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THE EXCURSION

BOOK THIRD

DESPONDENCY

 A HUMMING BEE--a little tinkling rill-- A pair of falcons wheeling on the wing, In clamorous agitation, round the crest Of a tall rock, their airy citadel-- By each and all of these the pensive ear Was greeted, in the silence that ensued, When through the cottage-threshold we had passed, And, deep within that lonesome valley, stood Once more beneath the concave of a blue And cloudless sky.--Anon exclaimed our Host-- 10 Triumphantly dispersing with the taunt The shade of discontent which on his brow Had gathered,--"Ye have left my cell,--but see How Nature hems you in with friendly arms! And by her help ye are my prisoners still. But which way shall I lead you?--how contrive, In spot so parsimoniously endowed, That the brief hours, which yet remain, may reap Some recompense of knowledge or delight?" So saying, round he looked, as if perplexed; 20 And, to remove those doubts, my grey-haired Friend Said--"Shall we take this pathway for our guide?-- Upward it winds, as if, in summer heats, Its line had first been fashioned by the flock Seeking a place of refuge at the root Of yon black Yew-tree, whose protruded boughs Darken the silver bosom of the crag, From which she draws her meagre sustenance. There in commodious shelter may we rest. Or let us trace this streamlet to its source; 30 Feebly it tinkles with an earthy sound, And a few steps may bring us to the spot Where, haply, crowned with flowerets and green herbs, The mountain infant to the sun comes forth, Like human life from darkness."--A quick turn Through a strait passage of encumbered ground, Proved that such hope was vain:--for now we stood Shut out from prospect of the open vale, And saw the water, that composed this rill, Descending, disembodied, and diffused 40 O'er the smooth surface of an ample crag, Lofty, and steep, and naked as a tower. All further progress here was barred;--And who, Thought I, if master of a vacant hour, Here would not linger, willingly detained? Whether to such wild objects he were led When copious rains have magnified the stream Into a loud and white-robed waterfall, Or introduced at this more quiet time. Upon a semicirque of turf-clad ground, 50 The hidden nook discovered to our view A mass of rock, resembling, as it lay Right at the foot of that moist precipice, A stranded ship, with keel upturned, that rests Fearless of winds and waves. Three several stones Stood near, of smaller size, and not unlike To monumental pillars: and, from these Some little space disjoined a pair were seen, That with united shoulders bore aloft A fragment, like an altar, flat and smooth: 60 Barren the tablet, yet thereon appeared A tall and shining holly, that had found A hospitable chink, and stood upright, As if inserted by some human hand In mockery, to wither in the sun, Or lay its beauty flat before a breeze, The first that entered. But no breeze did now Find entrance;--high or low appeared no trace Of motion, save the water that descended, Diffused adown that barrier of steep rock, 70 And softly creeping, like a breath of air, Such as is sometimes seen, and hardly seen, To brush the still breast of a crystal lake. "Behold a cabinet for sages built, Which kings might envy!"--Praise to this effect Broke from the happy old Man's reverend lip; Who to the Solitary turned, and said, "In sooth, with love's familiar privilege, You have decried the wealth which is your own. Among these rocks and stones, methinks, I see 80 More than the heedless impress that belongs To lonely nature's casual work: they bear A semblance strange of power intelligent, And of design not wholly worn away. Boldest of plants that ever faced the wind, How gracefully that slender shrub looks forth From its fantastic birth-place! And I own, Some shadowy intimations haunt me here, That in these shows a chronicle survives Of purposes akin to those of Man, 90 But wrought with mightier arm than now prevails. --Voiceless the stream descends into the gulf With timid lapse;--and lo! while in this strait I stand--the chasm of sky above my head Is heaven's profoundest azure; no domain For fickle, short-lived clouds to occupy, Or to pass through; but rather an abyss In which the everlasting stars abide; And whose soft gloom, and boundless depth, might tempt The curious eye to look for them by day. 100 --Hail Contemplation! from the stately towers, Reared by the industrious hand of human art To lift thee high above the misty air And turbulence of murmuring cities vast; From academic groves, that have for thee Been planted, hither come and find a lodge To which thou mayst resort for holier peace,-- From whose calm centre thou, through height or depth, Mayst penetrate, wherever truth shall lead; Measuring through all degrees, until the scale 110 Of time and conscious nature disappear, Lost in unsearchable eternity!" A pause ensued; and with minuter care We scanned the various features of the scene: And soon the Tenant of that lonely vale With courteous voice thus spake-- "I should have grieved Hereafter, not escaping self-reproach, If from my poor retirement ye had gone Leaving this nook unvisited: but, in sooth, Your unexpected presence had so roused 120 My spirits, that they were bent on enterprise; And, like an ardent hunter, I forgot, Or, shall I say?