1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Poet's Pilgrimage. Canto IV.

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

John Payne Collier


In the morning the Poet discovers his companion dead, though with a look of contentment on his face. The Poet now meets the figure of Neglect face to face: "Unbent he stood, like antiquated tower, | Majestic in its ruins" p. 92. Clambering out of the Vale of Neglect, the Poet once again meets with the Pilgrim, who leads him into a dark cave reverberating to the sound of a foaming cataract: "One after other o'er this hideous steep | Full many a gallant gorgeous vessel fell, | Or took in darkness a wild desperate leap" p. 102. Terrified at the sight of the torrent of Oblivion, the Poet grasps his guide's hand, and finds himself standing amid a pleasing prospect. It is the river of Popularity, on whose dangerous waters ride many gallant vessels, most destined for the gulf of Oblivion. They venture to cross the river, the Poet at the oars and the Pilgrim at the tiller.

On the other side they pass through a dismal forest to a ruined palace choked with vegetation. In the palace the Poet encounters a lovely woman, surrounded by bay trees, performing on the harp: "I started back in dread yet glad surprise, | For well I knew it was the Poet's Muse, | To gain whose favouring smile no toils would I refuse" p. 115. The Lady informs him that he is now in the abode of pining Poverty, where he is destined long to abide. As the poem concludes, she informs Ignoto that she is now to be his guide, and offers him a leaf of bay, the sight of which will render him happy in all travails.



From cold NEGLECT IGNOTO hies;
The PILGRIM meets again;
And finds the MUSE to be his guide
Through POVERTY'S domain.

How long I might have lain in thoughtless sleep,
Without a dream to trouble my repose,
I know not, if that voice, unearthly deep,
Had not requir'd my eyes I should unclose:
Startled I woke, and on my couch half rose,
Wondering at every object strange that met
My eyes bewilder'd. Whether friends or foes
Had brought me there, and wherefore, I forget,
And in my ears confus'd the voice was sounding yet.

Wildly I gaz'd around, until I saw,
Ev'n at the side of my low leafy bed,
That form mysterious, which with solemn awe
Our way to this same gloomy cavern led.
"Arise, fair youth, for it is morn," he said,
"And follow me to drink the morning air:
Nay, leave your young companion — he is dead!"
Alas! it was so — life nor heat was there:
"And here," the Hermit cried, "behold the end of care!"

I turn'd towards him with a mournful eye,
But still less mournful far when I beheld
How tranquilly at ease the youth did lie:
It seem'd as though no violence expell'd
His willing life, but tranquilly it well'd.
His face lay upward, quiet as in sleep,
With every trace of former woe dispell'd:
It was a sight to smile on, not to weep,
And on the dead man's face a constant smile did keep.

As we have seen on a clear summer's day,
When undisturb'd the sky-reflecting sea,
Some beauteous ship at anchor in a bay,
With tackling furl'd, and motionless, as she
Were never meant from that bright spot to flee:
Or as a summer cloud, when not a breath
Wafts it through heaven's vault, such as we see
Melt into the blue nothing: — such his death,
So peacefully he lay on the dry leaves beneath.

"Living like him who willingly would live?
Dying like him who would not freely die?
Behold the aid that pitying Heav'n could give,
And there the only end of misery!
Ah! happy end and joyous destiny!
Now triumphs he above his earthly foe,
O'er base ingratitude and perfidy,
Which human blood in tides has caus'd to flow,
And made the peopled world a wilderness of woe!"

Thus spake the Hermit — from the cavern dark
Then led me forth into the open day.
For the first time I now distinctly mark
His venerable figure, which made stay
At the wide entrance to point out the way
I must pursue, if so I would reject
His most persuasive counsel to delay
With him in this lone sojourn of Neglect;
For from cold-hearted man what could I expect?

Wan was his cheek, deep sunken was his eye
Beneath his gray and overhanging brow:
Though time had wrong'd his features' symmetry,
Yet could it not his manly shoulders bow.
Wide o'er his breast his ancient beard did flow:
Unbent he stood, like antiquated tower,
Majestic in its ruins; and more now
Than when assaulted by a kingdom's flower,
It frown'd defiance high on all their futile power.

The sun was risen, and his vigorous light
Shot overhead from each bright pinnacle
Of rocks that skirt the vale; but dusky night
Still heavy linger'd in this dreary dell.
The vapours dun on every object fell,
Dank, drizzling, cold — a black unwholesome dew!
Death was behind me in the dismal cell,
And living death beside me, while the view
Of the fresh light invites my journey to pursue.

