1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Smith

John Wilson, "Lines written on reading the Memoirs of Miss Smith" Isle of Palms and other Poems (1812) 234-45.



Peace to the dead! the voice of Nature cries,
Even o'er the grave where guilt or frailty lies;
Compassion drives each sterner thought away,
And all seem good when mouldering in the clay.
For who amid the dim religious gloom,
The solemn sabbath brooding o'er the tomb,
The holy stillness that suspends our breath
When the soul rests within the shade of death,
What heart could then with-hold the pensive sigh
Reflection pays to poor mortality,
Nor sunk in pity near allied to love,
E'en bless the being we could ne'er approve!
The headstrong will with innocence at strife,
The restless passions that deform'd his life,
Desires that spurn'd at reason's weak controul,
And dimm'd the native lustre of the soul,
The look repulsive that like ice repress'd
The friendly warmth that play'd within the breast,
The slighting word, through heedlessness severe,
Wounding the spirit that it ought to chear,
Lie buried in the grave! or if they live,
Remembrance only wakes them to forgive;
While vice and error steal a soft relief
From the still twilight of a mellowing grief.
And oh! how lovely do the tints return
Of every virtue sleeping in the urn!
Each grace that fleeted unobserved away,
Starts into life when those it deck'd decay;
Regret fresh beauty on the corse bestows,
And self-reproach is mingled with our woes.

But nobler sorrows lift the musing mind,
When soaring spirits leave their frames behind,
Who walked the world in Nature's generous pride,
And, like a sun-beam, lighten'd as they died!
Hope, resignation, the sad soul beguile,
And Grief's tear drops 'mid Faith's celestial smile:
Then burns our being with a holy mirth
That owns no kindred with this mortal earth;
For hymning angels in blest vision wave
Their wings' bright glory o'er the seraph's grave!

Oh thou! whose soul unmoved by earthly strife,
Led by the pole-star of eternal life,
Own'd no emotion stain'd by touch of clay,
No thought that angels might not pleased survey;
Thou! whose calm course through Virtues fields was run
From youth's fair morning to thy setting sun,
Nor vice e'er dared one little cloud to roll
O'er the bright beauty of thy spotless soul;
Thou! who secure in good works strong to save,
Resign'd and happy, eyed'st the opening grave,
And in the blooming summer of thy years
Scarce felt'st regret to leave this vale of tears;
Oh! from thy throne amid the starry skies,
List to my words thus interwove with sighs,
And if the high resolves, the cherish'd pain
That prompt the weak but reverential strain,
If love of virtue ardent and sincere
Can win to mortal verse a cherub's ear,
Bend from thy radiant throne thy form divine,
And make the adoring spirit pure as thine!
When my heart muses o'er the long review
Of all thy bosom felt, thy reason knew,
O'er boundless learning free from boastful pride,
And patience humble though severely tried,
Judgment unclouded, passions thrice refined,
A heaven-aspiring loftiness of mind,
And, rare perfection! calm and sober sense
Combined with fancy's wild magnificence;
Struck with the pomp of Nature's wondrous plan,
I hail with joy the dignity of man,
And soaring high above life's roaring sea,
Spring to the dwelling of my God and Thee.

Short here thy stay! for souls of holiest birth
Dwell but a moment with the sons of earth;
To this dim sphere by God's indulgence given,
Their friends are angels, and their home is heaven.
The fairest rose in shortest time decays;
The sun, when brightest, soon withdraws his rays;
The dew that gleams like diamonds on the thorn,
Melts instantaneous at the breath of morn;
Too soon a rolling shade of darkness shrouds
The star that smiles amid the evening clouds;
And sounds that come so sweetly on the ear,
That the soul wishes every sense could hear,
Are as the Light's unwearied pinions fleet,
As scarce as beauteous, and as short as sweet.

Yet, though the unpolluted soul requires
Airs born in Heaven to fan her sacred fires,
And mounts to God, exulting to be free
From fleshly chain that binds mortality,
The world is hallow'd by her blest sojourn,
And glory dwells for ever round her urn!
Her skirts of beauty sanctify the air
That felt her breathings, and that heard her prayer;
Vice dies where'er the radiant vision trod,
And there e'en Atheists must believe in God!
Such the proud triumphs that the good atchieve!
Such the blest gift that sinless spirits leave!
The parted soul in God-given strength sublime,
Streams undimm'd splendour o'er unmeasured time;
Still on the earth the sainted hues survive,
Dead in the tomb, but in the heart alive.
In vain the tide of ages strives to roll
A bar to cheek the intercourse of soul;
The hovering spirits of the good and great
With fond remembrance own their former state,
And musing virtue often can behold
In vision high their plumes of wavy gold,
And drink with tranced ear the silver sound
Of seraphs hymning on their nightly round.
By death untaught, our range of thought is small,
Bound by the attraction of this earthly ball.
Our sorrows and our joys, our hopes and fears,
Ignobly pent within a few short years;
But when our hearts have read Fate's mystic book,
On Heaven's gemm'd sphere we lift a joyful look,
Hope turns to Faith, Faith glorifies the gloom,
And life springs forth exulting from the tomb!

