Vivere bis, vitâ posse priore frui. MART.
Colle, che mi piacesti,....
Ov' ancor per usanza Amor mi mena;
Ben riconosco in voi l'usate forme,
Non, lasso, in me.
ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST PART.
THE Poem begins with the description of an obscure village, and of the pleasing melancholy which it excites on being revisited after a long absence. This mixed sensation is an effect of the Memory. From an effect we naturally ascend to the cause; and the subject proposed is then unfolded with an investigation of the nature and leading principles of this faculty.
It is evident that our ideas flow in continual succession, and introduce each other with a certain degree of regularity.
They are sometimes excited by sensible objects, and sometimes by an internal operation of the mind. Of the former species is most probably the memory of brutes; and its many sources of pleasure to them, as well as to us, are considered in the first part. The latter is the most perfect degree of memory, and forms the subject of the second.
When ideas have any relation whatever, they are attractive of each other in the mind; and the perception of any object naturally leads to the idea of another, which was connected with it either in time or place, or which can be compared or contrasted with it. Hence arises our attachment to inanimate objects; hence also, in some degree, the love of our country, and the emotion with which we contemplate the celebrated scenes of antiquity. Hence a picture directs our thoughts to the original: and, as cold and darkness suggest forcibly the ideas of heat and light, he, who feels the infirmities of age, dwells most on whatever reminds him of the vigour and vivacity of his youth.
The associating principle, as here employed, is no less conducive to virtue than to happiness; and, as such, it frequently discovers itself in the most tumultuous scenes of life. It addresses our finer feelings, and gives exercise to every mild and generous propensity.
Not confined to man, it extends through all animated nature; and its effects are peculiarly striking in the domestic tribes.
Twilight's soft dews steal o'er the village-green,
With magic tints to harmonize the scene.
Still'd is the hum that thro' the hamlet broke,
When round the ruins of their antient oak
The peasants flock'd to hear the minstrel play,
And games and carols clos'd the busy day.
Her wheel at rest, the matron thrills no more
With treasur'd tales, and legendary lore.
All, all are fled; nor mirth nor music flows
To chase the dreams of innocent repose.
All, all are fled; yet still I linger here!
What secret charms this silent spot endear?
Mark yon old Mansion frowning thro' the trees.
Whose hollow turret wooes the whistling breeze.
That casement, arch'd with ivy's brownest shade,
First to these eyes the light of heav'n convey'd.
The mouldering gateway strews the grass-grown court,
Once the calm scene of many a simple sport;
When nature pleas'd, for life itself was new,
And the heart promis'd what the fancy drew.
See, thro' the fractur'd pediment reveal'd,
Where moss inlays the rudely-sculptur'd shield,
The martin's old, hereditary nest.
Long may the ruin spare its hallow'd guest!
As jars the hinge, what sullen echoes call!
Oh haste, unfold the hospitable hall!
That hall, where once, in antiquated state,
The chair of justice held the grave debate.
Now stain'd with dews, with cobwebs darkly hung,
Oft has its roof with peals of rapture rung;
When round yon ample board, in due degree,
We sweeten'd every meal with social glee.
The heart's light laugh pursued the circling jest;
And all was sunshine in each little breast.
'Twas here we chas'd the slipper by the sound;
And turn'd the blindfold hero round and round.
'Twas here, at eve, we form'd our fairy ring;
And Fancy flutter'd on her wildest wing.
Giants and genii chain'd each wondering ear;
And orphan-sorrows drew the ready tear.
Oft with the babes we wander'd in the wood,
Or view'd the forest-feats of Robin Hood:
Oft, fancy-led, at midnight's fearful hour,
With startling step we seal'd the lonely tower:
O'er infant innocence to hang and weep,
Murder'd by ruffian hands, when smiling in its sleep.
Ye Household Deities! whose guardian eye
Mark'd each pure thought, ere register'd on high;
Still, still ye walk the consecrated ground,
And breathe the soul of Inspiration round.
As o'er the dusky furniture I bend,
Each chair awakes the feelings of a friend.
The storied arras, source of fond delight,
With old achievement charms the wilder'd sight;
And still, with Heraldry's rich hues imprest,
On the dim window glows the pictur'd crest.
The screen unfolds its many-colour'd chart.
The clock still points its moral to the heart.
That faithful monitor 'twas heav'n to hear!
When soft it spoke a promis'd pleasure near:
And has its sober hand, its simple chime,
Forgot to trace the feather'd feet of Time?