He said no more, but pointing to the road
Toward the eastern side of that wild vale,
Retir'd again into his drear abode,
Nor waited for my thanks. My spirits fail
To think that I had now alone to scale
That perilous wall of rocks that high impended,
Still struggling up, haply without avail,
By no companion cheer'd, no hope befriended,
Till with Neglect at last my unknown days I ended.

But as I look'd again, methought I saw
A separation in the rocky pile,
More clear and obvious as I nearer draw:
It seem'd to lead by many a turning wile
Up to the higher plains: a brightening smile
I felt come o'er my face; fresh-springing hope
Made my heart leap within my breast a while;
And now I fancied that an easy slope
Would soon upon the broad and cultured champain ope.

Nor hope deceiv'd me. Down this fissure wide
The sunshine on the neighbouring valley pour'd
A glorious and invigorating tide,
That every dark and deep recess explor'd.
I prais'd the heav'nly powers that thus afford
A welcome prospect I could least expect:
My limbs with new and active vigour stor'd,
All dark desponding fears I soon reject,
And thus I left behind the vale of cold Neglect.

It was a joyous heart-expanding sight,
After that valley's chilly dreariness,
To mark the fair effects of gladsome light:
The hue of sickly brown grew less and less;
And in the midst of rocky barrenness
The lengthy grass put on a cheerful green;
And further upward, from the crevices
Fresh opening flowers drinking the beams were seen,
While wanton woodbine twin'd its wreathing arms between.

Yet the ascent was difficult and steep,
And where the bending road was fair and wide
I was compell'd at times on hands to creep,
Nor trust my feet, lest I should backward slide:
Sometimes in narrow straights the rocks divide,
Or, overarching, scarce divide on high,
And from the dampish ground the daylight hide:
But these once past again with gladden'd eye
I saw the rocks recede, and view'd the clear blue sky.

And now I had arriv'd on a small plain,
A sylvan scene — a stage in my ascent;
Where feathery birch, alder, and broad-leav'd plane
A varying and refreshing shadow lent:
And these hard by, from the rude rock was sent
A stream, whose very murmur seem'd to cool;
From stone to stone in antic merriment
It danc'd and fell, regardless of all rule,
Until at last it made a bright o'erflowing pool.

Not yet the sun shone with his noontide force,
But lengthen'd shadows streak'd the dewy ground:
Toward that mountain-rill I shap'd my course:
My weary feet a cool refreshment found
In shady spots where yet the dews abound,
And the sun's heat not yet could penetrate:
I sat me down upon the stony round
That circled in the glassy pool, and straight
I drank, and felt new life my spirits animate.

Again I stoop'd to drink, by thirst compell'd,
The crystal waves that rippled o'er the brim;
But in the uncertain waters I beheld,
Or thought I saw, reflected face and limb,
That venerable courteous Pilgrim, him
With whom I enter'd Fortune's palace bright,
But after lost amid the darkness dim,
While the rain fell in torrents. With delight
I turn'd and saw the waves had not deceiv'd my sight:

For there indeed the reverend sire did stand
Upon a rock that o'er the waves impended,
And as he beckon'd with his aged hand
To the same eminence I soon ascended,
While he with reaching staff my steps befriended.
His face the same benignant smile still wore,
Wherein compassion was so finely blended,
That it encourag'd while it did deplore
The anxious hopeless course I follow'd evermore.

He saw that I would speak, but mildly thus,
Waving his hand, he stay'd my utterance:
"'Tis needless each with other to discuss
What we have pass'd since by unseen mischance
We were disparted while we did advance
Across the moor of dark Despondancy,
A dismal wild and desolate expanse.
Now have we met beneath a favouring sky,
And Hope's pure living waters light thy fervent eye.

"Yet follow not the path thou hast begun:
Not by an easy undulating road,
Nor 'neath the cheerful splendour of the sun
Canst thou escape from cold Neglect's abode."
Then, pointing with his polish'd staff, he shew'd
An upward craggy path, toward the source
Whence that same little mountain torrent flow'd.
Thither the holy Pilgrim bent his course,
While I his upward steps pursued with all my force.

And now ascending steep we reach'd unwares
The ragged mouth of a deep gloomy cave,
That seem'd to breathe out pestilential airs,
And from its jaws all vegetation drave.
A sullen roaring, as of distant wave,
Or central cataract's dark headlong fall,
Or hollow winds that aye impetuous rave,
Was heard within: well might such sight appal
My unexpecting heart, and to my guide I call.

