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The standards of all nations are unfurl'd;
She has one foe, and that one foe the world;
And, if he doom that people with a frown,
And mark them with a seal of wrath press'd down,
Obduracy takes place: callous and tough,
The reprobated race grows judgment-proof:
Earth shakes beneath them, and heaven coars above;
But nothing scares them from the course they love
To the lascivious pipe and wanton song
That charm down fear, they frolic it along,
With mad rapidity and unconcern,
Down to the gulf, from which is no return.
They trust in navies, and their navies fail-
God's curse can cast away ten thousand sail!
They trust in armies, and their courage dies;
in wisdom, wealth, in fortune, and in lies:
But all they trust in withers, as it must,
When He commands, in whom they place no trust.
Vengeance at last pours down upon their coast
A long despised, but now victorious, host;
Tyranny sends the chain, that must abridge
The noble sweep of all their privilege;
Gives Liberty the last, the mortal shock;
Slips the slave's collar on, and snaps the lock.
A. Such lofty strains embellish what you teach Mean you to prophesy, or but to preach?
B. I know the mind, that feels indeed the fire The muse imparts, and can command the lyre, Acts with a force, and kindles with a zeal, Whate'er the theme, that others never feel. If human woes her soft attention claim, A tender sympathy pervades the frame; She pours a sensibility divine Along the nerve of every feeling line. But if a deed, not tamely to be borne, l'ire indignation and a sense of scorn, The strings are swept with such a power, so loud, The storm of music shakes the astonish'd crowd. So when remote futurity is brought Before the keen inquiry of her thought, A terrible sagacity informs The poet's heart; he looks to distant storms;
He hears the thunder ere the tempest lowers;
And, armed with strength surpassing human powers,
Seizes events as yet unknown to man,
And darts his soul into the dawning plan.
Hence, in a Roman mouth, the graceful name
Of prophet and of poet was the same;
Hence British poets too the priesthood shared,
And every hallowed Druid was a bard.
But no prophetic fires to me belong;
I play with syllables, and sport in song.
A. At Westminster, where little poets strive
To set a distich upon six and five,
Where Discipline helps opening buds of sense,
And makes his pupils proud with silver pence,
I was a poet too; but modern taste
Is so refined, and delicate, and chaste,
That verse, whatever fire the fancy warms,
Without a creamy smoothness has no charms.
Thus, all success depending on an ear,
And thinking I might purchase it too dear,
If sentiment were sacrificed to sound,
And truth cut short, to make a period round,
I judged a man of sense could scarce do worse
Than caper in the morris-dance of verse.
B. Thus reputation is a spur to wit,
And some wits flag through fear of losing it.
Give me the line that ploughs its stately course
Like a proud swan, conquering the stream by force,
That, like some cottage beauty, strikes the heart,
Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.
When Labour and when Dulness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan's, stand,
Beating alternately in measur'd time,
The clock-work tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be;
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
From him, who rears a poem lank and long,
To him who strains his all into a song ;
Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air,
All birks and braes, though he was never there;
Or, having whelped a prologue with great pains,
Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains;
A prologue interdash'd with many a stroke
An art contrived to advertise a joke,
So that the jest is clearly to be seen
Not in the words -- but in the gap between :
Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
To dally much with subjects mean and low
Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so:
Neglected talents rust into decay,
And every effort ends in push-pin play.
The man, that means success, should soar above
A soldier's feather, or a lady's glove;
Else, summoning the muse to such a theme,
The fruit of all ner labour is whipp'd cream.
As if an eagle flew aloft, and then-
Stoop'd from its highest pitch to pounce a wren.
As if the poet, purposing to wed,
Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appear'd,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard.
To carry Nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, ask'd ages more.
Thus Genius rose and set at order'd times,
And shot a dayspring into distant climes,
Ennobling every region that he chose;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose:
And, tedious years of Gothic darkness pass'd,
Emerg'd all splendour, in our isle at last.
Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Then shew far off their shining plumes again.
A. Is genius only found in epic lays ?
Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
Make their heroic powers your own at once,
Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief: each interval of night Was graced with many an undulating light. In less illustrious bards his beauty shone A meteor, or a star; in these the sun.
The nightingale may claim the topmost bough, While the poor grasshopper must chirp below. Like him unnoticed, I, and such as I, Spread little wings, and rather skip than fiy;
Perch'd on the meagre produce of the land,
An ell or two of prospect we command;
But never peep beyond the thorny bound,
Or oaken fence that hems the paddock round.
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart
Had faded, poetry was not an art:
Language, above all teaching, or, if taught,
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstasy, unmanacled by form;
Not prompted, as in our degenerate days,
By low ambition and the thirst of praise;
Was natural as is the flowing stream,
And yet magnificent-a God the theme !
That theme on Earth exhausted, though above
'Tis found as everlasting as his love.
Man lavish'd all his thoughts on human things
The feats of heroes, and the wrath of kings;
But still, while Virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral and so far was right.
'Twas thus, till Luxury seduced the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refined:
Then Genius danced a bacchanal; he crown'd
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rush'd into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeld,
The victim of his own lascivious fires,
And, dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace, play'd in Greece and Rome
This bedlam part; and others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power, and while he reign'd
The proud protector of the power he gain'd,
Religion, harsh, intolerant, austere,
Parent of manners like herself severe,
Drew a rough copy of the Christian face,
Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace:
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every effort of the muse a crime:
Verse, in the finest mould of fancy cast,
Was lumber in an age so void of taste:
But when the second Charles assumed the sway,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then, like a bow long forced into a curve,
The mind, released from too constrained a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring,
That made the vaulted roofs of Pleasure ring.
His court, the dissolute and hateful school
Of Wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
Swarm'd with a scribbling herd, as deep inlaid
With brutal lust, as ever Circe made.
From these a long succession, in the rage
Of rank obscenity, debauched their age;
Nor ceas'd, till, ever anxious to redress
The abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The muse instructed a well-nurtured train
Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That Lewdness had usurp'd and worn so long.
Then decent Pleasantry and sterling Sense,
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipp'd out of sight, with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack, that had defiled the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and Attic taste combined,
To polish, farnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplined, complete, compact
Gave virtue and morality a grace,
That, quite eclipsing Pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
E'en on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he (his ntusical finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)
Made poetry a mere mechanic art;
And every warbler has his tune by heart.
Nature imparting his satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they raised a smile
At Folly's cast, themselves unmoved the while.
That constellation set, the world in vain
Must hope to look upon their like again.
A. Are we then left-- B. Not wholly in the dark : Wit now and ther., struck smartly, shews a spark,