1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Invocation to the Muse.

Gentleman's Magazine 86 (Supplement to Part 1) 616.

John Chalk Claris


Four Spenserians signed "A. B. Canterbury, May 1816." The "A. B." stands for John Chalk Claris's pseudonym "Arthur Brooke." To the poet's appeal for inspiration, the Muse replies that the young man should first study the "bards of yore." John Chalk Claris, a provincial poet, had obviously studied some of them, for he aptly quotes from Collins's Ode to the Poetical Character (1746).

The poem is reprinted, slightly modified, in Poems (1818) under the title "Invocation to the Muse." In a footnote the "editor" comments: "The following pages are perhaps too convincing a proof how little these celestial admonitions have been attended to" p. 5.



"Come, uninvok'd before, assist me now!"
Star of my childhood! hear thy votary's prayer,
So shall he still before thine altars bow,
So shall thy worship be his only care;
Now for a higher theme his hands prepare,
And if his unpremeditated lays
Denied the honors of the Bard to share,
Oh, teach him now to grasp at deathless praise,
And with thy favorite sons divide th' unfading bays.

Fervent I pray'd; when flashing through the grove,
Burst forth a blaze more than solar light;
And far between the opening clouds above,
I saw the realms of rapture and delight;
Visions than the Poet's dreams more exquisite!
The Muse approach'd, wrapt in a robe of day
Too brightly beaming for this mortal sight;
And on the earth in speechless trance I lay,
Whilst from her throne a voice thus said, or seem'd to say:

Presumptuous youth, for thy inglorious song
Dost thou the Muse's potent aid demand?
Canst thou imagine that to her belong
The wild designs thy frantic breast hath plann'd?
What! ere the twentieth spring hath nerv'd thy hand,
Dar'st thou attempt to reach that awful lyre,
When scarce the mightiest of her chosen band,
Could bear the tumult of its bounding wire,
When waking in its pride forth roll its tones of fire.

Then be awhile thine idle harp resign'd,
Go! search the page where breath the bards of yore,
Collect from thence the "shadowy tribes of mind,"
And stamp a value on thy lighter lore;
The age of vain frivolity is o'er:
Howe'er attun'd to song thy soul may be,
Till Learning strengthens, try its powers no more,
But gratefully receive this truth from me,
Know, Wisdom is the source, the spring of Poesy.

[p. 616]