1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

John Chalk Claris, "The Curse of Chatterton" Durovernum (1818) 96-102.



One struggle more, and then I shall be calm;
This friendly phial holds the welcome draught
Which to my feverish breast shall seem a balm
Sweeter than e'er the lips of Luxury quaffed.
Yet, let me pause; and ere a self-sought grave
Over this worn and weaned frame shall close,
Let me breathe out one dying curse on those
Who best deserve it. Nay, I do not rave,
But in this awful hour, I can compose
My thoughts to meet this fate, rather than crave
From their vile bounty, what perhaps might save
This being yet awhile — for what? — to be their slave!

Shall I live thus? No! while Earth's cold embrace
Offers to woes like mine a resting place,
There will I flee; beneath that quiet sod
To sleep for ever, or to meet a God
Who will not judge like his proud creature, Man,
Who, as he passes by the humble tomb
His pity scarce accorded, will presume
The faults of him who lies beneath to scan,
Invoking on this deed the fiery doom
Which fits his fierce belief's infernal plan.

Stand off, thou Hypocrite! thy threats are vain;
Beyond the grave, what should the guiltless fear?
Is it a crime to quit this world of pain,
And seek from Heaven what was denied us here?
No orphan hearts will break upon my bier:
No friends to whom my living was a life,
For me will pour the agonizing tear.—
What binds me to these scenes of sordid strife?
To thy base spirit they are justly dear—
Stand off! mine cannot rest while such is near
Cursed be your creed, accursed be all your tribe,
Ye self-sufficient Fools! who would prescribe
Bounds to your Maker's mercy, and exclude
All but your fellow fanatics. I've viewed
Your holy cheats too long — your impious zeal
To make this earth a Hell! Go, wretches, bind
That broken heart; into those wounds distil
The balm of kindness; though ye cannot feel
For human woes, some anguish ye might heal.
Preach peace and charity among mankind!
Thus shall ye best work out your Master's will,
Thus, thus your fancied Mission best fulfil.

There is a race as callous and more cold
Mammon's true sons, — whose only God is Gold;
Creatures of baser clay! upon whose breast
But one presiding passion is expressed,
Which reigns supreme, and shuts out all the rest!
Assassins of the soul! Slaves, who would bind
That only spark of Heaven, — the ethereal mind,
Down to the world's worst duties; till it grows
Contracted as the boundaries that close
Upon the trash they treasure! Things that smile,
And cringe, and fawn, and flatter, and beguile.
Cursed be these sycophants! accursed the arts
With which they wind into unwary hearts,
Till they may suck at will the vital blood,
Legally fattening on their ill-got food!
Honor, — that high-wrought feeling, which would droop
Beneath the blast of Death, rather than stoop
To aught of wrong, — was never understood
By such as these! one virtue at the most,
One only virtue, these true worldlings boast,—
Hard, selfish Honesty, which better suits,
Than bare-faced Knavery, with their base pursuits.
Speak I as one unknowing? do I draw
Forms which no eye but Fancy's ever saw?
No! such have hemmed me round, and I have dwelt
Under their lash too long, too long have felt
Whate'er they could inflict. Could curses blight,
There are some know, perhaps, where this would light.

Thou, who canst yet command all hearts but mine,
Woman! for whom was waked mine earliest song;
Woman! my soul's first idol, at whose shrine
My vows were breathed so lavishly and long;
Whilst round thee, hope — thought — feeling — all would twine,
Till my whole being was absorbed in thine,
Lost in a trance I madly deemed divine!
Cold as it is, I feel my bosom still
That tender hour recalling, wildly thrill;
Life seemed so smiling then, and Love so sweet,
That when proud Reason tore the veil away,
Which Folly cast around, and the deceit
Melted like mist before Truth's piercing ray,
My spirit still clung fondly to the cheat,
And vainly bade the fleeting vision stay.
That parting cost some pangs — but they are past,
My breast might bleed awhile — but now 'tis o'er;
Woman! this strain, the truest and the last,
To thee is given; my voice is raised no more
To soothe, delude, to flatter, or adore.
No! I have viewed your worthlessness, have seen
Your false souls changing with each changing scene,
Have marked ye as ye wove your web of wiles
With tears and treachery, and snares and smiles;
Seen, when at last those siren arts entice
Some nobler heart to woe — perhaps to vice,
How ye can watch your victim as he sinks
Uncoiling, coolly, all the blissful links
Which bound, in seeming, your own heart to his.
Then whelm him deeper in the black abyss
Of his despair; and turning from the shore,
Pass on your flowery path — calm, smiling, as before!

This, this is Woman! this that sex accursed;
Nature's last work, her weakest, and her worst!

Thus o'er his mind as wrongs and sufferings rushed,
From his torn breast these frantic accents gushed;
Till his exhausted spirit, wild but weak,
Sunk to that deadlier gloom which does not speak.
He gazed around: — there was no loved one there
To soothe the dying pangs of his despair;
There was no friendly hand whose care might close
His stiffening eyelids in their last repose.
Shuddering, he smiled; some thoughts of doubt and dread
Came o'er like shadows — but as quickly fled;
He looked to Heaven-all there was calm, though dim;
He turned to Earth — it was no place for him;
He felt his hour was come: — then deeply drank
Of that dread cup, and on the cold ground sank.