107 Spenserians posthumously published in 1828: Carlos Wilcox was a preacher at Hartford, Connecticut when he read these verses to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Yale in 1824, shortly before his early death. The Religion of Taste begins as an imitation of Thomson's Castle of Indolence, though as the poem develops it becomes clear that in this instance the threatening bower of bliss is the beautiful world itself, which romantic poets have describes in such enchanting strains that the religion of Heaven is in danger of neglect. Rousseau and Byron come in for explicit criticism, though it seems not unlikely that The Religion of Taste was written partly in response to James Gates Percival's less-than-pious Prometheus (1821, 1822) a poem composed in the same measure but which presents a much more troubled theology. Percival had recently appeared before the Phi Beta Kappa Society himself.
Headnote: "The following Poem, which is mentioned in the Memoir as having been delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at New Haven, is a Fragment. It appears from some brief notices, that Mr. Wilcox had relinquished the design of ever finishing the Age of Benevolence, — but had it in contemplation to throw all the unfinished parts of it into a new work, in the measure in which the following Poem is written. The outline of his plan, which is inserted on the succeeding page, was written at Danbury, and was among the last literary labours of his life. It will be seen that the poem delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society was intended for one Canto of the designed work. CANTO I. Home of my childhood — Orwell — School — Hills — Woods — Distant Mountains — Green Mountains — Lake George — Mountains on fire — Hunting Deer — Story of Seth Miner — Philosophical, Moral, and Religious Reflections. CANTO II. Phi Beta Kappa Poem enlarged. CANTO III. Georgia — Southern Scenery — Cyprus Forests — Live Oak — Jessamine — Magnolia — Orange — Cotton in Autumn — Rice Plantations — Slavery — Duelling. Story by Dea. C. CANTO IV. My Country — First Settlement, &c. — Ignorance — Intemperance — Profaneness — Sabbath-breaking. Must be high state of Intelligence and Morals. CANTO V. The World — the present Age" pp. 179-80.
Quarterly Christian Spectator [New Haven]: "This poem is in some respects the best and most finished production of the author's mind. The design is to discriminate between that factitious piety which consists in refinement, and that true piety which consists in the spirit of obedience and love. The plan it would be prosaic to analyze.... The concluding stanzas have not often been surpassed, whether considered as poetry, or as sober and sound advice to the unhappy victim of despondency. Our poet never forgot that he was a preacher too, or that to be a minister of Christ is something higher and nobler than to be the favorite of the muses" 1 (March 1829) 60, 63.
Athenaeum [London]: "The divine allegory of Spenser has been the fruitful mother of other allegories; but what was clear and simple with the author of the Fairy Queen became what he called a 'dark conceit,' in the hands of others, and, save the Castle of Indolence of Thomson, we have seen few of the allegorical brood in this land, which we can with any propriety admire. We should do injustice to Mr. Wilcox, were we to accuse him of hiding altogether his poetic light in the dark lantern of allegory; he is, however, sometimes more obscure than a bard should be, who wishes to instruct as well as amuse. As the Scot had his 'most enchanting wizard,' height Indolence, so the American has his 'enchantress of romantic mood,' by name Imagination, who lives deep in a vale, and has for her attendants the Nymphs and Graces, besides Love, Beauty, Contemplation, and Enthusiasm. Now, some poets would have difficulty in finding work for these ladies to do: our western author gives them employment enough — namely, songs to make and sing, romances to frame and work, to do both in marble and oil colours. If, however, they did their ministrings as deftly as the poet has represented them, they were spirits worthy of all praise.... These verses are elegant and harmonious, and are not without graphic truth and vigour; no one, indeed, can read the poem without finding many such passages, and feeling sensible that the author is a scholar and a man of fine taste, as well as a poet worthy of being known in our isle" (21 July 1832) 469.
Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck: "The poems of Wilcox abound in passages of rural description of remarkable accuracy. The greater portion is, however, occupied with reflections on the power and beneficence of the Deity in the constitution of the material universe and the human mind. His verse always maintains correctness and dignity of expression, and often rises to passages of sublimity" Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856) 2:182.
Bella Chapin: "Carlos Wilcox was born in Newport, October 23, 1794. In his fourth year his parents removed to Orwell, Vermont. He graduated at Middlebury College, and studied theology at Andover, Mass. He became a Congregational minister in 1818, and after preaching a few months, was obliged to rest from his duties on account of ill health. In 1824 he became pastor of the North Church in Hartford Conn. He resigned this situation after two years. He died May 29, 1827. He was much engaged in the composition of his two poems, The Age of Benevolence, and The Religion of Taste, the first in blank verse, and the last in Spencerian stanza, neither of which did he live to complete" Poets of New Hampshire (1883) 53.
The Religion of Taste opens with a description of Imagination and her train, among them Contemplation and Enthusiasm. Like the figure of Indolence in Thomson's poem, this enchantress has a magical castle: "In all her dwelling, tales of wild romance, | Of terror, love, and mystery dark or gay, | Were scattered thick to catch the wandering glance, | And stop the dreamer on his unknown way" p. 185. Imagination's palace is contrived to resemble Spenser's Bower of Bliss and Thomson's Castle of Indolence, though the expected result never comes: "'Tis not for me, in weak revenge to war | With beauty's reign, or e'en to wish it less; | 'Tis not for me, ungratefully to mar | Delight, so ready and so rich to bless | That but to lift the eye is to possess" p. 187. Wilcox drops the allegory and proceeds in a discursive vein.
