1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Durovernum.

Durovernum; with other Poems.

John Chalk Claris


A meditation among the tombs in 52 Spenserian stanzas by "Arthur Brooke." John Chalk Claris apparently spent all of his life in Canterbury, where he later would edit the Kent Herald for four decades. The poem is illustrated by forty pages of notes.

Preface: "The following Poem makes no pretentions to the title of a complete and regular description of Canterbury, but merely of those objects which may be supposed to have occurred in a Night-walk in and about the City, with the consequent reflections on each" p. 11.

Gentleman's Magazine: "Night seems like rather a strange period of time for the description of local scenery; and we regret to perceive the gloom which pervades this otherwise entertaining Poem, as well as the minor productions which accompany it. After an address to the Setting Sun, and to the Night, Mr. Brooke describes some of the prominent features of Canterbury — Dame John Field, the Castle, Martyr's Field, St. Martin's Church, Ruins of St. Augustine's Monastery, the Cathedral; Tomb of the Black Prince, of Henry IV., Causabon; the King's School, and the River Stour" 86 (March 1819) 235.

New Monthly Magazine: "The principal poem ... consists of a description of a night walk in an about Canterbury, the native city of the author; and gives a much stronger interest to the spot, than we should have supposed it possible to produce for those who have no particular associations connected with it. The common-place beauties of the poem, however, which fortunately occupy more than half, have the greatest attractions for us: we allude to those passages in which the 'Childe' of the scene addresses the reader in person; where he depicts his own thoughts, fears, and feelings; his sensibility to pain, and his uncertainty of the future" 11 (May 1819) 340.

Monthly Review: "Much of poetical spirit, and some command of musical expression, are displayed in this little volume; which celebrated the native place of the author, in no vulgar strains" NS 89 (July 1819) 322.

About this time the publisher Charles Knight was at work on a similar poem on Windsor Castle and its environs; it was apparently never finished, though one stanza appears in Knight's memoirs, Passages of a Working Life (1864) 1:103.



Father of life and light! who from the birth
Of Time or Nature, with that glorious eye
Hast quickening, gazed upon the subject earth,
As through the boundless deserts of the sky
Thou mov'st in solitary majesty;
Soul of Creation! whose parental care
Doth, like a visible God, to all supply
The springs of their existence. Thou shalt share
With thy Creator's self, the wide world's ceaseless prayer!

All that thou see'st, O Sun, is thine; to thee
Earth and its habitants one voice shall raise
Of grateful adoration, and by me
Once too was hymned thy glory, power, and praise.
And if it seems that now I coldly gaze,
Upon those beams which gladden all beside,
If in thy worship my dull heart delays,
It is not wilful blindness, scorn, nor pride,
But that the founts of love in me are parched and dried.

I have more loved to watch thee at thy fall
Behind the western mountains, and to view
Thy sable follower spread her gradual pall,
O'er the dim scene, till all things took the hue
Of my own spirit; and thus in me grew
A hatred of thy broad obtrusive ray,
Which brought no blessing unto me, but drew
My hush'd thoughts from their sanctuary away,
Into the baleful toils and duties of the day.

Night! let me be thy votary! and thou,
When I appeal to thee in converse lone
At thy deep noon, still hearken to my vow:
Since every dearer moment I have known,
Under the shadow of thy wing hath flown;
Thine was the welcome hour which set me free
From the world's vulgar drudgeries, thou hast shewn
Things which the light shut from me, and to thee,
All that I am, O Night! I owe — whate'er that be.

Thou, when my days, like the neglected sands
Of a brief hour-glass, ebbed in hopeless haste,
Benignant gavest into my youthful hands
A chalice from the fount I burned to taste,
But which I deemed Fate had for ever placed
Far from my barren path; then, by thy aid,
If I might haply yet redeem the waste
Of my past years, I shrunk into thy shade,
And by the lonely lamp, my last, best, pastime made.

All hail, dear Muses! if I did not gain
In my sweet wanderings o'er your classic ground,
All that I sought, the search was not in vain.
If in the lore I loved there was not found
Aught that might heal the deep and fatal wound
Of a crush'd heart; yet, if it dulled the sense
Of selfish suffering; if awhile it drowned
In streams of Castaly, thoughts too intense
For my weak brain, — it was my study's recompence.

This is not now my theme; but as I stray
To breathe the richness of this evening hour,
And gaze upon the Sun's declining ray,
Which gilds the greenness of this ivied tower;
While the light breeze scarce bends the saffron flower,
Which freshly springs above the mouldering stone,
As if in mockery of Time's wasting power;
Here as I wander, pensive and alone,
My mind's eye turns within — my musings take this tone.