Oh, blest ELIZA! though to me unknown,
Thine eye's mild lustre and thy melting tone;
Though on this earth apart our lives were led,
Nor my love found thee till thy soul was fled;
Yet, can affection kiss thy silent clay,
And rend the glimmering veil of death away:
Fancy beholds with fixed, delighted eye,
Thy white-robed spirit gently gliding by;
Deep sinks thy smile into my quiet breast,
As moonlight steeps the ocean-wave in rest!
While thus, bright shade! thine eyes of mercy dwell
On that fair land thou loved'st of old so well,
What holy raptures through thy being flow,
To see thy memory blessing all below,
Virtue re-kindle at thy grave her fires,
And vice repentant shun his low desires!
This the true Christian's heaven! on earth to see
The sovereign power of immortality
At war with sin, and in triumphant pride
Spreading the empire of the crucified.

Oft 'mid the calm of mountain solitude,
Where Nature's loveliness thy spirit woo'd;
Where lonely cataracts with sullen roar
To thy hush'd heart a fearful rapture bore,
And caverns moaning with the voice of night,
Steep'd through the ear thy mind in strange delight,
I feel thy influence on my heart descend
Like words of comfort whispered by a friend,
And every cloud in lovelier figures roll,
Shaped by the power of thy presiding soul!
And when, slow-sinking in a blaze of light,
The sun in glory bathes each radiant height,
Amid the glow thy form seraphic seems
To float refulgent with unborrow'd beams;
For thou, like him, hadst still thy course pursued,
From thy own blessedness dispensing good;
Brightly thy soul in life's fair morn arose,
And burn'd like him, more glorious at its close.

But now, I feel my pensive spirit turn,
Where parents, brothers, sisters, o'er thee mourn.
For though to all unconscious time supplies
A strength of soul that stifles useless sighs;
And in our loneliest hours of grief is given
To our dim gaze a nearer glimpse of heaven,
Yet, human frailty pines in deep distress,
Even when a friend has soar'd to happiness,
And sorrow, selfish from excess of love,
Would glad recal the seraph from above!
And, chief, to thee! on whose delighted breast,
While, yet a babe, she play'd herself to rest,

Who rock'd her cradle with requited care,
And bless'd her sleeping with a silent prayer;
To thee, who first beheld, with watchful eye,
From her flush'd cheek health's natural radiance fly,
And, though by fate denied the power to save,
Smooth'd with kind care her passage to the grave,
When slow consumption led with fatal bloom
A rosy spectre smiling to the tomb;
The strain of comfort first to thee would flow,
But thou hast comforts man could ne'er bestow;
And e'en misfortune's long and gloomy roll
Wakes dreams of glory in thy stately soul.
For reason whispers, and religion proves,
That God by sorrow chasteneth whom he loves;
And suffering virtue smiles at misery's gloom,
Chear'd by the light that burns beyond the tomb.

All Nature speaks of thy departed child,
The flowery meadow, and the mountain wild;
Of her the lark 'mid sun-shine oft will sing,
And torrents flow with dirge-like murmuring!
The lake, that smiles to heaven a watery gleam,
Shows in the vivid beauty of a dream
Her, whose fine touch in mellowing hues array'd
The misty summit and the woodland glade,
The sparkling depth that slept in waveless rest,
And verdant isles reflected on its breast.
As down the vale thy lonely footsteps stray,
While eve steals dimly on retiring day,
And the pale light that nameless calm supplies,
That holds communion with the promised skies,
When Nature's beauty overpowers distress,
And stars soft-burning kindle holiness,
Thy lips in passive resignation move,
And peace broods o'er thee on the wings of love.
The languid mien, the cheek of hectic die,
The mournful beauty of the radiant eye,
The placid smile, the light and easy breath
Of nature blooming on the brink of death,
When the fair phantom breathed in twilight balm
A dying vigour and deceitful calm,
The tremulous voice that ever loved to tell
Thy fearful heart, that all would soon be well,
Steal on thy memory, and though tears will fall
O'er scenes gone by that thou would'st fain recal,
Yet oft has faith with deeper bliss beguiled
A parent weeping her departed child,
Than love maternal, when her baby lay
Hush'd at her breast, or smiling in its play,
And, as some glimpse of infant fancy came,
Murmuring in scarce-heard lisp some broken name.
Thou feel'st no more grief's palpitating start,
Nor the drear night hangs heavy on thy heart.
Though sky and star may yet awhile divide
Thy mortal being from thy bosom's pride,
Your spirits mingle — while to thine is given
A loftier nature from the touch of heaven.