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The Deserted Village Analysis



Author: Poetry of Oliver Goldsmith Type: Poetry Views: 1632

Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain,

Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,

Where smiling spring its earliest visits paid,

And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed:

Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,

Seats of my youth, where every sport could please,

How often have I loitered o'er your 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 many a pastime circled in the shade,

The young contending as the old surveyed;

And many a gambol frolicked o'er the ground,

And sleights of art and feats of strength went round;

And still as each repeated pleasure tired,

Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspired;

The dancing pair that simply sought renown

By holding out to tire each other down!

The swain mistrustless of his smutted face,

While secret laughter tittered round the place;

The bashful virgin's sidelong look of love,

The matron's glance that would those 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Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;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 tillage 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;

Along the lawn, where scattered hamlet's rose,

Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,

And every want to opulence allied,

And every pang that folly pays to pride.

Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,

Those calm desires that asked but little room,

Those healthful sports that graced the peaceful scene,

Lived in each look, and brightened all the green;

These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,

And rural mirth and manners are no more.Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,

Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant's power.

Here as I take my solitary rounds,

Amidst thy tangling walks and ruined grounds,

And, many a year elapsed, return to view

Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,

Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,

Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.In all my wanderings round this world of care,

In all my griefs-and God has given my share-I still had hopes my latest hours to crown,

Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;

To husband out life's taper at the close,

And keep the flame from wasting by repose.

I still had hopes, for pride attends us still,

Amidst the swains to show my book-learned skill,

Around my fire an evening group to draw,

And tell of all I felt and all I saw;

And, as a hare, whom hounds and horns pursue,

Pants to the place from whence at first she flew,

I still had hopes, my long vexations passed,

Here to return-and die at home at last.O blest retirement, friend to life's decline,

Retreats from care, that never must be mine,

How happy he who crowns in shades like these

A youth of labour with an age of ease;

Who quits a world where strong temptations try,

And, since 'tis hard to combat, learns to fly!

For him no wretches, born to work and weep,

Explore the mine, or tempt the dangerous deep;

No surly porter stands in guilty state

To spurn imploring famine from the gate;

But on he moves to meet his latter end,

Angels round befriending Virtue's friend;

Bends to the grave with unperceived decay,

While Resignation gently slopes the way;

All, all his prospects brightening to the last,

His Heaven commences ere the world be past!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 their young;

The noisy geese that gabbled o'er the pool,

The playful children just let loose from school;

The watchdog's voice that bayed the whisp'ring wind,

And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind;

These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,

And filled each pause the nightingale had made.

But now the sounds of population fail,

No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,

No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread,

For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.

All but yon widowed, solitary thing,

That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;

She, wretched matron, forced in age for bread

To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,

To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,

To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn;

She only left of all the harmless train,

The sad historian of the pensive plain.Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,

And still where many a garden flower grows wild;

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.

His house was known to all the vagrant train,

He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain;

The long remembered beggar was his guest,

Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;

The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud,

Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed;

The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,

Sat by his fire, and talked the night away;

Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,

Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.

Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow,

And quite forgot their vices in their woe;

Careless their merits or their faults to scan,

His pity gave ere charity began.Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,

And e'en his failings leaned to Virtue's side;

But in his duty prompt at every call,

He watched and wept, he prayed and felt, for all.

And, as a bird each fond endearment tries

To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,

He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,

Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.Beside the bed where parting life was laid,

And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed,

The reverend champion stood. At his control

Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;

Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise,

And his last faltering accents whispered praise.At church, with meek and unaffected grace,

His looks adorned the venerable place;

Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,

And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.

The service passed, around the pious man,

With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;

Even children followed with endearing wile,

And plucked his gown, to share the good man's smile.

His ready smile a parent's warmth expressed,

Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distressed;

To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,

But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.

As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form,

Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,

Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,

Eternal sunshine settles on its head.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;

A man severe he was, and stern to view;

I knew him well, and every truant knew;

Well had the boding tremblers learned 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 cipher too;

Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,

And even the story ran that he could gauge.

