Matilda Betham

(1776-1852 / England)


YE blooming youth, possest of every grace,
Which can delight the eye, or please the ear,
Who boast a polish'd mind and faultless face,
Awhile the councils of Philemon hear!
Let not pride lift the thoughtless head too high,
Temerity arch o'er the scornful brow,
Contemptuous glances arm the sparkling eye,
Or the high heart with self-complacence glow!

Alas! full soon the eve of life arrives,
Though pale Disease's train approach not nigh;
Short is the summer of the happiest lives,
If no rude storm disturbs the smiling sky.
This wretched body, bending to the earth,
Once, on the wings of health, alert and gay,
Shone forth the foremost in the train of mirth,
And cloudless skies announc'd a beauteous day.
My parents oft, with fond complacence view'd,
The elegance of my external form;
And thought my mind with excellence endued,
Bright as my genius, as my fancy warm.
There was a time, poor as I now appear,
I admiration met in every look;
And, harsh as now my words may grate your ear,
Each tongue was silent when Philemon spoke.
Once could this voice make every bosom thrill,
As it pour'd forth the light or plaintive lay;
And once these fingers, with superior skill,
Upon the lute could eloquently play.

By partial friendship sooth'd, by flattery fann'd,
I learnt with conscious grace the dance to lead,
To guide the Phaeton with careless hand,
And rules with flowing rein, the prancing steed.
Sick with the glory of a trifler's fame,
By folly nurtur'd, I was proud and vain;
Till Chastisement in kindest mercy came,
Though then her just decrees I dar'd arraign.
The form that sought so late the public view,
That glow'd with transport, as the world admir'd,
Fill'd with false shame, from every eye withdrew,
And to the shades of solitude retir'd.
Consum'd by fevers, spiritless, forlorn,
Blasted by apoplexy's dreadful rage,
My bleeding heart by keen remembrance torn,
I past my prime in premature old age.
I heard my parent's ill-suppressed sighs,
And wish'd myself upon the peaceful bier;
I saw the anguish of their sleepless eyes,
The smile dissembled, and the secret tear.

Oft, with a kind of gratifying woe,
I recollected every former charm,
And, with the spleen of a malicious foe,
Delighted still to keep my sorrows warm.
'Where is the lustre of the gladsome eye,
'The airy smile, the animated mien,
'The rounding lip of liveliest crimson dye,
'So lately envied, now no longer seen.
'I too have gloried in my waving hair,
'No ringlets now remain to raise my pride;
'Nor can I now lay the white forebead bare,
'And push the too luxuriant locks aside.'
Thus, like a child, I sigh'd for pleasures past,
And lost my hours in a delusive dream;
But Reason op'd my blinded eyes at last,
And clear'd each mist by her refulgent beam.
I saw futurity before me spread,
A scourge or sceptre offer'd to my view,
Alarm'd, from Folly's erring mazes fled,
And to my God with humble rev'rence drew.

I bow'd, submissive, at the holy shrine,
His mercy with warm gratitude confest,
Which had reveal'd the spark of life divine,
That slumber'd in my earth-enamoured breast.
Had I, as friendship and self-love desir'd,
Still suck'd delirium at the fane of praise,
I might, my conscience lull'd and passions fir'd,
Have lost my soul in the bewitching blaze.
Dear rising train, let not my words offend!
Nor the pure dictates of my love despise;
To one, late like yourselves, attention lend,
And, taught by his experience, be wise!
Ah! banish from your eye the fiend Disdain;
Let fair simplicity supply its place;
Nor longer let conceit the bosom stain;
The child of weakness, follow'd by disgrace.
Should time from you each glowing beauty wrest,
You will not then those self-reproaches feel,
Which every eye awaken'd in my breast,
And twenty winters scarce suffic'd to heel.

Nor will your friends observe each faded charm,
Since still your countenance its smile retains,
And the same lov'd companion, kind and warm,
With unassuming manners, yet remains.

Submitted: Friday, October 08, 2010

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