The Retrospect. Canto II.

The Retrospect; or Youthful Scenes. With other Poems and Songs. By John Wright.

John Wright

The second canto of The Retrospect begins with a vision in which the Genius of Youth and the figure of Poverty frame an allegorical description of youthful poetry. There follow further reflections on the painful joys of youth and memory, love and poetry. The remainder of the poem narrates a mysterious tale of Herbert and Rowena, who, pursued by a Kelpie-like flood, leave behind a magical ring discovered by the poet.

Beloved, fair, fleeting paradise of life,
We still would linger o'er thee and adore;
So beautiful thy flowers, so rich, so rife—
Dear, dear departed Youth! behind, before,
And all around etherial! 'midst the roar
Of life's loud surging sea — thou land alone!
Of scanty bloom, weeds cankered to the core,
Is hence each coming stage — no ray thereon!
Untempting in the bud — poison and, death when blown.

Boyhood! thou root of being, that dost bear
Aloft the tree, branched, branchless, green or gray,
Die thou away 'mid storm and wind's wild war,
And instantly 'tis swept into decay;
Thy clustering lights illume life's murkiest day,
Even o'er Hope's grave, and mingling in their gladness,
Waft with ambrosial dreams the night away;
When o'er our bosoms earth would urge her madness,
We hurry home to share thy soothing, blissful, sadness.

All-charming Youth! of loveliest visions brought
By thee — sights, sounds, too beautiful to stay,
Too bright for clay-bound spirit — this I caught:
All underneath huge cataract I lay,
On hill, whose summit held, apart from day,
Communion with the stars; on the far height
Of ever-vernal green, that grew alway,
Skimmed up and down ethereal beings bright,
Towards earth, and their loved home, of living azure light.

The moon shone sweetly, and the waters seemed
Of spiritual life an uncorrupted mass,
And breathed supernal song — and my soul streamed
Away in wonder-worship, tears of bliss,
And love that flamed more high than hot caress
Could kindle — gaze unsating! till from thence,
With kindred spirits bounding bodiless,
My own seemed fluttering o'er me, and, with glance
Of sympathy allured, I rose — when all at once

The stream stood still, and sparkled o'er it Sprite
Yet more divine, adorned with deathless crown
Of heaven-wrought flowers, and robe of flowing light,
That seemed a bright star shed, dilating on
In beautiful adoration, and skimmed down
The illumined waters with pervading blaze.
"What marvel these floods pause! and thou thereon,
Fair Spirit!" I exclaimed; "how shall I raise
My burning prayer to thee, thou goddess of all praise?"

"The Genius I of Youth," mellifluous, bland,
The Goddess whispered; "I have watched thee long
With love maternal, seen thy soul withstand
The world, stern fortune, and amid more strong
Unbaffled hate still carol forth her song—
This be thy guerdon;" straightforth in her hand
She held a shining mirror, large and long,
Whereon was writ "Remembrance," that, like wand
Of wizard, deepened more the spell august and grand:

"See, brightened into beauty what seemed dark,
The fugitive, lost, latent shed forth day;
This grown a sunbeam thou did'st deem a spark;
And that an ocean dashing forth its spray,
Thou deemed'st a little brooklet on thy way;
The tree become a forest, and the rose
A garden of enchantment; the bright lay
Laughs itself green with melody — o'er the snows
Of winter, to adorn thy brow, the violet blows."

As thus I wondering stood, soft breathed the maid,
Soft as sweet whispering love, on love reclined;
And instantly the fleeting visions fade
Before me — turn your eyes, and look behind—
There crowding bards, from lord to lowly hind,
A locust swarm, came bounding up the hill
Each seemed already summited in mind,
And spurned his fellow, — one asleep and still,
Comes plodding ever on, and mounts with wakeful skill—

A wreath in's hand of thistle, fern, and broom,—
He wrung its perfume forth, and scampering, to
An Eden hied of bramble flowers in bloom—
'Mid prickly penance, dashed from thence the dew
Upon his brow, his spirit to imbue
And blend with nature — a blood shower o'erstreams
His face, and opes a wished-for passage through;
The cliff before him, now some Muse he deems,
Embraces, and beats out a thousand rainbow dreams.

O'er his fallen follow, mark yon dreadful form,
The while his eye-ball burns with living gore,
Escargatoire with brandished fire-bolt storm—
The thunder list, to echo forth its roar,
And ocean drag with all its waves ashore;
'Gulfed in an earthquake at full stretch he lies,
And shakes astounded nature, as with oar
Skims the light skiff; — his nostrils' fume forth flies,
Fair mantling earth, and forms the drapery of the skies—

Anon he stalks by the Lethean stream,
Bard, patriot, seer, and sect — a world to save—
Forgotten from oblivion to redeem;
With eagle's swoop divides the darkling wave,
Dives to its bottom — youthful glory's grave—
Drags forth and brings to life, and gilds more fair,
The learned, the witty, and long latent brave;
Before him bow Wolfe, Washington, Voltaire;
Newton, Napoleon drenched, on the banks reappear.

