1793
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode on British Heroism.

Poems by George Butt. In Two Volumes.

Rev. George Butt


21 irregular Spenserians: a heroic ode, possibly written to be recited at Westminster School, concluding with an address by Queen Elizabeth. Edmund Spenser ("Mulla's plaintive swan") appears in a catalogue of British worthies that includes Constantine, Alfred, Arthur, St. George, Edward the Confessor, Henry the Fifth, and Queen Elizabeth.

The stilted style of the poem, with its inversions Miltonic, is not typical of George Butt, and may point to an earlier date of composition. Or it may derive from the source mentioned in the author's note: "The poem, entitled, 'Heroes Britannici,' in the Musae Anglicanae, by Mr. Herbert, of Christ-Church, supplied the matter and order of this Ode, excepting that my partialities for Westminster-School, induced me in the conclusion to enlarge the praises of Elizabeth, its illustrious foundress" 2:106.



Whom of the worthies Fame asserts her own,
Wilt thou, Calliope, adorn? O say,
Awakening from thy shell its loftiest tone,
What hero lives for ever in thy lay—
What godlike chief, above the clouds of Time
Thy hand shall blazon bright in Glory's fane sublime?

Thy vot'ry sworn, thy zealous vot'ry me
The dauntless sons of native Britain fire,
Bold on the Cynthian hills to follow thee,
And swell their hundred echoes with my lyre,
Whilst Mem'ry, glorying British worth to view,
Starts from Renown's old path, and gives that worth anew.

Lo! the new triumphs in which Albion prides,
And shouts to Heav'n her glories — Constantine,
That star whose lustre Rome with her divides,
O'er the subjected world is seen to shine,
And with the cross the wreath of Caesar twin'd
Is Rome's exalted claim to rule and bless mankind.

And thee, O Alfred, whilst Remembrance reigns
In every Briton, eager-blasting Time
Shall spare, and, Pindus shook with Rapture's strains,
The sacred Nine shall hymn thy zeal sublime,
Which, whilst around them storms barbaric beat,
In Rhedycina rais'd their heav'nly-calm retreat.

Ah me! what scenes of horror wound my eyes!
Destruction spreads amain the gory flood,
For Freedom, 'scap'd her Danish dungeon, flies
To character her rights in Danish blood,
And from the tablet warn each coming age,
That, when her wrath flames forth, 'tis Aetna's wasting rage.

Vain was the fair Gunilda's princely race,
When her lov'd lord, sunk dying on her breast,
With streams of purple streak'd its ivory grace,
And, screaming round 'em, their lov'd infants press'd—
Blended with their's she heard her country's cry,
Nor, 'mid the gen'ral doom, or blush'd, or fear'd to die.

Whither, oh! whither will ye, floods of Glory,
Bear my rapt spirit swelling to unfold
Arthur's dread feats, the theme of gorgeous story,
The far-fam'd hero, and his barons bold,
Whose chivalry still shakes old Cambria's lyre,
Which Celtic fancy smites with more than Grecian fire.

Ah! George of Cappadocia, sainted name,
I see thee couch thy spear, now lift it high,
And springing at the dragon-breathing flame,
And rending with his unknown yell the sky;
Thy dauntless force has giv'n the fatal wound,
The blatant monster falls, and bellowing beats the ground.

O rescued maid, I see thy virgin tear,
And note the soft sigh checking thy delight,
Thou dar'st not step the ghastly carcass near,
But back hast started, lily-pale with fright,
Whilst on the horrid hulk thy champion stands,
Lifts his glad eyes to Heav'n, and clasps his spearless hands.

Amid loud paeans roars Bellona's car,
But let Calliope chastise her lyre
To numbers that may still the din of war,
And, Edward prais'd, his regal race inspire
Long ages hence the dove of peace to tend,
And cherish saint-like zeal till Time himself shall end.

Cease, ye soft numbers, ye are heard no more,
So dread a spectacle mine eye surveys—
Stern William arm'd array on Albion's shore,
And on the sea his fleets far-shining blaze;
The chief exulting eyes the raging flame,
Then rushes to the van, and leads the way to Fame.

Now see I Strongbow's all-achieving hand
Bend fierce Ierne under Britain's sway;
Now high-soul'd Harry cheers his sick'ning band,
To heap new glories on St. Crispian's day,
Following the red-cross like a fiery flood,
Till, vaunting France laid low, her lillies blush'd with blood.

But, ah! in vain Britannia, trophied tower,
Frowns high with all the battlements of war,
Since inward fires the glorious fane devour,
Whose port shot terrors o'er the realms afar,
Till wolf-ey'd Richard, grasping hard his prey,
Found guilt a crown of thorns on Bosworth's fatal day.

Now York and Lancaster in love unite,
Nor hence 'mid storms the doubled sun appears,
But one fair wreath the red rose and the white—
One regal sunshine gilds the smiling years,
Till well-poiz'd Order nerves the coming reign
To strike the lion-blow that burst the papal chain.

I droop 'mid burthening glories to the ground,
And close mine eyes to shun their dazzling flame;
Mute is the reed by Mulla's stream, whose sound
With airs melodious hail'd Eliza's fame,
For ever mute on Avon's bank the lyre,
Bedropt by Fancy's hand with gems of living fire.

Not but that Mulla's plaintive swan would fail
To trace the spring of Gloriana's course,
Nor on its plumes could Avon's eagle sail
Heav'n-ward so high, with all his soaring force,
As to survey the compass of her praise,
And count the clustering stars that 'round her temples blaze.

The public mother taught, not aw'd, by woes,
From holiest Truth (blest outset) drew the cloud,
Tried her throne's strength, new-thron'd, and queen-like chose
To tell the wond'ring world her Faith aloud;
Her cherish'd people feels her heart is their's,
Mounts with her mounting soul, and all her genius shares.

"This is my Sparta," (said she) "to adorn,
And it shall find a Spartan zeal in me,
That I may shew the ages yet unborn,
That this blest isle, the mistress of the sea,
Is Glory's cliff, and guards an eagle race,
Their limbs all pow'rs of strength, their plumes all hues of grace.

"Come on then, Spaniard, and, proud Philip, know,
Thy vast armada, and thy wide-spread sway,
Boast not the force, when Britain is thy foe,
To daunt my sons, who smilingly survey,
Burthening the ocean, heavily urg'd along
Before the following winds, thy fleet's ill-hallow'd throng.

"Howard and Drake, Britannia's foe descry,
Greenville and Frobisher, behold your prize,
Swift as the lightning on your quarry fly,
For Vic'try, Vic'try, with your thunder flies—
Europe now pale shall flush with proud amaze,
And Britons ages hence carol my golden days."

Pardon, great Foundress, of the school renown'd
(Whence I was wont to thee fond tribute bring,
And from my lyre provoke th' extatic sound,
Which these damp days deny its languid string)—
Oh! pardon me, if now thy famous shrine
Receive a faded wreath — for still my heart is thine.

[2:106-20]