A Day in Autumn; a Poem.

A Day in Autumn; a Poem, by Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton

60 Spenserians: Bernard Barton describes a day in the country spent with a group of Friends; the colloquial manner is perhaps adapted from Cowper's The Task. After morning devotions, the party speaks of poetry, and Barton defends Wordsworth's Peter Bell against ridicule; afterwards they venture out to enjoy the autumnal scenery in a carriage ride. The part disperses after dinner, and the poem concludes with thoughts on night and death. Barton has managed a descriptive poem with virtually no description, for A Day in Autumn consists almost entirely of moral reflection. The volume is dedicated to Robert Southey in a flattering preface.

The center is devoted to talk of poetry. Against those, presumably Quakers, who regard poetry as frivolity, Barton defends the proposition that talk of poets can be considered "converse high:" "I will be the pleader | For Poesy, and in its cause will arm, | Meeting thee in mid lists without alarm" p. 13. Barton declares that he writes not for fame or money, but to praise his Maker.

Literary Gazette: "Slight as his new work is, in our opinion it will enhance his poetical fame: for it displays many beauties of a tall order, and is stamped throughout with traits of genius alike remote from extravagance and mediocrity. Amiable feeling, a pure sense of nature, a heart right toned, and a head well regulated, are visible in every verse; and it is to us a sincere gratification to find the higher conceptions of the muse thus linked with the better principles of morality; harmony and grace enlisted in the cause of virtue, and our pleasures from an effusion of fancy, not too dearly purchased by the consciousness that while we are delighting our imaginations we are tainting our minds" (4 November 1820) 709.

Monthly Review: "The present work is written in the Spenserian stanza, and evinces considerable skill in versification: but the subject, we fear, will not prove interesting to general readers. It is a narrative in verse of the writer's feelings on a beautiful day in Autumn, in a pleasant part of the country; and some descriptions of local scenery are interspersed: but the composition is unenlivened by any incidents or delineations of character" NS 94 (March 1821) 326.

Robert Southey to Bernard Barton: "I must be very unreasonable were I to feel otherwise than gratified and obliged by a dedication from one in whose poems there is so much to approve and admire. I thank you for this mark of kindness, and assure you that it is taken as it is meant" 25 October 1820; in Barton, Memoir, Letters, and Poems (1850) 154.

Literary Speculum: "A poem but little known, as we understand that only two hundred and fifty copies were printed, and these at a provincial press. It consequently has not fallen much in the way of criticism. We have read it, and it is impossible that we can ever forget the pleasure which the perusal of it has afforded us" 2 (1822) 366.

"It was a day that sent into the heart
A summer feeling!" — May its memory, now,
Its own inspiring influence so impart
Unto my fancy, as to teach me how
To give it fitting utterance: aid me, thou
Delightfullest season of the circling year!
Before my leaf of life upon its bough,
In the chill blasts of age shall rustle sere,
To frame a votive song to hours so justly dear.

Autumn! soul-soothing season, thou who spreadest
Thy lavish feast for every living thing,
Around whose leaf-strew'd path, as on thou treadest,
The year its dying odours loves to fling,
Their last faint fragrance sweetly scattering;
O! let thy influence, meek, majestic, holy,
So consciously around my spirit cling,
That its fix'd frame may be, remote from folly,
Of sober thought combin'd with gentle melancholy.

If, in the morning of my life, to Spring
I paid my homage with a heart elate;
And with each fluttering insect on the wing,
Or small bird, singing to his happy mate,
And Flora's festival, then held in state;
If joyous sympathy with these was mine,
O still allow me now to dedicate
To Thee a loftier song: — that tone assign
Unto my murmuring lyre, which Nature gives to thine.

A tone of thrilling softness, now, as caught
From light winds sweeping o'er a stubble field;—
And, now and then, be with those breezes brought
A murmur musical, of winds conceal'd
In coy recesses, by escape reveal'd:—
And, ever and anon, still deeper tone
Of winter's gathering dirge, at distance peal'd,
By harps and hands unseen; and only known
To some enthusiast's ear when worshipping alone.

