1814
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode on Genius.

The Port Folio S3 3 (May 1814) 484-87.

Rev. Henry Cogswell Knight


An allegorical ode in irregular measure loosely modeled on Milton's Il Penseroso. The ode opens by dismissing Penury, poetry's traditional foe: "As veil the sun eclipsing clouds, | So Genius haggard Want enshrouds. | As bursts through clouds the solar beam, | So Worth through mists of wo will gleam; | So blazon Genius to deserv'd esteem" p. 484. The body of the poem is comprised of nine verse characters of poets victimized by Penury: Burns, Johnson, Chatterton, Collins, Dryden, Otway, Butler, Cervantes, and Homer. The ode concludes with the character of a yet-unborn Genius who, like the others, will triumph over adversity: "Stretch'd on the moss-grown bank, I see thee now, | A melancholy grandeur decks thy brow; | Deep lines of thought spread o'er thy cheeks | And thine eyes' frenzy thy rapt soul bespeaks. | Boundless thy fame shall fly, | Each rancorous shaft defy, | And though thine high-born offspring sleep — shall never die" p. 487.

After the founder of Philadelphia's Port Folio, Joseph Dennie, had died in 1812, the editorship had passed through several hands while maintaining its format and its status as America's leading literary journal. Its contents and format were said to have been influential on Blackwood's Magazine, founded in 1817.



Hunger blight thee, and thy Peers!
Surfeiture thy dreams await!
PENURY! mid clouds of fears,
With Scorn and cold Neglect, sit'st thou in ghastly state:
Hast thou heart of flint or steel?
Meagre Prince of mining care!
Can'st not mortal gauntness feel?
Bid'st thou Genius feed on air?
Hunger shrink thee, ruthless foe!
Repletion rack thy fitful rest!
Seek thy nurse, to Famine go,
Drain again her barren breast!
Incompetent thine art is found,
To pinion Genius to the ground.
As veil the sun eclipsing clouds,
So Genius haggard Want enshrouds.
As bursts through clouds the solar beam,
So Worth through mists of wo will gleam;
So blazon Genius to deserv'd esteem.
Blush, Scotia, blush, thy BURNS was poor;
Misfortune dar'd on him to lower,
An heir unstinted to the Muses' dower.
Still look'd he in Fortune's face, and smil'd;
Still warbled he on his wood-notes wild;
And cares discarded, in their stead,
With Love, and his coy Muse, poetic dalliance led.
Genius not local bars oppose,
Though Penury scowl o'er his way:—
Imposing JOHNSON proudly rose,
Majestic burst through clouds to day,
Drowning in floods of light, his glimmering, fading foes.
A flower on greenest banks of Helicon,
Full blown, ere others bud, rose CHATTERTON.
Cowl'd in a mist of black distress, was by,
Foul fiend of sooty wing, Adversity!
Who daily round the flower did walk,
'Till, last, unwatch'd, he pluckt it from its stalk.
Idol belov'd! whom Muses vaunting cite,
(Akin to later Dermody and White,)
Thy Muse, enmask'd, in antique garb bedight,
Hid not thy mental sun's unwonted light,
Too soon, alas! withdrawn, and set in endless night!
For no meteor Hope, shed her gladdening ray,
Through the fogs of affliction, eclipsing thy day.
COLLINS! to Lyrists not entire unknown,
Born wed to woes, peculiarly thine own,
Yet, intermittent, through the shades thy star of genius shone,
When deigned thy pensive harp to sigh its touching tone.
Lo! DRYDEN stemming the repugnant tide,
The stubborn wave surmounting with indignant pride.
Alas! with truth it should be said,
Immortal Dryden wrote for bread,
And many a brainless hind far more luxuriant fed!
Famish'd — he drank Castalian dews!
Humble — he woo'd the loftiest Muse!
Oft with the inspiring, and adoring Nine,
Held his rapt spirit colloquy divine.
Proudly thy name the tide of Time shall bear,
Triumphant riding through the distant, unborn year!
And OTWAY, heart-appealing bard,
Doom'd wast thou to struggle hard;
Though true to Nature swell'd thy lays,
Thy patronage was — starveling praise!
Lo, BUTLER, laughing-genius ripe!
Worthy thy peerless Archetype!
Thou Bard of two-edged wit! thou Man of various lore:
Complaining Echoes murmur thou wast poor.
But genius such as thine,
Needs not a lisp of mine,
That Kings did quote, and Courtiers admire,
Thy colonelling Sir Hudibras, and disputatious Squire,
Who did such featly charge at holy Bigots fire.
Fortune! though thou scowl and lower,
Mightier than thou is Genius found!
Penury! he spurns thy power,
Firm to chain him to the ground!
Let drop the sympathetic tear,
O'er humbled Genius wail.
CERVANTES was to Want an heir,
Quixote conceiv'd in jail!
That child of learning, child of fun,
Enamour'd Humour's darling son;—
To kindred souls, alas! an ill-according tale!
Father of Genius! HOMER, thou,
Though ever-verdant chaplets now,
Entwine thy hoary, sainted brow,
Wast doom'd to stroll and sing;
Though oft thy home was bleakest air,
And storms behowl'd thy rugged lair,
Constrain'd the scorn of fools to bear,
Thy Muse ne'er flagg'd her wing.
Peace to thy Shade, great Master of the Epic Lyre!
And, oh! prophetic tell — if mortal may aspire!
What unborn Bard shall wed thy widowed Muse of fire!
Oft doom'd to suffer while on earth;
Born under baleful star,
To fight through Envy's war,
Triumphant Genius springs to birth.
While these to Civic honours rise,
And those make Peru's mines their prize,
No sordid care his vision haunts,
For intellectual wealth he pants,
And scorning grovelling Lucre's taunt,
Toils proudly through the labyrinth of want.
All hail! Tempean vales! Idalian bowers!
Strong-featur'd Cliffs! and moon-reflected Towers!
Dear haunts that Genius woos,
Congenial to his Muse.
Stretch'd on the moss-grown bank, I see thee now,
A melancholy grandeur decks thy brow;
Deep lines of thought spread o'er thy cheeks
And thine eyes' frenzy thy rapt soul bespeaks.
Boundless thy fame shall fly,
Each rancorous shaft defy,
And though thine high-born offspring sleep — shall never die.
Though Envy rob thee of thy due,
Envy, mother of the viper breed!
And Prejudice that looks askew,
Daughter of Envy, jaundice-eyed;
With all their carping force allied,
Are blind to award thy rightful meed;—
Their strength shall fail to tear thy bays,
Or blot thy name from after days;
For, when thy spirit quits the earth,
Thy death shall prove thy second birth.
From the womb of the tomb,
Will pinion'd Merit, soaring rise;
There Fame is born, there Envy dies.
Be grave-paid honours, GENIUS, thine,
Be thine ashes held divine!

[pp. 484-87]