1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

Anonymous, "A Rhapody" The Port Folio NS 7 (March 1812) 292-96.



O thou, whom we have known so long, so well,
Thou who didst hymn the Maid of Arc, and fram'd
Of Thalaba the wild and wondrous song;
And in thy later Tale of Times of Old,
Remindest us of our own patriarch fathers,
The Madocs of their age, who planted here
The cross of Christ — and liberty — and peace!
Minstrel of other climes, of higher hopes,
And holier inspirations, who hast ne'er
From her high birth debas'd the goddess Muse,
To grovel in the dirt of earthly things;
But learn'd to mingle with her human tones
Some breathings of the harmonies of heaven!
Joyful to meet thee yet again, we hail
Thy last, thy loftiest lay; — nor chief we thank thee
For ev'ry form of Beauty, ev'ry light
Bestow'd by Brilliancy, and ev'ry grace
That Fancy could invent and Taste dispose.
Or that creating, consummating power,
Pervading fervour, and mysterious finish,
That something occult — indefinable—
By mortals Genius nam'd; the parent Sun
Whence all those rays proceed; the constant Fount
To feed those streams of mind; th' informing Soul
Whose influence all are conscious of, but none
Could e'er describe; whose fine and subtle nature
Seems like th' aerial forms, which legends say
Greeted the gifted eye of saint or seer,
Yet ever mock'd the fond inquirer's aim
To scan their essence!

Such alone we greet not.
Since Genius oft, (so oft, the tale is trite,)
Employs its golden art to varnish Vice,
And bleach Depravity, till it shall wear
The whiteness of the robes of Innocence,
And Fancy's self forsakes her truest trade,
The lapidary, for the scavenger;
And Taste, regardful of but half her province,
Self-sentenced to a partial blindness, turns
Her notice from the semblance of perfection,
To fix its hoodwink'd gaze on faults alone—
And like the owl, sees only in the night;
Not like the eagle, soars to meet the day.

Oblivion to all such! — For thee, we joy
Thou hast not misapply'd the gifts of God;
Nor yielded up thy powers, illustrious captives,
To grace the triumph of licentious Wit.
Once more a female is thy chosen theme;
And Kailyal lives a lesson to the sex,
How more than woman's loveliness may blend
With all of woman's worth; with chasten'd love,
Magnanimous exertion, patient piety,
And pure intelligence. Lo! from thy wand,
E'en Faith and Hope and Charity receive
Something more filial and more feminine!

Proud praise enough were this. — Yet is there more;
That 'neath thy splendid Indian canopy,
By fairy fingers wov'n, of gorgeous threads,
And gold and precious stones, thou hast enwrap'd
Stupendous themes that Truth divine reveal'd,
And answering Reason own'd. Nought more sublime,
Beauteous or useful, e'er was character'd
On Hermes' mystic pillars — Egypt's boast,
And more, Pythagoras' lesson, when the maze
Of hieroglyphic meaning aw'd the world!

Could Music's potent charm, as some believ'd,
Have warmth to animate the slum'bring dead,
And "lap them in Elysium," second only
To that which shall await in other worlds;
How would the native sons of ancient India
Unclose on thee that wond'ring, dubious eye,
Where Admiration wars with Incredulity!
Sons of the Morning! First-born of Creation!
What would they think of thee — Thee, one of us!
Sprung from a later race, on whom the ends
Of this, our world, have come! That thou shouldst pen,
What Varanasi's venerable towers
In all their pride and plenitude of power,
Ere Conquest spread her bloody banner o'er them,
Or Ruin trod upon their hallow'd walls—
Could ne'er excel; tho' stor'd with ethic wisdom,
And epic minstrelsy, and sacred lore.
For there, Philosophy's Gantami first
Taught man to measure mind; there Valmic hymn'd
The conq'ring arms of heaven-descended Rama;
And Calidasa and Vyasa there,
At diff'rent periods, but with powers the same,
The Sanscreet song prolong'd; — of Nature's works,
Of human woes, and sacred Chrishna's ways.
That it should e'er be thine, of Europe born,
To sing of Asia! That Hindostan's palms
Should bloom on Albion's hills; — and Brama's Vedas
Meet unconverted eyes, yet unprofan'd!
And those same brows the classic Thames had bath'd
Be lav'd by holy Ganges! While the lotos,
Fig-tree and cusa of its healing banks,
Should, with their derva's vegetable rubies,
Be painted to the life!