No more of invocation! Bright the day
Arose; as if the glorious sun were bent,
(Like some proud monarch, whose declining sway
Is still majestic and magnificent,)
On once more filling his own firmament
With undiminish'd splendour: — if, at first,
His beams, 'mid clouds where richest hues were blent,
Shone struggling, soon those clouds his rays dispers'd,
And from heaven's eastern gate in royal pride he burst—

Upon a smiling world! It seem'd a day
Might "send into the heart a summer thrill;"
For, as its visible ruler held his way
Up the vast concave of the sky, at will
Exhaling morning's mists; and bright'ning still
Garden, and lawn, and trees, no longer green;—
The atmosphere itself, now scarcely chill,
Was such as suited well that lovely scene
Of blue sky, auburn woods, and waters' glittering sheen.

And now upon the encircl'd board was set
The matin meal; and round the steaming urn
Youth, manhood, infancy — with pleasure met,
While social greetings all exchang'd in turn:
And well might stranger from those greetings learn
That visitors were there, from distant home,
Who now no longer might as guests sojourn
Beneath that happy, hospitable dome,
Prepar'd this beauteous day still further on to roam.

But though some natural regret might be
Attendant on knowledge, yet it threw
No gloom upon the calm festivity
The friendly circle, thus collected, knew.
No! the last hour, spent ere we bid adieu
To those united by pure Friendship's tie,
Possesses witchery, more tender, — true,
In its brief sweetness, as it hurries by,
Than hours of previous converse often may supply.

It is not when we meet, — with gratulation,
And eager question, glance encountering glance,
Tongues tun'd, to welcome, and anticipation
Chang'd to reality of circumstance;—
It is not then, although the spirits dance;
As if inspir'd by some resistless spell;—
We feel those purer pleasures that enhance,
Beyond the power of even verse to tell,
The moments which precede that simple word "farewell!"

For in them we call'd forth the truest, best,
And tenderest feelings of our nature; — those
Which give to joy its most delightful zest,
And no less soften sorrows keenest throes.
I speak not now of agonies and woes
By guilt inflicted; nor of that deep pain
Affection feels at nature's solemn close,
When tears seem life-drops from a staunchless vein;
I speak of Friends who part — on earth to meet again.

And in such parting hours I do contend
More sweetness may, exist, than in the flush
Of eager joy that our first meetings lend;—
Aye! far beyond it — as the tranquil hush
Of eve, gives bliss, awoke not by the blush
Of morning's beauty; or the dying fall
Of music's melting close outvies the gush
Of its first prelude, as it seems to call
On echo to prolong its soul-subduing thrall.

But, wherefore dwell on parting's dear delights?
Our circle is not doom'd to sever yet:—
I left it sharing in the festive rites
Of morning's meal; unconscious of regret,
And only happy to have once more met.
That meal is past; — the Christian Volume now
Is open'd, and we hear how CHRIST was set,
A mark for impious scoffers, wondering how
To gentleness like his knees could in mockery bow.

It was a solemn chapter, and was grac'd
By one good action left upon record;
That Woman's pious deed, whose seeming waste
By those around was thoughtlessly deplor'd:—
She who upon her Saviour's head outpour'd
The box of ointment; — doing all she could
Against the burial of her gracious Lord,
And winning that pure fame which virtue should,
From Him whose lips pronounced the work she wrought was GOOD!

O! how that action, 'mid the chronicle
Of darkest crimes, with which the chapter teems,
Shines forth, with lustre inexpressible,
Unearthly brightness shedding from its beams,
All uneclips'd its gentle glory seems
By the dense clouds that wrap our lower sphere;
We turn to it, from those more painful themes,
ISCARIOT'S treachery, and PETER'S fear,
The Priest's hypocrisy, the Soldiers' cruel sneer;—

From such we turn to it — as to a thing
Gentle, compassionate, pure, holy, good!
And the heart's better feelings, as they cling
Unto its memory, lead us, as they should,
To genuine virtue's most congenial mood;
Not taught by speculative creeds, which draw
The mind's attention from its heavenly food;—
We feel this truth impress'd, with holy awe,
That LOVE is in itself fulfilment of GOD'S law!

Tell me, thou strenuous advocate of creeds,
Dogmas, and systems; overlooking still
Those milder charities, and christian deeds
Without which faith is dead: — with all thy skill
Know'st thou not this — the LETTER can but kill,
The SPIRIT giveth life? — O! far above
The proudest theorists, does he fulfil
The precepts of our faith, whose actions prove
That he has learnt aright this truth — that GOD is Love!