That massive beam, with curious carvings wrought,
Whence the caged linnet sooth'd my pensive thought;
Those muskets, cas'd with venerable rust;
Those once-lov'd forms, still breathing thro' their dust,
Still from the frame, in mould gigantic cast,
Starting to life--all whisper of the past!
As thro' the garden's desert paths I rove,
What fond illusions swarm in every grove!
How oft, when purple evening ting'd the west,
We watch'd the emmet to her grainy nest;
Welcom'd the wild-bee home on weary wing,
Laden with sweets, the choicest of the spring!
How oft inscrib'd, with 'Friendship's votive rhyme,
The bark now silver'd by the touch of Time;
Soar'd in the swing, half pleas'd and half afraid,
Thro' sister elms that wav'd their summer-shade;
Or strew'd with crumbs yon root-inwoven seat,
To lure the redbreast from his lone retreat!
Childhood's lov'd group revisits every scene;
The tangled wood-walk, and the tufted green!
Indulgent MEMORY wakes, and lo, they live!
Cloth'd with far softer hues than Light can give.
Thou first, best friend that Heav'n assigns below,
To sooth and sweeten all the cares we know;
Whose glad suggestions still each vain alarm,
When nature fades, and life forgets to charm;
Thee would the Muse invoke!--to thee belong
The sage's precept, and the poet's song.
What soften'd views thy magic glass reveals,
When o'er the landscape Time's meek twilight steals!
As when in ocean sinks the orb of day,
Long on the wave reflected lustres play;
Thy temper'd gleams of happiness resign'd
Glance on the darken'd mirror of the mind.
The School's lone porch, with reverend mosses gray,
Just tells the pensive pilgrim where it lay.
Mute is the bell that rung at peep of dawn,
Quickening my truant-feet across the lawn:
Unheard the shout that rent the noontide air,
When the slow dial gave a pause to care.
Up springs, at every step, to claim a tear, [a]
Some little friendship form'd and cherish'd here!
And not the lightest leaf, but trembling teems
With golden visions, and romantic dreams!
Down by yon hazel copse, at evening, blaz'd
The Gipsy's faggot--there we stood and gaz'd;
Gaz'd on her sun-burnt face with silent awe,
Her tatter'd mantle, and her hood of straw;
Her moving lips, her caldron brimming o'er;
The drowsy brood that on her back she bore,
Imps, in the barn with mousing owlet bred,
From rifled roost at nightly revel fed;
Whose dark eyes flash'd thro' locks of blackest shade,
When in the breeze the distant watch-dog bay'd:--
And heroes fled the Sibyl's mutter'd call,
Whose elfin prowess scal'd the orchard-wall.
As o'er my palm the silver piece she drew,
And trac'd the line of life with searching view,
How throbb'd my fluttering pulse with hopes and fears,
To learn the colour of my future years!
Ah, then, what honest triumph flush'd my breast!
This truth once known--To bless is to be blest!
We led the bending beggar on his way,
(Bare were his feet, his tresses silver-gray)
Sooth'd the keen pangs his aged spirit felt,
And on his tale with mute attention dwelt.
As in his scrip we dropt our little store,
And wept to think that little was no more,
He breath'd his prayer, "Long may such goodness live!"
'Twas all he gave, 'twas all he had to give.
Angels, when Mercy's mandate wing'd their flight,
Had stopt to catch new rapture from the sight.
But hark! thro' those old firs, with sullen swell
The church-clock strikes! ye tender scenes, farewell!
It calls me hence, beneath their shade, to trace
The few fond lines that Time may soon efface.
On yon gray stone, that fronts the chancel-door.
Worn smooth by busy feet now seen no more,
Each eve we shot the marble thro' the ring,
When the heart danc'd, and life was in its spring;
Alas! unconscious of the kindred earth,
That faintly echoed to the voice of mirth.
The glow-worm loves her emerald light to shed,
Where now the sexton rests his hoary head.
Oft, as he turn'd the greensward with his spade,
He lectur'd every youth that round him play'd;
And, calmly pointing where his fathers lay,
Rous'd him to rival each, the hero of his day.
Hush, ye fond flutterings, hush! while here alone
I search the records of each mouldering stone.
Guides of my life! Instructors of my youth!
Who first unveil'd the hallow'd form of Truth;
Whose every word enlighten'd and endear'd;
In age belov'd, in poverty rever'd;
In Friendship's silent register ye live,
Nor ask the vain memorial Art can give.
--But when the sons of peace and pleasure sleep,
When only Sorrow wakes, and wakes to weep,
What spells entrance my visionary mind,
With sighs so sweet, with transports so refin'd?
