Helen Maria Williams

(1761 - 15 December 1827 / England)

An Address to Poetry


I.

While envious crowds the summit view,
Where Danger with Ambition strays;
Or far, with anxious step, pursue
Pale Av'rice, thro' his winding ways;
The selfish passions in their train,
Whose force the social ties unbind,
And chill the love of human kind,
And make fond Nature's best emotions vain;


II.

O, poesy! O nymph most dear,
To whom I early gave my heart,--
Whose voice is sweetest to my ear
Of aught in nature or in art;
Thou, who canst all my breast controul,
Come, and thy harp of various cadence bring,
And long with melting music swell the string
That suits the present temper of my soul.


III.

O! ever gild my path of woe,
And I the ills of life can bear;
Let but thy lovely visions glow,
And chase the forms of real care;
O still, when tempted to repine
At partial Fortune's frown severe,
Wipe from my eyes the anxious tear,
And whisper that thy soothing joys are mine!


IV.

When did my fancy ever frame
A dream of joy by thee unblest?
When first my lips pronounc'd thy name,
New pleasure warm'd my infant breast.
I lov'd to form the jingling rhyme,
The measur'd sounds, tho' rude, my ear could please,
Could give the little pains of childhood ease,
And long have sooth'd the keener pains of time.


V.

The idle crowd in fashion's train,
Their trifling comment, pert reply,
Who talk so much, yet talk in vain,
How pleas'd for thee, O nymph, I fly!
For thine is all the wealth of mind,
Thine the unborrow'd gems of thought;
The flash of light by souls refin'd,
From heav'n's empyreal source exulting caught.


VI.

And ah! when destin'd to forego
The social hour with those I love,--
That charm which brightens all below,
That joy all other joys above,
And dearer to this breast of mine,
O Muse! than aught thy magic power can give,--
Then on the gloom of lonely sadness shine,
And bid thy airy forms around me live.


VII.

Thy page, O SHAKESPEARE ! let me view,
Thine! at whose name my bosom glows;
Proud that my earliest breath I drew
In that blest isle where SHAKESPEARE rose!
Where shall my dazzled glances roll?
Shall I pursue gay Ariel's flight?
Or wander where those hags of night
With deeds unnam'd shall freeze my trembling soul?


VIII.

Plunge me, foul sisters! in the gloom
Ye wrap around yon blasted heath:
To hear the harrowing rite I come,
That calls the angry shades from death!
Away--my frighted bosom spare!
Let true Cordelia pour her filial sigh,
Let Desdemona lift her pleading eye,
And poor Ophelia sing in wild despair!


IX.

When the bright noon of summer streams
In one wide flash of lavish day,
As soon shall mortal count the beams,
As tell the powers of SHAKESPEARE'S lay!
O, Nature's Poet! the untaught,
The simple mind thy tale pursues,
And wonders by what art it views
The perfect image of each native thought.


X.

In those still moments, when the breast,
Expanded, leaves its cares behind,
Glows by some higher thought possest,
And feels the energies of mind;
Then, awful MILTON , raise the veil
That hides from human eye the heav'nly throng!
Immortal sons of light! I hear your song,
I hear your high-tun'd harps creation hail!


XI

Well might creation claim your care,
And well the string of rapture move,
When all was perfect, good, and fair,
When all was music, joy, and love!
Ere Evil's inauspicious birth
Chang'd Nature's harmony to strife;
And wild Remorse, abhorring life,
And deep Affliction, spread their shade on earth.


XII

Blest Poesy! O, sent to calm
The human pains which all must feel,
Still shed on life thy precious balm,
And every wound of nature heal!
Is there a heart of human frame
Along the burning track of torrid light,
Or 'mid the fearful waste of polar night,
That never glow'd at thy inspiring name?


XIII.

Ye Southern Isles,* emerg'd so late
Where the Pacific billow rolls,
Witness, though rude your simple state,
How heav'n-taught verse can melt your souls!
Say, when you hear the wand'ring bard,
How thrill'd ye listen to his lay,
By what kind arts ye court his stay,--
All savage life affords his sure reward.


XIV.

So, when great HOMER 'S chiefs prepare,
Awhile from War's rude toils releas'd,
The pious hecatomb, and share
The flowing bowl, and genial feast:
Some heav'nly minstrel sweeps the lyre,
While all applaud the poet's native art;
For him they heap the viand's choicest part,
And copious goblets crown the Muse's fire.


XV.

