Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825 / Leicestershire, England)

Prologue To A Drama - Poem by Anna Laetitia Barbauld


“To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart,”—
Hold, hold! that's not my cue, we 've no intention
By “tender strokes” to sharpen girls' invention:
The soul will waken time enough, ne'er fear;
No lines shall rouse the slumbering passions here.
O! ever sacred be the deep repose
Which Youth, on Innocence' pure bosom, knows;
Before a wish, a throb, a care, have taught
The pangs of feeling or the lines of thought.
O happy period! soon to pass away,
Soon will the swelling gales assert their sway,
And drive the vessel from the sheltered port,—
O guide it Heaven!—of winds and waves the sport.
Nor yet “to raise the genius” is our aim,
With Shakespear's high-wrought scenes and words of flame.
A little story, drawn from fairy lore,
A nursery tale, this evening we explore:
“To mend the heart,” indeed, we mean to try,
And show what poison lurks in flattery.
'Tis true our hero was a prince—what then!
Believe me, Flattery stoops to common men.
A little dose, made up with skill and care,
A grain or two of incense, all can bear:
'Tis life's first rule,—by complaisance we live;
All flatter all, and to receive we give.
Myself, for instance, am sent here tonight
With soothing speech your favour to invite;
And when our piece is done, perhaps e'en you,
My gentle auditors, may flatter too,
And make us boast our talents and our skill,
When all the merit is in your good will.
But there's a theme which asks a verse this day,
Where Flattery has no power her tints to lay;
This hallowed day, in Hymen's golden bands
Which joined consenting hearts and willing hands.
How many years ago should any ask,
Look round,—to count them is an easy task;
Each tiptoe girl, and each aspiring boy,
Date, as they pass, the years of love and joy.
O happy state! where blessings number years,
And smiles are only quenched in more delicious tears.
Here, should my willing lips the theme pursue,
And draw the lovely scene in colours due,
Paint the well-ordered home, the sacred seat
Where social joys and active virtues meet;
These wield in love, and those in love obey
The peaceful sceptre of domestic sway;
Where sparkling Fancy weaves her airy dream,
And Science sheds around her steady beam,—
Each answering heart the faithful sketch would own,
And glow with feelings raised by truth alone.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010

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