1809
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fragment of a projected Poem — the Subject an Allegory of the Golden Age.

Poems by the late Rev. Edward Smedley, A.M.; with a Selection from his Correspondence, and a Memoir of his Life.

Rev. Edward Smedley


A fragment in 27 Spenserians, posthumously published in 1837, begun by Edward Smedley shortly after he took his B.A. at Cambridge in 1809. Three stanzas of the Fragment had originally appeared in Edward Smedley's first volume, A Few Verses (1812). While it is not easy to gage the intended scope of the poem from this uncompleted fragment, the poet seems to have intended something quite ambitious. Given the the theme, Smedley's chief models would appear to be Glocester Ridley's Psyche, or the Great Metamorphosis, James Beattie's The Minstrel and Thomas Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming (although Smedley elsewhere expressed an aversion to Gertrude, p. 282). This apprentice work led to greater things: the younger Smedley was four times awarded the Seatonian Prize for poems on scriptural subjects.

The long and interesting memoir appended to Smedley's Poems alludes to the circumstances of composition: this fragment is evidently contained in a journal kept while the poet was working as a tutor in Polloc, near Glasgow: "Much of the journal, however, consists of accounts of scenery and places, sufficiently familiar to both the travelling and the reading world; or of observations upon the character and manners of individuals, which, whether laudatory or the reverse, it would be improper to print. He was, at this time, romantic and sensitive to the highest degree; and poetry was his favourite occupation. His journal is interspersed with many beautiful songs and stanzas, some of which were afterwards published; and he appears to have projected a poem of greater length in the Spenserian measure, the subject of which was to be an allegory of the Golden Age" Poems (1837) 11-12.

W. Davenport Adams: "Edward Smedley, clergyman (b. about 1789, d. 1836); wrote, among other works, Religio Clerici, a History of the Reformed Religion in France (1832-34), and several poems" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 583.



Of that blest season, and those golden days
Which shone on man at the first birth of Time,
To chant in later strains the Muse essays;
And tell the simple pleasures of that clime
Where Nature wanton'd in her youthful prime.
E'en now, while Time on dull and leaden wings
Drives his slow flight, I meditate the rhyme
From the faint echoes which tradition brings
Of peace, and joy, and love; how dear to him who sings!

For who is he that in these latter hours
Casts on our earthly scene his musing eye,
And would not gladly seek th' ideal bowers,
The faerie gardens of man's infancy,
And turn him from this sad and murky sky?
Still may I linger o'er the fabled tale
Which soothes my bosom to tranquillity;
Enough of real grief will still assail,
Enough the legion'd fiends of woe e'en then prevail.

Look to the onward wilderness of life,
Which bears no landmark but a drear old age;
No waters but the troubled stream of strife
To cheer us on our weary pilgrimage,
And Passion's fev'rish calenture assuage.
Ah! who can look on this and bless the day
Which bade him in these scenes of woe engage!
No, rather let him early steal away,
And stop his course, ere yet he falls misfortune's prey.

And yet there are some thinly-scatter'd flowers,
Which bud and blossom in this tainted air;
Nurs'd by the milder gales and softer showers,
The violet rears her maiden honours there,
Far from the haunts to which rude steps repair.
Sweet flower! I love thy modest secrecy,
And ever in my garland thee will bear;
Still unregarded by the idler lie,
But still thy charms reveal to one adoring eye.

Oh! let me find thy rich and purfled flower
There where thou liest, in some sequester'd vale;
And I will shield thee from the wintry hour,
And bear thee to my garden's quiet pale,
And hide thy buds where no rude storms assail:
Then round the moss-grown stone I'll bid thee twine,
Teach thee, at nightfall clos'd, the sun to hail,
And watch thy silent growth with careful eyne :
Oh! come to me, sweet flower, and let me call thee mine.

This earth had seen a single year (though years
There can be none, when a perpetual spring
Wantoning o'er all the gifts of Heav'n appears)
But Time had trod one measure of his ring,
And pluck'd a single feather from his wing.
Unmark'd his progress by man's simple race,
Who little knew the change our seasons bring,
Where ev'ry moment varies Nature's face,
And tears some beauty thence, or adds another grace.

