The Course Of Time. Book Iv. Poem by Robert Pollok

The Course Of Time. Book Iv.

The world had much of strange and wonderful:
In passion much, in action, reason, will;
And much in Providence, which still retired
From human eye, and led philosophy,
That ill her ignorance liked to own, thro' dark
And dangerous paths of speculation wild.
Some striking features, as we pass, we mark,
In order such as memory suggests.
One passion prominent appears!—the lust
Of power, which oft-times took the fairer name
Of liberty, and hung the popular flag
Of freedom out. Many, indeed, its names.
When on the throne it sat, and round the neck
Of millions riveted its iron chain,
And on the shoulders of the people laid
Burdens unmerciful—it title took
Of tyranny, oppression, despotism;
And every tongue was weary cursing it.
When in the multitude it gathered strength,
And, like an ocean bursting from his bounds,
Long beat in vain, went forth resistlessly,
It bore the stamp and designation then,
Of popular fury, anarchy, rebellion—
And honest men bewailed all order void;
All laws, annulled; all property, destroyed;
The venerable, murdered in the streets;
The wise, despised; streams, red with human blood;
Harvests, beneath the frantic foot trode down;
Lands, desolate; and famine, at the door.
These are a part; but other names it had
Innumerous as the shapes and robes it wore.
But under every name—in nature still
Invariably the same, and always bad.
We own indeed that oft against itself
It fought, and sceptre both and people gave
An equal aid, as long exemplified
In Albion's isle—Albion, queen of the seas—
And in the struggle something like a kind
Of civil liberty grew up, the best
Of mere terrestrial root; but sickly too,
And living only, strange to tell! in strife
Of factions equally contending; dead,
That very moment dead that one prevailed.
Conflicting cruelly against itself,
By its own hand it fell; part slaying part.
And men who noticed not the suicide,
Stood wondering much, why earth from age to age,
Was still enslaved, and erring causes gave.
This was earth's liberty—its nature this—
However named, in whomsoever found,
And found it was in all of woman born,
Each man to make all subject to his will;
To make them do, undo, eat, drink, stand, move,
Talk, think, and feel, exactly as he chose.
Hence the eternal strife of brotherhoods,
Of individuals, families, commonwealths.
The root from which it grew was pride—bad root!
And bad the fruit it bore. Then wonder not
That long the nations from it richly reaped
Oppression, slavery, tyranny, and war;
Confusion, desolation, trouble, shame.
And marvellous tho' it seem, this monster, when
It took the name of slavery, as oft
It did, had advocates to plead its cause;
Beings that walked erect, and spoke like men;
Of Christian parentage descended too,
And dipt in the baptismal font, as sign
Of dedication to the Prince who bowed
To death, to set the sin-bound prisoner free.
Unchristian thought! on what pretence soe'er
Of right inherited, or else acquired;
Of loss, or profit, or what plea you name,
To buy and sell, to barter, whip, and hold
In chains a being of celestial make—
Of kindred form, of kindred faculties,
Of kindred feelings, passions, thoughts, desires;
Born free, and heir of an immortal hope!—
Thought villanous, absurd, detestable!
Unworthy to be harboured in a fiend!
And only overreached in wickedness
By that, birth too of earthly liberty,
Which aimed to make a reasonable man
By legislation think, and by the sword
Believe. This was that liberty renowned,
Those equal rights of Greece and Rome, where men,
All, but a few, were bought, and sold, and scourged,
And killed, as interest or caprice enjoined:
In aftertimes talked of, written of so much,
That most by sound, and custom led away,
Believed the essence answered to the name.
Historians on this theme were long and warm;
Statesmen, drunk with the fumes of vain debate,
In lofty swelling phrase, called it perfection;
Philosophers its rise, advance, and fall
Traced carefully; and poets kindled still,
As memory brought it up; their lips were touched
With fire, and uttered words that men adored,
Even he—true bard of Zion, holy man!
