William Lisle Bowles Poems >>
Call the strange spirit that abides unseen
In wilds, and wastes, and shaggy solitudes,
And bid his dim hand lead thee through these scenes
That burst immense around! By mountains, glens,
And solitary cataracts that dash
Through dark ravines; and trees, whose wreathed roots
O'erhang the torrent's channelled course; and streams,
That far below, along the narrow vale,
Upon their rocky way wind musical.
Stranger! if Nature charm thee, if thou lovest
To trace her awful steps, in glade or glen,
Or under covert of the rocking wood,
That sways its murmuring and mossy boughs
Above thy head; now, when the wind at times
Stirs its deep silence round thee, and the shower
Falls on the sighing foliage, hail her here
In these her haunts; and, rapt in musings high,
Think that thou holdest converse with some Power
Invisible and strange; such as of yore
Greece, in the shades of piney Maenalaus,
The abode of Pan, or Ida's hoary caves,
Worshipped; and our old Druids, 'mid the gloom
Of rocks and woods like these, with muttered spell
Invoked, and the loud ring of choral harps.
Hast thou oft mourned the chidings of the world,
The sound of her disquiet, that ascends
For ever, mocking the high throne of GOD!
Hast thou in youth known sorrow! Hast thou drooped,
Heart-stricken, over youth's and beauty's grave,
And ever after thought on the sad sound
The cold earth made, which, cast into the vault,
Consigned thy heart's best treasure--dust to dust!
Here, lapped into a sweet forgetfulness,
Hang o'er the wreathed waterfall, and think
Thou art alone in this dark world and wide!
Here Melancholy, on the pale crags laid,
Might muse herself to sleep; or Fancy come,
Witching the mind with tender cozenage,
And shaping things that are not; here all day
Might Meditation listen to the lapse
Of the white waters, flashing through the cleft,
And, gazing on the many shadowing trees,
Mingle a pensive moral as she gazed.
High o'er thy head, amidst the shivered slate,
Behold, a sapling yet, the wild ash bend,
Its dark red berries clustering, as it wished
In the clear liquid mirror, ere it fell,
To trace its beauties; o'er the prone cascade,
Airy, and light, and elegant, the birch
Displays its glossy stem, amidst the gloom
Of alders and jagged fern, and evermore
Waves her light pensile foliage, as she wooed
The passing gale to whisper flatteries.
Upon the adverse bank, withered, and stripped
Of all its pleasant leaves, a scathed oak
Hangs desolate, once sovereign of the scene,
Perhaps, proud of its beauty and its strength,
And branching its broad arms along the glen:
Oh, speaks it no remonstrance to the heart!
It seems to say: So shall the spoiler come,
The season that shall shatter your fair leaves,
Gay children of the summer! yet enjoy
Your pleasant prime, and lift your green heads high,
Exulting; but the storm will come at last,
That shall lay low your strength, and give your pride
To the swift-hurrying stream of age, like mine.
And so severe Experience oft reproves
The gay and careless children of the world;
They hear the cold rebuke, and then again
Turn to their sport, as likes them, and dance on!
And let them dance; so all their blooming prime
They give not up to vanity, but learn
That wisdom and that virtue which shall best
Avail them, when the evil days draw nigh,
And the brief blossoms of their spring-time fade.
Now wind we up the glen, and hear below
The dashing torrent, in deep woods concealed,
And now again white-flashing on the view,
O'er the huge craggy fragments. Ancient stream,
That murmurest through the mountain solitudes,
The time has been when no eye marked thy course,
Save His who made the world! Fancy might dream
She saw thee thus bound on from age to age
Unseen of man, whilst awful Nature sat
On the rent rocks, and said: These haunts be mine.
Now Taste has marked thy features; here and there
Touching with tender hand, but injuring not,
Thy beauties; whilst along thy woody verge
Ascends the winding pathway, and the eye
Catches at intervals thy varied falls.
But loftier scenes invite us; pass the hill,
And through the woody hanging, at whose feet
The tinkling Ellen winds, pursue thy way.
Yon bleak and weather-whitened rock, immense,
Upshoots amidst the scene, craggy and steep,
And like some high-embattled citadel,
That awes the low plain shadowing. Half-way up
The purple heath is seen, but bare its brow,
And deep-intrenched, and all beneath it spread
With massy fragments riven from its top.
Amidst the crags, and scarce discerned so high,
Hangs here and there a sheep, by its faint bleat
Discovered, whilst the astonished eye looks up,
And marks it on the precipice's brink
Pick its scant food secure:--and fares it not
Ev'n so with you, poor orphans, ye who climb
The rugged path of life without a friend;
And over broken crags bear hardly on,
With pale imploring looks, that seem to say,
My mother! she is buried, and at rest,
Laid in her grave-clothes; and the heart is still,
The only heart that throughout all the world
Beat anxiously for you! Oh, yet bear on;
He who sustains the bleating lamb shall feed
And comfort you: meantime the heaven's pure beam,
That breaks above the sable mountain's brow,
Lighting, one after one, the sunless crags,
Awakes the blissful confidence, that here,
Or in a world where sorrow never comes,
All shall be well.
