Henry James Pye
Alfred. Book III.
ARGUMENT. Measures against the Danes.—Prophecy of the future Fortunes of Alfred and his Posterity.
Along the borders of the silver Thone,
With alders dank, and matted sedge o'er-grown,
Led by the guidance of the shepherd swain,
Unseen, and silent, pass the cautious train,
Till, mid the conflux of the mingling streams,
A deep morass the emerging island seems.
Across the ford the guide directs their course,
Each stemming, with his arms, the current's force,
They pass, with toil, the dangerous traject o'er,
For, swoll'n by showers, the angry waters roar.
Then, Alfred, did thy generous bosom know
A pride nor pomp, nor luxury, can bestow,
When thy firm limbs, with nerve superior strung,
And active strength, the endowment of the young,
With abler effort gave thee force to guide,
The old and feeble through the threatening tide.
Nor did that arm, which oft in Glory's field
Had taught the might of giant foes to yield,
Disdain, by many a vigorous stroke, to save
A peasant's household from the whelming wave;
Nor did that voice, which oft, with martial breath,
Had roused the soldier's heart to war and death,
Disdain, with words of mild reproof, to cheer
A woman's weakness, and an infant's fear.—
Then, as Benignity's consoling breast
The real source of patriot zeal express'd,
Fame, from the warrior turns awhile, the eye,
To hail the hero of humanity.
Fix'd on the arid spot, whose scanty bounds
On every side the deep morass surrounds,
The monarch, and his martial friend, with care,
'Gainst close surprise and bold attack prepare;
Exert each art their safety to ensure,
And every pass, with wary eye, secure.
Oft from the isle, beneath the twilight shade,
By Ethelwood attended, Alfred stray'd,
And many a chief conceal'd, of gentle blood,
They found, and tempted o'er the sheltering flood;
Hence of fair Athelney the glorious name
Shall flourish still, the favourite theme of Fame,
The Isle of Nobles live, recorded long
In each historian's page, and poet's song.
Not to inglorious ease can be confined
The sanguine efforts of the hero's mind;
Valour, when devastation spreads around,
Sits not in Safety's rosy fetters bound:
Oft issuing from the marsh, their midnight arms
Harass the scatter'd Danes with new alarms.
Reckless of vanquish'd foes, the victor lay,
To bloated sloth, and foul excess, a prey;
Hence oft the Saxons, from the slumbering horde,
Seize their own flocks to store the genial board;
While Slaughter stalks amid the astonish'd foe,
The vengeance dreadful, though unseen the blow.
Oft too the monarch, stealing from the cares
Of present councils, and of future wars,
Through the lone groves would pace, in solemn mood,
Wooing the pensive charms of Solitude.
While, deep revolving in his fancy's range
Of human deeds, the desultory change,
By Hope encouraged, or by Fear depress'd,
Contending passions shook his mighty breast.
It chanced one stormy morn, as forth he sped,
The rude blast whistling round his listless head,
For equal rise, if care engross the mind,
The breeze of summer, or the wintry wind;
While through the wood, in pensive musing lost,
He stray'd,—his path a lucid streamlet cross'd:
Aside he turn'd, and traced the rivulet's course,
With pace reverted, toward its mountain source.
Onward, with heedless aim, his footsteps move
Along the dell, through many a tangled grove,
Till, issuing sudden from the gloomy shade,
He trod the verdure of a grassy glade,
Where shines the expanded water, clear and bright,
A lucid mirror to the tranquil sight,
Smooth as the chrystal's polish'd surface; save
Where, from the shrubby heights, the sparkling wave,
Dashing from rock to rock in frothy wreath,
Ruffles the border of the lake beneath.
The drooping willows fringe the edge, and seem
To drink fresh verdure from the passing stream.
Here mossy cliffs, with mountain plants o'ergrown,
The wild goat browsing from the pendant stone,
Their rifted sides echoing the sea mew's clang,
With threatening summits o'er the valley hang.