My faltering voice the rocks reverberate
In sounds so dreary, not my voice it seem'd;
Nor could my voice the cavern penetrate
More than the blessed light that faintly beam'd
But a few paces in, although it stream'd
Down from the noontide sun so burning bright
That all without in painful splendour gleam'd:
Darkness was there more powerful than light,
And ancient Night maintain'd her great primeval right.

I paus'd to follow then my unaw'd guide,
Till the last glimpse of his apparel gray
Was lost in gloom. With undeterred stride
He journey'd on: at last without delay
I darted t'ward the cavern, nor would stay
Though rushing winds fierce blowing in my face
To stop my onward progress made essay;
But when once fairly enter'd they gave place,
And reckless I pursued the Pilgrim's echoing pace.

Impenetrable was the gloom: the roar
Of dashing waves grew louder as we went;
So loud, the Pilgrim's steps I heard no more,
And I seem'd left in lonesome dreriment:
But now, as if my terrors to prevent,
I felt his warm hand firmly grasping mine,
Leading me onward to his first intent.
At length methought I saw a distant shine
Of weak and darkling light with the dull gloom combine.

The roar was now terrific: on my ear
It beat like vollies of artillery,
As we approach'd the light, which seem'd to peer
Through a rude fissure in the roof on high.
And here methought most certain we drew nigh
The edge of some huge precipice before,
Which the vast cataract rush'd foaming by:
Such light than darkness made my terrors more,
And every step I shrunk lest we fall headlong o'er.

At length he stay'd; and whether that my sight
Grew stronger, or the boiling foam and spray
Reflected back the glimpses of the light,
I know not, but my eyes more clearly stray
From place to place amid the doubtful day.—
We stood upon a lofty precipice,
Just where a furious torrent made its way,
Swelling and roaring down a black abyss,
That drank with quenchless thirst vast oceans fathomless.

'Till it arriv'd at that same awful brink,
Smooth was the stream and steady roll'd the tide,
Nor could one floating on its surface think
That such a desperate fate would soon betide.
And there, alas! through the half light I 'spied
Vessels full mann'd ride toward the deep profound,
And rolling down waters and darkness hide
The bark and them for ever; while the sound
Of shrieks and timbers rent in the hoarse roar was drown'd!

Oh, fearful sight! — oh, horrid spectacle!
One after other o'er this hideous steep
Full many a gallant gorgeous vessel fell,
Or took in darkness a wild desperate leap;
For rapid borne in the fierce current's sweep,
Before they fell they hung as in mid air,
Then plung'd for ever down the endless deep.
I could behold no more, in dizzy glare
My aching eyes confus'd lost every object there.

The rock roll'd backward from the stagnant tide,
The tide and moving vessels seem'd to stand:
Down dropt I at the kindly Pilgrim's side,
And o'er the edge had fall'n, but his hand
Still held me with a firm and grasping band.
What after happen'd, how I left that cave,
I know not: when again I could command
My scatter'd sense, the gentle breezes lave
My heated brow, and o'er my head green branches wave.

The holy man beside me on the grass
Was sitting, watching with parental care
My life's return, which for a while did pass.
He smil'd to see my waken'd eyeballs stare
On him and on the prospect wide and fair,
So chang'd from what they had whilere beheld.
"Well hast thou 'scap'd," he said, "for such as dare
Approach that gulf, or by their fate compell'd,
Return to light and life and happiness but seld.

"It was Oblivion's torrent hurling down
That precipice its huge resistless tide:
Through many a fair and populated town,
O'er many a verdant champain, open, wide,
It takes its course, before its waters hide
Their glittering face beneath the arching earth:
Under a constant sunshine doth it glide,
And from its burial upwards to its birth
Its surface pageants gild, its shores resound with mirth.

"And 'till its burial in the yawning ground
'Tis nam'd the stream of Popularity;
For ever running toward that gulf profound,
Down which but now you saw its waters fly,
O'erwhelming all they bore dispiteously.
Behind yon hill the flattering river flows,
Tempting each jocund voyager to try
Its easy stream, while every wind that blows
Joins with the heaving wave to lull him to repose."

O'er that same gentle hill my steps he led,
Beyond I mark'd the stream of which he spake,
Watering a gladsome vale, and o'er it spread
Not like a winding river, but broad lake.
I scarcely knew if I were yet awake,
For sight so fair I seld had seen till now:
Banners and silken sails and pennants shake
In the delighted airs that freshly blow,
And the bright waves seem'd proud of every gilded prow.

Yet when I watch'd more narrowly, I noted
That though the tide appear'd both smooth and fair,
And bore with little or none who floated
Upon its surface rippled by the air,
Strong and unlook'd-for eddies still there were,
Driving back some that made their rapid way;
Whirlpools that might deceive most heedful care,
Made not a few their miserable prey,
Their fate unheeded though in broad and open day.

