33 + 30 + 32 Spenserians: a local history published, with copious notes, by a Nottingham stocking-weaver who had latterly been employed as a Sherwood Forester. The scope of Sherwood Forest extends from pre-Druidical times to Henry Kirke White and Lord Byron (whose Newstead Abbey was nearby), with digressions on nature and morality. Robin Hood, naturally, occupies the triumphal center of the poem, though by the third canto the tone is decidedly melancholy as Robert Millhouse implicitly compares his own plight to that of Kirke White. His most ambitious poem was yet to come, however — the Destiny of Man (1832, 1834) is also written in Spenserians.
Gentleman's Magazine: "We have perused his Sherwood Forest with admiration for all that he has achieved, and with a fearful misgiving that it may have been achieved by him in vain. To his honour be it recorded, that he has never debased the divine spirit within him to pander to any unholy purpose. If, in the order of Providence, he shall still remain unfriended by the affluent, or unsupported by the wise and good, still, in his sphere, he will bequeath an inheritance to his children, of which they can be proud — talents held in pledge for the promotion of virtue, and exercised only for the improvement of mankind. On every occasion of Millhouse's appearance his efforts are more vigorous and more matured" 98 (January 1828) 52.
New Monthly Magazine: "We have already had occasion to speak interms of commendation of Mr. Millhouse's poetical efforts. His present production will not detract from the reputation he has gained. The principal poem, Sherwood Forest, is in three Cantos. The versification is good, the language is polished, and the thoughts and imagery are appropriate. Some sonnets follow, of considerable merit" NS 24 (March 1828) 105.
Twelve moons have waxed and waned, — the infant year
Hath wept her tears into the violet's bell,
Recalling them in sweetness — summer fair
Hath pierced the bottom of the forest dell,
And left a smile there; and the moaning swell
Of autumn gales has made the green leaf sear;
And wintry tempests rung creation's knell,
And shrouded her in snows, since withering care
Threw o'er my dearest themes oblivion and despair.
It shall no longer be — the spell is broken—
For other years may find me still the same:
Shall penury blot out the glorious token,
Bestowed, as herald of a virtuous fame?
Wait we for leisure? Time has quenched the flame
Of greatest hearts, that idly begged his aid,
Trifling from day to day; and many a name,
Wanting the great resolve, has lost in shade
The talent heaven above for noblest purpose made.
What should ambition be? A generous zeal,
Kindled by honourable glory, when
The aim of genius is alone to heal,
To soften and improve the hearts of men:
To lead from Ignorance, and from the den
Of Rapine and Misrule; to point the mind
To love of country, to direct the ken
To Truth, to Virtue, and to Heaven, and bind,
Far as the influence reach, the wounds of human kind.
The rest is infamy, where'er it fall—
Prince, Statesman, Chief, Philosopher or Bard
To stop the ear when mourning subjects call,
To plan destruction for a name, to guard
With sword the villanous, or to retard
And cover truth with falsehood, or entwine
Vice with a serpent-witchery, and award
To deeds accursed, the smooth, the flattering line,
And gild perdition's fruit, and call its taste divine.
But to my theme. Again 'tis home I sing;
For, from my early boyhood until now,
Thy forest, Sherwood, held alone the spring,
Whence gushed my inspiration; here the vow
Of stripling love, which age might not allow,
To potent beauty passed my trembling tongue;
And here it was my soul was taught to bow
In adoration to the charms of song,
And Parents, Country, God, breathed sweet my lays among.
Dear to my soul thy haunts have ever been;
Thy very heath-bells, rustling in the gale,
To me are fairy tenements; thy green
And yellow furze, whence oft the linnet's tale
Breathes love untainted; and each narrow dale,
Where peeps the earliest primrose, and the thorn,
Made vocal by the redbreast's plaintive wail,
And fragment oaks, which still thy nooks adorn,
Seem fair, as when my youth smiled out its joyous morn.
My home, my birthplace, many happy years
I sojourned on thy border! and have strayed
Far, far away, and been a slave to cares,
And sighed o'er sweet remembrance of thy shade;
At each return, the hill, the stream, the glade,
Possessed a stronger talisman to charm:
And though the inroad melancholy made
Is still a breach, the patriot feelings warm
Imbibed in early days take fire at each alarm,
And vibrate on the chords that touch my heart,
Nor do I envy those, whose little aim,
In flippant rhymes, can trivial themes impart;
And, whilst a particle of British flame
Shall warm this bosom, never shall the shame
Justly attached to faction and misrule,
Controul the pride my country's glorious name
First poured upon my soul; nor shall the fool,
Thus biassed, e'er enrol my conscience in his school.
I am a Briton! and my native land
Conferred the privilege of being free!
