I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?
Lord Byron, in a letter to Thomas Moore, 5 July 1821
(BEING CONTINUED FROM 15/11/2016)
English Bards and Scotch Reviewers Poem Excerpt
103 Time was, ere yet in these degenerate days
104 Ignoble themes obtain’d mistaken praise,
105 When sense and wit with poesy allied,
106 No fabl’d graces, flourish’d side by side;
107 From the same fount their inspiration drew,
108 And, rear’d by taste, bloom’d fairer as they grew.
109 Then, in this happy isle, a Pope’s pure strain
110 Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain;
111 A polish’d nation’s praise aspir’d to claim,
112 And rais’d the people’s, as the poet’s fame.
113 Like him great Dryden pour’d the tide of song,
114 In stream less smooth, indeed, yet doubly strong.
115 Then Congreve’s scenes could cheer, or Otway’s melt–
116 For nature then an English audience felt.
117 But why these names, or greater still, retrace,
118 When all to feebler bards resign their place?
119 Yet to such times our lingering looks are cast,
120 When taste and reason with those times are past.
121 Now look around, and turn each trifling page,
122 Survey the precious works that please the age;
123 This truth at least let satire’s self allow,
124 No dearth of bards can be complain’d of now.
125 The loaded press beneath her labour groans,
126 And printers’ devils shake their weary bones;
127 While Southey’s epics cram the creaking shelves,
128 And Little’s lyrics shine in hot-press’d twelves.
129 Thus saith the Preacher: “Nought beneath the sun
130 Is new”; yet still from change to change we run:
131 What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
132 The cow-pox, tractors, galvanism and gas,
133 In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare,
134 Till the swoln bubble bursts–and all is air!
135 Nor less new schools of Poetry arise,
136 Where dull pretenders grapple for the prize:
137 O’er taste awhile these pseudo-bards prevail;
138 Each country book-club bows the knee to Baal,
139 And, hurling lawful genius from the throne,
140 Erects a shrine and idol of its own;
141 Some leaden calf–but whom it matters not,
142 From soaring Southey down to grovelling Stott.
143 Behold! in various throngs the scribbling crew,
144 For notice eager, pass in long review:
145 Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace,
146 And rhyme and blank maintain an equal race;
147 Sonnets on sonnets crowd, and ode on ode;
148 And tales of terror jostle on the road;
149 Immeasurable measures move along;
150 For simpering folly loves a varied song,
151 To strange mysterious dulness still the friend,
152 Admires the strain she cannot comprehend.
153 Thus Lays of Minstrels–may they be the last!–
154 On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast.
155 While mountain spirits prate to river sprites,
156 That dames may listen to the sound at nights;
157 And goblin brats, of Gilpin Horner’s brood,
158 Decoy young border-nobles through the wood,
159 And skip at every step, Lord knows how high,
160 And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why;
161 While high-born ladies in their magic cell,
162 Forbidding knights to read who cannot spell,
163 Despatch a courier to a wizard’s grave,
164 And fight with honest men to shield a knave.
165 Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan,
166 The golden-crested haughty Marmion,
167 Now forging scrolls, now foremost in the fight,
168 Not quite a felon, yet but half a knight,
169 The gibbet or the field prepar’d to grace;
170 A mighty mixture of the great and base.
171 And think’st thou, Scott! by vain conceit perchance,
172 On public taste to foist thy stale romance,
173 Though Murray with his Miller may combine
174 To yield thy muse just half-a-crown per line?
175 No! when the sons of song descend to trade,
176 Their bays are sear, their former laurels fade.
177 Let such forego the poet’s sacred name,
178 Who rack their brains for lucre, not for fame:
179 Still for stern Mammon may they toil in vain!
180 And sadly gaze on gold they cannot gain!
181 Such be their meed, such still the just reward
182 Of prostituted muse and hireling bard!
183 For this we spurn Apollo’s venal son,
184 And bid a long “good night to Marmion.”
185 These are the themes that claim our plaudits now;
186 These are the bards to whom the muse must bow;
187 While Milton, Dryden, Pope, alike forgot,
188 Resign their hallow’d bays to Walter Scott.
189 The time has been, when yet the muse was young,
190 When Homer swept the lyre, and Maro sung,
191 An epic scarce ten centuries could claim,
192 While awe-struck nations hail’d the magic name;
193 The work of each immortal bard appears
194 The single wonder of a thousand years.
195 Empires have moulder’d from the face of earth,
196 Tongues have expir’d with those who gave them birth,
197 Without the glory such a strain can give,
198 As even in ruin bids the language live.
199 Not so with us, though minor bards, content
200 On one great work a life of labour spent:
201 With eagle pinion soaring to the skies,
202 Behold the ballad-monger Southey rise!
203 To him let Camoëns, Milton, Tasso yield,
204 Whose annual strains, like armies, take the field.
205 First in the ranks see Joan of Arc advance,
206 The scourge of England and the boast of France!
207 Though burnt by wicked Bedford for a witch,
208 Behold her statue plac’d in glory’s niche;
209 Her fetters burst, and just releas’d from prison,
210 A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.
211 Next see tremendous Thalaba come on,
212 Arabia’s monstrous, wild and wondrous son:
213 Domdaniel’s dread destroyer, who o’erthrew
214 More mad magicians than the world e’er knew.
215 Immortal hero! all thy foes o’ercome,
216 For ever reign–the rival of Tom Thumb!
217 Since startled metre fled before thy face,
218 Well wert thou doom’d the last of all thy race!
219 Well might triumphant genii bear thee hence,
220 Illustrious conqueror of common sense!
221 Now, last and greatest, Madoc spreads his sails,
222 Cacique in Mexico, and prince in Wales;
223 Tells us strange tales, as other travellers do,
224 More old than Mandeville’s, and not so true.
225 Oh Southey! Southey! cease thy varied song!
226 A bard may chant too often and too long:
227 As thou art strong in verse, in mercy, spare!
228 A fourth, alas! were more than we could bear.
229 But if, in spite of all the world can say,
230 Thou still wilt verseward plod thy weary way;
231 If still in Berkley ballads most uncivil,
232 Thou wilt devote old women to the devil,
233 The babe unborn thy dread intent may rue:
234 “God help thee,” Southey, and thy readers too.
235 Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
236 That mild apostate from poetic rule,
237 The simple Wordsworth, framer of a lay
238 As soft as evening in his favourite May,
239 Who warns his friend “to shake off toil and trouble,
240 And quit his books, for fear of growing double”;
241 Who, both by precept and example, shows
242 That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose;
243 Convincing all, by demonstration plain,
244 Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
245 And Christmas stories tortur’d into rhyme
246 Contain the essence of the true sublime.
247 Thus, when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
248 The idiot mother of “an idiot boy”;
249 A moon-struck, silly lad, who lost his way,
250 And, like his bard, confounded night with day;
251 So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
252 And each adventure so sublimely tells,
253 That all who view the “idiot in his glory”
254 Conceive the bard the hero of the story.
255 Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnotic’d here,
256 To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear?
257 Though themes of innocence amuse him best,
258 Yet still obscurity’s a welcome guest.
259 If Inspiration should her aid refuse
260 To him who takes a pixy for a muse,
261 Yet none in lofty numbers can surpass
262 The bard who soars to elegize an ass.
263 So well the subject suits his noble mind,
264 He brays the laureat of the long-ear’d kind.
(TO BE CONTINUED)