The Poet's Pilgrimage. Canto III.

The Poet's Pilgrimage; an Allegorical Poem, in four Cantos.

John Payne Collier

With difficulty, the Poet follows the Youth down a steep ravine into a blasted landscape surrounded by tall rocks. There they encounter a strange, unearthly voice: "It was not like the voice of one in need, | Nor of a wight whose heart did inly bleed— | A hoarse, unearthly, melancholy tone, | As holy saint at earnest prayer and creed" p. 67. It belongs to the figure of Neglect, who proceeds to deliver a long, misanthropic soliloquy on the pleasures of solitude. The Poet and the Lover approach this invisible figure and relate the stories of their own neglect. Moved, the shadowy Hermit invites them into his cave, where the Poet discovers a vast library of neglected literature (Collier was one of the nineteenth century's foremost bibliographers): "In reading these rare works I long delay'd: | They were the fruits of learning long entomb'd, | Or by divine imagination made: | Yet vainly was the midnight lamp consum'd, | And in the desert air the poet's blossoms bloom'd" p. 85. The travelers retire to sleep.

A new but sad companion found
Upon his lonely road,
IGNOTO seeks a blasted vale
And cold NEGLECT'S abode.

The place whereon we rested was the edge
Of a high precipice of granite stone,
Whose deep side offer'd us nor point nor ledge,
By which we might descend: a jagged cone,
Split up at top, uprear'd its mass alone
Behind us, and impended overhead.
The way I came remain'd. Upright, half prone,
The slabs immense afford a dangerous tread,
Yet over these at length the suffering youth I led.

Full oft he miss'd his footing, and as oft
Grew giddy at the height at which we stood
Over the heavy vale; but still aloft
Secure I bore him. In wild reckless mood,
Careless of life, his progress he pursued:
Though weak, exhausted, trembling, panting, pale,
He seem'd with some internal strength endued
When his corporeal powers sink and fail,
That still impell'd him on to ruin and to bale.

Nor ever friendly look nor thankful word
He gave to me, his not much firmer guide,
But still urg'd on by danger undeterr'd,
And scarcely knowing I was at his side.
And now we had approach'd an opening wide,
That look'd as if it led upon the plain
By swift descent: th' intrepid youth defied
The perilous height, and downward plung'd amain,
Nor with my utmost strength could I his course restrain.

With pulsing heart I follow'd. As I thought
The fissure ended on the plain below,
The bottom of the valley I had sought
By wearying progress, hazardous and slow;
And at its mouth, worn down by toil and woe,
I found the youth, who sank upon a rock
That once on the adjoining crags did grow,
Till torn from thence by heaving nature's shock,
It stood a thunder-riven and thunder-rooted block.

There left I him awhile to gaze around
On all that was presented to my sight.
On all that was dank and chill, the ground
Buried 'neath tangled grass of rankest height:
Yet on the grass was seen no verdure bright,
Nor flowers nor herbs in varied sweetness grew,
But all seem'd blasted by a deadly blight;
And upon all there hung a baleful dew,
Dried not by the sun's beams, nor any wind that blew.

Some leafless trees were scatter'd here and there
Upon the waste, among the masses rude
That from the precipice were rent whilere,
And on the centre of the vale intrude.
Few leaves upon their barren arms I view'd,
And those were dry and pale, and look'd to heaven
On topmost twigs, as for its breath they sued.
Some trunks were broken short, some rent and riven
By headlong rocks resistless o'er the wide plain driven.

It was a dreary prospect, and save one
I saw no object that could cheer my eyes—
No living creature, rest or shelter none!—
Around the vale in pinnacles arise
The whiten'd rocks, and point into the skies:
The sun was setting, and his lustre bright
Upon each rocky minaret now lies,
Crowning the brow with coronet of light,
While all the space below seem'd wrapt in deeper night.

This sight it was that cheer'd me, though it told
That we must pass another dismal night,
Restless save on the grass so dank and cold,
Or on the barren rock in harder plight.
Thus pond'ring, I return'd to the sad wight
Whom I had left in such distressful state,
Recovering breath and strength if so he might.
I found him not where he but now had sate,
But far he had nor roam'd, of spirit more elate.

