1827
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Deluge — after Poussin.

The North American, or Weekly Journal of Politics, Science, and Literature 1 (10 November 1827) 201.

Willis Gaylord Clark


Six couplet Spenserians signed "W. G. C." This piece of ecphrastic verse might be considered as a contribution to the series on ruins of empire so popular in the 1820s: "Creation was in tears! the innocent flowers | Were crushed beneath the fragments of the towers, | Round which they clung: the home of majesty | Sheltered the loathsome tenant of the sea." Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) specialized in historical scenes drawn from scripture and classics; "The Deluge" was a late work, representing Winter in a cycle of the seasons. This topic had been treated previously by Thomas Dale in a long narrative poem in Spenserians, Irad and Adah, a Tale of the Flood (1822).

The initials are almost certainly those of Willis Gaylord Clark, though I have not discovered where this poem originally appeared — surely not in this obscure Baltimore weekly. Many of Clark's poems, which appeared in a number of American and British journals, were never collected.



The birds had sought the silence of the woods,
And the beasts crouched them in their solitudes;
Man hurried to and fro, with pallid cheek,
And wandering eyes, that in their silence speak
Unutterable things; no voice was heard,
And not one breath of air the drooping foliage stirred.

There was a silence brooding o'er the earth,
Like that which heralds the young earthquake's birth;
Dark clouds were sweeping slowly through the sky,
And far above a blackened canopy
Shut out the last rays of the sicklied sun.
The eternal voice went forth — the work of death begun!

Then pealed the thunder of offended heaven!
The trembling earth from its deep centre riven,
Sent forth with one wild groan of agony,
Its boiling waters, rushing to the sky;
The lightning met them in their midway path,
And bore them back to earth — stern ministers of wrath.

Then rose one loud, last shriek! — the torrent poured,
And death's dark angel o'er the ruin soared,
Echoed each struggling prayer, each maddening cry,
And mocked his victims in their agony!
Hope's cherub voice and angels smile were fled,
And in their place despair watch'd o'er the countless dead.

There lay the mother, round whose lifeless breast
Clung the loved babe her dying arms had pressed,
And there, half shrouded by her golden hair,
Floated the wreck of all that once was fair;
And he, whose arm in vain was stretched to save,
Slept many a fathom deep beneath the howling wave.

Creation was in tears! the innocent flowers
Were crushed beneath the fragments of the towers,
Round which they clung: the home of majesty
Sheltered the loathsome tenant of the sea.
Darkness and death had spread their funeral pall,
And nature wept alone, above her bright one's fall.

[p. 201]