Another yet behold, more grand, sublime,
In whose bright beam all others look aghast;
He comes from tour through fair Elysian clime,
To unroll all wonders yet to come or past—
Himself a prodigy shall ever last;
Spans with the rainbow, ocean, earth, and sky,
Soars far, where sunbeam ne'er might pry, nor trust
His wing might noteless seraph; and, thus high,
The stars in vassalage holds, like steer couched on small fly.

Himself thus rates he, phrenzied in the bright
And burning beams of beauty, and the glow
Of scenes unfurled — the loveliest, most to blight;
Thus dreams elate — whilst all the world avow
Such scribbling dog should whipped be to the plough;
Upborne on false wing, he awhile may soar,
Yet down at length shall dash — already, lo!
His dripping pinion drenched with his own gore—
The o'er-blown bubble bursts, he sinks, and all is o'er.

But see! uprising from yon orient stream,
Wreathed Bard, with looks of sympathy and love;
Shining, and shedding forth a glorious beam;
'Tis his with tales of woe the heart to move,
And sing of hill and dell where nations strove,
And fire with amorous flame — spread thou thy wing,
No more through lone oblivion's shades to rove
And drink of our unsating, sacred spring,
Till echo of thy fame through every isle shall ring.

Up the far steep of science thou didst climb
Unaided, unassuming child of nature!
Though tossed by adverse fate, with step sublime,
And insuppressive soul; most noble creature!
That time will beautify, as these defeature,
Glory to thee! thou art not borne on whim;
Than all combined, of more Titanic stature—
Reach forth thy hand to heaven, quell these clouds dim,
Thy cup, of coming bliss shall sparkle o'er the brim.

These, disappearing, into shapes recede,
Dark and again more dark till blent with night;
I turned me round the soul with its first meed
To cherish — when above the beauteous Sprite
Misshapen Phantom rose upon my sight,
Lank, meagre, and appalling; with stern look,
Slow shooting through the Goddess deep death-blight,
But not dismay — I gazed till her frame shook
With dissolution's pang, and then no more could brook.

"On me wreck forth thy fury! spare! oh, spare
The guiltless! god of ruin," I exclaimed;
"Thou hast torn from me all life deemed most dear,
With agonies immedicable maimed,—
And is my sole remaining solace claimed
To glut thy gorging appetite?" — for known
To Bards the unsightly form, who most are tamed
Beneath his talons; I awoke — not gone
Thy spectre, Poesy, that lowered when morning shone.

Stern Poverty! how heavy and how hard,
The struggling heart down pressing even to death—
Thou lay'st thy icy fingers on the Bard—
Thy daggers, Poesy did first unsheath,
Transfix pale, heaving Hope at every breath;
No voice to soothe — of all the world even one
Were bliss; by early friends now deemed beneath
Their high-flown love, their kind consolement gone—
'Mid the still black'ning storm, unsheltered and alone.

Before thy freezing breath we shrink afar,
Now less removed — to stand or fly we pause;
Thou roll'st upon us like the rush of war,
And down we sink in Ruin's earthquake jaws;
And, since ourselves have been the bitter cause,
No arm to aid, no eye to pity, near;
And what in happier life might find applause,
Brings but the rude reproach and vulgar sneer,
To blight the bleeding heart, and sharpen doom severe.

Shower on me all thy plagues! yet not aghast
Will I sink underneath thee; the wild wave
Shall sleep beneath tree, tower o'ersetting blast,
Or e'er I shrink before thee to a slave,
Or bend beneath thee to a timeless grave;
Creation fails not with the bright day gone;
Fair flowers outlive the spring; and in its cave
The diamond wars with darkness, ripening on;
The tree stands, and thus I, in bloom 'mid winter lone.

Fetter me as thou wilt! tie me to earth!
Breathe thy frosts o'er me! I'll nor sigh nor shrink,
Nor even should Fortune woo, e'er homage mirth;
More sweet I've found from frozen stream to drink,
Than tepid waters; born too much to think
Above my state, that sinks withal more low;
And if I sometimes scaled near fortune's brink,
The ledge-cliff loosened — wheresoe'er I go,
I long, I look aloft, but still must be below.

Yet in sequestered vale sweet wild flowers blow,
That shrink to weeds and wither on the height;
And the pure virgin snow-drop, in the glow
And proud array, ne'er basked, of summer bright;
Here memory sheds her hues of living light,
So mildly potent, clouds may not impair,
Nor shade of circling hills involve in night;—
Like stars of strength diminished 'mid the glare
Of day, that still to bless eve's azure brow repair.

For ever loved whate'er our youth revered,
Familiarized with heart or ear or eye;
The scene, however wild, in which upreared;
The tree that with us grew to manhood high;
The bush that screened us from the summer sky;
Upon its limber bough, the birds that hymned,
Blent with the bee's unchanged monotony;
The wild fowl o'er the lake that flew or skimmed;
The caterwauling owl, by darkness unbedimmed;

The stream attracted zephyr, the long whine
Of night breeze, bathed in redolence, astound
Like strong, the bosom-chord, with touch divine,
That thrills through life amid the ruin round—
As germ, of plant long perished, under ground
Is wrapped in death, yet lives, awaiting spring;—
Thus dear the dell with broom and thistle crowned;
The gently heaving height, whose golden ling
A sweeter perfume breathes than evening's roseate wing.

