1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

John Graham of Lifford, "An Epistle to Lord Byron, on reading his Cain, a Mystery" The Literary Gazette (23 March 1822) 185.



BYRON, alas! that such a soul as thine,
So richly gifted with poetic fire,
Form'd as a light in darksome time to shine,
Should sink in sensuality's foul mire;
Bard of proud unbelief and dark desire,
Would nothing serve thee but a sacred theme!!
To play with thunderbolts wouldst thou aspire,
Nor when misusing GOD'S most holy name,
Fear dreadful wrath in fierce avenging flame?

And yet all bold and daring as thou art,
Fear seems to haunt thee in thy dark retreat,
When a misgiving — undecided heart,
Would prompt thee to deny a future state,
Where woes immense the Infidel await.
But quite consistent is the graceless wight,
Victim of pride, and vice and self deceit,
Who vainly strives to draw the veil of night
O'er scenes terrific to his feeble sight.

In vain thine eye o'er Holy Writ may rove,
Or trace the woes of Cain's unhappy wife,
Or Moses bring with Prophets to disprove
Our blessed hope of everlasting life.
To that bright state with joys unfailing rife,
Was Enoch call'd to leave his native land,
Translated from this vale of tears and strife,
Before the throne at God's benign command
In endless joy and happiness to stand.

I know, says Job, that my Redeemer lives,
And on the earth shall stand at latter day,
When he who cheers my hope, my sin forgives,
Shall raise my body from its bed of clay;
And tho' my flesh and skin must both decay
And worms destroy them — yet by him set free
From Death's cold hand, in rapture borne away,
HIM for myself my joyful eye shall see,
And in that sight for ever happy be.

I set thee always, LORD, before mine eyes,
Said Israel's king, and of thy glory tell,
And in thy realm beyond the vaulted skies,
In bliss with Thee for ever hope to dwell:
Thou surely wilt not leave my soul in hell,
My body wilt thou from the grave restore,
The chorus of eternal joy to swell,
Where blissful myriads thy name adore,
At whose right hand are pleasures evermore.

So spake the Psalmist; having first defin'd
The kind of man who on GOD'S holy hill
Shall dwell in rest; whose pure and spotless mind
Is train'd in truth, and meditates no ill:
And further proof have we from David still,
Who, when for sin he was condemn'd to see
His infant dead, bent low his wayward will
And said, I murmur not at this decree,
I'll go to him, he'll not return to me.

Isaiah says, that when the faithful die,
Their souls that moment enter into peace,
And only from this world's trouble fly,
To taste of pleasure that shall never cease.
Ezekiel, blest by heaven's inspiring grace,
Describes the resurrection of the dead,
When ev'ry bone shall reassume its place,
And though the vital spark be long since fled,
With skin and sinew shall be overspread.

Daniel depicts that everlasting throne,
On which the JUDGE shall take his awful seat,
Whose jurisdiction all the world shall own,
Whilst kings and emp'rors — the small — the great—
Shall trembling stand to hear their final fate;
Forth from the throne shall issue floods of flame,
The dead shall rise — but oh! their different state!
Some wake to find in life's great book their name,
Others to scorn and everlasting shame.

Then shall the wise shine forth in radiant light,
Happy partakers of the life divine;
And those who lead the weak from wrong to right,
Like stars in firmament for ever shine.
Oh BYRON! pray that such fate may be thine:
Pity it is, that one who well could make
Melodious concert with the choir divine,
Celestial poesy should e'er forsake,
To join the dismal hissings of the snake.

What wouldst thou give on that tremendous day,
In view of torments which must never end,
That thou hadst never thought on "Harold's" lay,
Or vile "Don Juan's" ribbald stanza penn'd.
Then, yet be wise, to calm enquiry bend,
Nor kind advice from humbler mind disdain;
From Pride's frail pinnacle in time descend,
Fall on your knees in penitential pain,
And shun the fate of Lucifer and Cain.