In arguing too, the parson owned his skill,

For e'en though vanquished, 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 could carry all he knew.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 nut-brown draughts inspired,

Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired,

Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,

And news much older than their ale went round.

Imagination fondly stoops to trace

The parlour splendours of that festive place:

The white-washed wall, the nicely sanded floor,

The varnished clock that clicked behind the door;

The chest contrived a double debt to pay,-A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;

The pictures placed for ornament and use,

The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;

The hearth, except when winter chilled the day,

With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay;

While broken teacups, wisely kept for show,

Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row.Vain transitory splendours! Could not all

Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!

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,

Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;

The host himself no longer shall be found

Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;

Nor the coy maid, half willing to be pressed,

Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,

These simple blessings of the lowly train;

To me more dear, congenial to my heart,

One native charm, than all the gloss of art.

Spontaneous joys, where Nature has its play,

The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;

Lightly they frolic o'er the vacant mind,

Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined:

But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,

With all the freaks of wanton wealth arrayed,

In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,

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 a 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 our useful products still the same.

Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride

Takes up a space that many poor supplied;

Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds,

Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds;

The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth

Has robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth;

His seat, where solitary sports are seen,

Indignant spurns the cottage from the green;

Around the world each needful product flies,

For all the luxuries the world supplies:

While thus the land adorned for pleasure, all

In barren splendour feebly waits the fall.As some fair female unadorned and plain,

Secure to please while youth confirms her reign,

Slights every borrowed charm that dress supplies,

Nor shares with art the triumph of her eyes;

But when those charms are passed, for charms are frail,

When time advances and when lovers fail,

She then shines forth, solicitous to bless,

In all the glaring impotence of dress.

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.

Here, while the courtier glitters in brocade,

There the pale artist plies the sickly trade;

Here, while the proud their long-drawn pomps display,

There the black gibbet glooms beside the way.

The dome where Pleasure holds her midnight reign

Here, richly decked, admits the gorgeous train;

Tumultuous grandeur crowds the blazing square,

The rattling chariots clash, the torches glare.

Sure scenes like these no troubles e'er annoy!

Sure these denote one universal joy!

Are these thy serious thoughts?-Ah, turn thine eyes

Where the poor houseless shivering female lies.

She once, perhaps, in a village plenty blessed,

Has wept at tales of innocence distressed;

Her modest looks the cottage might adorn,

Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn;

Now lost to all; her friends, her virtue fled,

Near her betrayer's door she lays her head,

And, pinched with cold, and shrinking from the shower,

With heavy heart deplores that luckless hour,

When idly first, ambitious of the town,

She left her wheel and robes of country brown.Do thine, sweet Auburn, thine, the loveliest train,

Do thy fair tribes participate her pain?

E'en now, perhaps, by cold and hunger led,

At proud men's doors they ask a little bread!Ah, no!-To distant climes, a dreary scene,

Where half the convex world intrudes between,

Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,

Where wild Altama murmurs to their woe.

Far different there from all that charmed before,

The various terrors of that horrid shore;

Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray

And fiercely shed intolerable day;

Those matted woods where birds forget to sing,

But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;

Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,

Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;

Where at each step the stranger fears to wake

The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;

Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,

And savage men more murderous still than they;

While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,

Mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.

Far different these from every former scene,

The cooling brook, the grassy-vested green,

The breezy covert of the warbling grove,

That only sheltered thefts of harmless love.Good Heaven! what sorrows gloomed that parting day

That called them from their native walks away;

When the poor exiles, every pleasure passed,

Hung round their bowers, and fondly looked their last,

And took a long farewell, and wished in vain

For seats like these beyond the western main;

And, shuddering still to face the distant deep,

Returned and wept, and still returned to weep.

The good old sire, the first prepared to go

To new-found worlds, and wept for others' woe;

But for himself, in conscious virtue brave,

He only wished for worlds beyond the grave.

His lovely daughter, lovelier in her tears,

The fond companion of his helpless years,

Silent went next, neglectful of her charms,

And left a lover's for a father's arms.

