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Short poem

Gilbert White (1720-1793)

The Invitation to Selborne

              1See Selborne spreads her boldest beauties round
              2The varied valley, and the mountain ground,
              3Wildly majestic! what is all the pride
              4Of flats, with loads of ornament supply'd?
              5Unpleasing, tasteless, impotent expense,
              6Compar'd with nature's rude magnificence.
              7    Arise, my stranger, to these wild scenes haste
              8The unfinish'd farm awaits your forming taste:
              9Plan the pavilion, airy, light and true;
            10Thro' the high arch call in the lengthening view;
            11Expand the forest sloping up the hill;
            12Swell to a lake the scant, penurious rill;
            13Extend the vista, raise the castle mound
            14In antique taste, with turrets ivy-crown'd;
            15O'er the gay lawn the flow'ry shrub dispread,
            16Or with the blending garden mix the mead;
            17Bid China's pale, fantastic fence, delight,
            18Or with the mimic statue trap the sight.
            19    Oft on some evening, sunny, soft and still,
            20The Muse shall lead thee to the beech-grown hill,
            21To spend in tea the cool, refreshing hour,
            22Where nods in air the pensile, nest-like bower;
            23Or where the Hermit hangs the straw-clad cell,
            24Emerging gently from the leafy dell;
            25By fancy plann'd; as once th' inventive maid
            26Met the boar sage amid the secret shade;
            27Romantic spot! from whence in prospect lies
            28Whate'er of landscape charms our feasting eyes;
            29The pointed spire, the hall, the pasture-plain,
            30The russet fallow, or the golden grain,
            31The breezy lake that sheds a gleaming light,
            32Till all the fading picture fail the sight.
            33    Each to his task; all different ways retire,
            34Cull the dry stick; call forth the seeds of fire;
            35Deep fix the kettle's props, a forky row,
            36Or give with fanning bat the breeze to blow.
            37    Whence is this taste, the furnish'd hall forgot,
            38To feast in gardens, or th'unhandy grot?
            39Or novelty with some new charms surprizes,
            40Or from our very shifts some joy arises.
            41Hark, while below the village-bells ring round,
            42Echo, sweet nymph, returns the soften'd sound;
            43But if gusts rise, the rushing forests roar,
            44Like the tide tumbling on the pebbly shore.
            45    Adown the vale, in lone, sequester'd nook,
            46Where skirting woods imbrown the dimpling brook,
            47The ruin'd Convent lies; here wont to dwell
            48The lazy canon midst his cloistered cell;
            49While papal darkness brooded o'er the land,
            50Ere reformation made her glorious stand:
            51Still oft at eve belated shepherd-swains
            52See the cowl'd spectre skim the folded plains.
            53    To the high temple would my stranger go,
            54The mountain-brow commands the woods below;
            55In Jewry first this order found a name,
            56When madding Croisades set the world in flame;
            57When western climes, urg'd on by Pope and priest,
            58Pour'd forth their millions o'er the deluged east;
            59Luxurious knights, ill suited to defy
            60To mortal fight TurcÚstan chivalry.
            61    Nor be the Parsonage by the muse forgot.
            62The partial bard admires his native spot;
            63Smit with its beauties, loved, as yet a child,
            64(Unconscious why) its scapes grotesque, and wild.
            65High on a mound th' exalted gardens stand,
            66Beneath, deep vallies scoop'd by nature's hand.
            67A Cobham here, exulting in his art,
            68Might blend the General's with the Gardener's part;
            69Might fortify with all the martial trade
            70Of rampart, bastion, fosse, and palisade;
            71Might plant the mortar with wide threatening bore,
            72Or bid the mimic cannon seem to roar.
            73    Now climb the steep, drop now your eye below,
            74Where round the blooming village orchards grow;
            75There, like a picture, lies my lowly seat,
            76A rural, shelter'd, unobserved retreat.
            77    Me far above the rest Selbornian scenes,
            78The pendent forests, and the mountain-greens
            79Strike with delight; there spreads the distant view,
            80That gradual fades till sunk in misty blue:
            81Here nature hangs her slopy woods to sight,
            82Rills purl between and dart a quivering light.


1] Selborne: Hampshire village near Alton, the place of which White wrote in his Natural History and Antiquities (1789).

12] penurious rill: small brook.

14] antique: old.

22] pensile: overhanging, pendant. bower: "A kind of an arbour on the side of a hill" (note in 1813 edn.).

23] "A grotesque building, contrived by a young gentleman, who used on occasion to appear in the character of an hermit" (note in 1813 edn.) This line forms the legend to an engraving on p. vii of the 1789 edition (Martin, p. 92).

24] dell: deep narrow valley.

30] russet fallow: brown ploughed land.

38] unhandy grot: inconvenient cave or cavern for retiring.

46] imbrown: embrown, darken, make brown.

48] canon: "The ruins of a priory, founded by Peter de Rupibus Bishop of Winchester" (note in 1813 edn.).

52] cowl'd: wearing a monk's hood.

53] the high temple: "The remains of a preceptory of the Knights Templars; at least it was a farm dependant upon some preceptory of that order. I find it was a preceptary, called the preceptory of Sudingion; now called Southington" (note in 1813 edn.).

56] Croisades: Crusades.

67] Cobham: Sir Richard Temple (1675-1749), Lord Viscount Cobham, eulogized by Alexander Pope in two epistles for his garden at Stowe. See Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle IV.

70] fosse: narrow trench. palisade: "A fence made of pales or stakes fixed in the ground, forming an enclosure or defence" (OED 1).

82] purl: flow in a rippling, gurgling manner.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Gilbert White, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in the County of Southampton. To Which are Added, The Naturalist's Calendar; Observations on Various Parts of Nature; and Poems, New Edn. (London: White, Cochrane, and others, 1813): 563-65. Facsimile edn., intro. P. G. M. Foster, The Ray Society, no. 160 (London: The Ray Society, 1993). QH 138 S4W5 1993b Gerstein Library
First publication date: 1813
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/4/29

Composition date: 1789
Form: couplets

Other poems by Gilbert White