To whom the Bible taught this precious verse:
“He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,”
By fashion, tho' by fashion little swayed,
Scarce kept his harp from pagan freedom's praise.
The captive prophet, whom Jehovah gave
The future years, described it best, when he
Beheld it rise in vision of the night—
A dreadful beast, and terrible, and strong
Exceedingly, with mighty iron teeth;
And lo, it brake in pieces, and devoured,
And stamped the residue beneath its feet!
True liberty was Christian, sanctified,
Baptised, and found in Christian hearts alone.
First born of Virtue! daughter of the skies!
Nursling of truth divine! sister of all
The graces, meekness, holiness, and love:
Giving to God, and man, and all below,
That symptom showed of sensible existence,
Their due unasked; fear to whom fear was due;
To all, respect, benevolence, and love.
Companion of religion! where she came
There freedom came; where dwelt, there freedom dwelt;
Ruled where she ruled, expired where she expired.
“He was the freeman whom the truth made free:”—
Who first of all, the bands of Satan broke;
Who broke the bands of Sin; and for his soul,
In spite of fools consulted seriously;
In spite of fashion persevered in good;
In spite of wealth or poverty, upright;
Who did as reason, not as fancy bade;
Who heard temptation sing, and yet turned not
Aside; saw sin bedeck her flowery bed,
And yet would not go up; felt at his heart
The sword unsheathed, yet would not sell the truth;
Who, having power, had not the will to hurt;
Who blushed alike to be, or have a slave;
Who blushed alike to be, or have a slave;
Who blushed at nought but sin, feared nought but God;
Who, finally, in strong integrity
Of soul, 'midst want, or riches, or disgrace,
Uplifted calmly sat, and heard the waves
Of stormy folly breaking at his feet;
Now shrill with praise, now hoarse with foul reproach,
And both despised sincerely; seeking this
Alone—the approbation of his God,
Which still with conscience witnessed to his peace.
This, this is freedom, such as angels use,
And kindred to the liberty of God.
First born of Virtue! daughter of the skies!
The man, the state in whom she ruled, was free;
All else were slaves of Satan, Sin, and Death.
Already thou hast something heard of good
And ill, of vice and virtue, perfect each:
Of those redeemed, or else abandoned quite;
And more shalt hear, when at the judgment day
The characters we of mankind review.—
Seems aught which thou hast heard astonishing?
A greater wonder now thy audience asks:
Phenomenon in all the universe
Of moral being most anomalous;
Inexplicable most, and wonderful.
I'll introduce thee to a single heart;
A human heart: we enter not the worst;
But one by God's renewing Spirit touched;
A Christian heart, awaked from sleep of sin.
What seest thou here? what mark'st? observe it well.—
Will, passion, reason; hopes, fears; joy, distress;
Peace, turbulence; simplicity, deceit;
Good, ill; corruption, immortality.
A temple of the Holy Ghost, and yet
Oft lodging fiends; the dwelling place of all
The heavenly virtues—charity and truth,
Humility, and holiness, and love;
And yet the common haunt of anger, pride,
Hatred, revenge, and passions foul with lust:
Allied to heaven, yet parleying oft with hell:
A soldier listed in Messiah's band,
Yet giving quarter to Abaddon's troops:
With seraph's drinking from the well of life,
And yet carousing in the cup of death:
An heir of heaven, and walking thitherward,
Yet casting back a covetous eye on earth:
Emblem of strength, and weakness; loving now,
And now abhorring sin; indulging now,
And now repenting sore; rejoicing now,
With joy unspeakable, and full of glory,
Now weeping bitterly, and clothed in dust.
A man willing to do, and doing not;
Doing, and willing not; embracing what
He hates, what most he loves abandoning.
Half saint, and sinner half—half life, half death:
Commixture strange of Heaven, and Earth, and Hell!
