Thomas Dermody describes the education of a poet in a poem consisting of disconnected thoughts on nothing in particular. It is strange to think of a sixteen-year-old boy writing about his childhood in this way, and stranger yet to think of this effusion as a forerunner of William Wordsworth's The Prelude, for so it is. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey knew and admired Dermody's early verse. Though there is little formal resemblance, Memory, a Poem, is part of the busy series of poems imitating Goldsmith's The Deserted Village and Beattie's The Minstrel. Dermody would return to the theme of his childhood in a more ambitious poem, The Retrospect, composed in 1795 and published in 1800.
Postscript: "SPENCER's, was, confessedly, the golden age of Poetry, when all achievements of the Muse were respected, and countenanced by Nobles and Monarchs, SYDNEYS and ELIZABETHS; even the poetical dialect of that time is still charming to the enthusiasts of nature: there is a beautiful wildness of expression, a noble simplicity, which gains on every polished taste, to the highest degree. I have therefore, in a few places adopted this language of sweetness, and mingled the pathetic and the artless, (as much as I was able) in the foregoing lines" p. 15.
Thou sportive Maid, who wont with beaming eye,
To mark the first, faint purple of the sky,
When Morn, her dewy show'r of fragrance flung,
To mark the first, faint purple of the sky,
When Morn, her dewy show'r of fragrance flung,
And waked on every spray the tuneful throng,
Or 'tranced in pensive Pleasure's fairy dream,
Beside some stilly Lake's caerulean stream,
Watch'd the pale Queen of Eve her shades renew,
And bid the lingering Sun a last adieu!
While the dim copse rung sullen, to each sound,
And Silence hush'd the languid scene around,
Save, when the tender pause was rudely broke,
By the tir'd oxen's loosely-tinkling yoke,
Or busy mill, or soft pipe's plaintive tune,
Or watch-dog baying the affrighted moon.
Once more, oh deign, my artless song to guide,
My genuine pleasure, my delightful pride!
Once more thy gentle charms o'er pain diffuse,
And let me boast, (fond wretch!) at least — THE MUSE.
Ye sages, say, why in the blooming brain
Past joys renew, or sorrows thrill again?
Say, why the faded thoughts distinctly move,
And cull the floating seeds of Friendship or of Love?
In vain, tumultuous billows, howling roll,
And burn, or freeze, beneath each savage pole;
In vain, rough Alps their horrid brows extend,
To hide the darling maid or faithful friend:
IDEA bodies forth the airy form,
And Fancy triumphs o'er Destruction's storm;
Her brilliant pencil paints Cleora's cheek,
Her radiant ringlets, and her dimples sleek;
So true, the youth appears completely blest,
And clasps the beauteous phantom to his breast,
A momentary joy ev'n dreams impart,
And empty nothings captivate the heart:
Such the frail transport Memory bestows,
When Time hath wean'd us from our bitterest woes,
Her tender touch then softens every shade,
Not glaringly unveil'd, nor dismally decay'd.
Ah! I remember well yon shelter'd glade,
Where careless o'er the flowering turf I play'd,
With brother babes the antic revel framed,
Famed for my shrewdness, for my humor famed;
Each sport from childhood, up to ripening age,
Is now enroll'd on MEMORY's filmy page;
Each sweet idea rushes on my mind,
Extractedly sincere, and feelingly refin'd.
How oft, where yonder sign-board, simply gay,
Flaunts on its creaking hinge athwart the way;
When all the windows shone in burnish'd blaze,
Struck by the Lord of Splendor's ruddiest rays,
And rose-lip'd Health the mantling tankard crown'd,
To pledge the smiling family around,
While Wit and quaint-ey'd Jest, and motley Mirth,
Graced the clean circus of the ev'ning hearth;
And ancient Wisdom (droll in days of yore,)
Rehearsed such deeds, — as shall be done no more.
Yon cottage, once, full op'd the cheerful door,
From bailiff crowds, and wicked duns secure,
Which now the surly Squire, relentless fiend!
Bids his inhuman slaves of slaughter rend,
To give some flattering profligate a place,
To virtue lost, to pity, and to grace.
See now, ev'n now, the anguish'd mother weep,
(Her husband long enjoys eternal sleep,)
Her pallid children, sobbing, hang around,
And start (sweet cherubs!) at the landlord's sound.
Fell landlord! who could see their infant tears,
Could see, and yet refuse to soothe their fears:
To Heav'n alone, the sad assembly look,
Or seek for peace in Heav'n's immortal book.
Yes, I remember well the church-yard road,
Where yew-trees mark'd the Curate's snug abode;
But chief the Clerk my pliant soul retains,
His ale-house catches, his shrill Sunday strains;
His midnight hist'ries, that would bid me quake,
Of Cromwell dauntless, and heroic Blake;
Of Greece and Tartary, of noblest Rome,
Of Raleigh, and tobacco's bland perfume,
Of ancient Paradise, of modern Hell,—
Yes, I remember all his annals, well,
Full well! — my bosom vibrates to the thought,
For if he flogg'd severe, was his the fault?
