THE NUN'S RETURN TO THE WORLD,
BY THE DECREE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF FRANCE, FEBRUARY, 1790.
1 FAREWELL ye walls where solitude has thrown
2 Her long dark shadow on each silent stone,
3 Where the slow pulse but feebly dares to creep,
4 Or give the wretched the sad leave to weep;
5 Where struggling sighs break forth from every breast,
6 And wasting sorrow wears a holy vest;
7 Where pure religion seldom ventures nigh,
8 Or owns the tear that hangs within the eye,
9 Which trembling long, at last in secret falls,
10 The heart-wrought offering to relentless walls.
11 But nought avails the heart-wrought offering here,
12 Nor aught avails the earth-unhallow'd prayer;
13 Sighs, that so oft for worldly cares are given,
14 No listening seraph fondly bears to heaven,
15 But through the cloister's corridors are borne,
16 Heard oft at eve and at return of morn.
17 Some sisters may revere the cloister's gloom,
18 And, warm with life, yet hover o'er the tomb;
19 May wing their souls to the supreme abode,
20 And, quitting earth, place every thought with God. [Page 78]
21 Thrice happy they who taste this early heaven,
22 And feel while here their every fault forgiven.
23 When the slow organ swells the lengthen'd note,
24 And heaven-born music pours from every throat;
25 When warm devotion breathes the fervent prayer,
26 And holy saints the pious rapture share;
27 When watchful slumbers stated minutes know,
28 And, waking, teach the ready knee to bow;
29 When Faith and Hope both animate the breast,
30 And habit's only made Religion's vest;
31 When strong conviction holds a steady light,
32 And clearly shows the vestal life is right;
33 When Conscience dictates the prompt will obeys,
34 And makes responses both to prayer and praise;
35 Is't then we taste the promis'd joys of heaven,
36 And trust, and feel, our every fault forgiven?
37 Not so! — my years o'er many a sand has run,
38 And still my sighs have counted one by one.
39 Still self-will'd thought would bear my soul away,
40 And quick transport me to some blissful day,
41 When social intercourse her sweets would lend,
42 Mixing the lover with the tender friend;
43 When father's, mother's, sister's, voice was heard,
44 With every name that sense of life endear'd;
45 When future plans of dear domestic ease
46 Were fondly suffer'd every wish to seize;
47 When useful life was held a female part,
48 And 'twas no sin to feel I had a heart,
49 Or link the soft affections in my chain,
50 And hope to please — nor strive to please in vain;[Page 79]
51 To see the wish before it takes a form,
52 To mark the cloud or break the coming storm,
53 To shield the heart from every sense of pain,
54 And tell my own it did not beat in vain!
55 This! this was life! the life my faith approv'd,
56 A useful current to some friend belov'd;
57 If not a friend belov'd, at least to those
58 Whose length of suffering call'd for sweet repose;
59 And sought the soothings of the gentle breast,
60 In every form that Pity can be drest.
61 Once through a vale of tempting wiles I stray'd,
62 Till dusky evening drew her silent shade,
63 And night approach'd before I guess'd the hour,
64 Wrapp'd in a cloud, and usher'd by a shower.
65 A cottage, shelter'd by a fringing wood,
66 On a green carpet sweet and lonely stood;
67 The rising hill on either side would show
68 Where the wild rose uncropped might safely blow,
69 Where the soft murmurs of a low cascade
70 Might join the stream that gurgl'd through the glade;
71 Along the pasture nibbling sheep were seen,
72 Whose new-wash'd fleeces brighter made the green;
73 Two lambs ran frisking to avoid the shower,
74 And knock'd their little heads against the door;
75 The opening door a willing shelter lends,
76 For here sweet Innocence and Man were friends;
77 Two little cherubs, rosy as the morn,
78 The sweetest wild flowers wreath'd around each horn,
79 The little playmates knew the gentle hand,
80 And, patted softly, took a patient stand;[Page 80]
81 Then skipp'd and frolic'd, fond to lead the way,
82 And show the world how Innocence should play.
83 In a warm corner sat the aged sire,
84 His cushion spread, and plac'd beside the fire;
85 Respect from all unask'd he seem'd to draw, —
86 Respect from love, and not from silent awe.
87 He thankful look'd, and seem'd to bless his race,
88 Hope lit his eye, and Piety his face;
89 Few men more blest, more fortunate had been,