What seest thou here? what mark'st? a battlefield—
Two banners spread; two dreadful fronts of war
In shock of opposition fierce engaged—
God, angels, saw whole empires rise in arms;
Saw kings exalted; heard them tumbled down;
And other's raised,—and heeded not: but here,
God, angels, looked; God, angels, fought; and Hell,
With all his legions, fought: here error fought
With truth; with darkness light; and life with death:
And here not kingdoms, reputations, worlds,
Were won: the strife was for eternity;
The victory was never-ending bliss;
The badge a chaplet from the tree of life.
While thus within contending armies strove,
Without the Christian had his troubles too.
For, as by God's unalterable laws,
And ceremonial of the heaven of heavens,
Virtue takes place of all, and worthiest deeds
Sit highest at the feast of bliss; on Earth
The opposite was fashion's rule polite,
Virtue the lowest place at table took,
Or served, or was shut out: the Christian still
Was mocked, derided, persecuted, slain:
And Slander, worse than mockery, or sword,
Or death, stood nightly by her horrid forge,
And fabricated lies to stain his name,
And wound his peace—but still he had a source
Of happiness, that men could neither give
Nor take away: the avenues that led
To immortality before him lay;
He saw, with faith's far reaching eye, the fount
Of life, his Father's house, his Saviour God,
And borrowed thence to help his present want.
Encountered thus with enemies without,
Within, like bark that meets opposing winds
And floods, this way, now that, she steers athwart:
Tossed by the wave, and driven by the storm;
But still the pilot, ancient at the helm,
The harbour keeps in eye; and after much
Of danger past, and many a prayer rude,
He runs her safely in—So was the man
Of God beset, so tossed by adverse winds;
And so his eye upon the land of life
He kept. Virtue grew daily stronger, sin
Decayed; his enemies repulsed, retired;
Till at the stature of a perfect man
In Christ arrived, and, with the Spirit filled,
He gained the harbour of eternal rest.
But think not virtue else than dwells in God
Essentially, was perfect, without spot.
Examine yonder suns! at distance seen,
How bright they burn! how gloriously they shine,
Mantling the worlds around in beamy light!
But nearer viewed, we through their lustre see
Some dark behind: so virtue was on earth,
So is in heaven, and so shall always be.
Though good it seem, immaculate, and fair,
Exceedingly to saint or angel's gaze,
The uncreated Eye, that searches all,
Sees it imperfect; sees, but blames not; sees,
Well-pleased; and best with those who deepest dive
Into themselves, and know themselves the most:
Taught thence in humbler reverence to bow
Before the Holy One; and oftener view
His excellence, that in them still may rise,
And grow his likeness, growing evermore.
Nor think that any, born of Adam's race,
In his own proper virtue, entered heaven.
Once fallen from God and perfect holiness,
No being, unassisted, ere could rise,
Or sanctify the sin-polluted soul.
Oft was the trial made; but vainly made.
So oft as men in Earth's best livery clad,
However fair, approached the gates of heaven,
And stood presented to the eye of God,
Their impious pride so oft his soul abhorred.
Vain hope! in patch-work of terrestrial grain,
To be received into the courts above;
As vain, as towards yonder suns to soar,
On wing of waxen plumage melting soon.
Look round, and see those numbers infinite,
That stand before the throne, and in their hands
Palms waving high, as token of victory
For battles won—these are the sons of men
Redeemed, the ransomed of the Lamb of God:
All these, and millions more of kindred blood,
Who now are out on messages of love—
All these—their virtue, beauty, excellence,
And joy, are purchase of redeeming blood;
Their glory, bounty of redeeming love.
O love divine! harp, lift thy voice on high!
Shout, angels! shout aloud, ye sons of men!
And burn my heart with the eternal flame!
My lyre, be eloquent with endless praise!
O love divine! immeasurable love!
Stooping from heaven to earth, from earth to hell,
Without beginning, endless, boundless love!
Above all asking, giving far to those
Who nought deserved, who nought deserved but death.