And when I contemplate that structure grand
Of Freedom, I behold a part in thee,
Old Sherwood! and whate'er my fate may be
In waning life, this now shall be my choice,
To tell a portion of posterity,
That oft thy hills and plains have heard my voice
In strains whose free-born airs in memory's glance rejoice.
Although no prospects awfully sublime
Strike with astonishment the wondering eye,
Yet here the green meads, in their loveliest prime,
Exhale their May-tide incense to the sky,
And here the wild birds send their hymns on high;
And nodding woods extend their darkening gloom;
And winding streams in harmony pass by;
And myriad heath-flowers, congregated, bloom;
And corn-fields waving mock famed Araby's perfume.
Such is its present state, — now glance we back
To time-corroded chronicles of old;
When the fierce Briton pierced his winding track
Through its dark opening to his nightly fold;
And Druid Priests, from memory's book, unrolled,
A portion dire of horrid mysteries;
Or roused to deadly fray the warriors bold,
While the dread cry of onset, through the trees,
Full to the adverse band, swell'd deathful on the breeze.
Here grew, irregular from nature's hand,
Oaks of primeval stateliness, which cast
A thickening round of branches o'er the land,
And, bending, waved defiance to the blast:
Ages to them were playthings, for they past
And others found them flourishing; — man's life
May well be deemed as nothing; nations vast,
Arts, dynasties, and language, may grow rife
And sink, ere they submit to time's o'erwhelming strife.
Oh! could imagination paint the scene
Of those gigantic Patriarchs of the wood!
And how they, clustering, joined the deer to screen,
Or curved in ranks, or solitary stood;
Methinks the prospect should inspire a mood
To contemplate, and worship Him, whose mind
Stirs in the still and night-like solitude,
Or breathes, in whispers, on the gentle wind,
Through vast cathedral groves — and leaves a calm behind.
And in the lower chase there mingling grew
Oak, Ash, and Elm, in wild variety;
Wilding and Maple, and the sombre Yew,
And thickening underwood; in mazes free,
The Fox and Coney, roamed at liberty;
From hazel boughs the Squirrel stored his lair;
And here, to many a wild-flower, came the bee
In intervening pastures; and the deer
Trooped o'er the hills and dales throughout the circling year.
Such were these forest haunts in days of yore;
When stalking forth, in painted nakedness,
The hardy savage chased the wolf and boar,
Or dragged them howling from their dark recess;
Or gored the timid hart; nor did the stress
Of pinching winter cramp their rugged frame;
In furry spoils they sallied out, nor less
Pursued, unchilled, the footsteps of their game,
To them an easy prey, alike or wild or tame.
Slight were their summer tenements, and wove
With branches from the trees which grew most nigh,
And fortified with turf: a quick remove
By them was little heeded, for thereby
They lost no claim to right of property;
And well to cleave the solid rock they knew,
To screen their bodies from the wintry sky;
There, to avoid protracted frosts, they flew,
Or when, in blinding drifts, the snowy tempest blew.
Remains of such myself have often seen,
Where the south confines of the ancient wood
O'erlooks the vale, where winds the placid Leen,
And Trent in majesty renews his flood.
Full many an hour I've passed, in musing mood,
Amidst these crumbling relics of past time:
Perhaps, here dwelt some chief of noble blood;
Or here some Druid held his state sublime,
And issued his behests, in mystery and crime.
There is a melancholy fills the mind
When fancy backward looks on ages past;
And, though it bear some pictures not unkind,
The general view looks sombre and aghast:
These caves, where twenty centuries the blast
Hath told Time's progress may have screened the brave;
And been a house of gentleness, that cast
A sigh, a tear, a hand to help and save,
Or strewed with flowers the sod that marked the Martyr's grave.
And so it is, look backward where we may,
We find no age that blood hath not defiled!
And none so infamous, but that a ray
Of noble virtue through the darkness smiled:
For proof of this we need not search the wild,
And ask the savage what his sires have told;
To polished clans the savage is a child;
Look to the classic chronicles of old,
And those which after times with sword and fire enrolled.
And yet we dwell with pleasure on the past,
As on the sweet remembrance of a dream;
'Tis gained in youth, e'er yet the brow's o'ercast,
Nor can reflecting manhood cloud the beam:
'Tis pleasing, and we welcome on its stream
To the last tottering verge of waning age:
And oh! 'tis soothing, for the brightening gleam
Recalls the days of youth, and from the page
Of history lights the torch that leads us from the stage.
Nor did the Britons haunt these wilds in vain—
Great Julius ne'er their labyrinths uncurled;
For while the southern coasts were heaped with slain,
Their woods escaped the Masters of the World ,
Until Agricola destruction hurled
Throughout the deepest forests of the land;
On Scotia's heights the conquering flag unfurled;
And the strong holds with veteran legions manned;
And civilizing arts, to break their spirit, planned.