90 Or sweeter, better children's children seen;
91 His daughter's cheek had not yet ceas'd to glow,
92 The rose could yet upon occasion blow;
93 When the dear partner of her useful life
94 Would fondly call her his beloved wife,
95 The sweetest feelings all her heart would charm,
96 Beam in her eyes, and on her cheek grow warm!
97 Close to her heart a younger cherub press'd,
98 Smil'd in her face, and sunk upon her breast;
99 The happy father at his homely board
100 Ne'er thought the world could greater wealth afford;
101 While the lov'd prattlers many a trick would play,
102 Tug at his coat, and, peeping, run away;
103 While nods and whispers, loud enough to hear,
104 Gave certain notice when the foe drew near;
105 While his sly hands pretend the rogues to seize,
106 The wond'rous 'scapes the daring pilferers please;
107 And watching, when his eye was turn'd aside,
108 Beneath the mother's apron seek to hide;
109 Neatness and comfort wore a shining face,
110 And every thing seem'd well to know its place. [Page 81]
111 Gay peacock feathers wav'd o'er pewter rows,
112 And many a tint the painted rainbow throws;
113 The white scour'd chair e'en seem'd a tempting seat,
114 But all's inviting where all things are neat;
115 The sun look'd in, and saw each corner clean,
116 And brighter shone as he surveyed the scene.
117 Blest through long life, may every pair like these
118 Feel the full comfort of the wish to please!
119 No lot like this attended on my doom,
120 Destin'd to live, but live within the tomb.
121 False zeal! false pride! but let me hide their shame,
122 Nor blot the parents with a barbarous name.
123 Back to the world I now may safely go,
124 And kindly foster every child of woe;
125 Soft Pity's handmaid still I yet may be,
126 And every mourner may claim kin with me;
127 For keen afflictions make the strongest ties,
128 And fellow-sufferers are the best allies.
129 But how shall I the world retrace once more!
130 How chang'd that world from what I knew before!
131 No more I know to form the quick reply,
132 Or smooth my manners to th' expecting eye;
133 No longer know the various turns of mind,
134 Which now deceive, and now inform mankind;
135 The favourite topics which refinement taught,
136 And grac'd with every happy turn of thought;
137 The sentimental strain that softly flows
138 Has but been taught me by instructing woes;
139 The wiles of Fashion (that with eager haste
140 Arrest the eye, and call her whimsies taste),[Page 82]
141 Around this form no mystic wreath unfold,
142 Nor captive Fancy in their mazes hold,
143 Which long keep Sense uncertain what to say,
144 What part to praise, or what to vote away:
145 These arts unknowing, how shall I appear
146 Wrapp'd in the garb Simplicity would wear,
147 And, as a being of a world unknown,
148 Live much a wonder, or live much alone!
149 Of friends I left, alas! how few remain,
150 How few to greet my welcome back again!
151 A change of manners makes a change of thought,
152 And I may seem but little what I ought.
153 Stern Bigotry may rail, and blame my choice,
154 And Superstition raise her hollow voice,
155 And Priests and Prelates may my actions scan,
156 And scorn with all the powers of reasoning man;
157 But let them scorn — for ever may it be,
158 That human reason and her acts are free!
159 One soft regret yet softens o'er my mind,
160 One other self I yet must leave behind;
161 In leaving her, I leave my better part,
162 With half the fairest virtues of my heart.
163 In scenes of sorrow long our loves were tried,
164 Oft has she wept, and sigh'd as I have sigh'd;
165 The sister Fates for both alike had wove
166 A tale of sorrow in a veil of love;
167 The blending lights and shades of other's woe
168 Mix in a way none but the wretched know;
169 None but the wretched see by what fine thread
170 Those hearts are tied which with one wound have bled! [Page 83]
171 Forbidding friends the happy union cross'd,
172 And sweet Cecilia to the world was lost;
173 The gentl'st lily not more sweet appears
174 When seen through all the morning's softening tears;
175 The melting Graces mould her winning form,
176 Pliant as osiers bend before the storm;
177 Tall as the cedar on yon mountain's brow,
178 That stoops to shade the murmuring stream below;
179 Meek as when Patience checks the rebel tear,
180 And makes Submission a bless'd saint appear,
181 While plaintive accents swell the softest chord,
