1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Inscription, written at La Grand Chartreuse, upon visiting it a second Time, after an Absence of Eighteen Months.

Diary, or Woodfall's Register (29 June 1790).

Robert Merry


A descriptive ode in nineteenth quatrains signed "R. Merry." This poem is part of the series of imitations of Gray's Elegy concerned with gothic ruins and superstition, though the famous monastery at the Grand Chartreuse was still in good working order when Merry visited. The first half of the poem notes changes in the poet's life since last he visited, though it makes no explicit mention of the most important change which had taken place over the past eighteen months, the revolution in France, which apparently provokes Merry's (quite traditional) criticism of monastic life: "No longer let your reason thus be chain'd, | Nor grov'ling bend to superstition's rod; | Tis not by losing life that Heaven is gain'd, | Nor is it solitude which leads to GOD." The poem concludes with the resolution to "still, as Man, assert the Freedom of the mind." Compare, for example, An Elegy written at a Carthusian Monastery in the Austrian Netherlands (1775), or (by another Della Cruscan poet) Arno's "Elegy, written upon the Sight of a Building, supposed to have been a Nunnery" published in the New London Magazine 4 (August 1788) 436-37.



Was it but now amongst these Alps I stood,
And watch'd the slumb'rous Eye, and heard the cry
Of the faint Eaglet, from St. Bruno's Wood,
And mark below the silv'ring tempest fly?

Was it but now, the melancholy blast
To deep dejection sunk my pensive soul,
Till pond'ring on the future and the past,
From my torn breast the sighs convulsive roll?

O, no! — full many a month, with silent pace,
Has trod the narrow pathway of my fate;
Has bade each moment some frail hope efface,
Has bruis'd some flow'rets of this transient state.

Yes, many a month is gone since last I view'd,
From yon enormous Cliff, th' impressive scene
Of struggling light, by wand'ring shade subdu'd—
And cavern'd Rocks, which torrents flash between:

Saw the aspiring Forests proudly climb
Each pointed pinnacle that grows to heaven,
Wave their green masses in the clouds sublime,
Or seize the infant snow-storm ere 'twas driven.

Ah, me! since then, sad proofs my heart has known
Of ties forgotten — friendship's faithless boast;
Has mourn'd, alas! the dear deceptions flown,
Has ceas'd to prize, what then it priz'd the most.

And is it thus we measure out our days;
For such poor portions labour we in vain;
Languish for honour, pow'r, and wealth, and praise,
Waste the night-oil, and weave the plaintive strain?

Much, much I fear me, that we seldom weigh
In true Philosophy's eternal scale,
Here, for the short precarious time we stay,
How little selfish solace can avail!

Else, should we turn us from the festive bow'r,
The sumptuous palace, and the banner'd hall,
To cheer the gloom of Sorrow's sick'ning hour,
To feel, to sympathize, to live for All.

And, O! unless the gen'ral good we aid,
Vainly is wisdom sought, or glory won;
Lost in wild prejudice the transports fade,
And when we think to grasp them — they are gone!

Deluded Monks! who in these Cloisters hid
The pow'r for duties, and the will for use,
Who veil in seeming lowliness your pride,
Of Works regardless, and of Pray'rs profuse:

No longer let your reason thus be chain'd,
Nor grov'ling bend to superstition's rod;
Tis not by losing life that Heaven is gain'd,
Nor is it solitude which leads to GOD.

He form'd this bounteous Earth our social home,
His sacred Fane is uncondition'd space;
The sky's whole concave is Religion's dome,
Its mandate Truth, Benevolence its grace.

Deluded Monks! observe th' unceasing course
Of Orbs obedient to Attraction's reign;
Or trace the miracle of Central Force,
Which heaves Creation in its sapphire main.

Then own, each part, dependent on the rest,
Unites in Effort's universal cause;
And if the great example warm your breast,
O! live for Nature, and for Nature's Laws!

Fly from th' opprobrious solitary cell,
To woo fond Beauty in her blest retreats:
Let woman's eye of Heaven's rapt trances tell—
She gives the certain earnest of its sweets.

Then cease mistaken men! nor longer toil
Through one dull slothful nothing to your grave,
Nor from each fine propensity recoil,
Nor shun the choicest charm Existence gave.

But lo! around the hoary steep afar,
Their curly arms the clust'ring vapours twine;
Reluctant Twilight quits her glimm'ring car,
And pale and pure the pearls of Ether shine.

Then fare ye well — to join the world I go,
Prepar'd to meet whate'er I ought to find,
Start into bliss, or sicken into woe,
But still, as Man, assert the Freedom of the mind.

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