I soon rejoin'd him, and from thence we stray'd,
Skirting the walls that the deep plain surround,
In hopes some lonely cavern's gloomy shade,
To shelter us from night, might there be found:
With poisonous noxious reptiles they abound,
Adders and vipers hiss among the grass,
As we disturb'd their ancient reign profound;
For ne'er methought did human footstep pass
Over that noisome vale, and thread each ponderous mass.

The sluggish evening damps rose thick and chill
As we pursued our way through rocky brake,
Now under shade of some impending hill,
And now across a plain like sedgy lake,
Where lengthen'd reeds our progress tedious make:
When sudden as the rocks again we near,
A lowly murmuring seem'd to overtake
Our sleepy senses, half benumb'd by fear;
For mournful sound like that we little thought to hear.

It could not be the wind, for not a breath
Wav'd the long grass that rustled 'neath our feet,
And all, till then, was hush as Nature's death,
And this black spot her grave and her retreat:
Beasts had we mark'd none, whether slow or fleet,
And birds of boding voice could never sound
So sadly as the notes that now did meet
Our pulsing ears: it seem'd as though the ground,
The cold and dreary earth its fittest voice had found;

As though the scowling rocks to distance scatter'd,
The caverns deep, that day's sweet light exclude,
The ragged trees with leafless arms and shatter'd,
Had their own voice in that wild solitude,
Well fitting with a scene so sad and rude.
Again we heard it — more distinctly now;
And now methought the voice appear'd endued
With sounds articulate of speech, though low,
And from behind a crag made heavy way and slow.

With cautious step, and hearts that palpitate,
We near'd the spot whence the low sounds proceed,
Hoping to hear them more articulate:
It was not like the voice of one in need,
Nor of a wight whose heart did inly bleed—
A hoarse, unearthly, melancholy tone,
As holy saint at earnest prayer and creed;
And now conceal'd behind a favouring stone,
We heard some fervent soul thus utter forth his moan:

"Hail, welcome solitude, where year by year
I lead the tranquil tenor of my days!
Hail, circling rocks, and all this prospect drear,
Far, far from human ken and beaten ways!
Now once again the glaring noontide rays
Have past away, and all-involving night
Is fast expelling evening's sunset blaze.
Here let me sit and watch with patient sight
The happy stars that move in loneliness and light.

"Ah, joyous ye that roll above the earth,
And view man's labours with a calm regard;
And know his noblest efforts nothing worth,
Toil without fruit, and care without reward!
I know them so, and worse, and therefore barr'd
Myself ev'n here against th' access of man:
I know the ungrateful world, nor think it hard
Thus to confine my life within the span
Of this dim vale remote. Here my true joys began!

"The wisest men contemn'd the court, the herd
Of linked slaves, howe'er bedight and brave;
And those whom Fortune has the most preferr'd
Must fill at last a solitary grave,
The scorn and jest of every fool and knave.
We enter singly on this mortal state—
We quit it singly — welcome then my cave!
That I most love which others chiefly hate;
The more the world is fill'd, the more 'tis desolate.

"The noblest of God's creatures, brute and prone,
Teach all mankind the same example still:
The lordly lion stalks the plain alone,
Alone at night his shaggy lair doth fill:
The mighty eagle mounts from yonder hill,
And trusts in single flight his powerful wing;
Sails upward to the sun, and drinks at will
From that great orb, of light and life the spring:
They hold no converse low with any living thing.

"All hail then, solitude — blest solitude!
Of deepest thought at once both sire and child!
Hail, rocks on which dwells ever winter rude,
To me most grateful where most bleak and wild!
Hail, damps which summer's heat has ne'er exil'd!
And you each leafless tree of sad aspect,
Thrust out 'mong these huge cliffs so antic pil'd—
Hail to ye all! Your joys let all reject,
Here is the welcome dwelling-place of cold Neglect."

The voice now ceas'd; yet still the rocks and caves
Retain'd the echoes of that mystic sound:
As the hoarse murmurs of the ocean waves
Heard far, far off against the cliffs rebound,
When raging to o'erleap that natural mound,
They still are back repell'd. So deeply wrought
That voice in us, it fix'd us to the ground:
Then gaz'd we on each other, as we sought
To learn, yet dar'd not speak, each other's inward thought.

The voice though awful, yet not fearful seem'd:
Thus woe-begone and lost, what could we dread?
Much rather hope upon our senses beam'd,
When our first mute astonishment was fled.
Repose we sought, and though from what was said,
We judg'd the speaker some lone misanthrope,
Buried in this deep valley, living-dead,
Yet seeing us, he could not chuse but ope
His gloomy dreary cell, and realize our hope.

