1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

St. Denis and the Mulberry Tree.

Poems Original and Translated by John Herman Merivale now first collected. 2 Vols.

John Herman Merivale


23 irregular Spenserians (abbaccddC): an Ovidian episode. With unintentional irony, John Herman Merivale holds up Shakespeare and Spenser as examples of true taste in contrast to "courtly" refinement. These Wartonian effusions are followed by a brief narrative illustrative of the pleasures of romance.



From Nile's hot regions, by the viewless gale
Of warm imagination borne along,
And the resistless power of wizard song,
Turn, gentle muse! to Tempe's flowery vale—
Delicious Tempe — where the Thracian bard
Of old amid the echoing caves was heard
By stones and trees, that, waken'd by his lyre,
Felt the soft breathings of poetic fire,
And, bounding to the strain, their new-born joys declared.

Yet not of Greece or Rome's enchanting lore,
The Mantuan flute or Syracusan reed—
More barbarous times — an iron age — succeed,
And darken all the Muses' favour'd shore.
Not now of swains who, with alternate song,
Bad Phoebus linger, whilst his journey long
He sought to finish at his western gate;
While Nymphs applauded, and in rustic state
Time-honour'd judges sat the rival bards among.

Still rugged Oeta lifts his cloudy head,
And high Olympus with eternal snows;
Still through his valleys pure Enipeus flows,
And their old woods o'er Haemus' cliffs are spread:
But Love and Music there no longer dwell;
Foul monsters lurk in every savage dell;
The clank of arms the sovereign wood-nymphs frights;
Wild Fauns sit trembling on their ancient heights,
No more secure, and Pan has left his royal cell.

Oh yet revisit thy once loved domain,
Immortal Muse! and tune the Gothic lyre,
And with the breath of wild romance inspire
The shores once echoing to a classic strain.
Not inharmonious through the pastoral shade
Where Thyrsis erst, and Meliboeus play'd,
Shall sound the lay of arms, and steed, and knight,
(Fancy's creation) nor without delight
Oh let me in the lap of Faerie be laid!

For who, to please a cold, fastidious age,
Would lop each wilding shoot that nature gave,
Banish the clowns that dig Ophelia's grave,
Or chase Lear's simple follower from the stage?
Shall yonder tower be of its ivy spoil'd,
Or brushwood from the cavern's mouth exiled?
Tasteless Reformer! — thy "sublime" and "fair:
May form a thesis for the pedant's chair;
But thee the Muse ne'er loved, nor Fancy call'd her child.

To me more dear are Nature's strangest forms,
The rudest structures of the Poet's hand,
Than palaces with art Palladian plann'd,
Though placed secure from reach of Critic storms.
I hail the giant oak's fantastic boughs,
The huge misshapen mountain's shaggy brows;
Nor less the wanton windings of the brook,
The streams that gush from every wayward nook,
And, roaring through the vale, far mountain echoes rouse.

But chiefly you, great masters of the lyre!
Who struck as nature moved, as fancy reign'd;
Whom no cold rules of modern art restrain'd
But the great Muse herself exalted higher.
For one bright hue from Shakspeare's magic loom,
For one stray feather cast from Spenser's plume,
Say, would I not each courtlier grace resign?
—Immortal Muse! Then never more be mine
Enjoyment's rapturous trance, or Awe's ecstatic gloom!

'Twas thus, beneath a hawthorn's snowy bower
Reclining laid, lull'd by the ceaseless noise
Of summer flies, I dream'd of former joys,
And felt again the soft poetic power,
Long absent; for below the open sky,
She dwells, and shuns the confined paths where I
Must the sweet season spend, until the days
Slow rolling bring me back where Isca strays
Thro' my loved native fields, land of my minstrelsy.

Nor Isca only wakes my slumbering lyre,
Ah no! Love strung it on the banks of Thames:
Her image mingles with the noon-tide flames,
Whose morning smiles engender'd first the fire.
Hers is the spell that sped my tuneful vein;
And of her beauties and my love I feign
Would only sing; but the great Muse denies:
Yet, — wilt thou take the unworthy sacrifice?
To thee and Richmond will I dedicate my strain.

Again from Thames to old Enipeus borne
In Fancy's airy barque, I see a knight
Thro' the deep valley ride in armour bright:
The fleurs de lys his azure coat adorn;
From his proud helm three waving feathers fall;
The white cross glitters on his velvet pall:
His courteous airs a noble race bespeak;
By his sweet tongue ye might have deem'd him Greek;
But his embroider'd arms bespeak a knight of Gaul.

And who is he, the youth so fresh and fair,
With sparkling crest and dancing plumage gay?
And on what bold adventure does he stray
So far from his loved Seine's maternal care?
To exalt in distant regions Gallia's fame,
And spread Religion's empery his aim,
Long had he lain enslaved to Grammarye;
And now but late from Khalyb's spells set free
By Britain's Champion bold; and Denis is his name.

