1782
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

La Gierusalemme Soggettita.

Poems. By the Rev. Joseph Sterling.

Rev. Joseph Sterling


56 Spenserians: Claribell returns from the crusades to describe to Belgardo the death of his sons and the fall of Jerusalem. The theme of the poem may have been suggested by the American war, which was going badly.

The poem is a fine example of "Strawberry-Hill gothic," studded with unusual archaisms and yet somehow modern in conception. Sir Walter Scott and later poets would later conclude Spenser was not the best medium through which to recreate the middle ages, but the mixture of period styles in Sterling's poem has its own kind of integrity.

In the preface to the second edition, Joseph Sterling took issue with a negative review: "I have read somewhere, that national reflections are always made by the ignorant and the prejudiced. The learned review is displeased with some rhymes which he chuses to call 'Hibernian.' The rhymes I admit are weak, and proposed to have altered them, if the poems ever went through a second edition. Similar rhymes, however, frequently occur in Pope, whose pronunciation was never vitiated by crossing the Irish channel. Some feeble rhymes, I fear, will still be found in the Gierusalemme Soggettita; but from the frequent occurrence of the same rhymes in Spenser's Stanza, the defect is almost unavoidable" p. vi.

English Review: "The author appears to have formed himself chiefly on the Italian school; and what merit he possesses arises, in a great measure, from his imitation of Italian poets. To this he adds such knowledge of the customs produced by, or connected with chivalry, as seems to us peculiarly consonant with the models he has adopted. To poetry of this kind, when executed with elegance, we confess ourselves partial. It has a wild and romantic air, well suited to the fictions of an ardent and vigorous imagination. Spenser, and even Milton, appear to have entertained a similar opinion, and to have derived much of their excellence from their intimate acquaintance with Italian poetry. We are willing, therefore, to embrace an opportunity of recommending the study of such compositions to poets of the present day. They will find in them not only great vigour of fancy, but exquisite delicacy of expression" 10 (October 1787) 281-82.

Critical Review: "La Gierusalemme Soggettita is a romantic story, in which the manner of Spenser is happily imitated" 67 (May 1789) 368.

Thomas Ogle: "La Gireusalemme soggiettia is written in Spenser's stanza, and in somewhat antiquated language. Our readers will be pleased with the following extract, chiefly for the use which is made of the popular superstition" Monthly Review NS 3 (November 1790) 274.

Earl R. Wasserman: "'How Sion's sacred fort is ta'en, and Sarazen fone prevail' in the manner that Spenser might have employed, for the poem is rich with archaisms and the details of medieval culture, and reflects the narrative mannerisms of Spenser" Elizabethan Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1947) 137.



O Mortal man! how vain thy notions be,
Who ween'st on earth to find stability;
On earth all things for ever changing were,
And all are subject to infirmity:
Decays each thing that wonneth under sky;
Jerusalem! thou city of our Lord,
How many various chances didst thou try!
Once held by men, who highest God ador'd,
But now enthralled art by Paynim's ruthless sword.

Hail, Colinet, thou blythest of the train,
That woo'd the muse by Heliconian spring;
With thee may laurel girlond still remain,
And on thy grave may rosy-bosom'd spring,
Her incense scatter from dew-dropping wing:
In thy Nepenthe let me steep my quill,
And with thy finger touch the trembling string,
When thrown beside the wildly-murmuring rill,
I view the evening shade descend from Arlo hill.

Whylome in Erin wonn'd a gallant knight,
Well versed was he in each martial deed;
Oft did he guide the raging storm of fight,
Oft did he launce the spear and rein the steed;
And oft he made the prowest Paynim bleed,
Thrice did he combat in the holy lond,
And captive pilgrim from vile thraldom freed;
And thrice on Indian shore unsheath'd his brond,
And dy'd with faithless blood the rich Egyptian strond.

But now the summer of his life was past,
And rigid winter cloath'd his head with grey;
His mighty limbs and sinews strong were brast,
And to his valiant heart his hand said nay;
Nor strove he now in honorable fray,
His long try'd arms of adamantine mould,
Whose glorious lustre dim'd the radiant day,
And all his war-like trophies manifold,
The strong and stately pillars of his hall uphold.