Return we to our theme. The Book is clos'd;
A pause of silence, eloquent appeal
To hearts awake, affections well-dispos'd.
Upon that record stamps its solemn seal.
And now, dispatch'd that social, temp'rate meal,
They who partook of it obey the call
Duty or inclination may reveal.
The younger urchins, eager, joyous all,
Begin their morning sports, delights that seldom pall.

He who now traces by his tapers' light,
Ris'n long ere dawn of day, this simple page;
Upon that well-remember'd morning, might
To wealth or rank have proudly thrown his gage,
And challeng'd, any on life's pilgrimage
To show more joyous company than he;—
An hypochondriac's mood it might assuage
To have look'd round upon that scene of glee,
Of smiles devoid of care, and brows from sorrow free.

The bright sun threw his glory all around,
And then the balmy, mild, autumnal breeze
Swept, with a musical, and fitful sound,
Among the fading foliage of the trees;
And, now and then, a playful gust would seize
Some falling leaf, and, like a living thing
Which flits about wherever it may please,
It floated round in many an airy ring,
'Till on the dewy grass it lost its transient wing.

We wander'd on, for I was not alone,
Though such a scene, and such a morning might
Have suited well the contemplative tone
Of some secluded, saintly, anchorite,
Whose dreams had peopl'd it with phantoms bright:
I could not wish them, for around me were
Beings more real; who, in my delight,
Appreciating its source, were pleas'd to share,
When we stood still to gaze, or held high converse there.

"High converse" — gentle reader! dost thou ask,
With scornful doubt, what mighty themes were ours?
Thy scorn I heed not; 'tis a grateful task,
Spite of the frown which on thy forehead lowers,
For me to tax my memory's willing powers,
And tell of themes — that freshly summon nigh.
Past pleasures: — we convers'd of donjons, towers,
Hid in St. John's vale from Sir Roland's eye.
Or melting, soon as seen, into the vapoury sky.

We talk'd of Byron's vagrant, lawless "Childe";
Of Moore's enchanting lovely Nourmahal;
Or of that other tale so sweetly wild,
Of what the gentle Peri did befall,
Who told, so tenderly; that over all.
The flowers of Eden which on earth can bloom,
An heavenly eye can pensively recal
That "Serpent's trail," who sipp'd their first perfume,
And left their tainted charms to wreathe his victims' tomb.

We talk'd of Wordsworth, whose unequall'd skill,
In loftier moods, no critic dares deride;
And I avow'd my admiration still
Of his more lowly songs; though at my side
Were pouting lips prepar'd my taste to chide;
And laughing eyes, which spake of "Peter Bell:"—
Had such spok'n out, I had perchance replied
"Rail at my taste; I like the story well,
And should be passing proud just such an one to tell."

"And this is converse high!" — exclaims some reader,
Whose heart, perhaps, has never known its charm;
Fling down thy gauntlet! I will be the pleader
For Poesy, and in its cause will arm,
Meeting thee in mid lists without alarm:
I re-assert, and fearlessly contend,
That in such themes, ennobling, pure, and calm,
Are germs of lofty thought, which well may lend
Access to prouder heights than vulgar steps ascend.

To prouder heights! but O! let man beware
To walk their summits without humble dread;
For scatter'd round is many an hidden snare,
By mans unwearied adversary spread;
And "fools rush in where angels fear to tread;"—
That he who climbs Parnassus' lofty hill,
Should ponder well his steps, nor there be led
By spurious taste, or vanity's fond thrill;
But, having gain'd its top, look up to CALVARY still!

The Muses are not innately oppos'd
To pure religion: — witness Cowper's lyre;
And those more awful visions once disclos'd
To Him, the loftiest oft our tuneful choir,
Seraphic Milton, whose lips felt the fire
Caught from the altar's live coal; prompted whence,
In verse which, although numerous, could not tire,
He sang of themes beyond our finite sense,
And pour'd his heavenly song with holy eloquence.

Not that a Poet by his craft is bound
To be for ever harping heavenly themes;
Though palms unfading grow on holy ground,
And at their feet are everlasting streams.
And many a spot with holiest vision teems,
Replete with inspiration: still, we way
Be more familiar with them than beseems
True reverence; and unguardedly betray
The cause we wish to serve by our unworthy lay.

