1809
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Old Time's Holiday. Suggested on seeing a Picture of Time playing on a Harp.

Poems (never before published,) written chiefly at Bremhill, in Wiltshire by the Rev. Wm. Lisle Bowles.

Rev. William Lisle Bowles


An allegorical vision: the figure of Time lays down his scythe, and taking up the harp presents a series of visions delivered in a variety of measures. They represent infancy, youth, love, and a concluding admonition. The opening quatrain plainly points to Spenser, though William Lisle Bowles does not imitate Spenser's mannerisms.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld: "The name of Mr. Bowles will render this volume acceptable to many whose approbation reflects honor; and we have not perused it without experiencing esteem for the feeling and poetic mind by which it has been dictated. Yet, though we find in these poems beautiful imagery, sensibility, and poetic fancy, they do not entirely satisfy either the heart or the imagination. Mr. Bowles possesses some of the fire of genius, but he often employs it as an ignis fatuus to dance and dazzle; or, to change the metaphor, he is like a Hawk attempting the regions where the Eagle soars; he rises beyond the sight of the twittering crew, but he never entirely fulfills the expectations which he is capable of exciting. This is more the case in the present volume than it was in his Sonnets; and the reason is that in the Sonnets he was obliged to give his desultory thoughts and images a greater degree of condensation. For want of this restraint, though many passages in his longer poems are touching, few comparatively are forcible, some lines are very weak, and the whole is very unequal in merit" Monthly Review NS 60 (December 1809) 432.

George Daniel: "It would be a work of no small labor to wade through the various productions of this reverend bard. Odes, Epics, and Sonnets innumerable, 'pass in long review.' Let the following extracts suffice. — A Poem, called 'Time's Holiday,' affords a beautiful specimen of rural simplicity.... We have then 'skiey blue,' 'bluey fading hills,' and a large mass of verse, 'yclept, 'The Sylph of Summer, or Air,' being part of a projected poem on the Elements. All this might be passed over; but why take up his pen against Pope? Could he suppose that he was rendering a service to literature, by defaming one of its brightest ornaments? But enough of Mr. Bowles and his works: we may forgive a blockhead 'that little dares and nothing means;' but not one that dares much, and means nothing.... I have heard of one John Taylor, the water Poet; Mr. B. may be christened the milk and water Poet" The Modern Dunciad (1814; 1815) 20-21n.



Though swift the moments pass along,
To some they scarcely seem to move;
Whilst Fancy sings her elfin song,
Of HOPE, of JOYANCE, and of LOVE.

As through a valley far remote I stray'd,
Methought, beside a mould'ring temple's stone,
The tale of whose dark structure was unknown,
I saw the FORM of TIME: his Scythe's huge blade
Lay swathed in the grass, whose gleam was seen
Fearful, as oft the wind, the tussocks green
Mov'd stirring, to and fro: the beam of morn
Cast a dim lustre on his look forlorn;
When touching a responsive instrument,
Stern o'er the chords his furrow'd brow he bent:
Meantime a naked boy, with aspect sweet,
Play'd smiling with the hour-glass at his feet!
Apart from these, and in a verdant glade,
A sleeping Infant on the moss was laid,
O'er which a female form her vigils kept,
And watch'd it, softly-breathing as it slept.
Then I drew nigh, and to my list'ning ear
Came, stealing soft and slow, this ditty clear:

"Lullaby, sing lullaby,
Sweetest babe in safety lie;
I thy mother sit and sing,
Nor hear of Time the hurrying wing.

"Here, where innocence reposes,
Fairy sylphs, your sports delay;
Then the breath of morning roses
From its bed of bliss convey.

"Lullaby, sing lullaby,—
Sweetest babe, in safety lie;
I thy mother sit and sing,
Nor hear of Time the hurrying wing."

Hush'd in sweet slumber, its calm eye-lids clos'd,
One little hand upon its heaving breast,
Amidst the flow'rs a beauteous Child repos'd,
And ring-doves murmur'd it to stiller rest.
Unheard, far off, the mutt'ring thunder roll'd,
Unseen, far off, the meteor lightnings play'd;
When all was sunshine here, and clouds, like gold,
Hung, as delaying, o'er the shadowy glade.
I turn'd, and lo! a bevy bright and fair
Come dancing, youths and virgins in a throng.
Heard ye the animated air
Rich tones of pleasure and of hope prolong?

"Golden lads and lasses gay,
Now is life's sweet holiday:
TIME shall lay by his scythe for you,
And Joy the valley with fresh violets strew."

