed, with endearing wile,

And plucked his gown, to share the good man’s smile.

His ready smile a parent’s warmth exprest;

Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distrest;

To them his heart, his love, his griefs, were given,

But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven:

As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,

Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,

Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,

Eternal sunshine settles on its head.

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,

With blossomed furze unprofitably gay,

There in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,

The village master taught his little school.

A man severe he was, and stern to view;

I knew him well, and every truant knew:

Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace

The day’s disasters in his morning face;

Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee,

At all his jokes,—for many a joke had he;

Full well, the busy whisper, circling round,

Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned.

Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,

The love he bore to learning was in fault.

The village all declared how much he knew:

’Twas certain he could write, and cipher too;

Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,

And even the story ran that he could gauge.

In arguing, too, the parson owned his skill,

For even though vanquished he could argue still;

While words of learnèd length and thundering sound,

Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,

And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew

That one small head could carry all he knew.

But past is all his fame. The very spot

Where many a time he triumphed is forgot.

Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,

Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,

Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,

Where graybeard mirth and smiling toil retired,

Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,

And news much older than their ale went round.

Imagination fondly stoops to trace

The parlor splendors of that festive place:

The whitewashed wall, the nicely sanded floor,

The varnished clock that clicked behind the door;

The chest contrived a double debt to pay,

A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;

The pictures placed for ornament and use,

The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;

The hearth, except when winter chilled the day,

With aspen boughs and flowers and fennel gay,

While broken teacups, wisely kept for show,

Ranged o’er the chimney, glistened in a row.

Vain, transitory splendors! could not all

Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall?

Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart

An hour’s importance to the poor man’s heart.

Thither no more the peasant shall repair

To sweet oblivion of his daily care;

No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,

No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;

No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,

Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;

The host himself no longer shall be found

Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;

Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,

Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.

Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain

These simple blessings of the lowly train;

To me more dear, congenial to my heart,

One native charm, than all the gloss of art.

Spontaneous joys where nature has its play,

The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;

Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind,

Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined.

But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,

With all the freaks of wanton wealth arrayed,—

In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,

The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;

And even while fashion’s brightest arts decoy,

The heart, distrusting, asks if this be joy.