Mark Akenside

(1721-1770 / England)

Ode Xi: To The Country Gentlemen Of England - Poem by Mark Akenside

I.
Whither is Europe's ancient spirit fled?
Where are those valiant tenants of her shore,
Who from the warrior bow the strong dart sped,
Or with firm hand the rapid pole-ax bore?
Freeman and soldier was their common name.
Who late with reapers to the furrow came,
Now in the front of battle charg'd the foe:
Who taught the steer the wintry plough to indure,
Now in full councils check'd incroaching power,
And gave the guardian laws their majesty to know.

II.
But who are ye? from Ebro's loitering sons
To Tiber's pageants, to the sports of Seine;
From Rhine's frail palaces to Danube's thrones
And cities looking on the Cimbric main,
Ye lost, ye self-deserted? whose proud lords
Have baffled your tame hands, and given your swords
To slavish ruffians, hir'd for their command:
These, at some greedy monk's or harlot's nod,
See rifled nations crouch beneath their rod:
These are the public will, the reason of the land.

III.
Thou, heedless Albion, what, alas, the while
Dost thou presume? O inexpert in arms,
Yet vain of freedom, how dost thou beguile,
With dreams of hope, these near and loud alarms?
Thy splendid home, thy plan of laws renown'd,
The praise and envy of the nations round,
What care hast thou to guard from fortune's sway?
Amid the storms of war, how soon may all
The lofty pile from its foundations fall,
Of ages the proud toil, the ruin of a day!

IV.
No: thou art rich, thy streams and fertile vales
Add industry's wise gifts to nature's store:
And every port is crouded with thy sails,
And every wave throws treasure on thy shore.
What boots it? If luxurious plenty charm
Thy selfish heart from glory, if thy arm
Shrink at the frowns of danger and of pain,
Those gifts, that treasure is no longer thine.
Oh rather far be poor. Thy gold will shine
Tempting the eye of force, and deck thee to thy bane.

V.
But what hath force or war to do with thee?
Girt by the azure tide and thron'd sublime
Amid thy floating bulwarks, thou canst see,
With scorn, the fury of each hostile clime
Dash'd ere it reach thee. Sacred from the foe
Are thy fair fields. athwart thy guardian prow
No bold invader's foot shall tempt the strand—
Yet say, my country, will the waves and wind
Obey thee? Hast thou all thy hopes resign'd
To the sky's fickle faith? the pilot's wavering hand?

VI.
For oh may neither fear nor stronger love
(Love, by thy virtuous princes nobly won)
Thee, last of many wretched nations, move,
With mighty armies station'd round the throne
To trust thy safety. Then, farewell the claims
Of freedom! Her proud records to the flames
Then bear, an offering at ambition's shrine;
Whate'er thy ancient patriots dar'd demand
From furious John's, or faithless Charles's hand,
Or what great William seal'd for his adopted line.

VII.
But if thy sons be worthy of their name,
If liberal laws with liberal hearts they prize,
Let them from conquest, and from servile shame
In war's glad school their own protectors rise.
Ye chiefly, heirs of Albion's cultur'd plains,
Ye leaders of her bold and faithful swains,
Now not unequal to your birth be found:
The public voice bids arm your rural state,
Paternal hamlets for your ensigns wait,
And grange and fold prepare to pour their youth around.

VIII.
Why are ye tardy? what inglorious care
Detains you from their head, your native post?
Who most their country's fame and fortune share,
'Tis theirs to share her toils, her perils most.
Each man his task in social life sustains.
With partial labours, with domestic gains
Let others dwell: to you indulgent heaven
By counsel and by arms the public cause
To serve for public love and love's applause,
The first imployment far, the noblest hire, hath given.

IX.
Have ye not heard of Lacedæmon's fame?
Of Attic chiefs in freedom's war divine?
Of Rome's dread generals? the Valerian name?
The Fabian sons? the Scipios, matchless line?
Your lot was theirs. the farmer and the swain
Met his lov'd patron's summons from the plain;
The legions gather'd; the bright eagles flew:
Barbarian monarchs in the triumph mourn'd;
The conquerors to their houshold gods return'd,
And fed Calabrian flocks, and steer'd the Sabine plough.

X.
Shall then this glory of the antique age,
This pride of men, be lost among mankind?
Shall war's heroic arts no more ingage
The unbought hand, the unsubjected mind?
Doth valour to the race no more belong?
No more with scorn of violence and wrong
Doth forming nature now her sons inspire,
That, like some mystery to few reveal'd,
The skill of arms abash'd and aw'd they yield,
And from their own defence with hopeless hearts retire?

XI.
O shame to human life, to human laws!
The loose adventurer, hireling of a day,
Who his fell sword without affection draws,
Whose God, whose country, is a tyrant's pay,
This man the lessons of the field can learn;
Can every palm, which decks a warrior, earn,
And every pledge of conquest: while in vain,
To guard your altars, your paternal lands,
Are social arms held out to your free hands:
Too arduous is the lore; too irksome were the pain.

XII.
Meantime by pleasure's lying tales allur'd,
From the bright sun and living breeze ye stray;
And deep in London's gloomy haunts immur'd,
Brood o'er your fortune's, freedom's, health's decay.
O blind of choice and to yourselves untrue!
The young grove shoots, their bloom the fields renew,
The mansion asks its lord, the swains their friend;
While he doth riot's orgies haply share,
Or tempt the gamester's dark, destroying snare,
Or at some courtly shrine with slavish incense bend.

XIII.
And yet full oft your anxious tongues complain
That lawless tumult prompts the rustic throng;
That the rude village-inmates now disdain
Those homely ties which rul'd their fathers long.
Alas, your fathers did by other arts
Draw those kind ties around their simple hearts,
And led in other paths their ductile will;
By succour, faithful counsel, courteous cheer,
Won them the ancient manners to revere,
To prize their country's peace and heaven's due rites fulfill.

XIV.
But mark rhe judgement of experienc'd Time,
Tutor of nations. Doth light discord tear
A state? and impotent sedition's crime?
The powers of warlike prudence dwell not there;
The powers who to command and to obey,
Instruct the valiant. There would civil sway
The rising race to manly concord tame?
Oft let the marshal'd field their steps unite,
And in glad splendor bring before their sight
One common cause and one hereditary fame.

XV.
Nor yet be aw'd, nor yet your task disown,
Though war's proud votaries look on severe;
Though secrets, taught erewhile to them alone,
They deem profan'd by your intruding ear.
Let them in vain, your martial hope to quell,
Of new refinements, fiercer weapons tell,
And mock the old simplicity, in vain:
To the time's warfare, simple or refin'd,
The time itself adapts the warrior's mind;
And equal prowess still shall equal palms obtain.

XVI.
Say then; if England's youth, in earlier days,
On glory's field with well-train'd armies vy'd,
Why shall they now renounce that generous praise?
Why dread the foreign mercenary's pride?
Though Valois brav'd young Edward's gentle hand,
And Albret rush'd on Henry's way-worn band,
With Europe's chosen sons in arms renown'd,
Yet not on Vere's bold archers long they look'd,
Nor Audley's squires nor Mowbray's yeomen brook'd:
They saw their standard fall, and left their monarch bound.

XVII.
Such were the laurels which your fathers won;
Such glory's dictates in their dauntless breast:
—Is there no voice that speaks to every son?
No nobler, holier call to You address'd?
O! by majestic freedom, righteous laws,
By heavenly truth's, by manly reason's cause,
Awake; attend; be indolent no more:
By friendship, social peace, domestic love,
Rise; arm; your country's living safety prove;
And train her valiant youth, and watch around her shore.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 17, 2010



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