1793
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Marie Antoinette's Lamentation, in her Prison of the Temple.

The Oracle (8 March 1793).

Mary Robinson


Thirteen irregular Spenserians (ababcc — one with the alexandrine), signed "Laura Maria, March 5, 1793." Marie Antoinette was imprisoned with her husband in the Temple, and after Louis was executed, in the Conciergerie. She was guillotined 16 October 1793. Though written in a different stanza, this seems to be a companion poem to her "A Fragment. Supposed to be written near the Temple on the Night before the Murder of Louis XVI." They were followed by a moral elaborate production, Monody to the Memory of the late Queen of France (1793), which was puffed in The Oracle for 18 December 1793.

Mary Robinson's literary celebrity in 1793 would be difficult to overestimate; the newspapers were filled with praises of her beauty (Robinson was a cripple by this point) and her genius. She may well have received more verse tributes during her brief life than any previous poet. Her fame was not to last, however; like so much else produced during the age of sensibility it proved to have a short shelf-life.



When on my bosom Evening's ruby light
Through my thrice-grated window warmly glows,
Why does the cheerful ray offend my sight,
And with its lustre mock my weary woes?
Alas! because, on my sad breast appears
A dreadful Record — written with my Tears!

When awful Midnight, with her Ebon Wand,
Charms Nature's poorest, meanest Child to peace,
Why cannot I one little hour command,
When gentle Sleep may bid my anguish cease?
Alas! because where'er I lay my head,
A dreary couch I find, with wounding thorns o'erspread.

When the SUN, rising in the Eastern skies,
Awakes the feather'd race to Songs divine,
Why does Remembrance picture to these eyes
The jocund morn of life, that once was mine?
Alas! because in Sorrow doom'd to mourn,
I ne'er shall see that blissful morn return!

When I behold my darling INFANTS sleep,
Fair-spotless blossoms, deck'd in fading charms,
Why do I start aghast, and wildly weep,
And madly snatch them to my eager arms?
Ah me! because my sense, o'erwhelm'd with dread,
Views the sweet CHERUBS on their Funeral Bed!

Why, when they ope their eyes to gaze on Me,
And fondly press me in their dear embrace,
Hang on my neck, or clasp my trembling knee,
Why do maternal Sorrows drench my face?
Alas! because inhuman hands unite,
To tear from my fond Soul its last delight!

Of fell Barbarity! yet spare awhile
The sacred Treasures of my throbbing breast;
Oh spare their infant hearts, untouch'd by guile,
And let a widow'd Mother's Darlings rest!
Though you have struck your faulchions at the ROOT,
Oh! give the tender BRANCHES time to shoot!

The Lightning, by the angry Tempest cast,
Strikes at the lofty PINE, and lays it low;
While the small Flowret 'scapes the deadly blast,
Awhile its od'rous breath around to throw!
Then let distracted Gallia's LILIES bloom,
Though but to deck with sweets a Dungeon's gloom!

Oh my poor INNOCENTS! all bath'd in tears,
Like with'ring LILIES, wash'd with chilling dew!
SLEEP ON! nor heed a frantic Mother's fears;
The SAVAGE TIGERS will not injure You!
Your harmless bosoms not a Crime can know,
Scarce born to GREATNESS — e'er consign'd to WOE!

When left forlorn, dejected, and alone,
Imperfect sounds my pensive Soul annoy;
I hear in every distant mingling tone,
The merry BELLS — the boist'rous SONGS OF JOY!
Ah! then I contemplate my loathsome Cell,
Where meagre GRIEF and scowling HORROR dwell!

The City's din — the TOCSIN'S fateful sound—
The CANNON thund'ring through the vaulted Sky—
The curling smoke, in columns rising round,
Which from my Iron Lattice I descry,
Rouse my Lethargic Mind! I shriek in vain,
My TYRANT JAILOR only mocks my pain!

Yet bear thy woes, my SOUL, with proud disdain,
Meet the keen lance of DEATH with steadfast eye;
Think on the glorious tide that fills each Vein,
And throbbing bids THEE, tremble not, TO DIE!
Yet shall I from my friendless Children part?
Oh! all the MOTHER rushes to my heart!

Where'er I turn, a thousand ills appear,
Arm'd at all points, in terrible array!
Pale, hoodwink'd Murder, ever lurking near,
And coward Cruelty, that shuns the day!
See! See! they pierce with many a recreant Sword,
The mangled bosom of my bleeding LORD!

Oh, dreadful thought! Oh agony supreme!
When will the sanguinary scene be o'er?
When will my SOUL, in sweet Oblivion's dream,
Fade from this ORB, to some more peaceful shore?
When will the CHERUB PITY break the snare,
And save ONE VICTIM from the LAST DESPAIR!

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