For ever loved whatever may have been
Our youthful sports and prowess, friendships bland,
Encounter fierce with rivals of stern mien,
And wrathful rolling eye, and firm clenched hand;
We, haply, all their efforts would withstand
For victory, and win the bloodless field,
And village glory, and for aye, command
O'er them — o'er those that to the vanquished yield,—
The thought delights us still, and yet with heart unsteeled.

War's boyhood this; thus rose the fire-eyed child,
So soft, so mild throughout, as if allied
To peace, and love, and virtue; now more wild
As near approaching manhood, he has hied
Abroad, with dagger, dress, and feature dyed
In blood, to blaze his nature and his name;
Like eagle, hung upon himself, descried,
All heedless of the world— and now we blame
Our boyish thirst of war, and blot those scenes with shame.

O'er earth he roams, with crown, and covering formed
Of clotted crimson, life's selectest shower
For ever thickening o'er him — the alarmed
Nations, to yield the still extorted dower
Demoniac — ocean, earth, and sky deflower;
And is thy doom unwritten, dreadful fiend!
No fitting scourge prepared to sack thy power!—
With God's red-rolling wrath you heavens shall bend,
For ever thee to blast, thy bone-built throne to rend.

To quell the fiend, to lop this limb from death,
And maim earth's mortal foe, the good may strive,
Yet these to thwart, power pants till out of breath—
When fall the mighty, mightier props survive;
Even bards, though craven-hearted the whole hive,
And shrink convulsed at sight of bloody brand,
Have sung it from its scabbard; fame wont thrive,
(Its blasted branches bare and naked stand,)
That takes not root in blood and drinks from War's red hand.

Upon an ocean dark of gathered tears,
Drained from war-wasted lands, War's blood-hounds float;
Seek they its haven, earth still backward steers;
Their doom — no more to find a resting spot;
But sympathy be yours whose wayward lot,
To bathe in life-warm waves of smoking gore,
Has led reluctant or from tower or cot,
Commanding or commanded, evermore
Beloved be ye, with half your deeds forgot when o'er.

That sympathy be thine, — dragged o'er the wave,
From home, and love, and him, whose agony
Intense, had rested lighter on thy grave,
Than then the dear, the living loss to dree,
As waved our dark farewell, to shore, to sea;
Then all creation's loveliest objects seemed
The shadows of an idle dream to me;
From lip, no sound; from eye, no tear-drop streamed;
The heart withheld the bliss, I stood as one that dreamed.

I looked, till, like a cloud, thy dear bark seemed,
Pale on some distant summer sky at even;—
Delirium's fevered flash then o'er me gleamed,
I stared on vacancy, I felt as riven
From life, and love, and bliss, and hope, and heaven;
For one fond look, one word, one short embrace,
A world of paltry gold I would have given;
Who in this bosom e'er can fill thy place?
Who, charming e'er so high, thy memory dear efface?

The livelong night I lingered on the strand,
'Mid roaring waters and the sea-fowl's cry;
Of home I thought not — could nor sit, nor stand,
Nor rest reclined, nor heave the lightest sigh,
Nor greet light-hearted mariner passing by,
Nor gaze — but on the deep; I sent forth Hope,
That looked, and looked, and then lay down to die,
Upon the billow; earth had now no prop
For me to lean upon, nor plant nor flower to crop:

Upon a cliff at length I threw me down,
As feeling with quick rush had reached life's bourne,
And grief, by its own blight; yet seemed I lone
As the wild wind that sung through chinks wave-worn
From ocean's breast below — I seemed forlorn—
Yet knew not why nor where; — a gushing stream,
Joined its eternity, as 'twere in scorn,
And would not mingle — I myself did seem
The same, nor slept nor woke — a dark delirious dream!

A speckled flock of sportive clouds were borne—
A ruffian wind their shepherd — o'er the sky,
As hurrying to withhold the coming morn,
And I did bless them with a thankful sigh,
And wished, if not already dead, to die,
For agonizing memory's fitful flash
Again would sparkle o'er me, and then fly;
And while of nothingness the deep, dark hush
Prevailed, conflicting waves of passion on would rush.

That rushing storm, o'erblown, hath left behind
Wrecks that must still remain — when grief's turmoil,
Still seeks the soul the balm it used to find;
Possessed of fortune's boon— to share the spoil.
Judge of my youthful song! whose fav'ring smile
And kindling aspect bade me not despair;
Thy parting presage, seated by the rill,
Of more than village glory, died not there,
But much ere this hath cost, oh! many a hidden care.

To be thyself a tyrant, or to crouch,
Alike revolting — ill thou would'st sustain
Compulsion stern, or bear the foul reproach,
That brought to others — if not joy, not pain;
Thy cheek ne'er wore disguise, thou couId'st not feign
Submission, when thy proud heart did rebel;
To bare the sword, to trample o'er the slain
As stones that cumber, fitted worse; to dwell
With those such deeds who boast — that were to thee as hell.