--disdained, the game that lurks At my own door. The shapes before our eyes And their arrangement, doubtless must be deemed The sport of Nature, aided by blind Chance Rudely to mock the works of toiling Man. And hence, this upright shaft of unhewn stone, From Fancy, willing to set off her stores By sounding titles, hath acquired the name 130 Of Pompey's pillar; that I gravely style My Theban obelisk; and, there, behold A Druid cromlech!--thus I entertain The antiquarian humour, and am pleased To skim along the surfaces of things, Beguiling harmlessly the listless hours. But if the spirit be oppressed by sense Of instability, revolt, decay, And change, and emptiness, these freaks of Nature And her blind helper Chance, do 'then' suffice 140 To quicken, and to aggravate--to feed Pity and scorn, and melancholy pride, Not less than that huge Pile (from some abyss Of mortal power unquestionably sprung) Whose hoary diadem of pendent rocks Confines the shrill-voiced whirlwind, round and round Eddying within its vast circumference, On Sarum's naked plain--than pyramid Of Egypt, unsubverted, undissolved-- Or Syria's marble ruins towering high 150 Above the sandy desert, in the light Of sun or moon.--Forgive me, if I say That an appearance which hath raised your minds To an exalted pitch (the self-same cause Different effect producing) is for me Fraught rather with depression than delight, Though shame it were, could I not look around, By the reflection of your pleasure, pleased. Yet happier in my judgment, even than you With your bright transports fairly may be deemed, 160 The wandering Herbalist,--who, clear alike From vain, and, that worse evil, vexing thoughts, Casts, if he ever chance to enter here, Upon these uncouth Forms a slight regard Of transitory interest, and peeps round For some rare floweret of the hills, or plant Of craggy fountain; what he hopes for wins, Or learns, at least, that 'tis not to be won: Then, keen and eager, as a fine-nosed hound, By soul-engrossing instinct driven along 170 Through wood or open field, the harmless Man Departs, intent upon his onward quest!-- Nor is that Fellow-wanderer, so deem I, Less to be envied, (you may trace him oft By scars which his activity has left Beside our roads and pathways, though, thank Heaven! This covert nook reports not of his hand) He who with pocket-hammer smites the edge Of luckless rock or prominent stone, disguised In weather-stains or crusted o'er by Nature 180 With her first growths, detaching by the stroke A chip or splinter--to resolve his doubts; And, with that ready answer satisfied, The substance classes by some barbarous name, And hurries on; or from the fragments picks His specimen, if but haply interveined With sparkling mineral, or should crystal cube Lurk in its cells--and thinks himself enriched, Wealthier, and doubtless wiser, than before! Intrusted safely each to his pursuit, 190 Earnest alike, let both from hill to hill Range; if it please them, speed from clime to clime; The mind is full--and free from pain their pastime." "Then," said I, interposing, "One is near, Who cannot but possess in your esteem Place worthier still of envy. May I name, Without offence, that fair-faced cottage-boy? Dame Nature's pupil of the lowest form, Youngest apprentice in the school of art! Him, as we entered from the open glen, 200 You might have noticed, busily engaged, Heart, soul, and hands,--in mending the defects Left in the fabric of a leaky dam Raised for enabling this penurious stream To turn a slender mill (that new-made plaything) For his delight--the happiest he of all!" "Far happiest," answered the desponding Man, "If such as now he is, he might remain! Ah! what avails imagination high Or question deep? what profits all that earth, 210 Or heaven's blue vault, is suffered to put forth Of impulse or allurement, for the Soul To quit the beaten track of life, and soar Far as she finds a yielding element In past or future; far as she can go Through time or space--if neither in the one, Nor in the other region, nor in aught That Fancy, dreaming o'er the map of things, Hath placed beyond these penetrable bounds, Words of assurance can be heard; if nowhere 220 A habitation, for consummate good, Or for progressive virtue, by the search Can be attained,--a better sanctuary From doubt and sorrow, than the senseless grave?" "Is this," the grey-haired Wanderer mildly said, "The voice, which we so lately overheard, To that same child, addressing tenderly The consolations of a hopeful mind? 'His body is at rest, his soul in heaven.' These were your words; and, verily, methinks 230 Wisdom is oft-times nearer when we stoop Than when we soar."-- The Other, not displeased, Promptly replied--"My notion is the same. And I, without reluctance, could decline All act of inquisition whence we rise, And what, when breath hath ceased, we may become. Here are we, in a bright and breathing world. Our origin, what matters it? In lack Of worthier explanation, say at once With the American (a thought which suits 240 The place where now we stand) that certain men Leapt out together from a rocky cave; And these were the first parents of mankind: Or, if a different image be recalled By the warm sunshine, and the jocund voice Of insects chirping out their careless lives On these soft beds of thyme-besprinkled turf, Choose, with the gay Athenian, a conceit As sound--blithe race! whose mantles were bedecked With golden grasshoppers, in sign that they 250 Had sprung, like those bright creatures, from the soil Whereon their endless generations dwelt. But stop!