1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Botany Bay Eclogues IV: Frederic.

Poems, by Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey


Fredric offers a penitential prayer in which there are apparent echoes of Hamlet's famous soliloquy: "Death! where the magic in that empty name | That chills my inmost heart? Why at the thought | Starts the cold dew of fear on every limb? | There are no terrors to surround the Grave, | When the calm Mind collected in itself | Surveys that narrow house." Robert Southey later excised several lines. These popular poems were later imitated by David Macbeth Moir ("Delta") in "British Eclogues I: Mary, The Soldier's Bride" in Blackwood's Magazine 8 (February 1821) 527-29.

Thomas Noon Talfourd: "He has neither the intensity of Wordsworth, nor the glorious expression of Coleridge; but he has their holiness of imagination, and childlike purity of thought. His fancies are often as sweet and heavenly as those which 'may make a crysome child to smile.' There is, too, sometimes an infantine love of glitter and pomp, and of airy castle-building, displayed in his more fantastical writings. The great defect of his purest and loftiest poems is, that they are not imbued with humanity; they do not seem to have their only home on 'this dear spot, this human earth of our,' but their scenes might be transferred, perhaps with advantage, to the moon or one of the planets. In the loneliest bower which poesy can rear, deep in a trackless wild, or in some island, placed 'far amid the melancholy main,' the air of this world must yet be allowed to breathe, if the poet would interest 'us poor humans'" Retrospective Review; in Talfourd's Miscellaneous Writings (1869) 80.



TIME, NIGHT. SCENE, THE WOODS.

Where shall I turn me? whither shall I bend
My weary way? thus worn with toil and faint,
How thro' the thorny mazes of this wood
Attain my distant dwelling? that deep cry
That rings along the forest, seems to sound
My parting knell: it is the midnight howl
Of hungry monsters prowling for their prey!
Again! O save me — save me, gracious Heaven!
I am not fit to die!

Thou coward wretch,
Why palpitates thy heart? why shake thy limbs
Beneath their palsied burthen? is there aught
So lovely in existence? would'st thou drain
Even to its dregs the bitter draught of life?
Dash down the loathly bowl! poor outcast slave
Stamp'd with the brand of Vice and Infamy,
Why should the felon Frederic shrink from Death?

Death! where the magic in that empty name
That chills my inmost heart? Why at the thought
Starts the cold dew of fear on every limb?
There are no terrors to surround the Grave,
When the calm Mind collected in itself
Surveys that narrow house: the ghastly train
That haunt the midnight of delirious Guilt
Then vanish; in that home of endless rest
All sorrows cease. — Would I might slumber there!

Why then this panting of the fearful heart?
This miser love of Life, that dreads to lose
Its cherish'd torment? Shall the diseased man
Yield up his members to the surgeon's knife,
Doubtful of succour, but to ease his frame
Of fleshly anguish; and the coward wretch,
Whose ulcered soul can know no human help,
Shrink from the best Physician's certain aid?
Oh it were better far to lie me down
Here on this cold damp earth, till some wild beast
Seize on his willing victim!

If to die
Were all, it were sweet indeed to rest my head
On the cold clod, and sleep the sleep of Death.
But if the Archangel's trump at the last hour
Startle the ear of Death, and wake the soul
To frenzy! — dreams of infancy! fit tales
For garrulous beldames to affrighten babes!
I have been guilty, yet my mind can bear
The retrospect of guilt, yet in the hour
Of deep contrition to THE ETERNAL look
For mercy! for the child of Poverty,
And "disinterested of happiness,"
What if I warr'd upon the world? the world
Had wrong'd me first: I had endured the ills
Of hard injustice; all this goodly earth
Was but to me one wild waste wilderness;
I had no share in Nature's patrimony;
Blasted were all my morning hopes of youth,
Dark DISAPPOINTMENT followed on my ways,
CARE was my bosom inmate, and keen WANT
Gnaw'd at my heart. ETERNAL ONE thou know'st
How that poor heart even in the bitter hour
Of lewdest revelry has inly yearn'd
For peace!

My FATHER! I will call on thee,
Pour to thy mercy seat my earnest prayer,
And wait thy peace in bowedness of soul.
O thoughts of comfort! how the afflicted heart,
Tired with the tempest of its passions, rests
On you with holy hope! The hollow howl
Of yonder harmless tenant of the woods
Comes with no terror to the sober'd sense.
If I have sinn'd against mankind, on them
Be that past sin; they made me what I was.
In these extremest climes Want can no more
Urge me to deeds of darkness, and at length
Here I may rest. What though my hut be poor—
The rains descend not through its humble roof:
Would I were there again! the night is cold;
And what if in my wanderings I should rouse
The savage from his thicket!

Hark! the gun!
And lo — the fire of safety! I shall reach
My little hut again! again by toil
Force from the stubborn earth my sustenance,
And quick-ear'd guilt will never start alarm'd
Amid the well-earn'd meal. This felon's garb—
Will it not shield me from the winds of Heaven?
And what could purple more? O strengthen me,
Eternal One, in this serener state!
Cleanse thou mine heart, so PENITENCE and FAITH
Shall heal my soul, and my last days be peace.

[pp. 99-104]