Thou would'st return! thy broken spirit longs
To be renewed with one sweet draught of home;
To lift the rusted lyre, forget thy wrongs,
And deem the cottage more than earthly dome,
Nor ever from the sweet seclusion roam;—
Thou deem'st not that fair portraiture, still drawn,
Is but a likeness of the dead — not from
Thyself alone, but from the world withdrawn,
The joys thy dreaming heart still hoards by sweet Burnawn.

Clear, wild, romantic rill! at sound of thee.
How thrilled affection throbs through every vein!
A lovelier fountain search were vain to see;
From hills so rich, ne'er leaped into the main
Thy likeness round, nor rolled through wealthier plain.
The genius of thy waters is the maid
That moistened Eden — and, unhurt, here reign
Peace, love, primeval purity, arrayed
In garb, that peccancy to stain yet never strayed.

By thee first kindled in my soul the fire
That still must burn — though love and life decay;
In youth's sweet spring first woke my infant lyre
In thy blessed bowers, — I sung my later lay
In concert with thy dashing billow's play:
My soul still sickens, sad, unconscious why,
And nerved no longer if from thee away.
Fountain of life! here all my treasures lie,
In thee I live, I breathe, and in thy absence die.

And, far amidst these hills, where thou dost spring,
Whither so oft we traced thee, through the vale,
And woods, that with thy ceaseless echoes ring,
That gather o'er thee, and, enamoured, pale
Thy bed of beauty from, the autumnal gale—
Where envious winter howls o'er vernal bloom
He may not blight, how much soe'er assail—
Life's first sweet breath above these woodlands' gloom,
There by thy source I breathed, and thither still would roam.

Roll on, sweet streamlet! in thy fairy dream;
Still kiss thy banks with verdure, and thy bowers
With bloom and melody: — the beauteous gleam
Thou wearest, on thy wave and in thy flowers,
That led us to thee, in our buoyant hours
Of blissful childhood, when the heart ran o'er,
And lip and eye spoke love. Oh! ye blessed Powers
That here preside, waft back to his loved shore,
And these dear haunts, the form so fitted to adore!

Long had we drunk, and still together drained,
The sweets of childhood, youth, and riper days,
From many a blissful fount, that waxed or waned,
As we did seek or shun — led by our lays
Through sunny mead or subterranean maze;
And still where'er we wandered, at our wish
Uprose life's fair profusion, and our praise;
Scaled we Hope's ragged steep — no cliff to crush,
Loosed by our light embrace, in thunder down would rush.

The varied pastime, and the heart's soft swell
O'er hidden beauty — sweetest to explore—
Deep, dark, wild, woody Connor, thou can'st tell,
Oh! thou can'st tell, but never can'st restore!
Still roll thy peaceful waters to the shore;
Still bloom thy green bowers on the rocky rise,
Where hewn hath giant hand thy caverns hoar;
And green the grove, whose birds of varying dyes
Still sing thy summer past, and war with wintry skies.

Thou art unchanged, in feature still the same;
And breathed is now thy song, as clarion shrill,
To woo me from myself, the world, and fame,
And bid thy bowers again their dews distill
Around the heart, and purifying fill:—
"The lights of cherub beauty, unalloyed,
That fluttered o'er thy childhood, cherish still:
Ah! why forsake the scenes that never cloyed,
To be with dreams, oh! less than lightest dreams, decoyed.

"Uplift thy look; the sky itself behold,
And not its empty shadows o'er the ground,
That mock the bright reality — be not rolled
Thereon, thus wildly, till thy life has found
Of misery the cureless, staunchless wound;
For golden lustre throw not gold away;
Let not the virent snake entwine thee round,
Upon thy path, or near thy footstep stray—
Though such earth's summer hue, and glossy emerald's gay."

Delightful haunt! of thee the deepening thought,
With all its woe still conjures up the tale
Of true, not guiltless love, from far that sought
In thy wild shades a shelter from the gale
Of lowering tempest mustering to assail;
Wood, grot, and dell yet breathe the tender theme,
And winds prolong its melancholy wail;
Its joys retained in flower and sun-bright stream—
Its shuddering horrors waked in prey-bird's midnight scream.

'Twas love by reason spurned — love spurning fame,
Wealth, grandeur, pride, and power, and all the world—
That under foot trod wedlock's holy name,
And round opponents proud defiance hurled,
And deep, and deeper down the vortex whirled;
Both fair of form, both beautiful of mind,
And much sound virtue either heart unfurled;
Hers was a soul too tender, his, though kind,
Not open — he who searched had still much more to find.

And many searched, and sought, and tried to win;
And many searched, and sought, and tried in vain;
The soul portcullised, walled itself within,
Opened its portals, few, how few! to gain—
Even these reluctant, as with baffled pain;
But there was one, though war she did not wage,
Unbarred, and shut, threw down, upreared again
At pleasure, and in all provoked not rage,
Nor did the heart from love an instant disengage.

And marvel not that love so strong should sway
Soul thus reserved and lone — roll not most deep
Unruffled waters? is the orb of day
Not darkened when the cloudy tempests sweep?
Burns not hearth hottest when its fagots keep
Their smoke within, unspent? and is not hate
More strongly fixed when most it seems asleep?
Thus, may not, must not love expand, dilate,
When adverse elements no more his shafts defeat?

