June 3 Oliver Goldsmith

Another poet of the eighteenth century, Oliver Goldsmith, expresses a similar regard for rural life and character in his “The Deserted Village”, looking back to his childhood in Lissoy, a village in West Meath in Ireland; which he idealises as ‘Sweet Auburn’, with a veteran of the Spanish wars, Thomas Byrne, as the village schoolmaster.

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer’d 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 oe’r thy green,
Where humble happiness endear’d each scene !
How often have I paused on every charm –
The shelter’d cot, the cultivated farm,
The never failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topp’d the neighbouring hill;
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made!
How often have I bless’d 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 many a pastime circled in the shade,
The young contending , as the old surveyed.

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossom’d furze unprofitably gay,
There,in his noisy mansion skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was , and stern to view,
I knew him well, and every truant knew.
Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace
The day’s disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned:
Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault:
The village all declared how much he knew;
‘Twas certain he could write and cypher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage;
And e’en the story ran that he could gauge;
In arguing, too, the parson own’d his skill,
For e’en though vanquish’d, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head should carry all he knew.

Next: “Forefathers” Edmund Blunden