But let me rather weave into this song
A record of the scenes which round me rise;
Not for the love I bear them, for among
The varying objects which in other eyes
Look lovely, or are bound by the soft ties
Of natural affections, there are none
Which my perverted spirit now will prize;
Within these walls my life as yet hath run
A joyless course, and may, till its last days are done.

Here will the stranger no memorial meet,
Of names which ne'er can fade, no classic trace
Where he may lingering pause, and oft repeat,
With heart high-swelling, "This is the proud place
Where men have dwelt, whose memory lends a grace
To History's dull page, whose deathless words,
Time from the book of life shall ne'er efface;
Or such as drew for Freedom their just swords,
And from the groaning land swept off its tyrant lords."

Nought such will wait him here: yet he may wander
O'er the rude footsteps of Barbarian war;
And in their proudest shrines may fitly ponder
Upon the faiths which once have been or are.
And though the haughty spires that shine from far
Claim now more reverence from the passer-by,
The ruined abbey, shattered in the jar
Of clashing creeds, will, to the thoughtful eye,
A deeper lesson yield of frail Mortality.

Of these hereafter. Now the sunken sun
Scarce tinges the horizon's farthest bound,
And Twilight, stealing with her mantle dun,
In silence closes the wide prospect round.
I stand alone upon the mighty mound,
By the rude Dane upthrown; and where the alarms
Of his fierce war once rung, a calm profound
Now broods, as if the din of hostile arms
Had never yet profan'd this valley's peaceful charms.

Scourge of our suffering Isle! from the fell North
Breathing destruction, like a locust cloud,
Denmark her countless armaments poured forth,
Before whose strength the feebler Saxon bowed
Down to the dust; and while the invader proud
Ravaged remorseless, and the prostrate land
With the best blood of its defenders flowed,
Here too was levelled the resistless brand,
And Durovernum sunk beneath their murderous hand.

In ashes sunk: — but like Earth's giant son,
Fell but to rise more vigorous from her fall.—
Those days are past; her battles all are done;
Calmly she now may view her crumbling wall,
And sleep secure, fearless of foreign thrall.
Ne'er may she feel a Conqueror's force again!
Though now her offspring, deaf to Freedom's call,
Forge for themselves a vile domestic chain,
Which they may sometime curse, and writhe under in pain.

Before me rises, in a mass of shade,
A frowning fortress, whose vast walls were reared
By the first Norman whom our sires obeyed;
A wretch who sought not to be loved, but feared:
May kings whose sway, like his, is unendeared
By mercy, find, like him, their thrones a hell!
They must; unless their vassals' hearts are seared,
And, callous by long slavery, the spell
Which guards them will be broke — 'tis virtue to rebel!

These battlements, which would have braved the storm
For years unnumbered, now are rent away
By ruffian slaves, whose sordid hands deform
What they can scarce destroy: Oh! soon may they
Unpitied perish in a like decay!
Oh! worse than Vandals! may the indignant mould,
Where they at last their baser earth would lay,
Reject them from her breast, nor deign to hold
Creatures that knew no thought nor care — save lust for gold!

The moss-crowned monuments of time long past,
The reverend records of a vanish'd age,
Are gradual swept away; and soon the last
Will sink beneath their sacrilegious rage.
Vain were remonstrance now: but those who wage
Their impious war with this majestic pile,
Should live in infamy along this page,
Did not the abhorrent Muse blush to defile
Her lays, however mean, with names and deeds so vile!

There is a spot not far remote, the scene
Where Superstition played her bloodiest game;
There have the victims of a bigot Queen,
And creed more cruel, felt the torturing flame
Wind round their hearts, while things which wore the name
Of Man stood scoffing by. God! at that hour
Where were thy thunderbolts? whose vengeful aim
Should then have lighted, in a fiery shower,
On wretches who could tempt thy rage, and brave thy power!

If, roused at last by Earth's iniquities,
Thy long-forbearing vengeance once uptore
The fountains of the deep, while the charg'd skies,
Bursting tremendous, poured out all their store
Of waters, till a sea without a shore
Rolled o'er a ruined world, why did not then
The climax of her crimes call down once more
The exterminating curse, nor leave to men
To do, as have been done, such damning deeds again!

