1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hope, an Allegorical Sketch.

Hope, an Allegorical Sketch, on recovering slowly from Sickness. By the Reverend W. L. Bowles, A.M.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


Thirty Prior stanzas, after Collins's Ode on the Passions (1746), a very popular poem at this time: "At once, methought, I saw a various throng | To this enchanting spot their footsteps bend; | All drawn, sweet Hope, by thy inspiring song, | Which melodies scarce mortal seem to blend." William Lisle Bowles glosses Hope, an Allegorical Sketch with a reference to Joseph Spence's Polymetis (1747), a useful compendium of allegorical imagery.

Advertisement to second edition: "It need not be added that the primary idea of this sketch was taken from the exquisite picture by Collins, in his Ode on the Passions. The descriptive part was suggested by the scenery on the banks of the Southampton River, where the Author occasionally took his morning walks in the beginning of May, after tedious and melancholy confinement."

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Have you seen Bowles's new poem on Hope? What character does it bear? Has he exhausted his stores of tender plaintiveness? or is he the same in this last as in all his former pieces?" 28 October 1796; in Letters, ed. Thomas Noon Talfourd (1837) 1:32.

Monthly Mirror: "It is dedicated to the Archbishop of York, and the primary idea avowedly taken from Collins's Ode on the Passions. Hope is represented to appear to the writer as 'thoughtful in the forest walk he stray'd.' She leads him to a shelter'd vale, where and allegorical sketch is taken of 'a various throng,' allured to the spot by the song of the goddess, consisting of personified figures and passions, which are described as actred upon by the inspiration of Hope.... There is little novelty in the poem, though the descriptions are bold, and the language delightfully figurative" 2 (November 1796) 419-20.

European Magazine: "Mr. Bowles's pensive Muse is not unknown to our Readers, and the present performance will detract nothing from his former fame. We do not profess ourselves to be very fond of allegory, though we are inclined to pardon it on the present occasion. The influence of Hope in various pursuits and situations, exemplified in youth, beauty, and love, enterprise, ambition, captivity, melancholy, and mania, is painted in colours which the true poet will recognize as congenial with his own feelings" 31 (March 1797) 181.

William Smyth: "We never peruse without pleasure the poetical productions of Mr. Bowles. He possesses many of the requisites of a true poet; pathos, distinct imagery, elegant diction, and melody in his versification. The reader will hear find the inimitable ode of Collins on the Passions recalled to his mind in a pleasing manner, and will not be more surprised at the hardihood of Mr. Bowles, who dared to enter the circle of that proud magician, than delighted by the skill and success with which in this sketch he has employed the powers of his master's wand.... The allegorical personages, which are drawn towards HOPE by the melody of her song, are youth, fancy, beauty, enterprise, ambition, captivity, melancholy, mania, remorse, and experience. The last human person of the vision (Experience) is introduced as dissolving the spell of Hope raised on mortal foundations; and the poet, in a higher strain, then directs us to the joys of IMMORTAL HOPE" Monthly Review NS 23 (May 1797) 105.

British Critic: "The language imitates the style of Spenser, without the obsolete words; but the stanza (like that of another poem, noted in this Review, p. 166) is one compounded of two elegiac stanzas and a couplet. It closes, as in the other instance, with an Alexandrine" 9 (1797) 191.

Robert Southey to William Lisle Bowles: "I am indebted to you for many hours of deep enjoyment, and for great improvement in our common art, — for your poems came into my hands when I was nineteen and I fed upon them. Our booby critics talk of 'schools,' and if they had common discernment they might have perceived that I was of your school. But they are as deficient in judgment as they are in candour and in common honesty" 21 February 1815; in Garland Greever, A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends (1926) 150.

William Lisle Bowles to Alaric Alexander Watts: "Whatever I have said about the sale of my poems, the cause of their success was that they had something of nature, and nothing in common with Hayley and Seward, the objects of my early scorn" 18 September 1824; Alaric Alfred Watts, Alaric Watts, a Narrative of his Life, by his Son (1884) 1:193.

Julius Nicholas Hook compares the poem to Spenser's mask of Cupid, "Eighteenth-Century Imitations of Spenser" (1941) 185. On the Beattie influence see Earl Aldrich, "James Beattie's Minstrel" (1927) 319-21.



