1821
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the Sun.

London Magazine 4 (August 1821) 168-72.

Bernard Barton


27 Spenserians reflecting on the natural and supernatural spheres, with digressions on pagan superstition and the concluding vision of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: "Catching, meanwhile, a beatific view | Of that bright city — shining like the sun, | Whose glittering streets appear'd of golden hue, | And in them many men — their conflicts done, | Were walking, robed — with palms — and crowned every one!" The poem was later shortened by three stanzas and considerably revised. It may have been through the London Magazine that Bernard Barton made the acquaintance of Charles Lamb.

Monthly Review: "an Address to the Sun; written, for the most part, with great spirit, and in a train of thought that does honor to the author" in review of Napoleon, and other Poems; NS 98 (June 1822) 188.

Thomas Noon Talfourd: "Soon after Lamb's return from Paris [1822] he became acquainted with the poet of the Quakers, Bernard Barton, who, like himself, was engaged in the drudgery of figures. The pure and gentle tone of the poems of his new acquaintance was welcome to Lamb, who had more sympathy with the truth of nature in modest guise than in the affected fury of Lord Byron, or the dreamy extravagancies of Shelley" Letters of Charles Lamb (1837) 2:75-76.

John Wilson: "ODOHERTY: if one looks around among our periodicals, there is scarcely one of them that is not laboring away to hoist up some heavy bottom. The Quarterly and the British Critic tell us that Milman is a mighty poet. The New Monthly Magazine, and five or six inferior books, keep up a perpetual blast about Barry Cornwall — Waugh winds his sultry horn for the glory of Mrs. Hemans — Taylor and Hessey pound the public with Barton and Allan Cunningham. NORTH. Well, and what do ye make of all this? Is it not true, that Mr. Milman is a very elegant and accomplished man, and that he deserves to be lauded for his fine verses? Is it not true, that Barry Cornwall's dramatic scenes formed a delightful little book? and ought they to be quite forgotten, merely because he has written three of four confounded trashy ones since? Is it not true that Mrs. Hemans is a woman of pretty feeling and writes sweetly? — Is it not true that Bernard Barton and Allan Cunningham are both of them deserving of commendation? HOGG. Hear, hear! ODOHERTY. The question is not whether these people deserve some praise, but whether they deserve the highest praise — for that is what they get in the quarters I have indicated. And just to bring you up with the curb, my dear, do you really suppose that any of these names will exist anno eighteen hundred and forty three? HOGG. The Forty-Three's a long look — heh, me! we may a' be aneath the moulds by that time" Blackwood's Magazine (March 1823) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 1:283.



Monarch of day! once rev'rently ador'd
By virtuous Pagans; if no longer thou
With orisons art worshipp'd — as the lord
Of the delightful lyre, or dreadful bow;
If thy embodied essence be not now,
As it once was, regarded as divine;
Nor blood of victims at thine altar flow,
Nor clouds of incense hover round thy shrine;—
Yet fitly may'st thou claim the homage of the Nine.

Nor can I deem it strange, that in past ages
Men should have knelt and worshipp'd thee; — that kings,
And laurel'd bards, robed priests, and hoary sages,
Should, far above all sublunary things,
Have turn'd to thee, whose radiant glory flings
Its splendour over all — Ere gospel-light
Had dawn'd, and given to thought sublimer wings,
I cannot marvel, in that mental night,
That nations should obey, and nature own thy right.

For man was then, as now he is, compell'd
By conscious frailties manifold, to seek
Something to worship. — In the heart, unquell'd
By innate evil, thoughts there are which speak
One language in Barbarian, Goth, or Greek;
A language by the heart well understood,
Proclaiming man is helpless, frail, and weak,
And urging him to bow to stone, or wood,—
Till what his hands had form'd his heart rever'd as good.

Do I commend idolatry? — O no!
I merely would assert the human heart
Must worship: — that its hopes and fears will go
Out of itself, and restlessly depart
In search of somewhat which its own fond art,
Tradition, custom, or sublimer law
Of Revelation brings, to assuage the smart
Sorrows and sufferings from its essence draw,
When it can look not up with hope, and love, and awe.

Can it be wondrous, then, before the name
Of the ETERNAL GOD was known, as now,
That orisons were pour'd, and votaries came
To offer at thine altars, and to bow
Before an object beautiful as thou?—
No, it was natural, in those darker days,
For such to wreathe around thy phantom brow
A fitting chaplet of thine arrowy rays,
Shaping thee forth a form to accept their prayer or praise.

