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But if a deed not tamely to be borne
Fire indignation and a sense of scorn,
The strings are swept with such a power so loud,
The storm of music shakes th' astonished crowd.
So, when remote futurity is brought
Before the keen inquiry of her thought,
A terrible sagacity informs
The poet's heart; he looks to distant storms;
He hears the thunder ere the tempest lowers ;
And armed with strength surpassing human powers,
Seizes events as yet unknown to man,
And darts his soul into the dawning plan.
Hence, in a Roman mouth, the graceful name
Of prophet and of poet was the same;
Hence British poets too the priesthood shared,
And every hallowed druid was a bard.
But no prophetic fires to me belong;
I play with syllables, and sport in song.
A. At Westminster, where little poets strive
To set a distich upon six and five,
Where discipline helps the opening buds of sense,
And makes his pupils proud with silver-pence,
I was a poet too: but modern taste
Is so refined, and delicate, and chaste,
That verse, whatever fire the fancy warms,
Without a creamy smoothness has no charms.
Thus, all success depending on an ear,
And thinking I might purchase it too dear,
If sentiment were sacrificed to sound,
And truth cut short to make a period round,
judged a man of sense could scarce do worse,
Than caper in the morris-dance of verse.
B. Thus reputation is a spur to wit, And some wits flag through fear of losing it. Give me the line, that ploughs its stately course Like a proud swan conquering the stream by force;
That, like some cottage beauty, strikes the heart,
Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.
When labour and when dulness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan's stand,
Beating alternately, in measured time,
The clock-work tintinabulam of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be ;
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
From him who rears a poem lank and long,
To him, who strains his all into a song;
Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air,
All hirks and braes though he was never there ;
Or, having whelped a prologue with great pains,
Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains ;
A prologue interdashed with many a stroke-
An art contrived to advertise a joke,
So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
Not in the words—but in the gap between :
Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
To dally much with subjects mean and low
Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so.
Neglected talents rust into decay,
And every effort ends in push-pin play.
The man, that means success, sould soar above
A soldier's feather, or a lady's glove;
Else, summoning the muse to such a theme,
The fruit of all her labour is whipt-cream.
As if an eagle flew aloft, and then-
Stooped from its highest pitch to pounce a wren,
As if the poet, purposing to wed,
Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard :
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, asked ages more.
Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
Ennobling every region that he chose ;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose ;
And, tedious years of Gothic darkness passed,
Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Then show far off their shining plumes again.
A. Is genius only found in epic lays ?
Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
Make their heroic powers your own at once,
Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief : each interval of night Was graced with many an undulating light. In less illustrious bards his beauty shone A meteor, or a stur; in these, the sun.
The nightingale may claim the topmost bough,
While the poor grasshopper must chirp below.
Like him unnoticed, I, and such as I,
Spread little wings, and rather skip than fly:
Perched on the meagre produce of the land,
An ell or two of prospect we command;
But never peep beyond the thorny bound,
Or oaken fence, that hems the paddock round.
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart
Had faded, poetry was not an art ;
Language, above all teaching, or if taught
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstasy, unmanacled by form,
Not prompted as in our degenerate days,
By low ambition and the thirst of praise,
Was natural as is the flowing stream,
And yet magnificent-A God the theme !
That theme on earth exhausted, though above
'Tis found as everlasting as his love,
Man lavished all his thoughts on human things-
The feats of heroes, and the wrath of kings :
But still, while virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral, and so far was right.
'Twas thus till luxury seduced the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refined ;
Then genius danced a bacchanal; he crowned
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rushed into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeled
The victim of his own lascivious fires,
And dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace played in Greece and Rome
This bedlam part; and others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power, and while he reigned
The proud protector of the power he gained,
Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,
Parent of manners like herself severe,
Drew a rough copy of the Christian face
Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace ;
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every effort of the muse a crime;
Verse, in the finest mould of fancy cast,
Was lumber in an age so void of taste;
But, when the second Charles assumed the sway,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then, like a bow long forced into a curve,
The mind, released from too constrained a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring,
That made the vaulted roofs of pleasure ring.
His court, the dissolute and hateful school
Of wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
Swarm’d with a scribbling herd, as deep inlaidh
With brutal lust as ever Circe made.
From these a long succession, in the rage
Of rank obscenity, debauched their age ;
Nor ceased, till ever anxious to redress
The abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The muse instructed a well-nurtured train
Of able votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That lewdness had usurped and worn so long.
Then decent pleasantry and sterling sense,
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipped out of sight, with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack that had defiled the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and attic taste, combined,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplined, complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a grace,
That quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
Even on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he (his musical finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)
Made poetry a mere mechanic art;
And every warbler had his tune by heart.
Nature imparting her satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they raised a smile
At folly's cost, themselves unmoved the while.
That constellation set, the world in vain
Must hope to look upon their like again.
A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the dark;
Wit now and then struck smartly shows a spark,
Sufficient to redeem the modern race
From total night and absolute disgrace.
While servile trick and imitative knack
Confine the million in the beaten track,