1845 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

John Moultrie, "Musae Etonensis" 1845 ca.; Moultrie, Poems (1876) 2:370-79.



Seed-time and harvest, summer's genial heat,
And winter's nipping cold, and night and day
Their stated changes, as of old, repeat,
And must, until this world shall pass away;
While nations rise, and flourish, and decay,
And mighty revolutions shake the earth,
Filling men's hearts with trouble and dismay;
And war and rapine, pestilence and dearth,
To many a monstrous shape of pain and woe give birth.

But still, while states and empires wax and wane,
And busy generations fret and die,
The face of Nature doth unchanged remain;
Small token is there in the earth or sky
Of dissolution or mortality;
But streams are bright, and meadows flowery still,
And woods retain their ancient greenery,
And shade and sunshine chequer dale and hill,
Though all the abodes of men be rife with wrong and ill.

There is no feature in thy fair domain
Which of decay or change displays a trace,
No charm of thine but doth undimm'd remain,
O Thou my boyhood's blest abiding-place,
While five-and-twenty years with stealthy pace
Have cool'd thy son's rash blood, and thinn'd his hair;—
The old expression lingers on thy face,
The spirit of past days unquench'd is there,
While all things else are changed, and changing everywhere.

And through thy spacious courts, and o'er thy green
Irriguous meadows, swarming as of old,
A youthful generation still is seen,
Of birth, of mind, of humour manifold:
The grave, the gay, the timid, and the bold,—
The noble nursling of the palace-hall,—
The merchant's offspring, heir to wealth untold,—
The pale-eyed youth, whom learning's spells enthral,—
Within thy cloisters meet, and love thee, one and all.

Young art thou still, and young shalt ever be
In spirit, as thou wast in years gone by;
The present, past and future blend in thee,
Rich as thou art in names which cannot die,
And youthful hearts already beating high
To emulate the glories won of yore;
That days to come may still the past outvie,
And thy bright roll be lengthen'd more and more
Of statesman, bard, and sage well versed in noblest lore.

Ah! well, I ween, knew He what worth is thine,
How deep a debt to thee his genius owed,—
The Statesman, who of late, in life's decline,
Of public care threw off the oppressive load,
While yet his unquench'd spirit gleam'd and glow'd
With the pure light of Greek and Roman song,—
That gift, in boyish years by thee bestow'd,
And cherish'd, loved, and unforgotten long,
While cares of state press'd round in close, continuous throng.

Not unprepared was that majestic mind,
By food and nurture once derived from thee,
To shape and sway the fortunes of mankind,
And by sagacious counsel and decree
Direct and guide Britannia's destiny—
Her mightiest ruler o'er the subject East:
Yet in his heart of hearts no joy had he
So pure, as when, from empire's yoke released,
To thee once more he turned with love that never ceased.

Fain would he cast life's fleshly burden down
Where its best hours were spent, and sink to rest,—
Weary of greatness, sated with renown,—
Like a tired child upon his mother's breast:
Proud may'st thou be of that his fond bequest,
Proud that, within thy consecrated ground,
He sleeps amidst the haunts he loved the best;
Where many a well-known, once-familiar sound
Of water, earth, and air for ever breathes around.

Such is thine empire over mightiest souls
Of men who wield earth's sceptres; such thy spell
Which until death, and after death, controuls
Hearts which no fear could daunt, no force could quell:
What marvel then, if softer spirits dwell
With fondest love on thy remember'd sway?
What marvel, if the hearts of poets swell,
Recording at life's noon, with grateful lay,
How sweetly in thy shades its morning slipped away?

Such tribute paid thee once, in pensive strains,
One mighty in the realm of lyric song,—
A ceaseless wanderer through the wide domains
Of thought which to the studious soul belong;—
One far withdrawn from this world's busy throng,
And seeking still, in academic bowers,
A safe retreat from tumult, strife, and wrong;
Where, solacing with verse his lonely hours,
He wove ambrosial wreaths of amaranthine flowers.

To him, from boyhood to life's latest hour,
The passion, kindled first beside the shore
Of thine own Thames, retained its early power;
'Twas his with restless footsteps to explore
All depths of ancient and of modern lore;
With unabated love to feed the eye
Of silent thought on the exhaustless store
Of beauty, which the gifted may descry
In all the teeming land of fruitful phantasy.