--these theoretic fancies jar On serious minds: then, as the Hindoos draw Their holy Ganges from a skiey fount, Even so deduce the stream of human life From seats of power divine; and hope, or trust, That our existence winds her stately course Beneath the sun, like Ganges, to make part Of a living ocean; or, to sink engulfed, 260 Like Niger, in impenetrable sands And utter darkness: thought which may be faced, Though comfortless!-- Not of myself I speak; Such acquiescence neither doth imply, In me, a meekly-bending spirit soothed By natural piety; nor a lofty mind, By philosophic discipline prepared For calm subjection to acknowledged law; Pleased to have been, contented not to be. Such palms I boast not;--no! to me, who find 270 Reviewing my past way, much to condemn, Little to praise, and nothing to regret, (Save some remembrances of dream-like joys That scarcely seem to have belonged to me) If I must take my choice between the pair That rule alternately the weary hours, Night is than day more acceptable; sleep Doth, in my estimate of good, appear A better state than waking; death than sleep: Feelingly sweet is stillness after storm, 280 Though under covert of the wormy ground! Yet be it said, in justice to myself, That in more genial times, when I was free To explore the destiny of human kind (Not as an intellectual game pursued With curious subtilty, from wish to cheat Irksome sensations; but by love of truth Urged on, or haply by intense delight In feeding thought, wherever thought could feed) I did not rank with those (too dull or nice, 290 For to my judgment such they then appeared, Or too aspiring, thankless at the best) Who, in this frame of human life, perceive An object whereunto their souls are tied In discontented wedlock; nor did e'er, From me, those dark impervious shades, that hang Upon the region whither we are bound, Exclude a power to enjoy the vital beams Of present sunshine.--Deities that float On wings, angelic Spirits! I could muse 300 O'er what from eldest time we have been told Of your bright forms and glorious faculties, And with the imagination rest content, Not wishing more; repining not to tread The little sinuous path of earthly care, By flowers embellished, and by springs refreshed. --'Blow winds of autumn!--let your chilling breath 'Take the live herbage from the mead, and strip 'The shady forest of its green attire,-- 'And let the bursting clouds to fury rouse 310 'The gentle brooks!--Your desolating sway, 'Sheds,' I exclaimed, 'no sadness upon me, 'And no disorder in your rage I find. 'What dignity, what beauty, in this change 'From mild to angry, and from sad to gay, 'Alternate and revolving! How benign, 'How rich in animation and delight, 'How bountiful these elements--compared 'With aught, as more desirable and fair, 'Devised by fancy for the golden age; 320 'Or the perpetual warbling that prevails 'In Arcady, beneath unaltered skies, 'Through the long year in constant quiet bound, 'Night hushed as night, and day serene as day!' --But why this tedious record?--Age, we know Is garrulous; and solitude is apt To anticipate the privilege of Age, From far ye come; and surely with a hope Of better entertainment:--let us hence!" Loth to forsake the spot, and still more loth 330 To be diverted from our present theme, I said, "My thoughts, agreeing, Sir, with yours, Would push this censure farther;--for, if smiles Of scornful pity be the just reward Of Poesy thus courteously employed In framing models to improve the scheme Of Man's existence, and recast the world, Why should not grave Philosophy be styled, Herself, a dreamer of a kindred stock, A dreamer yet more spiritless and dull? 340 Yes, shall the fine immunities she boasts Establish sounder titles of esteem For her, who (all too timid and reserved For onset, for resistance too inert, Too weak for suffering, and for hope too tame) Placed, among flowery gardens curtained round With world-excluding groves, the brotherhood Of soft Epicureans, taught--if they The ends of being would secure, and win The crown of wisdom--to yield up their souls 350 To a voluptuous unconcern, preferring Tranquillity to all things. Or is she," I cried, "more worthy of regard, the Power, Who, for the sake of sterner quiet, closed The Stoic's heart against the vain approach Of admiration, and all sense of joy?" His countenance gave notice that my zeal Accorded little with his present mind; I ceased, and he resumed.--"Ah! gentle Sir, Slight, if you will, the 'means'; but spare to slight 360 The 'end' of those, who did, by system, rank, As the prime object of a wise man's aim, Security from shock of accident, Release from fear; and cherished peaceful days For their own sakes, as mortal life's chief good, And only reasonable felicity. What motive drew, what impulse, I would ask, Through a long course of later ages, drove, The hermit to his cell in forest wide; Or what detained him, till his closing eyes 370 Took their last farewell of the sun and stars, Fast anchored in the desert?