Even I, majestic Orb! who worship not
The splendour of thy presence, who controul
My present feelings, as thy future lot
Is painted to the vision of my soul,
When final darkness, like an awful scroll,
Shall quench thy fires; — even I, if I could kneel
To aught but Him who fram'd this wondrous whole,
Could worship thee; so deeply do I feel
Emotions, words alone are powerless to reveal.

For thou art glorious! — when from thy pavilion
Thou lookest forth at morning, flinging wide
Its curtain clouds of purple and vermilion,
Dispensing light and life on every side;
Brightening the mountain cataract, dimly spied
Through glittering mist; opening each dew-gemm'd flower;
Or touching, in some hamlet, far descried,
Its spiral wreaths of smoke that upward tower,—
While birds their matins sing from many a leafy bower.

And more magnificent art thou, bright sun!
Uprising from the ocean's billowy bed;—
Who, that has seen thee thus, as I have done,
Can e'er forget the effulgent splendours spread
From thy emerging radiance? — Upwards sped,
E'en to the centre of the vaulted sky,
Thy beams pervade the heavens, and o'er them shed
Hues indescribable — of gorgeous dye,
Making among the clouds mute, glorious pageantry.

Then, then how beautiful, across the deep,
The lustre of thy orient path of light!
Onward, still onward, — o'er the waves that leap
So lovelily, and show their crests of white,
The eye, unsated, in its own despite,
Still up that vista gazes; till thy way
Over the waters, seems a pathway bright
For holiest thoughts to travel, there to pay
Man's homage unto Him who bade thee "RULE THE DAY."

And thou thyself, forgetting what thou art,
Appear'st thy Maker's temple, in whose dome
The silent worship of the expanding heart
May rise, and seek its own eternal home:—
The intervening billows' snowy foam,
Rising successively, seem steps of light,
O'er which a disembodied soul might roam;
E'en as the heavenly host, in vision bright,
Once did on Bethel's plain before the Patriarch's sight.

Nor are thy evening splendours, mighty orb!
Less beautiful: — and O! more touching far,
And of more power thought, feeling to absorb
In voiceless ecstacy, — to me they are.
When, watchful of thy exit, one pale star
Of evening, in a lovely summer eve,
Comes forth, and, softer than the soft guitar,
Is said to tell how gentle lovers grieve,
The whispering breezes sigh, and take of thee their leave.

O! then it is delightful to behold
Thy calm departure; soothing to survey
Through opening clouds, by thee all edged with gold,
The milder pomp of thy declining sway:
How beautiful, on church-tower old and grey,
Is shed thy parting smile; how brightly glow
Thy last beams on some tall tree's loftiest spray,
While silvery mists half hide its stem below,
Ascending from the stream which at its foot doth flow.

This may be mere description; and there are
Who of such poesy but lightly deem;—
And think it nobler in a bard by far,
To seek in narrative a livelier theme:—
These think, perchance, the poet does but dream,
Who paints the scenes most lovely in his eyes,—
And, all unconscious of the bliss supreme
Their quiet unobtrusiveness supplies,
Insipid judge his taste, his simple strain despise.

I quarrel not with such. If battle fields,
Where crowns are lost and won; or potent spell
Which portraiture of stormier passion yields;—
If such alone can bid their bosoms swell
With those emotions words can feebly tell,—
Enough there are who sing such themes as these,
Whose loftier powers I seek not to excel:
I neither wish to fire the heart, nor freeze;
But seek their praise alone, whom gentler thoughts can please.

But if the quiet study of the heart,
And love sincere of nature's softer grace,
Have not deceiv'd me; — these have power to impart
Feelings and thoughts well worthy of a place
In every bosom: — he who learns to trace,
Through all he sees, that Hand which form'd the whole,
While contemplating fair Creation's face,
Feels her calm beauty in his inmost soul,—
Can read those mystic lines thought only can unrol.

Nature is lavish of her loveliness,
Until that loveliness, if not denied,
Becomes a thems, which, whose would express,
And dwell with fondness on, men half drise:
And even thou, bright Sun! who in thy pride,
And gorgeous beauty, dost so often set—
Art scarcely noticed: — many turn aside
With cold indiff'rence from the scene, and yet
'Tis one which he who feels — for hours may not forget!

