Oh! I should ill thy generous cares requite
Thou who didst first inspire my timid Muse,
Could I one tuneful tear to thee refuse,
Now that thine aged eyes are closed in night,
Kind Warton! Thou hast stroked my stripling head,
And sometimes, mingling soft reproof with praise,
My path hast best directed through the maze
Of thorny life: by thee my steps were led
To that romantic valley, high o'erhung
With sable woods, where many a minstrel rung
His bold harp to the sweeping waterfall;
Whilst Fancy loved around each form to call
That fill the poet's dream: to this retreat
Of Fancy, (won by whose enticing lay
I have forgot how sunk the summer's day),
Thou first did guide my not unwilling feet;
Meantime inspiring the gay breast of youth
With love of taste, of science, and of truth.
The first inciting sounds of human praise,
A parent's love excepted, came from thee;
And but for thee, perhaps, my boyish days
Had all passed idly, and whate'er in me
Now live of hope, been buried.
I was one,
Long bound by cold dejection's numbing chain,
As in a torpid trance, that deemed it vain
To struggle; nor my eyelids to the sun
Uplifted: but I heard thy cheering voice;
I shook my deadly slumber off; I gazed
Delighted 'round; awaked, inspired, amazed,
I marked another world, and in my choice
Lovelier, and decked with light! On fairy ground
Methought I buoyant trod, and heard the sound
As of enchanting melodies, that stole,
Stole gently, and entranced my captive soul.
Then all was life and hope! 'Twas thy first ray,
Sweet Fancy, on the heart; as when the day
Of Spring, along the melancholy tract
Of wintry Lapland, dawns; the cataract,
From ice dissolving on the silent side
Of some white precipice, with paly gleam
Descends, while the cold hills a slanting beam
Faint tinges: till, ascending in his pride,
The great Sun from the red horizon looks,
And wakes the tuneless birds, the stagnant brooks,
And sleeping lakes! So on my mind's cold night
The ray of Fancy shone, and gave delight
And hope past utterance.
Thy cheering voice,
O Warton! bade my silent heart rejoice,
And wake to love of nature; every breeze,
On Itchin's brink was melody; the trees
Waved in fresh beauty; and the wind and rain,
That shook the battlements of Wykeham's fane,
Not less delighted, when, with random pace,
I trod the cloistered aisles; and witness thou,
Catherine, upon whose foss-encircled brow
We met the morning, how I loved to trace
The prospect spread around; the rills below,
That shone irriguous in the gleaming plain;
The river's bend, where the dark barge went slow,
And the pale light on yonder time-worn fane!
So passed my days with new delight; mean time
To Learning's tender eye thou didst unfold
The classic page, and what high bards of old,
With solemn notes, and minstrelsy sublime,
Have chanted, we together heard; and thou,
Warton! wouldst bid me listen, till a tear
Sprang to mine eye: now the bold song we hear
Of Greece's sightless master-bard: the breast
Beats high; with stern Pelides to the plain
We rush; or o'er the corpse of Hector slain
Hang pitying;--and lo! where pale, oppressed
With age and grief, sad Priam comes; with beard
All white he bows, kissing the hands besmeared
With his last hope's best blood!
The oaten reed
Now from the mountain sounds; the sylvan Muse,
Reclined by the clear stream of Arethuse,
Wakes the Sicilian pipe; the sunny mead
Swarms with the bees, whose drowsy lullaby
Soothes the reclining ox with half-closed eye;
While in soft cadence to the madrigal,
From rock to rock the whispering waters fall!
But who is he, that, by yon gloomy cave,
Bids heaven and earth bear witness to his woe!
And hark! how hollowly the ocean-wave
Echoes his plaint, and murmurs deep below!
Haste, let the tall ship stem the tossing tide,
That he may leave his cave, and hear no more
The Lemnian surges unrejoicing roar;
And be great Fate through the dark world thy guide,
Sad Philoctetes!
