1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Bernard Barton, "To William Wordsworth, Esq. on the Publication of Peter Bell" The Sun (20 May 1819).



Beautiful Poet! as thou art,
In spite of all that Critics tell,
I thank thee, even from my heart,
For this thy Tale of "PETER BELL."
It is a story worthy one
Who thinks, feels, loves — as thou hast done.

It is a story worthy too
Of a more simple, primal age,
When feelings — nat'ral, tender, true,
Hallow'd the Poet's humblest page;—
Ere trickery had usurp'd the place
Of unsophisticated grace.

I quarrel not with those who deem
Essential to poetic mood,
High sounding phrase, and lofty themes
And ready "arts to frieze the blood,"
Intent to dazzle, or appal;—
But Nature still is best of all.

To be by Taste and Fashion's laws,
The favorite of this fickle day;
To win the Drawing-room's applause,
To strike! to startle, and display,—
And give effect; — appears the aim
Of most who bear the Poet's name.

For this — one idol of the hour,
Brilliant and sparkling as the beams
Of the glad sun; — culls every flower,
And scatters round — dews, gems, and streams,
Until the wearied, aching sight,
Is "blasted with excess of light."

Another leads his readers on
With scenery, narrative, and tales
Of legends wild, and battles won,
Of craggy rocks, and radiant vales;
Till always on amazement's brink,
We find — we have no time to think.

And last — not least — a master mind,
Around whose proud and haughty brow,
Had he but chosen, might have twin'd
The Muse's brightest, greenest bough,
Who, would he his own victor be,
Might seize on immortality.

He, too, forsooth, with morbid vein,
Must fling a glorious Fame away,
Instruction and delight disdain,
And make us own yet loathe his sway;
From Helicon he might have quaff'd,
Yet turn'd to Ach'ron's deadly draught.

O! shame and glory of our age!
With talent's such as scarcely met
In Bard before thy magic page,
Who can peruse without regret,
Or think with cold, unpitying mien
Of what thou art and might'st have been.

Enough of such — from these I turn,
From sparkling wit and amorous lays,
From glooms which chill and "words that burn,"
And gorgeous pomp of feudal days—
I turn from such, as things that move
Wonder and awe, but wake not love.

To thee, and to thy page despis'd
By worldly hearts, I turn with joy,
To ponder o'er the lays I priz'd,
When once a careless, happy boy;
And all that fascinated then,
More understood delights again.

Nor is it, WORDSWORTH, trivial test
Of thy well-earn'd poetic fame,
That the untutor'd youthful breast
Should cherish with delight thy name.
If feeling be the test of truth,
That touchstone is but prov'd in youth.

Poetry is no complex art,
Which after-life alone can give
The power t' appreciate; in the heart
Its purest, holiest, canons life;
And Nature's tact is most intense
In the heart's earliest innocence.

'Tis then the sun, the sky, the air,
The sparkling stream, the leafy wood,
The verdant fields, the "mountains bare,"
Are felt — though little understood;
We care not, seek not then to prove
Effect, or cause; we feel and love.

And in that day of love and feeling
Poetry is a heavenly art,
Its genuine principles revealing,
In their own glory to the heart;
Nature's resistless, artless tone
Awakes an echo of its own.

These truths, for such they are, by THEE,
Illustrious Poet, well are seen,
And to thy wise simplicity
Most sacred have they ever been;
Therefore shalt THOU, before the NINE
Officiate — in their INMOST SHRINE!

Then journey on thy way; — though lowly,
And simple, and despis'd, it be,
Yet shall it yield thee visions — holy,—
And such as worldlings never see:
Majestic, meek, simple, sublime,—
And worthy of an earlier time.

Continue still to cultivate
In thy sequester'd solitude,
Those high conceptions which await
The musings of the wise and good;—
Conceptions lofty, pure, and bright,
Which fill thy soul with heavenly light.

Thou need'st not stoop to win applause
By petty artifice of style,
Or studied wit, that coldly draws
From Fops or Fools a vapid smile;—
And still less need'st thou stoop to borrow,
Affected gloom, or mimic sorrow.

But take thee to thy groves and fields,
They rocky vales, and "mountains bare,"
And give us all that Nature yields
Of manners, feelings, habits, there.
Please and instruct the present age,
And live in History's latest page.
Woodbridge, Suffolk.