Nor planned in vain — their martial fire no more,
When Rome, o'ergrown, was bending to her fall,
Ever re-kindled to that pitch of yore,
When blood stained rout could ne'er their hearts appal:
Weak was their Lord's bequest; a barrier wall
Small compensation was for valour lost;
Ages of inactivity and thrall
Made them unfit to guard the dangerous post,
Whence rushed the spoiling Scot, and savage Pictish host.
Timid and spiritless, once more they came
To where the forest spread its glooms profound;
And, like their sires, subsisted on its game,
And delved their secret mansions underground:
At length the pillaging invaders found
The conquered land exhausted of its store,
And left it desolate; from their woods around,
The natives ventured forth, to re-explore
Their happy cottage homes — but found those homes no more.
Woe and destruction to that wretched land,
In the sad hour of danger, and of fight,
Whose chief defence is bondsmen! and their strand
Is filled with fierce invaders in their might:
For what have they to lose? The proud delight
Of Freedom never to their breasts can flow;
They to their homes have but a second right;
The love of country little do they know,
Nor feel those ardent throbs which generous laws bestow.
Such the effects of Slavery on man;
Whose chains unnerve the sinews of the brave,
And make pale fear the captain of the van,
Who ceaseless points to an unworthy grave.
If freedom come, unlooked for, to the Slave,
Weak are his counsels, and his skill in arms
Fails, when the battle calls him on, to save
His country, or his kindred, and alarms
Unknown to freeborn man, his dastard soul disarms.
Where was the dauntless courage that impelled
Caractacus, the heroic and the bold!
When countless realms the Roman arms had quelled,
To keep his native land long uncontrouled;
And with gigantic power, tho' few, to hold
That freedom, dearer far than ought beside;
Kindling with patriot warmth, the weak and cold;
Valour, which when in chains new strength supplied,
And won the meed of praise — even from Roman pride?
Or that, which lived and glowed within the breast
Of Boadicea, Britain's injured Queen;
Whose wrongs had never been in part redressed,
If in her bosom cowardice had been?
Her's was a soul which held that being mean,
Who basely cringed beneath a conqueror's spear;
Revenge and death in her proud glance were seen;
She saw the Roman host, yet knew not fear;
And for her daughters' charms the plunderers paid full dear.
Examples worthy of a better age!
Spirits superior to your rugged race!
Yours is a record brief on history's page;
But still, a record time may not efface.
In deeds like yours, amidst a realm's disgrace,
We find redemption rarely to be found;
Compared with yours Napoleon's aims were base;
He fought to conquer — then was foiled and bound—
For freedom and for home ye bled and are renowned.
But now for them the dreadful die was cast:—
For soon as cultivation round them smiled,
Returned their northern foes, and like a blast
Consumed their wealth, and left the land a wild:
Nor were their treacherous allies more mild;
Horde after horde, the adventurous Saxon band,
Allured by conquest, in the sequel, piled
Extermination o'er the bleeding land;
Whence, amidst rocks unblest, they took their gloomy stand.
And now, old Sherwood! o'er thy forest bound,
Proud of their conquest, a rekindling race,
And with exulting shouts, with hawk and hound,
Bold chiefs, and Mercian kings, pursued the chase.
Oh, earth! what various changes on thy face,
What peals of triumph, and what cries of sorrow,
In the long lapse of time have taken place!
From which the Bard and the Historian borrow;
Yet may they not unfold the dark eventful morrow.
One tear the Britons claim; yet thence was spread,
Along the land, a renovating flame,
And a succession of events, which led
To the developement of mighty fame;
Hence we derive the dear immortal name
Of Alfred, Patriot, Law-giver, and King.
Blush, ye enlightened ages! blush for shame!
Time, in his dreary march, but few can bring,
Who match his glorious deeds of great imagining.
Sherwood! farewell awhile! but hark! the clang
Of War's shrill trumpet grates upon the soul:
And shall invasion print his blighting fang
Where Britain dares to lend her dread controul?
Go forth, heroic countrymen, the roll
Of your high daring fearlessly expand:
The event we doubt not; He, who guides the pole,
Will point your track with his Almighty hand,
To punish lawless sway, and free the suffering land.
And be the Patriot's sword successful ever!
And ever lowly laid the Invader's crest!
Ambition's spear be broken, that would sever
Affection's ties, which make our being blest!
Marring Love's paradise with War's unrest.
Ever victorious be the Patriot's sword,
Fighting for home or succouring the oppressed!
Whilst Freedom, Valour, Truth, and Love, accord
Nerve to his vigorous arm, death to his foes abhorred.