Whilst others strained, from intercourse, their all
Of earthly good, oft stamped with indesert,
He walked where life's ambrosial dews did fall,
And held communion with his glowing heart:
So closed upon himself nought might him thwart,
'Mid vulgar throng if thrown by niggard fate—
Would from his path with hasty step depart,
To shun a salutation — not in hate,
But diffidence, that blushed even at its own retreat.

All eloquent with nature, but with man
Mute, cold, and sullen, even from youth — as 'twere
Entombed in thought none but himself might scan;
Whilst his dark eye seemed sunk with leaden care,
'Twas angel Poesy sat shadowing there,
And shut him from himself; nor durst intrude
That instant ought of earth, or dread, or fair,
Pain, pleasure, not even passion, save what would
Burst on him from wild theme, and stir his sleeping blood.

The child of more than melancholy sadness
Yet oft was he — deep wrapped in darkest gloom,
That tinged his spirit with the hues of madness,
And laid in ashes his life's summer-bloom;
To war with phantoms his the dreadful doom,
Fiends strengthening o'er the deadly strife — their prey,
The wide strown withered wreck of his soul's tomb;
None knew the death within — amid the gay,
Mirth sparkled in his cheek, like verdure o'er our clay.

Yet gently rolled their bark of life from shore
On halcyon billow, fanned by summer wind;
Love shone their constant guest, still kindling more,
Serene as peaceful lake, till storm disjoined,—
Then heaved the dark surge, furious, unconfined,
Quenched sun, and moon, and stars — and in that maze
Of darkness and despair they light did find,
That righted but themselves — in the world's gaze
A starless gloom appeared no coming sun could raze.

When violent passions suddenly imbue
With their dark spirit Love's ethereal ray,
Of fire-eyed phantasy the soul and hue
Then given, presage not, nor create decay;
Thus 'mid the embroiling storm's infuriate sway,
The shower-sprung streams — the thunderers of an hour—
Down rush, the rivers winged velocity
Augmenting — yet, their upstart fury o'er,
Anon it warbles forth all gently as before.

But like the sun-scorched blossom on the waste,
Or tree that's thunderstruck, their blasted fame;—
Oh! bitter is the doom no more to taste
Life's sweetest boon that o'er to mortals came,
And lasting solace — an unsullied name;
Grant me but this, kind heaven, and whatsoe'er
Of misery befall, I will exclaim
Of boundless goodness, nor shall fate severe,
Nor hate, nor envy draw, however dread, a tear.

A brittle piece of workmanship, thou art—
A flower that lightest touch, a breath, will blight—
Sweet reputation! idol of my heart;
An age spent in the beauteous path, the bright
Unfading ray of Virtue's heavenly light,
Scarce rears thee into bloom! — not so thy fall;
One wayward step — thou sink'st in mornless night!
Life's pinion, Hope, with her enchantments all,
Drenched in the envenomed gush of everlasting gall!

'Twas thus, they sought far Connor's sylvan site—
In the deep solitude themselves inurned;
Oft might be seen their cottage blazing bright,
As hind, or huntsman from his toils returned—
Thy beacon, Love! that long these wilds adorned.
O'er woe's wild hue to shed unfleeting joy,
Rowena strove, young Herbert's bosom burned;
No watch-dog there was sentineled, to annoy
Low-stooping, beggared age, or wandering orphan boy.

There is a gem, our first sire let it fall,
That baffled all his after search to find;
Age after age his offspring, each and all,
To gain the treasure, ransacked, unconfined,
Earth, ocean, air, and sky, apart, combined;
Philosophy pursued it up to heaven,
Yet in remotest orb her hopes resigned;
Hills were uptorn, and lands to ruin driven,
Where av'rice, wisdom's self hath searched, yet none have thriven.

This fair, fond couple, driven by haggard fate,
And drawn by deep affection, sought the prize,
And found it, in dark Connor's wild retreat;
Thus recked they, and so spoke their beaming eyes
That rained, mid brimful bliss, like summer skies
Watering a long parched wilderness, — anon
Springs the gay verdure, vernal flowerets rise;—
They looked, they pressed, yet not its lustre gone;
'Twas unstained, beautiful, and bright as first it shone.

Here Herbert woke his wild romantic lyre
O'er themes his soul had long desired to scan;
And, chief, love leaped along its strings of fire,
And buoyant childhood, light as first it ran—
The electric spirit of life's leaden span;
He thence through manhood traced the broken dream,
Till sad it sickened into autumn wan;
Reclined in crannied cavern's twilight gleam,
Thus would his descant flow o'er the lone rushing stream:—

"Sweet retrospect! could fate again bestow
Those hours ere time had reared on life's flowered spray
That thorn reflection, gladly would I throw
The intervening years of care away,
And still 'midst Boyhood's sunny bowers delay;
When siren Poesy dawned in dreams of bliss;
And passion swayed, unconscious of its sway;
When heaven's smile sweetened the enchanting kiss
Of innocence — than guilt's, our rapture not the less.