Have I not found it such, when, at the close
Of a long day in close confinement spent,
I've wander'd forth — and seen thy disk repose
On the horizon of the firmament?—
O! I have gazed upon thee — with intent,
And silent ardour, till I could have deem'd
The clouds which compass'd thee, by thee besprent
With glory, as thy brightness through them gleam'd,—
Beautiful in themselves — with beautiful visions teem'd.

And I have look'd at them — until the story
Of BUNYAN'S Pilgrims seem'd a tale most true:—
How he beheld their entrance into glory—
And saw them pass the pearly portal through;—
Catching, meanwhile, a beatific view
Of that bright city — shining like the sun,
Whose glittering streets appear'd of golden hue,
And in them many men — their conflicts done,
Were walking, robed — with palms — and crowned every one!

Not that the soul'd imaginings
Can rest in glories palpable to sense;
Not robes, palms, crowns, nor harps of golden strings,
Awaken thrills of rapture so intense,
Yet check'd by awe, and humble diffidence,
As hopes of meeting, never more to part—
Those we have dearly loved; — the influence
Of whose affection o'er the subject heart,
Was by mild virtue gain'd, and sway'd with gentle art.

The very thought of meeting such — is bliss;
But O! to meet in heaven, nay, e'en to feel
At times a hope which whispers aught like this,
Is joy — that language whispers never can reveal!
In hours of solitude, its mute appeal
Seems with the spirit's better thoughts to blend;
Its heavenly balm possesses power to heal
Wounds — that the world can faintly comprehend,
But which, without its aid, would bleed till life should end.

Once more unto my theme. I turn again
To Thee, appointed ruler of the day!
For time it is to close this lingering strain,
And I, though half reluctantly, obey.
Still — not thy rise, and set, alone — though they
Are most resplendent, claim thy votary's song;
The bard who makes thee subject of his lay,
Unless he would a theme so glorious wrong,
Will find it one that wakes of thoughts a countless throng.

For can imagination upward soar
To thee, and to thy daily path on high,
Nor feel, if it have never felt before,
Warm admiration of thy majesty?
Thy home is in the beautiful blue sky!
From whence thou lookest on this world of ours,
As but a satellite thy beams supply
With light and gladness — thy exhaustless powers
Call forth in other worlds sweet Spring's returning flowers.

Yes — as in this, in other worlds the same,
The Seasons do thee homage — each in turn:
Spring, with a smile, exults to hear thy name;
Then Summer woos thy bright but brief sojourn,
To bless her bowers; while deeper ardours burn
On Autumn's glowing cheek when thou art nigh;
And even Winter half foregoes his stern
And frigid aspect, as thy bright'ning eye
Falls on his features pale, nor can thy power deny.

Yet — spite of all: — though thou appear'd to be
The type of thy Creator; seeming source
Of light and life, on earth, in air, in sea—
To countless millions in thy mighty course:—
Now listening to the dash of ocean, hoarse
Upon its rocky marge; or to the sound
Of stormy winds, rejoicing in their force;—
Or softer harmonies which float around,
From deep and verdant vales, or mountains forest-crown'd:—

Yet though on earth thou hast beheld the sway
Of Time, which alters all things; and may'st look
On pyramids as piles of yesterday,
Which were not in thy youth: — although no nook
Of earth, perchance, retain the form it took
When first thou didst behold it: — even thou
Must know, in turn, thy strength and glory strook;
Must lose the radiant crown that decks thy brow,
Day's regal sceptre yield, and to a Mightier bow!

For thou thyself art but a gaude of Time,
Whose birth with thy original did blend;
Together ye began your course sublime,
And as sublime will be your destined end.
For, soon or late, as Oracles portend,
One final consummation ye shall meet:
Thou into nothingness again must wend,
When this vast world dissolves with fervent heat;—
His revolutions end, his cycle be complete.

And then shall follow an eternal day,
Illum'd with splendour far surpassing thine;
For HE, who made thee, shall Himself display,
And in the brightness of his glory shine.
Absorbing all, and making all divine:—
Before His throne the hosts of heaven shall fall;
And space itself shall be but as a shrine,
Where everlasting praises cannot pall,
Pour'd forth before THE LAMB, and GOD, the LORD OF ALL!

[pp. 168-72]