Stem winter is abroad o'er hill and dale;
The drifted snows have built their shelves on high;
An icy keenness, on the shriveling gale,
Comes thick and heavy from the northern sky;
More near the birds, in famished tameness, fly;
The flock and herd no wanton gambols play;
But conscious snuff the breeze, and slow pass by;
While the faint sun, with an unwarming ray,
Completes his evening watch to visit lands more gay.
I feel the season's terrors — wretched man
Is still non-suited with the will of heaven:
A peevish May can mar the narrow plan
Of the short-sighted peasant: all uneven
He deems the summer's glorious beams are given,
If threatening clouds o'erhang the ripening grain;
And often an autumnal rain has riven
The mighty slumbers of the simple swain,
And chill'd his buoyant hopes with fears and sorrows vain.
Come, smiling Hope! Anticipation come!
To fancy's eye disclose the joyous spring;
Lead where the snowdrop and the crocus bloom,
Bring violet perfumes on the breeze's wing;
Unclasp the primrose, bid the cowslip fling
Its incense back to heaven; let matins rise,
Till in imagination's ear shall ring
Each love-told hymn, that swells the April skies,
Ascending up to Him, all-potent and all-wise.
Enough, — old Sherwood now the song reclaims—
Oh, there is something in the sacred sound
Of Home and Country, thrillingly inflames,
And makes the Patriot's heart all-joyous bound!
And were my birth-place nought but barren ground,
Where but the ring, the furze, and hare-bell grew,
These should the foremost in my lays be found,
Fresh, and expanding in the morning dew,
And when the setting sun shone sweet at his adieu.
Here, in old time, beneath the Norman sway,
With many a baron and adventurous knight,
To hunt the hart, De Peverel led the way,
And pierced the wild roe in her bounding flight;
Here would the hunter from his steed alight,
To quench his thirst at some sequestered well;
Or seek some Abbey, while to solemn rite,
Calm through the Forest-trees, the Vesper-bell
Summoned its votaries home, pealing along the dell.
Here, too, the noble heart and dextrous hand,
Retir'd from war, pursued the sylvan game,
Whom soon blind honour; from Judea's land,
Called to another chase — the chase of fame:
Mad zeal was gone abroad, and ere the flame,
In frenzied conflict, fanned itself to rest,
Full many an orphan babe, and widowed dame,
In sorrow's gushing streams their loss expressed,
Which might not fill the void, deep harrowed in the breast.
These were the days of Knighthood and Romance,
And in despite of reason's better ray,
Imagination, with delighted glance,
Reverts, unsated, to their witching sway:
To tilt and tournament in bright array;
The champion's prowess, and the virgin's charms,
The minstrel harper, and the roundelay,
The rush of steeds and clash of burnished arms,
The onset and retreat, and shout of fierce alarms.
And, to allure us on through olden time,
The bard hath woven his enchanting tale;
Nor vainly wove; for oft the lay sublime
Leads us by murmuring stream and winding dale,
Where from some castle's tower, along the gale,
The plaint of love, of sorrow, and despair,
From captive princess in her midnight wail,
Implores her knight the desperate deed to dare,
Which breaks her prison-grate, and frees the weeping fair.
Such were the times when, quitting stately pride,
The brave Fitz-ooth, of great and noble blood,
Led to these forest scenes his blooming bride,
And owned the outlaw name of Robin-Hood:
Here with his bold copartners of the wood,
He knew the windings to each secret hold:
The fallow deer supplied their ready food;
And many a mark from wealthy priests they told,
To store their vault with wine, which renovates the bold.
Marian was beautiful; her golden hair
In graceful ringlets negligently curled;
Her sky-dyed eyes, too soon bedimmed with care,
Were seldom matched in the romantic world;
Chaste was her brow; from thence no glance was hurled,
Unseemly, to betray a wanton fire:
She loved her lord, and in his breast was furled
The sacred band which held each fond desire,
Toned sweetest in distress, like strings of minstrel's lyre.
By what impelled to haunt the forest wide
The scanty tales on record ill agree,
Yet all, whatever might his fate betide,
Term him the brave, the generous, and the free:
Doubtless, the iron hand of tyranny,
In deeds unjust, fell heavy on his soul;
And sure his noble mind disdained to see
Oppressive power exerting its controul,
And loathed the very act when he from bishops stole.
Whether alone with Marian he withdrew,
Or with him led a portion of his train,
Or found already there, a desperate few,
His garland chroniclers but ill explain;
So far, unblest; he merited the strain
Of loftier minstrelsy his worth to tell;
For he would heave a sigh o'er want and pain,
While from his eyes the drops of pity fell,
And oft he nerved his arm oppression to repel.
The rude and sombre features of the age,
While they constrained, still favoured his retreat;
And driven by crime, or shunning vassalage,
Fearless adventurers made his band complete;
And there, I ween, was played full many a feat,
When John and Scarlet, Stutely and the Friar,
Allen and Arthur, merrily would meet,
With all their crew around the greenwood fire,
The while some outcast harper struck the trembling wire.
