1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo: Proem.

The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo: by Robert Southey, Esq. Poet Laureate.

Robert Southey


24 irregular Spenserians (ababcC). The Proem to The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo describes the domestic scene at Greta Hall, with the poet surrounded by his family. Robert Southey declares that he is "if but self-approved, to praise or blame | Indifferent, while I toil for lasting fame" p. 11. Southey was aware that scores of poems had been written on his subject, yet the object of his emulation is highter, appealing to the Muses to "aid me with your fuller influence, | And to the height of that great argument, | Support my spirit in her strong ascent! | So may I boldly round my temples bind | The laurel which my master Spenser wore" pp. 12-13. Not seen.

Robert Southey to G. C. Bedford: "It is in the sixlined stanza, like the unfinished marriage-poem which you have seen, and pitched in the same Spenserian key" 19 December 1815; in New Letters (1965) 2:128.

About this time Southey wrote to Chauncy Hare Townshend: "Study our early poets, and avoid all imitation of your contemporaries. You cannot read the best writers of Elizabeth's age too often. Do you love Spenser? I have him in my heart of hearts" 10 February 1816, in Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 4:152.

Argument: "The first part of this Poem describes a journey to the scene of war. The second is in an allegorical form; it exposes the gross material philosophy which has been the guiding principle of the French politicians, from Mirabeau to Buonaparte; and it states the opinions of those persons who lament the restoration of the Bourbons, because the hopes which they entertained from the French Revolution have not been realized: and of those who see only evil, or blind chance, in the course of human events" Poetical Works (1845) 10:1.

Monthly Review: "The Pilgrimage to Waterloo appears to us to be not only the best of the numerous effusions on that victory, but, on the whole, the most pleasing, the most classical, and the least prosaic of all Mr. Southey's compositions. The last epithet is, in truth, indicative of the sin which most easily and most uniformly besets the author. A want of figurative and poetical expression is the prevailing defect of his writings in verse; while a great clearness, simplicity, and freedom from bombast, form their prevailing excellence" NS 80 (June 1816) 189-90.

British Critic: "The versification (the sweetest beyond compare which we have seen since the days of Spenser) flows on without much break or burst, soothing and delighting, rather than rousing or hurrying away the mind of the reader.... The author seems to have had fresh in his mind the beautiful scene between the Red Cross Knight and Despair, in the first book of the Fairy Queen, a scene which for richness and colouring, for maintenance of character, for suitableness in the tone of language and measure to the subject, has never, we will venture to say, been surpassed in any language.... We will not place the passage which occasioned these remarks, by the side of Spenser's Cave of Despair; indeed the feeling it is intended to excite is wholly of a different nature; but the resemblance in many circumstances is sufficiently strong; the placid countenance of Despair, and his mild answer to the reproaches of the Knight, his growing influence over him, and his gradual though finally imperfect triumph over his mind, are here closely followed by the composure, the unaltered mien, the 'unabashed eye, and front serene' of the Old Man, after the passionate discourse of his opponent, his pause upon a successful sophism, his increased ardour as he grows more conscious of his strength; and the painful burthen of doubt and dismay which he leaves on the unconvinced, yet shaken mind of the Poet. When we consider one as built upon the model of the other, we by no means intimate that it is a tame, or servile copy. Mr. Southey will not be offended, when we say, that he has not improved upon his master Spenser; it is no small praise to say, that he has shewn himself his worthy scholar" NS 6 (July 1816) 30, 37-39.

European Magazine: "The achievements of war are better calculated to supply materials for history than poetry. The author of Roderic submitted to no degradation in becoming the biographer of Nelson; and the history of the campaigns in Spain, will, we doubt not, continue to be read with avidity, when many ephemeral epics have perished, and the heroic numbers which were intended to eternize their memory shall be wholly forgotten" 70 (November 1816) 439.

Anti-Jacobin Review: "We have accompanied Mr. Southey through his pilgrimage with unmixed pleasure, with satisfaction unalloyed" 50 (1816) 522.

David Macbeth Moir: "The Pilgrimage to Waterloo is but the poet's journal cleverly versified; some of the stanzas are very beautiful" Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 97.



Once more I see thee, Skiddaw! once again
Behold thee in thy majesty serene,
Where like the bulwark of this favoured plain,
Alone thou standest, monarch of the scene . . .
Thou glorious Mountain, on whose ample breast
The sunbeams love to play, the vapours love to rest!

Once more, O Derwent! to thy aweful shores
I come, insatiate of the accustomed sight;
And listening as the eternal torrent roars,
Drink in with eye and ear a fresh delight:
For I have wandered far by land and sea,
In all my wanderings still remembering thee.

Twelve years, (how large a part of man's brief day!)
Nor idly, nor ingloriously spent,
Of evil and of good have held their way,
Since first upon thy banks I pitched my tent.
Hither I came in manhood's active prime,
And here my head hath felt the touch of time.