While, from the dell, receding gently, there
The rising upland softly melts to air;
Whose bowering forests round the placid flood,
Wave to the eye, a theatre of wood;
There the bright beech its silver bole displays,
And giant oaks their massy foilage raise,
The trembling poplar's humbler leaf beneath
Whispers responsive to the rude wind's breath;
And, with the woodbine mix'd, and sylvan rose,
In scarlet pride the mountain service glows.
In foaming eddy, where the lucid tide
Pours headlong down the high clift's rugged side,
A grove of dusky pines athwart the glade
Shoot, with projected limbs, a solemn shade;
And as aloft the quivering branches play,
Shut from the soil the garish eye of day.
Deep in the dark recess, with briars o'er-grown,
A cavern opens in the mossy stone:
O'er its dank mouth the flexile ivy grows,
Where an aged yew funereal shadows throws;
Scath'd oaks their knotty branches fling around,
With mystic misseltoe their summits crown'd;
While, echoing to the torrent's distant shock,
Howls the dread whirlwind through the creviced rock.—
Albeit unused to fear, the monarch's breast
Pants, with an awe, unfelt before, impress'd,
And, o'er his better reason, sudden spread
Terrific chills of superstitious dread.
The tempest's voice that usher'd in the day,
In distant murmurs faintly dies away,
The screaming birds their boding carol cease,
And even the torrent's roar seems hush'd to peace.
While, from the rock's deep bosom, notes so sweet,
Of such enchanting strain, the hero greet,
Entranced he stands, the lay divine to hear,
And all Elysium opens on his ear.
The dulcet numbers ceased; with awe-struck breast
Alfred the Genius of the place address'd:
'Whoe'er thou art, whether of mortal line,
Bless'd with celestial gifts, and song divine,
Or some attendant of the angelic host,
The holy guardian of this favour'd coast,
Before whose voice obedient tempests fly,
Whose lays melodious calm the troubled sky;
To me propitious be thy powers inclined,
To me most lost, most wretched, of mankind.'
A hollow murmur check'd him as he spoke,
And, from the rock, a voice tremendous broke.—
'O, King of England! not to man is given
To fathom or arraign the will of Heaven!
Oft in the bright serene of prosperous days,
Unseen, the Demon of Destruction plays;
Oft through Misfortune's drear and bleak abode,
To power and greatness lies the rugged road,
'Tis man's to bow beneath the chastening rod,
Virtue's true meed lies in the hand of God.'
With sudden horror rock'd the trembling ground,
And distant thunder shook the vast profound;
When, from the cave, a venerable form
Stalk'd forth, announced by the preluding storm.
About his limbs a snowy garment roll'd
Floats to the wind in many an ample fold;
His brow serene a rich tiara bound,
And loose his silver tresses stream'd around.
In his right hand a golden harp declared
The sacred function of the Druid bard.—
Soon as the royal chief the vision saw,
To earth he bent, in reverential awe.
'Rise, son of regal dignity,' he said,
'Nor bow to human dust thy laurel'd head!
Mortal like thee, I draw precarious breath,
Subject to pain, to sorrow, and to death.
'Tis thine o'er mighty nations to preside,
Command their armies, and their councils guide;
'Tis mine to look beyond Time's passing date,
And read the page obscure of future fate,
Strike, with bold hand, the free prophetic lyre,
And wake to distant years the warbling wire:
Our powers alike, by power supreme, are given,
Each but the feeble minister of Heaven.—
'Mid famed Cornubia's rocks, wash'd by the main,
Oft have I listen'd to the mystic strain,
What time on old Bellerium's topmost height
Aerial visions swam before my sight,
And lays divine, by voice immortal, sung,
In heavenly cadence o'er my senses hung.
Nor is to me unknown the sacred lore
Of Mona's Druid caves, and Arvon's shore.—
Even now I feel the enthusiast flame arise,
And unborn ages burst upon my eyes;
Visions of distant times before me roll,
And all the Godhead rushes on my soul.'