As by one thought impell'd, one impulse led,
Round the bare rocks we wound that intercept
Our searching sight: full silently we tread,
And now, as we imagin'd, we had crept
Where his lone seat the hoary hermit kept:
Yet nought could see, save rugged rocks and grey,
In antic shapes, that in the twilight slept;
And oft we watch'd them, moveless as they lay,
Deeming them human forms — nor night it was, nor day.

Were we deceiv'd? The hollow voice and word
Still sounded in our ears, yet nothing near
From whence it could proceed we mark'd or heard:
All round about was deathly still and drear.
More superhuman now those sounds appear;
Perhaps the spirit of that lifeless waste,
Not the sad plaint of holy hermit seer,
Driv'n from the world by hatred and distaste
For worldly pleasures vain and luxuries unchaste.

"Whoe'er thou art that habitst here," I cried,
In voice subdued, "or human or divine,
Oh! deign in charity our steps to guide,
And to our prayers a favouring ear incline.
For have we journey'd, nor would we repine
At our hard lot could we repose obtain:
Since sun of yesterday began to shine
We have not rested from our toil and pain,
And now at length have reach'd this rock-encompass'd plain."

While thus I spoke, I trembled at the sound
Of my own voice in that lone savage place,
While my companion eager sought around
If answer kind or rude my prayers might grace;
Then mute he turn'd, and gaz'd upon my face,
As well as he could by that dim light;
And thus had we remain'd some moment's space
When, lo! again that voice of man or sprite
We heard, but whence it came defied our poring sight.

"And who are ye, that thus with daring foot
Upon my welcome solitude now break?
Am I not free e'en here from man's pursuit,
Though places inaccessible I seek?
Whence come ye, worldlings, and what would ye? Speak!
Here have I nought to tempt ye from your road,
Save ragged caves, hard fare, and mountains bleak,
That long have been Neglect's secure abode,
'Mid ways that human foot before hath seldom trode."

The tone was somewhat alter'd, more severe
And stern, as if in wrath the spirit spoke—
The spirit of that solitude so drear,
Upon whose loneliness we rudely broke,
And the dread silence of that vale awoke.
Viewless to us he seem'd, yet still his words
Sounded like those of one who had forsoke
The heartless, thankless ways of human herds,
And sought this lonely spot, free e'en from beasts and birds.

"If ever pity dwells within thy breast,"
I thus return'd in soothing humble tone,
"Oh! grant this night to give the weary rest,
Who from their ignorance offend alone.
With no rude purpose we break in upon,
Whate'er thou art, thy hallow'd loneliness;
But all our hope, except from thee, is gone:
To thee do we appeal in our distress,
Hermit, or spirit dread of this bleak wilderness!"

"Whence com'st thou, youth? and whither wouldst thou go?"
The voice less stern and hoarse replied in haste;
And I, encourag'd by its mildness, show
How with the rev'rend Pilgrim I had trac'd
The mazy wood, till Fortune's palace, plac'd
Upon the flambeau-lighted plain, we enter'd;
How my guide fled on Disappointment's waste,
And I with new and bold companion ventur'd
Into this vale obscure, where all our hopes were centered.

"And who art thou, companion of his toil?
And why dost thou the ways of man reject?
Why hast thou fled the peopl'd world's turmoil,
To visit here the haunt of cold Neglect?"
He said, and stay'd, as though he did expect
An answer; nor did long await reply.
"Ah! view in me," he cried, "the fond effect
Of slighted love and woman's perfidy,
Of truth repaid with falsehood, love with cruelty!

"Whether the genius of this desert spot,
Or hermit sage, the which I rather deem,
Thou canst not chuse but pity my hard lot,
Although thy heart cold as these rocks should seem.
In Pleasure's court I liv'd as in a dream,
And there I roll'd in endless rapture free,
Nor thought of aught save bliss and beauty's beam,
Which from the brightest eyes fair shone on me;
And while I bask'd methought no end of joy could be.