Three sons he had, three gallant sons they were,
And like their sire in field of Mars renown'd;
High deeds atchieved they, most passing rare,
In European and in Asian ground;
Yet still with splendid conquest were they crown'd:
Now did they combat 'gainst the unbaptiz'd,
And were in Palestina to be found;
Their deeds of hardiment all men surpriz'd,
And by their chivalry themselves they eterniz'd.

Large and expanded was their father's soul,
Ne once by sordid narrow thought confin'd;
Ne could base avarice his will controul,
For still to bounty-head he was inclin'd,
And on fair honor ever set his mind:
The passing knight was still his welcome guest,
And courteous entertainment still did find,
When the broad moon illum'd the crimson'd east,
Unfolded were the gates, and spredden was the feast.

In Arlo Glynne this baron's castle stood,
The loveliest Glynne, of lovely Innisfail;
In stateliest pride here frown'd the dark'ning wood,
Here streamlets murmur'd down the vernant vale;
Here harvests wav'd beneath the evening gale,
Here stags high-bounding roam'd the wild Gaultees,
Along whose sides the sheets of vapour sail;
Where deep entraunc'd the lonely hunter sees
Ideal forms to mount. the pinions of the breeze.

But Arlo Glynne, thy glories are no more,
Fell'd are thy forests by the ruthless hand
Of wild extravagance, still craving more
To lavish idly on his scoundrel band,
In sottish pleasures, which the fool had plan'd:
Ev'n now some traveller of curious eyne,
All o'er they rev'rend ruins takes his stand,
Sighs o'er the spot where once in fortune's shine,
Belgardo, good and brave, with errant knights did dine.

Old night ascended had her starry wain,
And with her russet veil the landscape clad;
When towards Belgardo's castle thwart the plain,
A stranger knight advanc'd of semblaunce sad,
And mournful arms of sable hue he had;
Strong seem'd his arm to stem the battle's rage,
Upright his portaunce was of nought ydrad,
His steed did seem of stately carriage,
And by his master's side there ran his tiny page.

With glorious wounds the warrior's face was scar'd,
And honour's badge was scored on his breast;
Both shield and habergeon were foully marr'd,
And well their owner's martial mind exprest:
The shining helmet and the waving crest,
By dint of ruthless sword were rudely shent;
A soaring hawk was on his shield emprest,
Which towards yon azure arch her journey bent,
And clang'd her sounding wings as thro' the air she went.

From lofty fell the stranger knight descends,
And many 'squires and pages round him wait;
By those conducted to the hall he wends,
Where old Belgardo sate in princely state,
Who rose from couch to do him court'sy great,
And him saluted in most lovely guise;
Heap'd was the table with most dainty meat,
Such as shrewd cook could by his art devise,
And the clear chrystal vase with purple, Bacchus dyes.

Now sated hunger was, and sated thirst,
And ready servants tables mov'd away;
Then old Belgard, his guest addressed first,
Kind courteous Sir, one boon I craven may,
Of thy proud deeds and lineage the display;
For well I ween that noble is thy strain,
And strong thy hand in fierce Bellona's fray,
Thy port and countenance aread thee plain;
To be in knightly thews an honorable swain.

Then bowing low the stranger knight reply'd,
Most noble host, thy will be quickly done;
My name is Claribell, myself I pride,
Ne high emprize, ne danger dread to shun;
But spread my fame from tone to tother 'sun
Where the broad Shannon pours his echoing wave,
There Bravadore, my father, held his wonne,
Whilome in deeds of war a champion brave,
Now freed from toil and care he sleeps in silent grave.

When thrice five summers I had fully seen,
Myself I furnished with a shining shield,
And cas'd my manly limbs in armour sheen,
And with my thund'ring courser beat the field;
And 'gainst dismay my haughty courage steel'd:
Towards fair Jerusalem I shap'd my road,
Where cruel Infidels in battle yield;
Where frowning war in all his horrors glow'd,
And stain'd with human gore discolour'd Jordan flow'd.