Heaven hath with goodly increase blest me here,
Where childless and opprest with grief I came;
With voice of fervent thankfulness sincere
Let me the blessings which are mine proclaim:
Here I possess, . . what more should I require?
Books, children, leisure, . . all my heart's desire.

O joyful hour, when to our longing home
The long-expected wheels at length drew nigh!
When the first sound went forth, "They come, they come!"
And hope's impatience quickened every eye!
"Never had man whom Heaven would heap with bliss
More glad return, more happy hour than this."

Aloft on yonder bench, with arms dispread,
My boy stood, shouting there his father's name,
Waving his hat around his happy head;
And there, a younger group, his sisters came:
Smiling they stood with looks of pleased surprize,
While tears of joy were seen in elder eyes.

Soon each and all came crouding round to share
The cordial greeting, the beloved sight;
What welcomings of hand and lip were there!
And when those overflowings of delight
Subsided to a sense of quiet bliss,
Life hath no purer deeper happiness.

The young companion of our weary way
Found here the end desired of all her ills;
She who in sickness pining many a day
Hungered and thirsted for her native hills,
Forgetful now of sufferings past and pain,
Rejoiced to see her own dear home again.

Recovered now, the homesick mountaineer
Sate by the playmate of her infancy,
Her twin-like comrade, . . rendered doubly dear
For that long absence: full of life was she,
With voluble discourse and eager mien
Telling of all the wonders she had seen.

Here silently between her parents stood
My dark-eyed Bertha, timid as a dove;
And gently oft from time to time she wooed
Pressure of hand, or word, or look of love,
With impulse shy of bashful tenderness,
Soliciting again the wished caress.

The younger twain in wonder lost were they,
My gentle Kate, and my sweet Isabel:
Long of our promised coming, day by day
It had been their delight to hear and tell;
And now when that long-promised hour was come,
Surprize and wakening memory held them dumb.

For in the infant mind, as in the old,
When to its second childhood life declines,
A dim and troubled power doth Memory hold:
But soon the light of young Remembrance shines
Renewed, and influences of dormant love
Wakened within, with quickening influence move.

O happy season theirs, when absence brings
Small feeling of privation, none of pain,
Yet at the present object love re-springs,
As night-closed flowers at morn expand again!
Nor deem our second infancy unblest,
When gradually composed we sink to rest.

Soon they grew blithe as they were wont to be;
Her old endearments each began to seek:
And Isabel drew near to climb my knee,
And pat with fondling hand her father's cheek;
With voice and touch and look reviving thus
The feelings which had slept in long disuse.

But there stood one whose heart could entertain
And comprehend the fullness of the joy;
The father, teacher, playmate, was again
Come to his only and his studious boy:
And he beheld again that mother's eye,
Which with such ceaseless care had watch'd his infancy.

Bring forth the treasures now, . . a proud display, . .
For rich as Eastern merchants we return!
Behold the black Beguine, the Sister grey,
The Friars whose heads with sober motion turn,
The Ark well-fill'd with all its numerous hives,
Noah and Shem and Ham and Japhet, and their wives.

The tumbler, loose of limb; the wrestlers twain;
And many a toy beside of quaint device,
Which, when his fleecy troops no more can gain
Their pasture on the mountains hoar with ice,
The German shepherd carves with curious knife,
Earning in easy toil the food of frugal life.

It was a group which Richter, had he viewed,
Might have deemed worthy of his perfect skill;
The keen impatience of the younger brood,
Their eager eyes and fingers never still;
The hope, the wonder, and the restless joy
Of those glad girls, and that vociferous boy!

The aged friend serene with quiet smile,
Who in their pleasure finds her own delight;
The mother's heart-felt happiness the while;
The aunts, rejoicing in the joyful sight;
And he who in his gaiety of heart,
With glib and noisy tongue performed the showman's part.

Scoff ye who will! but let me, gracious Heaven,
Preserve this boyish heart till life's last day!
For so that inward light by Nature given
Shall still direct, and cheer me on my way,
And brightening as the shades of age descend,
Shine forth with heavenly radiance at the end.

This was the morning light vouchsafed, which led
My favoured footsteps to the Muses' hill,
Whose arduous paths I have not ceased to tread,
From good to better persevering still;
And if but self-approved, to praise or blame
Indifferent, while I toil for lasting fame.

And O ye nymphs of Castaly divine!
Whom I have dutifully served so long,
Benignant to your votary now incline,
That I may win your ear with gentle song,
Such as, I ween, is ne'er disowned by you, . .
A low prelusive strain, to nature true.

But when I reach at themes of loftier thought,
And tell of things surpassing earthly sense,
(Which by yourselves, O Muses, I am taught,)
Then aid me with your fuller influence,
And to the height of that great argument,
Support my spirit in her strong ascent!

So may I boldly round my temples bind
The laurel which my master Spenser wore;
And free in spirit as the mountain wind
That makes my symphony in this lone hour,
No perishable song of triumph raise,
But sing in worthy strains my Country's praise.

[pp. 1-13]