Saving the vilest! saving me! O love
Divine! O Saviour God! O Lamb, once slain!
At thought of thee, thy love, thy flowing blood,
All thoughts decay; all things remembered, fade;
All hopes return; all actions done by men
Or angels, disappear, absorbed and lost:
All fly—as from the great white throne, which he,
The prophet, saw, in vision wrapt—the heavens,
And earth, and sun, and moon, and starry host,
Confounded fled, and found a place no more.
One glance of wonder, as we pass, deserve
The books of Time. Productive was the world
In many things; but most in books: like swarms
Of locusts, which God sent to vex a land
Rebellious long, admonished long in vain,
Their numbers they poured annually on man.
From heads conceiving still: perpetual birth!
Thou wonderest, how the world contained them all!
Thy wonder stay: like men, this was their doom:—
That dust they were, and should to dust return.
And oft their fathers, childless and bereaved,
Wept o'er their graves, when they themselves were green;
And on them fell, as fell on every age,
As on their authors fell, oblivious Night,
Which o'er the past lay darkling, heavy, still,
Impenetrable, motionless, and sad,
Having his dismal leaden plumage, stirred
By no remembrancer, to show the men
Who after came what was concealed beneath.
The story-telling tribe alone, outran
All calculation far, and left behind,
Lagging, the swiftest numbers: dreadful, even
To fancy, was their never-ceasing birth;
And room had lacked, had not their life been short.
Excepting some—their definition take
Thou thus, exprest in gentle phrase, which leaves
Some truth behind: A Novel was a book
Three-volumed, and once read; and oft crammed full
Of poisonous error, blackening every page;
And oftener still of trifling, second-hand
Remark, and old, diseased, putrid thought;
And miserable incident, at war
With nature, with itself, and truth at war:
Yet charming still, the greedy reader on,
Till done—he tried to recollect his thoughts,
And nothing found, but dreaming emptiness.
These, like ephemera sprung in a day,
From lean and shallow soiled brains of sand,
And in a day expired: yet while they lived,
Tremendous oft-times was the popular roar;
And cries of—Live for ever—struck the skies.
One kind alone remained, seen thro' the gloom,
And sullen shadow of the past; as lights
At intervals they shone, and brought the eye,
That backward travelled, upward, till arrived
At him, who on the hills of Midian, sang
The patient man of Uz; and from the lyre
Of angels, learned the early dawn of Time.
Not light and momentary labour these,
But discipline and self-denial long,
And purpose staunch, and perseverance, asked,
And energy that inspiration seemed.
Composed of many thoughts, possessing each,
Innate and underived vitality:
Which having fitly shaped, and well arranged
In brotherly accord, they builded up—
A stately superstructure, that, nor wind,
Nor wave, nor shock of falling years could move;
Majestic and indissolubly firm;
As ranks of veteran warriors in the field;
Each by himself alone, and singly seen—
A tower of strength; in massy phalanx knit,
And in embattled squadron rushing on—
A sea of valour, dread! invincible!
Books of this sort, or sacred, or profane,
Which virtue helped, were titled not amiss,
The medicine of the mind: who read them, read
Wisdom, and was refreshed; and on his path
Of pilgrimage with healthier step advanced.
In mind, in matter, much was difficult
To understand: but what in deepest night
Retired; inscrutable, mysterious, dark,
Was evil; God's decrees; and deeds decreed,
Responsible. Why God, the just, and good,
Omnipotent and wise, should suffer sin
To rise. Why man was free, accountable;
Yet God foreseeing, overruling all.
Where'er the eye could turn, whatever tract
Of moral thought it took, by reason's torch,
Or Scripture's led, before it still this mount
Sprung up, impervious, insurmountable;
Above the human stature rising far;
Horizon of the mind—surrounding still
The vision of the soul with clouds and gloom.
Yet did they not attempt to scale its sides,
And gain its top. Philosophy, to climb
With all her vigour, toiled from age to age;
From age to age Theology, with all
Her vigour, toiled; and vagrant fancy toiled.
