Fears in Solitude
Written in April 1798, during the alarm of an invasion A green and silent spot, amid the hills, A small and silent dell! O'er stiller place No singing sky-lark ever poised himself. The hills are heathy, save that swelling slope, Which hath a gay and gorgeous covering on, All golden with the never-bloomless furze, Which now blooms most profusely : but the dell, Bathed by the mist, is fresh and delicate As vernal corn-field, or the unripe flax, When, through its half-transparent stalks, at eve, The level sunshine glimmers with green light. Oh ! 'tis a quiet spirit-healing nook! Which all, methinks, would love; but chiefly he, The humble man, who, in his youthful years, Knew just so much of folly, as had made His early manhood more securely wise ! Here he might lie on fern or withered heath, While from the singing lark (that sings unseen The minstrelsy that solitude loves best), And from the sun, and from the breezy air, Sweet influences trembled o'er his frame ; And he, with many feelings, many thoughts, Made up a meditative joy, and found Religious meanings in the forms of Nature! And so, his senses gradually wrapt In a half sleep, he dreams of better worlds, And dreaming hears thee still, O singing lark, That singest like an angel in the clouds! My God! it is a melancholy thing For such a man, who would full fain preserve His soul in calmness, yet perforce must feel For all his human brethren--O my God! It weighs upon the heart, that he must think What uproar and what strife may now be stirring This way or that way o'er these silent hills-- Invasion, and the thunder and the shout, And all the crash of onset ; fear and rage, And undetermined conflict--even now, Even now, perchance, and in his native isle: Carnage and groans beneath this blessed sun! We have offended, Oh! my countrymen! We have offended very grievously, And been most tyrannous. From east to west A groan of accusation pierces Heaven! The wretched plead against us ; multitudes Countless and vehement, the sons of God, Our brethren! Like a cloud that travels on, Steamed up from Cairo's swamps of pestilence, Even so, my countrymen ! have we gone forth And borne to distant tribes slavery and pangs, And, deadlier far, our vices, whose deep taint With slow perdition murders the whole man, His body and his soul! Meanwhile, at home, All individual dignity and power Engulfed in Courts, Committees, Institutions, Associations and Societies, A vain, speach-mouthing, speech-reporting Guild, One Benefit-Club for mutual flattery, We have drunk up, demure as at a grace, Pollutions from the brimming cup of wealth; Contemptuous of all honourable rule, Yet bartering freedom and the poor man's life For gold, as at a market! The sweet words Of Christian promise, words that even yet Might stem destruction, were they wisely preached, Are muttered o'er by men, whose tones proclaim How flat and wearisome they feel their trade: Rank scoffers some, but most too indolent To deem them falsehoods or to know their truth. Oh! blasphemous! the Book of Life is made A superstitious instrument, on which We gabble o'er the oaths we mean to break; For all must swear--all and in every place, College and wharf, council and justice-court; All, all must swear, the briber and the bribed, Merchant and lawyer, senator and priest, The rich, the poor, the old man and the young; All, all make up one scheme of perjury, That faith doth reel; the very name of God Sounds like a juggler's charm ; and, bold with joy, Forth from his dark and lonely hiding-place, (Portentious sight!) the owlet Atheism, Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon, Drops his blue-fringéd lids, and holds them close, And hooting at the glorious sun in Heaven, Cries out, `Where is it?' Thankless too for peace, (Peace long preserved by fleets and perilous seas) Secure from actual warfare, we have loved To swell the war-whoop, passionate for war! Alas! for ages ignorant of all Its ghastlier workings, (famine or blue plague, Battle, or siege, or flight through wintry snows,) We, this whole people, have been clamorous For war and bloodshed ; animating sports, The which we pay for as a thing to talk of, Spectators and not combatants! No guess Anticipative of a wrong unfelt, No speculation on contingency, However dim and vague, too vague and dim To yield a justifying cause ; and forth, (Stuffed out with big preamble, holy names, And adjurations of the God in Heaven,) We send our mandates for the certain death Of thousands and ten thousands! Boys and girls, And women, that would groan to see a child Pull off an insect's wing, all read of war, The best amusement for our morning meal! The poor wretch, who has learnt his only prayers From curses, and who knows scarcely words enough To ask a blessing from his Heavenly Father, Becomes a fluent phraseman, absolute And technical in victories and defeats, And all our dainty terms for fratricide; Terms which we trundle smoothly o'er our tongues Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which