91 + 90 cantos, composed in 1825 and printed in 1830. John Wright was an Ayrshire weaver who suffered from a mental illness. In The Retrospect he battles his private demons in one of the wilder romantic phantasmagorias ever published. The poem appears to take rise from Beattie's The Minstrel and Byron's Childe Harold; various sections imitate, or appear to imitate, several more recent poets. The narrative is difficult to follow, though with the assistance of the memoir later published with Wright's poems one can surmise that it chiefly concerns a youthful love affair broken off when Wright elected to follow the Muse. The young woman married someone else, and Wright suffered periods of madness which he attempted to cure by bathing in a pool in the River Burnawn (which appears in Canto I). One supposes that much of the other fantastic narrative and descriptive material in the poem glances at these events.
1843 Memoir: "The Retrospect was announced in the year 1824. At the outset, the Poet formed a resolution that he should compose not less than two stanzas daily, which, under all circumstances he continued to do until it was nearly finished. The whole of the first canto he retained on his memory until an opportunity should occur when he might get it committed to paper. The workshop was his study, and the loom his desk.... A period of four years was suffered to elapse, during which the Poet seems to have given his Muse a jubilee. At the end of that time, a few friends, whose enlarged understandings, extensive information, and critical acumen, rendered them pretty good judges ... finally recommended him to publish" xxiv-xxv.
Wright received advice and financial assistance from John Struthers and Dugald Moore, Glasgow Spenserians from similarly humble backgrounds, who suggested that he seek patronage in Edinburgh. There Wright was eventually brought the the attention of John Wilson (to whom the volume is dedicated) and Henry Glassford Bell, who assisted him in raising a subscription. The Retrospect received glowing notices in Blackwood's Magazine, the Monthly Review, and the Quarterly Review, and went into a second edition.
The Athenaeum (20 November 1830): "On reading the interesting and affecting preface to this little volume, we turned to the poems themselves, in the fond hope that by honest and timely commendation, we might have cheered and encouraged in his course a youth who is stated to be 'a self-taught poet, and one whose genius has encountered the most depressive difficulties in his progress.' The poetry, however, hardly fulfils the expectation raised by the prose; yet it is not destitute of thought nor deficient in imagery, but the whole is turbid and confused — the elements are there in chaos, and need some quickening power to call them into grace and order. If it be true that Mr. Wright is a young man who has struggled upwards, even to his present height (although it be not an eminent one), under circumstances 'utterly unfavourable to every kind of improvement' we think he may even yet attain that power, — without which all others are possessed in vain, — the power to regulate and direct an ardent mind. If the preface be his own inditing, we have goodly hopes of him; but unless he himself feels very strong in his capability of supplying the defect we have pointed out in his poetry, our advice to him would be to lower his ambition, and confine his attempts to that species of composition in which he already possesses such means of excelling" 727.
Edinburgh Literary Journal: "A considerable degree of gentle feeling, and acute sensibility to all the charms of nature, are the chief characteristics of Mr. Wright's verses. The largest poem, which is in the Spenserian stanza, is rather deficient in condensation and continued interest, but contains many poetical and highly creditable stanzas" (27 November 1830) 332.
The Monthly Review describes "The Retrospect" as an imitation of Childe Harold and reprints a letter from the author: "I have taken the freedom of sending you a copy of the Retrospect, a poem of mine, newly published, to which I trust you will give a timely perusal; at the same time making much allowance for a young man, in the largest sense of the word — illiterate, who was never under the tuition of any one except for six months, at a very early age, though I am fully sensible that no circumstances whatever can apologize for insipid poetry" S4 1 (February 1831) 200.
The first canto mingles memories of childhood with a description of the changing seasons in Scotland. An account of an unhappy love affair follows, with reflections on the joys and pains of poetic melancholy, and the canto concludes with a ballad Wright describes as "fabricated on an obscure tradition of, it may be, truth and fiction intermingled, and known but darkly by a few individuals scattered around" p. 125n. At least parts of the narrative are taken from Edom O'Gordon in Percy's Reliques. The love affair and the ballad are cut in the 1843 Poems.
George Gilfillan quotes a stanza from The Retrospect in his essay on Crabbe in the Second Gallery of Literary Portraits — describing the author as "a forgotten poet" (1850) 63.
Life, ere by Reason swayed, its joys I sing—
A theme still searched and sung, and still inviting,
Now that the Muse again is on the wing,
After a long blank pause — earth, heaven benighting—
A sterile wreck — Fame, Hope, Ambition, blighting;
By passion brought, that brought despondence dire,
The darkened heart with fancied ills affrighting;—
Poetic vision quelled, and quenched its fire,
So now with trembling hand I touch life's early lyre.
Oh! for the winning sorcery of those,
When in their bright career they first did start,
At once to Fame's proud pinnacle who rose,
And deified themselves in every heart!
To brook no more oblivion's bitter smart,
Have I not warred with joy, or baffled pain?
And still all efforts fail the gloom to part,
And show a path that so I may attain
Hope's Promised eminence, again and still again.
