« ForrigeFortsett »
marked by any other character than ferocity and of fiction and poetry have been overshadowed by the thoughtlessness, is the historical fact from which lib- same infectious gloom. But mankind appear to me erty derives all its recommendations, and falsehood to be emerging from their trance. I am aware, me the worst features of its deformity. There is a reflux thinks, of a slow, gradual, silent change. In that in the tide of human things, which bears the ship-belief I have composed the following Poem. wrecked hopes of men into a secure haven, after the I do not presume to enter into competition with storms are past. Methinks, those who now live have our greatest contemporary Poets. Yet I am unwilling survived an age of despair.
to tread in the footsteps of any who have preceded The French Revolution may be considered as one me. I have sought to avoid the imitation of any of those manifestations of a general state of feeling style of language or versification peculiar to the origuiamong civilized mankind, produced by a defect of al minds of which it is the character, designing that correspondence between the knowledge existing in even if what I have produced be worthless, it should society and the improvement or gradual abolition of still be properly my own. Nor have I perinitted any political institutions. The year 1788 may be assumed system relating to mere words, to divert the attention as the epoch of one of the most important crises pro- of the reader from whatever interest I may have duced by this feeling. The sympathies connected succeeded in creating, to my own ingenuity in cowith that event extended to every bosom. The most triving to disgust them according to the rules of enitigenerous and amiable natures were those which par- cism. I have simply clothed my thoughts in what ticipated the most extensively in these sympathies. appeared to me the most obvious and appropriate But such a degree of unmingled good was expected, language. A person familiar with nature, and with as it was impossible to realize. If the Revolution had the most celebrated productions of the human mind, been in every respect prosperous, then misrule and can scarcely err in following the instinct, with me superstition would lose half their claims to our ab- spect to selection of language, produced by that horrence, as fetters which the captive can unlock familiarity. with the slightest motion of his fingers, and which do There is an education peculiarly fitted for a Poel, not eat with poisonous rust into the soul. The re- without which, genius and sensibility can hardly fill vulsion occasioned by the atrocities of the dema- the circle of their capacities. No education indeed gogues and the re-establishment of successive tyr- can entitle to this appellation a dull and unobservant annies in France was terrible, and felt in the remotest mind, or one, though neither dull nor unobservant, in corner of the civilized world. Could they listen to which the channels of communication between the plea of reason who had groaned under the calam- thought and expression have been obstructed of ities of a social state, according to the provisions of closed. How far it is my fortune to belong to either which, one man riots in luxury whilst another fam- of the latter classes, I cannot know. I aspire to be ishes for want of bread? Can he who the day before something better. The circumstances of my attie was a trampled slave, suddenly become liberal-mind- dental education have been favorable to this afied, forbearing, and independent? This is the conse- bition. I have been familiar from boyhood with quence of the habits of a state of society to be pro- mountains and lakes, and the sea, and the solitude of duced by resolute perseverance and indefatigable forests ; danger which sports upon the brink hope, and long-suffering and long-believing courage, cipices, has been my playmate. I have trodden the and the systematic efforts of generations of men of glaciers of the Alps, and lived under the eye of intellect and virtue. Such is the lesson which ex- Mont Blanc. I have been a wanderer among disperience teaches now. But on the first reverses of hope tant fields. I have sailed down mighty rivers, and in the progress of French liberty, the sanguine eager- seen the sun rise and set, and the stars come forth ness for good overleapt the solution of these questions, whilst I have sailed night and day down a rapid and for a time extinguished itself in the unexpected- stream among mountains. I have seen populous ness of their result. Thus many of the most ardent cities, and have watched the passions which rise and and tender-hearted of the worshippers of public good, spread, and sink and change amongst assembled have been morally ruined by what a partial glimpse multitudes of men. I have seen the theatre of the of the events they deplored, appeared to show as the more visible ravages of tyranny and war, cities and melancholy desolation of all their cherished hopes. villages reduced to scattered groups of black and roof Hence gloom and misanthropy have become the char- less houses, and the naked inhabitants sitting famished acteristics of the age in which we live, the solace of upon their desolated thresholds. I have conversed with a disappointment that unconsciously finds relief only living men of genius. The poetry of ancient Greece in the wilful exaggeration of its own despair This and Rome, and modern Italy, and our own county influence has tainted the literature of the age with the has been to me like external nature, a passion and an hopelessness of the minds from which it flows. Meta- enjoyment. Such are the sources from which the physics, * and inquiries into moral and political science, materials for the imagery of my Poem have been have become little else than vain attempts to revive drawn. I have considered Poetry in its most comme exploded superstitions, or sophisms like those † of Mr. prehensive sense, and have read the Poets and the Malthus, calculated to lull the oppressors of mankind Historians, and the Metaphysicianst whose writings into a security of everlasting triumph. Our works have been accessible to me, and have looked upra
