The Fountain A Conversation: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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We talked with open heart, and tongue
Affectionate and true,
A pair of friends, though I was young,
And Matthew seventy-two.
We lay beneath a spreading oak,
Beside a mossy seat;
And from the turf a fountain broke,
And gurgled at our feet.
“Now, Matthew!” said I, “let us match
This water’s pleasant tune
With some old border-song, or catch
That suits a summer’s noon;
“Or of the church-clock and the chimes
Sing here beneath the shade,
That half-mad thing of witty rhymes
Which you last April made?”
In silence Matthew lay, and eyed
The spiring beneath the tree;
And thus the dear old Man replied,
The grey-haired man of glee:
“No check, no stay, this Streamlet fears;
How merrily it goes!
’T will murmur on a thousand years,
And flow as now it flows.
“And here, on this delightful day,
I cannot choose but think
How oft, a vigorous man, I lay
Beside this fountain’s brink.
“My eyes are dim with childish tears,
My heart is idly stirred.
For the same sound is in my ears
Which in those days I heard.
“Thus fares it still in our decay:
And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what age takes away
Than what it leaves behind.
“The blackbird amid leafy trees,
The lark above the hill,
Let loose their carols when they please,
Are quiet when they will. 
“With Nature never do they wage
A foolish strife; they see
A happy youth, and their old age
Is beautiful and free;
“But we are pressed by heavy laws;
And often, glad no more,
We were a face of joy, because
We have been glad of yore.
“If there be one who need bemoan
His kindred laid in earth,
The household hearts that were his own;
It is the man of mirth.
“My days, my Friend, are almost gone,
My life has been approved,
And many love me: but by none
Am I enough beloved.”
“Now both himself and me he wrongs,
The man who thus complains;
I live and sing my idle songs
Upon these happy plains:
“And, Matthew, for thy children dead
I’ll be a son to thee!”
At this he grasped my hand, and said.
“Alas! that cannot be.”
We rose up from the fountain-side;
And down the smooth descent
Of the green sheep-track did we glide;
And through the wood we went!
And, ere we came to Leonard’s rock,
He sang those witty rhymes
About the crazy old church-clock,
And the bewildered chimes.


      Matthew, an old village school-master of seventy-two, and the poet, who was then a young man, were a pair of friends. One day they lay beside a fountain, and the poet asked his old friend, who was known to be of a merry temperament, to sing a merry song that would suit a summer noon. But the old man kept silent, and looking at the spring beneath the tree said that the brook murmured on merrily and would do so forever as it had done when he was young. Catching the same sound of the murmuring brook as he had heard in his youth, his eyes were filled with childish tears and his heart with vague sentiments. He remarked that in our old age, it usually happens like this: yet the wiser mind does not mourn for the joys of youth that have gone away forever, but rather for the foolish habit in old age of striving to live against nature.

      Matthew observed that the lower animals are happy not only in their youth, but also in their old age, because they live up to the laws of nature; but man ruins himself by departing from those laws and imposing upon himself the artificial laws of society. Such manmade laws require him to put on a smiling face just because he was once joyful; in fact, an old man like him who appears to be mirthful is really a man of sorrows which he hides in his heart - on account of the death of near and dear ones. His own life is drawing to a close, and though he has many friends who love him, those that could love most have been taken away from him.

      At this pathetic remark of the old man, the poet offers himself to be to him as one of his sons, but Matthew silently remarks that it is impossible; the sense of loss and grief in his heart can never be removed by such a make-shift.


      The special merit and the Wordsworthian character of the poem The Fountain A Conversation, can be best put down in the words of Fowler: “If one of the great functions of poetry is to ‘awake the mind from the lethargy of custom’ to the infinite depth below the surface of common every-day things, Wordsworth has abundantly fulfilled it here.” And again, “To appreciate them fully, some experience of life is needed. A young reader can enjoy the vivid truthfulness of the picture, the very freshness of an April morning, the very sunshine of a summer’s noon reproduced in words; but only the older readers can altogether understand the concentrated and moving pathos of the two couplets:

‘I look’d at her and look’d again
And did not wish her mine.
And many love me, but by none
Am I enough beloved

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