1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dermody

L. R. J., "Lines written on receiving the Portrait of Dermody" European Magazine 87 (May 1825) 449-50.



When I gaze on thy features, poor fellow, and see
What a curse thy rich genius has been unto thee,
How it led thee to leave the sweet comforts of home,
In thy youth among cold-hearted strangers to roam;
How poverty chill'd thy young hopes in their bloom,
And intemperance brought thee a premature tomb;
With grief for thy follies thy fate I deplore,
And half wish that the muse may ne'er visit me more;
Yet the muse, tho' thus slighted, like woman, returns,
And the lamp of my fancy unchangingly burns.
Then still let it burn, so it lure not away
From the paths of correctness, in error to stray,
So, that 'stead of a blessing it bring not a ban,
Nor light me to deeds that disgrace bard and man.
Yet, let me not judge thee, forlorn as thou wert,
Thy unhappiness sprung from the head not the heart;
For that was still just in the bitterest hour
That destiny gave o'er thy being to low'r;
Like the light in the firmament clearly it shone,
When the strength of thy mind lay like giant o'erthrown.
O calm be the slumber, for thou wert a gem,
Whose rough'ned exterior let no man condemn;
Let the rigidly just, and the prudently cool
Ne'er say that though gifted, thou still wert a fool;
Nor the quiet in soul, nor the even in mood,
Exult, because thou wert by passion subdued:
Well for them 'tis, their blood like calm rivers can roll,
Though thine was the wave that wrecks body and soul.
They know not the cause that first led thee to sin;
Nor can fathom the whirlpool that drew thy youth in;
Too oft like weak woman's is, Genius, thy fall,
With thee, as with her, goes, poor victim, thy all;
In vain she may suffer, in vain may repent,
The hearts never tempted, will never relent;
So the hearts of the prudent against him are closed,
Till silent in death the frail bard has reposed.
High price hast thou paid, but thy aim is attain'd,
Though misery's bowl to the dregs thou hast drain'd,
Thy fame still survives tho' thy sorrows are o'er,
While those happier than thou are remember'd no more.
E'en now as I mourn thee my sad spirit turns
To thy equal in sorrow, the warm-hearted Burns;
The Charybdis and Scylla of poetry's sea,
Between whom I must steer my frail vessel, are ye,
And I learn from your fates a stern lesson, of worth
More intrinsic than gold to the children of mirth,
And which kept, may preserve me from sorrow and shame,
And lead me through error's wide shoals safe to fame;
For not quite unscath'd thro' this world have I past,
Nor unsmote by its wave, nor unbow'd by its blast;
I have been among creatures I ne'er can forget;
Been hemm'd round by their snares, but escap'd them as yet,
Have foolishly lavish'd the little I had,
On the wantonly poor, and the seemingly sad;
And when choosing no longer my hand to enclose,
Have found them the bitterest turn of my foes;
A hater of strife e'er avoiding a brawl,
I have sought to please some, and been laugh'd at by all,
Till beholding that self was the compass of each,
I seiz'd my own safeguard while yet within reach;
Cool indifference, daughter of sacrificed truth,
The useful successor of light-hearted youth.
The time has now come when the mind's settled tide,
Will lave in sweet quiet my heart's wounded side.
Thank heaven, uncorrupted in mind or in heath,
Tho' as yet unrewarded by fame or with wealth,
Nor a slave to the muse, nor a striver for gain,
Like the tomb of the prophet, 'twixt both I remain.
Let me live with enough for life's wants in my purse,
My health undecaying, my genius no worse;
If but just independent, I shall not repine,
Though my tomb have no marble, my table no wine;
With a conscience at ease, I shall never regret
The lack of much gold, so I be not in debt;
For debt more than all things debases the mind,
And makes man the slave or the prey of his kind.
Oh! it lessens his worth, be he gifted or great,
Be he peasant or peer, or the head of a state;
Subdues the high feelings by nature his meed,
And waves him at will as the wind does the reed.
The fruits of experience these feelings have been,
Nor left till too ripen'd, nor gather'd while green,
May nought but death's hand be enabled to break
The useful impression they now on me make.