Now through the whispering wood
We steal, and mark the old and mossy oaks
Imboss the mountain slope; or the wild ash,
With rich red clusters mantling; or the birch,
In lonely glens light-wavering; till behold!
The rapid river shooting through the gloom
Its lucid line along; and on its side
The bordering pastures green, where the swinked ox
Lies dreaming, heedless of the numerous flies
That, in the transitory sunshine, hum
Round his broad breast; and further up the cot,
With blue, light smoke ascending; images
Of peace and comfort! The wild rocks around
Endear your smile the more, and the full mind,
Sliding from scenes of dread magnificence,
Sinks on your charms reposing; such repose
The sage may feel, when, filled and half-oppressed
With vast conceptions, smiling he returns
To life's consoling sympathies, and hears,
With heartfelt tenderness, the bells ring out;
Or pipe upon the mountains; or the low
Of herds slow winding down the cottaged vale,
Where day's last sunshine linger. Such repose
He feels, who, following where his SHAKSPEARE leads,
As in a dream, through an enchanted land,
Here, with Macbeth, in the dread cavern hails
The weird sisters, and the dismal deed
Without a name; there sees the charmed isle,
The lone domain of Prospero; and, hark!
Wild music, such as earth scarce seems to own,
And Ariel o'er the slow-subsiding surge
Singing her smooth air quaintly! Such repose
Steals o'er her spirits, when, through storms at sea,
Fancy has followed some nigh-foundered bark
Full many a league, in ocean's solitude
Tossed far beyond the Cape of utmost Horn,
That stems the roaring deep; her dreary track
Still Fancy follows, and at dead of night
Hears, with strange thunder, the huge fragments fall
Crashing, from mountains of high-drifting ice
That o'er her bows gleam fearful; till at last
She hails the gallant ship in some still bay
Safe moored; or of delightful Tinian;
Smiling, like fairy isle, amid the waste;
Or of New Zealand, where from sheltering rocks
The clear cascades gush beautiful, and high
The woodland scenery towers above the mast,
Whose long and wavy ensign streams beneath.
Far inland, clad in snow, the mountains lift
Their spiry summits, and endear the more
The sylvan scene around; the healing air
Breathes o'er green myrtles, and the poe-bird flits,
Amid the shade of aromatic shrubs,
With silver neck and blue enamelled wing.
Now cross the stream, and up the narrow track,
That winds along the mountain's edge, behold
The peasant girl ascend: cheerful her look,
Beneath the umbrage of her broad black hat,
And loose her dark-brown hair; the plodding pad
That bears her panting climbs, and with sure step
Avoids the jutting fragments; she, meantime,
Sits unconcerned, till, lessening from the view,
She gains the summit and is seen no more.
All day, along that mountain's heathy waste,
Booted and strapped, and in rough coat succinct,
His small shrill whistle pendent at his breast,
With dogs and gun, untired the sportsman roams;
Nor quits his wildly-devious range, till eve,
Upon the woods, the rocks, and mazy rills
Descending, warns him home: then he rejoins
The social circle, just as the clear moon,
Emerging o'er the sable mountain, sails
Silent, and calm, and beautiful, and sheds
Its solemn grandeur on the shadowy scene.
To music then; and let some chosen strain
Of HANDEL gently recreate the sense,
And give the silent heart to tender joy.
Pass on to the hoar cataract, that foams
Through the dark fissures of the riven rock;
Prone-rushing it descends, and with white whirl,
Save where some silent shady pool receives
Its dash; thence bursting, with collected sweep,
And hollow sound, it hurries, till it falls
Foaming in the wild stream that winds below.
Dark trees, that to the mountain's height ascend,
O'ershade with pendent boughs its mossy course,
And, looking up, the eye beholds it flash
Beneath the incumbent gloom, from ledge to ledge
Shooting its silvery foam, and far within
Wreathing its curve fantastic. If the harp
Of deep poetic inspiration, struck
At times by the pale minstrel, whilst a strange
And beauteous light filled his uplifted eye,
Hath ever sounded into mortal ears,
Here I might think I heard its tones, and saw,
Sublime amidst the solitary scene,
With dimly-gleaming harp, and snowy stole,
And cheek in momentary frenzy flushed,
The great musician stand. Hush, every wind
That shakes the murmuring branches! and thou stream,
Descending still with hollow-sounding sweep,
Hush! 'Twas the bard struck the loud strings: Arise,
Son of the magic song, arise!
And bid the deep-toned lyre
Pour forth its manly melodies.
With eyes on fire,
CARADOC rushed upon the foe;
He reared his arm--he laid the mighty low!
O'er the plain see him urge his gore-bathed steed!
They bleed, the Romans bleed!
