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70–80. Sonnets on Eminent Characters

70–80. Sonnets on Eminent Characters

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56



A CENTURY OF SONNETS



I saw the sainted form of Freedom rise:

She spake! Not sadder moans the autumnal gale:—

"Great Son of Genius! sweet to me thy name,

Ere in an evil hour, with altered voice,

Thou bad'st Oppression's hireling crew rejoice,

Blasting with wizard spell my laurelled fame.

Yet never, Burke! thou drank'st corruption's bowl!

Thee stormy pity, and the cherished lure

Of pomp, and proud precipitance of soul

Urged on with wild'ring fires. Ah, Spirit pure!

That error's mist had left thy purged eye—

So might I clasp thee with a mother's joy!"

(1794)

72. No. III. Priestley

Though king-bred rage, with lawless uproar rude,

Hath driven our Priestley o'er the ocean swell;

Though Superstition and her wolfish brood

Bay his mild radiance, impotent and fell;

Calm, in his halls of brightness, he shall dwell:

For, lo! Religion, at his strong behest,

Disdainful rouses from the Papal spell,

And flings to earth her tinsel-glittering vest,

Her mitred state, and cumbrous pomp unholy;

And Justice wakes, to bid the oppressor wail,

That ground the ensnared soul of patient folly;

And from her dark retreat by wisdom won,

Meek Nature slowly lifts her matron veil,

To smile with fondness on her gazing son!

(1794)

73. No. IV. La Fayette

As when far off the warbled strains are heard,

That soar, on morning's wing, the vales among,

Within his cage the imprisoned matin bird

Swells the full chorus with a generous song.—

He bathes no pinion in the dewy light;

No father's joy, no lover's bliss he shares:

Yet still the rising radiance cheers his sight—

His fellows' freedom soothes the captive's cares!



A CENTURY OF SONNETS



57



Thou, Fayette! who didst wake, with startling voice,

Life's better sun from that long wintry night,

Thus in thy country's triumphs shall rejoice—

And mock, with raptures high, the dungeon's might;

For, lo! the morning struggles into day,

And slavery's spectres shriek, and vanish from the ray!

(1794)



74. No. V. Kosciusko

O! what a loud and fearful shriek was there,

As though a thousand souls one death-groan poured!

Great Kosciusko, 'neath an hireling's sword,

His country viewed.—Hark! through the listening air,

When pauses the tired Cossack's barbarous yell

Of triumph, on the chill and midnight gale

Rises with frantic burst, or sadder swell,

The dirge of murdered Hope: while Freedom pale

Bends in such anguish o'er her destined bier,

As if from eldest time some spirit meek

Had gathered in a mystic urn each tear

That ever furrowed a sad patriot's cheek;

And she had drenched the sorrows of the bowl—

E'en till she reeled, intoxicate of soul!

(1794)



75. No. VI. Pitt

Not always should the tear's ambrosial dew,

Roll its soft anguish down thy furrowed cheek;

Not always heaven-breathed tones of suppliance meek

Beseem thee, Mercy!—yon dark scowler view,

Who with proud words of dear-loved freedom came,

More blasting than the mildew from the south—

And kissed his country with Iscariot mouth

(Staining most foul a godlike father's name)!

Then fixed her on the cross of deep distress,

And at safe distance marks the thirsty lance

Pierce her big side! But O! if some strange trance

The eyelids of thy stern-browed sister press,



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A CENTURY OF SONNETS



Seize thou, more terrible, the avenging brand—

And hurl her thunderbolts with fiercer hand!

(1794)



76. No. VII. To the Rev. W. L. Bowles

My heart has thanked thee, Bowles! for those soft strains,

That, on the still air floating, tremblingly

Waked in me fancy, love, and sympathy!

For hence, not callous to a brother's pains,

Through youth's gay prime and thornless paths I went;

And, when the darker day of life began,

And I did roam, a thought-bewildered man!