"I am the comforter of them that mourn;
My scenes well shadow'd, and my carol sweet,
Cheer the poor passengers of life's rude bourne,
'Till they are shelter'd in that last retreat,
Where human toils and troubles are forgot."
These sounds I heard amid this mortal road,
When I had reach'd with pain one pleasant spot,
So that for joy some tears in silence flow'd;
I rais'd mine eyes, sickness had long depressed,
And felt thy warmth, O sun, come cheering to my breast.

The storm of night had ceas'd upon the plain,
When thoughtful in the forest-walk I stray'd,
To the long hollow murmur of the main
List'ning, and to the many leaves that made
A drowsy cadence, as the high trees wav'd;
When straight a beauteous scene burst on my sight;
Smooth were the waters that the lowland lav'd:
And lo! a form, as of some fairy sprite,
Who held in her right-hand a budding spray,
And like a sea-maid sung her sweetly warbled lay.

Soothing as steals the summer-wave she sung:
"The grisly phantoms of the night are gone
To hear in shades forlorn the death-bell rung;
But thou whom sickness hast left weak and wan,
Turn from their spectre-terrors; the green sea
That whispers at my feet, the matin gale
That crisps its shining marge shall solace thee,
And thou my long-forgotten voice shalt hail,
For I am Hope, whom weary hearts confess
The soothest sprite that sings on life's long wilderness."

As slowly ceas'd her tender voice, I stood
Delighted: the hard way, so lately passed,
Seem'd smooth; the ocean's bright-extended flood
Before me stretch'd; the clouds that overcast
Heaven's melancholy vault hurry'd away,
Driv'n seaward, and the azure hills appear'd;
The sunbeams shone upon their summits gray,
Strange saddening sounds no more by fits were heard,
But birds, in new leaves shrouded, sung aloft,
And o'er the level seas spring's healing airs blew soft.

As when a traveller, who many days
Hath journey'd 'mid Arabian deserts still,
A dreary solitude far on surveys,
And met, nor flitting bird, nor gushing rill,
But near some marble ruin, gleaming pale,
Sighs mindful of the haunts of cheerful man,
And thinks he hears in every sickly gale
The bells of some slowly-wheeling caravan;
At length, emerging o'er the dim tract, sees
Gay domes, and golden fanes, and minarets, and trees:

So beat my bosom when my winding way
Led through the thickets to a shelter'd vale,
Where the sweet minstrel sat; a smooth clear bay
Skirted with woods appear'd, where many a sail
Went shining o'er the watery surface still,
Less'ning at last in the gray ocean flood;
And yonder, half-way up the fronting hill,
Peeping from forth the trees, a cottage stood,
Above whose peaceful umbrage, trailing high,
A little smoke went up, and stain'd the cloudless sky.

I turn'd, and lo, a mountain seem'd to rise,
Upon whose top a spiry citadel
Lifted its dim-seen turrets to the skies,
Where some high lord of the domain might dwell:
And onward, where the eye scarce stretch'd its sight,
Hills over hills in long succession rose,
Touch'd with a softer and yet softer light,
And all was blended as in deep repose;
The woods, the sea, the hills that shone so fair,
'Till woods, and sea, and hills seem'd fading into air.

At once, methought, I saw a various throng
To this enchanting spot their footsteps bend;
All drawn, sweet Hope, by thy inspiring song,
Which melodies scarce mortal seem to blend.
First buxom Youth, with cheeks of glowing red,
Came lightly tripping o'er the morning dew,
He wore a harebell garland on his head,
And stretched his hands at the bright-bursting view:
A mountain fawn went bounding by his side,
Around whose slender neck a silver bell was tied.

Then said I: 'Mistress of the magic song,
Oh, pity 'twere that hearts that know no guile
Should ever feel the pangs of ruth or wrong!'
She heeded not, but sang with lovelier smile:
"Enjoy, O youth, the season of thy May;
Hark, how the throstles in the hawthorn sing,
The hoary Time, that resteth night nor day,
O'er the earth's shade may speed with noiseless wing:
But heed not thou: snatch the brief joys that rise,
And sport beneath the light of these unclouded skies."

His fine eye flashing an unwonted fire,
Then Fancy o'er the glade delighted went;
He struck at times a small and silver lyre,
Or gaz'd upon the rolling element;
Sometimes he took his mirror, which did show
The various landscape lovelier than the life;
More beamy bright the vivid tints did glow,
And so well mingled was the colours' strife,
That the fond heart, the beauteous shades once seen,
Would sigh for such retreats, for vales and woods so green!