While there is no necessary confict between taste and piety, aesthetic beauty can prove a stumbling-block to "religion which o'erlooks the cross, | While in a rose-bud it affects to find" p. 191. More: "Draw near ye sons of romance and behold | Your boasted calm of happy virtue gone; | See foul intemperance and profaneness bold, | And pride in rags as rank as if in lawn; | See all enchantment from the scene withdrawn | By the first touch of truth's celestial ray" p. 192. A long, unflattering character of the late Lord Byron occupies the center of the poem. Rousseau does not fare much better: "Rousseau could weep, — yes, with a heart of stone | The impious sophist could recline beside | The pure and peaceful lake, and muse alone | On all its loveliness at even tide" p. 197. William Cowper affords a more attractive portrait of philosophical melancholy.
There follows a succession of sublime scenes: a mountain ascent, a night sky, a meteor shower. The poet sleeps on the mountain and dreams of apocalypse, then of a new creation: "There walked the ransomed ones of earth in white | As beautifully pure as new-fallen snow, | On the smooth summit of some eastern height" p. 202. He awakens, overwhelmed with feelings of guilt for his attachment to "nature's strange enchantment." Chastened by this vision he looks on the world with new eyes, admonishing those sleeping in "enchanted bowers" to "Wake ere the earth-born charm unnerve thee quite, | And be thy thoughts to work divine addressed; | Do something — do it soon — with all thy might" p. 206.
The 1832 edition of The Religion of Taste was reprinted in London.
Deep in a vale, half open to the sea,
With mountains half enclosed, there grew a wood
Of many a low and many a lofty tree,
Sheltering the sparrow's and the raven's brood;
But not in its own native dress it stood,
Untrimmed and pathless, for within its heart
Dwelt an Enchantress of romantic mood,
And she had wrought of all with wondrous art
A labyrinth, from which, none entering could depart.
Her name Imagination, — tall her form;
Elastic with eternal youth her tread;
Her high and polished brow defied each storm
Of grief and time; o'er all her face was spread
A shade of happy thought that never fled,
But lighter grew or deeper, as she raised
Her large bright eyes and nature's volume read,
Or fixed them on the ground, or upward gazed
As in devotion wrapt while glory round her blazed.
A band of Nymphs and Graces with her dwelt,
Lived in her smiles, upon her accents hung,
And by her impulse moved and thought and felt;
Love, Beauty, Pleasure, Hope, were first among
The blooming troop, and nearest to her clung,
Reflecting every charm till made their own,
And till they bore her likeness, as if sprung
From her, their foster-mother, on her thrown
Till she had won each heart, and proud of each had grown.
I thought to paint them, but enamoured stopt:—
Some muse, a pencil of soft sunbeams dip
In heaven's pure dew on rose and lily dropt,
To draw the brow, the cheek, the smiling lip,
Tinged, as of cup enchanted, wont to sip,
The eye in liquid light, the long bright hair,
And all the slender, rounded forms that trip
O'er the green earth half buoyant in the air,
And with sweet glances thrown, unwary hearts to snare.
I see them passing in the blended light
Of their own forms, as in an atmosphere
Of rosy lustre; — but they mock my sight;
Now as they flit along in order clear
Each seems herself, and now they all appear
Lost in each other, like some sister band,
Giving and taking loveliness, as here
And there, they dance and mingle hand in hand;
Now in a sunny mist they vanish where they stand.
And let them go; — two others rise to view,
That may far better wake my deep-toned lyre,—
Calm Contemplation with clear eye of blue
And bright Enthusiasm with dark orbs of fire,—
Each with a form and spirit that aspire
To seeming rivalry with their loved queen,—
One wrapt in thought, and one in high desire,
One bold, one gentle, both of lofty mien,—
A burning seraph one, a cherub one serene.
With the soft lustre of thick flaxen hair
And cheek of snowy white, that milder one
Seemed of some land of tempered beams and air;—
The other's cheek was tinged as by the sun
Of sultry climes; but no eye sought to shun
That pure transparent olive, while beneath
The bright vermil blood is seen to glow and run,
And tresses of the deepest chesnut wreath
Her round and polished neck as light the zephyrs breathe.
Wandering together oft, and oft alone,
They mused o'er all the fair, the wild, and vast,
And drank in pleasure, when all nature shone
In sunny bloom and calm, and when o'ercast
With solemn shade, or swept by stormy blast:—
Deep and delicious was their waking dream.
Through placid smiles, or warm tears falling fast
How from each feature did their spirits seem
To breathe in silence sweet, or in quick rapture beam.
'Twas by her own soft magic, or the charms
Imparted to some favourite of her train,
Their Queen would hush her captive's first alarms,
Then lead him on as by a silken chain,
Through all the windings of her fair domain,
To fountain, lake, and grotto, grove and bower,
'Mid murmuring brooks, or birds of tuneful strain,
O'er grassy paths inlaid with many a flower,
And at each bright and glad, or calm and fragrant hour.
Oft with a motion of her wand, she wrought
Some work of fresh enchantment; to his view
A long-forgotten scene of beauty brought,
Made every feature clearer, every hue,
And over all a lovelier aspect threw;
Or full before him visions of each clime,
She spread as quickly, formed creations new
Or changed her own loved wood, with art sublime
Hastened, or backward turned, or stopt the wheels of time.
Just in the centre of that wood was reared
Her castle, all of marble, smooth and white;
Above the thick young trees, its top appeared
Among the naked trunks of towering height;
And here at morn and eve it glittered bright,
As often by the far off traveller seen,
In level sunbeams, or at dead of night
When the low moon shot in her rays between
That wide spread roof and floor of solid foliage green.
Through this wide interval the roving eye
From turrets proud might trace the waving line
Where meet the mountains green, and azure sky,
And view the deep when sun-gilt billows shine;—
Fair bounds to sight, that never thought confine,
But tempt it far beyond, till by the charm
Of some sweet wood-note or some whispering pine
Called home again, or by the soft alarm
Of Love's approaching step, and her encircling arm.