My spirit hath been moved: and who could dwell
With heart unruffled upon thoughts like these?
But let me gaze around on what might well
The tumults of the stormiest soul appease:
Nature alone is waking; the soft breeze
Flits almost musically by; how bright
The moon-beams mingle with the dark green trees,
Or glitter on the grass; the brows of Night
Are bound with myriad gems of tenderest, purest light.

Oh! who that wanders at an hour like this,
And looks upon the earth, the stars, and sky,
But feels, with a calm joy, one treasure his,
Unbought by toils, and kept without a sigh?
Though man may to his fellow-man deny
His tinselled trash, Great Nature, free to all,
Spreads forth her thousand stores unsparingly;
Her charms are pure, her beauties never pall,
She can unchanged remain, whate'er to Man befal.

But let me break the chain of this soft dream
Which star-light fancies weave, or it will woo
My willing thoughts to quit this lowlier theme,
And lift it, O ye radiant Orbs! with you
To meditate, until your fading hue
Heralds the morn. Now let me rather bend
My mind unto its task, while I pursue
My purpos'd path; and let my musings blend
With man, and with man's works, where'er my footsteps tend.

Where first Augustine gave the word divine,
To our rude sires, and from his pious hands
The Pagan Monarch took the mystic sign
Of Christ's salvation, a small structure stands,
Of simplest form; but as the seed expands,
Set in a goodly soil, till the strong shoot,
Out-branching, covers the surrounding lands
With its wide shade, so did this lowly root
Spring to a giant height — and what hath been the fruit?

Corruption — terror — bigotry — and crime;
Till he arose, whose daring arm restrained
Its baleful progress, and the truths sublime
Of the first Faith from folly's gloss regained.
And though the lapse of darkened days had stained
Or warped those lessons, since they purely fell
From the meek Prophet's lips, enough remained
To teach a jarring world in peace to dwell,
If aught the lust of sway in Man's rank breast could quell.

One aim has Luther — Calvin — England — Rome;
Each seeks supremacy; and each would bind
Its misbelieving brethren, and become
Sole minister of what the nobler mind
Should leave to every bosom unconfined,
Unbiassed as the air. Has not each felt,
And each inflicted on its suffering kind,
Keen Persecution's sword, as if there dwelt
A chastening God with each, who thus his judgments dealt?

But chief on thee, O Rome! the united curse
Of outraged man should fall, on whom thy reign
Wreaked, with a drunken rapture, torments worse
Than Sin had yet devised, or fear could feign.
Thy power hath past from us; and though again
Thy footsteps never shall these Isles affright,
Thy shade yet lingers — Superstition's chain
Clings round us still; — Oh! when shall Reason's light
Drive the detested fiend back to its native night!

These unembellished walls and lowly roof,
Where holiness might dwell in humblest guise,
Seem gazing with a grave, but calm reproof,
On shrines of later days, whose proud heads rise,
With a colossal grandeur to the skies.
Fit emblem of a faith, which once alone
On Heaven intent, could worldly pomps despise,
But whose maturer years, by pride up-blown,
Aspired to make of Earth one universal throne!

But thou, magnificent Ruin! where the trace
Of pristine grandeur shines through its decay,
When hands, unhallowed, shook thee to thy base,
And the stern spoiler tore thy pride away,
Where were thy saints? alas! regardless, they
Heard not thy cry in that distressful hour,
But silent slept, as any common clay;
And now these mouldering walls — this tottering tower—
Alone can tell the tale of thy departed power.

Flowers spring above the ruins, and the grass
Grows freshly o'er decay: the soil I tread
Is rife with death, and in one mingled mass
Kings — saints — are resting with the vulgarer dead.
Awake! Arise! Come from your lowly bed
But one of you! bring answer from the dust
What man shall be when once this life hath fled.
Awake! arise! unfold! — is it not just
Assurance should be given ere we repose our trust?

Thou dark and awful Grave, whose mystery
Hath fed my musings! in the cloistered gloom
Where thousands sleep, have I not called to thee?
Have I not craved for tidings from the tomb,
Of life — or death — whate'er may be our doom?
Have I not prayed it? would I not forsake
All vainer wisdom, and no more relume
My midnight taper, so I might partake
Of an immortal hope, which this world could not shake?

It hath not been accorded: — the high light
From Heaven, which guides the wanderer on his way,
Shines not for me; all hopeless, in the night
Of my bewildered spirit still I stray,
And combat with my sufferings as I may.
Whence came I? whither go? and what shall be,
When this frail body sinks again to clay?—
E'en as the dust I tread? or pure and free,
Quaff from eternal founts, Life, Love, and Liberty?

