Written in January 1785.
1 In this lone hour, when angry storms descend,
2 And the chill'd soul deplores her distant friend;
3 When all her sprightly fires inactive lie,
4 And gloomy objects fill the mental eye;
5 When hoary Winter strides the northern blast,
6 And Flora's beauties at his feet are cast;
7 Earth by the grisly tyrant desert made,
8 The feather'd warblers quit the leafless shade;[Page 108]
9 Quit those dear scenes where life and love began,
10 And, cheerless, seek the savage haunt of man;
11 How mourns each tenant of the silent grove!
12 No soft sensation tunes the heart to love;
13 No fluttering pulse awakes to Rapture's call;
14 No strain responsive aids the water's fall.
15 The Swain neglects his Nymph, yet knows not why;
16 The Nymph, indifferent, mourns the freezing sky;
17 Alike insensible to soft desire,
18 She asks no warmth — but from the kitchen fire;
19 Love seeks a milder zone; half sunk in snow,
20 Lactilla, shivering, tends her fav'rite cow;
21 The bleating flocks now ask the bounteous hand,
22 And crystal streams in frozen fetters stand.
23 The beauteous red-breast, tender in her frame,
24 Whose murder marks the fool with treble shame,[Page 109]
25 Near the low cottage door, in pensive mood,
26 Complains, and mourns her brothers of the wood.
27 Her song oft wak'd the soul to gentle joys,
28 All but his ruthless soul whose gun destroys.
29 For this, rough clown, long pains on thee shall wait,
30 And freezing want avenge their hapless fate;
31 For these fell murders may'st thou change thy kind,
32 In outward form as savage as in mind;
33 Go, be a bear of Pythagorean name,
34 From man distinguish'd by thy hideous frame.
35 Tho' slow and pensive now the moments roll,
36 Successive months shall from our torpid soul
37 Hurry these scenes again; the laughing hours
38 Advancing swift, shall strew spontaneous flowers;[Page 110]
39 The early-peeping snowdrop, crocus mild,
40 And modest violet, grace the secret wild;
41 Pale primrose, daisy, maypole-decking sweet,
42 And purple hyacinth together meet:
43 All Nature's sweets in joyous circle move,
44 And wake the frozen soul again to love.
45 The ruddy swain now stalks along the vale,
46 And snuffs fresh ardour from the flying gale;
47 The landscape rushes on his untaught mind,
48 Strong raptures rise, but raptures undefin'd;
49 He louder whistles, stretches o'er the green,
50 By screaming milk-maids, not unheeded, seen;
51 The downcast look ne'er fixes on the swain,
52 They dread his eye, retire, and gaze again. [Page 111]
53 'Tis mighty Love — Ye blooming maids, beware,
54 Nor the lone thicket with a lover dare.
55 No high romantic rules of honour bind
56 The timid virgin of the rural kind;
57 No conquest of the passions e'er was taught,
58 No meed e'er given them for the vanquish'd thought.
59 To sacrifice, to govern, to restrain,
60 Or to extinguish, or to hug the pain,
61 Was never theirs; instead, the fear of shame
62 Proves a strong bulwark, and secures their fame;
63 Shielded by this, they flout, reject, deny,
64 With mock disdain put the fond lover by;
65 Unreal scorn, stern looks, affected pride,
66 Awe the poor swain, and save the trembling bride. [Page 112]
67 As o'er the upland hills I take my way,
68 My eyes in transport boundless scenes survey:
69 Here the neat*
* Clifton Church. In this church-yard the Author's Mother was buried. dome where sacred raptures rise,