Ethereal Power! whose smile, at noon of night,
Recalls the far-fled spirit of delight;
Instils that musing, melancholy mood,
Which charms the wise, and elevates the good;
Blest MEMORY, hail! Oh grant the grateful Muse,
Her pencil dipt in Nature's living hues,
To pass the clouds that round thy empire roll,
And trace its airy precincts in the soul.
Lull'd in the countless chambers of the brain,
Our thoughts are link'd by many a hidden chain.
Awake but one, and lo, what myriads rise! [b]
Each stamps its image as the other flies!
Each, as the various avenues of sense
Delight or sorrow to the soul dispense,
Brightens or fades; yet all, with magic art,
Controul the latent fibres of the heart.
As studious PROSPERO'S mysterious spell
Conven'd the subject-spirits to his cell;
Each, at thy call, advances or retires,
As judgment dictates, or the scene inspires.
Each thrills the seat of sense, that sacred source
Whence the fine nerves direct their mazy course,
And thro' the frame invisibly convey
The subtle, quick vibrations as they play.
Survey the globe, each ruder realm explore;
From Reason's faintest ray to NEWTON soar,
What different spheres to human bliss assign'd!
What slow gradations in the scale of mind!
Yet mark in each these mystic wonders wrought;
Oh mark the sleepless energies of thought!
The adventurous boy, that asks his little share,
And hies from home with many a gossip's prayer,
Turns on the neighbouring hill, once more to see
The dear abode of peace and privacy;
And as he turns, the thatch among the trees,
The smoke's blue wreaths ascending with the breeze,
The village-common spotted white with sheep,
The church-yard yews round which his fathers sleep; [c]
All rouse Reflection's sadly-pleasing train.
And oft he looks and weeps, and looks again.
So, when the mild TUPIA dar'd explore
Arts yet untaught, and worlds unknown before,
And, with the sons of Science, woo'd the gale
That, rising, swell'd their strange expanse of sail;
So, when he breath'd his firm yet fond adieu, [d]
Borne from his leafy hut, his carv'd canoe,
And all his soul best lov'd--such tears he shed,
While each soft scene of summer-beauty fled:
Long o'er the wave a wistful look he cast,
Long watch'd the streaming signal from the mast;
Till twilight's dewy tints deceiv'd his eye,
And fairy forests fring'd the evening sky.
So Scotia's Queen, as slowly dawn'd the day,' [d]
Rose on her couch, and gaz'd her soul away.
Her eyes had bless'd the beacon's glimmering height,
That faintly tipt the feathery surge with light;
But now the morn with orient hues pourtray'd
Each castled cliff, and brown monastic shade:
All touch'd the talisman's resistless spring,
And lo, what busy tribes were instant on the wing!
Thus kindred objects kindred thoughts inspire,
As summer-clouds flash forth electric fire. [f]
And hence this spot gives back the joys of youth,
Warm as the life, and with the mirror's truth.
Hence home-felt pleasure prompts the Patriot's sigh; [g]
This makes him wish to live, and dare to die.
For this young FOSCAKI, whose hapless fate [h]
Venice should blush to hear the Muse relate,
When exile wore his blooming years away,
To sorrow's long soliloquies a prey,
When reason, justice, vainly urg'd his cause,
For this he rous'd her sanguinary laws;
Glad to return, tho' Hope could grant no more,
And chains and torture hail'd him to the shore.
And hence the charm historic scenes impart:
Hence Tiber awes, and Avon melts the heart.
Aerial forms, in Tempe's classic vale,
Glance thro' the gloom, and whisper in the gale;
In wild Vaucluse with love and LAURA dwell,
And watch and weep in ELOISA'S cell.' [i]
'Twas ever thus. As now at VIRGIL'S tomb, [k]
We bless the shade, and bid the verdure bloom:
So TULLY paus'd, amid the wrecks of Time, [l]
On the rude stone to trace the truth sublime;
When at his feet, in honour'd dust disclos'd,
The immortal Sage of Syracuse repos'd.
And as his youth in sweet delusion hung,
Where once a PLATO taught, a PINDAR sung;
Who now but meets him musing, when he roves
His ruin'd Tusculan's romantic groves?
In Rome's great forum, who but hears him roll
His moral thunders o'er the subject soul?
And hence that calm delight the portrait gives:
We gaze on every feature till it lives!
Still the fond lover views the absent maid;
And the lost friend still lingers in his shade!
Say why the pensive widow loves to weep, [m]
When on her knee she rocks her babe to sleep:
Tremblingly still, she lifts his veil to trace
The father's features in his infant face.