His eye-balls, as he spoke, with rapture glow'd,
His snowy robes in ampler volume flow'd,
The radiant fillets that his temples bind,
Burst—looser float his tresses to the wind;
His form expands, he moves with firmer tread,
And lambent glories play around his head:—
With rapid hand he strikes the sacred lyre,
To strains of rapture wakes the thrilling wire,
And, to the sound responsive, pours along
The fervid energy of mystic song.
'As the dark clouds whose vapoury mantles spread
A dusky veil round Camelet's dreary head,
Roll down his steepy sides,—and ether blue
Gives all the gorgeous landscape to the view,
So the dim shades o'er future scenes that lie,
Disperse, and Fate lies open to my eye.
As purer skies to transient storms succeed,
And happier hours the auspicious seasons lead,
So yields the gloom that hangs o'er Albion's isle,
To brighter hopes, and prosperous Fortune's smile.
Invasion haunts her rescued plains no more,
But hostile inroad flies the dangerous shore;
Where'er her armies march, her ensigns play,
Fame points the course, and Glory leads the way.
Her fleets o'er Ocean's tributary throne,
Rear vast, and wide, an empire of their own,
Supreme from where the radiant lord of day,
Shoots o'er the glowing wave his orient ray,
To where their fires his burning axles steep
In the blue bosom of the Atlantic deep:
Alike in arts and arms illustrious found,
Proudly she sits with either laurel crown'd.
'Yet what avail the trophies Conquest brings,
If Power oppressive, from her hovering wings,
Baleful she shake?—or what the victor's wreath,
If raised in blood from baleful seeds of death?—
Hail England's favour'd Monarch!—round thy head
Shall Freedom's hands perennial laurels spread;
Fenced by whose sacred leaves, the royal brow
Mocks the vain lightnings aim'd by Faction's blow.
'Beyond the proudest germ of Fame that springs,
Rear'd by the Muse, to grace victorious kings;
Above the forms of Liberty, that raise
The sons of Greece and Rome to deathless praise;
Above the labour'd scenes that sages draw,
Ideal forms of polity and law,
By thee a glorious fabric be design'd,
The noblest effort of a patriot mind.—
On a firm basis shall the structure stand,
Defying Time's, deriding Faction's, hand.—
Not a frail pile that mad Ambition rears
On Folly's hopes, or Guilt's repulsive fears;
Where specious Sophistry persuades the crowd
To adulate the selfish, and the loud;
Or, by some fawning demagogue address'd,
To lift a people's minion o'er the rest,
Bending to idol power the servile knee,
The worst of slaves, yet boasting they are free.
Thy code, arranged by Nature's purest plan,
Shall guard the freedom, and the rights of man,—
Man's real right's—not Folly's maniac dream,
Senseless Equality's pernicious theme;
But that true freedom, where all orders draw
Equal protection from an equal law,
And by that equal law restrain'd alone,
Nor fear the noble proud, or prouder throne.
Nobles, the people's shield, the monarch's arm,
Powerful to aid, but impotent to harm;
A sacred throne on Mercy's basis rear'd,
By Virtue foster'd, by Oppression fear'd;—
To which thy guardian laws shall boast they gave
One power by aught uncheck'd, the power to save.
No tyrant here the public weal can harm,
Unheard his mandate, and unnerved his arm,
While the imperial patriot is endued
With unresisted energy of good.
O happiest state on earth, to mortal given,
Pure right divine, true delegate of Heaven,
To whom its happiest attributes belong,
The bless'd impossibility of wrong.—
Each rank supported, firm, by mutual aid,
Each state in Wisdom's equal balance weigh'd;
Say, can the mighty fabric ever fall,
Raised on the weal, the liberty of all?
Still shall it mock, to Time's remotest hour,
The mine of Treason, and the shock of Power.
'Now, in yon visionary scene, behold
Thy future sons their shadowy forms unfold,
What various glories on thy offspring wait,
And learn of heroes yet unborn, the fate.
Full many an inroad of the hostile Dane
Shall yet, with native gore, die England's plain,
Alternate each shall sink, or each prevail,
As wavering Fortune lifts her dubious scale,
Till the bold sons of either warlike line
Their mingled blood in social compact join.