Through this wide interval, the mountain side
Showed many a sylvan slope and rocky steep:—
Here roaring torrents in dark forests hide;
There silver streamlets rush to view and leap
Unheard from lofty cliffs to vallies deep:
Here rugged peaks look smooth in sunset glow,
Along the clear horizon's western sweep;
There from some eastern summit moon-beams flow
Along o'er level wood, far down to plains below.
Now stretched a blue, and now a golden zone
Round that horizon; now o'er mountains proud
Dim vapours rest, or bright ones move alone:
An ebon wall, a smooth portentous cloud,
First muttering low, anon with thunder loud,
Now rises quick and brings a sweeping wind
O'er all that wood in waves before it bowed;
And now a rainbow, with its top behind
A spangled veil of leaves, seems heaven and earth to bind.
Above the canopy, so thick and green,
And spread so high o'er that enchanted vale,
Through scattered openings oft were glimpses seen
Of fleecy clouds, that linked together, sail
In moonlight clear before the gentle gale
Sometimes a shooting meteor draws a glance;
Sometimes a twinkling star, or planet pale,
Long holds the lighted eye as in a trance;
And oft the milky-way gleams through the white expanse.
That castle's open windows, though half hid
With flowering vines, showed many a vision fair:
A face all bloom, or light young forms that thrid
Some maze within, or lonely ones that wear
The garb of joy with sorrow's thoughtful air,
Oft caught the eye a moment; and the sound
Of low, sweet music often issued there,
And by its magic held the listener bound,
And seemed to hold the winds and forests far around.
Within, the Queen of all, in pomp or mirth,
While glad attendants at her glance unfold
Their shining wings and fly through heaven and earth,
Oft took her throne of burning gems and gold,
Adorned with emblems that of empire told,
And rising in the midst of trophies bright,
That bring her memory from the days of old,
And help prolong her reign, and with the flight
Of every year increase the wonders of her might.
In all her dwelling, tales of wild romance,
Of terror, love, and mystery dark or gay,
Were scattered thick to catch the wandering glance,
And stop the dreamer on his unknown way;
There too was every sweet and lofty lay,
The sacred, classic, and romantic, sung
As that Enchantress moved in might or play;
And there was many a harp but nowly strung,
Yet with its fearless notes the whole wide valley rung.
There from all lands and ages of her fame,
Were marble forms, arrayed in order due,
In groups and single, all of proudest name;
In them the high, the fair, and tender, grew
To life intense in love's impassioned view,
And from each air and feature, bend and swell,
Each shapely neck, and lip, and forehead, threw
O'er each enamoured sense so deep a spell,
The thoughts but with the past or bright ideal dwell.
The walls around told all the pencil's power;
There proud creations of each mighty hand
Shone with their hues and lines as in the hour,
When the last touch was given at the command
Of the same genius that at first had planned,
Exulting in its great and glowing thought:
Bright scenes of peace and war, of sea and land,
Of love and glory, to new life were wrought,
From history, from fable, and from nature brought.
With these were others all divine, drawn all
From ground where oft, with signs and accents dread,
The lonely prophet doomed to sudden fall
Proud kings and cities, and with gentle tread
Bore life's quick triumph to the humble dead,
And where strong angels flew to blast or save,
Where martyred hosts of old, and youthful bled,
And where their mighty Lord o'er land and wave
Spread life and peace till death, then spread them through the grave.
From these fixed visions of the hallowed eye,
Some kindling gleams of their etherial glow,
Would oft times fall, as from the opening sky,
On eyes delighted, glancing to and fro,
Or fastened till their orbs dilated grow;
Then would the proudest seem with joy to learn
Truths they had feared or felt ashamed to know;
The skeptic would believe, the lost return;
And all the cold and low would seem to rise and burn.
Theirs was devotion kindled by the vast,
The beautiful, impassioned, and refined;
And in the deep enchantment o'er them cast,
They looked from earth, and soared above their kind
To the blest calm of an abstracted mind;
And its communion with things all its own,
Its forms sublime and lovely; as the blind,
Mid earthly scenes, forgotten, or unknown,
Live in ideal worlds, and wander there alone.
Such were the lone enthusiasts, wont to dwell
With all whom that Enchantress held subdued,
As in the holiest circle of her spell,
Where meaner spirits never dare intrude,
They dwelt in calm and silent solitude,
Rapt in the love of all the high and sweet,
In thought, and art, and nature, and imbued
With its devotion to life's inmost seat,
As drawn from all the charms which in that valley meet.
Of them and their religion, though by creed
Or grave observance known not, Heaven inspire
My wayward heart to sing as Truth shall lead,
And Love, my lips shall hallow with her fire,
And to her harmony shall tune my lyre:—
Wide as the realm of taste I find my theme,
And rich as nature's charms that never tire;
'Tis bright or dark as fancy's changing dream,
Yet pure as truth and love in their united stream.
'Tis not for me, in weak revenge to war
With beauty's reign, or e'en to wish it less;
'Tis not for me, ungratefully to mar
Delight, so ready and so rich to bless
That but to lift the eye is to possess;
Nor would I, with a soul that ill could brook
To lose the sense of nature's loveliness
For one short day, bid others cease to look
O'er all the works of God, content with his one book.
To love the beautiful is not to hate
The holy, nor to wander from the true;
Else why in Eden did its Lord create
Each green and shapely tree to please the view?
Why not enough that there the fruitful grew?
But wherefore think it virtue pure and blest
To feast the eye with shape and bloom and hue?
Or wherefore think it holier than the zest
With which the purple grape by panting lips is prest.
The rose delights with colour and with form,
Nor less with fragrance; but to love the flower
For either, or for all, is not to warm
The bosom with the thought of that high Power,
Who gathered all into its blooming hour:
As well might love of gold be love to Him,
Who on the mountain poured its pristine shower,
And buried it in currents deep and dim,
Or spread it in bright drops along the river's brim.