"But as a voyager on the treacherous seas
In some huge vessel with her tackling proud,
Is oft in danger most when most at ease,
Dreading no coming tempest fierce and loud;
Anon the clear's obscur'd by many a cloud,
The ocean rises as the hoarse winds rave;
The waves that late disdainfully she plough'd
Now rend her hull; the vessel late so brave
Is made the sport of winds, the plaything of the wave:

"So I, when most I deem'd myself secure,
And in my mistress most had confidence,
Ev'n then in hapless state was most unsure,
And all my joy was but a vain pretence.
Her beauty's charm dissolv'd my every sense,
And in a bath of bliss my soul did float:
I never dreamt deceit could come from thence
Where heavenly beauty reign'd — but far remote—
Her lovely features shone like falsehood's antidote.

To such a face who would not freely trust,
And on such beauty all his fortunes rest?
Who would not hold that Heav'n could be unjust,
Or the sun cease his progress toward the west,
Ere she could harbour falsehood in her breast?
Yet so I found it! — She, to me untrue,
To a vile baseborn slave her love addrest!
Oh! cursed hour when I her falsehood knew,
And with this wretched hand her new-found lover slew!

"Revenge had work'd my soul into a foam,
Yet could I not her spotless beauty mar;
And when I thrust my greedy weapon home
Into his heart, her breast I could not scar,
Though than her paramour more guilty far.
I lov'd her still, ev'n in excess of hate,
And love and hate within my bosom war.
I tore me from her wild and desperate,
And in another realm sought out another fate.

"Where'er I turn to fly that bloody scene,
I still was hunted down by fell Despair:
In many a land have I a wanderer been,
And ever found his emissaries there.
Ev'n now within this feverish breast I bear
A rankling wound that aye doth inly bleed,
Which they inflicted on me all unware,
While o'er that blasted desert I proceed,
Where I this youth encounter'd at my utmost need.

"Deem me not then a wretch past pity's aid,
A harden'd murderer repentance past!
The fatal truth I have wide open laid,
And now myself on Heaven's mercy cast.
That a vile slave should all my prospects blast
Rous'd my worst fury! If some noble knight
Had gain'd my faithless mistress' love at last,
Methinks I could have borne the cruel slight.—
Oh, grov'ling-hearted maid! — oh, love most lewd and light!"

Thus ended his tale of fond deceit,
And as he ended, on the bare cold ground
He fell insensible, ev'n at my feet:
I gently strove to raise him, but I found
In his cold breast that ever rankling wound
Of which he spake, that freshly, freely bled.
To staunch the stream the hurt I quickly bound,
And raising on my knee his drooping head,
I loudly call'd for aid, as fearing he was dead.

No answer heard I, save from rock or cave
That my own voice around reverberate.
But now some signs of life's return he gave,
His heart once more began to palpitate,
Which seem'd his welling wound to aggravate:
Close to his breast I would have kept my hand,
But he, as if in poison desperate,
Sprang to his feet, and thus essay'd to stand,
But staggering almost fell again upon the strand.

Yet fain would he impetuously have rush'd
He knew not whither in his anguish wild,
But I restrain'd him and his fury hush'd,
And him recomforted in accents mild,
Until he yielded like a wayward child.
He rested faintly on a neighbouring stone,
Holding his hands, in his own blood defil'd,
Before his eyes, with many an inward moan,
And many a broken accent that his guilt did own.

While thus I stood, methought a rustling noise
I heard among the grass and fragments bare;
And now again I felt that solemn voice
Heavily rolling o'er the dusky air:
"Come, follow me!" it cried. With eager stare
I look'd around, and with a fearful start
Fancied I saw a figure, gaunt and spare,
In slow and solemn measure move athwart
Those rocks of which he seem'd by that dim light a part.

Whence it had risen could I not declare;
It mov'd right onward like a dusky cloud,
Nor wound among the rocks spread here and there:
And now the darkness did it wholly shroud,
Or it had vanish'd; but in voice more loud
To where it mov'd it soon recall'd my eyes:
"Come, follow me!" — Unconsciously I bow'd,
And aiding my companion weak to rise,
We anxiously pursue where the slow shadow flies.

Long time we had not journey'd ere we reach
The rocks, a rugged wall, the vale that gird,
And in those rocks we now behold a breach,
Some dreary cavern's mouth. Awhile deterr'd
Gazing we stood, until again we heard
The awfuul voice resounding as on high:
"Enter, and fear not; enter!" On the word
More boldly we advanc'd, but could espy
No light to guide our steps or cheer the poring eye.