Ah! what was man! and how shall they who see
What man is now his former state display!
How shall this spirit, long fainting to be free,
Burst from its mortal bonds, and force its way
Back to the rising of that earliest day:
And tell how first (as fabled legend shows)
From midmost earth sprang forth the breathing clay,
Or while the forest felt a mother's throes,
Forth from the rifted oak the monarch man arose!

E'en now the gentle nymphs who lurk unseen
In tangled woods, and couch beneath the shade,
(Whom bards of other days have view'd between
The haunted bowers, what time their footsteps stray'd
Through the lone empire of the Dryad maid),
Perhaps e'en now, fit offspring of that race,
They wander where their fathers' bones are laid:
Tell me, ye gentle nymphs, and I will place
The fresh-cull'd rose where'er your hallow'd steps I trace.

Tell me, how burst he forth? and how uprear'd
His giant limbs, and wonder'd at his frame?
How, when his voice each living creature heard,
Low cow'ring to its future lord it came,
And bent in homage, and receiv'd its name?
Tell me, how first his mystic birth began,
And touch my lips with that live-kindled flame
Which taught the wond'rous one such works to scan,
The sightless bard who sang how Heav'n was lost to man.

Where do ye linger? though in silent shades
Musing I pass the solitary day,
And ever woo your influence, gentle maids,
Ye listen not to me! — or do ye stray
By southern streams and woodlands far away,
And shun this cold and dreary mountain grove?
Oh! that to them my weary steps might stray,
And seek your haunts, if by those streams you rove,
The streams that murmur joy, the woods that echo love.

Ah! hallow'd names, ye bear me back to those
Who know no sounds but peace, and love, and joy.—
Now the first birthday of the world arose,
And Nature seem'd her richest arts t' employ,
Not as to us with sparing hand and coy:
Earth breathed a purer incense than before,
And lovelier azure dyed the cloudless sky;
Each flow'r blush'd deeper, and expanded more,
Each living throat attun'd seem'd sweeter sounds to pour.

From ev'rything which breath'd that morn was giv'n
Th' instinctive worship of the silent heart,
The willing sacrifice most lov'd by Heav'n;
They bless'd the unknown Spirit by whose great art
They mid his creatures bore such noble part;
They bless'd him Author sole of all that fair
And all that good he deign'd to them impart;
Creation seem'd such holy act to share,
This universal frame to pour one common pray'r.

Then to their daily toil they bent, if toil
There can be, where spontaneous harvests wave
Th' unbidden produce of the teeming soil,
And in the open plain or shadowy cave
Man freely cull'd what Nature largely gave.
The blushing fruits hung rich from ev'ry spray,
And Heav'ns own dews supplied the crystal wave;
Their only toil to gather for the day,
And in the mountain-spring their noontide thirst allay.

How varied are the pleasures which employ
In sportive innocence their sunshine hours!
Varied in all, in all the source of joy.
With careful hand amid their tufted bowers,
Part twined the wreath of many-colour'd flowers,
And pruned the wanton scions, and upbound
The laded stem which droop'd o'ercharged with showers.
———*———*———*———*———*———

Part o'er the rocky steeps and mountain chain
Bounding their happy vale which laugh'd below,
Wander alone, and o'er the far-off plain,
And lands unknown, and seas that nameless flow,
Their unfix'd sight in doubt and wonder throw.
Dim rose the shadowy visions, as they gazed,
Of other times, and days they ne'er must know;
Strange were the forms their self-taught fancies raised,
Fear mingled with their dreams, and e'en their hope amazed.

———*———*———*———*———*———

Part in a lighter mood with jocund dance,
And sportive revelry, and voice of song,
Mingling their steps, to the soft pipe advance,
Taught by the measur'd strain — each leads along
His chosen fair one from the maiden throng;
Theirs was the mirth of innocence, the smile
Which wreathes the cheek that never blush'd for wrong,
Affection's chastest glow which knows no guile,
The mingling glance of Love which no base thoughts defile.

———*———*———*———*———*———

Some, where the murm'ring waters gently well,
In seeming listlessness their limbs reclin'd,
And as the tide of thought or rose or fell
Pour'd the free current of unlabouring mind,
Flowing in various streams and not confin'd.
For now of lighter things they mus'd, and now
Watch'd the fleet cloud, or listen'd to the wind,
Then started from their dream with sudden glow,
Full thought and fancies high, unknowing where they flow.

