Wed. Dec 6th, 2023


by Ana Grarian

This week Ana brings you a much edited version of a poem, The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith 1770. As her readers know, Ana is much interested in the movements that have intentionally driven folks out of the rural areas and into the cities. This poem was written in reaction to the Inclosure Acts in the UK which “enclosed” the village commons and made them inaccesible to grazing. The acts contributed to the mass migration of peasant farmers to the cities in search of wage jobs.

“Goldsmith had been worrying about changes in the way agriculture was organised in Britain for some years before he wrote The Deserted Village. He is probably the author of an essay entitled The Revolution in Low Life which appeared in Lloyds Evening Post, 14-16 June 1762, which anticipates the themes of the poem, and he had commented on depopulation in the countryside in his poem The Traveller (1764). His novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) also gives a detailed picture of the vulnerability of rural life to power and money.” excerpted from an article by Paul Baines (University of Liverpool) on the Literary Encyclopedia

I find it poignant that Auburn is also the name of a city in my beloved Central New York State, though in my lifetime, Auburn NY has been deserted because of the loss of industry. The Industrial Age came with great promise to the area. Huge brick buildings for the manufacture of shoes, now decaying, line abandoned railroad sidings, and the state highways that take folk elsewhere to work. The renovation of the city seems to be as host to rows of big box stores paying low wages.

The Deserted Village

by Oliver Goldsmith 1770

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,

Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,

Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,

And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed:

Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,

Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,

How often have I loitered o’er thy green,

Where humble happiness endeared each scene;

How often have I paused on every charm,

The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,

The never-failing brook, the busy mill,

The decent church that topped the neighbouring hill,

The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,

For talking age and whispering lovers made.

How often have I blessed the coming day,

When toil remitting lent its turn to play,

And all the village train, from labour free,

Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree,

While secret laughter tittered round the place;

The bashful virgin’s sidelong looks of love,

The matron’s glance that would these looks reprove.

These were thy charms, sweet village; sports like these,

With sweet succession, taught even toil to please;

These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,

These were thy charms but all these charms are fled.

Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,

Thy sports are fled and all thy charms withdrawn;

Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,

And desolation saddens all thy green:

One only master grasps the whole domain,

And half a village stints thy smiling plain:

No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,

But, choked with sedges, works its weedy way.

Along thy glades, a solitary guest,

The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,

And tires their echoes with unvaried cries.

Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,

And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;

And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,

Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates and men decay:

Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,

When every rood of ground maintained its man;

For him light labour spread her wholesome store,

Just gave what life required, but gave no more:

His best companions, innocence and health;

And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.

But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train

Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;

Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close

Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;

There, as I passed with careless steps and slow,

The mingling notes came softened from below ;

The swain responsive as the milkmaid sung,

The sober herd that lowed to meet her young;

The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool,

The playful children just let loose from school;

But now the sounds of population fail,

No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,

No busy steps the grassgrown foot-way tread,

For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.

All but yon widowed, solitary thing

That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;

She only left of all the harmless train,

The sad historian of the pensive plain.

There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,

The village preacher’s modest mansion rose

A man he was to all the country dear,

And passing rich with forty pounds a year;

Remote from towns he ran his godly race,

Nor e’er had changed, nor wished to change, his place;

Unpractised he to fawn, or seek for power,

By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;

Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,

More skilled to raise the wretched than to rise.

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,

With blossomed furze unprofitably gay,

There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,

The village master taught his little school;

But past is all his fame. The very spot,

Where many a time he triumphed, is forgot.

Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,

Where once the signpost caught the passing eye,

Low lies that house where nutbrown draughts inspired,

Where graybeard mirth and smiling toil retired,

Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,

And news much older than their ale went round.

Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart

An hour’s importance to the poor man’s heart;

Thither no more the peasant shall repair

To sweet oblivion of his daily care;

No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,

No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;

No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,

The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;

And, even while fashion’s brightest arts decoy

The heart distrusting asks, if this be joy.

Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen who survey

The rich man’s joys increase, the poor’s decay,

‘Tis yours to judge how wide the limits stand

Between a splendid and an happy land.

Proud swells the tide with loads of freighted ore,

And shouting Folly hails them from her shore;

Hoards, even beyond the miser’s wish, abound,

And rich men flock from all the world around.

Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name

That leaves with useful products still the same.

Thus fares the land, by luxury betrayed,

In nature’s simplest charms at first arrayed;

But verging to decline, its splendours rise,

Its vistas strike, its palaces surprise;

While scourged by famine from the smiling land,

The mournful peasant leads his humble band;

And while he sinks, without one arm to save,

The country blooms a garden and a grave.

Where then, ah where, shall poverty reside,

To ‘scape the pressure of contiguous pride?

If to some common’s fenceless limits strayed,

He drives his flock to pick the scanty blade,

Those fenceless fields the sons of wealth divide,

And even the bare-worn common is denied.

If to the city sped what waits him there?

To see profusion that he must not share;

To see ten thousand baneful arts combined

To pamper luxury and thin mankind;

To see those joys the sons of pleasure know

Extorted from his fellow-creature’s woe.

Kingdoms, by thee to sickly greatness grown

Boast of a florid vigour not their own.

At every draught more large and large they grow,

A bloated mass of rank unwieldy woe;

Till sapped their strength and every part unsound,

Down, down they sink and spread a ruin round.

Even now the devastation has begun,

And half the business of destruction done;

Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,

I see the rural virtues leave the land.

Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,

Redress the rigours of the inclement clime;

Aid slighted truth; with thy persuasive strain

Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;

Teach him that states of native strength possessed,

Though very poor, may still be very blest;

That trade’s proud empire hastes to swift decay,

As ocean sweeps the laboured mole away;

While self-dependent power can time defy,

As rocks resist the billows and the sky.

A full version of this poem may be found with notes and wonderful illustrations at:

By AFarmer

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