Now royal Lusignan high feats atchiev'd,
And smote the Arab with relentless blade;
The mighty Saladin was sore agriev'd,
That to the Sar'zans such despight he made,
Inflam'd with rancour thus he felly pray'd:
"Great Macon, hear from thy celestial shrine,
O let me be for ay a damned shade,
By Stygian strond in endless bale to pine,
If thou be not avenged of those fone of thine."

Thus vow'd the Caliph, and thus felly rag'd,
Eftsoons to wagen war he did provide;
A thousand kings are in his pay engag'd,
Whose thousand hosts before his city bide,
Imperial Memphis, Egypt's sov'reign pride:
The tawny Indian from the farthest east,
Where Phoebus rises from th' empurpled tide,
The Mauritanian from the steepy west,
Where in th' Atlantic wave his burning car is kest

The black Cassrarian from the stormy Cape,
Incessantly by waves and tempests beat;
The Aethiopian with his sceptred ape,
And Guinea's sons, of hue more black than jet,
The Scythian from Riphaean mountains wet,
Where dreary winter holds eternal reign,
Where shines the bear in ocean ne'er to set;
The Sar'zan bands of Afric and of Spain,
And the redoubled sons of utmost Taprobane.

This mighty host great Saladin review'd,
The banner'd nations pass'd in fair array;
Then towards Jerusalem their march pursu'd,
With the first beamings of the springing day;
The fame of this did nought our prince affray:
His num'rous levies he collects in haste,
That he his regal crown defenden may;
Strong tow'rs and engines on the walls he plac'd,
And many an hardy hand in arms of proof ycas'd.

Now evening spread her dusky mantle round,
And veil'd the prospect with her shadows dun,
When lo! we heard a dreadful rushing sound,
As when to battle armed Myriads run;
The horrent clanger did our senses stun.
Now well we ken'd th' Egyptian host was nigh,
Ne mightier host beneath the circling sun,
Their steeds and camels terribly did neigh,
And shouts of barb'rous nations rent the vaulted sky.

That night our walls were lined with a band
Of hardy soldiers to confront our foes;
The bright spear glitter'd in each martial hand,
The burnish'd targets gleam'd in shining rows,
And wide around a stream of radiance flows;
The wakeful sentries kept strong watch and ward;
And rugged smith still heaped blows on blows,
And with extreamest cark and labour far'd,
And polish'd shields and spears yfram'd of iron hard.

The hours unbarr'd the gates of day above
And Phoebus seem'd to rise in mournful mood:
Pale were his beams to gild the court of Jove.
His angry coursers loath'd their heav'nly food,
And wish'd to plunge again in ocean's flood:
Portentous clouds surcharg'd th' horizon o'er,
And their dark skirts distained were with blood;
The deep green fields a sanguine aspect wore,
And from the trees distilled drops of crimson gore.

The city gates were then unfolded wide,
In length'ning lines the marshall'd armies came;
Far o'er the plain was pour'd the burnish'd tide,
And to the winds our gorgeous pennons stream;
With gold and precious stones they richly flame:
The glitt'ring arms a glorious prospect yield,
Shedding around a keen refulgent gleam,
And pleasing was the horrour of the field,
Gay shone each plumed helm and fair-emblazon'd shield.

Great Lysignan was arm'd in coat of mail,
Of shining steel most like to looking glass;
And in the centre must himself avail,
Where all his footmen he arranged has,
Of hardy wights a well-compacted mass:
His wide-extended wings the horsemen form,
Whose neighing coursers paw'd the deep green grass,
And seem'd more fleet and fell than boistrous storm,
Which ruthless from his cave and doth the skies deform.

Our gallant leader darts from file to file,
To ev'ry band, to ev'ry squadron goes;
He greets each warriour with a gracious smile,
Upon his cheek youth's purple splendour glows,
And from his eye assured conquest flows:
Meantime the mighty Sar'zan host advanc'd,
With ensigns spread to ev'ry breeze that blows,
Sun-shiny beams upon their harness danc'd,
And from their helms and shields the mimic light'nings glanc'd.

