The Philanthropic Society. Inscribed To The Duke Of Leeds.

A poem by William Lisle Bowles

When Want, with wasted mien and haggard eye,
Retires in silence to her cell to die;
When o'er her child she hangs with speechless dread,
Faint and despairing of to-morrow's bread;
Who shall approach to bid the conflict cease,
And to her parting spirit whisper peace!
Who thee, poor infant, that with aspect bland
Dost stretch forth innocent thy helpless hand,
Shall pitying then protect, when thou art thrown
On the world's waste, unfriended and alone!
O hapless Infancy! if aught could move
The hardest heart to pity and to love
'Twere surely found in thee: dim passions mark
Stern manhood's brow, where age impresses dark
The stealing line of sorrow; but thine eye
Wears not distrust, or grief, or perfidy.
Though fortune's storms with dismal shadow lower,
Thy heart nor fears, nor feels the bitter shower;
Thy tear is soon forgotten; thou wilt weep,
And then the murmuring winds will hush thy sleep,
As 'twere with some sad music; and thy smiles,
Unlike to those that cover cruel wiles,
Plead best thy speechless innocence, and lend
A charm might win the world to be thy friend.
But thou art oft abandoned in thy smiles,
And early vice thy easy heart beguiles.
Oh for some voice, that of the secret maze
Where the grim passions lurk, the winding ways
That lead to sin, and ruth, and deep lament,
Might haply warn thee, whilst yet innocent
And beauteous as the spring-time o'er the hills
Advancing, when each vale glad music fills!
Else lost and wandering, the benighted mind
No spot of rest again shall ever find;
Then the sweet smiles, that erst enchanting laid
Their magic beauty on thy look, shall fade;
Then the bird's warbled song no more shall cheer
With morning music thy delighted ear;
Fell thoughts and muttering passions shall awake,
And the fair rose the sullied cheek forsake!
As when still Autumn's gradual gloom is laid
Far o'er the fading forest's saddened shade,
A mournful gleam illumines the cold hill,
Yet palely wandering o'er the distant rill;
But when the hollow gust, slow rising, raves,
And high the pine on yon lone summit waves,
Each milder charm, like pictures of a dream,
Hath perished, mute the birds, and dark the stream!
Scuds the dreer sleet upon the whirlwind borne,
And scowls the landscape clouded and forlorn!
So fades, so perishes frail Virtue's hue;
Her last and lingering smile seems but to rue,
Like autumn, every summer beauty reft,
Till all is dark and to the winter left.
Yet spring, with living touch, shall paint again
The green-leaved forest, and the purple plain;
With mingling melody the woods shall ring,
The whispering breeze its long-lost incense fling:
But, Innocence! when once thy tender flower
The sickly taint has touched, where is the power
That shall bring back its fragrance, or restore
The tints of loveliness, that shine no more?
How then for thee, who pinest in life's gloom,
Abandoned child! can hope or virtue bloom!
For thee, exposed amid the desert drear,
Which no glad gales or vernal sunbeams cheer!
Though some there are, who lift their head sublime,
Nor heed the transient storms of fate or time;
Too oft, alas! beneath unfriendly skies,
The tender blossom shrinks its leaves, and dies!
Go, struggle with thy fate, pursue thy way;
Though thou art poor, the world around is gay!
Thou hast no bread; but on thy aching sight
Proud luxury's pavilions glitter bright;
In thy cold ear the song of gladness swells,
Whilst vacant folly chimes her tinkling bells:
The careless crowd prolong their hollow glee,
Nor one relenting bosom thinks of thee.
Will not the indignant spirit then rebel,
And the dark tide of passions fearful swell!
Will not despight, perhaps, or bitter need,
Urge then thy temper to some direful deed!
Pale Guilt shall call thee to her ghastly band,
Or Murder welcome thee with reeking hand!
O wretched state, where our best feelings lie
Deep sunk in sullen, hopeless apathy!
Or wakeful cares, or gloomy terrors start,
And night and tempest mingle in the heart!
All mournful to the pensive sage's eye,
The monuments of human glory lie;
Fall'n palaces, crushed by the ruthless haste
Of time, and many an empire's silent waste,
Where, 'midst the vale of long-departed years,
The form of desolation dim appears,
Pointing to the wild plain with ruin spread,
The wrecks of age, and records of the dead!
But where a sight shall shuddering sorrow find,