To him the Grecian muse, devoutly woo'd,
Unveil'd her beauty, and entranced his ear,
In many a rapt, imaginative mood,
With harmony which only Poets hear
Even in that old, enchanted atmosphere:
To him the painter's and the sculptor's art
Disclosed those hidden glories, which appear
To the clear vision of the initiate heart
In contemplation calm, from worldly care apart.

Nor lack'd he the profounder, purer sense
Of beauty, in the face of Nature seen;
But loved the mountain's rude magnificence,
The valley's glittering brooks and pastures green,
Moonlight, and morn, and sunset's golden sheen,
The stillness and the storm of lake and sea,
The hedgerow elms, with grass-grown lanes between,
The winding footpath, the broad, bowery tree,
The deep, clear river's course, majestically free.

Such were his haunts in recreative hours,—
To such he fondly turn'd, from time to time,
From Granta's cloister'd courts, and gloomy towers,
And stagnant Camus' circumambient slime;
Well pleas'd o'er Cambria's mountain-peaks to climb,
Or, with a larger, more adventurous range,
Plant his bold steps on Alpine heights sublime,
And gaze on Nature's wonders vast and strange;
Then roam through the rich South with swift and ceaseless change.

Yet with his settled and habitual mood
Accorded better the green English vale,
The pastoral mead, the cool, sequestered wood,
The spacious park fenced in with rustic pale,
The pleasant interchange of hill and dale,
The churchyard darken'd by the yew-tree's shade,
And rich with many a rudely-sculptured tale
Of those beneath its turf sepulchral laid,
Of human tears that flow, of earthly hopes that fade.

Such were the daily scenes with which he fed
The pensive spirit first awoke by Thee;
And blest and blameless was the life he led,
Sooth'd by the gentle spells of poesy.
Nor yet averse to stricter thought was he,
Nor uninstructed in abstruser lore;
But now with draughts of pure philosophy
Quench'd his soul's thirst, — now ventured to explore
The fields by science own'd, and taste the fruits they bore.

With many a graceful fold of learned thought
He wrapp'd himself around, well pleased to shroud
His spirit, in the web itself had wrought,
From the rude pressure of the boisterous crowd;
Nor loftier purpose cherish'd or avow'd,
Nor claim'd the prophet's or the teacher's praise;
Content in studious ease to be allow'd
With nice, artistic craft to weave his lays,
And lose himself at will in song's melodious maze.

Slow to create, fastidious to refine,
He wrought and wrought with labour long and sore,
Adjusting word by word, and line by line,
Each thought, each phrase remoulding o'er and o'er,
Till art could polish and adorn no more,
And stifled fancy sank beneath the load
Of gorgeous words and decorative lore
In rich profusion on each verse bestow'd,
To grace the shrine wherein the poet's soul abode.

And was his mission thus fulfill'd on earth?
For no sublimer use the powers design'd
Which liberal Nature gave him at his birth,
And life-long culture ripen'd and refined?
Owed he no more to Heaven or to mankind
Than these few notes of desultory song?—
Nay, slight we not Heaven's boon, nor strive to find
Occasion to impeach the bard of wrong,
Whose strains, a deathless gift, to us and ours belong!

If rather for himself, a pilgrim lone
Through this cold world, he sang to cheer his way
And soothe his soul with music all its own,
Than in didactic numbers to convey
Wisdom and truth to minds from both astray,—
If little reck'd he of his task divine,
Man's subject spirit to instruct and sway,—
'Twas, that as yet from Poesy's bright shrine
The light which warms our day had scarce begun to shine.

Thought hath its changeful periods, like the deep,
Of calm and tempest, tumult and repose;
And 'twas on times of intellectual sleep
That the faint day-spring of his genius rose:
Man's mind lay sunk awhile in slumb'rous doze,
Its surface yet unruffled by the breeze
Which should ere long its hidden depths disclose,
And wake to feverish life of fell disease
New swarms of embryo creeds and crude philosophies.

