Home  »  The English Poets  »  Extracts from the Castle of Indolence. Book I

Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 1880–1918.rnVol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake

James Thomson (1700–1748)

Extracts from the Castle of Indolence. Book I

IN lowly dale, fast by a river’s side,

With woody hill o’er hill encompassed round,

A most enchanting wizard did abide,

Than whom a fiend more fell is nowhere found.

It was, I ween, a lovely spot of ground;

And there a season atween June and May,

Half prankt with spring, with summer half imbrowned,

A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,

No living wight could work, ne carèd even for play.

Was nought around but images of rest:

Sleep-soothing groves, and quiet lawns between;

And flowery beds that slumbrous influence kest,

From poppies breathed, and beds of pleasant green,

Where never yet was creeping creature seen.

Meantime, unnumbered glittering streamlets played,

And hurlèd everywhere their waters sheen;

That, as they bickered through the sunny glade,

Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.

Joined to the prattle of the purling rills

Were heard the lowing herds along the vale,

And flocks loud bleating from the distant hills,

And vacant shepherds piping in the dale;

And, now and then, sweet Philomel would wail,

Or stockdoves plain amid the forest deep,

That drowsy rustled to the sighing gale;

And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;

Yet all these sounds yblent inclinèd all to sleep.

Full in the passage of the vale, above,

A sable, silent, solemn forest stood,

Where nought but shadowy forms was seen to move,

As Idless fancied in her dreaming mood;

And up the hills, on either side, a wood

Of blackening pines, aye waving to and fro,

Sent forth a sleepy horror through the blood;

And where this valley winded out, below,

The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow.

A pleasing land of drowsy-head it was,

Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;

And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,

For ever flushing round a summer-sky:

There eke the soft delights, that witchingly

Instil a wanton sweetness through the breast;

And the calm pleasures always hovered nigh;

But whate’er smacked of noyance or unrest,

Was far, far off expelled from this delicious nest.


Straight of these endless numbers, swarming round,

As thick as idle motes in sunny ray,

Not one eftsoons in view was to be found,

But every man strolled off his own glad way;

Wide o’er this ample court’s blank area,

With all the lodges that thereto pertained,

No living creature could be seen to stray;

While solitude, and perfect silence reigned;

So that to think you dreamt you almost was constrained.

As when a shepherd of the Hebrid-Isles,

Placed far amid the melancholy main,

(Whether it be lone fancy him beguiles;

Or that aërial beings sometimes deign

To stand, embodied, to our senses plain)

Sees on the naked hill, or valley low,

The whilst in Ocean Phoebus dips his wain,

A vast assembly moving to and fro,

Then all at once in air dissolves the wondrous show.


Near the pavilions where we slept, still ran

Soft tinkling streams, and dashing waters fell,

And sobbing breezes sighed, and oft began

(So worked the wizard) wintry storms to swell,

As heaven and earth they would together mell;

At doors and windows threatening seemed to call

The demons of the tempest, growling fell,

Yet the least entrance found they none at all:

Whence sweeter grew our sleep secure in massy hall.

And hither Morpheus sent his kindest dreams,

Raising a world of gayer tinct and grace;

O’er which were shadowy cast elysian gleams,

That played, in waving lights, from place to place;

And shed a roseate smile on nature’s face.

Not Titian’s pencil e’er could so array,

So fleece with clouds the pure ethereal space;

Ne could it e’er such melting forms display,

As loose on flowery beds all languishingly lay.

No, fair illusions! artful phantoms, no!

My muse will not attempt your fairy land:

She has no colours that like you can glow:

To catch your vivid scenes too gross her hand.

But sure it is, was ne’er a subtler band

Than these same guileful angel-seeming sprights,

Who thus in dreams voluptuous, soft, and bland,

Poured all the Arabian heaven upon our nights,

And blest them oft besides with more refined delights.


To number up the thousands dwelling here,

An useless were, and eke an endless task;

From kings, and those who at the helm appear,

To gipsies brown in summer-glades who bask.

Yea many a man, perdie, I could unmask,

Whose desk and table make a solemn show,

With tape-ty’d trash, and suits of fools that ask

For place or pension laid in decent row;

But these I passen by, with nameless numbers moe.

Of all the gentle tenants of the place,

There was a man of special grave remark;

A certain tender gloom o’erspread his face,

Pensive, not sad; in thought involv’d, not dark;

As soot this man could sing as morning lark,

And teach the noblest morals of the heart;

But these his talents were yburied stark:

Of the fine stores he nothing would impart,

Which or boon Nature gave, or nature-painting Art.

To noontide shades incontinent he ran,

Where purls the brook with sleep-inviting sound,

Or when Dan Sol to slope his wheels began,

Amid the broom he bask’d him on the ground,

Where the wild thyme and camomile are found;

There would he linger, till the latest ray

Of light fate trembling on the welkin’s bound,

Then homeward thro’ the twilight shadows stray,

Sauntering and slow: so had he passed many a day.

Yet not in thoughtless slumber were they past;

For oft the heavenly fire, that lay conceal’d

Beneath the sleeping embers, mounted fast,

And all its native light anew revealed;

Oft as he travers’d the cerulean field,

And marked the clouds that drove before the wind,

Ten thousand glorious systems would he build,

Ten thousand great ideas fill’d his mind:

But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.

With him was sometimes join’d, in silent walk,

(Profoundly silent, for they never spoke)

One shyer still, who quite detested talk;

Oft stung by spleen, at once away he broke,

To groves of pine and broad o’ershadowing oak;

There inly thrill’d, he wander’d all alone,

And on himself his pensive fury wroke,

Ne ever utter’d word, save when first shone

The glittering star of eve—‘Thank Heaven! the day is done.’