Even now are moor'd, near Isca's sandy bed,
A Danish host, by valiant Rollo led.
Heaven's awful mandates to the chieftain's sight,
Reveal'd in boding visions of the night,
Warn him to quit Danmonia's fertile shore,
Plough the blue wave, and Gallia's realms explore,
There shall a mighty province long proclaim,
Conquer'd by northern arms, the Norman name.
Their swords the southern regions shall subdue,
And fame, and power, through milder climes pursue,
Fields which Ilissus' hallow'd current laves,
And regions wash'd by Tiber's yellow waves;
Awe the proud tyrant of the turban'd host,
And rule, in peaceful sway, Sicilia's coast,
Reserved, in Heaven's appointed time, again
To lead their squadrons to Britannia's plain,
By victor armies destined to fulfil
Of Alfred's sainted heir the sacred will;
Till Albion views her Alfred's line restored,
And hails Plantagenet her Saxon lord.
'Freedom's perennial scyon, that defies
The ungenial blasts of Hyperborean skies,
Which, when its roots the savage warrior tore
From Græcia's isles, and mild Hesperia's shore,
Struck its strong fibres in the frost-bound glade,
Which black Hercynia's piny forests shade,
To Albion's happier soil transplanted, found
A fostering climate, and congenial ground.
'Even from the change the Norman race shall bring,
The feudal vassal, and the warrior king,
Though one vast army seem to meet the eyes,
Shall public safety, public freedom, rise;
Hence, on Britannia's plains, the rural lord
Grasps, with a freeman's arm, the freeman's sword;
'Mid senates hence, his independent voice
Speaks the free suffrage of a people's choice,
Teaches the servile minion fear to own,
Or crushes factions that besiege the throne.
'Behold, where Thames, through Runny's fertile meads,
Placid, and full, his wave pellucid leads
To England's swains, and England's chiefs, his brow
Prone on the earth, the baffled tyrant bow,
Imperial Freedom, waving in her hand
Her charter, fixing rights by Alfred plann'd,
Careful to foster, with protective wing,
The sacred pandects of a patriot king.
'And see, ascending from his winding shore,
Aloft heroic Honour proudly soar
O'er the plumed host, in blazon'd trophies dight,
Won from the vanquish'd Gaul in many a fight,
A warlike son of thine, by Conquest crown'd,
For knighthood twines the garter's mystic round;
Reviving deeds, of ancient Honour born,
Heroic wreaths by British Arthur worn;
What time, at Freedom's call, his dauntless host,
Against thy sires, defended Albion's coast.
Rears Fame's bright guerdon o'er the waving crest,
Spreads Faith's true cross o'er every pious breast,
While Europe's kings, and Rome's imperial lord,
Sit, glad companions, round the equal board,
And Virtue, to a people's general gaze,
The unsullied wreath of Chivalry displays.
'But many a cloud of horror and dismay
The horizon shades of Albion's brightest day.
Though dress'd in halcyon smiles, with ray serene,
Sol's golden orb may chear the rural scene,
Yet gathering mists, by winds tempestuous driven,
Oft blunt his beam, and hide the face of Heaven;
Nor on this seat of earth, where suns and showers
Alternate mark the seasons and the hours,
Can man expect that years shall wing their flight,
For ever tranquil, and for ever bright,
Till soaring o'er the atmosphere, that flings
Vapour and tempest from its watery wings,
On Faith and Virtue's pinions borne, he rise
To purest ether spread o'er cloudless skies,
And drink, with eagle eye, the empyreal ray,
'Mid the blest mansions of eternal day.
'Lo, died in civil blood, the argent rose,
In rival tint, with guilty crimson glows,
Till, blending o'er the fall'n usurper's tomb,
In friendly wreath the mingled flowrets bloom,
To crown Britannia's native race, who stand
With thee, the avengers of their native land.
For now, even now, rough Cambria's warlike coast
Pours, from a thousand hills, the auxiliar host.—
From Saxon arms receding, though they bore
Their sacred rites to Mona's Druid shore.