God of my life! Spirit! whate'er thou art,
That gav'st to me this being! wilt thou not
Clear with thy breath the clouds which wrap this heart
In worse than Egypt's darkness? Shall my lot
Be ever bounded to this desolate spot,
Where, when some few brief hours have sorrowing past,
I know, at least, this hateful frame must rot?
Or shall I rather, roused by the awakening blast
Of the Arch-angel's Trump, gaze on thy Truth at last,

Fearless, undazzled; when it shall be given
To the unfettered soul to wander free,
On wing ecstatic, o'er the extreme Heaven,
Piercing through Time's eternal mystery,
Feeding on bliss without satiety,
With beings, such as earth's least mortal thought
Might hardly dream of, though inspired by thee,
Thrice-hallowed Muse! who, erst to Milton taught
Strains such as meaner bards have since all vainly sought?

How bootless such inquiry! — leave to each
That path in peace, by which he hopes to gain
His promised Eden; though these stones might teach,
Much that the schoolman's creed would scarce explain.
Fire, flood, and fiercer foes, assailed in vain
This sainted shrine, but when her favorite son,
Her cherished hope, the champion of her reign,
Aimed at her heart the blow she could not shun,
She sunk, as loftier fanes with purer faiths have done.

Here the Eighth Henry, with unsparing hand,
Worked his fierce will; though were this act his worst,
He had not, in the annals of the land,
Left to all after time his name accursed,
The Nero of our throne: but the hot thirst
Of power had settled in his tameless soul,
Corrupt by luxury, and by flattery nurst,
Till passion's wildest waves, which mocked control,
Hurried their slave where'er the desperate tide might roll.

Well had it been, if Bigotry and Fraud,
Alone had felt his devastating rage,
But when his tiger-spirit stalked abroad,
Worth — Wisdom — Valour — Beauty — Youth — and Age,—
All were its prey; as if he sought to assuage
His burning heart with blood: then his fair bride,
The guiltless Anna, and the statesmen sage,
The upright More, and blameless Cromwell died,
And gallant Surrey! thou, the Muses' hope and pride!

The moon has stoop'd beneath a mountainous cloud,
Which, with o'erwhelming pomp floats darkly by.
A melancholy pause succeeds: then loud,
From her lone tower, the owlet's tremulous cry
Breaks the deep silence, and the night-winds sigh
Shrill through the ruins, and the waving tree,
Answers with whispering voice: to Fancy's eye
Dim forms seem hovering round; — if fear could be,
In such an hour as this 't would come more fearfully.

The dead are in their graves; the living sleep;
The spirit of the place alone is here:
How desolate! but who with it will weep
It wakes no sympathies, it claims no tear,
It prompts no mournful memories, which endear
Departed greatness: this, perhaps, is all
We gather from such relics, — that we rear
Shrines for our own subjection, that they fall,
And then our chains we shift, and still our souls enthral.

But now again 'tis bright; the cloud is past
Which buried in its gloomy depths awhile
That lustrous Orb, whose whitening beams are cast
Full on the face of yon aspiring pile.,
Which, o'er its ruined rival, seems to smile
In conscious strength; — a fabric that displays,
In many a sculptured dome, and long-drawn aisle
The magic of Man's art, which joys to raise
A palace for his pride, e'en on his Maker's praise.

Thy boast is not in vain: thou hast survived
The changes of thy creed; and shouldst thou be,
In the long lapse of time, in turn deprived
E'en of this last and better faith, with thee
Still may devotion shrine her deity:
Thy Beauty should preserve thee; thou shouldst stand
Firm, 'midst Opinion's ever-verging sea,
Like the eternal cliffs which guard our land,
Reposing on thy might, unalterably grand.

Pride of old Kent! thy venerable walls,
Thy storied windows, rich with many a dye,
through which the varied day-beam dimly falls,
Thy gorgeous shrines, and towers that brave the sky,
Long shall attract the stranger's wondering eye.
Though now no pilgrim bends o'er Becket's tomb,
Though Dunstan's ashes all unhonored lie,
Though now no longer pious hands illume
The lamp o'er Anselm's grave, gilding the midnight gloom.

Here sleeps the sable Warrior, on whose arm
Once hung the fate of France, before whose breath
Her hosts were scattered, but who knew the charm
Which Mercy sheds around the conqueror's wreath,
The halo of true glory! Few bequeath
A fame like his, unsullied by a blot
Which Calumny may point; and, though beneath
These stones his mighty heart must darkly rot,
While England lies a name, his will not be forgot.