Yet Taste and Virtue are not born to strife;
'Tis when the earthly would the heavenly scorn,
Nor merely spread with flowers, her path to life,
But would supplant when bound to cheer and warn,
Or at the touch of every wounding thorn
Would tempt her from that path, or bid her trust
No truth too high for fancy to adorn,
And turn from all too humble with disgust;
'Tis then she wakes a war, when in her pride unjust.
But oft in Taste when mindful of her birth,
Celestial Virtue owns a mortal friend,
A fit interpreter of scenes of earth,
And one delighting thought with hers to blend
Amid their loveliness, and prompt to lend
The light and charm of her own smile to all;—
Thus when to heaven our best affections tend,
Taste helps the spirit upward at the call
Of Faith and echoing Hope, or scorns to work its fall.
The path we love, — to that all things allure;
We give them power malignant or benign;
Yes, to the pure in heart all things are pure;
And to the bright in fancy, all things shine;
All frown on those that in deep sorrow pine,
Smile on the cheerful, lead the wise abroad
O'er Nature's realm in search of laws divine;
All draw the earthly down to their vile clod;
And all unite to lift the heavenly to their God.
The universe is calm to faith serene;
And all with glory shines to her bright eye;
The mount of Sion, crowned with living green
By all the beams and dews of its pure sky,
She sees o'er clouds and tempests rising high
From its one fountain pouring streams that bear
Fresh life and beauty, ne'er to fade and die,
But make the blasted earth an aspect wear,
Like that of its blest prime, divinely rich and fair.
The eye which she has opened, rolls in light
O'er a creation, in which God is viewed,
In all that blooms by day and shines by night,
Without him all a cheerless solitude;
The heart that with her spirit is imbued,
At nature's mingled works of power and love
Trembles with awe and swells with gratitude,
And pants for the swift pinions of a dove,
To waft the soul away to Him who reigns above.
But while upon her high and holy ground
Faith stands and makes the universe her own,
Her votaries with its splendour to surround,
To add to her pure light, and hers alone,
And help to raise them to her promised throne,
Slaves of fine sense there are, that think to climb,
E'en by a path on which she never shone
Up nature's lone steps to a height sublime
Of triumph o'er the gloom of sin and death and time.
The Piety of faith from nature draws
Her chief delight where most of love appears,
Love in the round of its eternal laws,
In the wide flow of light from rolling spheres,
In genial showers, mild climes, and fruitful years,
In sights of happy life and songs of praise,
In all the care that wins the heart and cheers
And all the bounty, like the sun's full blaze
Pouring its tide of blessings o'er revolving days.
The Piety of taste her pleasure finds,
Where power in bright pre-eminence is seen,
By tender spirits and exalted minds,
In all the grand and fair, wild and serene,
In heaven's clear blue and earth's contrasted green,
In mountain-tops and clouds around them driven,
In boundless seas, high stars, and night's pale queen,
In all the hues and notes of morn and even,
In all the charms of earth and all the pomp of heaven.
Who boasts the power of piety, so weak
In all its loveliness, whene'er he deigns
The book of God to open, turns to seek
Its melting histories and lofty strains,
Or learn what flowers once filled Judea's plains,
What gems her mountains, and what beasts her wood,
What cities flourished once where silence reigns,
What deeds were wrought where monuments have stood,
How earth from chaos rose, how rolled beneath her flood.
As o'er this field of poetry he strays,
He culls what truths are lovely and sublime,—
Existence with no first or last of days,
And goodness with no bound of space or time,
Souls from the earth kept ever in their prime,
Angels attending men to virtue dear,
A heaven where both towards their Maker climb,
A day when all the dead his voice shall hear
And o'er a world made new, songs burst on every ear.
Thus on the fair in nature, and the vast,
And on the truths revealed that charm the eye
Of Fancy bright, and open through the past
And future, many a range of vision high,
And wide and glorious as the starry sky,
He builds a proud religion ill refined,
And from it hopes of immortality
Draws for himself and all of kindred mind,
The amiable and great and brilliant of mankind.
To these when gone he gives high seats among
The robed in white, with joys on earth untold,—
To all the beautiful among the young,
And all the venerable amid the old,
To bards, philosophers, and patriots bold,—
Sweet rest he gives them in ambrosial bowers,
With crowns of amaranth and harps of gold,
While on their graves descend the gentlest showers,
And brightest moonbeams sleep and bloom the earliest flowers.
Such in the pride of all its glittering dross,
To truth's revealed eternity so blind,
Is that religion which o'erlooks the cross,
While in a rose-bud it affects to find,
Or in a mountain, much to fill the mind
With thoughts of God, and fire the heart with love;
And yet e'en this, by genius oft enshrined
In numbers sweet, with these alone can move,
Or seem to move the heart, or lift the thoughts above.
Who learns to hold communion with the God
Of this material frame, by gazing o'er
Its beauty near and vastness far abroad,
While yet he never bowed the knee before
The reigning God of love? What sees he more
To fill with joy or awe than he might see,
Had earth and heaven no Maker to adore,
Had they been always, or begun to be
Without creating power, mid shouts of melody.
Grows he devout from all the spring's sweet bloom,
Or all the pride of summer rich and gay?
From autumn's fading hues and placid gloom,
Or pomp of winter in its white array,
With sunbeams twinkling from each icy spray,
And meteors shooting thick and howling storms?
Or from the lights and shades of night and day,
In cloudless climes, with all the perfect forms
Of grandeur that exalts, and loveliness that warms?
Then wherefore are not they who dwell apart
From the great world, upon some lofty plain
Amid the Andes, nearest heaven in heart?
Why are not they whose home is on the main,
The least unmindful of Jehovah's reign,
In calm and storm, on every sea and shore?
Or why do men of creed and life profane
Return not after earth is travelled o'er
And half its mountains climbed, less impious than before?