His were those traits of virtue which redeem
His name from obloquy on history's page;
The unsought palm of popular esteem
Regilds his fame through each succeeding age;
And, in despite of time's corroding rage,
Which levels mausoleums to the dust,
Such worth will still our sympathies engage,
To praise those deeds, which no decaying rust
Can famish or obscure, — the actions of the just.
Cast amidst ignorance, and on the days
When superstition ruled with bigot sway,
Damped was that ardour, whose expanding rays,
If fostered well, had blest the noblest lay:
Ne'er was it his with harshness to dismay
The smile of chastity; the craving poor
Partook his store, and wended on their way;
Distress and sorrow, entering at his door,
Left misery behind, and thought of woe no more.
Active and brave, full well he knew to wield
The sword and buckler, and to bend the bow;
With giant force his arrows went afield,
Unerring, to arrest the flying foe:
And skilled the wild sonorous horn to blow,
Whose cadence rung through thicket, brake, and plain,
Oft, clad in green, and "tripping in a row,"
Its echoing sounds called forth his merry train
To fight in dangerous strait, or seek the woods again.
Admitting him an outlaw and a thief
Mankind have witnessed greater thieves than he!
What was the boasted Macedonian chief?
Or Nimrod, hunter of antiquity?
His little bind, from acts of clemency,
Esteemed him as a father, and a king:
If in his forest-kingdom slaves might be,
They were the wild deer, when his grey-goose wing
Bore to their sides his shafts, and there stood quivering.
The world his foe, who must not but admire
Those numerous virtues which around him smiled?
He had no malice, no revengeful ire;
Though monarch of the wood, in heart a child;
Man's blood but seldom stained his forest wild;
And only then to make some desperate stand,
When legal force into its power beguiled,
In thoughtless hour, his unsuspecting band,
And conflict unreserved had joined them hand to hand.
Nor will we deem that all his days were past
In drunken riot, and the dance and song;
Remembrance often would his brow o'ercast
Of early joys which led new hopes along,
When light in youth he joined a buoyant throng,
Counting on years of happiness to come;
Here, pondering silently the woods among,
Oft would he lose him in the thickest gloom,
To dream of no release but that beyond the tomb.
Let misnamed heroes range the blood-stained plain,
And mock the widows' tears they cause to flow;
Who seek ambition over heaps of slain
Shall meet with curses where they rivet woe;
Mistaking fame, with infamy they go,
On execrations, to the end of time:
Posterity a chaplet shall bestow,
Kept by affection in unceasing prime,
On the brave outlaw chief, who swayed with little crime.
Adieu, brave outlaw! and while ages sweep
Along old Sherwood's hills and fairy dales,
Here shall remembrance sanctuary keep,
When melancholy fills autumnal gales;
And when the virgin breath of spring prevails,
And the sad nightingale, in greenwood bowers,
'Midst solitude and midnight darkness wails,
Till the first minstrel of the morning towers,
Through the soft clouds of dawn, and sings o'er April showers.
Vicissitude hath been with mighty hand,
And bared the strong-holds in thy forest reign,
And given to better purposes the land,
To bless the labours of the toiling swain;
Yet, while an aged oak shall here remain,
Through which the wind shall herald time's decay,
Or with a rill shall murmur o'er the plain,
The gentle mind will meditate, and say,
"Perchance, where now I stand the Prince of Outlaws lay."
There is a bliss to contemplation dear,
A charm the great of ancient days have found
In forest solitudes. Retirement there
Learns tales of Him who fills yon blue profound!
The gush of fountains, and the thrilling sound
Of myriad leaves, that wanton in the wind;
The incense-offerings from the Bowers around,
The vesper birds, the twilight unconfined,
Leading the orbs of night to mock the flight of mind.
And, since that all of human kind have woes,
There may the wounded bosom seek redress,
Denied in crowds, — society foregoes
That sacred calm derived from loneliness:
There the relenting guilty may confess
In the free shrine assigned by mighty heaven;
Where no confessors feed on wickedness,
But absolutions pure and just are given
By that great Judge alone, whose lifted scale is even.
There may reflection ponder o'er the past,
When dissipation, mingling grief and shame,
Slackened the heart-strings, and the brow o'ercast,
And chilled the energies of manhood's flame;
When the foiled stimulus to virtuous fame
Receded from its action; and the mind,
Self captured, to inactive bondage came,
While years rolled on, unheeded as the wind,
Yet pierced the unguarded soul, and left the shaft behind.
