The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem.

The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem. By George Keate, Esq.

George Keate

26, later 50, elegiac quatrains, after Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard: "Race after Race succeeding, in these Cells, | Learn'd how to value Life, learn'd how to die; | Lost are their Names, and no Memorial tells | In what lone Spot their mould'ring Ashes lie!" p. 7. The poet imagines a ghostly procession of monks, concluding with moral reflections on time and female virtue. George Keate substantially revised these verse as Netley Abbey. An Elegy (1769), which is less an imitation of Gray than a full-blown topographic poem with antiquarian notes. Compare William Sotheby's stanzas in "Netley Abbey. Midnight" in his Poems (1790).

Advertisement: "The Remains of NETLEY ABBEY, which afford a Subject for the following Poem, are situated on the Side of the SOUTHAMPTON River, about three Miles from that Town. It was a Monastery founded by King HENRY THE THIRD, in the Year 1239, for Cistercian Monks, and dedicated to St. MARY and St. EDWARD. The grand and extensive Ruins which are still existing, added to the Beauty of the Scenery around them, much attract the Curiosity, and Admiration of Strangers" p. 3.

Note: "The remains of Netley, or rather 'Lettely Abbey,' the subject of this elegy, are situated in the parish of Hound, on the eastern side of the Southampton river, between the town and Calshot Castle. In the year 1329 king Henry III. founded it as a monastery for Cistercian monks from Beaulieu, and commended it to the patronage of St. Mary and St. Edward. The spot where it stands is almost surrounded with beautiful woods, and its prospects both by land and water, are extensive and delightful" Bell's Classical Arrangement of Fugitive Poetry (1789-97) 9:186.

John Langhorne: "With regard to the execution of this poem, we were somewhat disappointed. We had entertained a favourable opinion of Mr. Keate's descriptive powers, from his ALPS a Poem, and hoped, from his NETLEY ABBEY, something new and striking, both in the picturesque and the moral part — Both, however, are very trite" Monthly Review 30 (April 1764) 322.

Critical Review: "Sensible, moral, and in some passages, affecting, but not to that degree which may be expected from Mr. Keate, who certainly has great power of imagination and expression" 17 (1764) 472.

St. James's Magazine: "Mr. Keate, the ingenious author of the Alps, a poem, published some time ago, hath here celebrated the ruins of Netley Abbey in easy and elegant verse. The critics may possibly think this piece inferior to the former, it hath nevertheless considerable merit" 4 (May 1764) 282.

British Magazine: "Rather inferior to some of Mr. Keate's former productions" 5 (July 1764) 376.

W. Davenport Adams: "George Keate, poet and miscellaneous writer (b. 1729, d. 1797), published Poems (1781); and The Republic of Geneva; The Pelew Islands, and other works" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 323.

William Powell Jones: "A good example of the serious poem that imitates Gray is George Keate's Ruins of Netley Abbey (1764), where the subject fits naturally into the melancholy moralizing mood of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard, and where many verbal echoes as well as the verse form acknowledge the influence of Gray. The second edition in 1769, enlarged from 26 to 50 stanzas, shows the debt even more by its new title, Netley Abbey: an Elegy" "Imitations of Gray's Elegy" Bulletin of Bibliography 23 (1963) 230.

Hence all the trivial Pleasures of the Crowd,
Folly's vain Revel, and that treach'rous Art
Which captivates the Gay, or sooths the Proud,
And steals each better Purpose from the Heart.

More welcome far the Shades of this wild Wood
Skirting with cheerful Green the seabeat Sands,
Where NETLEY, near the Margin of the Flood
In lone Magnificence a Ruin stands.

How chang'd alas! from that rever'd Abode
Which spread in ancient Days so wide a Fame,
When votive Monks these sacred Pavements trod,
And swell'd each Echo with JEHOVAH'S Name!

Now sunk, deserted, and with Weeds o'ergrown,
Yon aged Walls their better Years bewail;
Low on the Ground their loftiest Spires are thrown,
And ev'ry Stone points out a moral Tale.