He lifts his lance on high,
They fly! the fierce invaders fly!
Fear not now the horse or spear,
Fear not now the foeman's might;
Victory the cry shall hear
Of those who for their country fight;
O'er the slain
That strew the plain,
Stern on her sable war-horse shall she ride,
And lift her red right hand, in their heart's blood deep dyed!
Return, my Muse! the fearful sound is past;
And now a little onward, where the way
Ascends above the oaks that far below
Shade the rude steep, let Contemplation lead
Our footsteps; from this shady eminence
'Tis pleasant and yet fearful to look down
Upon the river roaring, and far off
To see it stretch in peace, and mark the rocks
One after one, in solemn majesty
Unfolding their wild reaches; here with wood
Mantled, beyond abrupt and bare, and each
As if it strove, with emulous disdain,
To tower in ruder, darker amplitude.
Pause, ere we enter the long craggy vale;
It seems the abode of Solitude. So high
The rock's bleak summit frowns above our head,
Looking immediate down, we almost fear
Lest some enormous fragment should descend
With hideous sweep into the vale, and crush
The intruding visitant. No sound is here,
Save of the stream that shrills, and now and then
A cry as of faint wailing, when the kite
Comes sailing o'er the crags, or straggling lamb
Bleats for its mother. Here, remote from man,
And life's discordant roar, might Piety
Lift up her early orisons to Him
Who made the world; who piled up, mighty rocks,
Your huge o'ershadowing summits; who devolved
The mighty rivers on their mazy course;
Who bade the seasons roll, and they rolled on
In harmony; who filled the earth with joy,
And spread it in magnificence. O GOD!
Thou also madest the great water-flood,
The deep that uttereth thy voice; whose waves
Toss fearful at thy bidding. Thou didst speak,
And lo! the great and glorious sun, from night
Tenfold upspringing, through the heavens' wide way
Held his untired career. These, in their course,
As with one shout of acclamation, praise
Thee, LORD! thee, FATHER! thee, ALMIGHTY KING!
Maker of earth and heaven! Nor less the flower
That shakes its purple head, and smiles unseen
Upon the mountain's van; nor less the stream
That tinkles through the cliff-encircled bourne,
Cheering with music the lone place, proclaim:
In wisdom, Father, hast thou made them all!
Scenes of retired sublimity, that fill
With fearful ecstasy and holy trance
The pausing mind! we leave your awful gloom,
And lo! the footway plank, that leads across
The narrow torrent, foaming through the chasm
Below; the rugged stones are washed and worn
Into a thousand shapes, and hollows scooped
By long attrition of the ceaseless surge,
Smooth, deep, and polished as the marble urn,
In their hard forms. Here let us sit, and watch
The struggling current burst its headlong way,
Hearing the noise it makes, and musing much
On the strange changes of this nether world.
How many ages must have swept to dust
The still succeeding multitudes, that 'fret
Their little hour' upon this restless scene,
Or ere the sweeping waters could have cut
The solid rock so deep! As now its roar
Comes hollow from below, methinks we hear
The noise of generations, as they pass,
O'er the frail arch of earthly vanity,
To silence and oblivion. The loud coil
Ne'er ceases; as the running river sounds
From age to age, though each particular wave
That made its brief noise, as it hurried on,
Ev'n whilst we speak, is past, and heard no more;
So ever to the ear of Heaven ascends
The long, loud murmur of the rolling globe;
Its strife, its toils, its sighs, its shouts, the same!
But lo! upon the hilly croft, and scarce
Distinguished from the crags, the peasant hut
Forth peeping; nor unwelcome is the sight.
It seems to say: Though solitude be sweet,
And sweet are all the images that float
Like summer-clouds before the eye, and charm
The pensive wanderer's way, 'tis sweeter yet
To think that in this world a brother lives.
And lovelier smiles the scene, that, 'mid the wilds
Of rocks and mountains, the bemused thought
Remembers of humanity, and calls
The wildly-roving fancy back to life.
Here, then, I leave my harp, which I have touched
With careless hand, and here I bid farewell
To Fancy's fading pictures, and farewell
The ideal spirit that abides unseen
'Mid rocks, and woods, and solitudes. I hail
Rather the steps of Culture, that ascend
The precipice's side. She bids the wild
Bloom, and adorns with beauty not its own
The ridged mountain's tract; she speaks, and lo!
The yellow harvest nods upon the slope;
And through the dark and matted moss upshoots
The bursting clover, smiling to the sun.
These are thy offspring, Culture! the green herb
Is thine, that decks with rich luxuriance
The pasture's lawny range; the yellow corn,
That waves upon the upland ridge, is thine;
Thine too the elegant abode, that smiles
Amidst the rocky scene, and wakes the thought,
The tender thought, of all life's charities.
And senseless were my heart, could I look back
Upon the varied way my feet have trod,
Without a silent prayer that health and joy,
And love and happiness, may long abide
In the romantic vale where Ellen winds.
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