Where are the virtues and the calm delights
Of the lone cottage 'mid embowering trees,
Far from the worlds tumultuous sounds and sights,
On some hill-side o'erlooking smooth blue seas,
Or in some vale where but the hum of bees,
The chant of birds, and the rill's murmur break
The charmed air's stillness, and the roughest breeze
Can stir no more than into life just shake
The green grove's perfect image in the glassy lake?
Draw near ye sons of romance and behold
Your boasted calm of happy virtue gone;
See foul intemperance and profaneness bold,
And pride in rags as rank as if in lawn;
See all enchantment from the scene withdrawn
By the first touch of truth's celestial ray;
As golden dreams all vanish at the dawn,
So quick your bright creation fades away,
And your etherial beings sink to things of clay.
Leave bards behind and seek the hermit's cell,
High converse holds he, in his solitude
With angels shedding round as by a spell
A radiance into which no clouds intrude
From earth, or earthly passions unsubdued?
Or musing on bright skies and mountains wild
Communes he with their Maker, till imbued
With pure and lofty thoughts and feelings mild,
By error duped no more, no more by sin defiled.
But love of nature feasted high and long
Without controlling faith, while it inspires
No heavenly flame, oft feeds amid a throng
Of fancies soft and wild, far other fires,—
False feeling, airy hopes, and foul desires,
And helps to form an idler unconfined,
Or visionary, whom the truth soon tires,
Or profligate, or hater of mankind,
Or all in one, and more, a skeptic cold and blind.
All these was Byron, and was doubly these
From his unhallowed genius revelling free
Amid the charms of loveliest lands and seas:—
'Twas here he nursed the daring liberty
Of dreaming what man is, and is to be,
In spite of all the unimpassioned prose
Of truth divine, when with sweet poetry
All nature lives, luxuriates and glows,
Tempting to pleasure here, leaving to fate its close.
How did he send to Heaven defiance proud,
While bounding lightly o'er the billowy world,
Or gazing round him when the midnight cloud
Its massy folds o'er Alpine heights unfurled,
And round from cliff to cliff its light'nings hurled,
With dark red gleams now showing wood and lake,
Swept in broad waves, or in deep eddies whirled,
Now leaving all a blank, while thunders break
In one redoubling peal and all the mountains shake.
And when with all the elements at peace
He breathed the air of Italy's soft vales,
Or of the verdant shores and isles of Greece,
To him the deities of classic tales
Seemed to return to groves and hills and dales,
Their former haunts, made theirs from beauty bright
As on Arabian plains, by poisonous gales
And burning suns laid waste, the skies of night
With deities are filled for their cool placid light.
To him the Cyprian queen resumed her throne
Where once the pencil, pen, and chisel vied,
By borrowing nature's charms to raise her own;—
On roses she must feed and sleep, must glide
A form of light o'er the cerulean tide,
Or towards her temple through green shady groves
With garlands crowned, in pomp serene must guide
Her ivory chariot drawn by swans and doves,
With Graces dancing round and all her winged Loves.
Tis oft the unhallowed fancy that delights
O'er the sublime and fair of earth to glance,
To wander long where earth with heaven unites,
To sail on smooth wings o'er the blue expanse,
Or on bright clouds in a voluptuous trance,
Or soar 'mid worlds, above, below, around,
Approaching and retreating in a dance
Of light and harmony, and with that sound
Of fabled music sweet, filling the vast profound.
From flights so high, how quick can man descend,—
From realms so bright and calm, — and roll in dust,
A slave to passions that like vultures rend
Ere they devour, and from the bosom thrust
All feelings kind and pure, and wake mistrust
Of every friend, and enmity to all
The good and happy, from the cold disgust
Of senses pampered till their pleasures pall;
When at the world he murmurs, to revenge his fall.
Sick of the world, a glad farewell he sings
To all its living scenes; and, worse than vain,
Sighs without meaning for the dove's light wings,
To waft him to some island of the main,
Or far-off desert, where he may complain
To woods and waters, fortune may defy,
And there restored to nature's boasted reign,
Feel free to pour contempt on every tie,
That man to man unites, and to the God on high.
Or weary of his life, he madly throws
The burden down, or drags it on in dread
Of each day's added weight, while no repose
He looks for here, but longs to lay his head
Among the silent and forgotten dead;—
And this is greatness that the young betimes
Learn to admire; and though his joys are fled,
Still in the fancies from which sprung his crimes
They think to find their joys, as if in fairy climes.
They seek a paradise that from them flies
And leaves them oft bewildered, like the band
Of Indian youths, who searched with eager eyes
Through Florida's vast swamp for unknown land,
By hunters praised as rising with firm strand
Just in their utmost need, and in full view,
Where waving many an inviting hand,
The daughters of the sun to safety drew,
And cheered them with rich fruits, their labours to renew.
But when with those immortal ones they thought
To live and share in their unfading prime,
They saw them flee; and when they fondly sought
To follow to their chosen isle, and climb
Its verdant shores and cloudless heights sublime,
The waters round them rose with threatening roar,
The isle receding vanished many a time,
Then re-appeared but distant as before,
As if to bid them go content and seek no more.
And thus do nature's scenes of beauty give
The spirit rest, when but an hour enjoyed;
Life's fainting traveller thus they oft revive,
They calm the soul by earthly cares annoyed,
Refine the sense by earthly pleasures cloyed,
The sad heart cheer, and ease the toiling mind;
But sought life's ills and labours to avoid,
They mock with visions of delight that blind
The eyes to truth, then fly, and leave despair behind.
And in the tender gloom of that despair
All vigour dies, all virtue high and bold,
The will to labour and the strength to bear;
And man becomes a thing of passive mould,
As helpless as the Sybarite of old,
Who on his bed of roses could not rest,
If out a leaf retained a single fold;
Listless inquietude pervades his breast,
And trifles from without, each moment's peace molest.