Not weak and foolish only, but the wise,
Patient, courageous, stout, sound-headed men,
Of proper discipline, of excellent wind,
And strong of intellectual limb, toiled hard;
And oft above the reach of common eye
Ascended far, and seemed well nigh the top;
But only seemed; for still another top
Above them rose, till giddy grown and mad,
With gazing at these dangerous heights of God,
They tumbled down, and in their raving said,
They o'er the summit saw: and some believed;
Believed a lie; for never man on earth,
That mountain crossed, or saw its farther side.
Around it lay the wreck of many a Sage—
Divine—Philosopher; and many more
Fell daily, undeterred by millions fallen;
Each wondering why he failed to comprehend
God, and with finite measure infinite.
To pass it, was no doubt desirable;
And few of any intellectual size,
That did not sometime in their day attempt;
But all in vain; for as the distant hill,
Which on the right, or left the traveller's eye
Bounds, seems advancing as he walks, and oft
He looks, and looks, and thinks to pass; but still
It forward moves, and mocks his baffled sight,
Till night descends and wraps the scene in gloom:
So did this moral height the vision mock;
So lifted up its dark and cloudy head,
Before the eye, and met it evermore.
And some provoked—accused the righteous God.
Accused of what? hear human boldness now!
Hear guilt, hear folly, madness, all extreme!
Accused of what? the God of truth accused?
Of cruelty, injustice, wickedness!
Abundant sin! Because a mortal man,
A worm at best of small capacity,
With scarce an atom of Jehovah's works
Before him, and with scarce an hour to look
Upon them, should presume to censure God—
The infinite and uncreated God!
To sit in judgment—on Himself, his works,
His providence! and try, accuse, condemn!
If there is aught, thought or to think, absurd,
Irrational, and wicked, this is more—
This most; the sin of devils, or of those
To devils growing fast: wise men and good,
Accused themselves, not God; and put their hands
Upon their mouths, and in the dust adored.
The Christian's faith had many mysteries too.
The uncreated holy Three in One;
Divine incarnate; human in divine;
The inward call; the sanctifying Dew
Coming unseen, unseen departing thence;
Anew creating all, and yet not heard;
Compelling, yet not felt:—mysterious these;
Not that Jehovah to conceal them wished;
Not that religion wished: the Christian faith,
Unlike the timorous creeds of pagan priests,
Was frank, stood forth to view, invited all,
To prove, examine, search, investigate,
And gave herself a light to see her by.
Mysterious these—because too large for eye
Of man, too long for human arm to mete.
Go to yon mount, which on the north-side stands
Of New Jerusalem, and lifts its head
Serene in glory bright, except the hill,
The Sacred Hill of God, whereon no foot
Must tread, highest of all creation's walks,
And overlooking all, in prospect vast,
From out the ethereal blue—that cliff ascend;
Gaze thence; around thee look; nought now impedes
Thy view; yet still thy vision, purified
And strong although it be, a boundary meets.
Or rather thou wilt say, thy vision fails
To gaze throughout illimitable space,
And find the end of infinite: and so
It was with all the mysteries of faith;
God set them forth unveiled to the full gaze
Of man, and asked him to investigate;
But reason's eye, however purified,
And on whatever tall, and goodly height
Of observation placed, to comprehend
Them fully sought in vain. In vain seeks still;
But wiser now and humbler, she concludes
From what she knows already of his love,
All gracious, which she cannot understand;
And gives him credit, reverence, praise for all.
Another feature in the ways of God,
That wondrous seemed, and made some men complain,
Was the unequal gift of worldly things.
Great was the difference indeed of men
Externally, from beggar to the prince.
The highest take, and lowest—and conceive
The scale between. A noble of the earth,
One of its great, in splendid mansion dwelt;
Was robed in silk and gold; and every day
Fared sumptuously; was titled, honoured, served.