--Not alone Dread of the persecuting sword, remorse, Wrongs unredressed, or insults unavenged And unavengeable, defeated pride, Prosperity subverted, maddening want, Friendship betrayed, affection unreturned, Love with despair, or grief in agony;-- Not always from intolerable pangs He fled; but, compassed round by pleasure, sighed 380 For independent happiness; craving peace, The central feeling of all happiness, Not as a refuge from distress or pain, A breathing-time, vacation, or a truce, But for its absolute self; a life of peace, Stability without regret or fear; That hath been, is, and shall be evermore!-- Such the reward he sought; and wore out life, There, where on few external things his heart Was set, and those his own; or, if not his, 390 Subsisting under nature's stedfast law. What other yearning was the master tie Of the monastic brotherhood, upon rock Aerial, or in green secluded vale, One after one, collected from afar, An undissolving fellowship?--What but this, The universal instinct of repose, The longing for confirmed tranquillity, Inward and outward; humble, yet sublime: The life where hope and memory are as one; 400 Where earth is quiet and her face unchanged Save by the simplest toil of human hands Or seasons' difference; the immortal Soul Consistent in self-rule; and heaven revealed To meditation in that quietness!-- Such was their scheme: and though the wished-for end By multitudes was missed, perhaps attained By none, they for the attempt, and pains employed, Do, in my present censure, stand redeemed From the unqualified disdain, that once 410 Would have been cast upon them by my voice Delivering her decisions from the seat Of forward youth--that scruples not to solve Doubts, and determine questions, by the rules Of inexperienced judgment, ever prone To overweening faith; and is inflamed, By courage, to demand from real life The test of act and suffering, to provoke Hostility--how dreadful when it comes, Whether affliction be the foe, or guilt! 420 A child of earth, I rested, in that stage Of my past course to which these thoughts advert, Upon earth's native energies; forgetting That mine was a condition which required Nor energy, nor fortitude--a calm Without vicissitude; which, if the like Had been presented to my view elsewhere, I might have even been tempted to despise. But no--for the serene was also bright; Enlivened happiness with joy o'erflowing, 430 With joy, and--oh! that memory should survive To speak the word--with rapture! Nature's boon, Life's genuine inspiration, happiness Above what rules can teach, or fancy feign; Abused, as all possessions 'are' abused That are not prized according to their worth. And yet, what worth? what good is given to men, More solid than the gilded clouds of heaven? What joy more lasting than a vernal flower?-- None! 'tis the general plaint of human kind 440 In solitude: and mutually addressed From each to all, for wisdom's sake:--This truth The priest announces from his holy seat: And, crowned with garlands in the summer grove, The poet fits it to his pensive lyre. Yet, ere that final resting-place be gained, Sharp contradictions may arise, by doom Of this same life, compelling us to grieve That the prosperities of love and joy Should be permitted, oft-times, to endure 450 So long, and be at once cast down for ever. Oh! tremble, ye, to whom hath been assigned A course of days composing happy months, And they as happy years; the present still So like the past, and both so firm a pledge Of a congenial future, that the wheels Of pleasure move without the aid of hope: For Mutability is Nature's bane; And slighted Hope 'will' be avenged; and, when Ye need her favours, ye shall find her not; 460 But in her stead--fear--doubt--and agony!" This was the bitter language of the heart: But, while he spake, look, gesture, tone of voice, Though discomposed and vehement, were such As skill and graceful nature might suggest To a proficient of the tragic scene Standing before the multitude, beset With dark events. Desirous to divert Or stem the current of the speaker's thoughts, We signified a wish to leave that place 470 Of stillness and close privacy, a nook That seemed for self-examination made; Or, for confession, in the sinner's need, Hidden from all men's view. To our attempt He yielded not; but, pointing to a slope Of mossy turf defended from the sun, And on that couch inviting us to rest, Full on that tender-hearted Man he turned A serious eye, and his speech thus renewed. "You never saw, your eyes did never look 480 On the bright form of Her whom once I loved:-- Her silver voice was heard upon the earth, A sound unknown to you; else, honoured Friend! Your heart had borne a pitiable share Of what I suffered, when I wept that loss, And suffer now, not seldom, from the thought That I remember, and can weep no more.