Mark how the Ivy with Luxuriance bends
Its winding Foliage through the cloister'd Space,
O'er the green Window's mould'ring Height ascends,
And seems to clasp it with a fond Embrace.—

With musing Step I pace the silent Isle,
Each moss-grown Nook, each tangled Path explore,
While the Breeze whistles through the shatter'd Pile,
Or wave light-dashing murmurs on the Shore.

No other Noise in this calm Scene is heard,
No other Sounds these tranquil Vaults molest,
Save the Complainings of some mournful Bird
That ever loves in Solitude to rest.

Haunts such as these delight, and o'er the Soul
Awhile their grateful Melancholy cast,
Since through all Periods she can boundless roll,
Enjoy the Present, and recall the Past!—

Here, pious Hermits from the World retir'd
In Contemplation wing'd their Thoughts to Heav'n;
Here, with Religion's heart-felt Raptures fir'd,
Wept o'er their erring Days, and were forgiv'n.

Race after Race succeeding, in these Cells,
Learn'd how to value Life, learn'd how to die;
Lost are their Names, and no Memorial tells
In what lone Spot their mould'ring Ashes lie!

Mute is the matin Bell which us'd to call
The wakeful Fathers from their humble Beds;
No midnight Taper glimmers on the Wall,
Or o'er the Floor its trembling Radiance sheds!

No sainted Shrine now pours its Blaze of Light
Bidding the zealous Bigot hither roam;
No holy Relick glads the Pilgrim's Sight,
Or lures his Foot-steps from a distant Home!—

Now fainter to the View each Object grows,
In the clear West the Day's last Gleams are seen,
On Night's dim Front the Star of Ev'ning glows,
And dusky Twilight aids the solemn Scene.

Again quick Fancy peoples all the Gloom,
Calls from the Dust the venerable Dead,
Who ages since lay shrouded in the Tomb,
And bids them these accustom'd Limits tread.

Swift as her Wish the shadowy Forms appear,
O'er each chang'd Path with doubtful Step they walk,
From their keen Eyes she sees Amazement stare,
And hears, or thinks she hears, the Spectres talk.

E'en now they pass, and fading like a Dream
Back to their hallow'd Graves again they go;
But first bequeath one pitying Sigh, and seem
To mourn with me the Fate of all below!—

Disparted Roofs that threaten from above,
The tott'ring Battlement, the rifted Tow'r,
With many a scatter'd Fragment loudly prove,
All conqu'ring TIME, the Triumphs of thy Pow'r.

These speaking Stones one sacred Truth maintain,
That Dust to Dust is Man's predestin'd Lot;
He plans, and labours, — Yet how much in vain!—
Himself, his Monuments, how soon forgot!—

Forgot on Earth, — but one there sits on high
Who bids our Virtues to his Throne ascend,
Pleas'd he beholds them with Parent's Eye,
To give our Hope new Wings, and crown our End!—

And you, YE FAIR, of gayer Scenes the Grace,
If Chance should lead you from the jocund Train,
Curious to visit this sequester'd Place,
Amidst its Ruins wander not in vain.

Whence do they still our silent Wonder claim
E'en in this low, this desolated State?
'Tis from Remembrance of their former Fame:—
They once were beautiful, they once were great!

'Tis Goodness best adorns the female Heart;
Asks a Respect which must with Years increase,
Lives, when the Roses from the Cheek depart,
And all the Joys of Adulation cease!

Forgive the Muse, if with an anxious Love
She wooes you to attend her friendly Lay;
Warns you, lest faithless to yourselves ye prove,
And in false Pleasures trifle Life away.

Know, in your Breasts is lodg'd a Spark divine
For ever prompting to each great Desire;—
Th' inconstant World must change, that still shall shine,
Nor Death's cold Hand e'er quench th' immortal Fire.

Ne'er may Dishonour's Blast an Entrance find,
O keep it sacred with a Vestal's Care,
Feed it with all the Graces of the Mind,
Nor fail to pour the social Duties there.

So o'er your Forms when TIME his Veil shall cast,
And ev'ry Charm by Age shall be decay'd,
Your fair Renown shall triumph to the last,
And Virtue guard the Conquests Beauty made.

[pp. 5-11]