Oliver Goldsmith on rural decline

Oliver Goldsmith used to be known at every hearthside, when there were hearthsides, for at least three works: ``She Stoops to Conquer,'' a play (dedicated to Samuel Johnson) that spoofs the sentimental comedy of its day; ``The Vicar of Wakefield,'' a novel that is rather sentimental itself; and ``The Deserted Village'' (1770), a poem from which generations could quote ``Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.'' Here are the poem's less familiar opening lines. Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain, Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain, Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid, And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed: Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease, Seats of my youth, when every sport could please, How often have I loitered o'er thy green, Where humble happiness endeared each scene! How often have I paused on every charm, The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm, The never-failing brook, the busy mill, The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill, The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade, For talking age and whispering lovers made! How often have I blest the coming day, When toil remitting lent its turn to play, And all the village train, from labour free, Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree, While many a pastime circled in the shade, The young contending as the old surveyed; And many a gambol frolicked o'er the ground. And sleights of art and feats of strength went round. And still as each repeated pleasure tired, Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspired; The dancing pair that simply sought renown, By holding out, to tire each other down; The swain mistrustless of his smutted face, While secret laughter tittered round the place; The bashful virgin's sidelong looks of love, The matron's glance that would those looks reprove. These were thy charms, sweet village! sports like these, With sweet succession, taught even toil to please; These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed, These were thy charms -- but all these charms are fled.

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