"More wild, Love passed along the golden dream,
All sparkling as the fleecy summer sky;
As autumn eve, when, o'er the stilly stream
The white mists thicken, and the moonbeams fly,
And winds o'er withered wood-roof whisper by;—
His bright eye swimmed in ecstacy, and brought
Fond Pangs, electric pulses, life's first sigh;
Nature I recked not, now with sadness fraught,
And, Boyhood if not past — its pleasures shrunk to nought.

"Oh! 'tis a bitter world, were we to drink
From all the wormwood fountains that o'erflow
Life's melancholy way, the soul would sink
With the unceasing draught; awhile we glow
With boundless wishes, ere the world we know;
From youth's bland visions we at last awake—
Then comes the countercharm to all below;
Life that did seem a star on stirless lake,
Becomes a shattered skiff, that waves and tempests shake.

"Grief's ever gathering floods the world o'ersweep,
Affect, as snow-falls, ice, by wintry sun,
Dissolved — to bind more hard; on rocky steep
As vernal showers; as, streams o'er desert lone,
That perish in the dusty storm, anon;
Like Love reclined on the cold heart of Hate,
Till the bright tear-drop but bedews a stone;
As wind 'mongst flowers that from our touch retreat;
Sunbeams o'er carrion foul, that but more filth create.

"Be hushed, my heart; oh! who may life arraign?
Who idolize? the tempest-shower of woe
Sinks in the sandy soil, and joy again
Sheds o'er the heart its renovating glow;
Gladness and grief o'er earth alternate flow—
The while we press the briar's sharp pointed spray,
Its buds burst forth, and, into beauty blow:
The while o'er bliss-illumined path we stray,
The deep cloud steals along — else 'tis the twilight ray—

"That fights the dead, or those through life that dream;
On ocean's strife unstirr'd, for ever still;
As pebbles pillowed in the rushing stream;
Eaves' drop-fall after shower; on flock-clad hill,
As drowsy cairn; much more misguided skill
I'd laud, the outlaw of all use, than those—
Nor formed for love, nor hate, nor good, nor ill;
Unpained, unpleasured — midst their deep repose,
Heedless how life began, unheeded comes its close.

"Through the thick ice and frozen snows, if aught
Sink down, and stir their life's dark sluggish stream
Into a muddy motion, still unsought
Is the fond, wooing, amorous summer beam,—
For night alone is substance, day a dream;
For all that would illume this nether sphere
Is but the 'wildering and deceitful gleam
Of burnished vapours, that so bright appear
To pilgrim of the night — eye close, and onward steer.

"Man, waked to life, would ever beautify
The beautiful creation, lingering long
In every varying region, till the eye
Beams love for all, nor would he now belong
To this, to that, exclusive of the throng—
That o'er his fertilized and opening soul
Appears, like constellation, bright as strong,
Where shines not one star singly, but, the whole
At once, as did through all one mighty spirit roll.

"Comes darkness o'er you, like lamp-lighted bower,
Quick to repel night's murky sway, ye stand;—
Forgetful, heedless of the eventide hour,
Without — so bright within; — on the other band,
Like dome, where ruin rears o'er pride his brand,
The unwaked, the dead are, and, like mouldering pile,
More lonely as of structure still so grand;
Each, ever sad, upchoked with nuisance vile—
But when the shadows fall of eve, how sad the while!

"Bright o'er remembrance beams the hallowed morn
Of Reason, when discrimination threw
Her lights around me, and I left with scorn
The drowsy, darkened multitude, and flew
To minds illumed, where pleasures, prized by few,
Delights unsating, sheltered from the storm,
Lay thick as summer flowers, whose perfume drew
To where they bloomed, — of most enchanting form,
And, came not wintry blight to wither and alarm.

"And there was happiest love that knew not change,
And fondest friendships fading not away;
Hearts that for ever heaved, but not to range,
And eyes that flashed the intellectual ray—
Oh! could those lights divine in death decay,
And leave me darkened, darker than before?
Died all the wit that early did display,
Supernal grandeur's undiminished store?
Fled all its beauty, bright, and brightening evermore?

"And we were young, and fond, and full of glee,
And dreamed of, dreaded nought, for lightest cloud
Had ne'er approached us; sensibility,
So strong, had kept the heart from waxing proud;
And others' woe rolled o'er us as a flood,
And swept us from ourselves — and this was all,—
Thrice twenty years may come ere comes our shroud;
The oak, on high, long hardens ere it fall,
The young mount up to heaven — and we were green and small."

There lived, in cloistered ferity concealed,
In that same solitude, enchantress dire,
Before whose spellful breath, rocks, mountains reeled,
And whirlwinds swept down forests in her ire;
Her eye the lightning, thunder her loud lyre;
Each element her vassal; the wild wave
Above the affrighted hills at her desire
Leaped from the low scooped vale; — thus fame would rave:
Young Herbert heard the tale, and sought her rock-hewn cave.