Yet he who scans aright the end for which
The gift of song, if genuine, was bestow'd,
Will ever strain its most commanding pitch
In virtue's praise; and seek to strew the road
That leads to her immortal, blest abode;
With amaranthine flowers: — even when he plays
With lighter theme, in seeming mirthful mode,
Or nature's loveliness in song pourtrays,
His end and aim through all should be the Giver's praise.

And inexhaustible the beauties are
Of this fair universe. — The boundless main;
Heaven's out-stretch'd cope, begemm'd with many a star;
And earth's rich loveliness, — the ample plain,
And stream which marks it like a silver vein;
Mountain, and forest, lake, and water-fall:—
Can minstrel e'er want subject for his strain,
While such display their charms so prodigal:
Or how, while singing them, forget who form'd them all?

O Poesy! thou dear delightful art!
Of sciences — by far the most sublime;
Who, acting rightly thy immortal part,
Art virtue's handmaid, censor stern of crime,
Nature's high priest, and chronicler of time;
The nurse of feeling; the interpreter
Of purest passion: — who, in manhood's prime,
In age, or infancy, alike can'st stir
The heart's most secret thoughts: — to Thee I now prefer—

My aspirations. — Unto thee I owe
Nor wealth, nor fame; yet hast thou given to me
Some secret joys the world can ill bestow,
Delights which ope not to its golden key,
And wait not on its pride and pageantry:
For thou hast nourish'd, in those lonely hours
That have been spent in intercourse with thee,
Kind feelings, chasten'd passions, mental powers,
And hopes which look through time. These are not worldly dowers.

For such I thank thee! Thou hast granted all
I could expect in life; yet, when I must
Return to nature's chill original
That portion of me which is form'd of dust,
When I go down to darkness! take in trust
Some scatter'd fragments of my transient Name!
I ask no storied urn, no marble bust,
These move me not; yet could I wish to claim
From some few left behind a dearer meed than fame.

I mean that tender feeling, which outlives,
In the survivor's heart, the silent grave,
And such as slumber in it; that which gives
To those it mourns for all their hearts would crave.
I ask no laurels o'er my turf to wave,
But, when the sun of my brief day be set,
I would not so all softer ties out-brave
As not to wish, when those I love be met,
For me that cheeks be wan, and eyes with sorrow wet.

And should some portion of my song survive
The death of who frames it; may it be
Such only as may keep his name alive
In hearts of spotless moral purity,—
Of virtuous feeling, gentle sympathy,
And elevated thoughts; — such have I known:—
May these but cherish, my lov'd memory
In some few silent hours, when left alone,
And "fame's obstreperous trump" I willingly disown.

Of minstrel aspirations now no more;—
Yet — ere, sweet Poesy! from thee I turn,
While the fond love of thy delightful lore
Bids in my breast thy blameless ardors burn
With gentle fires; such as illume the urn
Of Hesper, shining in eve's cloudless sky;
Fain would I sing, how, unto those who learn,
To love thee truly, thou canst bliss supply,
Though such have never dar'd their skill in song to try.

"Fain would I sing, much yet unsung remains,"
How thy pure influence is not all confin'd
To such as, hymning thy enchanting strains,
Have round their harps undying wreaths entwin'd,
Scattering their sweets unto the vagrant wind,
Music and odour wafting all abroad;—
Until, surcharg'd with raptures so combin'd,
Soul, sense, and passion, spell-bound, overaw'd,
We venture not to praise, but silently applaud.

But there be many who have never strove
To tune their harps, nor had a harp to tune;
Who, notwithstanding, show their genuine lover
Of thee, by reverencing each tender boon
Thy impulses confer. These, when the moon
Unveils her cloudless glory to the sea,
Or, on a still and lovely night in June,
Shoots her soft radiance through some leafy tree,
These at such moments turn instinctively to thee.

Conscious, while soft emotions round them throng,
Of more than language ever can convey;
Their thoughts are poetry! their feelings — song!
As if they dwelt not in these forms of clay,
But walk'd with spirits. — Or if such should stray,
As I did in the hours which now I sing,
When nature's beauties yield to calm decay,
With chosen friends among them loitering,
To such an Autumn day no transient joy may bring.