the beautiful and majestic scenery of the earth as lought to except Sir W. Drummond's “Academical Ques- common sources of those elements which it is the tions ;" a volume of very acute and powerful metaphysical province of the Poet to embody and combine Fete criticism. hope, that Mr. Malthus has assigned, in the later editions of his not in themselves constitute men Poets, but only It is remarkable, as a symptom of the revival of public the experience and the feelings to which I refer
, do work, an indefinite dominion to moral restraint over the principle of population. This concession answers all the inferences I In this sense there may be such a thing as perfectibility as from his doctrine unfavorable to human improvement, and works of fiction, notwithstanding the concession often made by reduces the “Essay on Population to a commentary illustra- the advocates of human improvement, that perfectility is 8 tive of the unanswerableness of " Political Justice."
term applicable only to science.
ed to escape.
prepares them to be the auditors of those who are as their own. I have sought therefore to write, as I How far I shall be found to possess that more essen- believe that Homer, Shakspeare, and Milton wrote, tial attribute of Poetry, the power of awakening in with an utter disregard of anonymous censure. I others sensations like those which animate my own am certain that calumny and misrepresentation, bosom, is that which, to speak sincerely, I know not; though it may move me to compassion, cannot disand which, with an acquiescent and contented spirit, turb my peace. I shall understand the expressive I expect to be taught by the effect which I shall pro- silence of those sagacious enemies who dare not duce upon those whom I now address.
trust themselves to speak. I shall endeavor to exI have avoided, as I have said before, the imitation tract from the midst of insult, and contempt, and of any contemporary style. But there must be a maledictions, those admonitions which may tend to resemblance which does not depend upon their own correct whatever imperfections such censurers may will
, between all the writers of any particular age. discover in this my first serious appeal to the Public. They cannot escape from subjection to a common in- If certain Critics were as clear-sighted as they are fluence which arises out of an infinite combination malignant, how great would be the benefit to be deof circumstances belonging to the times in which rived from their virulent writings! As it is, I fear 1 they live, though each is in a degree the author of shall be malicious enough to be amused with their the very influence by which his being is thus per- paltry tricks and lame invectives. Should the Pubvaded. Thus, the tragic Poets of the age of Peri- lic judge that my composition is worthless, I shall cles; the Italian revivers of ancient learning; those indeed bow before the tribunal from which Milton mighty intellects of our own country that succeeded received his crown of immortality, and shall seek to the Reformation, the translators of the Bible, Shak- gather, if I live, strength from that defeat, which may speare, Spenser, the Dramatists of the reign of Eliza- nerve me to some new enterprise of thought which beth, and Lord Bacon ,* the colder spirits of the in- may not be worthless. I cannot conceive that Lucreterval that succeeded ;-all, resemble each other, and tius, when he meditated that poem whose doctrines differ from every other in their several classes. In are yet the bases of our metaphysical knowledge, this view of things, Ford can no more be called the and whose eloquence has been the wonder of manimitator of Shakspeare, than Shakspeare the imitator kind, wrote in awe of such censure as the hired of Ford. There were perhaps few other points of sophists of the impure and superstitious noblemen resemblance between these two men, than that which of Rome might affix to what he should produce. It the universal and inevitable influence of their age was at the period when Greece was led captive, and produced. And this is an influence which neither Asia made tributary to the Republic, fast verging itthe meanest scribbler, nor the sublimest genius of self to slavery and ruin, that a multitude of Syrian any era, can escape; and which I have not attempt- captives, bigoted to the worship of their obscene
Ashtaroth, and the unworthy successors of Socrates I have adopted the stanza of Spenser (a measure and Zeno, found there a precarious subsistence by inespressibly beautiful), not because I consider it a administering, under the name of freedmen, to the finer model of poetical harmony than the blank verse vices and vanities of the great. These wretched of Shakspeare and Milton, but because in the latter men were skilled to plead, with a superficial but there is no shelter for mediocrity: you must either plausible set of sophisms, in favor of that contempt succeed or fail. This perhaps an aspiring spirit should for virtue which is the portion of slaves, and that desire. But I was enticed, also, by the brilliancy faith in portents, the most fatal substitute for benevoand magnificence of sound which a mind that has lence in the imaginations of men, which arising from been nourished upon musical thoughts, can produce the enslaved communities of the East, then first beby a just and harmonious arrangement of the pauses gan to overwhelm the western nations in its stream. of this measure. Yet there will be found some in. Were these the kind of men whose disapprobation Kances where I have completely failed in this at the wise and lofty-minded Lucretius should have relempt, and one, which I here request the reader 10 garded with a salutary awe? The latest and perhaps consider as an erratum, where there is left most in the meanest of those who follow in his footsteps, advertently an alexandrine in the middle of a stanza. would disdain to hold life on such conditions.
