« PreviousContinue »
When, exercise and air my only aim,
And heedless whither, to that field I came,
Ere yet with ruthless joy the happy hound
Told hill and dale that Reynard's track was found,
Or with the high-raised horn's melodious clang
All Kilwick and all Dingle-derry rang.
Sheep grazed the field ; some with soft bosom press'd
The herb as soft, while nibbling stray'd the rest;
Nor noise was heard but of the basty brook,
Struggling, detain'd in many a petty nook.
All seem'd so peaceful, that from them convey'd
To me, their peace by kind contagion spread.
But when the huntsman, with distended cheek,
Gan make his instrument of music speak,
And from within the wood that crash was heard,
Though not a hound from whom it burst appear'd,
The sheep recumbent, and the sheep that grazed,
All huddling into phalanx, stood and gazed,
Admiring, terrified, the novel strain,
Then coursed the field around, and coursed it round
But, recollecting with a sudden thought,
That Alight in circles urged advanced them nought,
They gather'd close around the old pit's brink,
And thought again but knew not what to think.
The man to solitude accustom'd long,
Perceives in every thing that lives a tongue;
Not animals alone, but shrubs and trees,
Have speech for him, and understood with ease;
After long drought, when rains abundant fall,
He hears the herbs and flowers rejoicing all :
Knows what the freshness of their hue implies,
How glad they catch the largess of the skies;
But, with precision nicer still, the mind
He scans of every locomotive kind ;
Birds of all feather, beasts of every name,
That serve mankind, or shun them, wild or tame;
The looks and gestures of their griefs and fears
Have all articulation in his ears;
He spells them true, by intuition's light;
And needs no glossary to set him right.
This truth premised, was needful as a text,
To win due credence to what follows next.
Awhile they mused; surveying every face,
Thou hadst supposed them of superior race;
Their periwigs of wool, and fears combined,
Stamp'd on each countenance such marks of mind,
That sage they seem'd, as lawyers o'er a doubt,
Which, puzzling long, at last they puzzle out;
Or academic tutors, teaching youths,
Sure ne'er to want them, mathematic truths ;
When thus a mutton, statelier than the rest,
A ram, the ewes and wethers sad address'd:-
“ Friends! we have lived too long. I never heard
Sounds such as these, so worthy to be fear'd.
Could I believe that winds for ages pent
In earth's dark womb, have found at last a vent,
And from their prison-house below arise,
With all these hideous howlings to the skies,
I could be much composed, nor should appear
For such a cause to feel the slightest fear.
Yourselves have seen, what time the thunders rollid
All night, we resting quiet in the fold.
Or heard we that tremendous bray alone,
I could expound the melancholy tone;
Should deem it by our old companion made,
The ass ; for he, we know, has lately stray'd,
And being lost, perhaps, and wandering wide,
Might be supposed to clamour for a guide.
But ah! those dreadful yells, what soul can hear
That owns a carcase, and not quake for fear ?
Demons produce them, doubtless, brazen-claw'd
And fang'd with brass, the demons are abroad;
I hold it, therefore, wisest and most fit,
That life to save, we leap into the pit.”
Him answer'd then his loving mate and true,
But more discreet than he, a Cambrian ewe.
“ How ? leap into the pit our life to save ?
To save our life leap. all into the grave?
For can we find it less ? Contemplate first
The depth how awful! falling there, we burst:
Or should the brambles, interposed, our fall
In part abate, that happiness were small ;
For with a race like theirs no chance I see
Of peace or ease to creatures clad as we.
Meantime, noise kills not. Be it Dapple's bray,
Or be it not, or be it whose it may,
And rush those other sounds, that seem by tongues
Of demons utter'd, from whatever lungs,
Sounds are but sounds, and till the cause appear
We have at least commodious standing here.
Come fiend, come fury, giant, monster, blast
From earth or hell, we can but plunge at last.”
While thus she spake, I fainter heard the peals -
For Reynard, close attended at his heels
By panting dog, tired man, and spatter'd horse,
Through mere good fortune, took a different course.
The flock grew calm again, and I, the road
Following, that led me to my own abode,
Much wonder'd that the silly sheep had found
Such cause of terror in an empty sound,
So sweet to huntsman, gentleman, and hound,
Beware of desperate steps. The darkest day,
Live till to-morrow, will have pass'd away.
EPITAPH ON JOHNSON.
[Written 1785.] [As this Epitaph first appears in one of Cowper's private letters, we find “favour" instead of “glory” in the last line. Here Johnson lies--a sage by all allow'd, Whom to have bred may well make England proud ; Whose prose was eloquence, by wisdom taught, The graceful vehicle of virtuous thought; Whose verse may claim --grave, masculine, and strong, Superior praise to the mere poet's song; Who many a noble gift from Heaven possess’d, And faith at last, alone worth all the rest. O man, immortal by a'double prize, By fame on earth - by glory in the skies !
[The date of this amusing jeu d'esprit belongs to the happy period of Cowper's intercourse with Lady Austen; and though admirably characteristic of his peculiar talent for humorous writing, has never before found a place in an edition of his collected works. The autograph was discovered by Hayley, rolled up with copies of the songs written at Lady Austen's request in 1783, as if the poet had resolved to lay aside, though not to destroy, all memorials of that connection. Through mistake of the last figure in the date, the composition appears among those of 1785.]
I sing of a journey to Clifton, *
We would have perform'd if we could ;
Without cart or barrow to lift on
Poor Mary or me through the mud.
Sle, sla, slud,
Stuck in the mud,
Oh, it is pretty to wade through a flood.
So away we went slipping and sliding,
Hop, hop,—a la mode de deux frogs; 'Tis near as good walking as riding, When ladies are dress'd in their clogs.
Wheels no doubt,
Go briskly about,
But they clatter, an rattle, and make such a rout.
“ Well — now I protest it is charming,
How finely the weather improves ;
That cloud, though, is rather alarming,
How slowly and stately it moves.”
« Pshaw! never mind,
'Tis not in the wind, We are travelling south, and shall leave it behind.” * The reader will recollect that Mrs Green, Lady Austen's sister, was married to the rector of Clifton.
“I am glad we are come for an airing,
For folks may be pounded and penn'd, Until they grow rusty, not caring
To stir half a mile to an end."
“ The longer we stay,
The longer we may ;
It's a folly to think about weather or way.”
“ But now I begin to be frighted;
If I fall, what a way I should roll !
I am glad that the bridge was indicted --
Stay! stop! I am sunk in a hole.”
“ Nay, never care,
'Tis a common affair ; You'll not be the last that will set a foot there.”
“ Let me breathe now a little, and ponder
On what it were better to do ;
That terrible lane I see yonder,
I think we shall never get through.”
“So think I,
But, by the bye,
We shall never know, if we never should try.”
SHE. “But should we get there, how shall we get home?
What a terrible deal of bad road we have pass’d,
Slipping and sliding; and if we should come
To a difficult state, I am ruin'd at last.
Oh, this lane!
Now it is plain,
That struggling and striving is labour in vain.”