1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christ walking on the Sea. Verses illustrative of the Frontispiece, drawn and engraved by John Martin.

A New Year's Eve, and other Poems. By Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton


Seven ecphrastic Spenserians: John Martin (1789-1854) was known for painting Biblical subjects in vast and visionary landscapes. Charles Lamb, who did not approve of Barton's taste in pictures, wrote of Martin's Belshazzar "he is showy in all that is not the human figure or the preternatural interest: but the first are below a drawing-school girl's attainment, and the last is a phantasmagoric trick" 11 June 1827; in Letters, ed. E. V. Lucas (1935) 3:98.

Edward Fitzgerald: "With little critical knowledge of pictures, he was very fond of them, especially such as represented scenery familiar to him — the shady lane, the heath, the corn-field, the village, the seashore. And he loved after coming away from the bank to sit in his room and watch the twilight steal over his landscapes as over the real face of nature, and then lit up again by fire or candle light. Nor could any itinerant picture-dealer pass Mr. Barton's door without calling to tempt him to a now purchase. And then was B. B. to be seen, just come up from the bank, with broad-brim and spectacles on, examining some picture set before him on a chair in the most advantageous light; the dealer recommending, and Barton wavering, until partly by money, and partly by exchange of some older favourites, with perhaps a snuff-box thrown in to turn the scale; a bargain was concluded — generally to B. B's great disadvantage and great content" Memoir of Barton (1850) 38-39.



The multitudes, miraculously fed,
Had to their distant homes been sent away;
Jesus had sought, apart, the mountain — head,
'Mid nature's silent solitude to pray:
In darkness and in storm had closed the day,
And on the water of Gennesaret
The bark which held his faithful followers, lay
Tossed to and fro; — their Master comes not yet!
Can he who fed the crowd, his chosen few forget?

Believe it not: — though heaven above be dark,
And ocean stormy, still his love and might
Are with the inmates of that little bark;
And, in the fourth watch of the fearful night,
A heavenly form arrayed in vestments bright,
Treads with unfaltering feet the billowy tide:
The moon has risen, and sheds her silvery light
Full on that form which toward them seems to glide,
As if the winds to chain, and all their fears to chide.

Can it be human? One of mortal mould
Could walk not thus the waves in majesty!
Fear strikes the timid, awe o'ercomes the bold,
As, underneath that shadowy moon — lit sky,
The glorious vision silently draws nigh,
Shining more brightly from surrounding shade;
"It is a spirit!" in their fear they cry:—
Soon does their Master's voice those fears upbraid,
"Be of good cheer," he says, "'Tis I, be not afraid!"

Peter goes forth to meet him: but the sound
E'en of the sinking tempest's lingering breath,
The clouds of night yet darkly hovering round,
The parting waves, his only path beneath,
Recall to him but images of death,
And fear had sank him: — but with out-stretched hand,
His Lord exclaims, "O thou of little faith!
Why didst thou doubt?" his hope and faith expand;
And by his Master's side he walks as on dry land.

Oh! well might they before whose eyes were trod
The deep's unyielding waves, then worship Thee;
Confess Thee of a truth the Son of God,
And bend in prayer and praise the reverend knee:
Should their's, alone, such rites of homage be?
Forbid the thought! unseen of mortal eye
Even in this day, on life's tempestuous sea,
Thou walk'st its waves when stormy winds are high,
Thy people's guide and guard: nor wilt thou pass them by!

As to thy loved disciples in their bark
Thou showedst Thyself upon that fearful night,
E'en now when waves are rough, and skies are dark,
Dost thou, in condescending love, delight
To manifest thy saving arm of might
For such as look to thee alone for aid;
To those who walk by faith and not by sight
Yet visible in sorrow's dreariest shade,
And heard proclaiming still, "'Tis I, be not afraid!"

Then wind and wave are hushed, and all is calm;
Light from above breaks forth, the clouds are riven,
And for the cry of fear, the grateful psalm
Of joy and praise is to the spirit given:
No more the bark is tempest-tossed or driven,
But, as in this delightful, tranquil scene,
The parting clouds ope vistas into heaven;
For fear and doubt spring faith and hope serene,
And holy peace presides where horror late hath been.

Saviour, Redeemer, and Incarnate Word!
Since Scripture hath declared that every knee
To Thee shall bow, each tongue confess Thee "Lord"
In mercy or in judgment; grant that we
May in the hour of mercy bow to Thee!
If not — in judgment, gracious Lord! arise;
And on the wave of trial's stormiest sea,
Beneath the gloom of sorrow's darkest skies,
Come as thou camest of yore to Thy disciples' eyes.

[pp. 240-44]