Thy kindred lays an healing solace lent,

Each lonely pang, with dreamy joys combined,

And stole from vain regret her scorpion stings;

While shadowy pleasure, with mysterious wings,

Brooded the wavy and tumultuous mind,

Like that great spirit, who with plastic sweep

Moved on the darkness of the formless deep!

(1794)



77. No. VIII. Mrs. Siddons

As when a child, on some long winter's night,

Affrighted, clinging to its grandame's knees,

With eager wondering and perturbed delight

Listens dark tales of fearful strange decrees

Muttered to wretch by necromantic spell

Of warlock hags, that, at the witching time

Of murky midnight, ride the air sublime,

Or mingle foul embrace with fiends of Hell—,

Cold horror drinks its blood! Anon the tear

More gentle starts, to hear the beldame tell

Of pretty babes, that loved each other dear—

Murdered by cruel uncle's mandate fell:

E'en such the shivering joys thy tones impart;—

E'en so thou, Siddons! meltest my sad heart!

(1794)



A CENTURY OF SONNETS



59



78. No. IX. To William Godwin, Author of Political Justice

O! formed t'illume a sunless world forlorn,

As o'er the chill and dusky brow of night,

In Finland's wintry skies, the mimic morn

Electric pours a stream of rosy light,

Pleased I have marked Oppression, terror-pale,

Since, through the windings of her dark machine,

Thy steady eye has shot its glances keen—

And bade the all-lovely "scenes at distance hail."

Nor will I not thy holy guidance bless,

And hymn thee, Godwin! with an ardent lay;

For that thy voice, in passion's stormy day,

When wild I roamed the bleak heath of distress,

Bade the bright form of Justice meet my way—

And told me, that her name was Happiness.

(1795)



79. No. X. To Robert Southey, of Balliol College, Oxford, Author of the

"Retrospect," and Other Poems

Southey! thy melodies steal o'er mine ear,

Like far off joyance, or the murmuring

Of wild bees in the sunny showers of spring—

Sounds of such mingled import, as may cheer

The lonely breast—yet rouse a mindful tear:

Waked by the song doth hope-born fancy fling

Rich showers of dewy fragrance from her wing,

'Till sickly passion's drooping myrtle's sear

Blossom anew! But, O! more thrilled, I prize

Thy sadder strains, that bid in mem'ry's dream

The faded forms of past delight arise;

Then soft, on love's pale cheek, the tearful gleam

Of pleasure smiles—as, faint, yet beauteous lies

The imaged rainbow on a willowy stream.

(1795)



80. No. XI. To Rkhard Brinsley Sheridan, Esq.

Was it some Spirit, Sheridan! that breathed

His various influence on thy natal hour?—

My fancy bodies forth the guardian power



60



A CENTURY OF SONNETS



His temples with Hymettian flowrets wreathed;

And sweet his voice, as when, o'er Laura's bier,

Sad music trembled through Vauclusa's glade;

Sweet as, at dawn, the love-lorn serenade,

That bears soft dreams to Slumber's listening ear.

Now patriot zeal and indignation high

Swell the full tones;—and now his eye-beams dance

Meanings of scorn, and wit's quaint revelry!

While inly writhes, from the soul-probing glance,

The apostate by the brainless rout adored,

As erst that other fiend beneath great Michael's sword.

(1795)

81. To the Autumnal Moon

Mild splendor of the various-vested night!

Mother of wildly-working visions! hail!

I watch thy gliding, while with wat'ry light

Thy weak eye glimmers through a fleecy veil;

And when thou lovest thy pale orb to shroud

Behind the gathered blackness lost on high;

And when thou dartest from the wind-rent cloud

Thy placid lightning o'er th'awakened sky.

Ah such is Hope! as changeful and as fair!

Now dimly peering on the wistful sight;

Now hid behind the dragon-winged Despair:

But soon emerging in her radiant might

She o'er the sorrow-clouded breast of Care

Sails, like a meteor kindling in its flight.

(1796)

82. On a Discovery Made Too Late

Thou bleedest, my poor Heart! and thy distress

Reasoning I ponder with a scornful smile

And probe thy sore wound sternly, though the while

Swol'n be mine eye and dim with heaviness.

