1804 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Liberty.

The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, late of St. John's College, Cambridge; with an Account of His Life, by Robert Southey. Volume III.

Henry Kirke White


An unfinished and belatedly-published fragment in imitation of Milton's L'Allegro: But come, thou goddess, blithe and free, | Thou mountain-maid, sweet Liberty! | With buskin'd knee, and bosom bare, | Thy tresses floating in the air: | Come, — and treading on thy feet" p. 114. Henry Kirk White presents a progress of Liberty in the manner of Thomson and Collins, terminating in reflections on its suppression by the French Revolution and survival in the "green isles" of Britain. The "Ode to Liberty" was first published in 1822; Robert Southey includes it among the "Poems of Later Date."

Literary Gazette: " An Ode to Liberty is too direct an imitation to merit notice.... the admirers of Kirke White have seen higher efforts of his genius than this volume contains; but they will find in it much to confirm their admiration of that estimable Being, and augment the sorrow with which his premature fate has been so generally regretted" (15 June 1822) 367-68.

Lord Byron: "Henry Kirke White died at Cambridge, in October 1806, in consequence of too much exertion in pursuit of studies that would have matured a mind which disease and poverty could not impair, and which Death itself destroyed rather than subdued. His poems abound in such beauties as must impress the reader with the livliest regret that so short a period was allotted to talents, which would have dignified even the sacred functions he was destined to assume" English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) in Poetical Works, ed. E. H. Coleridge (1898-1904) 1:363n.



Hence to thy darkest shades, dire Slavery, hence!
Thine icy touch can freeze,
Swift as the Polar breeze
The proud defying port of human sense.
Hence to thine Indian cave,
To where the tall canes whisper o'er thy rest,
Like the murmuring wave
Swept by the dank wing of the rapid west:
And at the night's still noon,
The lash'd Angolan, in his grated cell,
Mix'd with the tyger's yell,
Howls to the dull ear of the silent moon.

But come, thou goddess, blithe and free,
Thou mountain-maid, sweet Liberty!
With buskin'd knee, and bosom bare,
Thy tresses floating in the air:
Come, — and treading on thy feet,
Independence let me meet,
Thy giant mate, whose awful form
Has often braved the bellowing storm;
And heard its angry spirit shriek,
Rear'd on some promontory's beak,
Seen by the lonely fisher far,
By the glimpse of flitting star.
His awful bulk, in dusky shrowd,
Commixing with the pitchy cloud;
While at his feet the lightnings play,
And the deep thunders die away.
Goddess, come, and let us sail
On the fresh reviving gale;
O'er dewy lawns, and forests lone,
'Till lightning on some mountain stone,
That scales the circumambient sky,
We see a thousand nations lie.
From Zembla's snows, to Afric's heat,
Prostrate beneath our frolic feet.

From Italy's luxurious plains,
Where everlasting summer reigns,
Why Goddess, dost thou turn away?
Didst thou never sojourn there?
Oh, yes, thou didst — but fallen is Rome,
The pilgrim weeps her silent doom.
As at midnight, murmuring low,
Along the mouldering portico,
He hears the desolate wind career,
While the rank ivy whispers near.

Ill-fated Gaul! ambitious grasp
Bids thee again in slavery gasp.
Again the dungeon walls resound
The hopeless shriek, the groan profound.
But, lo, in yonder happy skies,
Helvetia's airy mountains rise,
And, oh, on her tall cliffs reclin'd,
Gay fancy, whispering to the mind:
As the wild herdsman's call is heard,
Tells me, that she, o'er all preferr'd
In every clime, in every zone,
Is Liberty's divinest throne.
Yet, whence that sigh? O goddess, say,
Has the tyrant's thirsty sway
Dared profane the sacred seat,
Thy long high-favour'd, best retreat?
It has! it has! away, away,
To where the green isles woo the day,
Where thou art still supreme, and where
Thy Paeans fill the floating air.

[pp. 114-16]