1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Grahame

John Wilson, "Lines sacred to the Memory of the Rev. James Grahame, author of the Sabbath, &c" 1811; Isle of Palms and other Poems (1812) 397-415.



With tearless eyes and undisturbed heart,
O Bard! of sinless fife and holiest song,
I muse upon thy death-bed and thy grave;
Though round that grave the trodden grass still lies
Besmeared with clay; for many feet were there,
Fast-rooted, to the spot, when slowly sank
Thy coffin, GRAHAME! into the quiet cell.
Yet, well I loved thee, even as one might love
An elder brother, imaged in the soul
With solemn features, half-creating awe,
But smiling still with gentleness and peace.
Tears have I shed when thy most mournful voice
Did tremblingly breathe forth that touching air,
By Scottish shepherd haply framed of old,
Amid the silence of his pastoral hills,
Weeping the flowers on Flodden-field that died.
Wept, too, have I, when thou didst simply read
From thine own lays so simply beautiful
Some short pathetic tale of human grief,
Or orison or hymn of deeper love,
That might have won the sceptic's sullen heart
To gradual adoration, and belief
Of Him who died for us upon the cross.
Yea! oft when thou wert well, and in the calm
Of thy most Christian spirit blessing all
Who look'd upon thee, with those gentlest smiles
That never lay on human face but thine;
Even when thy serious eyes were lighted up
With kindling mirth, and from thy lips distill'd
Words soft as dew, and cheerful as the dawn,
Then, too, I could have wept, for on thy face,
Eye, voice, and smile. nor less thy bending frame,
By other cause impair'd than length of years,
Lay something that still turn'd the thoughtful heart
To melancholy dreams, dreams of decay,
Of death and burial, and the silent tomb.

And of the tomb thou art an inmate now!
Methinks I see thy name upon the stone
Placed at thy head, and yet my cheeks are dry.
Tears could I give thee, when thou wert alive,
The mournful tears of deep foreboding love
That might not be restrain'd; but now they seem
Most idle all! thy worldly course is o'er,
And leaves such sweet remembrance in my soul
As some delightful music heard in youth,
Sad, but not painful, even more spirit-like
Than when it murmur'd through the shades of earth.
Short time wert thou allow'd to guide thy flock
Through the green pastures, where in quiet glides
The Siloah of the soul! Scarce was thy voice
Familiar to their hearts, who felt that heaven
Did therein speak, when suddenly it fell
Mute, and for ever! Empty now and still
The holy house which thou didst meekly grace,
When with uplifted hand, and eye devout,
Thy soul was breathed to Jesus, or explained
The words that lead unto eternal life.
From infancy thy heart was vow'd to God:
And aye the hope that one day thou might'st keep
A little fold, from all the storms of sin
Safe-shelter'd, and by reason of thy prayers
Warm'd by the sunshine of approving Heaven,
Upheld thy spirit, destined for a while
To walk far other paths, and with the crowd
Of worldly men to mingle. Yet even then,
Thy life was ever such as well became
One whose pure soul was fixed upon the cross!
And when with simple fervent eloquence,
GRAHAME pled the poor man's cause, the listner oft
Thought how becoming would his visage smile
Across the house of God, how beauteously
That man would teach the saving words of Heaven!

How well he taught them, many a one will feel
Unto their dying day; and when they lie
On the grave's brink, unfearing and composed,
Their speechless souls will bless the holy man
Whose voice exhorted, and whose footsteps led
Unto the paths of life; nor sweeter hope,
Next to the gracious look of Christ, have they
Than to behold his face who saved their souls.

But closed on earth thy blessed ministry!
And while thy native Scotland mourns her son
Untimely reft from her maternal breast,
Weeps the fair sister-land, with whom ere while
The stranger sojourn'd, stranger but in birth,
For well she loved thee, as thou wert her own.
On a most clear and noiseless Sabbath-night
I heard that thou wert gone, from the soft voice
Of one who knew thee not, but deeply loved
Thy spirit meekly shining in thy song.
At such an hour the death of one like thee
Gave no rude shock, nor by a sudden grief
Destroy'd the visions from the starry sky
Then settling in my soul. The moonlight slept
With a diviner sadness on the air;
The tender dimness of the night appeared
Darkening to deeper sorrow, and the voice
Of the far torrent from the silent hills
Flow'd, as I listen'd, like a funeral strain
Breath'd by some mourning solitary thing.
Yet Nature in her pensiveness still wore
A blissful smile, as if she sympathized
With those who grieved that her own Bard was dead,
And yet was happy that his spirit dwelt
At last within her holiest sanctuary,
'Mid long expecting angels.