Yet, but its due bewitching Glory give,
No sooner found than stale, the dear-bought boon:
The Flower we plant and rear, and o'er it live—
And yet 'tis left to wither when full blown—
Pressed immature, matured, its perfume gone;
Allow we relish what it may bestow,
'Tis all a hazard, and can ne'er atone
For those bereavements — all we must forego,
Ere scaled the rising height, we long to reach below.
A meteor art thou, dancing on the verge
Of death; an isle of ocean; and who skim
Toward thy coast, in silken summer barge—
Wrecked, ere mid-way at most, must backward swim
Dishonoured, with bruised brow and broken limb;
Even he whose bark conveys him — not more blessed—
Thy tapering promontory, clouds bedim;
So lubricous, that foot of mortal rest
Might never find: who scale most high the more depressed.
Thus will I tune my unambitious song
To childhood, cherished in the rural shade,
Nor form again a wish, nor ever long
The dizzying height to reach, nor fawn for aid.
The flowers that I will gather soon may fade;
The gems that glitter in their native dell
May lose their lustre, to the world displayed;
Yet will not I 'gainst frowning fate rebel;
Sharp, festering, sad regrets shall ne'er be mine to quell.
From every stage of life we love to look
Through the dim backward distance, to the day
Ere time had planted, and the heart did brook,
The ills that bear o'er life their bitter sway;
When through the blissful scenes we used to stray
Of Fairyland unfabled, and full slow
Approach where Hope first led our steps away
To richer realms, where brighter pleasures flow;
Bewitched the tale to trust, how wrong were we to go!
Much from remembrance falls, and fades away,
Like leaves blown from the bough when winds beat keen,
But youth's endearments, gemmed in heavenly ray,
Still bloom and brighten there, as evergreen
That lovelier still appears, more verdant seen,
In nature's wreck in winter's sunless gloom:
We may not, cannot be as we have been,
Yet still in thought sweet Boyhood we resume,
Press the light foot-prints o'er, and mitigate our doom.
In youth's bright summer, when I skimmed along
On rapture's rolling tide, how blest was I,
In the soft carol of my simple song,
And searching nature with unsullied eye;—
The aggregated charms of earth and sky,
The blight of winter, and the bloom of spring;
The green and golden mantle and soft sigh
Of gentle autumn — all alike did bring
Fresh beauty to the mind on adoration's wing.
Then sweet to wander through the leafless grove,
While yet Spring's infant anthem rang, to wake
Earth into life — with winter now she strove,
Now would the hue of summer-beauty take,
Now autumn-drapery, and then all forsake,
To shine herself alone; and 'midst our bliss,
Even as we gazed, to hide the late fallen flake,
Seemed plant to spring, that sunbeam loved to kiss—
Their tender mother smiled to mark the sweet caress.
And sweet to roam o'er yet snow-chequered scene
Along the hilly rise, and there behold
Earth — one vast gem of sparkling white and green;
And down the steeps streams dashing bright and bold,
Noisy, innumerous — half from winter hold
Their short duration, yet impetuous, proud,
As through all lands, all ages they had rolled;
Ephemeral offspring of the fleeting cloud,
Foam on! the upstart streams of life yet rage more loud.
And sweet to wander forth at glimmering dawn,
Ere, echoing, heard brown labour's pond'rous tread,
Or flock or herd, uncouched, spread o'er the lawn:
Yet wheresoe'er we went, enchantment led,
The tuneful lark had left her dewy bed—
Seemed hung from heaven; the melting music floats
Along the sky and first awakes the mead;
And now the mock-bird trills its varying notes
As 'twere a dulcet choir from thousand different throats.
The yellow-hammer mounts the birch tree hoar,
With melancholy dead-deploring wail;
And now, shrill harping, wren and red-breast pour
Their mingling melody adown the vale;
And thrush, with song voluptuous, loads the gale;
Impatient all of leaflet's long delay,
Slow shooting verdure, and, that still assail,
Slight frosts, and blighting winds — that build may they
In open field secure, tree, hedge, or hedge-side gray.
Thou comest, Spring! like an o'er-fondled child,
That frets, and brawls, and weeps, and knows not why;—
Straight smil'st, with cheek all beauty, dimpling mild,
And now, to tempt pursuit, afar dost fly;
And in thy absence with each other vie
To seize thy sceptre, frost, snow, wind, and rain;
And opening flowerets drop their heads to die:—
With wreath of beams and beaming flowers, again
Thou com'st, to rout abashed stern Winter's hostile train.
Thou com'st like maiden in her earliest bloom,
That young hearts homage with impassioned glow;
Thou com'st like day-star diving through the gloom,
The hope of morn on mortals to bestow;
Thou com'st like manhood struggling with the throe
Of seeming dissolution; like a dream
That fills the fluttering soul with an o'erflow
Of every bliss, delights that brightest seem,
And then in heart-ache ends at morning's dawning gleam.
How rich, how lovely, in thy flowery prime,
Fair Spring! oh, would this were thy radiant home!
Too fleet thy sojourn in our pallid clime,
Sweet wanderer! when thou leav'st thy native dome
For ever on the wing — like warning Gnome;
In Paynim solitudes why love to smile,
Or where barbaric hordes embruted roam,
Unprized, with all thy peerless charms — the while
Thou leav'st to storms a prey this our else favoured isle?