Where is the soul unpierced? For heedless youth
Throws its redundant seeds o'er pleasure's field,
And manhood reaps the fruit, 'midst tares of ruth,
Yet still builds baby-pyramids to shield
From future storms; whose fragile structures yield
To the first gale that agitates the skies;
Exiled from these, his weak resolves to wield,
He climbs some mole-hill mountain, and defies
United winds and floods, but falls when they arise.
And such is man, the bubble of creation!
The paragon of reason and of sway!
Who rears huge fabrics on a frail foundation,
Which, with the playful blast, are swept away:
Time glories with his high-wrought schemes to play,
And broods in mockery o'er the wasted pile;
He lifts the wild flower on the dome's decay;
The dock and nettle skirt the ruined aisle,
And glory's painted halls the snail and bat defile.
He battles ocean's tempests for a name,
Or, what is worse, for wealth and little pride;
He spreads war's terrors to accomplish fame,
And happy falls in his gigantic stride;
He breaks his nightly slumbers to provide
Ease and retirement for decaying age;
And bids ennobling sympathies subside,
While death, perhaps, as widening plans engage,
Comes, with relentless scythe, and sweeps him from the stage.
Yet are there aims which grace the noble mind,
And meet their well-earned plaudits of esteem,
And draw affection's tear-drops from mankind,
And gild mortality's declining beam;
And cast beyond the tomb that brightening gleam
Which finds its fuel in the hearts of men;
And points expanding merit to the stream
Of noble daring, when with sword, or pen,
Ambition strides to save, or brightens human ken.
True worth but little needs the pompous bust,
Or splendid monument its deeds to tell!
Or gilded tomb erected o'er its dust;
They only serve the youthful breast to swell
With generous emulation, when we dwell
With admiration o'er the noble dead;
And their effect succeeds, if it impel
To imitate the great who nobly bled,
Or o'er the reign of mind reviving influence shed.
The night-wind moans around me: — there's a mood
Of melancholy vibrates on its wings;
The soul imbibes its tones of solitude;
They bear a record of departed things,
Which haply probe the heart with forked stings,
And drive remembrance into former years;
And vex the mind with woe's disquietings;
While a dark scroll Anticipation rears,
Marked with a transcript vile depicting unborn cares.
Now sobs and howls the fluctuating gale:
Methinks I see the ship 'midst mountain waves,
Toppling and plunging, as their peaks assail
Her crashing sides; while the fierce tempest raves,
And delves in darkness its unfathomed graves,
And straight refils them — to the sea-bird's cry,
Which screams a funeral dirge, 'midst rocks and caves,
For drowning seamen; while the rattling sky
Rolls its inconstant clang of dreadful harmony.
There is sublimity pervades the sound
Of wintry storms, although they bring distress
To wretched man: what organ tones are found
To match the peals of ocean's wilderness!
And even this tempest, though it sorely press
On the faint pilgrim, shrinking from its fangs,
Speaks with a voice of awful holiness!
And, in yon depth of forest glooms, harangues
With an unanswered speech, that wakes conviction's pangs.
Sweet is the breeze of spring, that wafts along
The breath of incense from unnumbered flowers,
And the full anthem of the woodland throng;
And sweet the gale, that fans the summer bowers:
And oh! how doubly sweet is that which towers
To loftiest thrillings in the year's decline;
Wailing through falling leaves and pattering showers!
And dear the wintry storms; for all combine
To demonstrate a Power, Omniscient and Divine.
Perhaps of this too much — Time, whispering, calls
The final sequel to my forest lay;
And though, unmarked, his silent finger falls,
It holds a spell to wither and dismay;
And strews grey hairs on the meridian day
Of manhood's beauty; and with ease can chase
The smile from cheerful brows, and delve a way
For deep and lasting furrows in the face;
And throw Despair therein, to claim his dwelling-place.
Now be it mine with pilgrim thought to go
And view thy forest, Sherwood, far and wide;
And mark where solitary old oaks grow,
The lingering remnants of greenwood pride;
Knotted and bent they stand, their trunks divide
In gloomy token of longevity:
Time on their crowns his might has ratified,
Yet still they smile through eld's deformity,
When spring, in robes of green, protracts their destiny.
And still some dreary tracks of heath remain,
As in despite of cultivation's skill;
Where furze and blackthorn blossom not in vain,
For there the linnet trims his little bill,
And warbles his devotions; there, at will,
The wild bee sips the dew from fox-glove bells,
Or hides within the blooms that skirt the rill;
Or on the scabius or the bedstraw dwells,
Or where the yellow broom a feast ecstatic swells.
And here and there some wild and woody scene
Reminds the wanderer of ancient days,
When painted Britons, or when Outlaws green,
O'ertook the roebuck in the tangled maze:
But here no more the hind or roebuck strays,
In boundless freedom, over hill and dale;
Yet safe and free the new-born lambkin plays;
And the spring tinkles still that simple tale
Which swelled in earliest times the murmur of the gale.
