Anna Laetitia Barbauld

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

Ode To Remorse - Poem by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Dread offspring of the holy light within,
Offspring of Conscience and of Sin,
Stern as thine awful sire, and fraught with woe
From bitter springs thy mother taught to flow,—
Remorse! To man alone 'tis given
Of all on earth, or all in heaven,
To wretched man thy bitter cup to drain,
Feel thy awakening stings, and taste thy wholesome pain.

Midst Eden's blissful bowers,
And amaranthine flowers,
Thy birth portentous dimmed the orient day,
What time our hapless sire,
O'ercome by fond desire,
The high command presumed to disobey;
Then didst thou rear thy snaky crest,
And raise thy scorpion lash to tear the guilty breast:
And never, since that fatal hour,
May man, of woman born, expect to' escape thy power.

Thy goading stings the branded Cain
Cross the' untrodden desert drove,
Ere from his cradling home and native plain
Domestic man had learnt to rove.
By gloomy shade or lonely flood
Of vast primeval solitude,
Thy step his hurried steps pursued,
Thy voice awoke his conscious fears,
For ever sounding in his ears
A father's curse, a brother's blood;
Till life was misery too great to bear,
And torturing thought was lost in sullen, dumb despair.

The king who sat on Judah's throne,
By guilty love to murder wrought,
Was taught thy searching power to own,
When, sent of Heaven, the seer his royal presence sought.
As, wrapt in artful phrase, with sorrow feigned,
He told of helpless, meek distress,
And wrongs that sought from power redress,
The pity-moving tale his ear obtained,
And bade his better feelings wake:
Then, sudden as the trodden snake
On the scared traveller darts his fangs,
The prophet's bold rebuke aroused thy keenest pangs.

And O that look, that soft upbraiding look!
A thousand cutting, tender things it spoke,—
The sword so lately drawn was not so keen,—
Which, as the injured Master turned him round,

In the strange solemn scene,
And the shrill clarion gave the' appointed sound,
Pierced sudden through the reins,
Awakening all thy pains,
And drew a silent shower of bitter tears
Down Peter's blushing cheek, late pale with coward fears.

Cruel Remorse! where Youth and Pleasure sport,
And thoughtless Folly keeps her court,—
Crouching midst rosy bowers thou lurk'st unseen;
Slumbering the festal hours away,
While Youth disports in that enchanting scene;
Till on some fated day
Thou with a tiger-spring dost leap upon thy prey,
And tear his helpless breast, o'erwhelmed with wild dismay.

Mark that poor wretch with clasped hands!
Pale o'er his parent's grave he stands,—

The grave by his ingratitude prepared;
Ah then, where'er he rests his head,
On roses pillowed or the softest down,
Though festal wreaths his temples crown,
He well might envy Guatimozin's bed,
With burning coals and sulphur spread,
And with less agony his torturing hour have shared.

For Thou art by to point the keen reproach;
Thou draw'st the curtains of his nightly couch,
Bring'st back the reverend face with tears bedewed,
That o'er his follies yearned;
The warnings oft in vain renewed,
The looks of anguish and of love,
His stubborn breast that failed to move,
When in the scorner's chair he sat, and wholesome counsel spurned.

Lives there a man whose labouring breast
Is with some dark and guilty secret prest,

Who hides within its inmost fold
Strange crimes to mortal ear untold?
In vain to sad Chartreuse he flies,
Midst savage rocks and cloisters dim and drear,
And there to shun thee tries:
In vain untold his crime to mortal ear,
Silence and whispered sounds but make thy voice more clear.

Lo, where the cowled monk with frantic rage
Lifts high the sounding scourge, his bleeding shoulders smites!
Penance and fasts his anxious thoughts engage,
Weary his days and joyless are his nights,
His naked feet the flinty pavement tears,
His knee at every shrine the marble wears;—
Why does he lift the cruel scourge?
The restless pilgrimage why urge?
'Tis all to quell thy fiercer rage,
'Tis all to soothe thy deep despair,
He courts the body's pangs, for thine he cannot bear.

See o'er the bleeding corse of her he loved,
The jealous murderer bends unmoved,
Trembling with rage, his livid lips express
His frantic passion's wild and rash excess.
O God, she's innocent!—transfixt he stands,
Pierced thro' with shafts from thine avenging hands;
Down his pale cheek no tear will flow,
Nor can he shun, nor can he bear, his woe.

'Twas phantoms summoned by thy power
Round Richard's couch at midnight hour,
That scared the tyrant from unblest repose;
With frantic haste, “To horse! to horse!” he cries,
While on his crowned brow cold sweat-drops rise,
And fancied spears his spear oppose;
But not the swiftest steed can bear away
From thy firm grasp thine agonizing prey,

Thou wast the fiend, and thou alone;
That stood'st by Beaufort's mitred head,
With upright hair and visage ghastly pale:
Thy terrors shook his dying bed,
Past crimes and blood his sinking heart assail,
His hands are clasped,—hark to that hollow groan!
See how his glazed, dim eye-balls wildly roll,
'Tis not dissolving Nature's pains; that pang is of the soul.

Where guilty souls are doomed to dwell,
'Tis thou that mak'st their fiercest hell,
The vulture thou that on their liver feeds,
As rise to view their past unhallowed deeds;
With thee condemned to stay,
Till time has rolled away
Long æras of uncounted years,
And every stain is washed in soft repentant tears.
Servant of God—but unbeloved—proceed,
For thou must live and ply thy scorpion scourge;

Thy sharp upbraidings urge
Against the' unrighteous deed,
Till thine accursed mother shall expire,
And a new world spring forth from renovating fire.

O! when the glare of day is fled,
And calm, beneath the evening star,
Reflection leans her pensive head,
And calls the passions to her solemn bar;
Reviews the censure rash, the hasty word,
The purposed act too long deferred,
Of time the wasted treasures lent,
And fair occasions lost and golden hours misspent:

When anxious Memory numbers o'er
Each offered prize we failed to seize;
Or friends laid low, whom now no more
Our fondest love can serve or please,
And thou, dread power! bring'st back in terrors drest,
The' irrevocable past, to sting the careless breast;—

O! in that hour be mine to know,
While fast the silent sorrows flow,
And wisdom cherishes the wholesome pain,
No heavier guilt, no deeper stain,
Than tears of meek contrition may atone,
Shed at the mercy-seat of Heaven's eternal throne.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010



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