Thou op'st a storehouse for all hues of men:
To hardihood, thou, blustering from the north,
Roll'st dark; hast sighs for those that would complain;
Sharp winds, to clear the head of wit and worth;
And melody, for those that follow mirth;
Clouds for the gloomy; tears for those that weep;
Flowers, blighted in the bud, for those that birth
Untimely sorrow o'er; and skies, where sweep
Fleets of a thousand sail, for him that ploughs the deep.
As one awaked from sweet reviving sleep,
O'er renovated nature, looks abroad,—
Himself transformed, and drinks, and drinks more deep
Of gladness, gathered round his bless'd abode,
That, for a space, withholds the accustomed load
Of ills indigenous, — he wondering feels
Youth's fairy-ground beneath him, long untrod:
Much more, sweet Spring! thy loved approach reveals—
Of gathered woe, the wild and wintry tempest heals.
Of all the seasons, Summer! thee I hail!
Congenial most with manhood, youth, and age;
When fragrant verdure crowns the sheltered vale,
And hill, and wood, and stream, so strong engage;
Youth bursts the lonely prison, that the rage
Of wintry, vernal storms immured so long,
To greet thee, Summer, in thy fairest stage,
Amid the green exuberance, and the throng
Of birds, from every bough, that wake symphonious song.
And many a nameless pleasure winged those hours
Of halcyon beauty, — sweet the search to find
Gay coronal of convoluted flowers,
The brow of vestal innocence to bind;
Untouched and pure, and like the cultured mind
That opes not all its treasures at first view;
As sparkling gems, by silvery bar confined,—
Without attractive — more to wander through
The labyrinth of folds, so fair that hidden grew.
The sight, how charming! whatsoe'er it be,
Though not in mould of song or beauty cast,
That in our early days we used to see,—
Straightforth before us rolls the pleasing past,
And life's first lovely visions gild our last;
Thus would I spurn imperial couch — reclined
On trunk of long fall'n tree, decaying fast;
That moss enwraps, and weeds and wild-flowers bind,
And ivy shoots, that knit the sear and sapless rind.
To memory dear! yon old uprooted elm
That skirts the opening of the woodland glade,
That storm of other ages did o'erwhelm;
Leaf, bark, and branches had been long decayed—
Thus fenced with youthful fern, when first I strayed
In childhood thither; dead its inmost core,
(As kernel soft, in shell o'ercrusting laid,)
That, piecemeal mouldering, shone at evening hour;—
Without, the seat of age; within, youth's windowed bower.
The sight enchanting! wheresoe'er beheld,
(Attractive most beside our early home,)
Of hoary ruin, Time hath long upheld
In beauty; now, as with the weight overcome,
Has left to perish; ever would we roam
Its misty annals o'er, and fancy new,
And still of its young glories — hence the gloom
Of age endears, that, otherwise, to view,
Were oft as desert drear we shrink to traverse through.
To Lockhart's Tower now flocked we forth — the prey,
The wreck of ages, and the pride of song;
Where many a gambol circled round the gray,
Dark, feudal vestige, and its dells among;
But o'er all sports athletic, nimble, strong,
Was hand-ball pastime; young, mid-aged, and old,
As equals mingled, after practice long,
And scarce a neighbouring village was so bold
As struggle with our own, the sovereignty to hold.
Now sloe and sounding nut, raspberry wild,
Allure our footsteps to the hazelly height;
Haw, juniper, and, brambleberry mild,
And clustering fruit of mountain ash invite;
And hip mellifluous, after evening's blight
Of hoar-frost bland; — and ever as we went,
Sought we the stream's worn eddy, foaming white;
There bathed, or swam, or plunged beneath, till spent,
Then, with convulsive bound, rose gasping, breathless, faint.
Oh! then, beyond compare, my chiefest joy,
Surviving youth itself and all its charms,
Was with the wilding Bee, but not to cloy,
From their sweet stores, the heart, nor spread alarms,
Assailing ruthlessly with murderous arms:
These from the soft heath, those from flowery sward
Transplanted I, fond from autumnal storms,
To rush-wove glass-roofed bower, — my rich reward
Their movements to behold, their labours not retard.
In other eyes, the joy not less divine,—
Oh! there was one whom I can ne'er forget,
And but for this, unworthy now to shine
In lay that scowls not virtue from her seat,
Nor truth, esteem, and glory bids retreat—
Rolling wild chaos round; yet was the hour
When love and thou wert one; peace, merit, met—
Went hand in hand to pleasure's fairy bower,
And poesy was there in all her youthful power.
We roamed the wild wood; searched the sunny dell;
Explored the foggy hedge-side round and round;
Scaled the acclivous banks of mountain rill;
Paced every nook of land where flowers abound—
Where the dark freckled wild bee still was found:
And leaped the lightened heart, crowned was desire
With full fruition, when they sought the ground;
To learn their strength, stamped we the turf on fire—
All instantly rushed forth with buzzing vengeful ire.
To all such joys, yet must I weep Farewell!