Like the Colossus plac'd at Rhodes whylome,
Before his host high-tower'd proud Saladine;
So Neptune heaves himself above the foam,
And with his mace controuls the ocean brine,
And thro' his empire darts his flaming eyne;
His harbergeon was rough with scales of gold,
And silver crescents on his baldric shine;
It eke was starr'd with diamonds manifold,
The which in darkest shade a wondrous day might yold.

The bright broad sun in full meridian blaze,
Was the vast orbit of his mighty shield,
When vertical he flings his burning rays,
And to his heat both men and beast must yield;
Depainted plainly in that ample field,
Was a Giant of enormous size,
Who seem'd in strong right hand the sun to wield,
And 'gainst the stars to aim his high emprize,
His foot on earth, his head enshrin'd in skies.

Upon his helmet was a serpent pight,
And all the long folds of his tail unwound;
His sparkling eyes emit a flashing light,
And seem to hurl the levin-brond around,
His crashing jaws grate thunder's harshest sound:
Tall was the courser that this Paynim rode,
For very pride he seem'd to spurn the ground;
He champ'd the foamy bit, his eyeballs glow'd,
Adown his shining sides the sweat in torrents flow'd.

The brazen trumpets gave a dreadful blast,
A blast which well mote rend both earth and skies;
Fierce Saladin against our right wing past,
Him Philibert, a German-knight, espies,
And boldly towards the prince of Paynim flies:
But vain the high essay of lofty breast!
To shend the Sar'zan was too hard emprize:
Stern Saladin with couched launce in rest,
Good Philibert to ground from fell most rudely kest.

Now show'rs of jav'lins hurtled thro' the air,
And clouds of arrows 'thwart the welkin flew;
A thousand glitt'ring blades unsheathed were,
Which flam'd amazement on the gazer's view,
And o'er the battle dazzling splendours threw:
Full in the front tremendous Mavors rag'd,
And discord storm'd amidst the waring crew;
Stern slaughter frown'd where mad'ning hosts engag'd,
And knights of highest fame the deadly combat wag'd.

Close by the Soldan's side a warriour fought,
White was his courser as the fleecy snow,
His radiant arms with silver were enwrought,
Which like the wave of Neptune seem'd to flow,
When west winds gently on his surface blow.
Upon his crest rich plumes of scarlet shine,
And in his shield pourtrayed is the bow,
That gorgeous bow, which decks yon azure skyne,
Brighter than Juno's bird bestar'd with Argus eyne.

Now a fierce blow unluckily was sped,
From a stern Saxon's desclating hand,
Full it descended on this Paynim's head,
Ne can his plated helm resist the brand.
Nought can prevent what rigid fate has plan'd:
Soon as he felt the ruthless biting sword,
Before death seal'd his eyes with ebon wand,
He cast one long look towards his honor'd Lord,
Whom living most he lov'd, and dying now ador'd.

O wretched Caliph! what avails thy boast,
That thronging nations own thy lordly sway!
See I the dear mistress of thy soul is lost,
Fair Saphadina, fair as flow'r in May,
Opening its beauties to the morning ray.
Let the tear trickle from Idume's palm,
And o'er her grave let virgins hymn the lay;
Let it be deck'd with od'rous nard and balm,
O fair may be her fame! O may her soul be calm!

Where rich Damascus rears its stately walls,
And the clear Pharpar rolls his golden wave;
Where from high Lebanon Albana falls,
Dwell'd this fair lady fam'd for bounty brave,
To her their choicest gifts the graces gave:
Her Asia's mighty sov'reign saw and lov'd,
Nought could his heart from Cupid's arrow save,
His flame by Saphadina was approv'd,
And both their souls did seem by equal passion mov'd.

When wild ambition fir'd the Caliph's mind,
To stretch his sceptre o'er the Syrian land;
Ne would his Saphadina stay behind,
Vain were his prayers and his entreaties bland,
Beside her Lord she took her desp'rate stand:
O'er her pale face the mournful prince now hung,
Now press'd the coldness of her lilly hand,—
Then by disdain, and love, and sorrow stung,
Into our thickest ranks most furiously he flung.

