1800 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Cave of Ignorance, in Two Cantos.

The Harp of Erin, containing the Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Dermody. In Two Volumes. [James G. Raymond, ed.]

Thomas Dermody


25 Spenserians, posthumously published. The Cave of Ignorance is a slap-dash imitation of the eighteenth-century imitations of Spenser. The idea of a derives from Spenser's Cave of Error in the first book of the Faerie Queene. Thomas Dermody even slips in the second canto when he refers to his Cave of Ignorance as the "Cave of Error": "Sir Genius now the Cave of Error sees; | And pierces every glade, by Truth yled: | She darts fierce noon-day through th' illumin'd trees, | And braids with lucid stars her champion's head." The topic suggests Gilbert West's Education (1751) though Dermody obviously plagiarizes James Thomson's better-known Castle of Indolence (1748), substituting "Sir Genius" for "The Knight of Industry." Whatever was intended, the poet seems to have lost interest along the way — the second stanza has been left with some untrimmed auxiliary lines.

In the first canto Redcross is led by the sly Archimago to the Cave of Ignorance, where a wily wizard, bearing the hallmarks of malicious criticism, wreaks havoc on the pages of worthy writers: "Here droops dan Virgil under durance strong, | And Milton here doth Satan praise no more; | Sweet Mulla's modest bard his descant long | Doth cast aside of legendary lore, | And views his fairy web perdye to pieces tore." The Wizard, in a speech imitated from the Castle of Indolence, invites the Knight to sweet retirement, and presents a comely woman, Temerity. Redcross threatens battle, but is quickly disabled.

The second canto introduces a new character, the tiny fay Intelligence, who upon escaping from the durance in which she has bound by Ignorance, quickly swells to the size of a giant. She makes her way to fairy-land, and to the gorgeous dwelling of Sir Genius: "Here then the fay the blessed owner found, | And told him all her doubts and anxious fears: | The knight, full gen'rous, startled at the sound; | And in a moment all in mail appears: | For Haste had quickly clad him." Led by Truth (Intelligence?), Sir Genius arrives at the Cave of Error (Ignorance?), where he presents an elegant volume to the eyes of the astonished Enchanter: "A tome which did with golden letters shine; | PERFECTION (hight) of MINSTRELSYE DIVINE." The evil wight promptly expires, Redcross is freed, and the trump of Fame appears in the sky, promising every good wight his due.



CANTO I.
Foul Archimage, enchaunter vile,
The redcross knight doth lead
To Ignorance his darksome cave,
Through many a murky shade.

Ah me! full long shall arts and arms decay,
And modest worth in lonely desert pine;
Full long shall Penury, with iron sway,
The noblest darings of the soul confine,
And freeze the genial glow of verse divine.
But yet, sweet mourners of the tuneful train,
A future age shall in your praise combine;
Your fame, your matchless fame, shall still remain,
And rising nations swell the high immortal strain.

Down a deep dell the sly enchaunter led,
Through dol'rous lanes and sad, the redcross knight;
To where thick yews disclose, inflicting dread,
A cave unconscious of the noon-day light.
This place the Cave of Ignorance is hight;
Where he, the wizard wild, doth aye rejoice
To mar the golden treasures of the muse,
And scatter to the winds each lofty voice:
Ne doth he e'er the glorious page peruse,
But with his blackest gall doth fairest works abuse.

A feeble lamp-light aids his winking eye,
While he on crude Bavarian volume pores;
Or strives in Excellence a spot to spy,
That he might vilify her precious stores.
And ever and anon he loudly roars,
When he doth see a model passing rare
That mocks all malice; which the carl explores,
And makes each wrong as empty as the air:
But hard, I ween, it is, to taint the truly fair.

Beneath his stool unnumber'd authors lie,
For there he casts each gently flowing song;
And doth to each a reading fair deny,
But still continueth to work them wrong.
Here droops dan Virgil under durance strong,
And Milton here doth Satan praise no more;
Sweet Mulla's modest bard his descant long
Doth cast aside of legendary lore,
And views his fairy web perdye to pieces tore.