The hoary grandsire smiles the hour away,
Won by the charm of Innocence at play;
He bends to meet each artless burst of joy,
Forgets his age, and acts again the boy.
What tho' the iron school of War erase
Each milder virtue, and each softer grace;
What tho' the fiend's torpedo-touch arrest
Each gentler, finer impulse of the breast;
Still shall this active principle preside,
And wake the tear to Pity's self denied.
The intrepid Swiss, that guards a foreign shore,
Condemn'd to climb his mountain-cliffs no more,
If chance he hears the song so sweetly wild [n]
Which on those cliffs his infant hours beguil'd,
Melts at the long-lost scenes that round him rise,
And sinks a martyr to repentant sighs.
Ask not if courts or camps dissolve the charm:
Say why VESPASIAN lov'd his Sabine farm; [o]
Why great NAVARRE, when France and freedom bled, [p]
Sought the lone limits of a forest-shed.
When DIOCLETIAN'S self-corrected mind [q]
The imperial fasces of a world resign'd,
Say why we trace the labours of his spade,
In calm Salona's philosophic shade.
Say, when contentious CHARLES renounc'd a throne, [r]
To muse with monks unletter'd and unknown,
What from his soul the parting tribute drew?
What claim'd the sorrows of a last adieu?
The still retreats that sooth'd his tranquil breast,
Ere grandeur dazzled, and its cares oppress'd.
Undamp'd by time, the generous Instinct glows
Far as Angola's sands, as Zembla's snows;
Glows in the tiger's den, the serpent's nest,
On every form of varied life imprest.
The social tribes its choicest influence hail:--
And, when the drum beats briskly in the gale,
The war-worn courser charges at the sound,
And with young vigour wheels the pasture round.
Oft has the aged tenant of the vale
Lean'd on his staff to lengthen out the tale;
Oft have his lips the grateful tribute breath'd,
From sire to son with pious zeal bequeath'd.
When o'er the blasted heath the day declin'd,
And on the scath'd oak warr'd the winter-wind;
When not a distant taper's twinkling ray
Gleam'd o'er the furze to light him on his way;
When not a sheep-bell sooth'd his listening ear,
And the big rain-drops told the tempest near;
Then did his horse the homeward track descry, [s]
The track that shunn'd his sad, inquiring eye;
And win each wavering purpose to relent,
With warmth so mild, so gently violent,
That his charm'd hand the careless rein resign'd,
And doubts and terrors vanish'd from his mind.
Recall the traveller, whose alter'd form
Has borne the buffet of the mountain-storm;
And who will first his fond impatience meet?
His faithful dog's already at his feet!
Yes, tho' the porter spurn him from the door,
Tho' all, that knew him, know his face no more,
His faithful dog shall tell his joy to each,
With that mute eloquence which passes speech.--
And see, the master but returns to die!
Yet who shall bid the watchful servant fly?
The blasts of heav'n, the drenching dews of earth,
The wanton insults of unfeeling mirth,
These, when to guard Misfortune's sacred grave,
Will firm Fidelity exult to brave.
Led by what chart, transports the timid dove
The wreaths of conquest, or the vows of love?
Say, thro' the clouds what compass points her flight?
Monarchs have gaz'd, and nations bless'd the sight.
Pile rocks on rocks, bid woods and mountains rise,
Eclipse her native shades, her native skies;--
'Tis vain! thro' Ether's pathless wilds she goes,
And lights at last where all her cares repose.
Sweet bird! thy truth shall Harlem's walls attest, [t]
And unborn ages consecrate thy nest.
When, with the silent energy of grief,
With looks that ask'd, yet dar'd not hope relief,
Want, with her babes, round generous Valour clung,
To wring the slow surrender from his tongue,
'Twas thine to animate her closing eye;
Alas! 'twas thine perchance the first to die,
Crush'd by her meagre hand, when welcom'd from the sky.
Hark! the bee winds her small but mellow horn, [u]
Blithe to salute the sunny smile of morn.
O'er thymy downs she bends her busy course,
And many a stream allures her to its source.
'Tis noon, 'tis night. That eye so finely wrought,
Beyond the search of sense, the soar of thought.
Now vainly asks the scenes she left behind;
Its orb so full, its vision so confin'd!
Who guides the patient pilgrim to her cell?
Who bids her soul with conscious triumph swell?
With conscious truth retrace the mazy clue
Of varied scents, that charm'd her as she flew?
Hail, MEMORY, hail! thy universal reign
Guards the least link of Being's glorious chain.