1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Nathaniel Evans

Anonymous, "Poems on Several Occastions by Nathaniel Evans" The Minerva [New York] NS 1 (11 September 1824) 362-64.



It is not generally known that, little as American genius has heretofore been appreciated, particularly when directing its efforts to poetry, and few as have been the successful minstrels of our country, we have had poets far above mediocrity, who dated their existence even anterior to the revolution. Genius, as was said on a former occasion, is the birthright of no particular soil; and whoever is intimately acquainted with the American people, cannot be ignorant that they inherit as large a share as people similarly circumstanced in any other part of the world. Amongst the works which we claim for our literature, the aspirations of Mr. Evans are not unworthy of commendation, particularly when we bear in mind that he tuned his pipe, when the meadows and plantations which beautify the face of our country, were nothing but "woods and wilds," "where prowled the wolf, and where the hunter roved."

From an advertisement prefixed to the poems, it appears that the author was born in the year 1742, and that he died in his twenty-sixth year! even the little span that was allowed him having been darkened by affliction. Yet he was deeply imbued with the poet's fine sensibility and left behind him many pieces which afford evidences of the most amiable and elegant sentiments. He did, it is true, not live long enough to bring to maturity his happy endowments, and to refine and purify his literary taste, to the degree that he obviously would have done, had he filled up the measure of his years; but his name and his poetry will not be without its charm, when the reader is told that in addition to youth and amiability, lie was unwearied in the cultivation of his talents, and that his attainments, such as they may be deemed, were the laborious acquisition of those intervals of leisure which he snatched from the most arduous avocations.

He had but little time for the Muses, though he loved them much, and when he could steal an hour from "this bank-note world," most ardently paid court to them. If he was not as successful as many of his followers have been, he was certainly worthy of praise, and we do not think it just that his name should be forgotten. His present obscurity is probably attributable more to accident than to insignificance, and we do not believe that we shall undeservedly elevate him, if we enrol him on the yet brief list of American poets.

We shall, however, lay before the reader some short specimens of his composition, and we think he will coincide in the expressions of praise which we have hazarded above.

SONG. EXTEMPORE.
The sprightly eye, the rosy cheek,
The dimpled chin, and look so meek,
The nameless grace and air;
The ruby lip in sweetness drest,
The softly swelling angel breast—
All these adorn my fair!

See! what unnumber'd beauties rove
Around each feature of my love,
And fire my rapt'rous soul!
Ten thousand sweets her looks disclose,
At ev'ry look my bosom glows,
And yields to love's control.

Just heav'ns! why gave ye charms like these,
With ev'ry graceful art to please,
To her whom rigid fate
Permits me not my pain to tell,
And makes me sacred truth conceal
From one I wish my mate.

Curse on the sordid thirst of gold!
When tend'rest passions all are sold
To win the world's applause;
When, for desire, and love, and joy,
Low interest shall our hours employ,
And gain th' ignoble cause.

Our author, as may be seen, is no mean proficient in amatory verses, and we shall now present an extract from some sentimental lines, addressed to a young lady on her recovery from an illness.

TO SYLVIA. A SONG.
When at bleak winter's stern command,
Fair nature's blooming beauties fade,
And the sad groves all leafless stand,
And wither'd is each pleasing shade;

No nightingale, or linnet gay,
Is heard to wake the sprightly strain.,
No turtle pours her love-lorn lay
To sooth the soul of am'rous swain.

But when the jovial hours appear,
That usher in the vernal breeze,
When young-ey'd spring bedecks the year,
And clothes in verdant robe the trees

The feather'd choristers prepare
To swell the gratulating song,
While through the soft expanse of air,
Wild music sweetly floats along.

So when my Sylvia, lovely maid!
Is by the touch of sickness pain'd,
When on her cheeks the roses fade,
And with pale white her lips are stain'd;

Oh then! my heart, oppress'd with woe
And inward anguish, pines away;
Nor from my lips does music flow,
A stranger to the warbling lay.

These verses exhibit, we think, a favourable view of Mr. Evan's poetry, particularly of the lighter kind; and we shall conclude by quoting part of a psalm, which he has rendered in verse. It resembles that which has since been splendidly paraphrased by Lord Byron, and does not fall so very far below the version of the latter as we might naturally expect:

'Twas on the gentle brink reclin'd,
Of fair Euphrates' murm'ring wave,
When Zion's fate we call'd to mind,
Salt tears our languid cheeks did lave.

There, on the willows bending low,
Our untun'd joyless harps we hung;
For what but grief could from us flow,
When unrelenting foes among?

Rather than I, in evil hour,
Should cease to think of Judah's wrong,
May my right arm be void of pow'r,
And dumb, for ever, be my tongue.