As when a furious torrent thund'ring down
From some steep mountain, deluges the plain;
Its swelling waves the subject valley drown,
And sweep away the labours of the swain,
His flocks, his herds, his crops of golden grain:
So the fierce Soldan rush'd amid the throng,
And urg'd his fiery steed o'er hills of slain;
Like the wing'd whirlwind's blast he pour'd along,
And look'd Briareus fierce, or Adamastor strong.

The great Enceladus you might him deem,
Or grim Typhoeus fellest of the fell;
Ne mortal being more you him esteem,
But some curs'd sprite escap'd from deepest hell;
So strong and firm he sat in lofty sell,
A thousand swords, a thousand spears him smote;
Myself beheld, ne forged tale I tell,
Albe around him burn'd the battle hote,
Ne once empierced was his target or his coat.

Now half our host this Pagan had o'erthrown,
With giant hond and mighty puissance,
When three brave youths in fighting fields well known,
For high exploits of fairest chevisaunce,
Against the Caliph did themselves advaunce;
Their angry courage they did bravely whet,
And boldly rushed on with couched launce;
Fierce Saladin they furiously beset,
And in his wild career they did him somewhat let.

Like some tall rock which overhangs the deep,
Projecting horrour on the surge below;
'Gainst which the waves eternal combat keep,
'Gainst which the stormy winds unceasing blow;
But strive in vain to work its overthrow.
Thus mighty Saladin unmoved stands,
And mocks the fury of his angry foe;
The flaming faulchion lightens in his hands,
And seems Jove's thunderbolt to crush the giant bands.

The first he smote so hugely on the crest,
That his bright burgeonet was cleft in tway;
Nor here did ruthless sword of Paynim rest,
But in his brain did deep itself embay;
Nor can the second stony death gainsay,
The thrilling point is at his bosom bent,
And to his throbbing heart it finds its way,
The third, tho' certes, he was knight most gent,
Was cloven down to waist, Oh grievous monument.

So have I seen three poplars young and fair,
By winding stream their leafy branches spread;
Gayly they flourish'd to the gladsome air,
And in the pride of youth they bourgeoned,
In spring's own liv'ry all apparralled:
Lo! sturdy woodman comes with treach'rous steel,
Ne friend to beauty, ne to bounty-head,
His keen relentless weapon they must feel,
And be transmew'd to mast, or spoke of circling wheel.

Here for a moment paus'd the stranger knight,
New breath to take; meantime the silent tear
Stream'd down Belgardo's cheek; a strange delight
Mingled with horrour, and remembrance dear,
Of those he loved best and held most near,
Gleam'd on his brow; his colour went and came,
Certes the good old men was pleas'd to bear,
His sons had found a never-dying name,
And flourish'd from their graves an honourable fame.

Long had he known the heroes were no more,
Their ghosts had told it in the hollow blast;
And as he trod the river's willow'd shore,
The youths before him in bright vision past,
They couch'd the lance, and airy jav'lin cast:
His trusty sword with drops of blood was stain'd,
His faithful dog howl'd o'er the dreary waste;
And to the night and silent moon complain'd,
And now Sir Claribell, once more, his speech regain'd.

At this the Soldan waxed wond'rous proud,
And shook his bloody faulchion in the air;
Again he mingled in the fighting crowd,
And flash'd dismay even to our farthest rear,
Where'er he went, him followed wan dispair;
He seem'd grim Mars by Hebru's echoing shore,
Such his fierce cheer, and stern deportment were;
He seem'd Achilles, stain'd with Trojan gore,
Or Nimrod, first of kings, who chac'd the tusky boar.

With high disdain, great Lusignan beheld
His glorious ensigns all to earth o'erthrown;
With gen'rous rage his manly bosom swell'd,
And his vex'd sprite most grievously did groan,
Which sure mote move an heart of hardest stone;
Himself resolv'd to prove this Caliph's might,
And try the prowess of his arm alone;
Then did he soon address him for the fight,
And ran with beam-like spear against the Paynim knight.

The Sar'zan king was arm'd from top to toe,
In plated amour all of temper sure;
Nathless the shock of his outrageous foe,
Ne mote himself, ne mote his steed endure;
But low on ground, they lay, without recure.
How fell, and furious, then was Saladine!
Fierce frown'd the visage of this angry Moor;
A proud disdain inflam'd his stormy tine,
Disdain and rage both flashed from his blazing eyne.