And if e'er
Faith, fearless faith, in the eternal bliss
Of a departed brother, may be held
By beings blind as we, that faith should dry
All eyes that weep for GRAHAME; or through their tears
Shew where he sits august and beautiful
On the right hand of Jesus, 'mid the saints
Whose glory he on earth so sweetly sang.
No fears have we when some delightful child
Falls from its innocence into the grave!
Soon as we know its little breath is gone,
We see it lying in its Saviour's breast,
A heavenly flower there fed with heavenly dew.
Childlike in all that makes a child so dear
To God and man, and ever consecrates
Its cradle and its grave, my GRAHAME, wert thou!
And had'st thou died upon thy mother's breast
Ere thou could'st lisp her name, more fit for heaven
Thou scarce had'st been, than when thy honour'd head
Was laid into the dust, and Scotland wept
O'er hill and valley for her darling Bard.

How beautiful is genius when combined
With holiness! Oh, how divinely sweet
The tones of earthly harp, whose chords are touch'd
By the soft hand of Piety, and hung
Upon Religion's shrine, there vibrating
With solemn music in the car of God.
And must the Bard from sacred themes refrain?
Sweet were the hymns in patriarchal days,
That, kneeling in the silence of his tent,
Or on some moonlight hill, the shepherd pour'd
Unto his heavenly Father. Strains survive
Erst chaunted to the lyre of Israel,
More touching far than ever poet breathed
Amid the Grecian isles, or later times
Have heard in Albion, land of every lay.
Why therefore are ye silent, ye who know
The trance of adoration, and behold
Upon your bended knees the throne of Heaven,
And him who sits thereon? Believe it not,
That Poetry, in purer days the nurse,
Yea! parent oft of blissful piety,
Should silent keep from service of her God,
Nor with her summons, loud but silver-toned,
Startle the guilty dreamer from his sleep,
Bidding him gaze with rapture or with dread
On regions where the sky for ever lies
Bright as the sun himself, and trembling all
With ravishing music, or where darkness broods
O'er ghastly shapes, and sounds not to be borne.

Such glory, GRAHAME! is thine: Thou didst despise
To win the ear of this degenerate age
By gorgeous epithets, all idly heap'd
On theme of earthly state, or, idler still,
By tinkling measures and unchasten'd lays,
Warbled to pleasure and her syren-train,
Profaning the best name of poesy.
With loftier aspirations, and an aim
More worthy man's immortal nature,
Thou That holiest spirit that still loves to dwell
In the upright heart and pure, at noon of night
Didst fervently invoke, and, led by her
Above the Aonian mount, send from the stars
Of heaven such soul-subduing melody
As Bethlehem-shepherds heard when Christ was born.

It is the Sabbath-day: Creation sleeps
Cradled within the arms of heavenly love
The mystic day, when from the vanquish'd grave
The world's Redeemer rose, and hail'd the light
Of God's forgiving smile. Obscured and pale
Were then the plumes of prostrate seraphim,
Then hush'd the universe her sphere-born strain,
When from his throne, Paternal Deity
Declared the Saviour not in vain had shed
His martyr'd glory round the accursed cross,
That fallen man might sit in Paradise,
And earth to heaven ascend in jubilee.
O blessed day, by God and man beloved!
With more surpassing glory breaks thy dawn
Upon my soul, remembering the sweet hymns
That he, whom nations evermore shall name
The Sabbath-Bard, in gratulation high
Breathed forth to thee, as from the golden urn
That holds the incense of immortal song.

That Poem, so divinely melancholy
Throughout its reigning spirit, yet withal
Bathing in hues of winning gentleness
The pure religion that alone can save,
Full many a wanderer to the paths of peace
Ere now hath made return, and he who framed
Its hallow'd numbers, in the realms of bliss
Hath met and known the smiles of seraph-souls,
By his delightful genius saved from death.
Oft when the soul is lost in thoughtless guilt,
And seeming deaf unto the still small voice
Of conscience and of God, some simple phrase
Of beauty or sublimity will break
The spell that link'd us to the bands of sin,
And all at once, as waking from a dream,
We shudder at the past, and bless the light
That breaks upon us like the new-born day.
Even so it fares with them, who to this world
Have yielded up their spirits, and, impure
In thought and act, have lived without a sense
Of God, who counts the beatings of their hearts.
But men there are of a sublimer mould,
Who dedicate with no unworthy zeal
To human Science, up the toilsome steep
Where she in darkness dwells, with pilgrim-feet
By night and day unwearied strive to climb,
Pride their conductor, glory their reward.
Too oft, alas! even in the search of truth
They pass her on the way, although she speak
With loving voice, and cast on them her eyes
So beautifully innocent and pure.
To such, O GRAHAME! thy voice cries from the tomb!
Thy worth they loved, thy talents they admired,
And when they think how peaceful was thy life,
Thy death far more than peaceful, though thou sought'st,
Above all other knowledge, that of God
And his redeeming Son; when o'er the page
Where thy mild soul for ever sits enshrined,
They hang with soften'd hearts, faith may descend
Upon them as they muse, or hope that leads
The way to faith, even as the morning-star
Shines brightly, heralding approaching day.

