1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Stanzas addressed to the Sea. Written in August, 1824.

A Third Letter to a Friend in Town, &c. By Chandos Leigh, Esq.

Chandos Leigh


Twelve Spenserians on commerce and the reach of the imagination; the cloud-vision in the fourth stanza recalls similar passages by James Thomson and James Beattie, though the fairies are plainly from the first book of The Minstrel. Associating the sea with the spirit of liberty, Chandos Leigh also salutes the sea-power of America.

The "Bard of Asti" is Alfieri: "When this great poet first saw the sea, he could not describe the emotions which the sight of it excited in him, and therefore he gave vent to his feeling in tears" note.

Though this appears to be the last poem in Spenserians Chandos Leigh published before 1830, he continued to write descriptive and reflective poems in his favorite stanza down to his death in 1850 — as did Bernard Barton, who Leigh lauds in "Verses to Bernard Barton" at the end of this volume.

Ladies' Monthly Museum: "Mr. Leigh's poems ... are in general correct and pleasing compositions, exhibiting a strain of moral feeling and natural description, calculated to excite corresponding emotions, and create a favourable impression of the character and talents of the author" S3 23 (March 1826) 170.



Soft as a seraph's look, the calm blue sea
Smiles with surpassing loveliness; how dear
This glorious element is to the free!
The spirit-stirring waves now hush'd appear;
With broken sunbeams, or suffus'd, or clear,
Glassing the weeds fantastic — Nature's waste.
Now ruffled by the rising breeze they near
The shore, and course each other down in haste!
The bubbling cup of pleasure thus bemocks us while we taste.

There's in our minds an overpowering sense
Of grandeur, as we view the sea, that far
Exceeds in depth those feelings though intense
With which we contemplate the brightest star
That heralds Cynthia in her full orb'd car.
The sea, coeval with th' eternal past,
While element with element waged war,
Ere yet the pillars of the earth stood fast,
Roll'd o'er the dark abyss immeasurably vast.

Then light through darkness shot its vivid ray,
Then waves subsided, mountains rose above.
Then splendid in his rising, as today
The God of gladness brighten'd hill and grove;
And all Creation glow'd with roseate love.
But chiefly the great Ocean, o'er whose face
The spirit of its God began to move,
While yet it bluster'd through unmeasur'd space,
Gloried within its bounds to feel the Sun's embrace.

A varied mass of congregated cloud,
Purple and blue and red, th' horizon round
Floats o'er the waters, seemingly to shroud
Some fairy Isle where beauteous fruits abound;
Where hills uprise by golden castles crown'd;
Whence elfin knights come forth in proud attire,
And lovely fays, whose feet scarce touch the ground:
But soon these beings of the brain expire,
When the disparting clouds unveil a sea of fire.

The sun is sinking fast, and now is gone
The vaporous enchantment, the wide main
Reflects from clouds pavilioning the throne,
Of light, that still most beautiful remain,
An orange hue, which to depict, 'twere vain!
These are faint shadows of those glorious sights
Which we shall see, when free from grief or pain
We traverse planets where unbodied sprights
For ever will enjoy ineffable delights.

The Bard of Asti view'd the sea, and wept,
So strong were his emotions to behold
Its might, as yet his sunlike genius slept,
Till rous'd call of passion uncontroll'd,
Like to the lightning's flash which clouds unfold
Amid a thunderstorm; through flood of tears
It threw a momentary ray; the bold
Promise of splendour that in after years
Blazed in his verse; it still the sons of freedom cheers.

Home of the brave and free; for such thou art
Thou proudly-swelling Ocean, how thy waves
Delighted ATHENS once whose lion-heart
Despised the self-will'd tyrant's glittering slaves!
Baffled in all his hopes power vainly raves.
Now like a Giant rising after sleep
Refresh'd, COLOMBIA wakes to life, and braves
Her late tyrannick mistress; oe'r the deep
The sons of Commerce now fresh harvests hope to reap.

O'ershadow'd by monopoly's dark wings
COLOMBIA languish'd long, but now no more—
And many a vessel richly-freighted brings
Her wealth triumphantly to CHILI'S shore;
Returning homewards with the wondrous store,
That nature in the country doth pour forth
From her horn bursting with its fulness o'er;
Thus though proud kings unite from South and North;
Freedom unshaken smiles, and vindicates her worth.

Thou vasty deep what treasures lie conceal'd
Within thy caverns coral-pav'd, below
The plummet's reach, that ne'er shall he reveal'd
Till the dread Angel his last trump shall blow,
Then all will Nature's secret wonders know;
But they beheld must disappear, and melt
Away with fervent heat, nor ebb, nor flow
Of mighty waters shall be seen or felt:
No vestige will remain of lands where man hath dwelt.

And shall this Ocean that compared might be
If ought the perishable world can have
Liken'd unto it, with eternity,
Be lost at once, as is a single wave,
That breaks upon the beach; this greedy grave
Of shatter'd navies, shall it ever cease
To gorge its victims while fierce tempests rave?
Whate'er the great Creator wills, with ease
He can perform, build worlds, destroy them, if he please.

Heaven, Earth, and Ocean perish; but the soul
Survives, through ages after ages blest,
Burning for knowledge where new Planets roll
'Twill wing its flight; here oft by care deprest
The mind for wisdom loses all its zest.
But loos'd from earth, all-seeing it will pass
Through boundless space, or contemplate at rest
Things, which it darkly sees, as through a glass:
While "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined" within its fleshly mass!

What other worlds interfluent among
Oceans may swell and roar, 'tis vain to think.
Such themes befit not a poor mortal's song.
Imagination leads us to the brink
Of a vast precipice; we well might shrink
In gazing on the vast obscure beneath.
There all is fathomless — the closest link
Of thought is broken by conjecture's breath
When mind attempts to soar above the depths of death!

[pp. 23-29]