Tennyson's Poems


First published in 1842.

This poem had been written as early as 1835, when it was read to Fitzgerald and Spedding ('Life', i., 182). No alterations were made in the text after 1853. The story in this poem was taken even to the minutest details from a prosestory of Miss Mitford's, namely, 'The Tale of Dora Creswell' ('Our Village', vol. in., 242-53), the only alterations being in the names, Farmer Cresswell, Dora Creswell, Walter Cresswell, and Mary Hay becoming respectively Allan, Dora, William, and Mary Morrison. How carefully the poet has preserved the picturesque touches of the original may be seen by comparing the following two passages:--

And Dora took the child, and went her way

Across the wheat, and sat upon a mound

That was unsown, where many poppies grew.


She rose and took

The child once more, and sat upon the mound;

And made a little wreath of all the flowers

That grew about, and tied it round his hat.

"A beautiful child lay on the ground at some distance, whilst a

young girl, resting from the labour of reaping, was twisting a

rustic wreath of enamelled cornflowers, brilliant poppies ... round

its hat."

The style is evidently modelled closely on that of the 'Odyssey'.

With farmer Allan at the farm abode

William and Dora. William was his son,

And she his niece. He often look'd at them,

And often thought "I'll make them man and wife".

Now Dora felt her uncle's will in all,

And yearn'd towards William; but the youth, because

He had been always with her in the house,

Thought not of Dora. Then there came a day

When Allan call'd his son, and said,

"My son: I married late, but I would wish to see

My grandchild on my knees before I die:

And I have set my heart upon a match.

Now therefore look to Dora; she is well

To look to; thrifty too beyond her age.

She is my brother's daughter: he and I

Had once hard words, and parted, and he died

In foreign lands; but for his sake I bred

His daughter Dora: take her for your wife;

For I have wish'd this marriage, night and day,

For many years." But William answer'd short;

"I cannot marry Dora; by my life,

I will not marry Dora". Then the old man

Was wroth, and doubled up his hands, and said:

"You will not, boy! you dare to answer thus!

But in my time a father's word was law,

And so it shall be now for me. Look to it;

Consider, William: take a month to think,

And let me have an answer to my wish;

Or, by the Lord that made me, you shall pack,

And never more darken my doors again."

But William answer'd madly; bit his lips,

And broke away. [1] The more he look'd at her

The less he liked her; and his ways were harsh;

But Dora bore them meekly. Then before

The month was out he left his father's house,

And hired himself to work within the fields;

And half in love, half spite, he woo'd and wed

A labourer's daughter, Mary Morrison.

Then, when the bells were ringing,

Allan call'd His niece and said: "My girl, I love you well;

But if you speak with him that was my son,

Or change a word with her he calls his wife,

My home is none of yours. My will is law."

And Dora promised, being meek. She thought,

"It cannot be: my uncle's mind will change!"

And days went on, and there was born a boy

To William; then distresses came on him;

And day by day he pass'd his father's gate,

Heart-broken, and his father helped him not.

But Dora stored what little she could save,

And sent it them by stealth, nor did they know

Who sent it; till at last a fever seized

On William, and in harvest time he died.

Then Dora went to Mary. Mary sat

And look'd with tears upon her boy, and thought

Hard things of Dora. Dora came and said:

"I have obey'd my uncle until now,

And I have sinn'd, for it was all thro' me

This evil came on William at the first.

But, Mary, for the sake of him that's gone,

And for your sake, the woman that he chose,

And for this orphan, I am come to you:

You know there has not been for these five years

So full a harvest, let me take the boy,

And I will set him in my uncle's eye

Among the wheat; that when his heart is glad

Of the full harvest, he may see the boy,

And bless him for the sake of him that's gone."

And Dora took the child, and went her way

Across the wheat, and sat upon a mound

That was unsown, where many poppies grew.

Far off the farmer came into the field

And spied her not; for none of all his men

Dare tell him Dora waited with the child;

And Dora would have risen and gone to him,

But her heart fail'd her; and the reapers reap'd

And the sun fell, and all the land was dark.

