Page images

« Other Romans shall arise,

Heedless of a soldier's name ;
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize,

Harmony the path to fame.

“ Then the progeny that springs

From the forests of our land,
Arm'd with thunder, clad with wings,

Shall a wider world command.

“ Regions Cæsar never knew,

Thy posterity shall sway ;
Where his eagles never flew,

None invincible as they."

Such the bard's prophetic words,

Pregnant with celestial fire,
Bending as he swept the chords

Of his sweet but awful lyre.

She, with all a monarch's pride,

Felt them in her bosom glow :
Rush'd to battle, fought and died ;

Dying, hurld them at the foe.

“ Ruffians, pitiless as proud,

Heaven awards the vengeance due ;
Empire is on us bestow'd,

Shame and ruin wait for you."


[This poem, finished in 1779, its author had named the “ Burning Mountain,” and intended it to occupy, as he says, “ the van of the light infantry." In correcting the proof sheets of his first volume, however, he adopted its present place and appellation.]

THERE was a time when Ætna's silent fire
Slept unperceived, the mountain yet entire;
When, conscious of no danger from below,
She tower'd a cloud-capt pyramid of snow.

No thunders shook with deep intestine sound

The blooming groves that girdled her around. Her unctuous olives, and her purple vines, (Unfelt the fury of those bursting mines) The peasant's hopes, and not in vain, assured, In peace upon her sloping sides matured. When on a day, like that of the last doom, A conflagration labouring in her womb, She teem'd and heaved with an infernal birth That shook the circling seas and solid earth. Dark and voluminous the vapours rise, And hang their horrors in the neighbouring skies While through the Stygian veil, that blots the day, In dazzling streaks the vivid lightnings play. But, oh! what muse, and in what powers of song, Can trace the torrent as it burns along? Havock and devastation in the van, It marches o'er the prostrate works of man; Vines, olives, herbage, forests disappear, And all the charms of a Sicilian year.

Revolving seasons, fruitless as they pass, See it an uninform’d and idle mass; Without a soil to invite the tiller's care, Or blade that might redeem it from despair. Yet time at length (what will not time achieve ?) Clothes it with earth, and bids the produce live. Once more the spiry myrtle crowns the glade, And ruminating flocks enjoy the shade. O bliss precarious, and unsafe retreats, O charming Paradise of short-lived sweets ! The selfsame gale that wafts the fragrance round, Brings to the distant ear a sullen sound: Again the mountain feels the imprison'd foe, Again pours ruin on the vale below. Ten thousand swains the wasted scene deplore, That only future ages can restore.

Ye monarchs, whom the lure of honour draws, Who write in blood the merits of your cause, Who strike the blow, then plead your own defence, Glory your aim, but justice your pretence;

Behold in Ætna's emblematic fires,
The mischiefs your ambitious pride inspires !

Fast by the stream that bounds your just domain,
And tells you where ye have a right to reign,
A nation dwells, not envious of your throne,
Studious of peace, their neighbours' and their own.
Ill-fated race ! how deeply must they rue
Their only crime, vicinity to you!
The trumpet sounds, your legions swarm abroad,
Through the ripe harvest lies their destined road;
At every step beneath their feet they tread
The life of multitudes a nation's bread!
Earth seems a garden in its loveliest dress
Before them, and behind a wilderness.
Famine, and Pestilence, her first-born son,
Attend to finish what the sword begun;
And echoing praises, such as fiends might earn,
And Folly pays, resound at your return.
A calm succeeds - but Plenty, with her train
Of heart-felt joys, succeeds not soon again,
And years of pining indigence must show
What scourges are the gods that rule below.

Yet man, laborious man, by slow degrees,
(Such is his thirst of opulence and ease,)
Plies all the sinews of industrious toil,
Gleans up the refuse of the general spoil,
Rebuilds the towers that smoked upon the plain,
And the sun gilds the shining spires again.

Increasing commerce and reviving art
Renew the quarrel on the conqueror's part;
And the sad lesson must be learn’d once more,
That wealth within is ruin at the door.
What are ye, monarchs, laureld heroes, say,
But Ætnas of the suffering world ye sway?
Sweet Nature, stripp'd of her embroider'd robe,
Deplores the wasted regions of her globe ;
And stands a witness at truth's awful bar,
To prove you there destroyers, as ye are.

Oh, place me in some Heaven-protected isle,
Where Peace, and Equity, and Freedom smile ;

Where no volcano pours his fiery flood,
No crested warrior dips his plume in blood;
Where Power secures what Industry has won ;
Where to succeed is not to be undone;
A land, that distant tyrants hate in vain,
In Britain's isle, beneath a George's reign.



An Oyster, cast upon the shore,
Was heard, though never heard before,
Complaining in a speech well worded -
And worthy thus to be recorded:

“ Ah, hapless wretch ! condemn'd to dwell
For ever in my native shell ;
Ordain'd to move when others please,
Not for my own content or ease;
But toss'd and buffeted about,
Now in the water and now out.
'Twere better to be born a stone,
Of ruder shape, and feeling none,
Than with a tenderness like mine,
And sensibilities so fine !
I envy that unfeeling Shrub,
Fast rooted against every rub.”
The plant he meant grew not far off,
And felt the sneer with scorn enough;
Was hurt, disgusted, mortified,
And with asperity replied.

When, cry the botanists, and stare,
Did plants call'd sensitive grow there ?
No matter when a poet's muse is,
To make them grow just where she chooses.

“ You shapeless nothing in a dish,
You that are but almost a fish,
I scorn your coarse insinuation,
And have most plentiful occasion
To wish myself the rock I view,
Or such another dolt as you:

For many a grave and learned clerk,
And many a gay unletter'd spark,
With curious touch examines me,
If I can feel as well as he;
And when I bend, retire, and shrink,
Says — Well, 'tis more than one would think !'
Thus life is spent (oh, fie upon 't!)
In being touch'd, and crying — Don't!"»

A Poet, in his evening walk,
O’erheard and check'd this idle talk.
“ And your fine sense,” he said, “ and yours,
Whatever evil it endures,
Deserves not, if so soon offended,
Much to be pitied or commended.
Disputes, though short, are far too long,
Where both alike are in the wrong ;
Your feelings in their full amount,
Are all upon your own account.

“ You, in your grotto-work enclosed,
Complain of being thus exposed ;
Yet nothing feel in that rough coat,
Save when the knife is at your throat,
Wherever driven by wind or tide,
Exempt from every ill beside.

“ And as for you, my Lady Squeamish,
Who reckon every touch a blemish,
If all the plants that can be found
Embellishing the scene around,
Should droop and wither where they grow,
You would not feel at all not you.
The noblest minds their virtue prove
By pity, sympathy, and love :
These, these are feelings truly fine,
And prove their owner half divine.”

His censure reach'd them as he dealt it,
And each by shrinking shew'd he felt it.

« PreviousContinue »