Years came and went; — beside the Poet's tomb
The flowers of many a spring had bloom'd and died,
When times of fierce convulsion, rage, and gloom
Arose, and shook the nations far and wide.
O then, my Mother, by the verdant side
Of thy bright river, lost in dreamy mood,
Was seen a stripling, pale and lustrous-eyed,
Who far apart his lonely path pursued,
And seem'd in sullen guise o'er troublous thoughts to brood.

Small sympathy he own'd or felt, I ween,
With sports and pastimes of his young compeers,
Nor mingling in their studies oft was seen,
Nor shared their joys or sorrows, hopes or fears:
Pensive he was, and grave beyond his years,
And happiest seem'd when in some shady nook
(His wild, sad eyes suffused with silent tears)
O'er some mysterious and forbidden book
He pored, until his frame with strong emotion shook.

Strange were his studies, and his sports no less;
Full oft, beneath the blazing summer noon,
The sun's convergent rays, with dire address,
He turned on some old tree, and burnt it soon
To ashes; oft at eve the fire-balloon,
Inflated by his skill, would mount on high;
And when tempestuous clouds had veil'd the moon,
And lightning rent, and thunder shook the sky,
He left his bed, to gaze on Nature's revelry.

A great, a gifted, but a turbid soul
Struggled and chafed within that stripling's breast,—
Passion which none might conquer or controul,
And feeling too intense to be repress'd:
His spirit was on fire, and could not rest
Through that fierce thirst for perfect truth and love
By which, as by a spell, it seem'd possess'd;
And long, and oft, and vainly still he strove
To realize on earth what only dwells above.

To him ideal beauty had unveil'd
In blissful vision her immortal face:
Alas! what marvel if on earth he fail'd
The footsteps of that glorious form to trace?
What marvel that to him all things seem'd base,
Disorder'd, and corrupt? and when he sought
Hope for himself, and healing for his race,
Even in the creeds by Christian doctors taught,
How cold to him appear'd the comfort which they brought!

The thing which is, and that which ought to be!—
The Gospel and the Church! — the precept given,
And act performed! — alas! he seem'd to see
Things unlike each to each, as earth to Heaven!
And thus from depth to depth of error driven,
Through truth blasphemed, a devious course he ran,
His brain o'erwrought, his proud heart rent and riven
By bootless strife, — a rash, misguided man,
Farther from peace at last, than when his quest began.

Yet in a world of beauty dwelt he still,
Entranced in visions wonderful and bright,
Which by strong magic he evoked at will
From his soul's teeming depths; — no mortal wight
E'er ruled with such supreme, resistless might
The wizard realm of fancy; mortal words
Did ne'er such music with such thought unite
As flow'd beneath his touch from mystic chords,
Whose harmony none wake but song's most gifted lords.

Thus with a prophet's heart, a prophet's tone,
Uttering his fitful oracles he stood
'Midst scorn and hatred, dauntless, though alone;
A marvel to the wicked, — by the good
Pitied and shunn'd, — and where least understood
Most strongly censured. — Peace be with his dust!
Nor be his faults relentlessly pursued
By reprobation of the wise and just,
Who feel themselves but men, and their own hearts distrust.

But thou, O nurse and guide of youthful thought,
Wast thou all guiltless of thy son's decline
From wisdom's ways? — was no dark mischief wrought
In that wild heart through any fault of thine?
Didst thou so well perform thy task divine
To him and his compeers, — so well instil
By precept upon precept, line on line,
Eternal truth, that Nature's inborn ill
Might not uncheck'd, unchanged, its wayward course fulfil?

Nay, mother, veil thy face, and meekly own
Thy much unfaithfulness in years gone by;—
Thy altar cold — Heaven's light but faintly shown—
Truth, in thy charge, itself becomes a lie,
Which, ev'n to boyhood's unsuspicious eye,
At once lay bare and flagrant. — Well indeed
Might faith and hope beneath thy nurture die,
So rudely oft it crush'd the expanding seed,
And quench'd the smoking flax, and broke the bruised reed.

Those days, we trust, are ended; and do thou
Take heed lest they return, and thy last state
Be worse than was thy first. — With reverence bow
Before God's throne, and on His bidding wait:
So be thy sons for ever good and great,
The glory and the strength of this our isle;
And thou still fresh at Time's remotest date,
While Thames shall flow and thy green meadows smile,
And youthful sports, as now, the youthful heart beguile.