1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Anonymous, "Lines on reading Lord Byron's Poem of Childe Harold" Anti-Jacobin Review 48 (April 1815) 412-15.



Cold is the heart, extinct the vital spark
That kindles not to flame at Harold's muse,
The mental vision too, how surely dark,
Which, as the anxious wanderer it pursues,
Sees not a noble heart, that fain would choose
The course to heaven, could that course be found,
And since on earth, it nothing fears to lose,
Would joy to press that blest ethereal ground
Where peace and truth and life, and friends abound.

I "deem not Harold's breast, a breast of steel;"
(Steel is the heart that could the thought conceive)
But warm, affectionate, and quick to feel;
Eager in joy, yet not unwont to grieve:
And sorely do I view his vessel leave,
Like erring bark of card and chart bereft,
The shore to which his soul would love to cleave.
Would Harold I could make thee know full oft,
That leaving thus the helm, the land thou seek'st is lost.

Is Harold satiated with worldly joy?
Leaves he his home and lands without a sigh?
'Tis half the way to heaven — Oh then employ
That blessed freedom of thy soul, to fly
To him, who ever gracious, ever nigh,
Demands the heart, that breaks the world's hard chain
If early freed, tho' by satiety;
Vast is the privilege that man may gain,
Who early foils the foe, may well the prize obtain.

Thou lovest nature with a filial zeal,
Can'st fly mankind, to brood with her apart?
Unutterable sure that inward feel
When swells the soul, and heaves the lab'ring heart,
With yearning throes, which nothing can impart
But nature's majesty, remote from man
In kindred raptures, I have borne my part,
The Pyrenean horrors lov'd to scan,
And from the crest of Alps peruse the mighty plan.

"'Tis ecstasy" to muse o'er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forests shady scene
Where things, that own not man's dominion dwell,
"And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been:
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock, that never needs a fold,
Alone o'er steeps and foaming falls to lean.
THIS is not solitude, 'tis but to hold
Converse with nature's charms, and see her stores unroll'd."

Forget we not the artist in the art,
Nor overlook the giver in the grace:
Say what is nature but the little part
Which man's imperfect vision can embrace
Of the stupendous whole, that fills all space,
The work of him by whom all space is bound?
Shall Raphael's pencil, Raphael's self efface;
Shall Handel's self be lost in Handel's sound?
And shall not nature's God, in nature's works be found?

But Harold through sin's labyrinth has run,
Nor made atonement when he did amiss;
And does the memory of that evil done
Disturb his spirit, and obscure his bliss?
'Tis just — 'tis Harold's due — yet let not this
Press heavier on the heart than heaven ordains;
What mortal lives not guilty or remiss?
What heart that hath not felt remorse's pains?
What human soul is pure, but mark'd by some sad stains?

And can this helpless thing, pollute, debas'd,
Its own disfigur'd nature e'er reform?
Say, can the sculptured marble once defac'd,
Restore its lineament, renew its form?
That can the sculptor's hand alone perform,
Else must the marr'd and mutilated stone
For ever be imperfect and deform'd;
So man may sin and wail, but not atone,
That restorative power belongs to God alone.

Yet is atonement made — creation's Lord
Deserts not thus the work his skill devis'd
Man not his creature only, but his ward;
Too dearly his Maker's eye is priz'd,
Than thus to lie abandon'd and despis'd;
Atonement is the Almighty's richest dole,
And ever in the mystic plan compris'd,
To mend the foul debasement of the soul,
Restore God's likeness lost, and make his image whole.

Oh! "If as holiest men have deem'd there be
A land of souls beyond death's sable shore,"
How would quick-hearted Harold burn to see
The much-lov'd objects of his life once more,
And nature's new sublimities explore
In better worlds! Ah! Harold, I conjure
Speak not in ifs to those whom God has taught,
If ought on earth, — that blessed truth is sure,
All-gracious God, to quiet human thought,
Hath pledg'd his sacred word, and demonstration wrought.

Did Babylon in truth by Cyrus fall?
Is't true that Persia stain'd the Grecian land?
Did Philip's son the Persian host enthrall?
Or Caesar's legions press the British strand?
Fell Palestine by Titus' sword and brand:
Can Harold to those facts his faith entrust?
Then let him humbly learn, and understand
That Christ is risen from the dead, the first
Dear pledge to mortal frames yet mouldering in the dust.

But Harold will not look beyond the tomb,
And thinks he may not hope for rest before;
Fie, Harold, fie! unconscious of thy doom,
The nature of thy soul thou know'st not more,
Nor know'st thy lofty mind, which loves to soar!
Thy glowing spirit, and thy thought sublime,
Are foreign on this flat and naked shore;
And languish for their own celestial clime
Far in the bounds of space, beyond the bounds of time.

Then must thou surely live, and of that life
Ages on ages shall no part exhaust,
But with renew'd existence ever rise
No more in dark uncertainty be lost,
When once that seeming barrier is cross'd
The birth of mortals to immortal day,
Oh! let not then this precious hour be lost,
But humbly turn to him, who points the way
To ever-daring youth, from infinite decay.

Such, such the prospect! such the glorious boon,
The last great end in heaven's supreme design;
Think not thy cloud continues, for soon
Must truth break in upon a soul like thine,
Yearning unconscious for the light divine.
Oh! hear the gracious word to thee addressed,
By him thy Lord, Almighty, and benign,
"Come unto me, all ye by care oppressed,
Come to my open arms, and I will give you rest."

Would thou hadst lov'd through Judah's coasts to stray,
Would Sion Hill, Parnassus' love might share,
What joy to hear the muses potent lay,
The sacred horrors of that land declare,
And all that holy scene engage her care,
Where poet's harp, with Homer's skill, was strung,
Where heavenly wisdom pour'd her treasures rare,
Long, long ere Athens' woke to Solon's tongue,
And truth-inspir'd seers of after ages sung.

But thanks for that we have, and for the more
Thy muse doth bid the listening ear attend;
Nor vainly bid, those whom she charm'd before,
Oh! let not then his humble verse offend.
Her skill can judge the speaking of a friend,
Nor zeal presumptuous prompts the cautious strain,
But christian love, that would to all extend
The cloudless ray and steady calm which reign
Where evangelic truths their empire due maintain.