With louder plaints the mother spoke her woes,

And blessed the cot where every pleasure rose;

And kissed her thoughtless babes with many a tear,

And clasped them close, in sorrow doubly dear;

Whilst her fond husband strove to lend relief

In all the silent manliness of grief.O luxury! thou cursed by Heaven's decree,

How ill exchanged are things like these for thee!

How do thy potions, with insidious joy,

Diffuse thy pleasures only to destroy!

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 unwieldly woe;

Till, sapped their strength, and every part unsound,

Down, down they sink, and spread the ruin round.Even now the devastation is begun,

And half the business of destruction done;

Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,

I see the rural virtues leave the land:

Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail

That idly waiting flaps with every gale,

Downward they move, a melancholy band,

Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.

Contented toil, and hospitable care,

And kind connubial tenderness, are there;

And piety with wishes placed above,

And steady loyalty, and faithful love.

And thou, sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,

Still first to fly where sensual joys invade;

Unfit in these degenerate times of shame

To catch the heart, or strike for honest fame;

Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,

My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;

Thou source of all my bliss, and all my woe,

That found'st me poor at first, and keep'st me so;

Thou guide by which the nobler arts excel,

Thou nurse of every virtue, fare thee well!

Farewell, and oh! where'er thy voice be tried,

On Torno's cliffs, or Pambamarca's side,

Whether where equinoctial fervours glow,

Or winter wraps the polar world in snow,

Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,

Redress the rigours of th' 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 blessed;

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.






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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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In the poem "The Deserted Village" (1770), Goldsmith revisits Auburn, a village of which he had fond memories, and marks the depopulation brought about through the emigration of its peasant community and the influx of monopolising riches. He mourns over the state of a society where "wealth accumulates and men decay". Using images pertaining to the land in his poem, he gives to his readers a sense of what it was like to live in the countryside during modernization and how it has destroyed the land the former inhabitants worked so hard to maintain.
At the time in which this poem was written, it was true that the labouring class was in a dire situation. Changes in land ownership led to shortages in labour, and poverty became a common problem. Small farmers were forced out of the countryside. Alongside this problem came the new zest for luxuries and possessions. Poets became enamoured by each situation, and accordingly much poetry of the time uses the labouring class and the growth of the luxury as a key theme. Thus, it is equally possible that Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village is a critique of luxury, or alternatively, an engagement with the realities of labouring-class poverty.
In the book's dedication to Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith attempts to convey his reasons for writing a poem about the depopulation of the countryside. He is sure that the poetic community will disagree with his picture of the countryside as a poor place of misfortune, desolation and poverty and thus justifies it here. He writes:
"I know you will object (and indeed several of our best and wisest friend concur in the opinion) that the depopulation it deplores is no where to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet’s own imagination. To this I can scarce make any other answer than that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I allege, and that all my views and enquiries have led me to believe those miseries real, which I here attempt to display."[2]
This assertion indicates Goldsmith’s attachment to the people of the countryside; he believes it is vital that their lives are portrayed truthfully and lucidly, perhaps without the typical frills of pastoral poetry. However, in the same letter, Goldsmith goes on to write,
"In regretting the depopulation of the country, I inveigh against the increase of our luxuries.. For twenty of thirty years past, it has been the fashion to consider luxury as one of the greatest national advantages... Still however, I...continue to think those luxuries prejudicial to states, by which so many vices are introduced, and so many kingdoms have been undone."
This second and perhaps, more strongly worded argument indicates that Goldsmith is further angered by the effect of the luxury on Britain at this time. He finishes the letter on this note, and does not return to the situation of the labouring class, and this emphasises his strength of feeling on this matter.
According to James Boswell it was Dr. Johnson who wrote the last four lines of the poem.[3]
Goldsmith's grand-nephew, also named Oliver, wrote a response to his uncle's poem entitled The Rising Village, in which he details the rise of communities in Acadia (now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada). The response to his uncle seems to suggest that the peasants who couldn't survive in The Deserted Village would have found opportunities in the new world. The Rising Village was published in 1825. It has become a staple of the Canadian literary canon and has been heavily anthologized. (See, for example, Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War, edited by Carole

| Posted on 2009-05-18 | by a guest




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