Ev'n here , in scenes of pride and gain,
Where faint each genuine feeling glows;
Here , Nature asks, in want and pain,
The dear illusions verse bestows;
The poor, from hunger, and from cold,
Spare one small coin, the ballad's price,
Admire their poet's quaint device,
And marvel much at all his rhymes unfold.


XVI.

Ye children, lost in forests drear,
Still o'er your wrongs each bosom grieves,
And long the red-breast shall be dear,
Who strew'd each little corpse with leaves;
For you my earliest tears were shed,
For you the gaudy doll I pleas'd forsook,
And heard, with hands uprais'd, and eager look,
The cruel tale, and wish'd ye were not dead!


XVII.

And still on Scotia's northern shore,
"At times, between the rushing blast,"
Recording mem'ry loves to pour
The mournful song of ages past;
Come, lonely Bard "of other years!"
While dim the half-seen moon of varying skies,
While sad the wind along the grey moss sighs,
And give my pensive heart "the joy of tears!"


XVIII.

The various tropes that splendour dart
Around the modern poet's line,
Where, borrow'd from the sphere of art,
Unnumber'd gay allusions shine,
Have not a charm my breast to please
Like the blue mist, the meteor's beam,
The dark-brow'd rock, the mountain stream,
And the light thistle waving in the breeze.


XIX.

Wild Poesy, in haunts sublime,
Delights her lofty note to pour;
She loves the hanging rock to climb,
And hear the sweeping torrent roar!
The little scene of cultur'd grace
But faintly her expanded bosom warms;
She seeks the daring stroke, the awful charms,
Which Nature's pencil throws on Nature's face.


XX.

O, Nature! thou whose works divine
Such rapture in this breast inspire,
As makes me dream one spark is mine
Of Poesy's celestial fire;
When doom'd, "in cities pent," to leave
The kindling morn's unfolding view,
Which ever wears some aspect new,
And all the shadowy forms of soothing eve;


XXI.

Then, THOMSON , then be ever near,
And paint whatever season reigns;
Still let me see the varying year,
And worship Nature in thy strains;
Now, when the wint'ry tempests roll,
Unfold their dark and desolating form,
Rush in the savage madness of the storm,
And spread those horrors that exalt my soul!


XXII.

And, POPE the music of thy verse
Shall winter's dreary gloom dispel,
And fond remembrance oft rehearse
The moral song she knows so well;
The sportive sylphs shall flutter here,--
There Eloise, in anguish pale,
"Kiss with cold lips the sacred veil,
"And drop with every bead too soft a tear!"


XXIII.

When disappointment's sick'ning pain
With chilling sadness numbs my breast,
That feels its dearest hope was vain,
And bids its fruitless struggles rest;
When those for whom I wish to live,
With cold suspicion wrong my aching heart;
Or, doom'd from those for ever lov'd to part,
And feel a sharper pang than death can give;


XXIV.

Then with the mournful Bard I go,
Whom "melancholy mark'd her own,"
While tolls the curfew, solemn, slow,
And wander amid graves unknown;
With yon pale orb, lov'd poet, come!
While from those elms long shadows spread,
And where the lines of light are shed,
Read the fond record of the rustic tomb!


XXV.

Or let me o'er old Conway's flood
Hang on the frowning rock, and trace
The characters that, wove in blood,
Stamp'd the dire fate of EDWARD'S race;
Proud tyrant! tear thy laurell'd plume;
How poor thy vain pretence to deathless fame!
The injur'd Muse records thy lasting shame,
And she has power to "ratify thy doom."


XXVI.

Nature, when first she smiling came,
To wake within the human breast
The sacred Muse's hallow'd flame,
And earth, with heav'n's rich spirit blest!
Nature in that auspicious hour,
With awful mandate, bade the Bard
The register of glory guard,
And gave him o'er all mortal honours power.


XXVII.

Can Fame on Painting's aid rely?
Or lean on Sculpture's trophy'd bust?--
The faithless colours bloom to die,
The crumbling pillar mocks its trust;
But thou, O Muse, immortal maid!
Canst paint the godlike deeds that praise inspire,
Or worth, that lives but in the mind's desire,
In tints that only shall with Nature fade!


XXVIII.

O tell me, partial nymph! what rite,
What incense sweet, what homage true,
Draws from thy fount of purest light
The flame it lends a chosen few?
Alas! these lips can never frame
The mystic vow that moves thy breast;
Yet by thy joys my life is blest,
And my fond soul shall consecrate thy name.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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