But happier visions still now bless my soul.
While lonely wandering o'er the hills and dales
Of my dear native country, with such love
As they may guess, who, from their father's home
Sojourning long and far, fall down and kiss
The grass and flowers of Scotland, in I go,
Not doubting a warm welcome from the eyes
Of woman, man, and child, into a cot
Upon a green hill-side, and almost touch'd
By its own nameless stream that bathes the roots
Of the old ash tree swinging o'er the roof
Most pleasant, GRAHAME! unto thine eye and heart
Such humble home! there often hast thou sat
'Mid the glad family listening to thy voice
So silently, the ear might then have caught
Without the rustle of the falling leaf.
And who so sweetly ever sang as thou,
The joys and sorrows of the poor man's life.
Not fancifully drawn, that one might weep,
Or smile, he knew not why, but with the hues
Of truth all brightly glistening, to the heart
Cheering, as earth's soft verdure to the eye,
Yet still and mournful as the evening light.
More powerful in the sanctity of death,
There reigns thy spirit over those it loved!
Some chosen books by pious men composed,
Kept from the dust, in every cottage lie
Through the wild loneliness of Scotia's vales,
Beside the Bible, by whose well-known truths
All human thoughts are by the peasant tried.
O blessed privilege of Nature's Bard!
To cheer the house of virtuous poverty,
With gleams of light more beautiful than oft
Play o'er the splendours of the palace wall.
Methinks I see a fair and lovely child
Sitting composed upon his mother's knee,
And reading with a low and lisping voice
Some passage from the Sabbath, while the tears
Stand in his little eyes so softly blue,
Till, quite o'ercome with pity, his white arms
He twines around her neck, and hides his sighs
Most infantine, within her gladden'd breast,
Like a sweet lamb, half sportive, half afraid,
Nestling one moment 'neath its bleating dam.
And now the happy mother kisses oft
The tender-hearted child, lays down the book,
And asks him if he doth remember still
The stranger who once gave him, long ago,
A parting kiss, and blest his laughing eyes!
His sobs speak fond remembrance, and he weeps
To think so kind and good a man should die.

Though dead on earth, yet he from heaven looks down
On thee, sweet child! and others pure like thee!
Made happier, though an angel, by the sight
Of happiness, and virtue by himself
Created or preserved; and oft his soul
Leaves for a while her amaranthine bowers,
And dimly hears the choral symphonies
Of spirits singing round the Saviour's throne,
Delighted with a glimpse of Scotland's vales
Winding round hills where once his pious hymns
Were meditated in his silent heart,
Or with those human beings here beloved,
Whether they smile, as virtue ever smiles,
With sunny countenance gentle and benign,
Or a slight shade of sadness seems to say,
That they are thinking of the sainted soul
That looks from heaven on them!

A holy creed
It is, and most delightful unto all
Who feel how deeply human sympathies
Blend with our hopes of heaven, which holds that death
Divideth not, as by a roaring sea,
Departed spirits from this lower sphere.
How could the virtuous even in heaven be blest,
Unless they saw the lovers and the friends,
Whom soon they hope to greet!
A placid lake Between Time floateth and Eternity,
Across whose sleeping waters murmur oft
The voices of the immortal, hither brought
Soft as the thought of music in the soul.
Deep, deep the love we bear unto the dead!
The adoring reverence that we humbly pay
To one who is a spirit, still partakes
Of that affectionate tenderness we own'd
Towards a being, once, perhaps, as frail
And human as ourselves, and in the shape
Celestial, and angelic lineaments,
Shines a fair likeness of the form and face
That won in former days our earthly love.

O GRAHAME! even I in midnight dreams behold
Thy placid aspect, more serenely fair
Than the sweet moon that calms the autumnal heaven.
Thy voice steals, 'mid the pauses of the wind,
Unto my listening soul more touchingly
Than the pathetic tones of airy harp
That sound at evening like a spirit's song.
Yet, many are there dearer to thy shade,
Yea, dearer far than I; and when their team
They dry at last (and wisdom bids them weep,
If long and oft, O sure not bitterly)
Then wilt thou stand before their raptured eyes
As beautiful as kneeling saint e'er deem'd
In his bright cell Messiah's vision'd form.
I may not think upon her blissful dreams
Who bears thy name on earth, and in it feels
A Christian glory and a pious pride,
That must illume the widow's lonely path
With never dying sunshine. — To her soul
Soft sound the strains now flowing fast from mine!
And in those tranquil hours when she withdraws
From loftier consolations, may the tears,
(For tears will fall, most idle though they be,)
Now shed by me to her but little known,
Yield comfort to her, as a certain pledge
That many a one, though silent and unseen,
Thinks of her and the children at her knees,
Blest for the father's and the husband's sake.