A Portrait Poem by Joanna Baillie

A Portrait



YES ,--whilst my sight is yet allow'd to rest
On those dear features, (which it calms my breast
To look upon, and, as I watch them, give
The purest bliss that mortals may receive,)
Let me preserve their image for a space,
And from the life a faint resemblance trace.
Oh! if the likeness were correctly made,
And if my colours were not such as fade,
Through time's long year the Portrait would be prais'd,
And future ages profit, as they gaz'd.
Lovely is youth,--but, robb'd of vermil hue,
Age may be lovely, and enchant the view,
When the soul brightens, and th' immortal ray
Is seen more dearly through the shrine's decay;
When the mild aspect, cloudless and serene,
Reveals in silence what the life has been--
Untroubled as the awful close draws near,
Still fondly turn'd to all remaining here;
Still breathing peace, and tenderness, and love,
Illum'd with nearer radiance from above.

Such, such 'tis mine to witness day by day,
And more than filial reverence to pay.
For, if I owe her life, and ev'ry flow'r
That ere I gather'd since my natal hour,
And (more than life, or happiness, or fame,)
The fear of God, since I could lisp his name:
If no conflicting ties divide my heart,
And chance, nor change, have forc'd us yet apart;
If for the other each too oft has fear'd,
And mutual woes and peril have endear'd;
Now that her spirit undisturb'd remains
By sharpen'd trials and increasing pains,
I view the mother and the saint in one,
And pay beyond the homage of a son.
Ye who approach her threshold, cast aside
The world, and all the littleness of pride;
Come not to pass an hour, and then away
Back to the giddy follies of the day;--
With reverent step and heav'n-directed eye,
Clad in the robes of meek humility,
As to a temple's hallow'd courts, repair,
And come the lesson, as the scene, to share;
Gaze on the ruin'd frame, and pallid cheek,
Prophetic symptoms, that too plainly speak!

Those limbs that fail her as she faulters by;
Pangs, that from nature will extort a sigh;
See her from social intercourse remov'd,
Forbid to catch the friendly voice she lov'd;
Then mark the look compos'd, the tranquil air,
Unfeign'd contentment still enthroned there!
The cheerful beams, that, never quench'd, adorn
That cheek, and gladden those who thought to mourn;
Benignant smiles for all around that shine,
Unbounded love, and charity divine!
This is Religion--not unreal dreams,
Enthusiast raptures and seraphic gleams;
But Faith's calm triumph--Reason's steady sway,
Not the brief lightning, but the perfect day.
Mark we the close of years without offence?
Of more than this, and more than innocence,--
A life of deeds--a long, unblemish'd course
Of gen'rous action, and of moral force.
Her have I seen assail'd by deepest woe,
O'erwhelming desolation's sudden blow;
How much she felt, the body's ills display;
From that dread hour began the slow decay.
Yet she, who quiver'd at another's pain,
Her own with stoic firmness could sustain;

Stood unsubdued--but meekly kiss'd the rod,
And took with patience all that came from God;
And curb'd her grief, when sorrow's cup ran o'er,
Lest those who saw her weep, should weep the more.
Her have I seen when Death was at her side,
And Hope no longer to our prayers replied,
Nor then celestial visions blest her sight,
Or angels waiting for the spirit's flight;
Awe she confest--but awe devoid of fear,
In death, as life, who knew her Maker near.--
Yet she, whose claim (if any may) will prove
Sure of the joys that crown the just above,
Humbly preferr'd no title of her own,
And on redeeming grace repos'd alone.
In acts of prayer life's ebbing moments past,
Or acts of love, benignant to the last;
Nor one forgot, nor fail'd to recommend
Each poor dependant--name each valued friend;
And, most resign'd to summons all but given,
Still human, griev'd to leave us, though for heav'n.
Nor hers alone the virtues that require
Some stroke of fate to rouse their latent fire;
Great for an hour, heroic for a scene,
Inert through all the common life between.

But such as each diurnal task perform,
Pleas'd in the calm, unshaken by the storm.
In her had Nature bounteously combin'd
The tend'rest bosom with the strongest mind;
Sense that seem'd instinct, so direct it caught
The just conclusion, oft refus'd to thought;
Simplicity of heart, that never knew
What meant the baubles which the world pursue;
All these, by not a taint of self alloy'd,
All these were hers--for others all employ'd.
To seek the haunts of poverty and pain,
Teach want to thrive, and grief to smile again;
To guide young footsteps to the right, and win
The old in error from the ways of sin;
To ease the burthens of the human race,
Mend ev'ry heart, and gladden ev'ry face,
She liv'd and breath'd,--not from the world estrang'd,
But mov'd amongst it, guileless and unchang'd;
Still lov'd to view the picture's brighter side;
The first to cherish, and the last to chide.
For this around the time-struck ruin wait
Admiring crowds, the lowly and the great;
Thither for this, the young, the good, repair,
And watch around with unremitted care;

For this the orphans of the village bring
Unbidden gifts, the earliest wreath of spring,
Homage, that scarce encircles youth, or power,
In court of kings, or beauty's vernal bower.
Thus cheer'd, yet thus forbid to labour more,
Wanting herself the aid she gave before;
When feeble mortals peevishly complain,
Regret past pleasures, and survive in vain;
She, like the silver lamp, that, night and day,
Before some altar sheds its hallow'd ray,
Serenely shines, in pure effulgence bright,
With pious lustre, and attractive light;
Dispels the black'ning shades that gather round,
And guides the wanderer to the sacred ground.--
Servant of God! thy task is nearly done!
And soon, too soon, thy wages will be won.
Yet how shall I contend with grief alone?
How bear this cheerless earth when thou art gone?
Dear being! 'tis thyself would still bestow
Whate'er of comfort the bereft may know!
For when, (how else shall I employ the hours?)
Of thee I think, thy virtues, and thy powers,
Shall I despair? thou did'st not:--or repine?
Did ever murmur spring from lips of thine?

Yes--I will strive--though, at the thought, my heart
Sickens, and nature trembles at her part.
I will not wholly lose thee, but believe,
That, from on high, thy care I still receive;
And, as I wander through the silent glade,
Trace the sequester'd brook, or seek the shade,
Through day's long hours; or in the night profound,
When stillness breathes a sacred calm around;
Discourse with thee in spirit, though disjoin'd,
And catch the influence of angelic mind.
The force of virtue lasts beyond the grave,
Still shalt thou watch, console me, guide, and save!
Lead me from ill, and keep my steadfast eye,
Fill'd with the prospect of futurity;
Where, soon or later, if I teach my feet
Thy steps to follow--we again shall meet.

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