Thousands his nod awaited, and his will
For law received: whole provinces his march
Attended, and his chariot drew, or on
Their shoulders bore aloft the precious man.
Millions, abased, fell prostrate at his feet;
And millions more thundered adoring praise.
As far as eye could reach, he called the land
His own, and added yearly to his fields.
Like tree that of the soil took healthy root,
He grew on every side, and towered on high,
And over half a nation shadowing wide,
He spread his ample boughs: air, earth, and sea,
Nature entire, the brute, and rational,
To please him ministered, and vied among
Themselves, who most should his desires prevent,
Watching the moving of his rising thoughts
Attentively, and hasting to fulfil.
His palace rose and kissed the gorgeous clouds:
Streams bent their music to his will; trees sprung;
The naked waste put on luxuriant robes;
And plains of happy cottages cast out
Their tenants, and became a hunting-field.
Before him bowed the distant isles, with fruits
And spices rare; the south her treasures brought;
The east and west sent; and the frigid north
Came with her offering of glossy furs.
Musicians soothed his ear with airs select;
Beauty held out her arms; and every man
Of cunning skill, and curious device,
And endless multitudes of liveried wights,
His pleasure waited with obsequious look.
And when the wants of nature were supplied,
And common-place extravagances filled,
Beyond their asking; and caprice itself,
In all its zig-zag appetites, gorged full,—
The man, new wants, and new expenses planned:
Nor planned alone: wise, learned, sober men,
Of cogitation deep, took up his case:
And planned for him new modes of folly wild;
Contrived new wishes, wants, and wondrous means
Of spending with despatch: yet after all,
His fields extended still, his riches grew,
And what seemed splendour infinite, increased.
So lavishly upon a single man
Did Providence his bounties daily shower.
Turn now thy eye, and look on poverty!
Look on the lowest of her ragged sons!
We find him by the way, sitting in dust;
He has no bread to eat, no tongue to ask;
No limbs to walk; no home, no house, no friend.
Observe his goblin cheek; his wretched eye;
See how his hand, if any hand he has,
Involuntary opens, and trembles forth,
As comes the traveller's foot: and hear his groan,
His long and lamentable groan, announce
The want that gnaws within: severely now,
The sun scorches and burns his old bald head;
The frost now glues him to the chilly earth;
On him hail, rain, and tempest, rudely beat;
And all the winds of heaven, in jocular mood,
Sport with his withered rags, that, tossed about,
Display his nakedness to passers by,
And grievously burlesque the human form.
Observe him yet more narrowly: his limbs,
With palsy shaken, about him blasted lie;
And all his flesh is full of putrid sores,
And noisome wounds, his bones of racking pains.
Strange vesture this for an immortal soul!
Strange retinue to wait a lord of earth!
It seems as Nature, in some surly mood,
After debate and musing long, had tried,
How vile and miserable thing her hand
Could fabricate, then made this meagre man.
A sight so full of perfect misery,
That passengers their faces turned away,
And hasted to be gone; and delicate
And tender women took another path.
This great disparity of outward things
Taught many lessons; but this taught in chief,
Though learned by few: that God no value set,
That man should none, on goods of worldly kind;
On transitory, frail, external things,
Of migratory, ever changing sort.
And farther taught, that in the soul alone,
The thinking, reasonable, willing soul,
God placed the total excellence of man;
And meant him evermore to seek it there.
But stranger still the distribution seemed
Of intellect; though fewer here complained;
Each with his share, upon the whole, content.
One man there was,—and many such you might
Have met—who never had a dozen thoughts
In all his life, and never changed their course;
But told them o'er, each in its 'customed place,
From morn till night, from youth till hoary age.
Little above the ox which grazed the field
His reason rose: so weak his memory,
The name his mother called him by, he scarce
Remembered; and his judgment so untaught,
That what at evening played along the swamp,
Fantastic, clad in robe of fiery hue,
He thought the devil in disguise, and fled
With quivering heart, and winged footsteps home.
