"A Brotherhood Of Venerable Trees"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This sonnet is addressed to William Douglas (1724–1810), fourth Duke of Queensbury, a celebrated rake of the time. Douglas had the ancient plantations of trees felled at Neidpath, or Nidpath, Castle, referred to in the poem, to provide a dowry for Maria Fagniani, whom he supposed to be his daughter. Another notable of the time also provided her with a dowry for the same reason; historians of the period believe that both of them might have been mistaken in their beliefs about their relationship to the lady; at least one certainly was. Wordsworth arrived at Nidpath in time to see the trees lying scattered on the ground; he wrote the sonnet that same night. The act of felling the trees met with considerable resistance in the neighborhood. The poet says that the traveler will gaze with pain at such an outrage, but nature, which has a multitude of sheltered places, nooks, bays, mountains, and the gentle River Tweed, hardly seems to notice such acts of vandalism.

Degenerate Douglas! oh, the unworthy Lord!
Whom mere despite of heart could so far please,
And love of havoc, (for with such disease
Fame taxes him,) that he could send forth word
To level with the dust a noble horde,
A brotherhood of venerable trees,
Leaving an ancient dome, and towers like these,
Beggared and outraged!–Many hearts deplored
The fate of those old Trees; and oft with pain
The traveler, at this day, will stop and gaze
On wrongs, which Nature scarcely seems to heed:
For sheltered places, bosoms, nooks, and bays,
And the pure mountains, and the gentle Tweed,
And the green silent pastures, yet remain.