Updated: May 13, 2020
This is a follow up to the previous poem "The Two April Mornings." Here Wordsworth is exploring character that we tend to spend very little time thinking about. In other words, they are on the edge of our consciousness.
How can a young person learn from an old person? It seems paradoxical that you have to experience something in order to understand it and yet elders are constantly giving advice based on their experiences.
This poem is a conversation poem. Young and old are sitting beneath a tree by a natural fountain, when seemingly out of nowhere, the old man grows melancholy. He's remembering his past.
The poem explores loss and grief and has the very memorable lines: "
the wiser mind Mourns less for what Age takes away, Than what it leaves behind."
We talked with open heart, and tongue
Affectionate and true,
A pair of friends, though I was young,
And Matthew seventy-two.
We lay beneath a spreading oak,
Beside a mossy seat;
And from the turf a fountain broke
And gurgled at our feet.
`Now, Matthew!' said I, `let us match
This water's pleasant tune
With some old border-song, or catch
That suits a summer's noon;
`Or of the church-clock and the chimes
Sing here beneath the shade
That half-mad thing of witty rhymes
Which you last April made!'
In silence Matthew lay, and eyed
The spring beneath the tree;
And thus the dear old man replied,
The grey-haired man of glee:
`No check, no stay, this streamlet fears,
How merrily it goes!
'Twill murmur on a thousand years
And flow as now it flows.
`And here, on this delightful day,
I cannot choose but think
How oft, a vigorous man, I lay
Beside this fountain's brink.
`My eyes are dim with childish tears,
My heart is idly stirred,
For the same sound is in my ears
Which in those days I heard.
`Thus fares it still in our decay:
And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what Age takes away,
Than what it leaves behind.
`The blackbird amid leafy trees,
The lark above the hill,
Let loose their carols when they please,
Are quiet when they will.
`With Nature never do they wage
A foolish strife; they see
A happy youth, and their old age
Is beautiful and free:
`But we are pressed by heavy laws;
And often, glad no more,
We wear a face of joy, because
We have been glad of yore.
`If there be one who need bemoan
His kindred laid in earth,
The household hearts that were his own, -
It is the man of mirth.
`My days, my friend, are almost gone,
My life has been approved,
And many love me; but by none
Am I enough beloved.'
`Now both himself and me he wrongs,
The man who thus complains!
I live and sing my idle songs
Upon these happy plains:
`And, Matthew, for thy children dead
I'll be a son to thee!'
At this he grasped my hand and said
`Alas! that cannot be.'
We rose up from the fountain-side;
And down the smooth descent
Of the green sheep-track did we glide;
And through the wood we went;
And ere we came to Leonard's Rock
He sang those witty rhymes
About the crazy old church-clock,
And the bewildered chimes.