The word philosophy he never heard,
Or science; never heard of liberty,
Necessity; or laws of gravitation:
And never had an unbelieving doubt.
Beyond his native vale he never looked;
But thought the visual line, that girt him round,
The world's extreme: and thought the silver moon,
That nightly o'er him led her virgin host,
No broader than his father's shield. He lived—
Lived where his father lived—died where he died;
Lived happy, and died happy, and was saved.
Be not surprised. He loved, and served his God.
There was another, large of understanding,
Of memory infinite, of judgment deep:
Who knew all learning, and all science knew;
And all phenomena in heaven and earth,
Traced to their causes; traced the labyrinths
Of thought, association, passion, will;
And all the subtile, nice affinities
Of matter, traced; its virtues, motions, laws;
And most familiarly and deeply talked
Of mental, moral, natural, divine.
Leaving the earth at will, he soared to heaven,
And read the glorious visions of the skies;
And to the music of the rolling spheres
Intelligently listened; and gazed far back,
Into the awful depths of Deity.
Did all that mind assisted most could do;
And yet in misery lived, in misery died,
Because he wanted holiness of heart.
A deeper lesson this to mortals taught,
And nearer cut the branches of their pride:
That not in mental, but in moral worth,
God, excellence placed; and only to the good,
To virtue granted happiness alone.
Admire the goodness of Almighty God!
He riches gave, he intellectual strength
To few, and therefore none commands to be,
Or rich, or learned; nor promises reward
Of peace to these. On all, He moral worth
Bestowed; and moral tribute asked from all.
And who that could not pay? who born so poor,
Of intellect so mean, as not to know
What seemed the best; and knowing, might not do?
As not to know what God and conscience bade,
And what they bade not able to obey?
And he who acted thus fulfilled the law
Eternal, and its promise reaped of peace:
Found peace this way alone: who sought it else,
Sought mellow grapes beneath the icy pole;
Sought blooming roses on the cheek of death;
Sought substance in a world of fleeting shades.
Take one example; to our purpose quite.
A man of rank, and of capacious soul;
Who riches had, and fame beyond desire:
An heir of flattery, to titles born,
And reputation, and luxurious life.
Yet not content with ancestorial name;
Or to be known, because his fathers were;
He on this height hereditary stood,
And gazing higher, purposed in his heart
To take another step. Above him seemed
Alone the mount of Song—the lofty seat
Of canonized bards; and thitherward,
By nature taught, and inward melody,
In prime of youth, he bent his eagle eye.
No cost was spared. What books he wished, he read:
What sage to hear, he heard: what scenes to see,
He saw. And first in rambling school-boy days,
Britannia's mountain-walks, and heath-girt lakes,
And story-telling glens, and founts, and brooks;
And maids, as dew-drops pure and fair, his soul
With grandeur filled, and melody, and love.
Then travel came, and took him where he wished.
He cities saw, and courts, and princely pomp:
And mused alone on ancient mountain brows;
And mused on battle-fields, where valour fought
In other days; and mused on ruins grey
With years: and drank from old and fabulous wells;
And plucked the vine that first-born prophets plucked;
And mused on famous tombs; and on the wave
Of ocean mused; and on the desert waste.
The heavens, and earth of every country saw:
Where'er the old inspiring Genii dwelt,
Aught that could rouse, expand, refine the soul,
Thither he went, and meditated there.
He touched his harp, and nations heard, entranced.
As some vast river of unfailing source,
Rapid, exhaustless, deep, his numbers flowed,
And opened new fountains in the human heart.
Where fancy halted, weary in her flight,
In other men, his fresh as morning rose,
And soared untrodden heights, and seemed at home,
Where angels bashful looked. Others, tho' great,
Beneath their argument seemed struggling whiles;
He from above descending, stooped to touch
The loftiest thought; and proudly stooped, as tho'
It scarce deserved his verse. With Nature's self
He seemed an old acquaintance, free to jest
At will with all her glorious majesty.
