In Thackeray (1879), Anthony Trollope provides an example of the author of Vanity Fair writing an example of the kind of ballad popular with the Pre-Raphaelites and other Victorian authors — and then parodying it himself! Trollope explains that “the two together give so strong an example of the condition of Thackeray's mind in regard to literary products. The ‘humbug’ of everything, the pretence, the falseness of affected sentiment, the remoteness of poetical pathos from the true condition of the average minds of men and women, struck him so strongly, that he sometimes allowed himself almost to feel,—or at any rate, to say,—that poetical expression, as being above nature, must be unnatural.” As Trollope points out, the poem is “so good so good that if left by itself it would create no idea of absurdity or extravagant pathos in the mind of the ordinary reader.” — George P. Landow.

The Willow-Tree No. I.

Know ye the willow-tree,
       Whose gray leaves quiver,
Whispering gloomily
       To yon pale river?
Lady, at eventide
       Wander not near it!
They say its branches hide
       A sad lost spirit!

Once to the willow-tree
       A maid came fearful,
Pale seemed her cheek to be,
       Her blue eye tearful.
Soon as she saw the tree,
       Her steps moved fleeter.
No one was there--ah me!--
       No one to meet her!

Quick beat her heart to hear
       The far bells' chime
Toll from the chapel-tower
       The trysting-time.
But the red sun went down
       In golden flame,
And though she looked around,
       Yet no one came!

Presently came the night,
       Sadly to greet her,--
Moon in her silver light,
       Stars in their glitter.
Then sank the moon away
       Under the billow.
Still wept the maid alone--
       There by the willow!

Through the long darkness,
       By the stream rolling,
Hour after hour went on
       Tolling and tolling.
Long was the darkness,
       Lonely and stilly.
Shrill came the night wind,
       Piercing and chilly.

Shrill blew the morning breeze,
       Biting and cold.
Bleak peers the gray dawn
       Over the wold!
Bleak over moor and stream
       Looks the gray dawn,
Gray with dishevelled hair.
Still stands the willow there--
       The maid is gone!

       Domine, Domine!
       Sing we a litany--
Sing for poor maiden-hearts broken and weary;
       Sing we a litany,
Wail we and weep we a wild miserere!

The Willow-Tree No. II.

Long by the willow-tree
       Vainly they sought her,
Wild rang the mother's screams
       O'er the gray water.
"Where is my lovely one?
       Where is my daughter?

Rouse thee, sir constable--
       Rouse thee and look.
Fisherman, bring your net,
       Boatman, your hook.
Beat in the lily-beds,
       Dive in the brook."

Vainly the constable
       Shouted and called her.
Vainly the fisherman
       Beat the green alder.
Vainly he threw the net.
       Never it hauled her!

Mother beside the fire
       Sat, her night-cap in;
Father in easychair,
       Gloomily napping;
When at the window-sill
       Came a light tapping.

And a pale countenance
       Looked through the casement.
Loud beat the mother's heart,
       Sick with amazement,
And at the vision which
       Came to surprise her!
Shrieking in an agony--
       "Lor'! it's Elizar!"

[Pg 69]Yes, 'twas Elizabeth;--
       Yes, 'twas their girl;
Pale was her cheek, and her
       Hair out of curl.
"Mother!" the loved one,
       Blushing, exclaimed,
"Let not your innocent
       Lizzy be blamed.

Yesterday, going to Aunt
       Jones's to tea,
Mother, dear mother, I
       Forgot the door-key!
And as the night was cold,
       And the way steep,
Mrs. Jones kept me to
       Breakfast and sleep."

Whether her pa and ma
       Fully believed her,
That we shall never know.
       Stern they received her;
And for the work of that
       Cruel, though short, night,--
Sent her to bed without
       Tea for a fortnight.

MORAL.

       Hey diddle diddlety,
       Cat and the fiddlety,
Maidens of England take caution by she!
       Let love and suicide
       Never tempt you aside,
And always remember to take the door-key!

References

Trollppe, Anthony. Thackeray. “English Men of Letters series.” London: Macmillan, 1879. Web. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Barbara Tozier, Bill Tozier, Lisa Reigel. 4 August 2013


Victorian Overview Authors William Makepeace Thackeray

Last modified 4 August 2013