All, all was dark within. Again we stay
Our steps, not knowing whither we were led;
But the bold youth soon forc'd himself away,
And darted forward, void of every dread:
"The worst is but the worst!" he wildly said;
"Worse than I have sustain'd can ne'er ensue!"
I follow'd him, until a taper red,
Or glimmering lamp, far in the cave we view,
And toward this welcome light we haste with courage new.

Narrow the passage was through which we past,
Until we near'd this solitary light,
The which a faint uncertain radiance cast
Upon a chamber wide, and of such height
We could not reach the ceiling with our sight:
Dry leaves were strew'd in a retiring nook,
The bed no doubt of some world-wearied wight,
Who in disgust the paths of man forsook,
And on a tablet low was laid full many a book.

"Here rest ye," said the voice, "till morning break,"
In accents ev'n more hollow than before;
As if the caverns yawning jaws then spake,
Nor by whom utter'd could our eyes explore.
"Welcome are ye to all my cave and store;
Nor will ye fare, though frugal, now reject,
Nor the hard couch upon the leafy floor.—
No thanks — no base return do I expect;
For ye fit tenants are for cave of cold Neglect."

We heard no more: in the deep cave's recess
The hollow awful accents quite expir'd,
And toward the close the sound grew less and less,
As if by slow degrees the voice retir'd.—
I cast my eyes around me and admir'd
That antique cave, and sage inscriptions read;
While my companion, with his travel tir'd,
And weak with loss of blood, sank on the bed,
That leafy couch, and lay as motionless as dead.

Around the granite walls I saw engraven
Full many a scroll in ancient character,
Of vanity of all things under heaven,
And human foolishness that could prefer
To mix in the world's business and stir,
Hoping to raise or benefit mankind;
While base ingratitude did aye defer
All hoped return, and many a noble mind,
By madness overthrown, in disappointment pin'd.

Here rare inventions of mechanic skill
Were register'd as uselessly invented,
To perfect which, enduring every ill,
The ruin'd author died, yet ne'er repented.
And here were high achievements deep indented,
Which mighty nations happy made and free,
But th' achiever, with the deed contented,
Died unrewarded: here again I see
The vanity of wit and wisdom's misery!

And on the tablet of the solid stone
Old books in different languages were laid,
While others were in niches thickly strown,
And others hidden in recesses' shade.
In reading these rare works I long delay'd:
They were the fruits of learning long entomb'd,
Or by divine imagination made:
Yet vainly was the midnight lamp consum'd,
And in the desert air the poet's blossoms bloom'd.

Science alike and sage philosophy
Were thrust into Neglect's unknown abode;
The noblest products of man's industry
The various parts of this huge cavern ow'd,
For my remembrance too severe a load.
Some works I saw that many an after-age
Shall deem the highest blessing God bestow'd,
And reverence the life-neglected sage,
Whose very name is raz'd from history's partial page.

How different far, methought, has been their fate
The deadliest enemies our race has known,
Pursued with blindest worship early, late;
And some, admir'd for efforts not their own,
Have to the world's eye stood aloft, alone.
How oft has persecution hunted him
Upon whose toils the light of science shone,
To clear the errors of man's darkness dim,
Compell'd to drain the cup of sorrow from the brim!

But most in corners thrown without regard,
Begrim'd with dust I saw the poet's lays;
The nobly gifted heaven-inspired bard
Had not the poor reward of empty praise.
Here strains I read than in more favour'd days
Would have uprais'd the author to the skies,
But now in cold Neglect's lone cave he stays,
Companion with the learned, great, and wise:
Well could his lofty soul the world's contempt despise!

"And be it ever so!" I fervent cried—
"No poet he who courts the world's applause:
The truly gifted feel a nobler pride,
And hate the tainted breath of vulgar maws,
Condemning idly, praising without cause.
To be a poet is enough reward!
He rules his actions by his own just laws,
He makes his own delights, nor is debarr'd
From all that can deserve so high a mind's regard!"

All this I saw; and now fatigue bereaves
My weary eyes of power to look on more.
I laid me down upon the bed of leaves
Thickly disspread upon the rocky floor,
Where the sad grief-worn youth was stretch'd before.
All tranquilly he slept with breathings light,
Yet still his hand upon his wound he wore;
And then so pale his cheek, I ween, one might
But for his breath have thought endless to him that night.

[pp. 61-88]