We join no feeling and attach no form! As if the soldier died without a wound; As if the fibres of this godlike frame Were gored without a pang; as if the wretch, Who fell in battle, doing bloody deeds, Passed off to Heaven, translated and not killed; As though he had no wife to pine for him, No God to judge him ! Therefore, evil days Are coming on us, O my countrymen! And what if all-avenging Providence, Strong and retributive, should make us know The meaning of our words, force us to feel The desolation and the agony Of our fierce doings? Spare us yet awhile, Father and God! O! spare us yet awhile! Oh ! let not English women drag their flight Fainting beneath the burthen of their babes, Of the sweet infants, that but yesterday Laughed at the breast ! Sons, brothers, husbands, all Who ever gazed with fondness on the forms Which grew up with you round the same fire-side, And all who ever heard the sabbath-bells Without the infidel's scorn, make yourselves pure! Stand forth! be men! repel an impious foe, Impious and false, a light yet cruel race, Who laugh away all virtue, mingling mirth With deeds of murder; and still promising Freedom, themselves too sensual to be free, Poison life's amities, and cheat the heart Of faith and quiet hope, and all that soothes, And all that lifts the spirit ! Stand we forth; Render them back upon the insulted ocean, And let them toss as idly on its waves As the vile sea-weed, which some mountain-blast Swept from our shores! And oh! may we return Not with a drunken triumph, but with fear, Repenting of the wrongs with which we stung So fierce a foe to frenzy! I have told, O Britons! O my brethren! I have told Most bitter truth, but without bitterness. Nor deem my zeal or factious or mistimed; For never can true courage dwell with them, Who, playing tricks with conscience, dare not look At their own vices. We have been too long Dupes of a deep delusion ! Some, belike, Groaning with restless enmity, expect All change from change of constituted power; As if a Government had been a robe, On which our vice and wretchedness were tagged Like fancy-points and fringes, with the robe Pulled off at pleasure. Fondly these attach A radical causation to a few Poor drudges of chastising Providence, Who borrow all their hues and qualities From our own folly and rank wickedness, Which gave them birth and nursed them. Others, meanwhile, Dote with a mad idolatry ; and all Who will not fall before their images, And yield them worship, they are enemies Even of their country! Such have I been deemed-- But, O dear Britain! O my Mother Isle! Needs must thou prove a name most dear and holy To me, a son, a brother, and a friend, A husband, and a father! who revere All bonds of natural love, and find them all Within the limits of thy rocky shores. O native Britain! O my Mother Isle! How shouldst thou prove aught else but dear and holy To me, who from thy lakes and mountain-hills, Thy clouds, thy quiet dales, thy rocks and seas, Have drunk in all my intellectual life, All sweet sensations, all ennobling thoughts, All adoration of God in nature, All lovely and all honourable things, Whatever makes this mortal spirit feel The joy and greatness of its future being? There lives nor form nor feeling in my soul Unborrowed from my country ! O divine And beauteous island ! thou hast been my sole And most magnificent temple, in the which I walk with awe, and sing my stately songs, Loving the God that made me!-- May my fears, My filial fears, be vain! and may the vaunts And menace of the vengeful enemy Pass like the gust, that roared and died away In the distant tree: which heard, and only heard In this low dell, bowed not the delicate grass. But now the gentle dew-fall sends abroad The fruit-like perfume of the golden furze: The light has left the summit of the hill, Though still a sunny gleam lies beautiful, Aslant the ivied beacon. Now farewell, Farewell, awhile, O soft and silent spot! On the green sheep-track, up the heathy hill, Homeward I wind my way ; and lo ! recalled From bodings that have well-nigh wearied me, I find myself upon the brow, and pause Startled ! And after lonely sojourning In such a quiet and surrounded nook, This burst of prospect, here the shadowy main, Dim tinted, there the mighty majesty Of that huge amphitheatre of rich And elmy fields, seems like society-- Conversing with the mind, and giving it A livelier impulse and a dance of thought! And now, belovéd Stowey ! I behold Thy church-tower, and, methinks, the four huge elms Clustering, which mark the mansion of my friend; And close behind them, hidden from my view, Is my own lowly cottage, where my babe And my babe's mother dwell in peace! With light And quickened footsteps thitherward I tend, Remembering thee, O green and silent dell! And grateful, that by nature's quietness And solitary musings, all my heart Is softened, and made worthy to indulge Love, and the thoughts that yearn for human kind.
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