And oft the peasant, as he breaks the soil,
Finds ruined vestiges of Roman pride,
Villas and camps, the works of mighty toil,
Medals and coins of warriors deified;
And oft the woodman, as his tools divide
Knarled oaks, which braved long centuries of old,
Sees, where within their solid boles abide,
The barbs of arrows; while boars' tusks unfold
Tales of departed times historians have not told.
Where yonder time-worn oaks the tempest brave,
Their arms wide-spreading clumber to adorn,
And round Newcastle's noble mansion wave,
Like speechless chroniclers to years unborn,
Once bloomed, serene as blossom on the thorn,
The earliest patron of my minstrel lays;
But all too soon her matchless bloom was torn
By that fell despot, whose cold hand decays
The rarest gems of earth, nor melts in virtue's rays.
Alas! the needy vainly dropp'd the tear,
Tears may not satisfy the yawning tomb:
The sweetest flowers that usher in the year
To vernal frosts surrender up their bloom;
And even the beams of Maytide suns consume
Their vestal loveliness; yet give to weeds,
That vex the peasant, a protracted doom;
Secure they lift their heads, and cast their seeds
Which autumn gales diffuse, and plenteous growth succeeds.
Oh! what is life? A rainbow in the storm!
And what is man, creation's boasted lord?
Ruin, amidst his joys, obtrudes her form;
His life — pulsation, and his breath — a word;
His days — "a span," yet on that span a horde
Of withering cares, in ceaseless ambush, tend—
To snatch earth's jewels in their grasp abhorred,
The heart of sympathy, the dearest friend,
While knaves, through ripening age, go prowling to their end.
Hence wending slowly near to Welbeck shades
I roam, where Poulter murmuring winds along;
And gentle Meden strays through Thoresby glades;
And man still rolls his forest haunts among;
But lo! where yonder claim the minstrel's song
The mouldring ruins of a kingly dome!
Here, oft retiring with his hunter throng,
The timid despot sought this greenwood home,
When foiled by England's Peers, or vexed by haughty Rome.
These forest solitudes have been the haunt
Of fearful phantoms to his guilty mind;
And Arthur's injured ghost would often daunt
His soul, with wailings on the midnight wind,
For he, to mercy and to justice blind,
Defiled his sceptre with a kinsman's blood:
Heaven did for this fit retribution find,
And gave its vengeance to the whelming flood,
And sunk him to the grave with sorrow's withering brood.
Yet hence we date our freedom — heaven decreed
The worthless tyrant should not live in vain;
Reluctantly compelled, be signed the deed
Which dignifies our link within the chain
Of nations; — greatest or by land or main;—
Our bulwark Independence, and our arms
Valour's unshrinking might to scour the plain;
Dreadful to foes in battle's fierce alarms;
Yet mild o'er prostrate ranks compassion's sunbeam warms.
Oh, Power! when thou to baseness art allied,
Heaven to afflict no greater curse can send;
A two-edged sword thou wieldest to divide
The tenderest sympathies; thy mandates rend
The confidence uniting friend to friend;—
Thine is no common crime; avenging Heaven
Will all thy dark misdoings comprehend,
And to thy face a record shall be given
Of innocence o'erthrown, and hearts asunder riven.
Fools! to relinquish that exalting thrill
Which swells to ecstacy the noble breast;
When o'er a realm affection's dews distil,
And make a monarch and his people blest!
To lose that quietude of nightly rest,
Lulled by the opiate of a nation's prayers;
The greatest slaves amidst a land oppressed;
Planting misrule to reap corroding cares
They die, — and exultations close their hated years.
Now journeying on by Rainworth's fairy stream,
Where stood the Abbey, famed in days of old,
The mind surveys, as through a youthful dream,
The curtal Friar, and Sherwood's Outlaw bold;
And often shall their merry jest be told,
While gravity itself a smile shall yield;
For Fountaindale will never more behold
Jest like to that, in greenwood, stream, or field,
Nor e'er shall priest like him the hempen penance wield.
The smile forbear — for now, through yonder shade,
I see grey Newstead's consecrated pile:
There hath the Poet hallowed every glade,
And poured his lays through each resounding aisle,
'Twas there he strung his harp, and bade the smile
Of fame immortal beam upon his song:
The worm of wasting Time may not defile
The charm that sweeps his "Pilgrim" strain along,
Which little needs the praise of this unpolished tongue.
Yon village church enshrines his mortal clay,
No longer by conflicting passions torn;
For there corruption revels in decay,
And strides o'er greatness with insulting scorn:
There rests the tongue, whose accents could adorn
The fairest fictions of the Poet's mind;
And failings, of impetuous genius born,
A stern contempt, with virtue's beam combined,
Which dipped his words in gall, or sneered at frail mankind.