Yes, I remember too, the upland scene,
With beeches hung, and cloath'd in 'broider'd green,
Where saunt'ring from the village din, I rov'd,
And talk'd with Bards, my earliest childhood lov'd,
Musing, in solitary pomp appear'd,
And startled, from their cells, the dappled herd,
While the poor clown, as innocent as they,
Star'd, as if Hamlet's ghost had crossed his way.
With well-nosed pointer, and disploding gun,
Oft did I rise, to meet the rising Sun,
The rising Sun, luxuriant, hail'd my flight,
And cast his purest robe of glorious light;
The covies quick, their glitt'ring plumes display'd,
And rustling, flutter'd from the vernal shade:
The blue-neck'd partridge rose, on speckled wing,
The greyish plover skim'd, with hasty spring,
And as the wily woodcock left his seat,
The tube unerring fell'd him at my feet.
Yon Mount, whose giant offspring beat the air
With rugged arms, by storm and tempest bare,
Has oft repell'd red June's too ardent pow'r,
Or fenc'd me, studious, from the patt'ring show'r.
Dear haunts! your num'rous beauties bloom anew,
And MEM'RY's mirror lends you to my view:
But ah! the time is gone, I held you close,
'Tis but Remembrance now, that stills my woes;
How blithe on Sabbath-day thy band would shew,
Trick'd in refulgent russet's auburn glow,
Each lad his lass, with tender dalliance led,
And pray'd for lasting love, when pray'rs were read.
'Bove all those maids, AMELIA shone most fair,
Mild was her bosom as the evening air,
A halcyon calm that temple ere possest,
Ah! that Misfortune's sting should break its rest:
For Henry's brow the chaplet wild she wove,
And twin'd the woodbine into knots of love;
With equal flame, his heart, ingenuous, burn'd,
Blest is that love, thrice blest, by both return'd.
And now the merry tabors rang around,
Mix'd with the trumpet and the cymbal's sound,
In virgin-white the bride-maids walk'd the way,
And bridemen blithe, in suits of green so gay;
AMELIA too, — no HENRY came to share
Her precious hand, and stile her heav'nly fair;
No HENRY came — thy HENRY comes no more!
A barb'rous press-gang urg'd him to the shore,
Doom'd, on his bridal day, to leave his home,
Sad farewel! and through foreign countries roam.
Full many a year had pass'd — and many a tear
Had wrung AMELIA's heart, with grief sincere.
Dull, on the strand she rov'd, when hermit grey
Mark'd it the solemn hour of setting day,
A beggar cross'd her path by travel worn,
His visage meagre, and his cov'ring torn,
Dejection in his eye, a languid glance
Of hopeless woe he turn'd, in sullen trance;
She look'd — on what? all tremblingly, she cry'd
"My HENRY — HENRY!" — and in rapture dy'd.
Amaz'd, with icy gaze, her HENRY stood,
Then plung'd despairing in the flashing flood.
On the lone shore, a votive tomb is rais'd,
With sea-shells gem'd and shining sea-weeds grac'd,
And as the fisher's boat glides slowly by,
While the divided surges seem to sigh,
He points where HENRY and AMELIA lie.
Ev'n MEM'RY triumphs in the brutal race,
And marks them with a fond retentive trace;
Witness, old Argus, at his master's feet,
His wishes answer'd, and his death complete,
Form'd the rude-soothing suitors to despise,
And with Ulysses share the title, Wise.
Here, let me trespass on another tale,
The workmen chaunt it on yon neighb'ring vale;
Known, as the bird, who o'er each murder'd child,
Flung the choice odours of the gloomy wild:
EUGENIO, once (when frost had glaz'd the plain,
And haggard Winter bade his horrors reign,)
To cheer a dying friend, with eager haste
Flew, unregarding, o'er the crystal waste;
He fell, with hideous lapse, — his Dog, alone
The partner of his steps, with mournful moan
Ran howling back, nor would the creature stay
Till he had shewn where his lov'd master lay:
By timely aid EUGENIO's life was sav'd,
And truth canine in lasting lines engrav'd.
Frequent, when motley colours stain the sky,
With damasks fiery as the ferret's eye,
And silence shuts the tinted valves on high,
Up the green visto of that slope sublime,
In melancholy exstacy, I climb,
While the slow-warbled shakes of sylvan flute,
With dying fall, my pensive ear salute;
Then all, or good or evil, once I knew,
Crowds on my bosom, and blockades my view,
Foibles on Virtue's part, and faults that charm'd,
And purest deeds, by noblest feelings, warm'd,
Fears, cares, doubts, joys, in mix'd perspective join'd,
With all the transient passions of the mind.
O! thou vain Hope! thou murd'rer of delight!
Thy dreams, the dreams of phrenzy, and of night,
Thy false, frail promises have wreck'd my heart,
And bade the thought of former transport part,
Thy calms to woe my little pinnace bore,
And cast it on a sea — a sea without a shore.
Like a poor exile on some savage strand,
Freedom remote, and agonies at hand,
Each Indian yell his shrinking bosom smites,
Dark ruin hovers o'er his weary nights,
His days one view of misery appear,
And ages, more than ages, form his year.
Such is my fate, 'tis folly to complain,
Yet MEMORY, LOVE, and GRATITUDE remain.