To Charles Cowden Clarke
Oft have you seen a swan superbly frowning, And with proud breast his own white shadow crowning; He slants his neck beneath the waters bright So silently, it seems a beam of light Come from the galaxy: anon he sports,-- With outspread wings the Naiad Zephyr courts, Or ruffles all the surface of the lake In striving from its crystal face to take Some diamond water drops, and them to treasure In milky nest, and sip them off at leisure. But not a moment can he there insure them, Nor to such downy rest can he allure them; For down they rush as though they would be free, And drop like hours into eternity. Just like that bird am I in loss of time, Whene'er I venture on the stream of rhyme; With shatter'd boat, oar snapt, and canvass rent, I slowly sail, scarce knowing my intent; Still scooping up the water with my fingers, In which a trembling diamond never lingers.
By this, friend Charles, you may full plainly see Why I have never penn'd a line to thee: Because my thoughts were never free, and clear, And little fit to please a classic ear; Because my wine was of too poor a savour For one whose palate gladdens in the flavour Of sparkling Helicon:--small good it were To take him to a desert rude, and bare. Who had on Baiae's shore reclin'd at ease, While Tasso's page was floating in a breeze That gave soft music from Armida's bowers, Mingled with fragrance from her rarest flowers: Small good to one who had by Mulla's stream Fondled the maidens with the breasts of cream; Who had beheld Belphoebe in a brook, And lovely Una in a leafy nook, And Archimago leaning o'er his book: Who had of all that's sweet tasted, and seen, From silv'ry ripple, up to beauty's queen; From the sequester'd haunts of gay Titania, To the blue dwelling of divine Urania: One, who, of late, had ta'en sweet forest walks With him who elegantly chats, and talks-- The wrong'd Libert as,--who has told you stories Of laurel chaplets, and Apollo's glories; Of troops chivalrous prancing; through a city, And tearful ladies made for love, and pity: With many else which I have never known. Thus have I thought; and days on days have flown Slowly, or rapidly--unwilling still For you to try my dull, unlearned quill. Nor should I now, but that I've known you long; That you first taught me all the sweets of song: The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine; What swell'd with pathos, and what right divine: Spenserian vowels that elope with ease, And float along like birds o'er summer seas; Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness; Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve's fair slenderness. Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly Up to its climax and then dying proudly? Who found for me the grandeur of the ode, Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load? Who let me taste that more than cordial dram, The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram? Shew'd me that epic was of all the king, Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn's ring? You too upheld the veil from Clio's beauty, And pointed out the patriot's stern duty; The might of Alfred, and the shaft of Tell; The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell Upon a tyrant's head. Ah! had I never seen, Or known your kindness, what might I have been? What my enjoyments in my youthful years, Bereft of all that now my life endears? And can I e'er these benefits forget? And can I e'er repay the friendly debt? No, doubly no;--yet should these rhymings please, I shall roll on the grass with two-fold ease: For I have long time been my fancy feeding With hopes that you would one day think the reading Of my rough verses not an hour misspent; Should it e'er be so, what a rich content! Some weeks have pass'd since last I saw the spires In lucent Thames reflected:--warm desires To see the sun o'er peep the eastern dimness, And morning shadows streaking into slimness Across the lawny fields, and pebbly water; To mark the time as they grow broad, and shorter; To feel the air that plays about the hills, And sips its freshness from the little rills; To see high, golden corn wave in the light When Cynthia smiles upon a summer's night, And peers among the cloudlet's jet and white, As though she were reclining in a bed Of bean blossoms, in heaven freshly shed. No sooner had I stepp'd into these pleasures Than I began to think of rhymes and measures: The air that floated by me seem'd to say "Write! thou wilt never have a better day." And so I did. When many lines I'd written, Though with their grace I was not oversmitten, Yet, as my hand was warm, I thought I'd better Trust to my feelings, and write you a letter. Such an attempt required an inspiration Of a peculiar sort,--a consummation;-- Which, had I felt, these scribblings might have been Verses from which the soul would never wean: But many days have past since last my heart Was warm'd luxuriously by divine Mozart; By Arne delighted, or by Handel madden'd; Or by the song of Erin pierc'd and sadden'd: What time you were before the music sitting, And the rich notes to each sensation fitting. Since I have walk'd with you through shady lanes That freshly terminate in open plains, And revel'd in a chat that ceased not When at night-fall among your books we got: No, nor when supper came, nor after that,-- Nor when reluctantly I took my hat; No, nor till cordially you shook my hand Mid-way between our homes:--your accents bland Still sounded in my ears, when I no more Could hear your footsteps touch the grav'ly floor. Sometimes I lost them, and then found again; You chang'd the footpath for the grassy plain. In those still moments I have wish'd you joys That well you know to honour:--"Life's very toys With him," said I, "will take a pleasant charm; It cannot be that ought will work him harm." These thoughts now come o'er me with all their might:-- Again I shake your hand,--friend Charles, good night.