1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Processions. Suggested on a Sabbath Morning in the Vale of Chamouny.

Memorials of a Tour on the Continent 1820. By William Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth


Eight Spenserians. A progress of ancient rites and ceremonies terminates in the natural sublimity of a Swiss sabbath: "But O the fairest pageant of a dream, | Did never equal that which met our eyes! | The glacier Pillars with the living Stream, | Of white-robed Shapes, seem'd linked in solemn guise, | For the same service."

George L. Marsh describes Wordsworth's Spenserians as not in the least imitative of Spenser in "Imitation and Influence of Spenser" (1899) 44 — but the topic of superstition is one of the most common in the Spenserian tradition, and of interest to William Wordsworth at least since he wrote of Druids in Adventures on Salisbury Plains. The "sabbath" theme also links to Robert Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night and several imitations of it written in Spenserian stanzas.

Literary Chronicle: "We had just congratulated ourselves on having got through Mr. Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sketches, when these new Memorials of his weakness presented themselves before us: for while they possess more variety than the former, they have not the redeeming quality of one good sonnet, but are pure and unadulterated nonsense throughout. Whatever subject it may be, whether it is the Field of Waterloo, or the Fish-women at Calais, or an Eclipse of the Sun, or an Echo, it is all either silly, absurd, or unintelligible, and we cannot quote a single stanza worthy of notice. We really wonder that a person of Mr. Wordsworth's good sense, who has written some pieces worthy of immortality, and who, consequently, has a reputation to lose, can ever give his name to such doggrel" 4 (14 December 1822) 791.

William Wordsworth later revised several lines.



To appease the Gods; or public thanks to yield;
Or to solicit knowledge of events,
Which in her breast Futurity concealed;
And that the past might have its true intents
Feelingly told by living monuments;
Mankind of yore were prompted to devise
Rites such as yet Persepolis presents
Graven on her cankered walls, — solemnities
That moved in long array before admiring eyes.

The Hebrews, thus, carrying in joyful state
Thick boughs of palm, and willows from the brook,
Marched round the Altar — to commemorate
How, when their course they thro' the desart took,
Guided by signs which ne'er the sky forsook,
They lodged in leafy tents and cabins low;
Green boughs were borne, while, for the blast that shook
Down to the earth the walls of Jericho,
They uttered loud hosannas, — let the trumpets blow!

And thus, in order, 'mid the sacred Grove
Fed in the Libyan Waste by gushing wells,
The Priests and Damsels of Ammonian Jove
Provoked responses with shrill canticles;
While, in a Ship begirt with silver bells,
They round his Altar bore the horned God,
Old Cham, the solar Deity, who dwells
Aloft, yet in a tilting Vessel rode,
When universal sea the mountains overflowed.

Why speak of Roman Pomps? they haughty claims
Of Chiefs triumphant after ruthless wars;
The feast of Neptune — and the Cereal Games,
With Images, and Crowns, and empty Cars;
The dancing Salii — on the shields of Mars
Smiting with fury; and a deeper dread
Scattered on all sides by the hideous jars
Of Corybantian cymbals, while the head
Of Cybele was seen, sublimely turreted!

At length a Spirit more subdued and soft
Appeared, to govern Christian pageantries:
The Cross, in calm procession, borne aloft
Moved to the chaunt of sober litanies.
Even such, this day, came wafted on the breeze
From a long train — in hooded vestments fair
Enwrapt — and winding, between Alpine trees
Spiry and dark, around their House of Prayer,
Below the icy bed of bright ARGENTIERE.

But O the fairest pageant of a dream,
Did never equal that which met our eyes!
The glacier Pillars with the living Stream,
Of white-robed Shapes, seem'd linked in solemn guise,
For the same service, by mysterious ties;
Numbers exceeding credible account
Of number, pure and silent Votaries
Issuing or issued from a wintry fount;
The impenetrable heart of that exalted Mount!

They, too, who send so far a holy gleam
While they the Church engirt with motion slow,
A product of that awful Mount did seem,
Poured from his vaults of everlasting snow;
Not virgin-lilies marshalled in bright row,
Not swans descending with the stealthy tide,
A livelier sisterly resemblance show
Than the fair Forms, that on the turf did glide,
To that unmoving band — the Shapes aloft descried!

Trembling, I look upon the secret springs
Of that licentious craving in the mind
To act the God among external things,
To bind, on apt suggestion, and unbind;
And marvel not the antique Faith inclined
To crowd the world with metamorphosis,
Vouchsafed in pity or in wrath assigned;
Such insolent temptations wouldst thou miss,
Avoid these sights; nor brood o'er Fable's dark abyss!

[pp. 55-59]