To a Spindle (1806)


[Brayley’s note:] Bloomfield has favoured us with permission to copy the annexed portrait of his mother from a picture in his possession, and has himself subjoined the following account of the last stage of her life, together with his first essay in Blank verse, which he has addressed to the Spindle that she left half filled.

[Bloomfield’s note:] The portrait of my mother was taken on her last visit to London, in the summer of 1804, and about six months previous to her dissolution. During the period of evident decline in her strength and faculties, she conceived, in place of that patient resignation which she had before felt, an ungovernable dread of ultimate want, and observed to a relative, with peculiar emphasis, that ‘to meet Winter, Old Age, and Poverty, was like meeting three giants.’

To the last hour of her life she was an excellent spinner; and latterly, the peculiar kind of wool she spun, was brought exclusively for her, as being the only one in the village, who exercised their industry on so fine a sort. During the tearful paroxysms of her last depression she spun with the utmost violence, and with vehemence exclaimed —‘I must spin!’ A paralytic affection, struck her whole right side, while at work, and obliged her to quit her spindle when only half filled, and she died within a fortnight afterwards! I have that spindle now. She was buried on the last day of the year 1804. She returned from her visit to London, on Friday, the 29th of June, just to a day, twenty-three years after she brought me to London, which was also on a Friday, in the year 1781.


Relic! I will not bow to thee, nor worship!
Yet, treasure as thou art, remembrancer
Of sunny days, that ever haunt my dreams,
Where thy brown fellows as a task I twirl’d,
And sung my ditties, ere the Farm receiv’d 5
My vagrant foot, and with its liberty
And all its cheerful buds and opening flow’rs
Had taught my heart to wander.—
Relic of affection, come;
Thou shalt a moral teach to me and mine.10
The hand that wore thee smooth is cold, and spins
No more. Debility press’d hard around
The seat of life, and terrors fill’d her brain;
Nor causeless terrors: Giants grim and bold,
Three Mighty ones she fear’d to meet; they came— 15
Winter, Old Age, and Poverty, all came:
The last had dropp’d his club, yet fancy made
Him formidable; and when Death beheld
Her tribulation, he fulfill’d his task,
And to her trembling hand and heart at once,20
Cried, ‘Spin no more;’ thou then wert left half fill’d
With this soft downy fleece, such as she wound
Through all her days! She who could spin so well!
Half fill’d wert thou, half finish’d when she died.
Half finish’d! ’tis the motto of the world! 25
We spin vain threads, and dream, [1]  and strive, and die
With sillier things than Spindles in [2]  our hands!
Then feeling, as I do, resistlessly,
The bias set upon my soul for verse;
Oh! should old age still find my brain at work,30
And Death o’er some poor fragment striding, cry,
‘Hold! spin no more.’ Grant Heav’n, that purity
Of thought and texture, may assimilate
That fragment unto thee, in usefulness,
In worth, and snowy innocence. Then shall 35
The Village school-mistress, shine brighter, though [3] 
The exit of her boy; and both shall live,
And virtue triumph too, and virtue’s tears,
Like Heav’n’s pure blessings, fall upon their grave.

[Brydges’ critical summary:] There is no reader of English poetry, who does not recollect Cowper’s exquisite lines on his Mother’s Picture. This fragment of Bloomfield forms a noble companion to them. It strikes me to be written in a loftier tone, and still more excellent manner than any of his other productions. Let him give new delight and astonishment to the world by a moral and descriptive poem in blank verse!


*First published in Edward Brayley, Views in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Northamptonshire; Illustrative of the Works of Robert Bloomfield; Accompanied with Descriptions: to which is annexed, A Memoir of the Poet’s Life (London: Vernor, Hood, and others, 1806), pp. 39–42; reprinted in Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, ed., Censura Literaria, 8 (February 1809), 382–84. BACK

[1] and dream] omitted in Remains BACK

[2] in] on Remains BACK

[3] though] through Censura Literaria; Remains BACK