Full many a demon urges, on his side,
To spoil the commonweal of youthful Taste.
Malice, with blinking eye; fantastic pride;
Folly, in mockery on a throne yplac'd;
Revenge, by troops of rav'nous bloodhounds chas'd;
With frontless visage, brazen Impudence;
Blind Zeal, with ribs of ruthless iron lac'd,
Antique, misshapen wight, with dark pretence;
And thousands more, attack the sovreignty of Sense.

Soon as the redcross knight those imps espy'd,
He sought some way to 'scape their baneful snare;
But strait a voice in thunder harsh reply'd:
"Beware, bold knight; of jeopardy beware.
If aught, disdainful of our word, thou dare,
Plung'd in yon dungeon ages shalt thou lie;
Where embryo Shades, and half-form'd Centaurs, tear
The rankled flesh; where heaves th' eternal sigh:
A giant guards the den, his name Uncertainty."

So spoke the wrathful keeper of the gate;
Contention hight, yclad in prickly arms;
A crown of thistles wreath'd his noisy pate;
Stillettoes guard his sides, prepar'd for harms:
And a hoarse bugle sounds his rough alarms.
A wight he was right fond of obloquy:
In Scorn, fell dame, he saw resistless charms,
And lov'd the proud demeanor of her eye:
To his embrace she bore the fiend Contumacy.

Soon as the master of this gloomy cave
The voice o'erheard of that same troublous wight,
He cry'd with wily words: "Audacious slave,
Why thus contemptuous speak to noblest knight
That ever blessed my happy nation's sight?
Caitiff, avaunt; or by this spell I swear,
Thy tortur'd soul shall feel, with wild affright,
The ceaseless horrors of continual fear:
The whips of pale Remorse, the stings of fell Despair.

"But thou so courteous knight, come hither, share
The various dainties that my court affords:
Here spend thy frolic hours, devoid of care,
With courtly damsels and with gallant lords.
Let earth-born misers pile their golden hoards,
Here, senseless of the spring, thy thirst assuage:
No mountains stop thy course, nor dang'rous fords;
To blessed Ignorance thy life engage,
Nor wish to read futurity's ill-omen'd page.

"Lo! here no country claims thy strict regard,
And cheats thy manly eye with infant bell:
No sage will pester here, nor servile bard;
No friends will hunt thee in this mazy dell.
Then bid old fame, and honours all, farewell.
What man would wish the rugged mount to climb,
When in the vale more fragrant zephyrs dwell?
Or who would tempt the arduous lay sublime,
When Ease here idly sings, and consecrates her rhime?

"Give o'er thy quest of virtue. If on earth
She deigns to live, her residence is here:
This spot of holy concord gave her birth;
Where zeal aye nurs'd the child, without a fear
That could her peace with harsh annoyance scare.
In conscious fortitude the virgin see;
Her port majestic, her excelling air,
She moves in haughty stalk of dignity:
On earth fair virtue hight, but here Temerity."

Right wrathful waxed then the redcross knight;
And knew th' enchaunter, speaking though so mild:
His hairs stood bristling up in fierce affright;
His looks grew wan and red, and staring wild;
And oft he foam'd with rage, and often smil'd.
At length, quick-rising with chivalrous ire,
He sought to draw his glaive with gore defil'd;
But (marvellous to tell!) as forged by fire,
It wreathed round his feet, with semblance unto wire.

O mortal hopes, and mortal fears, how vain!
Thus when some lozel heir, from riches sprung,
Proud as sir Paradel of gaudy train,
Doth nothing mind but nimbleness of tongue,
And squandering jewels on a heap of dung,
Debts grow on debts, on legers legers rise;
The banker looks his learned books among,
The younker's chearisaunce with spite he spies,
And traps the helpless wight who sad in durance lies.

CANTO II.
Intelligence, a trusty spright,
Escapes from wicked bond;
Till her the good Sir Genius finds,
The pride of Fairy Lond.

All hail again rich Fancy's orient ray,
That gaily gilds this mortal pilgrimage!
Ah! never let her soft'ning tints decay,
And leave a sombre sadness on my page;
But still with flashes bright the soul engage.
While she but deigns to visit my low cell,
Sequester'd from the strife of party rage,
How blest my lot! and Philomel shall dwell
Nigh yonder grot where spar-crown'd rivulets swell.