Such in these after ages, when th' alloy
Of earth had mingled with their purer mould,
Yet fail'd its living essence to destroy,
Such would have Poets been — as he of old
Who the dread secrets of Creation told,
Or he who earlier still his song began,
Who dared the passions in their cell unfold,
Through all the varied scenes of Nature ran
Explor'd the secret mind and op'd the heart of man.
———*———*———*———*———*———

CANTO THE SECOND.
Where are the Muses now? they do not tread
The forked hill, or linger by that spring
Where first the plumed horse uprear'd his head,
Paw'd the dry rock, and shook his heav'nward wing:
Nor in Aonia do the sisters sing,
And pour to listening groves their melody.
No loftier hand awakes the trembling string;
No frantic Priestess waves the thyrse on high.
Mute is each echoing vale, each haunted stream is dry.

Fall'n is the sun of Greece, the sun whose beam
Shot forth destruction from its noontide height;
And with it too is fall'n the milder gleam
Of that sweet morning star, whose silv'ry light
Pierced the rude darkness of barbaric night.
The spoiler's hand has wither'd all the bloom
Which wanton'd in their gardens of delight;
The Master's living forms are lost in gloom,
The hand which struck the lyre is mould'ring in the tomb!

Ah! who again could teach thy voice to sing!—
The Attic warbler pour'd her notes awhile
Secure beneath the Eagle's shadowy wing;
Mid Rome's proud towers, and many a costly pile,
The banish'd Muses seem'd again to smile;
And oft they wander'd by the Sabine fold,
Or nightly turn'd them to that secret hill
Where Maro of the fierce Rutulian told,
And swell'd Alecto's trump, and sang the wars of old.

Where were ye then when o'er the walls of Rome
Rush'd the fierce billows of the Northern war?
Alas! ye sank amid the common doom,
And dragg'd before the Gothic victor's car
Your tender limbs were scath'd with many a scar.
Ah! let me mourn ye! Ye who early play'd
In the full radiance of Heav'n's sweetest star;
Ah! let me mourn ye! I who 'neath the shade
Of these dim times am cast, in cold obstruction laid.

How weary, stale, and profitless is now
The reason'd march of Nature! while the bond
Of senseless matter wreathes her drooping brow.
The whirling Earth spins in a drowsy round
On its fix'd axle — never to be found,
Always intruding. Gravity's dull law
With leaden sceptre rules Creation's bound.
Fled are the golden dreams the Poet saw,
Torn is the sportive veil which Fancy lov'd to draw.

Oh! for that mighty conclave on the brow
Of stormy Ida, where amid the crowd
Of lesser deities, Jove hurl'd below
His bolt of vengeance, and in thunders loud
Spoke the dread anger of offended God.
And she * * * the laughter-loving Queen,
Whose glance could calm the terrors of his nod!
And he, the dimpled youth of lovely mien,
Who pour'd the nectar'd draught, and ever smiled between.

Then Hesper nightly from his dewy star
Flung silver radiance, and in silent state
The Lord of morning harness'd to his car
The steeds that breath'd of Ocean, at Heav'n's gate,
* * * the Hours in guardiance wait,
The lightly cinctur'd Hours, who danced before
His eastern chariot, ever as he sate
Scatt'ring fresh roses to the laughing ground,
And hymning songs of joy and notes of heav'nly sound.

Scarce bloom'd the flow'r which did not then enshrine
Some living form within its petal'd shade.
The mystic cipher, or the blood-red line,
Told of the warrior's phrenzy, or betray'd
The gentle sorrows of the love-sick maid.
With sad remembrance of his fruitless joy,
Then pale Narcissus bow'd his drooping head,
And he, Apollo's lov'd and lovely boy—
Ah! how could ruthless chance so fair a form destroy?

Then ev'ry gale which kiss'd the trembling reed
Swell'd the fond murmurs of enamour'd Pan,
Wafting those vows which on the sportive mead
He pour'd, when first his infant love began,
Ere from his rough embrace the wood-nymph ran.
Or if more lowly sigh'd the mourning wind
It told the sorrows of that hapless man,
Who woo'd its breath so often — ah! too blind,
He saw not her who lurk'd the hazel boughs behind.
———*———*———*———*———*———

[pp. 116-25]