But in this, as in every other respect, I have writ The Poem now presented to the Public occupied ten fearlessly. It is the misfortune of this age, that little more than six months in the composition. That 1ts Writers, too thoughtless of immortality, are ex- period has been devoted to the task with unremitting quisitely sensible to temporary praise or blame. They ardor and enthusiasm. I have exercised a watchful write with the fear of Reviews before their eyes. and earnest criticism on my work as it grew under This system of criticism sprang up in that torpid in my hands. I would willingly have sent it forth to lerval when Poetry was not.
Poetry, and the art the world with that perfection which long labor and which professes to regulate and limit its powers, can revision is said to bestow. But I found that if I not subsist together. Longinus could noi have been should gain something in exactness by this method, I the contemporary of Honier, nor Boileau of Horace. might lose much of the newness and energy of Yet this species of criticism never presumed to as- imagery and language as it flowed fresh from my mert an understanding of its own : it has always, un- mind. And although the mere composition occupied like true science, followed, not preceded the opinion no more than six months, the thoughts thus arranged of mankind, and would even now bribe with worth were slowly gathered in as many years. less adulation some of our greatest Poets to impose I trust that the reader will carefully distinguish gratuitous fetters on their own imaginations, and between those opinions which have a dramatic probecome unconscious accomplices in the daily murder priety in reference to the characters which they are of all genius either not so aspiring or not so fortunate designed to elucidate, and such as are properly my
own. The erroneous and degrading idea which men "Milton stands alone in the age which he illumined. have conceived of a Supreme Being, for instance, is
spoken against, but not the Supreme Being itself.
5. The belief which some superstitious persons whom
And from that hour did I with earnest thought I have brought upon the stage entertain of the Deity,
Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore, as injurious to the character of his benevolence, is
Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught widely different from my own. In recommending
I cared to learn, but from that secret store also a great and important change in the spirit which
Wrought linked armor for my soul, before animates the social institutions of mankind, I have
It might walk forth 10 war among mankind; avoided all flattery to those violent and malignant
Thus power and hope were strengthen'd more passions of our nature, which are ever on the watch
and more to mingle with and to alloy the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter given to Revenge, or a sense of loneliness, a thirst with which I pined.
Within me, till there came upon my mind Envy, or Prejudice. Love is celebrated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the moral world.
Alas, that love should be a blight and snare
To those who seek all sympathies in one -
The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
Over the world in which I moved alone :-
Yet never found I one not false to me,
Hard hearts, and cold, like weights of icy stone
Which crush'd and wither'd mine, that could not be
Aught but a lifeless clog, until revived by thee.
Thou Friend, whose presence on my wintry heart So now my summer-task is ended, Mary,
Fell, like bright Spring upon some herbless plain; And I return to thee, mine own heart's home;
How beautiful and calm and free thou wert As to his Queen some victor Knight of Faery,
In thy young wisdom, when the mortal chain Earning bright spoils for her enchanted dome;
Of Custom thou didst burst and rend in twain, Nor thou disdain, that ere my fame become
And walked as free as light the clouds among, A star among the stars of mortal night,
Which many an envious slave then breathed in vain If it indeed may cleave its natal gloom,
From his dim dungeon, and my spirit sprung Its doubtful promise thus I would unite
To meet thee from the woes which had begirt it long! With thy beloved name, thou Child of love and light. 2.
