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Let empires fall; but ne'er shall ye disgrace
Your noble birthright, ye that occupy
Your council-seats beneath the open sky,
On Sarnen's mount, there judge if fit and right,
In simple democratic majesty:
Soft breezes fanning your rough brows—the might
And purity of nature spread before your sight!
From this appropriate court, renowned Lucerne
Calls me to pace her honoured bridge that cheers
The patriot's heart with pictures rude and stern,
An uncouth chronicle of glorious years.
Like portraiture, from loftier source, endears
That work of kindred frame, which spans the lake
Just at the point of issue, where it fears
The form and motion of a stream to take;
Where it begins to stir, jv/ voiceless as a snake.
Volumes of sound, from the cathedral rolled,
This long-roofed vista penetrate—but see,
One after one, its tablets, that unfold
The whole design of Scripture history;
From the first tasting of the fatal tree,
Till the bright star appeared in eastern skies,
Announcing One was born mankind to free;
H is acts, his wrongs, his final sacrifice;
Lessons for every heart, a Bible for all eyes.
Our pride misleads, our timid likings kill.
Long may these homely works devised of old,
These simple efforts of Helvetian skill,
Aid, with congenial influence, to uphold
The state, the country's destiny to mould;
Turning, for them who pass, the common dust
Of servile opportunity to gold;
Filling the soul with sentiments august—
The beautiful, the brave, the holy, and the just!
No more; Time halts not in his noiseless march—
Nor turns, nor winds, as doth the liquid flood;
Life slips from underneath us, like that arch
Of airy workmanship whereon we stood,
Earth stretched below, heaven in our neighbourhood.
Go forth, my little book! pursue thy way;
Go forth, and please the gentle and the good;
Nor be a whisper stifled, if it say
That treasures, yet untouched, may grace some future lay.
SONNETS DEDICATED TO
CALAIS, AUGUST, 1802.
TIT AIR star of evening, splendour of the west,
Star of my country !—on the horizons brink Thou hangest, stooping, as might seem, to sink On England's bosom : yet well pleased to rest, Meanwhile, and be to her a glorious crest Conspicuous to the nations. Thou, I think, Shouldst be my country's emblem; and shouldst wink, Bright star! with laughter on her banners, dressed In thy fresh beauty. There I that dusky spot Beneath thee, it is England; there it lies. Blessings be on you both ! one hope, one lot, One life, one glory! I with many a fear For my dear country, many heartfelt sighs, Among men who do not love her, linger here.
Is it a reed that's shaken by the wind, Or what is it that ye go forth to see? Lords, lawyers, statesmen, squires of low degree, Men known, and men unknown, sick, lame, and blind, Post forward all, like creatures of one kind, With first-fruit offerings crowd to bend the knee
In France, before the new-born majesty.
Tis ever thus. Ye men of prostrate mind!
A seemly reverence may be paid to power;
But that's a loyal virtue, never sown
In haste, nor springing with a transient shower:
When truth, when sense, when liberty were flown,
What hardship had it been to wait an hour?
Shame on you, feeble heads, to slavery prone!
TO A FRIEND, NEAR CALAIS.
August 7, 1802.
Jones! while from Calais southward you and I
Urged our accordant steps, this public way
Streamed with the pomp of a too-credulous day,
When faith was pledged to new-born Liberty:
A homeless sound of joy was in the sky;
The antiquated earth, as one might say,
Beat like the heart of man: songs, garlands, play,
Banners, and happy faces, far and nigh!
And now, sole register that these things were,
Two solitary greetings have I heard,
'Good niorrow, citizen!' a hollow word,
As if a dead man spake it! Yet despair
Touches me not, though pensive as a bird
Whose vernal coverts winter hath laid bare.
I Geieved for Bonaparte, with a vain
And an unthinking grief! for, who aspires
To genuine greatness but from just desires,
And knowledge such as lie could never gain?
'Tis not in battles that from youth we train
The governor who must be wise and good,
And temper with the sternness of the brain
Thoughts motherly, and meek as womanhood.
Wisdom doth live with children round her knees:
Books, leisure, perfect freedom, and the talk
Man holds with week-day man in the hourly walk
Of the mind's business: these are the degrees
By which true sway doth mouut; this is the stalk
True power doth grow on; and her rights are these.
Festivals have I seen that were not names:
This is young Bonaparte's natal day,*
And his is henceforth an established sway,
Consul for life. With worship France proclaims
Her approbation, and with pomps and games.
Heaven grant that other cities may be gay!
Calais is not; and I have bent my way
To the sea-coast, noting that each man frames
His business as he likes. Far other show
My youth here witnessed, in a prouder time;
The senselessness of joy was then sublime!
Happy is he, who, caring not for pope,
Consul, or king, can sound himself to know
The destiny of man, and live in hope.
Look now on that adventurer who hath paid His vows to Fortune; who, in cruel slight Of virtuous hope, of liberty, and right, Hath followed wheresoe'er a way was made By the blind goddess; ruthless, undismayed; And so hath gained at length a prosperous height Round which the elements of worldly might Beneath his haughty feet, like clouds, are laid! Oh, joyless power that stands by lawless force! Curses are his dire portion, scorn and hate,
• Written at Calais, August 15th. 1802.