"A day in Autumn!" — Turn we, it is time,
(The words may well re-call me back to it)
Unto the theme with which began my rhyme:—
Nor lavish on me thy ungentle wit,
My patient reader, if what I have writ
Appear to thee devoid of well form'd plan.
I took my pen up, in no formal fit,
The feelings of a few bright hours to scan;
And as they rise I trace their course as best I can.

I must not linger, though well pleas'd I might,
(And memory would enjoy the dear delay)
Upon each hour that wing'd its noiseless flight
Over my head on that delightful day.
Yet would I not, in this my faint essay
To register its pleasures, wrong it so,
As not endeavour briefly to pourtray
Our morning's ride; though lacking power to shew
The lovely scenes spread round in Autumn's richest glow.

For they indeed were beautiful! we drove
Through bowering lanes; their lofty trees between,
Whose leaves were ting'd with beauty far above
Spring's gayest hues, or brightest freshest green:
Their blending shades of every tint were seen;
Pale amber, half transparent in the ray
Of the bright sun; while others, in his sheen,
Assum'd more gorgeous colours; others — grey,
Wither'd, and lifeless now, bestrew'd our narrow way.

Nor was the distant scenery aught surpass'd
By nearer objects; there, expanding wide,
And by unclouded sunshine brightly glass'd,
Flow'd, ORWELL! thy serenely rippling tide:
Hemm'd in by hilly slopes on every side,
Whose tufted woods upon its margin break,
It more resembl'd, as by us descried,
Some quietly reposing inland lake,
Than ocean's briny branch, which ebb and flow o'ertake.

Yet on its bosom, mark'd by vivid gleam
Of sunny glory, peacefully did sleep
A puny vessel, whose white sail might seem
The lonely monarch of its little deep:
And where its banks arose abruptly steep,
Though cliffs it boasts not, lines of lengthen'd shade
Over its silvery breast appear'd to creep;
Yet even those shadowy lines but lovelier made
Its sparkling radiance seem, by contrast's height'ning aid.

Orwell! lov'd stream; may I not fitly pause,
And pay the tribute thou from me must claim?
Scene of my boyish pleasures! for that cause
Worthy such song as muse of mine can frame.
Not mine the power to bid thy humble name
To aught of classic dignity aspire;
Yet all I can bestow of fleeting fame
Thy sweet recesses from my song require,
And well might these demand a worthier, louder lyre.

England may boast of streams more beautiful,
More boldly grand, romantically wild;
From whose enchanting banks a bard might cull
Rich flowers of fancy as he rov'd beguil'd,
With rocks on rocks around him rudely pil'd,
Whose clustering pinnacles half hid the sky:—
But seldom has storm lower'd, or sunshine smil'd,
Upon a stream whose features could supply
With harvests passing thine a poet's a quiet eve.

The bolder charms of savage scenery may,
Auspiciously beheld, demand delight,
Enforcing admiration, and delay,
Which thy weak charms more winningly invite:
But though the former fill the roving sight
With mute astonishment; yet soon it grows
Sated with wonder, and, bewilder'd quite,
Longs for some scene on which it may repose,
Such scenes as thy sweet banks so lavishly disclose.

Thus in the deepest, strongest facination
Beauty can boast, in woman's lovely face;—
Charms there may be that waken admiration,
When first beheld, that have no dwelling-place
On memory's tablet; while on it we trace
Features less perfect, and less mark'd at first,
But made indelible by softer grace;—
Too unobtrusive all at once to burst
Upon the gazer's soul: — once known, for ever nurs'd,

With cherish'd fondness; — for the much lov'd sake
Of purest happiness, which these alone
Have had the power within our hearts to wake,
By witchery peculiarly their own.
Such faces live; even when the life is flown
Which made their smiles so truly eloquent,
And gave such harmony to every tone,
And accent that, united with them, lent
Unto their passing spell an influence permanent.

They rise upon us in our sweetest dreams
By night; they break on sorrow's cloudiest day;
And on the mind such more than sunshine gleams
From their blest smiles, it seems a heavenly ray
Vouchsaf'd to dash the darkness all away,
And let in glorious light upon the soul:—
But, all too rare their visits, brief their stay;
Such soothing visions own not our controul,
They rise, they shine, they set — like orbs in heaven that roll.