Sons of the chiefs who Cæsar's arms withstood,
Of Cassibellan's, and Caradoc's blood,
Sons of the chiefs our glorious Arthur led,
Waving their spears, with Saxon carnage red.
To them shall bow again the British line,
And Tudor's royal stem unite with thine;
Tudor, whose ancient claim from Cadwal springs,
Whom Cambria weeps, the last of British kings;
While Albion views her pristine fame display'd,
Proud of the triumphs of the Briton maid.
'Alas! as down the stream of Time, the eye
Anxious I throw, new horrors I descry.—
To England's fields, what scenes of discord bring
A factious people, a misguided king.—
Hide, blushing Albion!—hide the impious strife
Closed with the offering of a monarch's life,
To mark the hopes which happier hours afford,
Of rescued rights, and regal power restored.
'O, wayward race of man! by woe untamed,
By dark Misfortune's lessons unreclaim'd—
Albion laments again the fatal hour,
When royal frenzy grasps at boundless power.
Temperate,—for sad experience well had shewn,
Her own best rights were buried with the throne;
Temperate, but firm, in law and reason's cause,
Again the sword, reluctant, Freedom draws;
But her true bulwark guards, with jealous eye,
The crown revering, though the tyrant fly.
'At length, where Elbe's parental current flows,
Once more her eye insulted England throws;
Her hopes regard that sacred source, once more,
Whence Saxon freedom bless'd her happy shore;
For there the scyons of thy generous line,
In patriot Virtue's pure regalia, shine:
There, on thy banners, still the Saxon steed
Flies o'er the crimson field in mimic speed.
To ancient rights, which, long as Britain's isle
Flourish'd in Monarchy's paternal smile,
From parent worth and warlike fame begun,
In long succession pass'd from sire to son;
From gods and heroes of a fabling age,
Through chiefs enroll'd on History's sacred page,
Loud Fame announces, with an angel's voice,
Added, in Brunswick's claim, a people's choice.
'And see, best glory of that patriot race,
Her monarch, Briton-born, Britannia grace;
Loved, honour'd, and revered by all, save those
Who, foes to Freedom, to her friends are foes.
But foes in vain—for Anarchy's wild roar
Shall never shake this Heaven-defended shore,
While Freedom's sons gird Freedom's sacred throne,
With loyal Faith's impenetrable zone.
O'er laurels Rome's sweet poet cull'd to grace
The mighty hero of the Julian race,
Shall rise the glory of his honour'd name,
‘Nor oceans bound his sway, nor stars his fame.’—
Ocean but rolls his azure waves to guide
His fleets to empire, o'er his ambient tide;
And far beyond the planets that appear
Circling, in ceaseless course, the earthly sphere,
Beyond the stretch of human eye-sight far,
Improving Science hails the Georgian star.
'My soul, from times remote, reduce the lay;
Of Alfred's prosperous hours the pride display.
Oft through the thick expanse of sable clouds,
Whose gloom the blunted beam of morning shrouds,
The struggling ray of Sol awhile contends,
Yet, when his car the arch of Heaven ascends,
When, from the azure vault, his glories shine,
Sowing the etherial plains with flame divine;
Though harvests rise with vegetative power,
Swells the ripe fruit, and glows the blooming flower,
Remembering still the hours of winter pass'd,
The transient sunshine, and the ungenial blast,
The wary husbandman, with prescient care,
Guards 'gainst the driving storm, and piercing air.
So, when emerging from Misfortune's shade,
Alfred, thy patriot virtues shine display'd,
And tranquil days, with Plenty in their train,
Brighten once more the renovated plain;
When the tumultuous shouts of battle cease,
When thrills the warbling string with notes of peace,
Ne'er let thy active mind in sloth repose,
But jealous watch the blessings Peace bestows.
Be it thy care, by Freedom's ready guard,
Each threatening blow Invasion aims, to ward.
Thy voice shall teach the labourer of the field
The sickle, and the sword, by turns to wield;
By thee array'd, lo! Britain, wide and far,
Trains, 'mid the smiles of Peace, her sons to war.