For he was one whom early lore had taught
To disentangle mystery, and breathe
His soul o'er hidden beauty; still he sought
To draw enchantment from its murky sheath,
Though more from curiosity than faith,
And more from hope than either, or desire
To pall the demon with the shroud of death
Yet more, as fitting theme for his wild lyre,
Whose alchymy from all drew forth ethereal fire.

Up to its source he wizardry explored,
And fairyland did trace through all its maze
Of gloom; as Nature's substituted lord,
Ope'd her mind-marvels, but, with more amaze,
Her lovelier purity met his kindling gaze,
And amorous adoration, under sky
Autumnal — in the fields, on flowery braes,
Streams, woods, and hills, and precipices high,
And vales of paradise that in their bosoms lie.

In the deep darkness — fortune's murkiest lour,
This youth first tuned the inspiring harp of heaven
To mortal theme — with more than mortal power;
Born with him was the sorcery, nor riven
Away when he from his youth's scenes was driven;
If the dread secrets Bard might e'er pourtray
Of deep-palled divination, he had thriven;
'Twas his youth's theme, and manhood's riper lay,
And prologue to the last, we give his first essay:

Enchantress! thy power I come to implore;
The gold in this hand's but the earnest of more,
If from death's dismal monarchy, mouldering and cold,
Before us you bring whom we come to behold.

Though what thou would'st have me I were, thou must know
From loathed divination what miseries flow;
Were't known I had practised ought friendly for thee,
'Twere woe to thyself, but red ruin to me.

Earth, towering, shall kiss out the stars; the fallen stream
Backward roll, be ice-bound, by the sun's sultry beam;
The steep mountain wrapped in sterility's gloom,
Change at once to a valley, of beauty and bloom;
Ere for this aught befall thee of peril or pain;
As lives the Eternal, I swear it again.

The mists of mortality fall from my eyes,
Pervading (as thine at a glance yonder skies,)
This world's far bottom; the spell is prepared;
And the rod that would mock earth's joint potency reared;
Nay, your treasures withhold, till that power I display—
Now, would our destroyers come down on their prey,
These eyes to devour 'em in death and despair—
My breath would blow Saul, like burst bubble in air—
Now, whatever you name shall arise, (and more soon
Than uttered,) of all over breathed 'neath the moon.

Urned in Ramah, our prophet; but, woman, beware
Of defeating fond hope with a mockery of air—
Why startle, and shriek with a loud beating heart?

Thou may'st not deceive me, disguised as thou art,
If blameless I live not, ask, monarch, of heaven,
Nor enchantment have wrought since thy mandate was given.

That reck not, remember my vow; what appears
Thus terrible to thee as wakens thy fears?

A god, out of earth's opening bowels ascends,
And, lo! towards Endor indignantly wends—
Close mantled in form of a sage.

It is he!
My soul, what dark surges are rising in thee;
How I shrink from his frown — sink him down from my sight—
Ha! Sorceress! he comes of thy power in despite;
I will fly — at that look all my hopes are laid low;
Oh God! were I yet in the gleam of the foe;
My servants, stand by me, — thou, Sorceress, retire—
Hail, (bowing to earth,) — Israel's Prophet and Sire!

From the far heights of glory, eternal repose,
Why conjure me back to this desert of woes?
Why am I breathing this world's foul bane,
And trembling twofold 'neath life's burden again?
What would'st thou with whom thou hast dragged from the dead?
Thou, who upon life all its bitterness shed?

From the deep of despair, in its wildest uproar,
Convey me, oh sire! to Hope's halcyon shore;
The legions of Palestine spread o'er the land,
Ne'er dared us to battle so dreadful a band;
And neither by prophet, by Urim, nor dream,
Have we, oh father! yet gathered a gleam
Of faint firing hope; fell presages appear
(Discomfiture, vassalage, roll in their rear,)
From earth's muttering womb, from the wave on the shore,
To the cloud in the sky red with Israel's gore:
Hie we to the lowly cot, sorrow hath there
Spread her pall, the proud dome yet more dark with despair;
The warrior's heart fails in their ominous ray,
And the prowess of Judah hath melted away.

If thus thou'rt forsaken, why call upon me?
Ah! of thee that foretold, now accomplished I see;
The sceptre of power to another is given,
Thou to ruin thrust down by the fire bolt of heaven;
That vengeance thou left'st on cursed Am'lek unpoured—
On thyself, fallen monarch! infuriately showered.
To-morrow thy troops are or scattered or slain,
But the remnant thou never shalt rally again;
And the blood of thy children — outblotting thy line—
Shall stream to the valley, and mingle with thine.

To earth, as a cedar o'erset by the storm,
Fell the monarch of Israel's mighty form;
And his eye-lid in death seemed for ever to close,
While the prophet retired to his broken repose.

'Twas eve, and prey birds flapped their pinions rife,
As Herbert hied along that lovely vale;
The vestibule of cavern on the cliff,
That sprouting underwood clung round to pale,
Now met his eye, and sounds his ear assail
Of melody, so winning and so wild,
That lured him on, the rugged height to scale:
The stars were clustered round the moon, and mild
The sky, that on the wave lay like a sleeping child.