Gay was his aspect, and his airy vest,
As loose it flow'd, such colours did display,
As paint the clouds reposing in the west,
Or the moist rainbow's radiant arch inlay;
And now he tripp'd, like fairy of the wood,
And seem'd with dancing spirits to rejoice,
And now he hung his head in pensive mood—
Meantime, O Hope, he listen'd to thy voice,
And whilst of joy and youth it cheerly sung,
Lightly he touch'd his harp, and o'er the valley sprung.

Pleasure, a frolic nymph, to the glad sound
Came dancing, as all tears she might forget;
And now she gaz'd with a sweet archness round,
And wantonly display'd a silken net:
She won her way with fascinating air—
Her eyes illumin'd with a tender light,
Her smile's strange blandishment, her shaded hair
That length'ning hung, her teeth as ivory white,
That peep'd from her moist lip, seemed to inspire
Tumultuous wishes warm, and dreams of fond desire.

What softer passions did thy bosom move,
When those melodious measures met thine ear,
Child of Sincerity, and virtuous Love?
Thine eyes did shine beneath a blissful tear
That still were turned towards the tranquil scene,
Where the thin smoke rose from th' embowered cot;
And thou didst think, that there, with smile serene,
In quiet shades, and every pang forgot,
Thou mightest sink on pure Affection's breast,
And listen to the winds that whisper'd thee to rest.

I thought, "O Love, how seldom art thou found
Without annoyance in this earthly state!
For, haply, thou dost feed some rankling wound,
Or on thy youth pale poverty doth wait,
'Till years, on heavy wing, have roll'd away;
Or where thou most didst hope firm faith to see,
Thou meetest fickleness estrang'd and cold;
Or if some true and tender heart there be,
On which, thro' every change, thy soul might trust,
Death comes with his fell dart, and smites it to the dust."

But lusty Enterprize, with looks of glee,
Approach'd the drooping youth, as he would say,
"Come to the high woods and the hills with me,
And cast thy sullen myrtle-wreath away!"
Upon a neighing courser he did sit,
That stretched its arched neck, in conscious pride,
And champ'd as with disdain a golden bit,
But Hope her animating voice apply'd,
And Enterprize with speed impetuous pass'd,
Whilst the long vale return'd his wreathed bugle's blast.

Suddenly, lifting high his pond'rous spear,
A mailed man came forth with scornful pride,
I saw him, tow'ring in his proud career,
Along the valley with a giant stride:
Upon his helm, in letters of bright gold,
That to the sun's meridian splendour shone,
Ambition's name far off I might behold.
Meantime from earth there came a hollow moan;
But Fame, who follow'd, her loud trumpet blew,
And to the murmuring beach with eyes on flame he flew.

And now already had he gain'd the strand,
Where a tall vessel rode with sail unfurl'd,
And soon he thought to reach the farther land,
Which to his eager eye seem'd like a world
That he by strength might win and make his own;
And in that citadel, which shone so bright,
Seat him, a purple sovereign, on his throne.
So he went tilting o'er the waters white,
And whilst he oft look'd back with stern disdain,
In louder tones, methought, was heard the inspiring strain.

"By the shade of cities old,
By many a river stain'd with gore,
By the sword of Sesac bold,
Who smote the nations from the shore
Of ancient Nile to India's farthest plain,
By Fame's proud pillars, and by Valour's shield
By mighty chiefs in glorious battle slain,
Assert thy sway; amid the bloody field
Pursue thy march, and to the heights sublime
Of Honor's glittering cliffs, a mighty conqueror climb."

Then said I, in my heart: 'Man, thou dost rear
Thine eye to Heav'n, and vaunt thy lofty worth;
The ensign of dominion thou dost bear
O'er nature's works; but thou dost oft go forth,
Urg'd by proud hopes to ravage and destroy;
Thou dost build up a name by cruel deeds,
Whilst to the peaceful scenes of Love and Joy,
Sorrow, and Crime, and Solitude, succeeds.
Hence, when her war-song Victory doth sing,
Destruction flaps aloft her iron-hurtling wing?'

But see, as one awak'd from deadly trance,
With hollow and dim eyes and stony stare,
Captivity with faltering step advance!
Dripping and knotted was her coal-black hair:
For she had long been hid, as in the grave;
No sounds the silence of her prison broke,
Nor one companion had she in her cave,
Save Terror's dismal shape, that no word spoke;
But to a stony coffin on the floor
With lean and hideous finger pointed evermore.