The galaxy of youth's bewitching sky
Is quenched, and fiends shriek forth love's funeral knell,
'Gendering fierce discord; — thus the heart must sigh,
Or still with passion heave, that may not die,
O'er crushed companionship, that kept alive
Life, else a moving death, — as flowers that lie
Dead o'er champaign, which, when wild winds them drive,
All passive to and fro, a seeming life derive.
How shrunk I to behold, as thou stood'st fair
And flourishing, from thy green boughs outspread,
Leaf falling after leaf bestrow the air,
As if they might not sink where mortals tread—
Till thou wast stripped and all thy beauty dead:
Oh! much the heart that loved thee so has borne;
Oh! why was night so prematurely shed!
So dark! so wintry! on such lovely morn—
The world's reproach thou'rt — love's commiserating scorn!
And must thou be forgotten! — is the dove
Become a serpent, thrusting forth its sting,
That with its wild notes wont to fill the grove,
And woke the sylvan choir, to wake the spring?
Oh! is the eagle, soaring with bold wing
To other worlds, and bearing on the sun,
Become an owlet? is the lightning-
Winged river shrunk in sand? all fleetness flown,—
Vermicular thou, who used with bounding roe to run!
A misanthrope to be! to fly mankind,
The world, with all its bubbles, that still burst
In clouds of spray, to dash beholders blind,
Who on their milkless bosom have been nursed,—
Is worthier than wild love, yet both accursed;
Baleful to him who would become their thrall;
Of each I have partaken — known their worst,
Yet felt, if from the heart we have let fall
A friend, that more resents, than the joint world withal.
A thorn, all poison, shoots from floweriest mind,
To pass even perilous; you may press the briar,
And pluck its flowers uninjured — but unbind
Your grasp, spring from it, and will spring yet higher
The prickly spray, to sting with festering fire—
Not easily dislodged; how much soe'er
You strive but more inflames its kindling ire,
Which, impotent as first it may appear,
Strengthens, imbittering life, nor rests but on your bier.
No loving brother, no blood-blending friend
Were mine; no kindred by the link of love,
Save one dear form: thus I o'er thee did bend
With passion fired too fervidly, which wove,
Perchance, those fetters thou may'st not remove:
Warm, thy youth's love, not fierce, o'erfondling; — mine,
Less wisely fuelled, would most fiery prove,
Where pride, or wisdom, would have mantled thine—
Till the base herd by thee were fired, who could not shine—
Even as hot hearth will burn adherent stone,
That yet, fire-bursting, yields nor spark nor flash:
But thou art fallen! and I am left alone,
And still anew the bursting tear-drops gush,
As sparkling pearls of mercy, come to wash
Thy memory from me; ere love, pity, weigh
The heart down to thee — or above, it crush;
For still our every haunt, or green or gray,
Thy ever brightening form pervades without decay.
When woods would shower their foliage, and the wave
Roll dark with summer's beauty, forth we'd stray,
O'er rustling ruin, to some lonely cave,
And pass, with pleasing themes, the night away;
Or tracing, by the moon's romantic ray,
The undiscovered charms of haunted scene,
Where down the woodland's gray declivity
Purled the clear gliding brook, that elves did screen
With curving underwood, to lave their limbs unseen.
For ever lovely, thy deep thoughtful hue,
Soft Autumn eve! these clouds thy spirit fair,
Like necromantic chariots posting through
The blue expanse, here life all, lifeless there,—
As serpents billowing forth with speckled glare;—
And there a serpent rests upon the snow
Above, and belches down abrupt through air,
A burning fire-flood to the plain below,
And o'er an azure deep, where little skiffs float slow.
Here towers a golden statue, borne in air
By pebbly rock, and poised by gentlest wind;
There witch-forms scamper 'mongst the moonbeams fair.
Or sail along on hills, their charms unbind:
As they withdraw, relaxing, like the hind,
In overseer's wished absence, or removed,
An army, from its leader; now reclined
On the horizon hills; — and now, unmoved,
Unnerved, the cold, pale moon, less lovely, yet beloved.
As lovers lingering in each other's sight,
The more apart, more fixed the fettered eye;
As bard the eagle in its upward flight
Surveys, through air, cleft clouds, and yielding sky;
As mariner tossed on ocean, surging high,
His bark o'erset, hails land, afar unfurled;
Thus greet we these fair forms, and still descry
Enchantment there — live emblem of the world!
Poesy and passion, thus, all subsultory whirled.
Though fettered to the spot, we first begin
To live — and die, unseen the world by sight,
The beauty and sublimity therein;
And though our hearts ne'er heaved on Alpine height,
Nor sailed on iceberg through the Polar night,
Oh! deem not thou, aloft where fortune shines,
Our day-spring darkness, our enjoyments slight,—
In lovelier, loftier dome the Bard reclines,
These dread stupendous forms his Alps and Appennines.
Kind Heaven, to reimburse the shackled limb,
A world of wonders at our feet lets fall;
As is the light that gilds them as they skim,
As is the Hand that shaped them seen by all;
Obsequious still to fancy's forming call;
The pleasure ground of Poet's boundless home;
Spirits of thunder! and the lightning's pall!—
When dark from ocean's bed, abroad ye roam,
With half its waters drenched, o'er earth to fret and foam.
