The School-mistress. In Imitation of Spenser (excerpt)

William Shenstone 1714 (Halesowen) – 1763 (Halesowen)

Auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,Infantunque animæ flentes in limine primo. Virg.ADVERTISEMENT
What particulars in Spenser were imagined most proper for the author's imitationon this occasion, are his language, his simplicity, his manner of description,and a peculiar tenderness of sentiment remarkable throughout his works.
       Ah me! full sorely is my heart forlorn,
      To think how modest worth neglected lies;
      While partial fame doth with her blasts adorn
      Such deeds alone, as pride and pomp disguise;
      Deeds of ill sort, and mischievous emprize!
      Lend me thy clarion, goddess! let me try
      To sound the praise of merit, ere it dies;
      Such as I oft have chaunced to espy,
    Lost in the dreary shades of dull obscurity.

      In ev'ry village mark'd with little spire,
     Embow'r'd in trees, and hardly known to fame,
     There dwells, in lowly shed, and mean attire,
     A matron old, whom we school-mistress name;
     Who boasts unruly brats with birch to tame;
     They grieven sore, in piteous durance pent,
     Aw'd by the pow'r of this relentless dame;
     And oft-times, on vagaries idly bent,
   For unkempt hair, or task unconn'd, are sorely shent.

      And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
     Which learning near her little dome did stowe;
     Whilom a twig of small regard to see,
     Tho' now so wide its waving branches flow;
     And work the simple vassals mickle woe;
     For not a wind might curl the leaves that blew,
     But their limbs shudder'd, and their pulse beat low;
     And, as they look'd, they found their horror grew,
   And shap'd it into rods, and tingled at the view.

      So have I seen (who has not, may conceive,)
     A lifeless phantom near a garden plac'd;
     So doth it wanton birds of peace bereave,
     Of sport, of song, of pleasure, of repast;
     They start, they stare, they wheel, they look aghast:
     Sad servitude! such comfortless annoy
     May no bold Briton's riper age e'er taste!
     Ne superstition clog his dance of joy,
   Ne vision empty, vain, his native bliss destroy.

      Near to this dome is found a patch so green,
     On which the tribe their gambols do display;
     And at the door impris'ning board is seen,
     Lest weakly wights of smaller size should stray;
     Eager, perdie, to bask in sunny day!
     The noises intermix'd, which thence resound,
     Do learning's little tenement betray:
     Where sits the dame, disguis'd in look profound,
   And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around.

      Her cap, far whiter than the driven snow,
     Emblem right meet of decency does yield:
     Her apron dy'd in grain, as blue, I trowe,
     As is the hare-bell that adorns the field:
     And in her hand, for scepter, she does wield
     Tway birchen sprays; with anxious fear entwin'd,
     With dark distrust, and sad repentance fill'd;
     And stedfast hate, and sharp affliction join'd,
   And fury uncontroul'd, and chastisement unkind.

      Few but have kenn'd, in semblance meet pourtray'd,
     The childish faces of old Eol's train;
     Libs, Notus, Auster: these in frowns array'd,
     How then would fare or earth, or sky, or main,
     Were the stern god to give his slaves the rein?
     And were not she rebellious breasts to quell,
     And were not she her statutes to maintain,
     The cott no more, I ween, were deem'd the cell,
   Where comely peace of mind, and decent order dwell.

      A russet stole was o'er her shoulders thrown;
     A russet kirtle fenc'd the nipping air;
     'Twas simple russet, but it was her own;
     'Twas her own country bred the flock so fair;
     'Twas her own labour did the fleece prepare;
     And, sooth to say, her pupils, rang'd around,
     Thro' pious awe, did term it passing rare;
     For they in gaping wonderment abound,
   And think, no doubt, she been the greatest wight on ground

      Albeit ne flatt'ry did corrupt her truth,
     Ne pompous title did debauch her ear;
     Goody, good-woman, gossip, n'aunt, forsooth,
     Or dame, the sole additions she did hear;
     Yet these she challeng'd, these she held right dear:
     Ne would esteem him act as mought behove,
     Who should not honour'd eld with these revere:
     For never title yet so mean could prove,
   But there was eke a mind which did that title love.

      One ancient hen she took delight to feed,
     The plodding pattern of the busy dame;
     Which, ever and anon, impell'd by need,
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 05, 2023

3:45 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 4,420
Words 715
Stanzas 10
Stanza Lengths 11, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 4

William Shenstone

William Shenstone was an English poet and one of the earliest practitioners of landscape gardening through the development of his estate, The Leasowes. more…

All William Shenstone poems | William Shenstone Books

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