All at the mercy of surrounding things,
A passing cloud or bird of thrilling strain,
Bears him away through wild imaginings,
Like and unlike, combined in one long train;
Or all resigned to fancy's gloomy reign,
He melts in reveries, begun from nought,
Prolonged at random and then closed in vain,
A mere delirium of soft feeling wrought,
With but the semblance left, of deep, continuous thought.
But his is sickly feeling ill refined,
Nursed in the luxury of causeless tears,—
Tears that foment a fever in the mind,
Yet chill and harden all within that cheers
This mournful life, and man to man endears;
Like Niobe he weeps himself to stone;
Nought now of others woes he sees or hears,
With his lost hopes his sympathies are flown,
And in a social world, he lives and dies alone.
Or if his feeling e'er the heart dilate
With touch of pity till a tear be shed,
'Tis more for trifles than for things of weight,
Resembling much the superstitious dread
The Hindoo feels, lest his incautious tread
Should crush an insect, while he views unmoved
The living mortal burning with the dead,
A sacrifice by favourite gods approved,
And by his listless spirit borne till it is loved.
Rousseau could weep, — yes, with a heart of stone
The impious sophist could recline beside
The pure and peaceful lake, and muse alone
On all its loveliness at even tide,—
On its small running waves in purple died
Beneath bright clouds or all the glowing sky,
On the white sails that o'er its bosom glide,
And on surrounding mountains wild and high
Till tears unbidden gushed from his enchanted eye.
But his were not the tears of feeling fine
Of grief or love; at fancy's flash they flowed,
Like burning drops from some proud lonely pine
By lightning fired; his heart with passion glowed
Till it consumed his life, and yet he showed
A chilling coldness both to friend and foe,
As Etna, with its centre an abode
Of wasting fire, chills with the icy snow
Of all its desert brow the living world below.
Was he but justly wretched from his crimes?
Then why was Cowper's anguish oft as keen,
With all the heaven-born virtue that sublimes
Genius and feeling, and to things unseen
Lifts the pure heart through clouds, that roll between
The earth and skies, to darken human hope?
Or wherefore did those clouds thus intervene
To render vain faith's lifted telescope,
And leave him in thick gloom his weary way to grope?
He too could give himself to musing deep,
By the calm lake at evening he could stand,
Lonely and sad, to see the moon light sleep
On all its breast by not an insect fanned,
And hear low voices on the far-off strand,
Or through the still and dewy atmosphere
The pipe's soft tones waked by some gentle hand,
From fronting shore and woody island near
In echoes quick returned more mellow and more clear.
And he could cherish wild and mournful dreams,
In the pine grove, when low the full moon fair
Shot under lofty tops her level beams,
Stretching the shades of trunks erect and bare,
In stripes drawn parallel with order rare,
As of some temple vast or colonnade,
While on green turf made smooth without his care
He wandered o'er its stripes of light and shade,
And heard the dying day-breeze all the boughs pervade.
'Twas thus in nature's bloom and solitude
He nursed his grief till nothing could assuage;
'Twas thus his tender spirit was subdued,
Till in life's toils it could no more engage;
And his had been a useless pilgrimage,
Had he been gifted with no sacred power,
To send his thoughts to every future age;—
But he is gone where grief will not devour,
Where beauty will not fade, and skies will never lower.
To that bright world where things of earth appear
Stript of false charms, my fancy often flies,
To ask him there what life is happiest here;
And as he points around him and replies
With glowing lips, my heart within me dies,
And conscience whispers of a dreadful bar,
When in some scene where every beauty lies,
A soft sweet pensiveness begins to mar
The joys of social life, and with its claims to war.
'Twas one of summer's last and loveliest days,
When at the dawn, with a congenial friend
I rose to climb the mount, that with the gaze
Of expectation high we long had kenned,
While travelling towards it as our journey's end:—
Height after height we reached that seemed the last
But far above, where we must yet ascend,
Another and another rose, till fast
The sun began to sink ere all but one were past.
Upon that loftiest one awhile we stood
Silent with wonder and absorbing awe;
A thousand peaks, the lowest crowned with wood,
The highest of bare rock at once we saw,
In ranges spread till seeming to withdraw
Far into heaven, and mix their softer blue;
While ranges near, as if in spite of law,
With all wild shapes and grand filled up the view
And o'er the deep dark gulf fantastic shadows threw.
Here billows heaved in one vast swell, and there
In one long sweep, as on a stormy sea,
Drawn to a curling edge, seemed held in air,
Ready to move as from a charm set free,
And roar, and dash, and sink, and cease to be;
While firm and smooth as hewn of emerald rock,
Below them rose to points of one proud tree
Green pyramids of pine, that seemed to mock
In conscious safety proud, their vainly threatened shock.
Here while the sun yet shone, abysses vast
Like openings into inner regions seemed
All objects fading, mingling, sinking fast,
Save few that shot up where the sun yet beamed;
But soon as his last rays around us streamed
Thick darkness wrapt the whole, o'er which the glow
Of western skies in feeble flashes gleamed,
While bright from pole to pole extending slow
Along the wide horizon ere it sunk below.
'Twas midnight, when from our sequestered bower
I stole with sleepless eyes to gaze alone;
For tis alone we feel in its full power,
The enchantment o'er a scene so awful thrown:—
Through broken flying clouds the moon now shone,
And light and shade crossed mountain-top and vale;
While with imparted motion, not their own,
The heavens and earth to fancy seemed to sail
Through boundless space like her creation bright but frail.
Ere long the clouds were gone, the moon was set;
When deeply blue without a shade of gray,
The sky was filled with stars that almost met,
Their points prolonged and sharpened to one ray;
Through their transparent air the milky-way
Seemed one broad flame of pure resplendent white,
As if some globe on fire, turned far astray,
Had crossed the wide arch with so swift a flight,
That for a moment shone its whole long track of light.