182 And breathe full harmony on every word;
183 In every word the fullest sense you hear
184 Exactly suited to the listening ear,
185 While tender interest every heart inspires,
186 And every eye both pities and admires.
187 When to the world I urg'd her to return;
188 "What is the world," said she, "to those who mourn,
189 To those who've lost their dearest interest there,
190 The only thing that makes life worth a care!
191 O! had my friends but been content to see
192 This closing grate fold all its bars on me;
193 Nor, as the veil was hovering o'er my head,
194 With impious hand the sacred vestment shred; —
195 Had but the monks the frantic rage forgiven,
196 Nor sent his pure and ardent soul to heaven,
197 Then to the world I might again have flown,
198 And not, as now, 'forget myself to stone!'
199 But why should I withdraw from this retreat?
200 What friend have I in all the world to meet? [Page 84]
201 Dead in the breast of every kindred tie,
202 For long ere dead to all the world we die;
203 Indifference heeds not where the wretched sleep,
204 Nor leaves one soothing sigh though they should wake and weep!
205 "No; my Saint Agnes, let me here remain,
206 These walls are old companions of my pain!
207 And to each deep and agonizing sigh
208 In hollow murmurs groan a sad reply;
209 These sad replies have bound me to my cell,
210 Nor, than its gloom, few things I love so well;
211 Oft have I mourn'd — oft told my story here,
212 And now the place, like a tried friend, grows dear.
213 The mind, in all its habitudes of woe,
214 Clings to the spot that seems its griefs to know;
215 Where fond Remembrance peoples all the scene,
216 And friends appear where friends have never been;
217 Her tear-dipped pencil stronger likeness shows
218 In that lov'd spot where the idea rose;
219 There the bless'd shade for ever haunts the ground,
220 And wanders with us all the groves around.
221 Oft have you met me in yon cloister'd aisle,
222 The half-tear starting through the troubl'd smile;
223 'Twas there, at evening hour, just as the sun
224 Hung o'er yon marble, and with languor shone,
225 That first of home I dar'd indulge the thought,
226 And with warm Fancy many an image wrought;
227 Worshipp'd the reliques with a love divine,
228 And built to Memory the forbidden shrine. [Page 85]
229 Forbidden, ah! yet Nature will be found,
230 Though walls of adamant enclose her round;
231 Though vows, and veils, and cloisters, bind her fast,
232 The free-born spirit breaks her bars at last;
233 Finds the sick heart devoted to her sway,
234 And all her dictates waiting to obey;
235 Wonder not, then, this place becomes so dear!
236 Have I not brought my heart's devotions here?
237 Unfit abroad to take an active part,
238 With all this load of misery at my heart,
239 I only hope to wing my soul to heaven,
240 And, for my countless tears and sighs, to be forgiven.
241 "You I shall miss! through every lengthening aisle
242 Your heavenly presence sacred made the pile;
243 The long perspective found an opening ray
244 Whene'er your image cross'd my wandering way,
245 Light sudden gleams of joy my breast would seize,
246 And the cold blood forget awhile to freeze.
247 But go, St Agnes, bear along with thee
248 The many a tale of cloister'd misery;
249 Bless that sage Council where fair Freedom dwells,
250 And bid her henceforth close these gloomy cells;
251 The smooth chicane of monkish wiles unfold,
252 And say what wretches half the convents hold;
253 Drag forth Delusion to their wondering sight,
254 And let them see their bless'd decree was right!
255 How soon shall Freedom cheer the drooping swain,
256 How soon shall Plenty spread along the plain,
257 How soon shall Labour make a sport of toil,
258 And Health blow round him as he tills the soil;[Page 86]
259 The grateful soil her freest gifts shall lend,
260 To prove herself bless'd Freedom's steady friend.
261 As o'er the earth she bends her flowery way,
262 The swains exult as at return of day;
263 The towering woods more towering seem to grow,
264 And free-born rivers freer seem to flow;
265 The barren rocks their little part will bear,
266 And tufts of grass grow, nourish'd here and there;
267 All Nature sees, and hails the hour with me,
268 That gives to man the Mountain-Liberty;
269 Dear Liberty! the source of heartfelt ease,
270 Which still must please whilst earthly good can please."