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The Ballad
[page 3]

The previous page quoted a passage that Wordsworth wrote in 1815, but his more famous association with ballads is the volume he wrote with Samuel Taylor Coleridge that became a landmark of Romanticism: Lyrical Ballads, first published anonymously in 1798. Fortunately, there is now an excellent scholarly edition of Lyrical Ballads online, so you can see as much of it as you like.

If you remember the description of the ballad's properties earlier in this section, you might remember that ballads are narrative poems, not lyrical. You see, therefore, that the title of Lyrical Ballads is an oxymoron; it announces that the authors have experimented with combining the ballad form with lyric poetry, which describes the thoughts and emotions of the speaker. Here is an example by Wordsworth from the volume. (For images of the original text, collation with other versions, and other great stuff, see the above-noted edition's text of the 1798 edition.)




  In the sweet shire of Cardigan, 

  Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall, 

  An old man dwells, a little man, 

  Iíve heard he once was tall. 

  Of years he has upon his back, 

  No doubt, a burthen weighty; 

  He says he is three score and ten, 

  But others say heís eighty. 


  A long blue livery-coat has he, 

  Thatís fair behind, and fair before; 

  Yet, meet him where you will, you see 

  At once that he is poor. 

  Full five and twenty years he lived 

  A running huntsman merry; 

  And, though he has but one eye left, 

  His cheek is like a cherry. 

  No man like him the horn could sound, 

  And no man was so full of glee; 

  To say the least, four counties round 

  Had heard of Simon Lee; 

  His masterís dead, and no one now 

  Dwells in the hall of Ivor;

  Men, dogs, and horses, all are dead; 

  He is the sole survivor. 

  His hunting feats have him bereft 

  Of his right eye, as you may see: 

  And then, what limbs those feats have left 

  To poor old Simon Lee! 

  He has no son, he has no child, 

  His wife, an aged woman,  

  Lives with him, near the waterfall, 

  Upon the village common. 

  And he is lean and he is sick, 

  His little bodyís half awry 

  His ancles they are swoln and thick; 

  His legs are thin and dry. 

  When he was young he little knew 

  Of husbandry or tillage; 

  And now heís forced to work, though weak,

  --The weakest in the village. 


  He all the country could outrun, 

  Could leave both man and horse behind; 

  And often, ere the race was done, 

  He reeled and was stone-blind. 

  And still thereís something in the world 

  At which his heart rejoices; 

  For when the chiming hounds are out, 

  He dearly loves their voices! 

  Old Ruth works out of doors with him, 

  And does what Simon cannot do; 

  For she, not over stout of limb, 

  Is stouter of the two. 

  And though you with your utmost skill 

  From labour could not wean them, 

  Alas! ítis very little, all 

  Which they can do between them. 


  Beside their moss-grown hut of clay, 

  Not twenty paces from the door, 

  A scrap of land they have, but they 

  Are poorest of the poor. 

  This scrap of land he from the heath 

  Enclosed when he was stronger; 

  But what avails the land to them, 

  Which they can till no longer? 

  Few months of life has he in store, 

  As he to you will tell, 

  For still, the more he works, the more 

  His poor old ancles swell. 

  My gentle reader, I perceive 

  How patiently youíve waited, 

  And Iím afraid that you expect 

  Some tale will be related. 

  O reader! had you in your mind 

  Such stores as silent thought can bring, 

  O gentle reader! you would find 

  A tale in every thing. 

  What more I have to say is short, 

  I hope youíll kindly take it; 

  It is no tale; but should you think, 

  Perhaps a tale youíll make it. 

  One summer-day I chanced to see 

  This old man doing all he could 

  About the root of an old tree, 

  A stump of rotten wood. 

  The mattock totteríd in his hand; 

  So vain was his endeavour 

  That at the root of the old tree 

  He might have worked for ever. 

  ìYouíre overtasked, good Simon Lee,

  Give me your toolî to him I said; 

  And at the word right gladly he  

  Received my profferíd aid. 

  I struck, and with a single blow 

  The tangled root I severíd, 

  At which the poor old man so long 

  And vainly had endeavouríd. 

  The tears into his eyes were brought, 

  And thanks and praises seemed to run 

  So fast out of his heart, I thought 

  They never would have done. 

  --Iíve heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds 

  With coldness still returning. 

  Alas! the gratitude of men 

  Has oftner left me mourning.

How does "Simon Lee" exemplify the contradiction in the volume's title? This poem comes in the middle of the volume, which begins with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" (using the old spelling in this first edition) and ends with Wordsworth's "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey," which is discussed in the blank verse section. What kind of progression do you think the organization of the volume implies?
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