1795
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Romance.

Poems: containing The Retrospect, Odes, Elegies, Sonnets, &c. By Robert Lovell, and Robert Southey.

Robert Southey


A Pindaric ode in eighteen irregular stanzas, signed "Bion." In this early, uncollected poem Robert Southey presents a progress of romance from ancient to modern times, laden with the kind of obscure lore, and skipping with the abrupt transitions appropriate to the Pindaric form. The poem opens, after an invocation to Romance alluding to Collins's Ode to Fear, with the genius of Romance journeying to Scandinavia; at the center Superstition leads the Crusaders to war in Palestine; the progress concludes with an address to Rousseau, "Guide of my life." Spenser gets a stanza near the end: "Sound, Fame, thy loudest blast, | For SPENSER pours the tender strain, | And shapes to glowing forms the motley train; | The elfin tribes around | Await his potent sound, | And o'er his head Romance her brightest splendours cast" p. 24. The "motley train" is glossed as "Fictions of Romance, allegorized by Spenser" 24n. While the enthusiasms chronicled in this ode would remain with Southey for the remainder of his life, it is not difficult to see why he chose not to reprint this juvenile effusion.



What wildly-beauteous form,
High on the summit of yon bicrown'd hill,
Lovely in horror, takes her dauntless stand?
Tho' speds the thunder there its deep'ning way,
Tho' round her head the lightnings play,
Undaunted she abides the storm;
She waves her magic wand,
The clouds retire, the storm is still;
Bright beams the sun unwonted light around,
And many a rising flower bedecks the enchanted ground.

Romance! I know thee now,
I know the terrors of thy brow;
I know thine aweful mien, thy beaming eye;
And lo! whilst mists arise around
Yon car that cleaves the pregnant ground!
Two fiery dragons whirl her through the sky;
Her milder sister loves to rove
Amid Parnassus' laurell'd grove,
On Helicon's harmonious side,
To mark the gurgling streamlet glide;
Meantime, thro' wilder scenes and sterner skies,
From clime to clime the ardent genius flies.

She speeds to yonder shore,
Where ruthless tempests roar,
Where sturdy winter holds his northern reign,
Nor vernal suns relax the ice-pil'd plain:
Dim shadows circle round her secret seat,
Where wandering, who approach shall hear
The wild wolf rend the air;
Thro' the cloudy-mantled sky
Shall see the imps of darkness fly,
And hear the sad scream from the grim retreat;
Around her throne
Ten thousand dangers lurk, most fearful, most unknown.

Yet lovlier oft in milder sway,
She wends abroad her magic way;
The holy prelate owns her power;
In soft'ning tale relates
The snowy Ethiop's matchless charms,
The outlaw's den, the clang of arms,
And love's too-varying fates;
The storms of persecution lower,
Austere devotion gives the stern command,
"Commit yon impious legend to the fires;"—
Calm in his conscious worth, the sage retires,
And saves the invalu'd work, and quits the thankless land;
High tow'rs his name the sacred list above,
And ev'n the priest is prais'd, who wrote of blameless love.

Around the tower, whose wall infolds
Young THORA'S blooming charms,
Romance's serpent winds his glittering folds;
The warrior clasps his shaggy arms,
The monster falls, the damsel is the spoil,
Matchless reward of REGNER'S matchless toil.

Around the patriot board,
The knights attend their lord;
The martial sieges hov'ring o'er,
Enrapt the genius views the dauntless band;
Still prompt for innocence to fight,
Or quell the pride of proud oppression's might,
They rush intrepid o'er the land;
She gives them to the minstrel lore,
Hands down her LAUNCELOT'S peerless name,
Repays her TRISTRAM'S woes with fame;
Borne on the breath of song,
To future times descends the memory of the throng.

Foremost mid the peers of France,
ORLANDO hurls the death-fraught lance;
Where DURLINDANA aims the blow,
To darkness sinks the faithless foe;
The horn with magic sound
Spreads deep dismay around;
Unborn to bleed, the chieftain goes,
And scatters wide his Paynim foes;
The genius hovers o'er the purple plain
Where OLIVERO tramples on the slain;
BAYARDO speeds his furious course,
High towers ROGERO in his matchless force.

