1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Keble

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 5:380-82.



In 1827 appeared a volume of sacred poetry, entitled The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holidays throughout the Year. The work has had extraordinary success. The object of the author was to bring the thoughts and feelings of his readers into more entire unison with those recommended and exemplified in the English Prayer-Book, and some of his little poems have great tenderness, beauty, and devotional feeling. Thus, on the text: "So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city" (Genesis, xi. 8), we have this descriptive passage:

Since all that is not Heaven must fade,
Light be the hand of Ruin laid
Upon the home I love:
With lulling spell let soft Decay
Steal on, and spare the Giant sway,
The crash of tower and grove.

Far-opening down some woodland deep,
In their own quiet glades should sleep
The relics dear to thought,
And wild-flower wreaths from side to side
Their wavering tracery hang, to hide
What ruthless Time has wrought.

Another text (Proverbs, xiv. 10) suggests a train of touching sentiment:

Why should we faint and fear to live alone,
Since all alone, go heaven has willed, we die,
Nor even the tenderest heart, and next our own,
Knows half the reasons why we smile and sigh?

Each in his hidden sphere of joy or woe
Our hermit spirits dwell, and range apart,
Our eyes see all around, in gloom or glow,
Hues of their own, fresh borrowed from the heart.

The following is one of the poems entire:

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. — Habakkuk, ii 3.

The morning mist is cleared away.
Yet still the face of heaven is gray,
Nor yet th' autumnal breeze has stirred the grave,
Faded yet full, a paler green
Skirts soberly the tranquil scene,
The redbreast warbles round this leafy cove.

Sweet messenger of "calm decay,"
Saluting sorrow as you may,
As one still bent to find or make the best,
In thee, and in this quiet mead,
The lesson of sweet peace I read,
Rather In all to be resigned than blest.

'Tis a low chant, according well
With the soft solitary knell;
As homeward from some grave beloved we turn,
Or by some holy death-bed dear,
Most welcome to the chastened ear
Of her whom Heaven is teaching now to mourn.

O cheerful tender strain! the heart
That duly bears with you its part,
Singing so thankful to the dreary blast,
Though gone and spent its joyous prime,
And on the world's autumnal time,
'Mid withered hues and sere, its lot be cast:

That is the heart for thoughtful seer,
Watching, in trance nor dark nor clear.
The appalling Future as it nearer draws:
His spirit calmed the storm to meet,
Feeling the rock beneath his feet,
And tracing through the cloud th' eternal Cause.

That is the heart for watchman true
Waiting to see what Goo will do,
As o'er the church the gathering twilight falls:
No more he strains his wistful eye,
If chance the golden hours he nigh,
By youthful Hope seen beaming round her walls.

Forced from his showy paradise,
His thoughts to Heaven the steadier rise;
There seek his answer when the world reproves:
Contented in his darkling round,
If only he be faithful found,
When from the east th' eternal morning moves.

The REV. JOHN KEBLE (1792-1886), author of The Christian Year, was the son of a country clergyman, vcar of Coln-St-Aldwinds, Gloucestershire. At the early age of fifteen he was elected a scholar of Corpus Christi, Oxford, and having distinguished himself both in classics and mathematics was in 1811 elected to a Fellowship at Oriel. He was for some years tutor and examiner at Oxford, but afterwards lived with his father, and assisted him as curate. The publication of The Christian Year, and the marvellous success of the work, brought its author prominently before the public, and in 1833 he was appointed professor of poetry at Oxford. About the same time the Tractarian movement began, having originated in a sermon on national apostacy, preached by Keble in 1833; Newman became leader of the party, and after he had gone over to the Church of Rome, Keble was chief adviser and counsellor. He also wrote some of the more important Tracts, inculcating, as has been said, "deep submission to authority, implicit reverence for Catholic tradition, firm belief in the divine prerogatives of the priesthood, the real nature of the sacraments, and the danger of independent speculation." Such principles, fettering the understanding, are never likely to be popular, but they were held by Keble with saint-like sincerity and simplicity of character. In 1835, the poetical divine became vicar of Hursley, near Winchester. In 1846, he published a second volume of poems, Lyra Innocentium, and he was author of a Life of Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, and editor of an edition of Hooker's Works. The poetry of Keble is characterized by great delicacy and purity both of thought and expression. It is occasionally prosaic and feeble, but always wears a sort of apostolic air, and wins its way to the heart.