Peter Bell "All Silent, And All Damned"

William Wordsworth

"All Silent, And All Damned"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As the author explains in his preface to this long, unsuccessful poem, "the Imagination . . . does not require for its exercise the intervention of supernatural agency"; quite the contrary, the poet can stimulate his readers' imaginations by faithfully adhering to "the humblest departments of daily life." The story of the poem, an attempt to illustrate everyday occurrences, earned the laughing scorn of practically all of Wordsworth's major contemporaries: a potter named Peter Bell is a sinful man who not only has a dozen wives but also is so insensitive that he does not appreciate nature. One day he comes upon a starving ass that has remained where its master died, and from the patient loyalty of the animal (as well as from his own guilt) he learns the wickedness of his ways and repents. The quotation occurs near the end of the first part of the original poem: Peter Bell, discovering that the ass is dying, loses his temper and begins to beat the poor beast, but as he maltreats it, he is seized with irrational fear and thinks that he hears noises such as demons might make:

Is it a party in a parlour?
Cramm'd just as they on earth were cramm'd–
Some sipping punch, some sipping tea,
But, as you by their faces see,
All silent, and all damn'd!