And now, from scenes remote I haste away
To where wild Thorney skirts my native plains,
And, pleased, from rugged Maperly survey
Haunts ever dear in joys and wasting pains:
Ye solitudes! where fond remembrance reigns,
And broods o'er pleasures of departed hours,
And early pangs which chilled my youthful veins,
Ye lift a talisman, whose spell devours
The smile of manhood's noon, and pours its mildew showers.
Yet hail, thou dearest spot beneath the skies!
And hail, fair Nottingham! — albeit thy name
Is not poetical, yet from thee rise
Names mounting up to virtue, and to fame.
There polished Wakefield drew that kindling flame
Whose warmth endeared him to the hearts of men;
Mild o'er his soul the kind affections came,
No classic beauty 'scaped his piercing ken,
But like the dew-drop's rays fell gladdening from his pen.
Meek in thy lap the youthful White was born,
But early blighted, like the primrose pale,
Which bears its breast beneath the leafless thorn,
And yields its beauties to the evening gale:
His unproved, fragile bark was all too frail
To stem the fury of tempestuous waves;
And, ere the breakers spent their deadly bale,
Foundered amidst the ocean's whelming caves,
Struggling to compass fame in sight of yawning graves.
Fame's barren plaudits were his dirge in death;
Neglect and coldness froze his mortal fire;
As when from melting snows the north wind's breath
Congeals the icicle's inverted spire;
At spring's return the northern gales retire,
And the warm sunbeams loose the curdled snows,
And bid them in ten thousand globes aspire
To fall in dew-drops where the violet blows,
Or bathe the blush of June with incense from the rose.
So has it ever been, and still shall be!
Let genius pine and struggle through life's stage,
And drain, unseen, the cup of misery
Through the defiles of nature's pilgrimage;
Collecting jewels to adorn the page
That lives a monument of boast and shame,
Unshrinking in the grasp of wasting age,
While, to oblivion, falls each grovelling name
Which raised the blighting gale to chill the generous flame.
A thousand votaries crowd the path to fame,
And fill each inlet to the hallowed shrine!
Some boast the fair appendage of a name,
And some in juntos claim the boon divine:
Pretending bands, in secret, undermine
The walks of genius, and impede its toil;
Fame's mount repels them and they fall supine,
While modest worth, at day's departing smile,
With faint, exhausted step, o'ertops the dangerous pile.
Yet, for all this, may genius still maintain
The dignity its sacred pledge requires;
Nor stoop to soil the magic of its strain
With poisonous witchcraft of unhallowed fires;
Nor pander to ambition's fierce desires,
Who tramples frail humanity to dust;
But be the song what truth alone inspires,
Let virtue, ever jealous of her trust,
Lift infamy to vice, and honour to the just.
Sherwood! this tribute shall conclude the song—
If I have failed to give thee homage due,
May one, more happy, from thy minstrel throng,
In loftier strains thy bowery shades bedew:
For apathy contracts my purposed view,
Which haply leaves a portion yet untold;
Yet have not my devotions been untrue;—
The rose adorns not Greenland's desert cold,
But craves a milder clime its beauties to unfold.
Oh! thou hast been my joy in boyhood hours,
My solace in the cares that wait on man!
And thou hast seen my path disrobed of flowers,
And disarrangement mar each flattering plan;
And I have striven, with piercing glance, to scan
The primal grandeur of thy forest shade;
When thy huge Oaks embowered the British clan,
And the fierce Wolf and Boar, in brake and glade,
Around each tangled haunt, their midnight howlings made.
And I have sung, perchance with faltering strain,
How England's Princes hunted in thy chase;
Of merry outlaws, "tripping o'er the plain,"
As fancy's beam their record might retrace;
And how thy wildering labyrinths gave place
To the refining hand of polished times;
And cultivation, now with steady pace,
Wide o'er thy plains the tardy soil sublimes,
And casts a smile around which rivals better climes.
Had it been mine a loftier strain to raise,
Thy meads and woodland solitudes should dwell
Fresh in the memory of future days,
And fair as virgin spring-flowers in the dell,
When April dews their vestal bosoms swell,
And bear their perfumes to the morning hours!
Man strives in vain if Destiny repel;
And spring must wither if deprived of showers—
In vain the bee would roam o'er lands unblest with flowers.
Such as it is, farewell! The drops of night
Shall fall with gentlest influence on thy breast;
And morning gales shall whisper of delight,
And softly wake thy youthful band from rest;
And, although mine may be a fate unblest,
The sun, with mildest beams, shall touch thy shades;
Thy hills and dales shall be with beauty drest,
When withering death thy minstrel's heart invades,
And o'er his mouldering dust spring sweet the grassy blades.