Then sweeter came, methought with accents clear,
The song, in soft accordance to mine ear.
It said, "O Youth, still joyous on thy way,
May'st thou be found; now that her purple wing
The morning waves, and the fresh woodlands sing.
Nor let cold wisdom's voice thy heart dismay,
Telling thee Hope and Pleasure last not long;
That Age will come, like pilgrim poor and old,
And wan Disease, with cheerless aspect cold;
But listen to my mirth-inspiring song:
The shadow'd landscape, and the golden sun,
The skies so pure, the vernal pastures green,
And hills and vales, at distance, softer seen,
Invite thee, life's glad race secure to run;
Thine every joy the smiling prospect yields
To-morrow to fresh streams and fairer fields."

As light of heart they pass'd along,
At once the dark Musician chang'd his song:

"Who, in tender transport lying,
While the gentle wizard sings,
Thinks not of the hour that's flying,
Or the noise of human things?"

I look'd, and saw upon a lake, alone,
Stealing beneath the bank, a little boat
(Upon whose sail the beams of morning shone)
Soft on its shade without a murmur float.
Aerial rocks gleam'd o'er the woods remote:
On all things round there was a silence deep,
Save when at times was heard the turtle's note,
Or distant pipe, or bell of wand'ring sheep.
Upon the bank myrtles and lilies grew,
And spreading woodbines mark'd a sylvan cave,
And sometimes, deck'd with flow'rs of various hue,
The green-sward slope descended to the wave.
And in that boat, with look that witness'd joy
And hope, a beautiful and winged Boy
Sat at the helm, and as the breezes fann'd
His yellow-stirring hair, filling the sail
Gently, he smil'd, and lifted in his hand
A blooming May-thorn, whilst the Wizard sung,
OLD TIME, as he himself were beautiful and young,
And seem'd with moody joy the fairy sight to hail:

"Bless the hour Endearment gives!
Who on earth's cold climate lives,
But has felt his heart rejoice,
When woman's smile, and woman's voice,
Hath sent, with magical controul,
All sweetness to the soften'd soul.
Oh! Happiness, where art thou found,
(If indeed on mortal ground,)
But with faithful hearts alone,
That Love and Friendship have made one—
In tenderness and faith sincere,
In affection's sweetest tear."

It was a livelong holiday;
And in that boat, far from the faithless crowd,
They who true love and mutual trust avow'd,
Pursued in peace their solitary way.
And it was bliss to see the manly youth,
Whose look bespoke sincerity and truth,
Gaze upon her he lov'd, as he could bless
Th' ALMIGHTY BEING, in the living light
Of whose warm sun he felt such happiness,
Whilst tears of transport almost dimm'd his sight.
To tenderness and confidence resign'd
On his protecting bosom she reclin'd
Her head: and so, beneath the gleamy sail,
They pass'd, amid the summer-shining vale.

Meantime the hoar Musician sings,
Hiding the shadow of his sable wings:—
"Come, and forget the coil of human things!
The sound of many sorrows, that dismay
The shrinking heart of man, here dies away!
Come, pure Endearment, be this moment thine;
Kiss from the lid the tears that rapturous shine,
And let one SPIRIT of AFFECTION say,
BLEST HOURS, BUT AH! TOO TRANSIENT, COULD YE STAY
YOUR RAPID FLIGHT, HOW SWEET WERE LIFE'S LONG WAY!"

Now where a gloom of thicker myrtles grew,
The fading vision lessen'd from my view.
As far away the stealing shadows float,
Still ev'ning slowly sheds her umbrage hoar,
One streak of light strays from the parting boat,
And softest sounds die on the distant shore.
I stood like one who with delighted eyes
Pursues the noon-tide rainbow as it flies;
When from a cloud that sapphire-bright appear'd,
Words, like the sound of waves remote, I heard:

"Mortal, would thy search obtain
True wisdom in a world of pain?
Oh, when all the vallies ring
To music of life's opening spring,
Let not FLATTERY'S syren lay
Lure thy trusting heart astray.
Let GAIETY'S glad dance and song
Detain, but not detain thee long.
LOVE'S enchanting visions gleam,
But, ah! they are not what they seem!
Nor yet let sullen CARE destroy
Vernal hopes, and summer joy!
Use the PRESENT, but not so
That it may lead to years of woe.
Take the joys the Heav'ns impart,
With a meek, a thankful heart;
And think them, when they steal away,
But as companions of a day.
Love, and youth's delightful spring,
Time shall bear with rapid wing;
But, when Passion's hour is past,
FIDELITY and TRUTH shall last;
Last till life's few sands are run!
And Nature views the sinking Sun!
Nor think that then the parting knell
Sounds o'er the grave a last Farewell;
For higher, purer joys remain,
Far beyond yon starry plain;
Where sorrow shall no loss deplore,
Where TIME and change shall be no more."

I look'd, and saw no more the boat, the stream;
Pass'd like the silent pictures of a dream:
I turn'd to the spot, where with white beard
That Phantom-Minstrel o'er his harp inclin'd;
I saw alone his Shadow vast, and heard
THE SOUND OF MIGHTY PENNONS, CLANGING IN THE WIND!

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