1819 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Fitz-Greene Halleck, Esq.

The New-York Mirror: a Weely Journal devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts 9 (3 March 1832) 273.

Joseph Rodman Drake


Fourteen, later sixteen Spenserians, posthumously published in 1832. Joseph Rodman Drake chides he friend Halleck for writing on trivial topics while so many great American themes remain unsung: "Are there no scenes to touch the poet's soul? | No deeds of arms to wake the lordly strain? | Shall Hudson's billows unregarded roll? | Has Warren fought, Montgomery died, in vain?" The poem compares the American to the European scene, with allusions to William Collins's Superstition's Ode, and Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming (about which Halleck would later write). The poem itself is in a general way an imitation of Collins's epistle addressed to John Home. The longer version printed in Taft's Minor Knickerbocker Poets (1947) contains many substantive textual variations.

Edgar Allan Poe: "The poem To a Friend consists of fourteen Spenserian stanzas. They are fine spirited verses, and probably were not supposed by their author, to be more. Stanza the fourth, although beginning nobly, concludes with that very common exemplification of the bathos, the illustrating natural objects of beauty or grandeur by reference to the tinsel of artificiality" in Review of Drake, The Culprit Fay; Southern Literary Messenger 2 (April 1836) 333.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Joseph Rodman Drake, 1795-1820, a native of New York, began to contribute poetical compositions to the periodicals at a very early age. The first four of the Croaker Pieces, (published in the New York Evening Post, March 10-20, 1819,) were written by him; after the fourth number, Fitz-Greene Halleck was admitted as a partner, and the literary firm was henceforth Croaker & Co. The lively satire of these sallies gave them a great reputation at the time of their publication. Drake's longest poem is The Culprit Fay; his best-known composition, The American Flag. Their poetical merit is unquestionably of a high order. In 1836 a collection of Drake's poetical pieces was published by Commadore Dekay, son-in-law of the author" Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:519.

Nelson F. Adkins: "The exact circumstances under which the poem was composed are unknown. But the verses show the obvious influence of William Collins' famous Ode, addressed to Mr. Home, the author of Douglas, and might well enough have been called an 'Ode on the Popular Superstitions of America'" Fitz-Greene Halleck (1930) 44.

William Ellery Leonard: "In the rhetorical vein of the stanzas on Greece in Childe Harold" Byron and Byronism in America (1907) 42.

The "kelpie" alludes to Collins's poem, while the "minstrel of a foreign strand" is Thomas Campbell, author of Gertrude of Wyoming. "Strangford" is Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, translator of Camoens; "Moore" is Thomas Moore. In fact, Halleck did later respond to Thomas Campbell, in his own "Wyoming," written in Spenserians.



Yes, faint was my applause and cold my praise,
Though soul was glowing in each polished line;
But nobler subjects claim the poet's lays—
A brighter glory waits a muse like thine;
Let amorous fools in love-sick measure pine,
Let Strangford whimper on in fancied pain,
And leave to Moore the hacknied rose and vine;
Be thine the task a higher crown to gain—
The envied wreath that decks the patriot's holy strain!

Yet not in proud triumphal song alone,
Or martial ode, or sad sepulchral dirge;
There needs no lay to make our glories known!
There needs no song the warrior's soul to urge
To tread the bounds of nature's stormy verge;
Columbia still shall win the battle's prize!
But be it thine to bid her mind emerge;
To strike her harp until its soul arise
From the neglected shade where low in dust it lies!

Are there no scenes to touch the poet's soul?
No deeds of arms to wake the lordly strain?
Shall Hudson's billows unregarded roll?
Has Warren fought, Montgomery died, in vain?
Shame! that while every mountain, stream, and plain
Hath theme for truth's proud voice or fancy's wand,
No native bard the patriot harp hath ta'en,
But left to minstrel of a foreign strand
To sing the beauteous scenes of nature's loveliest land!

Oh! for a seat on Appalachia's brow,
That I might scan the glorious prospect round!
Wild waving woods and rolling floods below,
Smooth level glades, and fields with grain embrown'd,
High heaving hills with tufted forests crown'd,
Rearing their tall tops to the heaven's blue dome!
And emerald isles like banners green unwound,
Float o'er the lengthened lake, while round them roam
Bright helms of billowy blue and plumes of dancing foam.