70 From whence the contrite groan shall pierce the skies;
71 Where sin-struck souls bend low in humble prayer,
72 And waft that sigh which ne'er is lost in air.
73 Ah! sacred turf! here a fond Parent lies,
74 How my soul melts while dreadful scenes arise!
75 The past! Ah! shield me, Mercy! from that thought,
76 My aching brain now whirls, with horror fraught.
77 Dead! can it be? 'twas here we frequent stray'd,
78 And these sad records mournfully survey'd.
79 I mark'd the verse, the skulls her eye invite,
80 Whilst my young bosom shudder'd with affright! [Page 113]
81 My heart recoil'd, and shun'd the loathsome view;
82 "Start not, my child, each human thought subdue,"
83 She calmly said; "this fate shall once be thine,
84 My woes pronounce that it shall first be mine."
85 Abash'd, I caught the awful truths she sung,
86 And on her firm resolves one moment hung;
87 Vain boast — my bulwark tumbles to the deep,
88 Amaz'd — alone I climb the craggy steep;
89 My shrieking soul deserted, sullen views
90 The depths below, and Hope's fond strains refuse;
91 I listen'd not — She louder struck the lyre,
92 And love divine, and moral truths conspire.
93 The proud*
* It is supposed this word is derived, though not very legitimately, from Croesus. Croesean crew, light, cruel, vain,
94 Whose deeds have never swell'd the Muse's strain,[Page 114]
95 Whose bosoms others sorrows ne'er assail,
96 Who hear, unheeding, Misery's bitter tale,
97 Here call for satire, would the verse avail.
98 Rest, impious race! — The Muse pursues her flight,
99 Breathes purer air on Vincent's rugged height;
100 Here nibbling flocks of scanty herbage gain
101 A meal penurious from the barren plain;
102 Crop the low niggard bush; and, patient, try
103 The distant walk, and every hillock nigh:
104 Some bask, some bound, nor terrors ever know,
105 Save from the human form, their only foe.
106 Ye bleating innocents! dispel your fears,
107 My woe-struck soul in all your troubles shares;
108 'Tis but Lactilla — fly not from green:
109 Long have I shar'd with you this guiltless scene. [Page 115]
110 'Tis mine to wander o'er the dewy lawn,
111 And mark the pallid streak of early dawn;
112 Lo! the grey dusk that fill'd the vacant space,
113 Now fleets, and infant light pursues the chace;
114 From the hill top it seeks the valley low;
115 Inflam'd, the cheeks of morn with blushes glow;
116 Behold it 'whelm'd in a bright flood of day,
117 It strives no more, but to the God gives way.
118 Ye silent, solemn*
* St. Vincent 's rocks, between which flows the River Avon., strong, stupendous heights,