8. The toil which stole from thee so many an hour,
No more alone through the world's wilderness, Is ended,—and the fruit is at thy feet!
Although I trod the paths of high intent, No longer where the woods to frame a bower
I journey'd now: no more companionless, With interlaced branches mix and meet,
Where solitude is like despair, I wentOr where with sound like many voices sweet, There is the wisdom of a stern content Water-falls leap among wild islands green,
When Poverty can blight the just and good, Which framed for my lone boat a lone retreat
When Infamy dares mock the innocent, Of moss-grown trees and weeds, shall I be seen: But beside thee, where still my heart has ever been. To trample: this was ours, and we unshaken stoad!
And cherish'd friends turn with the multitude 3. Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear Friend,
9. when first
Now has descended a serener hour, The clouds which wrap this world from youth did And with inconstant fortune, friends return; pass.
Though suffering leaves the knowledge and the I do remember well the hour which burst
power My spirit's sleep: a fresh May-dawn it was, Which says :Let scorn be not repaid with scori When I walk'd forth upon the glittering grass, And from thy side two gentle babes are born And wept, I knew not why; until there rose To fill our home with smiles, and thus are we From the near school-room, voices, that, alas! Most fortunate beneath life's beaming mom; Were but one echo from a world of woes
And these delights, and thou have been to me The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes. The parents of the Song I consecrate to thee.
4. And then I clasp'd my hands and look'd around
10. -But none was near to mock my streaming eyes, Is it, that now my inexperienced fingers Which pour'd their warm drops on the sunny But strike the prelude of a loftier strain? ground
Or, must the lyre on which my spirit lingers So without shame, I spake :-"I will be wise, Soon pause in silence, ne'er to sound again, And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
Though it might shake the Anarch Custom's reigt, Such power, for I grow weary to behold
And charm the minds of men to Truth's own sway The selfish and the strong still tyrannize
Holier than was Amphion's? I would fain Without reproach or check." I then controllid Reply in hope-but I am worn away, My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold. And Death and Love are yet contending for their prey
And through thine eyes, even in thy soul I see
So, as I stood, one blast of muttering thunder
The forests and the floods, and all around
They say that thou wert lovely from thy birth,
Hark! 'tis the rushing of a wind that sweeps Of glorious parents, thou aspiring Child.
Earth and the ocean. See the lightnings yawn I wonder not-for One then left this earth
Deluging Heaven with fire, and the lash'd deeps Whose life was like a setting planet mild,
Glitter and boil beneath: it rages on, Which clothed thee in the radiance undefiled
One mighty stream, whirlwind and waves upthrown, Of its departing glory ; still her fame
Lightning, and hail, and darkness eddying by. Shines on thee, through the tempests dark and wild
There is a pause—the sea-birds, that were gone Which shake these latter days; and thou canst claim
Into their caves to shriek, come forth, to spy The shelter, from thy Sire, of an immortal name.
What calm has fall’n on earth, what light is in the sky. 13.
IV. One voice came forth from many a mighty spirit, For, where the irresistible storm had cloven Which was the echo of three thousand years; That fearful darkness, the blue sky was seen And the tumultuous world stood mute to hear it, Fretted with many a fair cloud interwoven As some lone man who in a desert hears
Most delicately, and the ocean green, The music of his home -unwonted fears
Beneath that opening spot of blue serene, Fell on the pale oppressors of our race,
Quiver'd like burning emerald : calm was spread And Faith, and Custom, and low-thoughted cares, On all below; but far on high, between Like thunder-stricken dragons, for a space
Earth and the upper air, the vast clouds fled, left the torn human heart, their food and dwelling. Countless and swift as leaves on autumn's tempest place.
Between the whirlwinds and the rack on high,
The pallid semicircle of the moon Two tranquil stars, while clouds are passing by
Past on, in slow and moving majesty; Which wrap them from the foundering seaman's Its upper horn array'd in mists, which soon sight,
But slowly fled, like dew Bepeath the beams of noon. That burn from year to year with unextinguish'd light.