Spring's verdure fades, and Summer's flowerets die;
Ye never — Nature still keeps watch o'er you,
Ministrant delegates of the Most High!
Still marked with joy and gratulation due,
Whate'er your embassy, or form, or hue:
To few a blessing, and to all a bane,
Who may avow! ye seek not to undo
Existence, but primeval life maintain;
Hope, Love, and Mercy bear these fire-bolts o'er the plain.
Again ye roll in beauty, and again
My soul mounts onwards with you, as 'twould melt
Into your essence — who might him arraign,
Whose more than childhood o'er such beauty knelt;
Who would not reckon that the spirit dwelt
Of Poesy within you — what so grand
Of all that brightest genius ever felt,
And breathed upon the world, in whisper bland,
Or loud as ocean's roar, against the rocky strand!
That broken circle of huge forms abrupt,
Now most resemble thy infernal band,
Creative Milton, when with lightnings whipp'd
Through bell's unfathomed gulplh, — they wait command,
The Arch-fiend rears aloft his snaky brand;
Now, in array of battle, up the steep
Of heaven they rush, as nought might them withstand;
Save one, on whose dark front sits anguish deep—
And now he lags behind, and now begins to weep.
'Tis divination! — round the silvery moon
Transformed are all: this grown the dome august
Of monarch, on whose head is fixed a crown;
And that an old tower mouldering into dust,
Its brazen portals mantled o'er with rust;
Who seemed the mightiest, towered most high, now shrinks
Into a cascade — curiously embossed
Its waters as the moon upon it blinks;
But one, of form unchanged, that from the current drinks.
As one who looks with eye-lid close compressed,
As into fancy, sees, as prompts desire,
Before him rise the regions of the blessed;
Or wrapped in twilight darkness, spirits dire;
Shapes never formed before, and that expire,
For ever undefined; still whatsoe'er
You wish you see; — thus these loved forms inspire
Like pleasure to the mind, thus wild appear;
And still, as most uncouth, the more our hearts revere.
Who would not tie most strong of being cast,
Terrestrial, from him, and of heaven partake?
Who that beholds these wonders, and can waste
Such hours in slumber, ought not to awake.
From earliest youth I've drank, in vain to slake
Desire, from these ambrosial floods that flow
Along the sky, when, Autumn, thou dost shake
From hill and dell thy mellowed charms below—
That we may upward look, reflect, and wiser grow.
The child is his sire's image; thus am I,
Thine, lonely Autumn, portraiture of thee;
Grief, more I ever loved — to list the sigh
Suffused from swelling breast, than laughter free;
The softened accent and the cheek to see
Embathed in tears, and sighed when sunbeam drew
The pearly pleasure from me; sweet to dree
The tender pang, that, like a seraph, flew
From heart to heart, with love showered forth as summer dew.
Yet is not grief for ever to be borne;
There must be hours of bliss without alloy;
Even he, most deep of life's bright verdure shorn,
And bare, and naked, ofttimes will enjoy
A beam amid the bleakness, to decoy
The lark and linnet thither; — streams, though small,
Like sportive lambkins, with their pebbles toy,
And green their little margins, — nor this all,
Oft heard in cadence soft, sweet-sounding waterfall.
Uninterrupted flow of worldly good
Contracts affection, to himself binds man,
Hardens — as earth that long unscreened has stood
Heaven's scorching beam; formed only self to scan,
Imagination shrank is to a span;
Without, no passion kindled works turmoil,—
No flower takes root in field so parched and wan;
Then sweet the shower that swells the heaving soil;
The cloud that hides the sun, that it may sweeter smile.
Show not the world thy heart! if thou therein
Hast treasured up a joy thou would'st preserve;
All panting to besiege the prize and win,—
Not foe alone will arm — but friendship swerve;
Withal, weep thou its flight — the stream will carve
Its passage to their soul, the dreaded arm
Upreared against you, instantly unnerve;
And now themselves will weep their own wrought harm;
If nature this, even woe comes not without its charm.
The world's a counterfeit — not what 'twould seem:
Unsifted virtue oft but vice asleep.
Hate's burning brand was once fair friendship's beam;
And love, now envy — weaving malice deep,
Wakes wormwood fountains for the heart to weep;
This I have felt, and found it good to sheath
The heart within itself, and silent reap
The wild-flowers scattered o'er the mountain heath,
Nor blend with, nor inhale, the world's contagious breath.
And yet I am no cynic — the swollen stream
Of soul-enfeebling sympathy has been
Too full, too free to all; there are would deem,
Because all silently and oft unseen,
It flowed — it flowed not, oft dashed back bedeen,
All poisoned in its passage to the heart;
And this hath withered what in me was green,
And verdurous, and vernal, — till, inert,
Each feeling, fancy quelled, life blighted — thus we part.
Sole covert this from life's inclement storm;—
Be Love, arrayed in robe of heavenly die,
Still some disclosing speck on his lank form
Remains uncovered to the prying eye,
Through which the murky demon you descry:
Dark is affection reared on mortal base;
Of once fond lovers, one at length must sigh;
Like streams, disjoined, they wander different ways,
This through rich vales, whilst that through bramble-thicket strays.