Not truer touches,
On plane-tree arch above, or roseate carpet,
Spread out beneath — were ever yet employ'd
When their own vale of Cashmere was the subject,
Sketch'd by its own Abdallah!

He, too, of thine own land, who long since found
A refuge in his final sanctuary,
From regal bigotry; could thy voice reach him,
His awful shade might greet thee as a brother,
In sentiment and song. That epic genius,
From whom the sight of outward things was taken
By Heav'n in mercy — that the orb of vision
Might totally turn inward — there concentred
On objects, else perhaps, invisible;
Requiring and exhausting all its rays.
Who (like Tiresias, of prophetic fame,)
Talk'd with futurity! That patriot poet,
Poet of "Paradise," whose daring eye
Explor'd "the living throne, the sapphire blaze,"
"But blasted with excess of light," retir'd;
And left to thee to compass other heavens
And other scenes of being!

Bard belov'd
Of all who Virtue love — rever'd by all
That Genius rev'rence — Southey! if thou art
"Gentle as bard beseems," and if thy life
Be lovely as thy lay; thou wilt not scorn
This rustic wreath; albeit 'twas entwin'd
Beyond the western waters — where I sit
And bid the winds that wait upon their surges,
Bear it across them to thine island-home.
Thou wilt not scorn the simple leaves, tho' cull'd
From that traduc'd, insulted spot of earth,
Of which thy contumelious brethren oft
Frame fables, full, as monstrous in their kind
As e'er Munchausen knew — with all his falsehood,
Guiltless of all his wit! Not such art thou,
Surely thou art not; if, as Rumour tells,
Thyself in the high hour of hopeful youth
Had cherish'd nightly visions of delight,
And day-dreams of desire, that lur'd thee on
To see these sister states, and painted to thee
Our frowning mountains and our laughing vales;
The countless beauties of our varied lakes;
The dim recesses of our endless woods;
Fit haunt for sylvan deities; — and whisper'd
How sweet it were in such deep solitude,
Where human foot ne'er trod, to raise thy hut,
To talk to Nature, but to think of man.
Then thou, perchance, like Scotia's darling son,
Hadst sung our Pennsylvanian villages;
Our bold Oneidas, and our tender Gertrudes,
And sung, like him, thy list'ners into tears.
Such were thy early musings — other thoughts,
And happier, doubtless, have concurr'd to fix thee
On Britain's venerated shore; yet still
Must that young thought be tenderly remember'd;
E'en as romantic minds are sometimes said
To cherish their first love — not that 'twas wisest,
But that 'twas earliest.

If that morning dream
Still lingers to thy noon of life, remember,
And for its own dear sake, when thou shalt hear
(As oft, alas! thou wilt,) those gossip tales,
By lazy Ignorance, or inventive Spleen,
Related, of the vast, the varied country,
We proudly call our own; — Oh! then refute them
By the just consciousness, that still this land
Has turn'd no adder's ear toward thy Muse
That charms so wisely; that whene'er her tones,
Mellow'd by distance, o'er the waters come,
They meet a band of list'ners; those who hear
With breath-suspending eagerness, and feel
With fev'rish interest. Be this their praise
And sure they'll need no other! Such there are,
Who, from the centre of an honest heart,
Bless thee for min'string to the purest pleasure
That man, whilst breathing earthly atmosphere,
In this minority of being, knows—
That of contemplating IMMORTAL VERSE,
In fit communion with ETERNAL TRUTH!