1827
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Felicia Hemans, on the Death of a Friend.

A Widow's Tale, and other Poems. By Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton


Eight Spenserians addressed to Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), who corresponded with Bernard Barton and was perhaps the most popular poet of the day.

Literary Chronicle: "The present volume, as a whole, is worthy of Bernard Barton. If he cannot always be read with unmixed delight, he must ever claim regard for the purity of his strains, his instructive morality, and the genuine feeling which is perceptible in all his productions" 9 (March 1827) 147.

Imperial Magazine: "From the Widow's tale we, however, turn with sincere pleasure to the other poems, in which the author appears as admirable as in any of his happiest moments. His poetry is distinguished by a sweet spirit of devotional simplicity and fervour, which will afford him far more deep and solid satisfaction than the noisy notoriety of more popular writers can ever procure" 9 (June 1827) 571.

E. V. Lucas: "Although there was a time when Bernard Barton was literally a Household Poet, a designation of which he was justly proud, his poetry is to-day unknown. Between the years of 1820 and 1840, he had a multitudinous audience, composed of those readers who prefer that the teaching of poetry shall be explicit rather than implicit. We have seen how eager was B. B. to write: hardly less eager was his public to read. His books were bought almost as rapidly as they were published, and as his poetic output was large his influence was extensively felt" Bernard Barton and his Friends (1893) 169.



Thy verse hath been to me, thyself unknown,
Like a delightful breeze with healing fraught,
Which to some wanderer in the torrid zone
Hath over burning sands its blessings brought;
Freshening the thirsty spirit with a thought
Of verdant meads which gushing streamlets lave,
'Till Hope's reviving energies have caught
From its glad influence added powers to brave
The desert's cheerless waste, which else had prov'd its grave.

And much I owe thee for the passing gleams
Of sunny brightness o'er my pathway thrown;
Much for those soothing strains, which came like streams
At distance heard, in whose soft, silv'ry tone
My spirit's ear the melodies could own
Which gladden'd childhood's hours; — the whisp'ring breeze,
The song of birds in leafy copses lone,
The lapse of murmuring brooks, the hum of bees,
With deeper notes between, like sounds of mighty seas.

Can it be strange, then, when I hear that Thou
Hast shadows round thee which are not of night,
Shadows which chill the heart and dim the brow
Because affection's cherish'd flowers they blight,
That thus my humbler muse would fain requite
The debt long ow'd thee in past hours of gloom?
Nor boasts my present path such cloudless light
That I should feel not for a mourner's doom;—
Oh! most of all for her's who sorrows o'er the tomb.

But not to thee, my friend, Oh! not to thee
Should death seem mournful, or the grave look dark;
Thou art not one of those who plough life's sea
Careless what pilot guides the fragile bark:
Hast thou no dove of promise in thine ark
With whose return reviving hope may rise?
Oh! doubt it not, press forward tow'rd the mark,
The glorious mark, the everlasting prize
Of joy earth cannot give, eternal in the skies.

For, like the Patriarch's dove, the Christian's prayer
In hours of doubt and anguish wins its way;
What though at first but heavily it fare,
Coming back wearily at close of day
Without one hopeful sign to chide dismay,
As if the floods of sorrow knew no shore
Whereon the spirit's better hopes might stay,
And find safe footing 'mid the tempest's roar;
Yet faith will like the Seer, send forth her hopes once more.

The bird went forth again; went forth to bring
The joyful olive-branch at fall of eve;—
And thus will faith, if unto prayer it cling,
An earnest of its hopes in time receive:—
Oh! suffer not, then, grief or doubt to weave
Such meshes round thee as may check the flight
Of prayer's strong pinions; in His power believe,
Whose will is ever merciful and right,
And Hope's bright olive-bough shall once more greet thy sight.

I could not to the worldling's wounded heart
Apply this balsam; but thy pages tell
Of thoughts and hopes that choose the better part;
Of faith, the mourner's only citadel,
Where even grief can own that all is well:
The source of all true consolation lies
Down in the heart's most hidden, holiest cell;
Dig deep and doubt not that it will arise
To animate thy hopes, and hush thy struggling sighs.

Then lift thy head in hope, and in the rod
The hidden mercy of a Father trace;
With meek submission put thy trust in God,
Thy hopes in his sustaining Spirit place:
Continue still, through His assisting grace,
To dedicate to Him thy gifts and powers;
That so, when clos'd on earth thy honor'd race,
The meed be thine in heaven's unfading bowers
To strike a golden harp wreath'd by immortal flowers.

[pp. 102-06]