Full many a gorgeous pageant there I saw,
Bright Nymphs and Tritons with their wreathed horn:
Here link'd Leviathans and Dolphins draw
A burnish'd car that glitter'd like the morn;
There stately ships along the smooth tide borne
Before the favouring wind; while every bark
Some show of worldly spendour did adorn:
And most in blind unconsciousness I mark
Haste amid music's sound to th' abyss profound and dark.

It suck'd in all with greedy quenchless thirst,
Save few who saw their danger ere too near:
Nor was indeed their unseen fate the worst
Who to the gulf most ignorantly steer.
To some too late their error 'gan appear;
And among these was seen a hideous sight,
A dreadful conflict, agony of fear,
Frantic despair, confusion at its height,
'Till the increasing tide bid all in endless night.

But few were they who ere too late could stem
The vigorous tide that swelling roll'd along;
And fewer still were they who, unlike them,
Had never yielded to its current strong,
But work'd against the stream through blame and wrong:
Singly they strove, and sometimes all their force
Prov'd in the end unequal, and among
The common herd they join'd the common course,
And met the common fate, Oblivion's gulf or worse.

How envied I those strenuous minds obscure
That dared alone the stream to disobey;
In their own vigour diffidently sure,
Steering their course beside the vulgarway;
Their sight still fix'd on what beyond them lay,
Until at length they gain'd their glorious end,
The boast and pride of man in other day!
While thus I thought the Pilgrim reverend
Toward the river's bank his steady steps did bend:

And there arriving we beheld a boat,
A little boat — "And now we must adventure,"
The Pilgrim said, "upon this stream to float,
To gain its farther side: — descend and enter
This boat, that lies as though kind Heav'n had lent her."
I did, and took in hand each ready oar.
"All thy young strength is needed: in the centre
The tide runs fiercely — reach the distant shore
And landed we are safe from peril, not before."

At first the tide was gentle, and gave time
For me to view the land we left behind.
Bright was the prospect; glittering dwellings climb
The easy eminences, all enshrin'd
In well clad woods, that now to brown inclin'd,
Contrasting richly with the herbage green:
And here and there among the meadows wind
Blithe troops of maids and youths in garments sheen,
Breaking like sunshine forth the shadowy trees between.

And while I fondly gaz'd, our little bark
Was dropping slowly down the increasing tide:
The watchful Pilgrim bade me now to mark
The reedy shores by which we backward glide,
And I the oars with all my vigour plied,
While he the steerage kept with heedful care:
Yet ere we near'd the river's father side,
Full many dangers in our face did stare,
And but for his foresight had whelm'd us all unware.

The current ran indeed with vigorous might,
Yet could my strength resist its lesser force;
And as my oars were long, our boat was light,
We still had kept a constant onward course,
If sometimes vessels huge, without remorse,
Crews without heed, had not on us borne down:
The Pilgrim's skill was then our best resource,
And more preserv'd than all the strength I own
Mid the far-scattering foam that threaten'd us to drown.

'Twas easy to endure the worldling's sneer,
The vulgar herd's vile scoff and ridicule,
Because we chose in our own course to steer,
Making our true and best delight our rule;
Had not ofttimes some self-enamour'd fool
Essay'd in wantonness to overwhelm
Our small frail vessel in the eddying pool;
But aye the Pilgrim kept a watchful helm,
And thus the perils past of this wide watery realm.

The river's farther side was different far
To that rich shore that we had seen recede.
The slimy banks at first our progress bar,
Yet could not long such obstacle impeded;
For by the aid of many a vigorous reed,
That flourish'd in the water's sediment,
We mount the bank, and onward thence proceed
Over a marshy soil, which as we went
Rattled beneath our feet, and noisome vapours sent.

Not far beyond on rising ground appears
A forest black — gloomy unsightly pines:
The vegetation dank of former years
Hung ragged, matted, rotting, on the lines
Of horizontal arms; nor were there signs
Of life or freshness, save on each high head
Whereon the sun at times uncertain shines.
On all beneath a baleful blight was shed,
And wholesome light itself from this drear scene was fled.

I felt the forest's deadening influence
While following close whereas the Pilgrim led;
A chilling dampness came o'er my every sense,
And a dull gloom was o'er my spirits spread.
All sounds were silent — save beneath our tread
The crackling of the fallen branches sere,
And the sad wind that sighing overhead,
Swaying the limber pine-trees here and there,
Kept up a mournful moaning in the air.