-- Stripped as I am of all the golden fruit Of self-esteem; and by the cutting blasts Of self-reproach familiarly assailed; 490 Yet would I not be of such wintry bareness But that some leaf of your regard should hang Upon my naked branches:--lively thoughts Give birth, full often, to unguarded words; I grieve that, in your presence, from my tongue Too much of frailty hath already dropped; But that too much demands still more. You know, Revered Compatriot--and to you, kind Sir, (Not to be deemed a stranger, as you come Following the guidance of these welcome feet 500 To our secluded vale) it may be told-- That my demerits did not sue in vain To One on whose mild radiance many gazed With hope, and all with pleasure. This fair Bride-- In the devotedness of youthful love, Preferring me to parents, and the choir Of gay companions, to the natal roof, And all known places and familiar sights (Resigned with sadness gently weighing down Her trembling expectations, but no more 510 Than did to her due honour, and to me Yielded, that day, a confidence sublime In what I had to build upon)--this Bride, Young, modest, meek, and beautiful, I led To a low cottage in a sunny bay, Where the salt sea innocuously breaks, And the sea breeze as innocently breathes, On Devon's leafy shores;--a sheltered hold, In a soft clime encouraging the soil To a luxuriant bounty!--As our steps 520 Approach the embowered abode--our chosen seat-- See, rooted in the earth, her kindly bed, The unendangered myrtle, decked with flowers, Before the threshold stands to welcome us! While, in the flowering myrtle's neighbourhood, Not overlooked but courting no regard, Those native plants, the holly and the yew, Gave modest intimation to the mind How willingly their aid they would unite With the green myrtle, to endear the hours 530 Of winter, and protect that pleasant place. --Wild were the walks upon those lonely Downs, Track leading into track; how marked, how worn Into bright verdure, between fern and gorse Winding away its never-ending line On their smooth surface, evidence was none; But, there, lay open to our daily haunt, A range of unappropriated earth, Where youth's ambitious feet might move at large; Whence, unmolested wanderers, we beheld 540 The shining giver of the day diffuse His brightness o'er a tract of sea and land Gay as our spirits, free as our desires; As our enjoyments, boundless.--From those heights We dropped, at pleasure, into sylvan combs; Where arbours of impenetrable shade, And mossy seats, detained us side by side, With hearts at ease, and knowledge in our hearts 'That all the grove and all the day was ours.' O happy time! still happier was at hand; 550 For Nature called my Partner to resign Her share in the pure freedom of that life, Enjoyed by us in common.--To my hope, To my heart's wish, my tender Mate became The thankful captive of maternal bonds; And those wild paths were left to me alone. There could I meditate on follies past; And, like a weary voyager escaped From risk and hardship, inwardly retrace A course of vain delights and thoughtless guilt, 560 And self-indulgence--without shame pursued. There, undisturbed, could think of and could thank Her whose submissive spirit was to me Rule and restraint--my guardian--shall I say That earthly Providence, whose guiding love Within a port of rest had lodged me safe; Safe from temptation, and from danger far? Strains followed of acknowledgment addressed To an authority enthroned above The reach of sight; from whom, as from their source 570 Proceed all visible ministers of good That walk the earth--Father of heaven and earth, Father, and king, and judge, adored and feared! These acts of mind, and memory, and heart, And spirit--interrupted and relieved By observations transient as the glance Of flying sunbeams, or to the outward form Cleaving with power inherent and intense, As the mute insect fixed upon the plant On whose soft leaves it hangs, and from whose cup 580 It draws its nourishment imperceptibly-- Endeared my wanderings; and the mother's kiss And infant's smile awaited my return. In privacy we dwelt, a wedded pair, Companions daily, often all day long; Not placed by fortune within easy reach Of various intercourse, nor wishing aught Beyond the allowance of our own fire-side, The twain within our happy cottage born, Inmates, and heirs of our united love; 590 Graced mutually by difference of sex, And with no wider interval of time Between their several births than served for one To establish something of a leader's sway; Yet left them joined by sympathy in age; Equals in pleasure, fellows in pursuit. On these two pillars rested as in air Our solitude. It soothes me to perceive, Your courtesy withholds not from my words Attentive audience. But, oh! gentle Friends, 600 As times of quiet and unbroken peace, Though, for a nation, times of blessedness, Give back faint echoes from the historian's page; So, in the imperfect sounds of this discourse, Depressed I hear, how faithless is the voice Which those most blissful days reverberate. What special record can, or need, be given To rules and habits, whereby much was done, But all within the sphere of little things; Of humble, though, to us, important cares, 610 And precious interests? Smoothly did our life Advance, swerving not from the path prescribed; Her annual, her diurnal, round alike! Maintained with faithful care. And you divine The worst effects that our condition saw If you imagine changes slowly wrought, And in their progress unperceivable; Not wished for; sometimes noticed with a sigh, (Whate'er of good or lovely they might bring) Sighs of regret, for the familiar good 620 And loveliness endeared which they removed. Seven years of occupation undisturbed Established seemingly a right to hold That happiness; and use and habit gave, To what an alien spirit had acquired, A patrimonial sanctity. And thus, With thoughts and wishes bounded to this world, I lived and breathed; most grateful--if to enjoy Without repining or desire for more, For different lot, or change to higher sphere, 630 (Only except some impulses of pride With no determined object, though upheld By theories with suitable support)-- Most grateful, if in such wise to enjoy Be proof of gratitude for what we have; Else, I allow, most thankless.