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Poem by Tobias George Smollett

Ode to Independence


  Thy spirit, Independence! let me share,
    	Lord of the lion-heart and eagle-eye;
  Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,
    	Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.
  Deep in the frozen regions of the north,
  	A goddess violated brought thee forth,
  Immortal Liberty, whose look sublime,
  Hath bleach’d the tyrant’s cheek in every varying clime.
    	What time the iron-hearted Gaul,
  With frantic Superstition for his guide,
    	Arm’d with the dagger and the pall,
  The sons of Woden to the field defied;
  The ruthless hag, by Weser’s flood,
    	In Heaven’s name urged the infernal blow,
    	And red the stream began to flow:
  The vanquished were baptised with blood! [1]


  The Saxon prince in horror fled
    	From altars stain’d with human gore;
  And Liberty his routed legions led
    	In safety to the bleak Norwegian shore.
  There in a cave asleep she lay,
    	Lull’d by the hoarse resounding main;
  When a bold savage pass’d that way,
    	Impell’d by destiny, his name Disdain.

  Of ample front the portly chief appear’d:
    	The hunted bear supplied a shaggy vest;
  The drifted snow hung on his yellow beard,
    	And his broad shoulders braved the furious blast.
  He stopp’d; he gazed; his bosom glow’d,
    	And deeply felt the impression of her charms;
  He seized the advantage Fate allow’d,
    	And straight compress’d her in his vigorous arms.


  The curlew scream’d, the Tritons blew
    	Their shells to celebrate the ravish’d rite;
  Old Time exulted as he flew,
    	And Independence saw the light;
  The light he saw in Albion’s happy plains,
    	Where, under cover of a flowering thorn,
  While Philomel renew’d her warbled strains,
    	The auspicious fruit of stolen embrace was born.
  The mountain Dyriads seized with joy
    	The smiling infant to their charge consign’d;
  The Doric Muse caress’d the favourite boy;
    	The hermit Wisdom stored his opening mind:
  As rolling years matured his age,
    	He flourish’d bold and sinewy as his sire;
  While the mild passions in his breast assuage
    	The fiercer flames of his maternal fire.


  Accomplish’d thus he wing’d his way,
    	And zealous roved from pole to pole,
  The rolls of right eternal to display,
    	And warm with patriot thoughts the aspiring soul;
  On desert isles ‘twas he that raised
    	Those spires that gild the Adriatic wave, [2]
  Where Tyranny beheld, amazed,
    	Fair Freedom’s temple where he mark’d her grave:
  He steel’d the blunt Batavian’s arms
    	To burst the Iberian’s double chain;
  And cities rear’d, and planted farms,
    	Won from the skirts of Neptune’s wide domain. [3]      	
  He with the generous rustics sate
    	On Uri’s rocks [4] in close divan;
  And wing’d that arrow sure as fate,
    	Which ascertain’d the sacred rights of man.


  Arabia’s scorching sands he cross’d,
    	Where blasted Nature pants supine,
  Conductor of her tribes adust
    	To Freedom’s adamantine shrine;
  And many a Tartar horde forlorn, aghast,
    	He snatch’d from under fell Oppression’s wing,
  And taught amidst the dreary waste
    	The all-cheering hymns of liberty to sing.
  He virtue finds, like precious ore,
    	Diffused through every baser mould;
  E’en now he stands on Calvi’s rocky shore, [5]
    	And turns the dross of Corsica to gold.
  He, guardian Genius! taught my youth
    	Pomp’s tinsel livery to despise;
  My lips, by him chastised to truth,
    	Ne’er paid that homage which my heart denies.


  Those sculptured halls my feet shall never tread,
    	Where varnish’d Vice and Vanity, combined
  To dazzle and seduce, their banners spread,
    	And forge vile shackles for the freeborn mind;
  While Insolence his wrinkled front uprears,
    	And all the flowers of spurious Fancy blow;
  And Title his ill-woven chaplet wears,
    	Full often wreath’d around the miscreant’s brow;
  Where ever-dimpling Falsehood, pert and vain,
    	Presents her cup of stale Profession’s froth;
  And pale Disease, with all his bloated train,
    	Torments the sons of gluttony and sloth.


  In Fortune’s car behold that minion ride,
    	With either India’s glittering spoils oppress’d;
  So moves the sumpter-mule in harness’d pride,
    	That bears the treasure which he cannot taste.
  For him let venal bards disgrace the bay,
    	And hireling minstrels wake the tinkling string;
  Her sensual snares let faithless Pleasure lay;
    	And jingling bells fantastic Folly ring;
  Disquiet, doubt, and dread shall intervene,
    	And Nature, still to all her feelings just,
  In vengeance hang a damp on every scene,
    	Shook from the baneful pinions of Disgust.


  Nature I’ll court in her sequester’d haunts,
    	By mountain, meadow, streamlet, grove, or cell,
  Where the poised lark his evening ditty chaunts,
    	And Health, and Peace, and Contemplation dwell.
  There Study shall with Solitude recline,
    	And Friendship pledge me to his fellow swains,
  And Toil and Temperance sedately twine
    	The slender cord that fluttering life sustains;
  And fearless Poverty shall guard the door,
    	And Taste unspoil’d the frugal table spread,
  And Industry supply the humble store,
    	And Sleep unbribed his dews refreshing shed;
  White-mantled Innocence, ethereal sprite!
  Shall chase far off the goblins of the night,
  And Independence o’er the day preside,
  Propitious power! my patron and my pride!

[Footnote 1: ‘Baptised with blood:’ Charlemagne obliged four thousand Saxon prisoners to embrace the Christian religion, and immediately after they were baptized, ordered their throats to be cut. Their prince, Vitikind, fled for shelter to Gotrick, king of Denmark.]

[Footnote 2: ‘Adriatic wave:’ although Venice was built a considerable time before the era here assigned for the birth of Independence, the republic had not yet attained to any great degree of power and splendour.]

[Footnote 3: ‘Neptune’s wide domain:’ the Low Countries, and their revolt from Spain, are here alluded to.]

[Footnote 4: ‘Uri’s rocks:’ alluding to the known story of William Tell and his associates.]

[Footnote 5: ‘Calvi’s rocky shore:’ the noble stand made by Paschal Paoli, and his associates, against the usurpations of the French king.]

Tobias George Smollett

Tobias George Smollett's other poems:
  1. Ode to Leven-Water
  2. The Tears of Scotland. Written in the Year 1746

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