And here is raised a monumental show,
Such as vain man decrees that Kings should have,
For Henry's bones; but do they rest below
And moulder motionless? or did the wave
Bear them to whiten in some coral cave,
The sea-nymphs' sport, and did his followers weep
Over an empty bier and corseless grave?
What recks it, if this marble or the deep,
Closed o'er his cold remains? — as sound will be his sleep.

His blame or praise, let those who list rehearse,
But from the Muse thy tomb should rather claim,
Oh Casaubon! one memorizing verse,
Fit tribute to thy own, thy father's fame.
Thy classic labors, which have stamped thy name
With an unfading verdure, long shall guide
Our steps through Learning's labyrinth; and should shame
The monkish drones, whose ignorance and pride
Will rest in bloated pomp thy sacred dust beside.

Farewell, ye scenes! o'er which my youthful feet
Once duly wandered, till the hour assigned
Called them, scarce willing, to the honored seat,
Where first Instruction on my opening mind
Poured her delights; but where my spirit pined,
That dared not love too well the attractive page
Which envious Folly hated, nor could find
Pleasure in acting, on that petty stage,
Its part in the vile deeds which shame man's riper age.

There each young despot, whom the fates had blest
With brains of lead, and limbs of sturdier mould
Than his compeers, lifted his lordly crest,
False as the serpent, as the tiger bold
In acts of ill; where from its virgin fold
In the heart's rose-bud every innocent thought
Was rudely torn; — and should a truth be told
Which some might hide, if in my soul be aught
Of cruelty or crime, it then, and there, was taught.

Then in my breast was sown the deadly seed,
Which after suffering ripened, then I learned
The slave's sole privilege, to bear and bleed
In silent hate, to hide the pang when spurned
By brutal Ignorance honors earned
In studious strife: — Not sorrowing, I recall
The sense of early wrong, though first it turned
The current of fresh feelings into gall,
It fitted me to meet what I have met through all.

But now upon thy flower-fringed banks I stand,
Fair Stour! and gaze upon thy winding stream,
Whose dimpled surface, by the soft breeze fanned,
Shakes to dissolving silver the clear beam
Of countless stars, whose bright reflections seem
As in a liquid mirror here to lave,
With livelier lustre. Oh! how sweet a dream
Steals o'er the heart, while on this placid wave
Heaven opens its wide breast, and claims us from the grave.

As if we stood upon the utmost verge
Of that great gulf, which keeps us from the blest,
While far-off shapes of brightness o'er the surge
Beckoned, and pointed to the bowers of rest,
Where, as a dove returning to her nest,
The soul might soon forget its earth-born woes,
Blissfully leaning on as dear a breast,
As that which boyhood once, once only knows,
When first Affection's flowers all tremblingly unclose.

Alas! the love of our maturer years
Is Custom — Instinct — Friendship — what you will;
Where then is the wild maze of hopes and fears,
In which our senses wandered? where the thrill,
Whose flash electric shook the breast until
It sickened with delight? Oh! 'tis not so,
Whate'er we deem, when once the heavy chill
Of stern Experience, — Love and Joy's worst foe,—
Hath fallen upon the fount from which those feelings flow.

Roll on, fair River! with a lovely pride,
Unmoved by all save Nature's high decree;
How unremittingly thy waters glide
With silent lapse unto the boundless sea,
Like earthly years into Eternity!
Let mightier streams in loftier lays be sung;
Enough, dear native Stour! enough for thee,
If on thy banks one home-bred harp hath rung,
And to thy name the Muse one votive garland hung.

Thrones — monarchs — empires — in the night of age,
Forgotten sink, a lost and nameless throng;
But shrined in glory on the immortal page
Of the great Father of our English Song,
Thou, Durovernum! shalt be borne along
The tide of time in never-fading fame.
Thou wert my Nursing-Mother; if among
Thy worthier sons my else-unhonored name
Shall haply be preserved, 'tis all these strains may claim.

The moon is in the West: the stars grow dim:
Eastward the heavens are flecked with purpling white:
The ecstatic lark pours forth its matin hymn,
From its glad wings shaking the dews of night:
The rosy-fingered hours with circling flight,
Throng eager to unbar the gates of day:
Soon will the Sun ascend his throne of light;
Then cease my song; while home I bend my way,
And leave to happier eyes to track his rising ray.

[pp. 17-52]