So Instruction bland,
With young-eyed Sympathy, went hand in hand
O'er classic fields; and let my heart confess
Its holier joy, when I essayed to climb
The lonely heights where Shakspeare sat sublime,
Lord of the mighty spell: around him press
Spirits and fairy-forms. He, ruling wide
His visionary world, bids terror fill
The shivering breast, or softer pity thrill
Ev'n to the inmost heart. Within me died
All thoughts of this low earth, and higher powers
Seemed in my soul to stir; till, strained too long,
The senses sunk.
Then, Ossian, thy wild song
Haply beguiled the unheeded midnight hours,
And, like the blast that swept Berrathron's towers,
Came pleasant and yet mournful to my soul!
See o'er the autumnal heath the gray mists roll!
Hark to the dim ghosts' faint and feeble cry,
As on the cloudy tempest they pass by!
Saw ye huge Loda's spectre-shape advance,
Through which the stars look pale!
Nor ceased the trance
Which bound the erring fancy, till dark night
Flew silent by, and at my window-grate
The morning bird sang loud: nor less delight
The spirit felt, when still and charmed I sate
Great Milton's solemn harmonies to hear,
That swell from the full chord, and strong and clear,
Beyond the tuneless couplets' weak control,
Their long-commingling diapason roll,
In varied sweetness.
Nor, amidst the choir
Of pealing minstrelsy, was thy own lyre,
Warton, unheard;--as Fancy poured the song,
The measured music flowed along,
Till all the heart and all the sense
Felt her divinest influence,
In throbbing sympathy:--Prepare the car,
And whirl us, goddess, to the war,
Where crimson banners fire the skies,
Where the mingled shouts arise,
Where the steed, with fetlock red,
Tramples the dying and the dead;
And amain, from side to side,
Death his pale horse is seen to ride!
Or rather, sweet enthusiast, lead
Our footsteps to the cowslip mead,
Where, as the magic spell is wound,
Dying music floats around:--
Or seek we some gray ruin's shade,
And pity the cold beggar, laid
Beneath the ivy-rustling tower,
At the dreary midnight hour,
Scarce sheltered from the drifting snow;
While her dark locks the bleak winds blow
O'er her sleeping infant's cheek!
Then let the shrilling trumpet speak,
And pierce in louder tones the ear,
Till, while it peals, we seem to hear
The sounding march, as of the Theban's song;
And varied numbers, in their course,
With gathering fulness, and collected force,
Like the broad cataract, swell and sweep along!
Struck by the sounds, what wonder that I laid,
As thou, O Warton! didst the theme inspire,
My inexperienced hand upon the lyre,
And soon with transient touch faint music made,
As soon forgotten!
So I loved to lie
By the wild streams of elfin poesy,
Rapt in strange musings; but when life began,
I never roamed a visionary man;
For, taught by thee, I learned with sober eyes
To look on life's severe realities.
I never made (a dream-distempered thing)
Poor Fiction's realm my world; but to cold Truth
Subdued the vivid shapings of my youth.
Save when the drisly woods were murmuring,
Or some hard crosses had my spirit bowed;
Then I have left, unseen, the careless crowd,
And sought the dark sea roaring, or the steep
That braved the storm; or in the forest deep,
As all its gray leaves rustled, wooed the tone
Of the loved lyre, that, in my springtide gone,
Waked me to transport.
Eighteen summers now
Have smiled on Itchin's margin, since the time
When these delightful visions of our prime
Rose on my view in loveliness. And thou
Friend of my muse, in thy death-bed art cold,
Who, with the tenderest touches, didst unfold
The shrinking leaves of Fancy, else unseen
And shelterless: therefore to thee are due
Whate'er their summer sweetness; and I strew,
Sadly, such flowerets as on hillocks green,
Or mountain-slope, or hedge-row, yet my hand
May cull, with many a recollection bland,
And mingled sorrow, Warton, on thy tomb,
To whom, if bloom they boast, they owe their bloom!

More verses by William Lisle Bowles