Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Bolton Priory

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Bolton Abbey

Bolton Priory

By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

(From The White Doe of Rylstone)

FROM Bolton’s old monastic tower

The bells ring loud with gladsome power;

The sun shines bright; the fields are gay

With people in their best array

Of stole and doublet, hood and scarf,

Along the banks of crystal Wharf,

Through the vale retired and lowly,

Trooping to that summons holy.

And, up among the moorlands, see

What sprinklings of blithe company!

Of lasses and of shepherd grooms,

That down the steep hills force their way

Like cattle through the budding brooms;

Path, or no path, what care they?

And thus in joyous mood they hie

To Bolton’s mouldering Priory.

What would they there?—full fifty years

That sumptuous pile, with all its peers,

Too harshly hath been doomed to taste

The bitterness of wrong and waste:

Its courts are ravaged; but the tower

Is standing with a voice of power,—

That ancient voice which wont to call

To mass or some high festival;

And in the shattered fabric’s heart

Remaineth one protected part,—

A chapel, like a wild-bird’s nest,

Closely embowered and trimly drest;

And thither young and old repair,

This Sabbath-day, for praise and prayer.

Fast the churchyard fills; anon,

Look again, and they all are gone,—

The cluster round the porch, and the folk

Who sat in the shade of the Prior’s Oak!

And scarcely have they disappeared

Ere the prelusive hymn is heard:

With one consent the people rejoice,

Filling the church with a lofty voice!

They sing a service which they feel:

For ’t is the sunrise now of zeal,—

Of a pure faith the vernal prime,—

In great Eliza’s golden time.

A moment ends the fervent din,

And all is hushed, without and within;

For though the priest, more tranquilly,

Recites the holy liturgy,

The only voice which you can hear

Is the river murmuring near.

—When soft!—the dusky trees between,

And down the path through the open green

Where is no living thing to be seen,—

And through yon gateway, where is found,

Beneath the arch with ivy bound,

Free entrance to the churchyard ground,—

Comes gliding in with lovely gleam,

Comes gliding in serene and slow,

Soft and silent as a dream,

A solitary doe!

White she is as lily of June,

And beauteous as the silver moon

When out of sight the clouds are driven,

And she is left alone in heaven;

Or like a ship some gentle day

In sunshine sailing far away,—

A glittering ship, that hath the plain

Of ocean for her own domain.

Lie silent in your graves, ye dead!

Lie quiet in your churchyard bed!

Ye living, tend your holy cares;

Ye multitude, pursue your prayers;

And blame not me if my heart and sight

Are occupied with one delight!

’T is a work for Sabbath hours

If I with this bright creature go:

Whether she be of forest bowers,

From the bowers of earth below;

Or a spirit for one day given,

A pledge of grace from purest heaven.

What harmonious pensive changes

Wait upon her as she ranges

Round and through this pile of state

Overthrown and desolate!

Now a step or two her way

Leads through space of open day,

Where the enamored sunny light

Brightens her that was so bright;

Now doth a delicate shadow fall,—

Falls upon her like a breath,

From some lofty arch or wall,

As she passes underneath;

Now some gloomy nook partakes

Of the glory that she makes,—

High-ribbed vault of stone, or cell

With perfect cunning framed as well

Of stone, and ivy, and the spread

Of the elder’s bushy head;

Some jealous and forbidding cell,

That doth the living stars repel,

And where no flower hath leave to dwell.

The presence of this wandering doe

Fills many a damp, obscure recess

With lustre of a saintly show;

And, reappearing, she no less

Sheds on the flowers that round her blow

A more than sunny liveliness.

But say, among these holy places,

Which thus assiduously she paces,

Comes she with a votary’s task,

Rite to perform or boon to ask?

Fair pilgrim! harbors she a sense

Of sorrow or of reverence?

Can she be grieved for choir or shrine,

Crushed as if by wrath divine?

For what survives of house where God

Was worshipped, or where man abode;

For old magnificence undone,

Or for the gentler work begun

By Nature, softening and concealing,

And busy with a hand of healing?

Mourns she for lordly chamber’s hearth,

That to the sapling ash gives birth;

For dormitory’s length laid bare,

Where the wild rose blossoms fair;

Or altar, whence the cross was rent,

Now rich with mossy ornament?

—She sees a warrior carved in stone,

Among the thick weeds, stretched alone,—

A warrior, with his shield of pride

Cleaving humbly to his side,

And hands in resignation prest,

Palm to palm, on his tranquil breast;

As little she regards the sight

As a common creature might:

If she be doomed to inward care,

Or service, it must lie elsewhere.

—But hers are eyes serenely bright,

And on she moves,—with pace how light!

Nor spares to stoop her head, and taste

The dewy turf with flowers bestrown;

And thus she fares, until at last

Beside the ridge of grassy grave

In quietness she lays her down;

Gentle as a weary wave

Sinks, when the summer breeze hath died,

Against an anchored vessel’s side;

Even so, without distress, doth she

Lie down in peace, and lovingly.