Why didst thou listen to Hope's whisper bland?

Or, listening, why forget the healing tale,

When Jealousy with feverish fancies pale

Jarred thy fine fibers with a maniac's hand?

Faint was that Hope, and rayless!—Yet 'twas fair

And soothed with many a dream the hour of rest:

Thou should'st have loved it most, when most oppressed,

And nursed it with an agony of care,

Even as a mother her sweet infant heir,

That wan and sickly droops upon her breast!



A CENTURY OF SONNETS



61



83. To the River Otter

Dear native brook! wild streamlet of the west!

How many various-fated years have past,

What blissful and what anguished hours, since last

I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,

Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed

Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes

I never shut amid the sunny blaze,

But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,

Thy crossing plank, thy margin's willowy maze,

And bedded sand that veined with various dyes

Gleamed through thy bright transparence to the gaze!

Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled

Lone manhood's cares, yet waking fondest sighs,

Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

(1797)

84. To a Friend, Who Asked How I Felt, When the Nurse First

Presented My Infant to Me

Charles! my slow heart was only sad, when first

I scanned that face of feeble infancy:

For dimly on my thoughtful spirit burst

All I had been, and all my babe might be!

But when I saw it on its mother's arm,

And hanging at her bosom (she the while

Bent o'er its features with a tearful smile)

Then I was thrilled and melted, and most warm

Impressed a father's kiss: and all beguiled

Of dark remembrance, and presageful fear,

I seemed to see an angel's form appear.—

'Twas even thine, beloved woman mild!

So for the mother's sake the child was dear,

And dearer was the mother for the child.

(1797)



85—87. Sonnets, Attempted in the Manner of Contemporary Writers'

85. I

Pensive, at eve, on the hard world I mused,

And my poor heart was sad: so at the Moon

I gazed—and sighed, and sighed!—for, ah! how soon

Eve darkens into night. Mine eye perused

With tearful vacancy, the dampy grass,

Which wept and glittered in the paly ray:

And I did pause me on my lonely way,



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A CENTURY OF SONNETS



And mused me on those wretched ones, who pass

O'er the black heath of sorrow. But, alas!

Most of myself I thought: when it befell,

That the sooth spirit of the breezy wood

Breathed in mine ear—"All this is very well;

But much of one thing is for no thing good."

Ah! my poor heart's inexplicable swell!

(1797)

86. II. To Simplicity

O! I do love thee, meek Simplicity!

For of thy lays the lulling simpleness

Goes to my heart, and soothes each small distress,

Distress though small, yet haply great to me!

'Tis true, on lady Fortune's gentlest pad

I amble on; yet, though I know not why,

So sad I am!—but should a friend and I

Grow cool and miff, O! I am very sad!

And then with sonnets and with sympathy

My dreamy bosom's mystic woes I pall;

Now of my false friend plaining plaintively,

Now raving at mankind in general;

But, whether sad or fierce, 'tis simple all,

All very simple, meek simplicity!

(1797)

87. III. On a Ruined House in a Romantic Country

And this reft house is that the which he built,

Lamented Jack! And here his malt he piled,

Cautious in vain! These rats that squeak so wild,

Squeak, not unconscious of their father's guilt.

Did ye not see her gleaming through the glade?

Belike, 'twas she, the maiden all forlorn.

What though she milk no cow with crumpled horn,

Yet, aye, she haunts the dale where erst she strayed:

And, aye, beside her stalks her amorous knight!

Still on his thighs their wonted brogues are worn,

And through those brogues, still tattered and betorn,

His hindward charms gleam an unearthly white;

As when through broken clouds at night's high noon

Peeps in fair fragments forth the full-orbed harvest-moon!

(1797)

88. To W. L. Esq. While He Sung a Song to Purcell's Music

While my young cheek retains its healthful hues

And I have many friends who hold me dear;



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70–80. Sonnets on Eminent Characters

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