The lark's shrill song, the early village chime,
The upland echo of the winding horn,
The far-heard clock that spoke the passing time,
Had never pierc'd her solitude forlorn:
At length, releas'd from the deep dungeon's gloom,
She feels the fragrance of the vernal gale;
She sees more sweet the living landscape bloom,
And while she listens to Hope's tender tale,
She thinks her long-lost friends shall bless her sight,
And almost faints with joy amid the broad day-light.

And near the spot, as with reluctant feet,
Slowly desponding Melancholy drew,
The wind and rain her naked breast had beat,
Sunk was her eye, and sallow was her hue:
In the huge forest's unrejoicing shade
Bewilder'd had she wandered day by day,
And many a grisly fiend her heart dismay'd,
And cold and wet upon the ground she lay:
But now such sounds with mellow sweetness stole,
As lapp'd in dreams of bliss her slow-consenting soul.

Next to the woody glen, poor Mania stray'd,
Most pale and wild, yet gentle was her look;
A slender garland she of straw had made,
Of flow'rs and rushes from the running brook;
But as she sadly pass'd, the tender sound
Of its sharp pang her wounded heart beguil'd;
She dropp'd her half-made garland on the ground,
And then she sigh'd, and then in tears she smil'd:
But in such sort, that Pity would have said,
"O God, be merciful to that poor hapless maid!"

Now ravingly she cried: "The whelming main,
The wintry wave rolls over his cold head;
I never shall behold his form again—
Hence flattering fancies — he is dead, is dead!
Perhaps on some wild shore he may be cast,
Where on their prey barbarians howling rush,
Oh, fiercer they, than is the whelming blast!
Hush, my poor heart — my wakeful sorrows, hush!
He lives — I yet shall press him to my heart,
And cry, O no, no, no, — we never more will part!"

So sang she, when despairing, from his cell,
Hid furthest in the lone umbrageous wood,
Where many a winter he had lov'd to dwell,
Came grim Remorse; as fixed in thought he stood,
His senses pierc'd by the unwonted tone;
He heard — the blood-drops from his locks he shook;
He saw the trees that wav'd, the sun that shone,
He cast around an agonised look;
Then with a ghastly smile that spoke his pain,
He hied him to his cave in thickest shades again.

And now the sun sank westward, and the sky
Was hung with thousand lucid pictures gay;
When gazing on the seene with placid eye,
An ancient man appear'd in amice gray;
His sandal shoes were by long travel worn,
O'er hill and valley, many a ling'ring mile,
Yet droop'd he not, like one in years forlorn;
His pale cheek wore a sad, but tender smile;
'Twas sage Experience, by his look confess'd,
And white as frost his beard descended to his breast.

Thus said I, Master, pleasant is this place,
And sweet are those melodious notes I hear,
And happy they among man's toiling race
Who, of their cares forgetful, wander near;
Me they delight, whom sickness and slow pain
Have bow'd almost to death with heavy hand;
The fairy scenes refresh my heart again,
And, pleas'd I listen to that musick bland,
Which seems to promise hours of joy to come,
And bids me tranquil seek my poor but peaceful home.

He said, "Alas! these shadows soon may fly,
Like the gay creatures of the element:
Yet do poor mortals still with raptur'd eye
Behold like thee the pictures they present;
And, charm'd by Hope's sweet music, on they fare,
And think they soon shall reach that blissful goal,
Where never more the sullen knell of Care
For buried friends and severed loves shall toll:
So on they fare; till all their troubles cease,
And on a lap of earth they lay them down in peace.

"But not there ceases their immortal claim;
(From golden clouds I heard a small voice say)
Wisdom rejoiceth in a higher aim,
Nor heeds the transient shadows of a day;
These earthly sounds may die away, and all
These perishable pictures sink in night,
But Virtue from the dust her sons shall call,
And lead them forth to joy, and life, and light;
Tho' from their languid grasp earth's comforts fly,
And with the silent worm their bury'd bodies lie.

"For other scenes there are, and in a clime
Purer, and other strains to earth unknown,
Where Heaven's high host, with symphonies sublime,
Sing 'unto HIM that sitteth on the throne.'
Enough for man, if he the task fulfil
Which GOD ordain'd, and to his journey's end
Bear him right on, betide him good or ill;
Then Hope to soothe his death-bed shall descend,
Nor leave him, till in mansions of the blest
He gains his destin'd home, his everlasting rest."

[Sonnets and Other Poems (1800) 141-56]