He laid his hand upon “the Ocean's mane,”
And played familiar with his hoary locks.
Stood on the Alps, stood on the Appennines,
And with the thunder talked, as friend to friend;
And wove his garland of the lightning's wing,
In sportive twist—the lightning's fiery wing,
Which, as the footsteps of the dreadful God,
Marching upon the storm in vengeance seemed—
Then turned, and with the grasshopper, who sung
His evening song, beneath his feet, conversed.
Suns, moons, and stars, and clouds his sisters were;
Rocks, mountains, meteors, seas, and winds, and storms,
His brothers—younger brothers, whom he scarce
As equals deemed. All passions of all men—
The wild and tame—the gentle and severe;
All thoughts, all maxims, sacred and profane;
All creeds; all seasons, Time, Eternity;
All that was hated, and all that was dear;
All that was hoped, all that was feared by man,
He tossed about, as tempest, withered leaves,
Then smiling looked upon the wreck he made.
With terror now he froze the cowering blood;
And now dissolved the heart in tenderness:
Yet would not tremble, would not weep himself.
But back into his soul retired, alone,
Dark, sullen, proud: gazing contemptuously
On hearts and passions prostrate at his feet.
So Ocean from the plains, his waves had late
To desolation swept, retired in pride,
Exulting in the glory of his might,
And seemed to mock the ruin he had wrought.
As some fierce comet of tremendous size,
To which the stars did reverence, as it passed;
So he through learning, and through fancy took
His flight sublime; and on the loftiest top
Of Fame's dread mountain sat: not soiled, and worn,
As if he from the earth had laboured up;
But as some bird of heavenly plumage fair,
He looked, which down from higher regions came,
And perched it there, to see what lay beneath.
The nations gazed, and wondered much, and praised.
Critics before him fell in humble plight;
Confounded fell; and made debasing signs
To catch his eye; and stretched, and swelled themselves
To bursting nigh, to utter bulky words
Of admiration vast: and many too,
Many that aimed to imitate his flight,
With weaker wing, unearthly fluttering made,
And gave abundant sport to after days.
Great man! the nations gazed, and wondered much,
And praised: and many called his evil good.
Wits wrote in favour of his wickedness;
And kings to do him honour took delight.
Thus full of titles, flattery, honour, fame;
Beyond desire, beyond ambition full,—
He died—he died of what? Of wretchedness.
Drank every cup of joy, heard every trump
Of fame; drank early, deeply drank; drank draughts
That common millions might have quenched—then died
Of thirst, because there was no more to drink.
His goddess, Nature, wooed, embraced, enjoyed,
Fell from his arms, abhorred; his passions died;
Died all but dreary solitary pride:
And all his sympathies in being died.
As some ill-guided bark, well built and tall,
Which angry tides cast out on desert shore,
And then retiring, left it there to rot
And moulder in the winds and rains of heaven:
So he, cut from the sympathies of life,
And cast ashore from pleasure's boisterous surge—
A wandering, weary, worn, and wretched thing;
Scorched, and desolate, and blasted soul;
A gloomy wilderness of dying thought—
Repined, and groaned, and withered from the earth.
His groanings filled the land, his numbers filled:
And yet he seemed ashamed to groan. Poor man!
Ashamed to ask, and yet he needed help.
Proof this, beyond all lingering of doubt,
That not with natural or mental wealth,
Was God delighted, or his peace secured:
That not in natural or mental wealth,
Was human happiness or grandeur found.
Attempt how monstrous! and how surely vain!
With things of earthly sort, with aught but God,
With aught but moral excellence, truth and love,
To satisfy and fill the immortal soul!
Attempt, vain inconceivably! attempt,
To satisfy the ocean with a drop;
To marry Immortality to Death;
And with the unsubstantial Shade of Time,
To fill the embrace of all Eternity!

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