Ah why has Beauty so confined a date?
Why bow the brave to Time's all-conquering power?
The violet droops beneath the thunder shower,
And lightning rends the Oak's majestic state.
So mighty man to Time and Chance must yield;
A stranger doom, by history unreveal'd,
Untold before in song, must Denis prove,
And, ere he win a matchless virgin's love,
Roam thro' Thessalian shades a savage of the field.

And must that noble front wide antlers bear?—
That form, which stands erect, and braves the sky,
Descend, and prone on earth's mean bosom lie?
That gentle skin be cased in horrid hair?
Yes. On Enipeus' banks there stood a tree,
From whose rich boughs the tempting mulberry
In luscious clusters lured the hungry knight—
(Ah luckless hour that e'er they met his sight!—)
He rends the loaded branch — the life blood follows free.

The warm stream gushing from the wounded plant
Not long the knight in silent wonder view'd,
Ere a faint shriek sent forth the labouring wood
That seem'd thro' every shoot to shrink and pant.
At length a female voice pursued the sound,
Sweet, though disturb'd and plaintive from the wound.
"Tear not my tender flesh! — kind youth, forbear!
Ah re-unite the branch with generous care,
Nor leave me thus to pour my life out on the ground!"

As when some swain, with pleasing cares of love,
Tends his bright mistress thro' embowerÈd meads,
Perchance a straggling rose his path impedes,
Or tangled wood-bine pendant from above,
Sportive he leaps the tempting flower to tear,
To deck her bonnet or entwine her hair;
If from the leaves a lurking adder dart,
He drops the prize; strange horrors chill his heart,
All motionless he stands, nor flies the deadly snare.

So stood the knight as from that injured wood
(Unfeeling deem'd) he heard the voice of woe
—A virgin's voice — in plaintive accents flow.
At length her suit the Mulberry thus renew'd:
"What lust of blood, O cruel knight, detains
Thy ruthless hand, and wantons in thy veins?
O stain to arms! — I ask no mighty boon—
Repair the ills those torturing hands have done!
To bind the sever'd shoot requires no wondrous pains.

"Or does the dread of magic spell control?
Fear not, Sir knight! — no wizard here you see;
And of what sorceries animate this tree
My hand is guiltless, though I reek the dole."
As thus she sued, the champion heard, ashamed,
His courage question'd, and his knighthood blamed;
Compassion sway'd his courteous mind no less;
For well he ween'd some damsel in distress
Spake from that Mulberry stem, and knightly succour claim'd.

Yet, ere his hands the reeking members close,
The afflicted trunk proclaim'd a sudden fear,
And thus exclaim'd: "Ah, yet the warning hear,
Which my strange fate compels me to disclose.
And Oh, may Heaven thy noble breast inspire
With dauntless valour's never-dying fire!
Nor be my wishes vain, which points to thee,
The Saviour promised by that dark decree,
Whose star and mine in Heaven eternally conspire.

"Thus then the power that fix'd me in this rind,
Compels me, trembling, hoping, to declare.
If to my earnest suit you bend an ear,
And the lopp'd branch again by thee be join'd,
From prison worse than death you free a maid,
Than whom a fairer graced not Tempe's shade;
A fiendish Sorcerer's spell you overthrow,
Bid a great monarch's heart with joy o'erflow,
And with his daughter's love the deed shall be repaid.

"Yet, ere the spell be broke, and damsel freed,
Seven tedious years the wizard uncontroll'd
Must o'er this vale unquestion'd empire hold.
Seven tedious years, ('tis so by fate decreed,)
If to thy knighthood true, by pity sway'd,
By dark Satanic engines undismay'd,
Thou dare achieve this feat-seven tedious years,
Thyself, amid perpetual griefs and fears,
Must linger out a hopeless life in Tempe's shade.

"More that stern power forbids me to declare,
What torments wait thee, and what toils beset:
If, darkly told, they fright, avoid them yet!
Leave me to bleed, and shun the fearful snare.
Still may'st thou safe from Tempe's vale retire,
New glories wait thee, other loves inspire;
From these deep shades no tongue can e'er repeat
To scandal's ear the shame of base retreat;
Thine honour still may shine with undiminish'd fire."

"O gentle Knight!". . . . but here her accents fail;
For now the hardening fibres choke her breath,
And heavier fall the thickening drops of death.
Who but may guess the sequel of my tale?
Who doubts if Denis, true to knightly vow,
With tender care restored the sever'd bough;
Seven years content his alter'd form to keep,
In faith assured the bright reward to reap,
And pay for future bliss the fine of suffering now?

'Twas faith like this, in Nature's virgin prime,
Ere all of good, or great, or fair, or just,
Lay in the scale like grains of worthless dust,
Against successful fraud, and purpled crime;
Ere Truth was forced the sceptre to resign,
And blasts of Mammon banish'd airs divine;
'Twas faith like this, ensuring power to save,
To English George his rescued Sabra gave,
And noble Denis crown'd with love of Eglantine.

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