At length in northern skies, at first but small,
A sheet of light meteorous begun
To spread on either hand, and rise and fall
In waves, that slowly first, then quickly run
Along its edge, set thick but one by one
With spiry beams, that all at once shot high,
Like those through vapours from the setting sun;
Then sidelong as before the wind they fly,
Like streaking rain from clouds that flit along the sky.
Now all the mountain-tops and gulfs between
Seemed one dark plain; from forests, caves profound
And rushing waters far below unseen,
Rose a deep roar in one united sound,
Alike pervading all the air around,
And seeming e'en the azure dome to fill,
And from it through soft ether to resound
In low vibrations, sending a sweet thrill
To every finger's end from rapture deep and still.
Spent with emotion, and to rest resigned,
A sudden sleep fell on me, and subdued
With visions bright and dread my restless mind;—
Methought that in a realm of solitude,
All indistinctly like the one just viewed,
With guilt oppressed and with foreboding gloom,
My lonely way bewildered I pursued,
Mid signs of terror that the day of doom,
And lovely nature's last dissolving hour had come.
The sun and moon in depths of ether sunk
Till half extinct, shed their opposing light
In dismal union, at which all things shrunk;—
Anon they both, like meteors streaming bright,
Ran down the sky and vanished — all was night;
With that a groan as from earth's centre rose,
While o'er its surface ran, o'er vale and height,
A waving as of woods when wild wind blows,
A heaving as of life in its expiring throes.
Far in the broad horizon dimly shone
A flood of fire, advancing with a roar,
Like that of ocean when the waves are thrown
In nightly storms high on a rocky shore;—
Spreading each way it came, and sweeping o'er
Woodlands like stubble, forests wide and tall
In thick ranks falling, blooming groves before
Its fury vanishing too soon to fall,
And mountains melting down — one deluge covering all.
Before it, striking quick from cloud to cloud,
Streamed its unearthly light along the sky,
Flashing from all the swift wings of a crowd
Of frighted birds at random soaring high,
And from the faces of lost men that fly
In throngs beneath, as back they snatched a look
Of horror at the billows rolling nigh
With thundering sound at which all nature shook,
And e'en the strength of hope their sinking hearts forsook.
No more I saw, for while I thought to flee
What seemed the swoon of terror held me fast,
My senses drowned, and set my fancy free,
Waked not, but back to sleep unconscious cast
My troubled spirit; one dark moment passed,
And, all revived again, my dream went on;
But in that interval what changes vast!
The earth and its lost multitudes were gone;
A new creation blessed eternity's bright dawn.
Myself I found borne to a heavenly clime
I knew not how, but felt a stranger there;
Still the same being that I was in time,
E'en to my raiment; on the borders fair
Of that blest land I stood in lone despair;
Not its pure beauty and immortal bloom,
Its firmament serene and balmy air,
Nor all its glorious beings, broke the gloom
Of my foreboding thoughts, fixed on some dreadful doom.
There walked the ransomed ones of earth in white
As beautifully pure as new-fallen snow,
On the smooth summit of some eastern height,
In the first rays of morn that o'er it flow,
Nor less resplendent than the richest glow
Of snow-white clouds, with all their stores of rain
And thunder spent, rolled up in volumes slow
O'er the blue sky just cleared from every stain,
Till all the blaze of noon they drink and long retain.
Safe landed on these shores, together hence
That bright throng took their way to where insphered
In a transparent cloud of light intense,
With starry pinnacles above it reared,
A city vast the inland all appeared,
With walls of azure, green, and purple stone,
All to one glassy surface smoothed and cleared,
Reflecting forms of angel guards that shone
Above the approaching host as each were on a throne.
And while that host moved onward o'er a plain
Of living verdure, oft they turned to greet
Friends that on earth had taught them heaven to gain;
Then hand in hand they went with quickened feet;
And bright with immortality, and sweet
With love etherial, were the smiles they cast;
I only wandered on with none to meet
And call me dear, while pointing to the past
And forward to the joys that never reach their last.
I had not bound myself by any ties
To that blest land; none saw me and none sought;
Nor any shunned, or from me turned their eyes;
And yet such sense of guilt had conscience wrought,
It seemed that every bosom's inmost thought
Was fixed on me; when back as from their view
I shrunk, and would have fled or shrunk to nought
As some I loved and many that I knew
Passed on unmindful why or whither I withdrew.
Whereat of sad remembrances a flood
Rushed o'er my spirit, and my heart beat low
As with the heavy gush of curdling blood:—
Soon left behind, awhile I followed slow,
Then stopped and round me looked my fate to know,
But looked in vain; — no voice my doom to tell;—
No arm to hurl me down to depths of wo;—
It seemed that I was brought to heaven to dwell
That conscience might alone do all the work of hell.
Now came the thought, the bitter thought of years
Wasted in musings sad and fancies wild,
And in the visionary hopes and fears
Of the false feeling of a heart beguiled
By nature's strange enchantment, strong and wild;
Now with celestial beauty blooming round,
I stood as on some naked waste exiled;
From gathering hosts came music's swelling sound
But deeper in despair my sinking spirit drowned.
At length methought a darkness as of death
Came slowly o'er me, and with that I woke;
Yet knew not in the first suspended breath
Where I could be, so real seemed the stroke
That in my dream all earthly ties had broke;
A moment more, and melting in a tide
Of grateful fervour, how did I invoke
Power from the Highest to leave all beside,
And live but to secure the bliss my dream denied.
