1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Macken

Letitia Elizabeth Landon, "The Harp of the Desert — Fitz Adam" The Literary Gazette (28 June 1823) 412.



It was a harp just fit to pour
Its music to the wind and wave,—
He had a right to tell their fame
Who stood himself amid the brave.

The first time that I read his strain
There was a tempest on the sky,
And sulphurous clouds, and thunder crash,
Were like dark ships and battle-cry.

I had forgot my woman's fears,
In thinking on my country's fame,
Till almost I could dream I saw
Her colours float o'er blood and flame.

Died the high song as dies the voice
Of the proud trumpet on the wind;
And died the tempest too, and left
A gentle twilight hour behind.

Then paused I o'er some sad wild notes,
Sweet as the spring bird's lay withal,
Telling of hopes and feelings past,
Like stars that darkened in their fall.

Hopes perishing from too much light,
"Exhausted by their own excess,"
Affections trusted, till they turned,
Like Marah's wave, to bitterness.

And is this, then, the curse that clings
To minstrel hope, to minstrel feeling?
Is this the cloud that destiny
Flings o'er the spirit's high revealing?

It is — it is! tread on thy way,
Be base, be grovelling, soulless, cold,
Look not up from the sullen path
That leads to this world's idol — gold.

And close thy hand, and close thy heart,
And be thy very soul of clay,
And thou wilt be the thing the crowd
Will worship, cringe to, and obey.

But look thou upon Nature's face,
As the young Poet loves to look;
And lean thou where the willow leans,
O'er the low murmur of the brook.

Or worship thou the midnight sky,
In silence at its moonlit hour
Or let a single tear confess
The silent spell of music's power.

Or love, or feel, or let thy soul
Be for one moment pure or free,
Then shrink away at once from life,—
Its path will be no path for thee.

Pour forth thy fervid soul in song—
There are some that may praise thy lays;
But of all earth's dim vanities,
The very earthiest is praise.

Praise! light and dew of the sweet leaves
Around the Poet's temples hung,
How turned to gall, and how profaned
By envious or by idle tongue!

Given by vapid fools, who laud
Only if others do the same;
Forgotten even while the breath
Is on the air that bears your name.

And He! what was his fate, the bard,
He of the Desert Harp, whose song
Flowed freely, wildly, as the wind
That bore him and his harp along?

That fate which waits the gifted one,
To pine, each finer impulse check'd;
At length to sink, and die beneath
The shade and silence of neglect.

And this the polished age, that springs
The Phoenix from dark years gone by,
That blames and mourns the past, yet leaves
Her warrior and her bard to die.

To die in poverty and pride,
The light of hope and genius past,
Each feeling wrung, until the heart
Could bear no more, so broke at last.

Thus withering amid the wreck
Of sweet hopes, high imaginings,
What can the Minstrel do, but die,
Cursing his too beloved strings!