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Could shake thee to the root - and time has been
When tempests could not. At thy firmest age
Thou hadst within thy bole solid contents,
That might have ribb’d the sides and plank'd the deck
Of some flagg'd admiral ; and tortuous arms,
The shipwright's darling treasure, didst present
To the four-quarter'd winds, robust and bold,
Warp'd into tough knee-timber, many a load ! *
But the axe spared thee. In those thriftier days
Oaks fell not, hewn by thousands, to supply
The bottomless demands of contest, waged
For senatorial honours. Thus to Time
The task was left to whittle thee away
With his sly scythe, whose ever-nibbling edge,
Noiseless, an atom, and an atom more,
Disjoining from the rest, has unobserved
Achieved a labour, which had far and wide,
By man perform’d, made all the forest ring.
Embowelld now, and of thy ancient self
Possessing nought but the scoop'd rind, that seems
An huge throat, calling to the clouds for drink,
Which it would give in rivulets to thy root,
Thou temptest none, but rather much forbidd'st
The feller's toil, which thou couldst ill requite.
Yet is thy root sincere, sound as the rock,
A quarry of stout spurs, and knotted fangs,
Which, crook'd into a thousand whimsies, clasp
The stubborn soil, and hold thee still erect.
So stands a kingdom, whose foundation yet
Fails not, in virtue and in wisdom laid,
Though all the superstructure, by the tooth
Pulverized of venality, a shell
Stands now, and semblance only of itself !
Thine arms have left thee. Winds have rent them off Long since, and rovers of the forest wild
* Knee-timber is found in the crooked arms of oak, which, by reason of their distortion, are easily adjusted to the angle formed where the deck and the ship's sides meet.
With bow and shaft, have burnt them. Some have left
A splinter'd stump, bleach'd to a snowy
And some, memorial none, where once they grew.
Yet life still lingers in thee, and puts forth
Proof not contemptible of what she can,
Even where death predominates. The spring
Finds thee not less alive to her sweet force,
Than yonder upstarts of the neighbouring wood,
So much thy juniors, who their birth received
Half a millennium since the date of thine.
But since, although well qualified by age
To teach, no spirit dwells in thee, nor voice
May be expected from thee, seated here
On thy distorted root, with hearers none,
Or prompter, save the scene, I will perform
Myself the oracle, and will discourse
In my own ear such matter as I may.
One man alone, the father of us all,
Drew not his life from woman ; never gazed,
With mute unconsciousness of what he saw,
On all around him ; learn'd not by degrees,
Nor owed articulation to his ear;
But, moulded by his Maker into man
At once, upstood intelligent, survey'd
All creatures, with precision understood
Their purport, uses, properties, assign'd
To each his name significant, and, filld
With love and wisdom, render'd back to Heaven
In praise harmonious the first air he drew.
He was excused the penalties of dull
Minority. No tutor charged his hand
With the thought-tracing quill, or task'd his mind
With problems. History, not wanted yet,
Lean’d on her elbow, watching Time, whose course,
Eventful, should supply her with a theme.
TO THE NIGHTINGALE, WHICH THE AUTHOR HEARD SING ON NEW YEAR'S DAY,
[The poet mentions the fact in a letter to Mr Rose.]
WHENCE is it that, amazed, I hear
From yonder wither'd spray,
This foremost morn of all the year,
The melody of May ?
And why, since thousands would be proud
Of such a favour shewn,
Am I selected from the crowd,
To witness it alone ?
Sing'st thou, sweet Philomel, to me,
For that I also long
Have practised in the groves like thee,
Though not like thee in song ?
Or sing'st thou rather under force
Of some divine command,
Commission'd to presage a course
Of happier days at hand ?
Thrice welcome then! for many a long
And joyless year have I,
As thou to-day, put forth my song
Beneath a wintry sky.
But thee no wintry skies can harm,
Who only need'st to sing,
To make even January charm,
And every season Spring.
WRITTEN FOR INSERTION IN A COLLECTION OF HAND-WRITINGS
AND SIGNATURES MADE BY MISS PATTY, SISTER OF HANNAH
[Newton had been requested to negotiate this little matter with Cowper : and though the latter remarks on the verses “ trifling enough I readily confess they are; but I have always allowed myself to trifle occasionally ; and on this occasion had not, nor have at present, time to do more ;" yet we perceive, from the fact of the verses having been three times altered, and the copies of the alterations sent by post, that, in poetry at least, his trifling was not without solicitude. As an example of Cowper's emendations, the second copy may be acceptable : the final improvement was Lady Hesketh's suggestion.
In vain to live from age to age
We modern bards endeavour ;
But write in Patty's book one page,
You gain your point for ever.
March 6, 1792.
In vain to live from age to age
While modern bards endeavour,
I write my name in Patty's page,
And gain my point for ever.
ON A FREE BUT TAME REDBREAST.
March, 1792. [The bird was a favourite of Miss Sally Hurdis, the sister of the Rev. Mr Hurdis, the poet's correspondent, and author of the Village Curate.]
These are not dew-drops, these are tears,
And tears by Sally shed
For absent Robin, who she fears,
With too much cause, is dead.
One morn he came not to her hand
As he was wont to come,
And, on her finger perch'd, to stand
Picking his breakfast-crumb.
Alarm'd, she call'd him, and perplext,
She sought him, but in vain ;
That day he came not, nor the next,
Nor ever came again.
She therefore raised him here a tomb,
Though where he fell, or how,
None knows, so secret was his doom,
Nor where he moulders now.
Had half a score of coxcombs died
In social Robin's stead,
Poor Sally's tears had soon been dried,
Or haply never shed.
But Bob was neither rudely bold
Nor spiritlessly tame,
Nor was, like theirs, his bosom cold,
But always in a flame.
[This gentleman had been sent for from London, by Mr Hayley, to attend Mrs Unwin, in an attack of paralysis. May 26, 1792.]
AUSTIN! accept a grateful verse from me,
The poet's treasure, no inglorious fee.
Loved by the Muses, thy ingenuous mind
Pleasing requital in my verse may find :
Verse oft has dash'd the scythe of Time aside,
Immortalizing names which else had died.
And, oh! could I command the glittering wealth
With which sick kings are glad to purchase health
Yet, if extensive fame, and sure to live,
Were in the power of verse like mine to give,
I would not recompense his art with less,
Who, giving Mary health, heals my distress.
friend! I love thee, though unknown, And boldly call thee, being his, my own.