1763 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Earthquake

Zion's Trumpet: a Theological Miscellany 1 (December 1798) 277-80.

Rev. Walter Shirley


A brief allegory in ten Prior stanzas, not signed. The scene opens during the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, where "a favor'd wight" calls out for assistance amid the destruction: "O where for refuge shall I now repair? | Which way I turn (he cried) I meet the fiend, Despair." A friendly voice calls out, bidding him make his way to a nearby towering Rock; having found their way to safety, they call out to others to join them. The poem then comments, "Reader, behold in this sad tale of woe, | A lively picture of earth's transient scene; | There's nothing permanent of things below, | No perpetuity in joys terrene." The poem concludes with a lively descriptions of the hellfire and damnation awaiting those who refuse to repent.

I attribute the poem to Walter Shirley, believing that it is a companion poem to Shirley's Liberty, reprinted in Zion's Trumpet the previous month. The two poems are in the same measure, the same manner, and are of identical length. Neither is attributed, though a note to Liberty indicates that the editor was at least aware that the author was an Irish clergyman. The substance of The Earthquake is consonant with Shirley's Methodism.



When Lisbon's tow'rs were level'd with the ground,
And all her palaces in ruin laid,
Her shores with dire convulsions rent around,
Her seas hurl'd upward from their weedy bed;
Her num'rous citizens, with terror pale,
By thousands sinking to one common grave;
Few left to hear the melancholy tale,
Sav'd from th' insatiate gulph or whelming wave;
(The scene, tho' past, has left a pang behind;
Still the remembrance wounds the sympathetic mind.)

Amidst the general wreck a favor'd wight,
Whom Heav'n preserv'd for happier days to come,
Stood on the chaos, shudd'ring at the sight,
And shrinking from his own impending doom;
The stately structures, nodding from above,
Threaten'd to crush him in their massive heap;
While o'er the rocking earth his footsteps move,
Toss'd like the ridges of the billow'd deep:
"O where for refuge shall I now repair?
Which way I turn (he cried) I meet the fiend, Despair."

Just at this awful crisis, when appear'd
No cheering view of life or future joys,
Thro' the surrounding uproar's rage he heard
Distinctly, with surprize, a friendly voice.
Towards the point he turn'd with eager haste,
From whence the welcome sounds salute his ear;
Whilst, with alternate throbs, his doubtful breast
Is sooth'd by dawning hope, or torn with fear:
"Hither, desponding mortal, bend thine eye,
And wing thy speedy flight; behold a refuge nigh.

"Long time, like you, I rang'd; while earth beneath
Threaten'd t' ingulph me ev'ry step I took;
Where'er I turn'd, some varied form of death
With hideous aspect met each anxious look:
When lo, at last, a tow'ring Rock I spied,
Fix'd in the centre of the waving plain."
"Is there a safe retreat so near?" ( I cried,
And sought with rapid steps to gain:)
"Here unassail'd by danger I abide,
Safe from the yawning chasm, or yonder swelling tide."

Swift as an arrow from the twanging yew,
By the strong archer's nervous sinew bent,
The trembling fugitive with ardor flew,
Nor felt the treach'rous soil o'er which he went;
Nor stopp'd to rest a moment, till at last
His eager footsteps press'd the solid ground,
Where freed from all his direful perils past,
And all his fears, security he found:
Then falling on his face with grateful zeal,
He kiss'd the shelt'ring rock, the basis of his weal.

Then to his friendly monitor he fled,
And thank'd him for th' important warning giv'n,
Wishing a thousand blessings on his head,
While both adore the sov'reign Lord of heav'n;
With hands uplifted, and o'erflowing eyes,
And grateful hearts, they pour'd their joys abroad;
Then from their state of low prostration rise,
T' invite their neighbours to the same abode:
"Hither, desponding mortal, turn thine eye,
And wing thy speedy flight; the place of rest is nigh."

Reader, behold in this sad tale of woe,
A lively picture of earth's transient scene;
There's nothing permanent of things below,
No perpetuity in joys terrene.
Not strength of frame corporeal safety yields,
Nor length of days our utmost cares secure;
But all things fluctuate, like Lisbon's fields,
No earthly happiness can long endure:
Our friends are mingling with the common clay,
Like the autumnal leaves, they wither and decay.

Hell's awful gulph is open'd to admit
Th' unpardon'd sinner to its fi'ry bed,
Where quenchless flames, thro' all th' unbottom'd pit,
By show'rs sulphureous are for ever fed;
There all th' impenitent, with ceaseless rage,
Gnaw their own flaming tongues in deep despair;
No future hopes their agonies assuage,
No ray of comfort ever enters there.
Strange, that immortals feel no fond desire
T' escape the threaten'd pangs of everlasting fire!!

Here of that Rock Divine an emblem see,
Rear'd for the safety of our fallen race;
Which through the rounds of vast eternity,
Shall stand a proof of Heav'n's unbounded grace:
Firm and immovable shall this remain,
Till all the madd'ning storms of life be o'er;
Nor can the wretch its shelter seek in vain,
But, plac'd thereon, shall live for evermore:
"Hither, desponding mortal, bend thine eye,
And wing thy speedy flight; the place of safety's nigh."

Blest Rock! whose bosom to the fainting soul
Affords perpetual and secure repose;
Beneath thy base the billows vainly roll,
Which from their madness no disturbance knows.
Hence, while the sinner's perils I survey,
Anticipating nature's final strife;
Heart-melting pity bids me point the way,
Which leads to safety, peace, and endless life.
"O man, repent, to this asylum flee,
E'er death has clos'd thine eyes in hopeless misery."

[pp. 277-80]