--But, at once, From some dark seat of fatal power was urged A claim that shattered all.--Our blooming girl, Caught in the gripe of death, with such brief time To struggle in as scarcely would allow 640 Her cheek to change its colour, was conveyed From us to inaccessible worlds, to regions Where height, or depth, admits not the approach Of living man, though longing to pursue. --With even as brief a warning--and how soon, With what short interval of time between, I tremble yet to think of--our last prop, Our happy life's only remaining stay-- The brother followed; and was seen no more! Calm as a frozen lake when ruthless winds 650 Blow fiercely, agitating earth and sky, The Mother now remained; as if in her, Who, to the lowest region of the soul, Had been erewhile unsettled and disturbed, This second visitation had no power To shake; but only to bind up and seal; And to establish thankfulness of heart In Heaven's determinations, ever just. The eminence whereon her spirit stood, Mine was unable to attain. Immense 660 The space that severed us! But, as the sight Communicates with heaven's ethereal orbs Incalculably distant; so, I felt That consolation may descend from far (And that is intercourse, and union, too,) While, overcome with speechless gratitude, And, with a holier love inspired, I looked On her--at once superior to my woes And partner of my loss.--O heavy change, Dimness o'er this clear luminary crept 670 Insensibly;--the immortal and divine Yielded to mortal reflux; her pure glory, As from the pinnacle of worldly state Wretched ambition drops astounded, fell Into a gulf obscure of silent grief, And keen heart-anguish--of itself ashamed, Yet obstinately cherishing itself: And, so consumed, she melted from my arms; And left me, on this earth, disconsolate! What followed cannot be reviewed in thought; 680 Much less, retraced in words. If she, of life Blameless, so intimate with love and joy And all the tender motions of the soul, Had been supplanted, could I hope to stand-- Infirm, dependent, and now destitute? I called on dreams and visions, to disclose That which is veiled from waking thought; conjured Eternity, as men constrain a ghost To appear and answer; to the grave I spake Imploringly;--looked up, and asked the Heavens 690 If Angels traversed their cerulean floors, If fixed or wandering star could tidings yield Of the departed spirit--what abode It occupies--what consciousness retains Of former loves and interests. Then my soul Turned inward,--to examine of what stuff Time's fetters are composed; and life was put To inquisition, long and profitless! By pain of heart--now checked--and now impelled-- The intellectual power, through words and things, 700 Went sounding on, a dim and perilous way! And from those transports, and these toils abstruse, Some trace am I enabled to retain Of time, else lost;--existing unto me Only by records in myself not found. From that abstraction I was roused,--and how? Even as a thoughtful shepherd by a flash Of lightning startled in a gloomy cave Of these wild hills. For, lo! the dread Bastile, With all the chambers in its horrid towers, 710 Fell to the ground:--by violence overthrown Of indignation; and with shouts that drowned The crash it made in falling! From the wreck A golden palace rose, or seemed to rise, The appointed seat of equitable law And mild paternal sway. The potent shock I felt: the transformation I perceived, As marvellously seized as in that moment When, from the blind mist issuing, I beheld Glory--beyond all glory ever seen, 720 Confusion infinite of heaven and earth, Dazzling the soul. Meanwhile, prophetic harps In every grove were ringing, 'War shall cease; 'Did ye not hear that conquest is abjured? 'Bring garlands, bring forth choicest flowers, to deck 'The tree of Liberty.'--My heart rebounded; My melancholy voice the chorus joined; --'Be joyful all ye nations; in all lands, 'Ye that are capable of joy be glad! 'Henceforth, whate'er is wanting to yourselves 730 'In others ye shall promptly find;--and all, 'Enriched by mutual and reflected wealth, 'Shall with one heart honour their common kind.' Thus was I reconverted to the world; Society became my glittering bride, And airy hopes my children.