But as the acclivous steep, through bramble, brake,
On hand and foot he scaled, he turned him round,
And now cloud rolled, on cloud, till one broad flake
Of snow the sky seemed, and heaven's fairy ground;
The soften'd stars it hid not, though deep bound
In their transparent prison; like bright eyes
In the quick gush of fitful sadness drowned,
Or fading away in death — till long his prize,
They loose all lustre, quenched even e're the frail frame dies.

Now rapid as the shades of wintry eve
Descend and deepen o'er some snowy site,
Where all day long frost's fairy fingers weave
Earth o'er, as 'twere with eyes, quick, sparkling, bright,
And tree and stone seemed lit with living light;
Thus o'er that sky, in Alpine terror stole
Shapes, wrapped in hues of death, that quenched in night
All but one lonely star, nor ceased to roll,
Till shrouded in that gloom young Herbert's bleeding soul.

Now rose before him enmity's long war
With passion's lightning flame till hope was none;
Thus lowered the sky, and beamed alone the star
That rose before in peace, and led them on,
When every other earthly light was gone—
A cloud drew near, he cursed that cloud away,
And his soul sickened, as the light that shone
Now disappeared — he caught its last faint ray,
That to his soul presaged woe worse than Hope's decay.

The mustering winds now like a giant rise
From sleep in thunder, lone, and wild, and high;
And, tempest-winged, the showery torrent flies,
As if the shattered windows of the sky
Again were opened, and a world to die;
The drooping youth essayed to turn, but found
The river at his feet, that late did lie
By the steep's base below, with scarce a sound—
A sleeping melody that hushed all nature round.

Slow, sad, and drenched throughout, he crept along,
Yet knew not whither — wished no more to see
Or sorceress, or list her siren song;
But breathed a prayer, and wept, and vowed to be
Henceforth the child of Hope — though hard to dree,
This once should mercy spare; and, nerved anew,
Fast from that fatal cavern sped, as he
All vainly recked, for deeper still night threw
Her horrors o'er the scene, her darkness round him drew.

And, first, he strove to gain the distant steep,
Above his cottage in the vale below—
"Where, though between us, the wild waters sweep,
Dark eddies whirl, where rain lurks to strew
The waves with desolation, I may throw
Athwart the beam of Hope, where wild despair
Writhes thee, my loved one! too, too well I know,
And feel thy soul's distraction; angel fair,
My fate — to the wild woe, that gathers phrenzy there."

He said, and moved along, when all at once
The caverned cliff rose o'er him, and, anon,
There, pale and prostrate, met his withered glance,
In lightning's livid flash, that now quick shone.
The form of one too well and deeply known;
He ran, he rushed, and to his bursting soul
Pressed all the beauty e'er on earth had blown
For him, now blasted — sudden phrenzy stole
O'er him — heaven's best boon, when it may no more console.

And for a time he stirred him not, but lay
And looked upon the dead, the features fair,
The bloom, though chilled in death, not yet away;
And still he pressed — nor deemed that life thrilled there
No longer; — the quick feeling of despair
Now rolled upon him like the rushing wave,
And down the steep's dread perpendicular
They headlong hurled, so fleet no arm might save—
In grief's floods steeped were they through life — the deep their grave.

Thus burst the unholy bond; — what offspring crowned
That wild, yet never-ebbing love, remains
To be discovered — search hath never found;
Sad! found, where love parental unsustains;
Our life's a lazar-house of cureless pains,
A sire, a mother only can allay
Its teeming sorrows, with the dewy strains
Of sympathy, that ever and alway
We hear, feel, see, in sounds more sweet than angel's lay.

How fair Rowena reached the cliff above,
Or crossed the dark wild waters, none e'er knew;
Though feeble human power, what will not love
Accomplish! what strong fetters burst not through!
But, driven by love, what will not woman do—
What hath not woman done! when Hope, long o'er,
Hath crined and crumbled into ashes — you,
Sweet woman! only can that light restore,
Thy potency begins when man's strength is no more.

Man, the proud scoffer, may contemn; though all
His schemes of bliss twine round thee — spurn and threat;
Yet, ever and anon, when ills befall,
He casts himself a suppliant at thy feet;
Frozen apathy not long his wintry seat
May fix where thou should'st sway — sole mortal boon
That charm'st through life, and mak'st a death-bed sweet;
Grief fades in thy bright beam like mists from noon,
Or crags that melt in light beneath the summer moon.

Heaven's fairest semblance, woman! fount where lies
True sympathy alone; sweet woman's ire
Ends with her weeping, like a cloud that dies
Away when emptied; but there is a fire
No tears may stifle, rooted, dark desire
Of vengeance in proud man, inflamed by time,
Which not till life-blood quench it can expire;
Like shower of summer dropped from heavenly clime,
To soften, brighten earth, is woman; man, all crime.

Of love, unquenched through life, in death that shone,
Of their wild woes the tale hath long gone by;
Its last faint, fitful echo beard alone,
If chance you roam these woodlands — thus found I
This little lovely gem, that well might vie
(From its rust fetters freed, its prison strong,)
With loveliest treasure underneath the sky;
But as it is, its rays confusedly throng,
Crude cantlet of sweet, wild, and winding, witching song.

[pp. 67-117]