Thus far thou'st led me, Autumn; it may be
I have stolen from thee like a playful child,
At times to wander; I have breathed of thee,
And drunk thy spirit till the heart was soiled
With other sadness, lasting and more wild;
Yet must I drink less deeply — thy own hue,
With mine, seems changed and changing, and less mild
Even as I trace thee — hast thou known how few
Of youthful friends are left, of youthful prospects true!
At once we weep, and smile, and sigh, and sing;
Our song of morn bathed in the tears of even;
Not far the spirit mounts on buoyant wing,
Till by some leaden thought 'tis downward driven
Not many joys allure that are not riven
From our fond grasp, ere we the boon partake!
Elate ambition wings his flight to heaven,
And weaves his starry wreath, and makes earth quake—
Anon he sinks, he bleeds, amid the briery brake.
Once in such scene, not thus as I now seem,
I hailed thee, Autumn! nor with, tear nor sigh,
Birth-place of Hope, and many a blighted scheme
That reared their tender stem and flowered too high;
Yet they, methought, were strong, I longed to try
Their height to scale, to mount aloft thereon
And reach the flower that blossomed in the sky;
But, while I watched the day-star that led on,
A cloud rolled dark between — 'twas night that came anon;
It came like lurking Death beneath the bloom
Of untouched beauty, not yet mellowed quite,
Light-hearted, laughing o'er a lovely doom,
And, in the eye, (undreaded coming blight,)
Lay Love amidst its lightnings, to invite;—
It came like desert lake, reflecting heaven,
'Midst sandy wreath and Simoom sparkling bright,
That after pilgrim long to reach has striven,
Becomes a stifling ridge of dust, against him driven.
In long succession, others still insnare,
Others yet onward, and we still pursue;
Nor bursts the spell, nor seems the next less fair,
Till half the desert we have wandered through,
When turn we may not, burning tears bedew
Henceforth each footstep, rising up again
On dusty tempest, and of drink in lieu—
Till passion, pride, power, spirit meet their bane,
And thirst of love, or hate, of life and glory wane.
Oh! there, beneath the old gray ash that hangs
O'er the streams rapid whirl — where, 'tis said,
Wrung by despairing love's transfixing fangs,
To its far top light scaled the maniac maid,
And thence with ringlet band, all undismayed,
Herself suspending, swung; the sapless bough
Hurled with her headlong down the dark cascade;
Whence her wild scream of agonizing woe
Each night, as legends tell, comes bubbling from below—
There have I sat and pondered, till my soul
Became part of thyself, the gloomy seat
Of passions yet more dark, beyond control;
There pondered, till the heart no more would beat,
Or rolled life's pulses, spurning manhood's fate,
And drew from eve's bright dream what day denied—
But such must from the eager grasp retreat,
Stern truth more sternly threaten — thus defied,
And fancy caged the more in gloom, as she belied.
Adieu! lone Autumn! thou dost claim my birth—
And I have given thee more the filial flame,
Not unreplenished, quickens in the dearth
Of youthful transport, and uplifting fame,
At distance, distanced still beyond all aim;
One effort more, Hope whispers, and be bless'd,
And whilst I with the sceptered sage exclaim,
Of mortal joys, their issue, earth's unrest—
I sheath the serpent's sting yet deeper in my breast.
Each season brought its change, pervading all,
That varied but our joys, that else had thriven
Not long, enwrapt in surfeit's leaden pall;
Sweet! when rough Winter lashed the surge to heaven,
Ship-crested; and cleft, shattered oak was riven
From its fixed base, in the affrighting glare
Of wrathful tempest fiend, its branches driven
From their aerial home — like offspring fair,
O'er earth soon scattering wide, reft of parental care.
Sweet! Spring's approach, and Summer's maiden hue;
That onward dance to timbrel, harp, and song;
But fairer flowerets, dipped in brighter dew,
And other sounds that thrill the heart more strong,
Spirit-awaking Power! to thee belong:
Thou fillest the streams that parching Summer drained,
The soul's dried springlets, that now bound along;—
Look round! behold each to its height regained!
What fountain now may tell heaven hath not richly rained!
The soul which ebbs beneath thy fertile sky
Is fountainless, or crannied, and lets fall,
To heave its hell below, the kind supply.
Like blessed mortality, peaceful from life's thrall
Sinking to rest, nor would the doom recall—
Thy snow-flakes soft descend: gloom thou may'st bring
To close us on ourselves, in thought — to pall
The heart from guilt; oh! thy dark scentless wing
More sweet than all the life and loveliness of Spring!
I've thought not always thus, else could I trace
Of boyish feeling more, into thee wove;
But now I view thy sear and wrinkled face
With that unwavering, uncoquetish love
Which follows fluctuation — when we prove,
Perchance, a thousand — and the first, withal,
Becomes again our choice — no more to rove:
Yet not in youth unloved thy wizard call,
'Mid lonely night-wind's howl, and storm and snow-stream's brawl.