--From the depths Of natural passion, seemingly escaped, My soul diffused herself in wide embrace Of institutions, and the forms of things; As they exist, in mutable array, 740 Upon life's surface. What, though in my veins There flowed no Gallic blood, nor had I breathed The air of France, not less than Gallic zeal Kindled and burnt among the sapless twigs Of my exhausted heart. If busy men In sober conclave met, to weave a web Of amity, whose living threads should stretch Beyond the seas, and to the farthest pole, There did I sit, assisting. If, with noise And acclamation, crowds in open air 750 Expressed the tumult of their minds, my voice There mingled, heard or not. The powers of song I left not uninvoked; and, in still groves, Where mild enthusiasts tuned a pensive lay Of thanks and expectation, in accord With their belief, I sang Saturnian rule Returned,--a progeny of golden years Permitted to descend, and bless mankind. --With promises the Hebrew Scriptures teem: I felt their invitation; and resumed 760 A long-suspended office in the House Of public worship, where, the glowing phrase Of ancient inspiration serving me, I promised also,--with undaunted trust Foretold, and added prayer to prophecy; The admiration winning of the crowd; The help desiring of the pure devout. Scorn and contempt forbid me to proceed! But History, time's slavish scribe, will tell How rapidly the zealots of the cause 770 Disbanded--or in hostile ranks appeared; Some, tired of honest service; these, outdone, Disgusted therefore, or appalled, by aims Of fiercer zealots--so confusion reigned, And the more faithful were compelled to exclaim, As Brutus did to Virtue, 'Liberty, 'I worshipped thee, and find thee but a Shade!' Such recantation had for me no charm, Nor would I bend to it; who should have grieved At aught, however fair, that bore the mien 780 Of a conclusion, or catastrophe. Why then conceal, that, when the simply good In timid selfishness withdrew, I sought Other support, not scrupulous whence it came; And, by what compromise it stood, not nice? Enough if notions seemed to be high-pitched, And qualities determined.--Among men So charactered did I maintain a strife Hopeless, and still more hopeless every hour; But, in the process, I began to feel 790 That, if the emancipation of the world Were missed, I should at least secure my own, And be in part compensated. For rights, Widely--inveterately usurped upon, I spake with vehemence; and promptly seized All that Abstraction furnished for my needs Or purposes, nor scrupled to proclaim, And propagate, by liberty of life, Those new persuasions. Not that I rejoiced, Or even found pleasure, in such vagrant course, 800 For its own sake; but farthest from the walk Which I had trod in happiness and peace, Was most inviting to a troubled mind; That, in a struggling and distempered world, Saw a seductive image of herself. Yet, mark the contradictions of which Man Is still the sport! Here Nature was my guide, The Nature of the dissolute; but thee, O fostering Nature! I rejected--smiled At others' tears in pity; and in scorn 810 At those, which thy soft influence sometimes drew From my unguarded heart.--The tranquil shores Of Britain circumscribed me; else, perhaps I might have been entangled among deeds, Which, now, as infamous, I should abhor-- Despise, as senseless: for my spirit relished Strangely the exasperation of that Land, Which turned an angry beak against the down Of her own breast; confounded into hope Of disencumbering thus her fretful wings. 820 But all was quieted by iron bonds Of military sway. The shifting aims, The moral interests, the creative might, The varied functions and high attributes Of civil action, yielded to a power Formal, and odious, and contemptible. --In Britain, ruled a panic dread of change; The weak were praised, rewarded, and advanced; And, from the impulse of a just disdain, Once more did I retire into myself. 830 There feeling no contentment, I resolved To fly, for safeguard, to some foreign shore, Remote from Europe; from her blasted hopes; Her fields of carnage, and polluted air. Fresh blew the wind, when o'er the Atlantic Main The ship went gliding with her thoughtless crew; And who among them but an Exile, freed From discontent, indifferent, pleased to sit Among the busily-employed, not more With obligation charged, with service taxed, 840 Than the loose pendant--to the idle wind Upon the tall mast streaming. But, ye Powers Of soul and sense mysteriously allied, Oh, never let the Wretched, if a choice Be left him, trust the freight of his distress To a long voyage on the silent deep! For, like a plague, will memory break out; And, in the blank and solitude of things, Upon his spirit, with a fever's strength, Will conscience prey.--Feebly must they have felt 850 Who, in old time, attired with snakes and whips The vengeful Furies. 'Beautiful' regards Were turned on me--the face of her I loved; The Wife and Mother pitifully fixing Tender reproaches, insupportable! Where now that boasted liberty? No welcome From unknown objects I received; and those, Known and familiar, which the vaulted sky Did, in the placid clearness of the night, Disclose, had accusations to prefer 860 Against my peace. Within the cabin stood That volume--as a compass for the soul-- Revered among the nations. I implored Its guidance; but the infallible support Of faith was wanting. Tell me, why refused To One by storms annoyed and adverse winds; Perplexed with currents; of his weakness sick; Of vain endeavours tired; and by his own, And by his nature's, ignorance, dismayed! Long-wished-for sight, the Western World appeared; 870 And, when the ship was moored, I leaped ashore Indignantly--resolved to be a man, Who, having o'er the past no power, would live No longer in subjection to the past, With abject mind--from a tyrannic lord Inviting penance, fruitlessly endured: So, like a fugitive, whose feet have cleared Some boundary, which his followers may not cross In prosecution of their deadly chase, Respiring I looked round.