1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Robert Anderson

John Leyden, "The Dryad's Warning. To Robert Anderson M.D. on an Excursion in the Country" 1796; Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 12 (July 1798) 60-61.



Hark! from the hills a solemn moan
Breathes in the wind's expiring tone!
While sweeps the breeze on circling wings,
Forlorn and sad, some spirit sings!
Down yonder vale, abrupt and low;
Recedes the murmur dull and slow.

What omens, mighty Oak! can make
Thy knotted stubborn heart to quake?
No gale thy rustling foliage heaves;
Then why these fearful, shivering leaves?

The leaves were hush'd, the winds were calm—
A Dryad rais'd her slender palm—
With misletoe her locks were wreath'd,—
And these prophetic accents breath'd:

"What can the oak's firm strength avail,
When ev'n the radiant Sun grows pale?
In magic chains behold him bound,
Faint yellow circles wreathing round,—
The wan Moon, glimmering thro' her tears,
At midnight still, confess'd her fears.
I feel mine iron nerves revolt
At the deep-rending thunderbolt,
Whose fiery force my frame will rack,
And scorch my fair green foliage black—
Hence, Mortal, like the light'ning, fly
Ere the deluge pour from high,
Ere the blast's impetuous breath
Sweep you to the realms of death."—

Then died the Dryad's voice away—
Because she had no more to say—
While I the proper time embrace
To seize the story, in her place;
And ask, Dear Doctor! what could tempt
Your placid soul, from cares exempt,
When mystic tomes no longer rise
With magic charms to daze your eyes,
To leave your books, your letter'd ease,
Your power of trifling when you please,
To trace the marsh, the desart moors,
To converse with unlettered boors;
To pore on the bleak morning sky,
And count each cloud that waggles by;
To view the green moon thro' the trees
Swing like a huge suspended cheese;
Or fairy landscapes in the mist,
Like some poetic fabulist?
For sure, as anglers never search
Old Helicon for Trout or Perch,
The polish'd Muses ever shun
The echo of the Sportsman's gun.
No poets in these climes of ours
Have seen your fam'd Arcadian bowers;—
Its fragrance sweet no moss-rose spreads,
Tho' numerous blue-bells paint our meads,—
Tho' high our royal thistle rears
His head begirt with bristling spears—
The linnet warbles faint and low,
But sharp and shrill the jangling crow;
The wintry winds in summer howl,
"While nightly sings the staring owl;"
For swains, you find the surly clown,—
Dear Doctor, haste, return to town,
Where shines the sun on plaster'd walls,
Carts, cabbages, and coblers' stalls;
Now, only think how sweet he smiles,—
His beams reflected from the tiles.
Yet, Doctor, hear my boding voice,
While still you have the power of choice,
Quick fly impending floods of rain,
Nor deem the Dryad's warning vain.

Vain omens cease — you warn too late:
Impell'd by stern resistless fate,
He goes! while sure as I'm a sinner,
It rains before the hour of dinner.

Now having seiz'd (by way of trope)
Imagination's telescope,
I see as well thro stone and timber,
As through the window of my chamber;
Nor highest hills impede my vision,
Nay, mark — and smile not in derision—
Lo! by a stream I see you stray
Where chime the waves in wanton play;
Along with quicken'd pace you go,
And now with steps revers'd and slow,
Still listening to the buzzing crowd
Of idle gnats that murmur loud;
Where high the gushing waters spout,
And frequent springs the speckled trout;
While constant in your raptur'd ear
The river's distant hum you hear.

But heard you not at twilight's break
The wrangling hen's harsh-twittering peck?
And see these crows — in airy rings
They wheel on glossy oil-smooth'd wings,
Aloft they dart, oblique they range,
In hieroglyphic circles strange,
And now their mazy folds combine
To form one long continuous line.
That living hillock heaves its head
With crumbling earth so fresh and red,
Where, floundering blindfold from his hole,
Springs forth to light the darkling mole.

Fly, Doctor, fly, no longer stay
Till twining earth-worms bar your way;
Till crawling snails their antlers rear,
And Anne and Margaret cry "O dear!
How hard yon path-way steep to climb,
And slide o'er slippery tracks of slime."

The rains descend, the thunders roar—
'Tis well you reach'd that cottage door.

The roads are floods — on such a day
Would Homer's well-soal'd boots give way.
With hopeless foot the traveller views
His path who, luckless! trusts in shoes;
But you, perhaps, (ah vain pretence!)
In coaches place your confidence.
In vain in chariots and in horse
You trust to speed you on your course.
That tempest, fit for turning mills,
The coachman's heart with horror fills—
It goes — as well might seamen try
To steer straight in the North-wind's eye—
Beneath the blast it tottering reels,
And heaves aloft its ponderous wheels.

Well, Doctor, since you must delay,
Why, practice patience while you stay—
When tempests shroud the stormy sky
These lines its utmost power may try.
Edinburgh, August 6, 1796.