But when the morrow came, she rose and took

The child once more, and sat upon the mound;

And made a little wreath of all the flowers

That grew about, and tied it round his hat

To make him pleasing in her uncle's eye.

Then when the farmer passed into the field

He spied her, and he left his men at work,

And came and said: "Where were you yesterday?

Whose child is that? What are you doing here?"

So Dora cast her eyes upon the ground,

And answer'd softly, "This is William's child?"

"And did I not," said Allan, "did I not

Forbid you, Dora?" Dora said again:

"Do with me as you will, but take the child

And bless him for the sake of him that's gone!"

And Allan said: "I see it is a trick

Got up betwixt you and the woman there.

I must be taught my duty, and by you!

You knew my word was law, and yet you dared

To slight it. Well--for I will take the boy;

But go you hence, and never see me more."

So saying, he took the boy, that cried aloud

And struggled hard. The wreath of flowers fell

At Dora's feet. She bow'd upon her hands,

And the boy's cry came to her from the field,

More and more distant. She bow'd down her head,

Remembering the day when first she came,

And all the things that had been. She bow'd down

And wept in secret; and the reapers reap'd,

And the sun fell, and all the land was dark.

Then Dora went to Mary's house, and stood

Upon the threshold. Mary saw the boy

Was not with Dora. She broke out in praise

To God, that help'd her in her widowhood.

And Dora said, "My uncle took the boy;

But, Mary, let me live and work with you:

He says that he will never see me more".

Then answer'd Mary, "This shall never be,

That thou shouldst take my trouble on thyself:

And, now, I think, he shall not have the boy,

For he will teach him hardness, and to slight

His mother; therefore thou and I will go,

And I will have my boy, and bring him home;

And I will beg of him to take thee back;

But if he will not take thee back again,

Then thou and I will live within one house,

And work for William's child until he grows

Of age to help us." So the women kiss'd

Each other, and set out, and reach'd the farm.

The door was off the latch: they peep'd, and saw

The boy set up betwixt his grandsire's knees,

Who thrust him in the hollows of his arm,

And clapt him on the hands and on the cheeks,

Like one that loved him; and the lad stretch'd out

And babbled for the golden seal, that hung

From Allan's watch, and sparkled by the fire.

Then they came in: but when the boy beheld

His mother, he cried out to come to her:

And Allan set him down, and Mary said:

"O Father!--if you let me call you so--

I never came a-begging for myself,

Or William, or this child; but now I come

For Dora: take her back; she loves you well.

O Sir, when William died, he died at peace

With all men; for I ask'd him, and he said,

He could not ever rue his marrying me--

I have been a patient wife: but, Sir, he said

That he was wrong to cross his father thus:

'God bless him!' he said, 'and may he never know

The troubles I have gone thro'!' Then he turn'd

His face and pass'd--unhappy that I am!

But now, Sir, let me have my boy, for you

Will make him hard, and he will learn to slight

His father's memory; and take Dora back,

And let all this be as it was before."

So Mary said, and Dora hid her face

By Mary. There was silence in the room;

And all at once the old man burst in sobs:

"I have been to blame--to blame. I have kill'd my son.

I have kill'd him--but I loved him--my dear son.

May God forgive me!--I have been to blame.

Kiss me, my children." Then they clung about

The old man's neck, and kiss'd him many times.

And all the man was broken with remorse;

And all his love came back a hundredfold;

And for three hours he sobb'd o'er William's child,

Thinking of William. So those four abode

Within one house together; and as years

Went forward, Mary took another mate;

But Dora lived unmarried till her death.

[Footnote 1: In 1842 thus:--]

"Look to't,

Consider: take a month to think, and give

An answer to my wish; or by the Lord

That made me, you shall pack, and nevermore

Darken my doors again." And William heard,

And answered something madly; bit his lips,

And broke away.

All editions previous to 1853 have

"Look to't.