Sad as the ruins of the human mind;
As Man, by his GREAT MAKER raised sublime
Amid the universe, ordained to climb
The arduous height where Virtue sits serene;
As Man, the high lord of this nether scene,
So fall'n, so lost! his noblest boast destroyed,
His sweet affections left a piteous void!
But oh, sweet Charity! what sounds were those
That met the listening ear, soft as the close
Of distant music, when the hum of day
Is hushed, and dying gales the airs convey!
Come, hapless orphans, meek Compassion cried,
Where'er, unsheltered outcasts! ye abide
The bitter driving wind, the freezing sky,
The oppressor's scourge, the proud man's contumely;
Come, hapless orphans! ye who never saw
A tear of kindness shed on your cold straw;
Who never met with joy the morning light,
Or lisped your little prayer of peace at night;
Come, hapless orphans! nor, when youth should spring
Soaring aloft, as on an eagle's wing,
Shall ye forsaken on the ground be left,
Of hope, of virtue, and of peace bereft!
Far from the springtide gale, and joyous day,
In the deep caverns of Despair ye lay:
She, iron-hearted mother, never pressed
Your wasted forms with transport to her breast;
When none o'er all the world your 'plaint would hear,
She never kissed away the falling tear,
Or fondly smiled, forgetful, to behold
Some infant grace its early charm unfold.
She ne'er with mingling hopes and rising fears,
Sighed for the fortune of your future years:
Or saw you hand in hand rejoicing stray
Beneath the morning sun, on youth's delightful way.
But happier scenes invite, and fairer skies;
From your dark bed, children of woe, arise!
In caves where peace ne'er smiled, where joy ne'er came,
Where Friendship's eye ne'er glistened at the name
Of one she loved, where famine and despair
Sat silent 'mid the damp and lurid air,
The soothing voice is heard; a beam of light
Is cast upon their features, sunk and white;
With trembling joy they catch the stealing sound;
Their famished little ones come smiling round.
Sweet Infancy! whom all the world forsook,
Thou hast put on again thy cherub look:
Guilt, shrinking at the sight, in deep dismay
Flies cowering, and resigns his wonted prey.
But who is she, in garb of misery clad,
Yet of less vulgar mien? A look so sad
The mourning maniac wears, so wild, yet meek;
A beam of joy now wanders o'er her cheek,
The pale eye visiting; it leaves it soon,
As fade the dewy glances of the moon
Upon some wandering cloud, while slow the ray
Retires, and leaves more dark the heaven's wide way.
Lost mother, early doomed to guilt and shame,
Whose friends of youth now sigh not o'er thy name,
Heavy has sorrow fall'n upon thy head,
Yet think, one hope remains when thou art dead;
Thy houseless child, thy only little one,
Shall not look round, defenceless and alone,
For one to guide her youth; nor with dismay
Each stranger's cold unfeeling look survey.
She shall not now be left a prey to shame,
Whilst slow disease preys on her faded frame;
Nor, when the bloom of innocence is fled,
Thus fainting bow her unprotected head.
Oh, she shall live, and Piety and Truth,
The loveliest ornaments, shall grace her youth.
And should her eye with softest lustre shine,
And should she wear such smiles as once were thine,
The smiles of peace and virtue they shall prove,
Blessing the calm abode of faithful love.
For ye[2] who thus, by pure compassion taught,
Have wept o'er human sorrows; who have sought
Want's dismal cell, and pale as from the dead
To life and light the speechless orphan led;
Trust that the deed, in Mercy's book enrolled,
Approving spirits of the just behold!
Meanwhile, new virtues here, as on the wing
Of morn, from Sorrow's dreary shades shall spring;
Young Modesty, with fair untainted bloom;
And Industry, that sings beside her loom;
And ruddy Labour, issuing from his hatch
Ere the slant sunbeam strikes the lowly thatch;
And sweet Contentment, smiling on a rock,
Like a fair shepherdess beside her flock;
And tender Love, that hastes with myrtle-braid
To bind the tresses of the favoured maid;
And Piety, with unclasped holy book,
Lifting to heaven her mildly-beaming look:
These village virtues on the plain shall throng,
And Albion's hills resound a cheerful song;
Whilst Charity, with dewy eyelids bland,
Leading a lisping infant in her hand,
Shall bend at pure Religion's holy shrine,
And say, These children, GOD OF LOVE, are thine!

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