1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ellen.

The Lonely Hearth, and other Poems. By William Knox.

William Knox


Nine Spenserians describing how the death of a young girl of consumption affects her family and friends. Perhaps this poem was written as a companion piece to "The Wooer's Visit."

Edinburgh Magazine: "His effusions are characterised throughout by a spirit of genuine tenderness, which in spite of many great and glaring faults, can scarcely fail to gain upon the reader's affections. The great blemishes, on the other hand, of this author's productions, are mannerism and monotony. He seems to have been betrayed by the Lake Poets into the adoption of that sing-song strain of prosing morality, babyism, and sickly sentiment, which, like the verdant moss that sometimes overruns a secluded orchard, is not a sign of exuberance but of weakness, — a fatal disease, which, if not speedily extirpated from our poetry, will finally bury both fruit and foliage under a blank and barren waste of unprofitable verbiage" NS 4 (March 1819) 252.



On Ellen's cheek, and safe through every storm
The Rose displayed its fifteenth summer's bloom
When ah! consumption like a canker worm
Preyed on the flower that withered for the tomb.
I may not think of the unhappy room—
The burning tear-drops by a mother shed,
The calmer father in that hour of gloom
In prayer to God, beside a daughter's bed,
The last surviving child that made his cottage glad.

I may not think of the afflicted pair,
At midnight sitting by their lamp's pale ray
And often turning, 'mid the sleepless care,
To her who journey'd to her bed of clay—
Who might have cheered the twilight of their day,
Like some fair star amid the skies of even.
Their eyes will meet, and they will turn away
To all the weakness of our nature given,
And shed those bitter tears but to be wiped in heaven.

I may not think of the distracting hour—
The laboured breathing, the convulsive start,
When mournful friends renounce all human power,
And hang o'er those that from the world depart.
Hark! as the warble from their inmost heart
A soothing psalm to hopeless sorrow dear;
Each broken groan, even like a poisoned dart,
Thrills to the soul that trembles with its fear,
And break their tremulous song with many a gushing tear.

The maiden died. And with her latest breath
She named a name unknown to every ear;
And when her wasted hand was stretched in death
She found a relic that seemed fondly dear—
A little sonnet stained with many a tear,
And to the maid in his sweet name addressed,
Whose hovering image seemed so brightly near,
When o'er the last faint breathings of her breast
Death brooded like the night — then sunk, and all was rest.

I heard the tale — and to the house of woe
To soothe a friend my evening path-way sped;
And by that friend who could not comfort know
Was to the chamber of affliction led—
I saw her stretched upon the lifeless bed,
Robed in the snow-white vestments of the tomb,
And thought of that closed eye that once could shed
A gleam of joy o'er all the gladdened room,
Where now each face was sad, and every soul in gloom.

The lovely picture of her healthful days,
When she was beauteous as the summer's dawn,
Hung on the wall — but, as I turned to gaze,
A sable covering was o'er it drawn,
And by herself when her sunk cheek grew wan,
When she beheld the beauty that was gone,
And when the tears that down her pale cheek ran,
Bespake the sorrow which she would not own,
To see the likeness once that could not now be known.

The day was closed — the moonlight skies were clear—
Her sire was with me on my homeward road,
And spoke with calmness that was sweet to hear,
For though he sorrowed — he had trust in God.
But as the valley's dreary path we trode
Two neighbours passed us who the coffin bore,
And this renewed the woes of his abode—
The lonesome hearth that was so blithe before
With that endearing child, who there could sit no more.

Ah! this dissolved the firmness of his mind,
And like a child relieving tears he shed;
Then, with a heart that scarce could be resigned,
Turned down the path to where his cottage led.
—Oft, oft I think of, though my heart be glad,
The burial toll of her who still is dear,
The cold, cold pillow of her dreamless bed,
The first big clod that struck her sounding bier,
And the funereal turf, now green for many a year.

Twice had the spring-flowers blossomed on her grave,
When peace was brought to either parent's breast,
And now the same o'er-reaching branches wave
A dreary shadow o'er their beds of rest.
And when another spring their graves had drest,
A lovely stranger who now tongue could name,
One day from sun's rise till he reached the west,
Mourned o'er the graves, then parted as he came,
His griefs known but to God, who could but soothe the same!

[pp. 135-39]