Swiftly from earth upsprung the Hagarene,
And seem'd in strength and courage to encrease,
Like huge Antaus, on the Lybian plain,
Who from the earth deriv'd his boasted race,
In both his hands he hent an iron mace,
And on Lusignan strokes so strongly laid,
Did not high God compassionate his case,
Ne thing he e're again had thought or said,
But had enwrapped been in death's eternal shade.

In deep astoundment on the plain he fell,
An heavy corse of lifeless clay he seem'd,
The joyfull Pagans rais'd an horrent yell;
For him or dead, or captive, they esteem'd,
And conquest sure unto themselves they deem'd;
Him from the field the shouting victors bore,
Each Christian eye with pious sorrow stream'd;
Now battle they darraign (what can they more)!
And mountains heap of dead, and float the plain with gore.

The gen'rous courser and his haughty lord,
In glorious bleeding low on ground do lye;
The fellest fone their bitter strife accord,
And seem forgetful of their enmity,
Beside the vanquish'd does the victor die:
Now in slow circles wave the swords around,
In thinner show'rs the languid jav'lins flie;
Winds thro' the air a dull confused sound,
As when the winds and waves their murmurs hoarse confound.

With shiver'd launces and with cloven shields,
And riven helmets was the earth dispread;
Ensanguin'd torrents stream'd along the fields,
And the green grass now blushed rosy red,
With blood of slaughter'd knights envermeiled:
Now ebbing honour flow'd from Christian veins,
Now the fierce Turk, and haughty Persian bled;
An undistinguish'd carnage loads the plains,
Blank horrour stalks around, and desolation reigns.

Our highest prowess was of no avail,
Gay conquest crown'd the hardy Saracine;
How did each faithful Christian weep and wail!
To see the crescent in full splendour shine,
Exalted high above the cross divine,
Our yielding squadrons fled on every side;
Nought could resist impetuous Saladine,
Still did he rage with unremitting pride,
And still with slaughters new, he swell'd the crimson tide.

O Claribell! how troubled was thy sprite!
When Christ's own army was discomfited;
Thy glorious day how quickly chang'd to night!
And the bright sunshine of thy life how fled!
Yet, was thy foul withouten coward dread,
Fell Saladin in combat I withstood;
Tho' deadly terrours o'er his brow were spread,
His thigh I deep empierc'd, out-spun the blood,
And stain'd his radiant armour with the rushing flood.

Once more my heavy hond I rear'd on high,
And smote most hugely on his amply targe;
Swifter descends the blow than glaunce of eye,
And fairly took away its utmost marge,
And in his left-side made incision large:
Then with dread mace, which none resisten may,
Eftsoons most sorely gan he me to charge,
Till on the plain in heavy trance I lay,
And from my swimming eyes was snatch'd the radiant day.

Ne did I waken from my drowsy fit,
Till stars had kindled heav'ns refulgent blue,
An icy cold my bruised members smit,
Death spread around his wings of pallid hue,
And scant could life the ghastly friend eschew.
At length upon my limbs myself I rear'd,
But horrour and distraction were the view;
Jerusalem enwrap'd in flames appear'd,
And melancholy groans of dying men I heard.

The burning ruins blaz'd upon my eyne,
And seem'd to add new horrours to the dark;
Their glare was like the baleful comet's shine,
Or like the flash of Jove's etherial spark,
Which dreadful passage thro' the skies doth mark;
In me what grief, what high disdain was bred!
How sore oppress'd was I with painful cark!
How oft I wish'd myself among the dead!
At length into the woods I slowly, sourly fled.

Now thrice mild Cynthia with her silver wain,
Yon star-bespangled concave did surround;
And thrice to men her full-face shewed plain,
And thrice descended to infernal ground,
Yet still in lonely forest was I found;
At length on me kind Fortune deign'd to smile,
And thro' the wilds my toilsome road I wound,
Then roam'd the track 'tween Ganges and the Nile,
And hardy deeds atchiev'd befitting knightly stile.

[pp. 47-70]