'Tis true, no fairies haunt our "verdant meads,"
No grinning imps deform our blazing hearth;
Beneath the kelpie's fang no traveller bleeds,
No gory vampyres taint our holy earth,
Nor spectres stalk to frighten harmless mirth,
Nor tortured demon howls adown the gale;
Fair reason checks these monsters in the birth;
Yet have we lay of love and horrid tale
Would dim the manliest eye and make the bravest pale!

Where is the stony eye that hath not shed
Compassion's heart-drops o'er the sweet M'Crea?
Through midnight wilds by savage bandit led,
"Her heart is sad — her love is far away;"
Elate that lover waits the promised day,
When he shall clasp his blooming bride again!
Shine on, sweet visions! dreams of rapture play!
Soon the cold corse of her he loved in vain
Shall blight his withered heart and fire his frenzied brain!

Romantic Wyoming! could none be found
Of all that rove thy Eden-bowers among,
To wake a native harp's untutored sound,
And give thy tale of woe the voice of song?
Oh! if description's cold and nerveless tongue
From stranger harps such hallowed strains could call,
How doubly sweet the descant wild had rung,
From one who lingering over "thy ruined wall,"
Had plucked thy mourning flowers and wept thy timeless fall!

The Huron chief escaped from foemen nigh,
His frail bark launched on Niagara's tides;
"Pride in his port! defiance in his eye!"
Singing his song of death the warrior glides:
In vain they yell along the river sides;
In vain the arrow from its sheaf is torn;
Calm to his doom the willing victim rides,
And till adown the roaring torrent borne,
Mocks them with gesture proud, and laughs their rage to scorn!

Arouse! my friend — let vivid fancy soar;
Look with creative eye on nature's face—
Bid "goblin's damn'd" in wild Niagara roar,
And view in every field a fairy race!
Spur thy good Pacolet to speed apace,
And spread a train of nymphs on every shore!
Or if thy muse would woo a ruder grace,
The Indian's evil manitous explore,
And rear the wondrous tale of legendary lore.

Away! to Susquehannah's utmost springs,
Where throned in mountain mist Arouski reigns,
Shrouding in lurid clouds his plumeless wings,
And sternly sorrowing o'er his tribe's remains!
His was the arm, like comet o'er it wanes!
That tore the streamy lightnings from the skies,
And smote the mammoth of the southern plains!
Wild with dismay the Creek affrighted flies,
While in triumphant pride Kenava's eagles rise.

Or westward far where dark Miami wends,
Seek that fair spot as yet to fame unknown,
Where when the vesper dew of heaven descends,
Soft music breathes in many a melting tone;
At times so sadly sweet it seems the moan
Of some poor Ariel penanced in the rock—
Anon a louder burst — a scream! a groan!
And now amid the tempest's reeling shock,
Gibber, and shriek, and wail, and fiendish laugh, and mock.

Or climb the palisado's lofty brows,
Where dark Omanas waged the war of hell,
'Till waked to wrath the mighty spirit rose
And pent the demons in their prison cell:
Full on their heads the uprooted mountain fell,
Enclosing all within its horrid womb!
Straight from the teeming earth the waters swell,
And pillar'd rocks arise in cheerless gloom,
Around the drear abode, their last, eternal, tomb.

Be these your lofty themes! but ne'er resign
The soul of song to laud your lady's eyes;
Go kneel a worshipper at nature's shrine!
For you her rivers flow, her hills arise;
For you her fields are green and fair her skies;
And will you scorn them all to pour your tame
And heartless lays of forced or fancied sighs?
Still will you cloud the muse, nor blush for shame,
To cast away renown and hide your face from fame?

Come! shake your trammels off! let fools rehearse
Their loves and raptures in unmeaning chime;
Cram close their rude conceits in mawkish verse,
And torture hacknied thoughts in timeless rhyme:
But thou shalt soar in glorious verse sublime!
With heavenly voice of music, strength, and fire,
Waft wide the wonders of your native clime;
With patriot pride each patriot heart inspire,
Till Europe's bards are mute before Columbia's lyre.

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