The poem below is by William Wordsworth. It is entitled 'A Narrow Girdle of Rough Stones and Crags.' I tried to place his poem in italics and the verses of my poem alternating with his, but was unable to do this with the fonts available at this site. I have taken Wordsworth’s poem and directed its content toward my own life.
I remember my mother reading Wordsworth in the 1950s, but I did not read him seriously until the early 1990s when I was nearly fifty. The events in my poem took place, but in quite a different way than I have conveyed them here. I have taken some poetic license in writing what follows; or you might say this poem is semi-autobiographical. I write this prose-poem on the eve of another school year in the northern hemisphere as primary and high school students go back to school tomorrow. Down here in Tasmania where I now live I do not think about teaching any more since I am retired.–Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, September 4th,2005.
A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags,
A rude and natural causeway, interposed
Between the water and a winding slope
Of copse and thicket, leaves the eastern shore
Of Grasmere safe in its own privacy:
It was a few hundred yards from the big lake.
I’d never measured it exactly, but a straight
street on level land interposed itself
between my house and the huge bulk
that was Lake Ontario in the middle of
North America so very far away now.
And there myself and two beloved Friends,
One calm September morning, ere the mist
Had altogether yielded to the sun,
Sauntered on this retired and difficult way.
-Ill suits the road with one in haste; but we
Played with our time; and, as we strolled along.
And there myself and a friend,
more beloved now after 50 years,
walked and ran as we so often did
down to the powerline to play football
on an autumn evening or on our bikes
to the lake to swim on a hot summer day.
It was our occupation to observe such objects
as the waves had tossed ashore: feather, or leaf,
or weed, or withered bough. Each on the other
heaped, along the line of the dry wreck. And, in
our vacant mood, not seldom did we stop to watch
some tuft of dandelion seed or thistle's beard,
that skimmed the surface of the dead calm lake,
suddenly halting now-a lifeless stand!
And we did observe, although not finely
for we were always on the run and missed
much that was in front of our nose. But you
could not miss the sun and sky and all the
houses down below where we lived our lives
and got our start on the long road that was
our life, a road we hardly knew and hardly
ever gave a thought to-mostly back then.
And starting off again with freak as sudden;
In all its sportive wanderings, all the while,
Making report of an invisible breeze
That was its wings, its chariot, and its horse,
Its playmate, rather say, its moving soul.
-And often, trifling with a privilege
Alike indulged to all, we paused, one now,
And now the other, to point out, perchance
To pluck, some flower or water-weed, too fair
Either to be divided from the place
On which it grew, or to be left alone
To its own beauty……
So much starting and stopping in all our
sportive wanderings and reports, though
I can not recall making many/any to anyone.
Yes, we noticed the wind, the heat, the rain,
if any: you’d have to be blind and deaf not to.
We plucked few flowers and the only weeds
we worried about were on someone’s lawn
we cut for a few dollars spending money
to buy baseball cards, candy and soft drinks.
………………….Many such there are,
Fair ferns and flowers, and chiefly that tall fern,
So stately, of the queen Osmunda named;
Plant lovelier, in its own retired abode
On Grasmere's beach, than Naiad by the side
Of Grecian brook, or Lady of the Mere,
Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance.
-So fared we that bright morning: from the fields
Meanwhile, a noise was heard, the busy mirth
Of reapers, men and women, boys and girls.
Delighted much to listen to those sounds,
The lawns along the street were all clipped
and green with flower beds, tidy at the edges.
Maple trees and cars from the fifties lined
the driveways as did hedges and neighbours’
kids only some of whom we ever got to know.
And feeding thus our fancies, we advanced
Along the indented shore; when suddenly,
Through a thin veil of glittering haze was seen
Before us, on a point of jutting land,
The tall and upright figure of a Man
Attired in peasant's garb, who stood alone,
Angling beside the margin of the lake.
'Improvident and reckless, ' we exclaimed,
'The Man must be, who thus can lose a day
Of the mid harvest, when the labourer's hire
Is ample, and some little might be stored
Wherewith to cheer him in the winter time.'
Thus talking of that Peasant, we approached
Close to the spot where with his rod and line
He stood alone; whereat he turned his head
To greet us-and we saw a Mam worn down
By sickness, gaunt and lean, with sunken cheeks
And wasted limbs, his legs so long and lean
That for my single self I looked at them,
Forgetful of the body they sustained.-
Too weak to labour in the harvest field,
The Man was using his best skill to gain
A pittance from the dead unfeeling lake
That knew not of his wants………….
And as we fed our fancies and breathed our
unarticulated assumption that life was one
long indulgence, through a thin veil of
glittering haze we saw coming toward us
two young, beautiful girls and we, having
just passed through the puberty pickle,
were drawn to them as bees to a honey pot.
Seeing as there was noone around
and the beach was as empty and deserted
as it ever could be, we toyed with them
as best we could to see if they would comply
with our youthful lusts and hot desires.
……………………………I will not say
What thoughts immediately were ours, nor how
The happy idleness of that sweet morn,
With all its lovely images, was changed
To serious musing and to self-reproach.
Nor did we fail to see within ourselves
What need there is to be reserved in speech,
And temper all our thoughts with charity.
-Therefore, unwilling to forget that day,
My Friend, Myself, and She who then received
The same admonishment, have called the place
By a memorial name, uncouth indeed
As e'er by mariner was given to bay
Or foreland, on a new-discovered coast;
And POINT RASH-JUDGMENT is the name it bears.
I will not say what thoughts were ours that day;
I’m not sure our thoughts could have been put
into words, only feelings rushed through our
young bodies on that hot summer evening.
But we did not fail to see within ourselves.
We knew too well the rush of heat on the tongue.
Love had not yet done with us, had only started
as a seed in our veins, as it raged in those moments
and continued over the decades to subdue us
and still we hardly knew the process at all.
There was much need to be reserved in speech
and action that evening but reservation was not
ours that day. Our thoughts were far from tempered
with charity. Golden light articulated their breasts,
fragrant as oranges in our mouths; their outspread hair
in the wind, dark and supple as the cyprus and our
expectant eyes so luminous with lust.
Their limbs so lithe and slight, their thighs so promiseful
as orchards and so unarguably compelling and warm.