119 Whose terror-striking frown the school-boy frights
120 From the young daw; whilst in your rugged breast
121 The chattering brood, secured by Horror, rest.
122 Say, Muse, what arm the low'ring brothers cleft,
123 And the calm stream in this low cradle left? [Page 116]
124 Coëval with Creation they look down,
125 And, sunder'd, still retain their native frown.
126 Beneath those heights, lo! balmy springs*
* The Hot Wells. arise,
127 To which pale Beauty's faded image flies;
128 Their kindly powers life's genial heat restore,
129 The tardy pulse, whose throbs were almost o'er,
130 Here beats a livelier tune. The breezy air,
131 To the wild hills invites the languid fair:
132 Fear not the western gale, thou tim'rous maid,
133 Nor dread its blast shall thy soft form invade;
134 Tho' cool and strong the quick'ning breezes blow,
135 And meet thy panting breath, 'twill quickly grow
136 More strong; then drink the odoriferous draught,
137 With unseen particles of health 'tis fraught.
138 Sit not within the threshold of Despair,
139 Nor plead a weakness fatal to the fair;[Page 117]
140 Soft term for Indolence, politely given,
141 By which we win no joy from earth or heaven.
142 Foul Fiend! thou bane of health, fair Virtue's bane,
143 Death of true pleasure, source of real pain!
144 Keen exercise shall brace the fainting soul,
145 And bid her slacken'd powers more vigorous roll.
146 Blame not my rustic lay, nor think me rude,
147 If I avow Conceit's the grand prelude
148 To dire disease and death. Your high-born maid,
149 Whom fashion guides, in youth's first bloom shall fade;
150 She seeks the cause, th'effect would fain elude,
151 By Death's o'erstretching stride too close pursu'd,
152 She faints within his icy grasp, yet stares,
153 And wonders why the Tyrant yet appears —[Page 118]
154 Abrupt — so soon — Thine, Fashion, is the crime,
155 Fell Dissipation does the work of time.
156 How thickly cloth'd, yon*
* Leigh Wood. rock of scanty soil,
157 Its lovely verdure scorns the hand of Toil.
158 Here the deep green, and here the lively plays,
159 The russet birch, and ever-blooming bays;
160 The vengeful black-thorn, of wild beauties proud,
161 Blooms beauteous in the gloomy-chequer'd crowd:
162 The barren elm, the useful feeding oak,
163 Whose hamadryad ne'er should feel the stroke
164 Of axe relentless, 'till twice fifty years
165 Have crown'd her woodland joys, and fruitful cares.
166 The pois'nous reptiles here their mischiefs bring,
167 And thro' the helpless sleeper dart the sting;[Page 119]
168 The toad envenom'd, hating human eyes,
169 Here springs to light, lives long, and aged dies.
170 The harmless snail, slow-journeying, creeps away,
171 Sucks the young dew, but shuns the bolder day.
172 (Alas! if transmigration should prevail,
173 I fear Lactilla's soul must house in snail.)
174 The long-nosed mouse, the woodland rat is here,
175 The sightless mole, with nicely-pointed ear;
176 The timid rabbit hails th'impervious gloom,
177 Eludes the dog's keen scent, and shuns her doom.
178 Various the tenants of this tangled wood,
179 Who skulk all day, all night review the flood,
180 Chew the wash'd weed driven by the beating wave,
181 Or feast on dreadful food, which hop'd a milder grave. [Page 120]
182 Hail, useful channel! Commerce spreads her wings,
183 From either pole her various treasure brings;
184 Wafted by thee, the mariner long stray'd,
185 Clasps the fond parent, and the sighing maid;
186 Joy tunes the cry; the rocks rebound the roar;
187 The deep vibration quivers 'long the shore;
188 The merchant hears, and hails the peeping mast,
189 The wave-drench'd sailor scorns all peril past;
190 Now love and joy the noisy crew invite,
191 And clumsy music crowns the rough delight.
192 Yours be the vulgar dissonance, while I
193 Cross the low stream, and stretch the ardent eye
194 O'er Nature's wilds; 'tis peace, 'tis joy serene,
195 The thought as pure as calm the vernal scene. [Page 121]
196 Ah, lovely meads! my bosom lighter grows,
197 Shakes off her huge oppressive weight of woes,
198 And swells in guiltless rapture; ever hail,
199 The tufted grove, and the low-winding vale!
200 Low not, ye herds, your lusty Masters bring
201 The crop of Summer; and the genial Spring
202 Feels for your wants, and softens Winter's rage,
203 The hoarded hay-stack shall your woes assuage;
204 Woes summ'd in one alone, 'tis Nature's call,
205 That secret voice which fills creation all.
206 Beneath this stack*
* The beautiful unfortunate Louisa, fugitive Foreigner, lived three years in a state of distraction under this hay-stack, without going into a house. She once confessed, in a lucid interval, that she had escaped from a Convent, in which she had been confined by her father, on refusing a marriage of his proposing, her affections being engaged to another man. Louisa's dwelling rose,