And often, at the calm of sober eve,
Let Contemplation aid my pensive thought;
While fairy minstrels o'er some fountain grieve,
And mine ear tingles with the death-bell smote.
Oh! then are purest inspirations wrought,
In all the majesty of dream array'd;
The ray of Heaven, in frenzy'd glances caught,
Then bursts of midnight drear the veily shade;
And dear illusions throng the wild romantic glade.

There was a cunning fay of nimblest flight,
In a dark cave by Ignorance confin'd,
Shut up from every glimpse of heav'nly light,
And every balmy breath of purer wind,
Save one small loop-hole which she did not mind.
Through this the tiny fay made her escape,
Lithe as a willow wand which zephyrs bind:
But soon as out from her vile dungeon deep,
She rose from pigmy height to most gigantic shape.

Indignant at such master's vile control,
She wing'd her journey towards blithe Fairy-land;
Intent to warm the good sir Genius' soul,
And arm with rugged mail his knightly hand;
That he might devastate the adverse band,
And break the baleful influence of their sway;
That by his aid the Redcross might withstand
Enchauntment foul, ne in dark cave decay.
With this good will the fairy took her fleeting way.

And now arriv'd, she furl'd her pennons light,
And rov'd through many a bow'r and many a grove;
Where laurels flung their arms of verdure bright
Across the way, and join'd embrace above.
The matted green, with roses interwove,
Outvied the syrian hue or damask art:
Such carpeting was sure a seat for Love;
And Love was there, with bevies fair apart,
Mild to the ravish'd eye, and harmless to the heart.

Not that sly boy that wont in Carthage erst
To pierce the bosom of th' unhappy queen;
But one who, every mist of doubt disperst,
Confessed virtue in his modest mien.
With him the white-robed Charities are seen
On yon gemm'd bank, with chaste addresses dancing:
Where oft of yore the satyr-tribe have been;
But Hymen now, and harmless Joy, advancing,
Lead up the quire, to viol soft entrancing.

On one side, skirted by a bushy screen
From Phoebus' ray, a vined lane extends;
Huge oaks, like lofty pillars, rise between,
And at the top each bow'ry column bends.
Here Genius oft, or with selected friends,
Or Silence' self, his sober revel keeps:
Swift-feather'd Haste his every call attends;
And when the dewy eye of Cynthia weeps,
Morpheus his pillow crowns with pure ambrosial sleeps.

Here then the fay the blessed owner found,
And told him all her doubts and anxious fears:
The knight, full gen'rous, startled at the sound;
And in a moment all in mail appears:
For Haste had quickly clad him, though in tears
At the departure of so kind a master;
And scarce, poor wretch! her little bosom cheers,
Unable for the load of such disaster.
But yet she stirs her heart, and then procceds much faster.

Now from the bow'r they haste with wondrous speed,
Many a hillock o'er, and bushy bourn;
The night-bird sung her song with tuneful heed,
Sad sorrowing o'er her lover's willowy urn:
The noisy rook grew clamorous in turn,
And marr'd with envious croak each melting thrill;
The silver stream began with her to mourn,
Yet the rude rook continued croaking still,—
Critic, I wot, that's licens'd aye to kill.

Sir Genius now the Cave of Error sees;
And pierces every glade, by Truth yled:
She darts fierce noon-day through th' illumin'd trees,
And braids with lucid stars her champion's head.
"Who thus presumes to face my presence dread,
And draws along this hostile line of light?
Who thus unhallow'd burns my downy bed?
I know thee now; 'tis Genius, recreant knight:
Imps, bear the ruthless villain from my blasted sight."

So spoke the darksome fiend, in wild amaze;
Nought did the knight in answer yet rejoin,
But slow presented to his steadfast gaze
A tome which did with golden letters shine;
PERFECTION (hight) of MINSTRELSYE DIVINE.
Soon as the name he saw, with conquer'd pride
Thrice he essay'd to kneel before such shrine;
But, as with horrent air each word he eyed,
Lifeless th' enchaunter fell, and fiercely foaming died.

This when sir Genius saw, with mickle joy
A magic horn he to his lips applied;
Stunn'd with the sound, each other fiends destroy,
And lie unmourned by their master's side.
The while the redcross knight of horror void,
Doth tune the fibres of his breast to pleasure;
And 'mongst the clouds is gloriously espied
The magic horn, of Fame the sounding treasure,
Which gives to every wight renown'd impartial measure.

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