But Orwell! I have wander'd far from thee;
And now I turn, 'tis but to say "Adieu!"
Much might I add, would I set fancy free,
And give full scope to faithful memory too,
Of many a beautiful peaceful view
Upon thy quiet banks; of feelings born,
And nourish'd there; of early thoughts that grew
Beside thy waters, in life's happy morn;
And idle schemes of bliss, which reason now would scorn.

Farewell! then, and for ever! though thou must
Be with me as a thing that cannot die,
Until my memory shall resign its trust
Of what life's brightest moments can supply,
Hopes, friendships, love, that charm'd me and pass'd by:
Though far apart, perhaps, we may not sever,
And sometimes I may gaze, with pensive eye,
Upon thy winding shores; yet never, never,
Canst thou re-call again enjoyments fled for ever!

And now our morning's ride is ended; past
The hour of dinner; — round us gathers eve:
And he who frames this legend must, at last,
Of the kind circle round him take his leave.
Nor would he foolishly repine, or grieve,
Though some there be whom he may meet no more;
Even should it prove so, why should this bereave
His breast of some fond thoughts unknown before,
Which friends 'till then unmet have added to its store?

No! every object worthy of our love,
Esteem, or friendship, in a world like this,
Where he whose friend it is not, doom'd to rove,
Some thorns of anguish scarce can hope to miss,—
Must, when encounter'd, wear the form of bliss;
And even confer it: — through its angel smile
May, like a star in night's profound abyss
By clouds surrounded, beam but for awhile,
Yet when it does break forth the gloom it may beguile.

And if its loveliness awaken aught
Of grateful feeling; if it leave behind
Of human nature one relenting thought,
Gentle, affectionate, indulgent, kind,
Convincing us how closely are entwin'd
ALL human hearts whose element is LOVE!
O! doubt not then it boasts a charm refin'd,
The momentary joys of sense above,
Which He who form'd the heart will graciously approve.

The day is over: — it is night, dark night!
But such as should succeed a day so fair.
Nought is there in its darkness to affright;
No gusty winds of rising storms declare,
But peaceful silence fills the dewy air.
Even such a night as now with voiceless spell
Has gather'd round me: can I then forbear,
Ere to my theme I bid a last farewell,
The present hour to paint; NIGHT'S calm delights to tell?

Soul-soothing season! period of repose!
Or introverted thought, which day debars;
Can language paint, can poetry disclose,
The magic of thy silence, dews, and stars?
When the loud mirth of day no longer mars
Our better feelings with its empty sound;
When we forget, awhile, the cruel jars
Our souls in worldly intercourse have found,
How welcome are thy shades, with peaceful quiet crown'd!

They gather round us, from their silent wings
Scattering kind blessings; to the wretched — dear;
Prosperity to gaudy day-light clings,
But thou art Sorrow's chosen, meek compeer:
Thou hid'st her from the cold and heartless sneer
Of wealth's sleek minions, pride's contemptuous crew;
Hushest her sigh, conceal'st her bitter tear,
And, by thy healing influence, dost renew
Her fortitude to BEAR! her courage to SUBDUE!

And, if thou didst not this, there is in thee
Yet ample scope for Poesy's fair themes:—
For thou, O Night! art guardian of the key
That opes the portal of the land of dreams.
Touch'd by thy spell our roving fancy teems
With things to which Day has no parallel;
Beings too beauteous far to brave its beams,
Much too ethereal upon earth to dwell;
And glories dreams alone render accessible.

Waving, however, these thy wilder flights,
As joys ideal, unsubstantial, vain;
And passing o'er thy soothing, calm delights
Administer'd to sorrow's pallid train;—
Enough is left to bid us bless thy reign:
For thy revolving periods health renew
Unto our wearied nature; — flush again
Beauty's wan cheek, curtain her eye of blue,
Or with fresh splendours fill its orb of darker hue.

One topic more, Still Night! will yet intrude
Upon my serious thought, while hymning Thee:—
Thou art the emblem, type, similitude,
Of silence yet more awful; although we
Are loath the approach of Death's dark night to see!
Father of mercies! THOU whose goodness gave
Thy Son Belov'd, man's sacrifice to be,
Grant that in life's last hour my soul may crave,
Nor crave in vain, His Love to light me through the Grave!

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