Yet to our path arrived no gentle breath,
The heavy stagnant air to move awhile;
The very air partook the general death
That every thing did thence exile;
Ourselves except, who journeying many a mile
At a wide valley's edge arriv'd at last,
Wherein we saw a huge and antique pile,
In wild decay, irregular and vast,
Whose dismal lofty towers around dim horror cast.

And though from height this structure I beheld,
My wandering sight could not the whole include:
The gloom of shadowy wood my eye repell'd
From portions that I then most nearly view'd;
High Moorish towers, black, ponderous, and rude,
Involv'd elsewhere the pile within their shade,
And all appear'd one desart solitude.
Age-stricken oaks their giant arms display'd
O'er courts where once a host embattled stood array'd.

Thus nature once more triumph'd over art;
The ivy's weight dragg'd down the mouldering wall,
And lowly shrubs intrude on every part:
Where erst the barb'd portcullis wont to fall,
Huge stones had chok'd the gate and brushwood small:
No sign of life was seen on any side,
But grim destruction trampled upon all;
More deadly seeming from the pompous pride
Of that deserted pile in elder happier tide.

All this I saw descending. The deep shade
Of massive towers that flank'd the outer gate
Involv'd me soon; and now a pause I made,
Aw'd by a scene so grand and desolate.
Then turning slowly round, I thought to wait
For my kind guide, the Pilgrim grey and old,
Who stay'd behind as if in self-debate:
But whether the deep shadows might infold
Him in their solemn gloom, I could not him behold.

Round every part of that vast antique pile,
Round every part my sight that could include,
I cast my anxious eyes, in hope the while
To see the Pilgrim from the masses rude
Emerging soon; yet whereso'er I view'd
I saw him not. Full suddenly then greet
My vacant ear in that still solitude
The grateful sounds of varying music sweet,
As of some harp or lyre struck in that lone retreat.

Not sad, I ween, nor joyous was the note:
A bold inspiring animating sound,
That set the moveless air in waves afloat,
Swelling and rich, harmonious and round.
Now 'neath the vigorous touch the cords rebound,
And the notes strike full on my charmed ear;
And now retire, as is the music wound
Far off among the towers and ruins drear,
Then rapidly approach, distinct, impetuous, clear.

Not long I listen'd: through the tower-flank'd gate,
Chok'd by the brushwood small and mouldering stone,
I made my way into the court-yard straight,
Where sitting 'mid the ruins wild, alone,
Beneath the drooping ivy overgrown,
I saw a lovely lady, whose fair hand
Stray'd o'er a golden harp: its sweetest tone
Seem'd breath'd in gratitude, so it might stand
Within her lov'd embrace and sound at her command.

Gracefully fell her bright apparel down
In chaste simplicity of ancient guize,
And on her ample brow a laurel crown
Shadow'd the lustre of her open eyes.
A bay-tree, ever green, the poet's prize,
Flourish'd beside her, of its leaves profuse.
I started back in dread yet glad surprise,
For well I knew it was the Poet's Muse,
To gain whose favouring smile no toils would I refuse.

She saw me hesitate, and at her look
Upon my bended knee I humbly fell:
Then from the verdant bay one leaf she took,
And me approaching, thus she said: "Full well
I know what thou would'st have; nor need'st thou tell
How thou cam'st here: thy purpose high I love,
That scorns thy soul at lower rate to sell
Than its true worth, and holds itself above
The mercenary throng, who only live and move!

"I have been with thee 'mid thy toils and pains,
And in disguise thus far thy strength have tried;
But a severer test behind remains
Than those thou suffer'dst with thy Pilgrim guide.
This drear domain, these ruins scatter'd wide
Are the abode of pining Poverty;
And haply here must thou long time abide.
In my own shape I'll bear thee company:—
The present Muse alone can cheer thy misery!—

"But she shall cheer thee in thy troubled way,
Lessen all griefs, make all misfortunes light.
Take then this leaf of ever-verdant bay;
One look on it shall make thy prospects bright,
And turn thy deepest sorrow to delight!
Yet want and penury must fill thy story;
And though these realms may seem unpeopled quite,
Yet are they fill'd with bards of fairest glory,
And therefore men it call 'The Poet's Purgatory.'"

Thus spoke the Muse: with grateful fervent tears
I bath'd the hem of her white flowing stole,
And vow'd that ever in my after years
To her alone I would devote my soul:
Nor sought she then my ardour to controul,
But gently rais'd me from my kneeling place.
Into my breast the leaf of bay I stole;
My worst misgivings it soon put to chase,
And with the Muse I held high converse face to face.

[pp. 89-117]