--How bright the sun, 880 The breeze how soft! Can anything produced In the old World compare, thought I, for power And majesty with this gigantic stream, Sprung from the desert? And behold a city Fresh, youthful, and aspiring! What are these To me, or I to them? As much at least As he desires that they should be, whom winds And waves have wafted to this distant shore, In the condition of a damaged seed, Whose fibres cannot, if they would, take root. 890 Here may I roam at large;--my business is, Roaming at large, to observe, and not to feel, And, therefore, not to act--convinced that all Which bears the name of action, howsoe'er Beginning, ends in servitude--still painful, And mostly profitless. And, sooth to say, On nearer view, a motley spectacle Appeared, of high pretensions,--unreproved But by the obstreperous voice of higher still; Big passions strutting on a petty stage; 900 Which a detached spectator may regard Not unamused.--But ridicule demands Quick change of objects; and, to laugh alone, At a composing distance from the haunts Of strife and folly, though it be a treat As choice as musing Leisure can bestow; Yet, in the very centre of the crowd, To keep the secret of a poignant scorn, Howe'er to airy Demons suitable, Of all unsocial courses, is least fit 910 For the gross spirit of mankind,--the one That soonest fails to please, and quickliest turns Into vexation. Let us, then, I said, Leave this unknit Republic to the scourge Of her own passions; and to regions haste, Whose shades have never felt the encroaching axe, Or soil endured a transfer in the mart Of dire rapacity. There, Man abides, Primeval Nature's child. A creature weak In combination, (wherefore else driven back 920 So far, and of his old inheritance So easily deprived?) but, for that cause, More dignified, and stronger in himself; Whether to act, judge, suffer, or enjoy. True, the intelligence of social art Hath overpowered his forefathers, and soon Will sweep the remnant of his line away; But contemplations, worthier, nobler far Than her destructive energies, attend His independence, when along the side 930 Of Mississippi, or that northern stream That spreads into successive seas, he walks; Pleased to perceive his own unshackled life, And his innate capacities of soul, There imaged: or when, having gained the top Of some commanding eminence, which yet Intruder ne'er beheld, he thence surveys Regions of wood and wide savannah, vast Expanse of unappropriated earth, With mind that sheds a light on what he sees; 940 Free as the sun, and lonely as the sun, Pouring above his head its radiance down Upon a living and rejoicing world! So, westward, tow'rd the unviolated woods I bent my way; and, roaming far and wide, Failed not to greet the merry Mocking-bird; And, while the melancholy Muccawiss (The sportive bird's companion in the grove) Repeated, o'er and o'er, his plaintive cry, I sympathised at leisure with the sound; 950 But that pure archetype of human greatness, I found him not. There, in his stead, appeared A creature, squalid, vengeful, and impure; Remorseless, and submissive to no law But superstitious fear, and abject sloth. Enough is told! Here am I--ye have heard What evidence I seek, and vainly seek; What from my fellow-beings I require, And either they have not to give, or I Lack virtue to receive; what I myself, 960 Too oft by wilful forfeiture, have lost Nor can regain. How languidly I look Upon this visible fabric of the world, May be divined--perhaps it hath been said:-- But spare your pity, if there be in me Aught that deserves respect: for I exist, Within myself, not comfortless.--The tenor Which my life holds, he readily may conceive Whoe'er hath stood to watch a mountain brook In some still passage of its course, and seen, 970 Within the depths of its capacious breast, Inverted trees, rocks, clouds, and azure sky; And, on its glassy surface, specks of foam, And conglobated bubbles undissolved, Numerous as stars; that, by their onward lapse, Betray to sight the motion of the stream, Else imperceptible. Meanwhile, is heard A softened roar, or murmur; and the sound Though soothing, and the little floating isles Though beautiful, are both by Nature charged 980 With the same pensive office; and make known Through what perplexing labyrinths, abrupt Precipitations, and untoward straits, The earth-born wanderer hath passed; and quickly, That respite o'er, like traverses and toils Must he again encounter.--Such a stream Is human Life; and so the Spirit fares In the best quiet to her course allowed; And such is mine,--save only for a hope That my particular current soon will reach 990 The unfathomable gulf, where all is still!" 


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