A speck, a cloud, a shape, approaching grew,
Like a great ship in the sun's sinking sphere
Dark, vast, and overhanging, on a river
Comes forth, whilst with the speed its frame doth From visions of despair I rose, and scaled
quiver, The peak of an aerial promontory,
Sails, oars, and stream, tending to one endeavor; Whose cavernd base with the vexi surge was hoary;
So, from that chasm of light a winged Form And saw the golden dawn break forth, and waken
On all the winds of Heaven approaching ever Each cloud, and every wave :—but transitory
Floated, dilating as it came : the storm The calm : for sudden, the firm earth was shaken, Pursued it with fierce blasts, and lightnings swift and As if by the last wreck its frame were overtaken.
XIV. A course precipitous, of dizzy speed,
Wile baffled wile, and strength encounter'd strength, Suspending thought and breath; a monstrous sight! Thus long, but unprevailing :-the event For in the air do I behold indeed
Of that portentous fight appear'd at length: An Eagle and a Serpent wreathed in fight: Until the lamp of day was almost spent And now relaxing its impetuous flight,
It had endured, when lifeless, stark, and rent, Before the aerial rock on which I stood,
Hung high that mighty Serpent, and at last The Eagle, hovering, wheeld to left and right, Fell to the sea, while o'er the continent,
And hung with lingering wings over the flood, With clang of wings and scream the Eagle past, And started with its yells the wide air's solitude. Heavily borne away on the exhausted blast. IX.
XV. A shaft of light upon its wings descended, And with it fled the tempest, so that ocean And every golden feather gleam'd therein And earth and sky shone through the atmosphere Feather and scale inextricably blended.
Only, 't was strange to see the red commotion The Serpent's mail'd and many-color'd skin Of waves like mountains o'er the sinking sphere Shone through the plumes its coils were twined Of sunset sweep, and their fierce moar to hear within
Amid the calm : down the steep path I wound By many a swollen and knotted fold, and high To the sea-shore-the evening was most clear And far, the neck receding lithe and thin,
And beautiful, and there the sea I found Sustain'd a crested head, which warily
Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound Shifted and glanced before the Eagle's stedfast eye. X.
XVI. Around, around, in ceaseless circles wheeling There was a Woman, beautiful as morning, With clang of wings and scream, the Eagle sail'd Sitting beneath the rocks, upon the sand Incessantly-sometimes on high concealing Of the waste sea-fair as one flower adoming Its lessening orbs, sometimes as if it fail'd,
An icy wilderness--each delicate hand Droop'd through the air; and still it shriek'd and Lay cross'd upon her bosom, and the band wail'd,
Of her dark hair had fall'n, and so she sale And casting back its eager head, with beak
Looking upon the waves; on the bare strand And talon unremittingly assail'd
Upon the sea-mark a small boat did wait, The wreathed Serpent, who did ever seek Fair as herself, like Love by Hope left desolate. his enemy's heart a mortal wound to wreak. XI.
XVII. What life, what power, was kindled and arose It seem'd that this fair Shape had look'd upon Within the sphere of that appalling fray!
That unimaginable fight, and now For, from the encounter of those wondrous foes, That her.sweet eyes were weary of the sun, A vapor like the sea's suspended spray
As brightly it illustrated her woe; Hung gather'd: in the void air, far away,
For in the tears which silently to flow Floated the shatter'd plumes; bright scales did leap,
Paused not, its lustre hung: she watching aye Where'er the Eagle's talons made their way,
The foam-wreaths which the faint tide wove below Like sparks into the darkness ;-as they sweep, Upon the spangled sands, groan'd heavily, Blood stains the snowy foam of the tumultuous deep. And after every groan look'd up over the sea.
His adversary, who then rear'd on high
That opend to the ocean, caught it there, And fill'd with silver sounds the overflowing air.
XIX. Then on the white edge of the bursting surge, She spake in language whose strange melody Where they had sunk together, would the Snake Might not belong to earth. I heard, alone, Relax his suffocating grasp, and scourge
What made its music more melodious be, The wind with his wild writhings; for to break The pity and the love of every tone; That chain of torment, the vast bird would shake But to the Snake those accents sweet were known The strength of his unconquerable wings
His native tongue and hers; nor did he beat As in despair, and with his sinewy neck,
The hoar spray idly then, but winding on Dissolve in sudden shock those linked rings, Through the green shadows of the waves that meet Then soar—as swift as smoke from a volcano springs. Near to the shore, did pause beside her snowy feet.