For then I was all Poesy, and would breathe
Song of my own awaking, and still loved,
In vapours, clouds, and storms myself to sheath—
And but from these the sweets of being proved,
Partook their spirit, and perchance promoved
My own, it may be, higher than its height,
Or for my darkening destiny behoved,—
Yet wheresoe'er a star of earth shone bright,
Or heaven, there was my home, my heart, and my delight.
And, lapped in bliss, not seldom have I sought,
Along thy shivering nakedness, the linn,
Up the steep mountain, when to madness wrought,
By Kelpy foaming with convulsive grin,
Far down the crannying crag; shrieking therein,
Blood-craving cry! yet not with blood appeased,
Mingling with woodland spirit's warring din—
And man's heart quakes with terror, till released
By the blessed sight sublime — with love like powerful seized.
No Iris, watered by the rising shower
Of foam, rests o'er you — ye no realms divide,
I would not have ye; o'er my rock-hewn bower,
Alone for me thou pour'st thy dark'ling tide,
No other sceptre reared to quell my pride;
'Twixt cliff and curve I stand, and call thee mine,
And bless thee for thy bounties, — near allied
To these thy dazzling beauties, that so shine—
As poured from heaven, to bathe with baptism divine.
And art thou not a river of the blessed!
So livingly serene thy crystal wave;
Untainted here his wing might seraph rest,
And look, and love, embrace, and round him lave
The bright mortality, and not dread a grave:
Surely some spirit, bright as his blue home,
Hath breathed o'er thee, and blessed thy gurgling cave
Of gushing waters, thus to be the dome
Of one whose love leads not with the vile world to roam.
Above, how bright and beautiful the billow
Whirls tremblingly along, as it foreknew
What lay before, and lingers by the willow,
Twining itself around, as if it grew
Like yonder ivy round the margin yew;
Now slanting from the sluggish shallower brink
The waves concenter — all but death, adieu!
And now ye would be lightning as ye sink,
To entomb destruction — now, as ye did feel and think—
Uprisen, to deck the eternal verdure round;
Like creature in whom being lurks like strong,
Distinct through all its form — with many a wound
Minced into pieces, each writhes, rolls along,
As more alive than when it did belong
To one, though living structure; yet partake
These gem-drops their duration, live not long—
Another shower has swept them from the brake,
The still devouring and still thirsting sands to slake.
That eddy, all ingulfing on its brink,
And dizzying to destroy, unfathomed, seems
A passage to perdition, and does shrink
Even from itself; and when the pale moon beams
At midnight lone, who hears and sees it, deems
A hive of warring demons therein yell,
And hies him home all terror-stricken — dreams
Of shapes, of which he dares nor think nor tell,
That never were surpassed in most appalling hell.
And I have plunged into thee, in the hour
Of thy most dread delirium, to purloin
Thy lurking pebbles, and display my power,
And deemed it then, not now, a feat divine;—
Thine thy Bard's childhood — thou with him dost tine
Youth's spellful potency; the bounding surge,
Thy buffeted vassal, joys to undermine,
And threatens to o'erpower thee; thou dost gorge
Less greedily thy prey, and soundest thy own dirge.
Lo! where it thunders down the dark abyss,
Its jaws wide opening, deeper and more deep,
With boiling, bursting, bellowing heave and hiss—
Starts up like horror from unhallowed sleep—
Shoots, like a fire-bolt, down the winding steep,
All winged with speechless terror! yet not long,
Till from its fright recovered, it doth creep,
O'erspent, unspirited, till the woods among—
When quickened into life with ousel's amorous song.
Blessed spot! where love in heaven's tranquillity,
Bathes his expanding spirit; the bright home
Of beauty, mellowed, melting in the glee
Of upland melody, above the tomb
Of village vapours — joy repelling gloom:
I seem, thus high, a link above the line
Of being underneath; — the cannach's bloom
That whirls around, like pinioned spirits shine—
Like the pure thoughts that teem o'er this, my home divine.
Here, where the ravished soul and swimming eye
Walk, leap, and bound together to the shore—
Here will I live, and here, if death comes, die,—
Though this eternity, wherein I soar
Already, scarce can be extended more;
The distant azure hills of other land
Seem almost at my feet, in this pure air;
Distinct I trace stern Time's uplifted hand
Wide crannying sea-girt tower on its remotest strand.
Wild, witching scene! yet shall it be that I
From thee shall part? thy waters still roll on,
Leap, burn, and blaze with poetry — thy sky
Its drapery of clouds and stars enthrone
In everlasting loveliness thereon,
All beautifying, beautified, — the while
Above my bones, sepulchral ashes strown,
Shall hide thee from me? can it be, this hill,
That wood, these dells shall glow, and I lie cold and still?
As death with life at war, when each gives way—
Like melancholy on her leaden throne—
These gray walls wizard most the wide survey,
Its inmates all, itself, to ruin gone,
But not the feats of prowess that there shone
With its long length'ning line of heroes, crowd
The deeds of damning butchery, anon
Auchrugglen rises, like a pestilent cloud;
A warrior he, — yet warred with whom? the strong? the proud?
The dreaded and the daring? what stern chief
Did he assail, amid his warlike sept?