207 Here the fair Maniac bore three Winters snows. [Page 122]
208 Here long she shiver'd, stiffening in the blast,
209 The lightnings round their livid horrors cast;
210 The thunders roar, while rushing torrents pour,
211 And add new woes to bleak affliction's hour;
212 The heavens lour dismal while the storm descends,
213 No Mother's bosom the soft maid befriends;
214 But, frighten'd, o'er the wilds she swiftly flies,
215 And drench'd with rains, the roofless hay-stack tries.
216 The morn was fair, and gentle — sought
217 These lonely woodlands, friends to sober Thought;
218 With Solitude, the slow-pac'd maid is seen
219 Tread the dark grove, and unfrequented green,
220 Well — knew their lurkings; Phoebus shone,
221 While, musing, she pursued the track alone.
222 O, thou kind friend! whom here I dare not name,
223 Who to Louisa's shed of misery came,[Page 123]
224 Lur'd by the tale, sigh'd o'er her beauteous form,
225 And gently drew her from the beating storm,
226 Stand forth — defend, for well thou canst, the cause
227 Of Heaven, and justify its rigid laws;
228 Yet own that human laws are harshly given,
229 When they extend beyond the will of Heaven.
230 Say, can thy pen for that hard duty plead,
231 By which the meek and helpless maid's decreed
232 To dire seclusion? Snatch'd from guiltless joys,
233 To where corroding grief the frame destroys;
234 Monastic glooms, which active virtue cramp,
235 Where horrid silence chills the vital lamp;
236 Slowly and faint the languid pulses beat,
237 And the chill'd heart forgets its genial heat;
238 The dim sunk eye, with hopeless glance, explores
239 The solemn aisles, and death-denouncing doors,[Page 124]
240 Ne'er to be past again. — Now heaves the sigh,
241 Now unavailing sorrows fill the eye:
242 Fancy once more brings back the long-lost youth
243 To the fond soul, in all the charms of Truth;
244 She welcomes the lov'd image; busy Thought
245 Pourtrays the past, with guiltless pleasures fraught;
246 'Tis momentary bliss, 'tis rapture high,
247 The heart o'erflows, and all is extacy.
248 Memory! I charge thee yet preserve the shade,
249 Ah! let not yet the glittering colours fade!
250 Forbear the cruel future yet to view,
251 When the sad soul must bid a long adieu,
252 E'en to its fancied bliss — Ah! turn not yet
253 Thou wretched bankrupt, that must soon forget
254 This farewel draught of joy: lo! Fancy dies,
255 E'en the thin phantom of past pleasure flies. [Page 125]
256 Thought sinks in real woe; too poor to give
257 Her present bliss, she bids the future live;
258 The spirit soon quits that fond clasp, for see,
259 The future offers finish'd misery.
260 Hope quite extinct, lo! frantic thro' the aisles
261 She raves, while Superstition grimly smiles.
262 Th'exhausted mourner mopes, then wildly stalks
263 Round the drear dome, and seeks the darkest walks.
264 The glance distracted each sad sister meets,
265 The sorrow-speaking eye in silence greets
266 Each death-devoted maid; Louisa here
267 Runs thro' each various shape of sad despair;
268 Now swells with gusts of hope, now sick'ning dies;
269 Alternate thoughts of death and life arise
270 Within her panting soul; the firm resolve,
271 The new desire, in stronger fears dissolve. [Page 126]
272 She starts — then seiz'd the moment of her fate,
273 Quits the lone cloyster and the horrid grate,
274 Whilst wilder horrors to receive her wait;
275 Muffled, on Freedom's happy plains they stand,
276 And eager seize her not reluctant hand;
277 Too late to these mild shores the mourner came,
278 For now the guilt of flight o'erwhelms her frame:
279 Her broken vows in wild disorder roll,
280 And stick like serpents in her trembling soul;
281 Thought, what art thou? of thee she boasts no more,
282 O'erwhelm'd, thou dy'st amid the wilder roar
283 Of lawless anarchy, which sweeps the soul,
284 Whilst her drown'd faculties like pebbles roll,
285 Unloos'd, uptorn, by whirlwinds of despair,
286 Each well-taught moral now dissolves in air;[Page 127]
287 Dishevel'd, lo! her beauteous tresses fly,
288 And the wild glance now fills the staring eye;
289 The balls, fierce glaring in their orbits move,
290 Bright spheres, where beam'd the sparkling fires of Love,
291 Now roam for objects which once fill'd her mind,
292 Ah! long-lost objects the must never find.
293 Ill starr'd Louisa! Memory, 'tis a strain,
294 Which fills my soul with sympathetic pain.
295 Remembrance, hence, give thy vain struggles o'er,
296 Nor swell the line with forms that live no more.