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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.


The Desolate Village

By John Wilson (1720–1789)

SWEET village! on thy pastoral hill

Arrayed in sunlight sad and still,

As if beneath the harvest-moon,

Thy noiseless homes were sleeping!

It is the merry month of June,

And creatures all of air and earth

Should now their holiday of mirth

With dance and song be keeping.

But, loveliest village! silent thou,

As cloud wreathed o’er the morning’s brow,

When light is faintly breaking,

And midnight’s voice afar is lost,

Like the wailing of a wearied ghost,

The shades of earth forsaking.


Sweet Woodburn! like a cloud that name

Comes floating o’er my soul!

Although thy beauty still survive,

One look hath changed the whole.

The gayest village of the gay

Beside thy own sweet river,

Wert thou on week or Sabbath day!

So bathed in the blue light of joy,

As if no trouble could destroy

Peace doomed to last forever.

Now in the shadow of thy trees

Still lovely in the tainted breeze,

The fell plague-spirit grimly lies

And broods, as in despite

Of uncomplaining lifelessness,

On the troops of silent shades that press

Into the churchyard’s cold recess,

From that region of delight.

Last summer from the school-house door,

When the glad play-bell was ringing,

What shoals of bright-haired elves would pour,

Like small waves racing on the shore,

In dance of rapture singing!

Oft by yon little silver well,

Now sleeping in neglected cell,

The village maid would stand,

While resting on the mossy bank

With freshened soul the traveller drank

The cold cup from her hand;

Haply some soldier from the war,

Who would remember long and far

That lily of the land.

And still the green is bright with flowers,

And dancing through the sunny hours,

Like blossoms from enchanted bowers

On a sudden wafted by,

Obedient to the changeful air,

And proudly feeling they are fair,

Glide bird and butterfly.

But where is the tiny hunter-rout

That revelled on with dance and shout

Against their airy prey?

Alas! the fearless linnet sings,

And the bright insect folds its wings

Upon the dewy flower that springs

Above these children’s clay.

And if to yon deserted well

Some solitary maid,

As she was wont at eve, should go,

There silent as her shade

She stands awhile, then sad and slow

Walks home, afraid to think

Of many a loudly laughing ring

That dipped their pitchers in that spring,

And lingered round its brink.


Sweet spire, that crown’st the house of God!

To thee my spirit turns,

While through a cloud the softened light

On thy yellow dial burns.

Ah me! my bosom inly bleeds

To see the deep-worn path that leads

Unto that open gate!

In silent blackness it doth tell

How oft thy little sullen bell

Hath o’er the village tolled its knell,

In beauty desolate.

Oft, wandering by myself at night,

Such spire hath risen in softened light

Before my gladdened eyes,

And as I looked around to see

The village sleeping quietly

Beneath the quiet skies,

Methought that mid her stars so bright,

The moon in placid mirth,

Was not in heaven a holier sight

Than God’s house on the earth.

Sweet image, transient in my soul!

That very bell hath ceased to toll

When the grave receives its dead,

And the last time it slowly swung,

’T was by a dying stripling rung

O’er the sexton’s hoary head!

All silent now from cot or hall

Comes forth the sable funeral.

The pastor is not there!

For yon sweet manse now empty stands,

Nor in its walls will holier hands

Be e’er held up in prayer.