The day soon dawned, and I could not but view
Its purple tinge in heaven, and then its beams
Revealing all around me, as they flew
From peak to peak, and striking in soft gleams
On the white mists that hung o'er winding streams
Through trackless forests, and o'er clustering lakes
In vallies wide, where many a green height seems
An isle above the cloud that round it breaks,
As with the breeze it moves and its deep bed forsakes.
Yet all was viewed with calm and thoughtful joy,
As but reminding me that earth was still
My bright abode of hope, to high employ
Inviting me through all its good and ill,
Its smiles to flatter and its frowns to chill:—
The one dread thought of an hereafter reigned
Within me, followed me, nor ceased to fill
My heart and soul through days of peace unfeigned,—
Would Heaven that till this hour its freshness had remained.
With thoughts sublimed and yet chastised by truth,
'Tis sweet to see from our maturer years
How vain the fond imaginings of youth,—
'Tis sweet to see, while faith the bosom cheers,
The withering of the flowers that fancy rears,
The fading of her visions once so bright,
And when her bubbles burst, to smile in tears
That we could trust so much in things so light,
So sure to lead astray and then to take their flight.
A bright or dark eternity in view,
With all its fixed unutterable things,
What madness in the living to pursue,
As their chief portion, with the speed of wings
The joys that death-beds always turn to stings!
Infatuated man, on earth's smooth waste
To dance along the path that always brings
Quick to an end, from which with tenfold haste
Back would he gladly fly till all should be retraced!
Our life is like the hurrying on the eve
Before we start on some long journey bound,
When fit preparing to the last we leave,
Then run to every room the dwelling round,
And sigh that nothing needed can be found;
Yet go we must, and soon as day shall break;
We snatch an hour's repose, when loud the sound
For our departure calls; we rise and take
A quick and sad farewell, and go ere well awake.
Reared in the sunshine, blasted by the storms,
Of changing time, scarce asking why or whence,
Men come and go like vegetable forms,
Though heaven appoints for them a work immense,
Demanding constant thought and zeal intense,
Awaked by hopes and fears that leave no room
For rest to mortals in the dread suspense,
While yet they know not if beyond the tomb
A long, long life of bliss or wo shall be their doom.
What matter whether pain or pleasures fill
The swelling heart one little moment here?
From both alike how vain is every thrill
While an untried eternity is near!
Think not of rest, fond man, in life's career;
The joys and grief that meet thee, dash aside
Like bubbles, and thy bark right onward steer
Through calm and tempest till it cross the tide,
Shoot into port in triumph, or serenely glide.
And thou to whom long worshipped nature lends
No strength to fly from grief or bear its weight,
Stop not to rail at foes or fickle friends,
Nor set the world at nought, nor spurn at fate;
None seek thy misery, none thy being hate;
Break from thy former self, thy life begin;
Do thou the good thy thoughts oft meditate,
And thou shalt feel the good man's peace within,
And at thy dying day his wreath of glory win.
With deeds of virtue to embalm his name
He dies in triumph or serene delight;
Weaker and weaker grows his mortal frame
At every breath, but in immortal might
His spirit grows, preparing for its flight;
The world recedes and fades like clouds of even,
But heaven comes nearer fast, and grows more bright,
All intervening mists far off are driven;—
The world will vanish soon, and all will soon be heaven.
Wouldst thou from sorrow find a sweet relief?
Or is thy heart oppressed with woes untold?
Balm wouldst thou gather for corroding grief?
Pour blessings round thee like a shower of gold;
'Tis when the rose is wrapt in many a fold
Close to its heart, the worm is wasting there
Its life and beauty; not, when all unrolled,
Leaf after leaf its bosom rich and fair
Breathes freely its perfumes throughout the ambient air.
Wake thou that sleepest in enchanted bowers,
Lest these lost years should haunt thee on the night
When death is waiting for thy numbered hours
To take take their swift and everlasting flight;
Wake ere the earth-born charm unnerve thee quite,
And be thy thoughts to work divine addressed;
Do something — do it soon — with all thy might;
An angel's wing would droop if long at rest,
And God himself inactive were no longer blest.
Some high or humble enterprise of good
Contemplate till it shall possess thy mind,
Become thy study, pastime, rest, and food,
And kindle in thy heart a flame refined;
Pray Heaven for firmness thy whole soul to bind
To this thy purpose — to begin, pursue,
With thoughts all fixed and feelings purely kind,
Strength to complete, and with delight review,
And grace to give the praise where all is ever due.
No good of worth sublime will heaven permit
To light on man as from the passing air;
The lamp of genius though by nature lit,
If not protected, pruned, and fed with care,
Soon dies or runs to waste with fitful glare,
And learning is a plant that spreads and towers
Slow as Columbia's aloe, proudly rare,
That 'mid gay thousands with the suns and showers
Of half a century, grows alone before it flowers.
Has immortality of name been given
To them that idly worship hills and groves,
And burn sweet incense to the queen of heaven?
Did Newton learn from fancy as it roves,
To measure worlds and follow where each moves?
Did Howard gain renown that shall not cease,
By wanderings wild that nature's pilgrim loves?
Or did Paul gain heaven's glory and its peace
By musing o'er the bright and tranquil isles of Greece?
Beware lest thou from sloth, that would appear
But lowliness of mind, with joy proclaim
Thy want of worth; a charge thou couldst not hear
From other lips, without a blush of shame,
Or pride indignant; then be thine the blame,
And make thyself of worth; and thus enlist
The smiles of all the good, the dear to fame;
'Tis infamy to die and not be missed,
Or let all soon forget that thou didst e'er exist.
Rouse to some work of high and holy love,
And thou an angel's happiness shalt know,—
Shalt bless the earth while in the world above,
The good begun by thee shall onward flow
In many a branching stream, and wider grow;
The seed that in these few and fleeting hours,
Thy hands unsparing and unwearied sow,
Shall deck thy grave, with amaranthine flowers,
And yield thee fruits divine in heaven's immortal bowers.