Now the industrious swain, with rural toil,
‘Drives the keen plough-share, through the stubborn soil,’
And now aside the shining coulter throws,
Grasps the keen sword, and braves his country's foes;
Follows his native lord through War's alarms,
In peace his patron, and his chief in arms.
O, shame to England's glory!—Can it be?—
Too sure the stain my starting eye-balls see.
See where Corruption's black insidious band,
Wrest Freedom's faulchion from the Freeman's hand;
Wrest from the Briton's hand, and bid a host
Of mercenary aliens guard the coast.
Hail, glorious sage! immortal patriot, hail!
Whose fervent words o'er dark mistrust prevail.
I see, once more, Britannia's arms restored,
Once more the indignant Briton grasp the sword,
The rural empire hail its rural band,
And Chatham renovate what Alfred plann'd.
'Albion, in thee, shall own the power that gave
A certain empire o'er the uncertain wave,
Taught her commercial sails the surge to sweep,
Or awe, with warrior prow, the hostile deep.
Far o'er the distant wave, where rising day
Throws, on the sultry coast, its orient ray,
Where, through the shade of many a fragrant grove,
By Ganges' stream the guiltless Bramins rove,
To the lone Pilgrim shall thy vessels bear
Of English charity the fostering care,
Pointing the way where, in succeeding days,
Thy sons an empire o'er the East shall raise,
Mock the vain tear of Ammon's haughty son,
And win a world his armies never won.
Thy barks shall sail through pathless seas that roll,
With sluggish current, round the freezing pole,
With prow adventurous, labouring to explore
A northern passage to the Indian shore.—
O, glorious effort of a daring train!
The attempt illustrious, though the issue vain:
In times remote shall Albion oft pursue,
Successless, yet unfoil'd, this specious view.
Yet, though opposing continents appear,
And icy horrors of the polar year,
To bar her course,—full many a fertile isle,
Adorn'd with lavish Nature's sweetest smile,
Studding the bosom of the southern wave,
Rewards the failing labours of the brave.
'By Conquest crown'd, while Britain's navies ride,
In state imperial, o'er the obedient tide,
While, train'd to arms, her brave and hardy swains
Stand a firm barrier to their native plains,
Scorn'd shall Invasion's idle terrors sleep,
Whelm'd, by her watchful navies, in the deep;
Or, by the scowling tempest wafted o'er,
Destruction meet upon her martial shore.
'And see, by fair Augusta's stately towers,
Pellucid Thames his placid current pours,
Wafting, through many a league of Albion's reign,
The golden produce of her happy plain,
Or, bearing on his refluent tide, the sail
Of Commerce, swell'd by Fortune's favouring gale.
To pile her marts contending nations meet,
The world's productions offering at her feet.
Whate'er of wealth in various regions shines,
Glows in their sands, or lurks within their mines;
Whate'er from bounteous Nature men receive,
Whatever toil can rear, or art can weave,
Her princely merchants bear from every zone,
Their country's stores increasing with their own.
And, as the dewy moisture Sol exhales,
With beam refulgent, from the irriguous vales,
Descends in favouring showers of genial rain,
To fertilize the hill and arid plain,
So wealth, collected by the merchant's hand,
Spreads wide, in general plenty, o'er the land.
'Phantoms of glory, stay!—They fleet along,
Born on the stream of visionary song.—
Hear ye yon shout?—The shout of triumph hear!
It swells, it bursts, on my enraptured ear.—
The hour of vengeance comes! On yon bleak height
The vulture claps his wings, and snuffs the fight.
See o'er the ranks the crimson banners float!
Hark, the loud clarion swells the brazen note!
Denmark's dark raven, cowering, hears the sound,
His flagging pinion droops, and sweeps the ground.'
He ceased.—Amazed the wondering warrior stood,
The mystic numbers chill'd his curdling blood.—
Pale sinks the seer in speechless extacy,
Wild heaves his breast, and haggard rolls his eye;
Till, seizing with his hand the sacred lyre,
His skilful fingers swept again the wire,
Soft o'er his mind the stream of music stole,
And sooth'd the labouring rapture of his soul.
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