What proud tower, rustling like a withered leaf,
Fell at his touch? — remembrance hath not slept;
Thyself the tower, and while no warders kept
Their watch upon thee, but the weeping maid
And helpless mother; for her lord's bark swept
That hour the ocean when his roofs were laid
In ashes, that had stood — had they not been betrayed.
Anon, the well-fenced portals open wide—
Each with his fagot fires the gorgeous pile—
Night flies, alarmed, in woodland gloom to hide,
So bright the burning, and the deed so vile;
But not the ruthless chieftain yet could smile,
Till to her window rushed the dame, all wild,
All blazing — they with promise bland beguile—
Herself descended, next her frantic child,
Oh God! and as they fall, on pointed spear upheld!
The baron saw his battlements afar
Cloud heaven with smoke, and crimson it with flame;
And his heart told him who the unequal war
Waged in his absence, how the craven came,
Led on by whom, and what his dreadful aim.
He hasted home — but not to succour thee—
Deplored his daughter, wept as dead the dame,
Beheld the pennon on the turrets flee
Of far Auchrugglen tower, upreared for victory—
And hied, that fort invulnerably strong
To crush — the fiend drown in his craven blood—
As the fleet ostrich oars itself along,
On winged barb by sportsman close pursued;
Not even, the ruins of his own he viewed,
Unmanned already, fearful that the sight
Him to that spot should bind, by grief subdued;
Even thus, grief, madness, fury winged his flight,
Too strong to cloy revenge — but more unshaken might
Bounds onward with him — they have reached the dome,
Where song, wild mirth, and maddening revelry,
War with night's lonely noon; deep ambushed, some
Lurk by its portals, others round it stray—
Death-glaring lions roaming wild for prey,
O'er some vast desert desolate and drear,
Impelled by famine — phrenzied less than they.
Shine on, bright taper! mirth, yet more endear!
Song, echo yet more loud! for your death hour is near.
Night thickens — hark! the tread of nimble feet
Reverberating swift along the wall,
O'er the moat's sounding bosom yet more fleet—
As skipping pebbles bounding rise and fall,
Alongst the stream thrown, when no tempest brawl
Ruffles its surface — now amidst the band;
Their ears not heavy, and astounded all,
Each grasps his battle bow and fighting brand,
Groping with timid search, and step that seemed to stand.
And lo! a form uprising from the lake,
With sunbow haloed, haloing all around;
A stream of glory, that went forth to wake
All hearts to love, her face and forehead crowned;
And by her side a scimitar was bound,
Deep sheathed in blood, that still augmenting rained
Dark sanguine drops, like gush from gaping wound
All edged — yet but one edge unworn remained—
That told but one should fall, of all that tower contained.
"Behold thy consort, Baron! in whose hand
The weapon thou shalt wield, when ope, anon,
These portals, smit by heaven's sulphureous, brand;
The crimson flow from it shall guide thee on
To just revenge — but pause, that signal gone—
When 'tis from blood upborne with stainless gleam.
Deplore me not; the form on whom alone
Thy sword shall blaze with beautifying beam,
Press to thy heart, to heave thy Line's low ebbing stream."
'Tis gone! — and without deaf'ning thunder peal,
Wide winged with death: ope'd shrub-woven cliff in view,
That subterranean passage did conceal
Behind the tower, where rose one and updrew
Another that seemed maiden by her hue—
The band they straight behold, and back recoil;
The exulting foemen, one by one pursue;
Their hurrying footsteps up the caverned hill
Re-echoing, half unfold the tale their swords shall tell.
Of blood enough; I wander from my theme;
Who long, or reck, Auchrugglen's towers to see
Blaze in their turn, I leave them so to deem;
Think you the untamed lioness may be
In field, mid flock or herd, and hungrily
Part from her prey? — the wolf within the fold,
And sheep or owe or lambkin scathe not dree?
Think rather, monarch on his head to hold
Rush crown, will throw away his diadem of gold.
Yet, to allay desire, if such there be,
Who next became the avenging Baron's bride,
After long search I've gathered, orally,
And, it may be, to fiction near allied,
As oft is feudal theme; — at length descried,
Auchrugglen fell beneath his sword — anon
That blazed on beaming beauty by his side;
He threw it down, embraced her as his own,
Half wept her slaughtered sire, and fort to ashes gone.
Thus much I've sung, and still the exhaustless treasure
Glitters of golden youth, 'mid sufferance sad;
I may complete it in my hours of leisure,
From penury's hard grasp if these be had—
And dreaded evils blacken still the bad;
Yet dost thou oft, adversity, unlock
And sharpen genius, so that grief doth glad;—
As sweeps the swollen flood pebbles from the rock,
That hidden lay unmoved 'neath its soft summer shock.
Fond, yet more fond, I've traced my youthful way
Through the rich rolling year, on raptured wing;
Though well I ween but dimly I pourtray
The radiant forms remembrance still would bring—
And yet for bard, youth's potent sp'rit to fling,
Through its tombed tenement, till all, or one,
Saw, felt, and heard as his own soul did sing
In silent harmony, by sound undone—
Were holding out a lamp to light the unclouded sun.