Romance the heighten'd tale has caught,
Forth from the sad monastic cell,
Where fiction with devotion loves to dwell,
The sacred legend flies with many a wonder fraught;
Deep roll the papal thunders round,
And everlasting wrath to rebel reason sound.

Hark! Superstition sounds to war's alarms,
War stalks o'er Palestine with scorching breath,
And triumphs in the feast of death;
All Europe flies to arms:
Enthusiast courage spreads her piercing sound,
Devotion caught the cry, and woke the echo around.
Romance before the army flies,
New scenes await her wondering eyes;
Awhile she firms her GODFREY'S throne,
And makes Arabia's magic lore her own.

And hark! resound, in mingled sound,
The clang of arms, the shriek of death;
Each streaming gash bedews the ground,
And deep and hollow groans load the last struggling breath:
Wide thro' the air the arrows fly,
Darts, shields, and swords, commix'd appear;
Deep is the cry, when thousands die,
When COEUR DE LION'S arm constrains to fear:
Aloft the battle-axe in air
Whirls around confus'd despair;
Nor Acre's walls can check his course,
Nor Sarzin millions stay his force.

Indignant, firm the warrior stood,
The hungry lion gapes for food;
His fearless eye beheld him nigh,
Unarm'd, undaunted, saw the beast proceed:
Romance, o'erhovering, saw the monster die,
And scarce herself believ'd the more than wond'rous deed.

And now, with more terrific mien,
She quits the sad degenerate scene;
With many a talisman of mightiest pow'r,
Borne in a rubied car, sublime she flies,
Fire-breathing griffins waft her thro' the skies;
Around her head the innocuous tempest lowers,
To Gallia's favour'd realm she goes,
And quits her magic state, and plucks her lovely rose.

Imagination waves her wizard wand,
Dark shadows mantle o'er the land;
The lightnings flash, the thunders sound,
Convulsive throbs the labouring ground;
What fiends, what monsters, circling round, arise!
High towers of fire aloft aspire,
Deep yells resound amid the skies,
Yclad in arms, to Fame's alarms
Her magic warrior flies.

By Fiction's shield secure, for many a year
O'er cooler reason held the genius rule;
But lo! CERVANTES waves his pointed spear,
Nor Fiction's shield can stay the spear of ridicule.

The blameless warrior comes; he first to wield
His fateful weapon in the martial field;
By him created on the view
ARCADIA'S vallies bloom anew,
And many a flock o'erspreads the plain,
And love, with innocence, assumes his reign:
Protected by a warrior's name,
The kindred warriors live to fame:
Sad is the scene, where oft from Pity's eye
Descends the sorrowing tear,
As high the unheeding chieftain lifts the spear,
And gives the deadly blow, and sees PARTHENIA die!
Where, where such virtues can we see,
Or where such valour, SIDNEY, but in thee?
O, cold of heart, shall pride assail thy shade,
Whom all Romance could fancy nature made?

Sound, Fame, thy loudest blast,
For SPENSER pours the tender strain,
And shapes to glowing forms the motley train;
The elfin tribes around
Await his potent sound,
And o'er his head Romance her brightest splendours cast.
Deep thro' the air let sorrow's banner wave!
For penury o'er SPENSER'S friendless head
Her chilling mantle spread;
For Genius cannot save!
Virtue bedews the blameless poet's dust;
But fame, exulting, clasps her favorite's bust.

Fain would the grateful Muse, to thee ROUSSEAU,
Pour forth the energic thanks of gratitude;
Fain would the raptur'd lyre ecstatic glow,
To whom Romance and Nature form'd all good:
Guide of my life, too weak these lays,
To pour the unutterable praise;
Thine aid divine for ever lend,
Still as my guardian's sprite attend;
Unmov'd by Fashion's flaunting throng,
Let my calm stream of life smooth its meek course along;
Let no weak vanity dispense
Her vapors o'er my better sense;
But let my bosom glow with fire,
Let me strike the soothing lyre,
Altho' by all unheard the melodies expire.

[pp. 17-25]