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Poem by Robert Southey

The Cross Roads

There was an old man breaking stones
To mend the turnpike way,
He sat him down beside a brook
And out his bread and cheese he took,
For now it was mid-day.

He lent his back against a post,
His feet the brook ran by;
And there were water-cresses growing,
And pleasant was the water's flowing
For he was hot and dry.

A soldier with his knapsack on
Came travelling o'er the down,
The sun was strong and he was tired,
And of the old man he enquired
How far to Bristol town.

Half an hour's walk for a young man
By lanes and fields and stiles.
But you the foot-path do not know,
And if along the road you go
Why then 'tis three good miles.

The soldier took his knapsack off
For he was hot and dry;
And out his bread and cheese he took
And he sat down beside the brook
To dine in company.

Old friend! in faith, the soldier says
I envy you almost;
My shoulders have been sorely prest
And I should like to sit and rest,
My back against that post.

In such a sweltering day as this
A knapsack is the devil!
And if on t'other side I sat
It would not only spoil our chat
But make me seem uncivil.

The old man laugh'd and moved. I wish
It were a great-arm'd chair!
But this may help a man at need;
And yet it was a cursed deed
That ever brought it there.

There's a poor girl lies buried here
Beneath this very place.
The earth upon her corpse is prest
This stake is driven into her breast
And a stone is on her face.

The soldier had but just lent back
And now he half rose up.
There's sure no harm in dining here,
My friend? and yet to be sincere
I should not like to sup.

God rest her! she is still enough
Who sleeps beneath our feet!
The old man cried. No harm I trow
She ever did herself, tho' now
She lies where four roads meet.

I have past by about that hour
When men are not most brave,
It did not make my heart to fail,
And I have heard the nightingale
Sing sweetly on her grave.

I have past by about that hour
When Ghosts their freedom have,
But there was nothing here to fright,
And I have seen the glow-worm's light
Shine on the poor girl's grave.

There's one who like a Christian lies
Beneath the church-tree's shade;
I'd rather go a long mile round
Than pass at evening thro' the ground
Wherein that man is laid.

There's one that in the church-yard lies
For whom the bell did toll;
He lies in consecrated ground,
But for all the wealth in Bristol town
I would not be with his soul!

Did'st see a house below the hill
That the winds and the rains destroy?
'Twas then a farm where he did dwell,
And I remember it full well
When I was a growing boy.

And she was a poor parish girl
That came up from the west,
From service hard she ran away
And at that house in evil day
Was taken in to rest.

The man he was a wicked man
And an evil life he led;
Rage made his cheek grow deadly white
And his grey eyes were large and light,
And in anger they grew red.

The man was bad, the mother worse,
Bad fruit of a bad stem,
'Twould make your hair to stand-on-end
If I should tell to you my friend
The things that were told of them!

Did'st see an out-house standing by?
The walls alone remain;
It was a stable then, but now
Its mossy roof has fallen through
All rotted by the rain.

The poor girl she had serv'd with them
Some half-a-year, or more,
When she was found hung up one day
Stiff as a corpse and cold as clay
Behind that stable door!

It is a very lonesome place,
No hut or house is near;
Should one meet a murderer there alone
'Twere vain to scream, and the dying groan
Would never reach mortal ear.

And there were strange reports about
That the coroner never guest.
So he decreed that she should lie
Where four roads meet in infamy,
With a stake drove in her breast.

Upon a board they carried her
To the place where four roads met,
And I was one among the throng
That hither followed them along,
I shall never the sight forget!

They carried her upon a board
In the cloaths in which she died;
I saw the cap blow off her head,
Her face was of a dark dark red
Her eyes were starting wide:

I think they could not have been closed
So widely did they strain.
I never saw so dreadful a sight,
And it often made me wake at night,
For I saw her face again.

They laid her here where four roads meet.
Beneath this very place,
The earth upon her corpse was prest,
This post is driven into her breast,
And a stone is on her face. 

Robert Southey

Robert Southey's other poems:
  1. For the Cenotaph at Ermenonville
  2. St. Bartholomews Day
  3. For a Tablet at Penshurst
  4. For a Monument in the Vale of Ewias
  5. For a Monument in the New Forest

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