Pleasures of Imagination, The - Book 2

When shall the laurel and the vocal string
Resume their honours? When shall we behold
The tuneful tongue, the Promethean hand
Aspire to antient praise? Alas! how faint,
How slow the dawn of beauty and of truth
Breaks the reluctant shades of gothic night
Which yet involve the nations! Long they groan'd
Beneath the furies of rapacious force;
Oft as the gloomy north, with iron swarms
Tempestuous pouring from her frozen caves,
Blasted th' Italian shore, and swept the works
Of liberty and wisdom down the gulph
Of all-devouring night. As long immur'd
In noontide darkness by the glimm'ring lamp,
Each muse and each fair science pined away
The sordid hours: while foul, barbarian hands
And chain'd the soaring pinion down to earth.
At last the muses rose, and spurn'd their bonds,
And, wildly warbling, scatter'd as they flew,
Their blooming wreaths from fair Valclusa's bow'rs
To Arno's myrtle border and the shore
Of soft Parthenope But still the rage
Of dire ambition and gigantic pow'r,
From publick aims and from the busy walk
Of civil commerce, drove the bolder train
Of penetrating science to the cells,
Where studious ease consumes the silent hour,
In shadowy searches, and unfruitful care.
Thus from their guardians torn, the tender arts
Of mimic fancy and harmonious joy,
To priestly domination and the lust
Of lawless courts, their amiable toil
For three inglorious ages have resign'd,
In vain reluctant: and Torquato's tongue
Was tun'd for slavish paeans at the throne
Of tinsel pomp: and Raphael's magic hand
Effus'd its fair creation to inchant
The fond adoring herd in Latian fanes
To blind belief; while on their prostrate necks
The sable tyrant plants his heel secure
But now, behold! the radiant aera dawns,
When freedom's ample fabric, fixed at length
For endless years on Albion's happy shore
In full proportion, once more shall extend
To all the kindred pow'rs of social bliss
A common mansion, a parental roof.
There shall the virtues, there shall wisdom's train,
Their long-lost friends rejoining, as of old,
Embrace the smiling family of arts,
The muses and the graces. Then no more
Shall vice, distracting their delicious gifts
To aims abhorr'd, with high distaste and scorn
Turn from their charms the philosophic eye,
The patriot-bosom: then no more the paths
Of publick care or intellectual toil
Alone by footsteps haughty and severe
In gloomy state be trod: th' harmonious muse
And her persuasive sisters then shall plant
Their shelt'ring laurels o'er the bleak ascent,
And scatter flowers along the rugged way
Armed with the lyre, already have we dar'd
To pierce divine philosophy's retreats,
And teach the muse her lore; already strove
Their long divided honours to unite,
While temp'ring this deep argument we sang
Of truth and beauty . . .

Or shall I mention, where coelestial truth
Her awful light discloses, to bestow
A more majestic pomp on beauty's frame?
For man loves knowledge, and the beams of truth
More welcome touch his understanding's eye,
Than all the blandishments of sound, his ear,
Than all of taste his tongue. Nor ever yet
The melting rainbow's vernal-tinctur'd hues
To me have shown so pleasing, as when first
The hand of science pointed out the path
In which the sun-beams gleaming from the west
Fall on the wat'ry cloud, whose darksome veil
Involves the orient; and that trickling shower
Piercing thro' ev'ry crystalline convex
Of clust'ring dewdrops to their flight oppos'd,
Recoil at length where concave all behind
Th' internal surface of each glassy orb
Repells their forward passage into air;
That thence direct they seek the radiant goal
From which their course began; and, as they strike
In diff'rent lines the gazer's obvious eye,
Assume a diff'rent lustre, thro' the brede
Of colours changing from the splendid rose
To the pale violet's dejected hue.
What, when to raise the meditated scene,
The flame of passion, thro' the struggling soul
Deep-kindled, shows across that sudden blaze
The object of its rapture, vast of size,
With fiercer colours, and a night of shade?
What? like a storm from their capacious bed
The sounding seas o'erwhelming, when the might
Of these eruptions, working from the depth
Of man's strong apprehension, shakes his frame
Ev'n to the base; from every naked sense
Of pain or pleasure dissipating all
Opinion's feeble cov'rings, and the veil
Spun from the cobweb-fashion of the times
To hide the feeling heart? Then nature speaks
Her genuine language, and the words of men,
Big with the very motion of their souls,
Declare with what accumulated force,
Th' impetuous nerve of passion urges on
The native weight and energy of things

Yet by immense benignity inclin'd
To spread around him that primaeval joy
Which fill'd himself, he rais'd his plastic arm,
And sounded thro' the hollow depth of space
The strong, creative mandate. Strait arose
These heavenly orbs, the glad abodes of life
Effusive kindled by his breath divine
Thro' endless forms of being.
Nor content
By one exertion of creative pow'r
His goodness to reveal; thro' every age,
Thro' every moment up the tract of time,
His parent-hand with ever-new increase
Of happiness and virtue has adorn'd
The vast harmonious frame: his parent-hand
From the mute shell-fish gasping on the shore,
To men, to angels, to celestial minds
For ever leads the generations on
To higher scenes of being; while supply'd
From day to day with his enlivening breath,
Inferior orders in succession rise
To fill the void below. As flame ascends,
As bodies to their proper centre move,
As the pois'd ocean to the attracting moon
Obedient swells, and every headlong stream
Devolves its winding waters to the main;
So all things which have life aspire to God,
The sun of being; boundless, unimpair'd,
Center of souls! Nor does the faithful voice
Of Nature cease to prompt their eager steps
Aright; nor is the care of Heaven withheld
From granting to the task proportion'd aid;
That in their stations all may persevere
To climb th' ascent of being, and approach
For ever nearer to the life divine.

Let not this headlong terror quite o'erwhelm
Thy scatter'd powers; nor fatal deem the rage
Of this tormentor, nor his proud assault,
While I am here to vindicate thy toil,
Above the generous question of thy arm.
Brave by thy fears and in thy weakness strong,
This hour he triumphs: but confront his might,
And dare him to the combat, then with ease
Disarm'd and quell'd, his fierceness he resigns
To bondage and to scorn: while thus inur'd
By watchful danger, by unceasing toil,
The immortal mind, superior to his fate,
Amid the outrage of external things,
Firm as the solid base of this great world,
Rests on his own foundations. Blow, ye winds!
Ye waves! ye thunders! roll your tempest on;
Shake, ye old pillars of the marble sky!
Till all its orbs and all its worlds of fire
Be loosen'd from their seats; yet still serene
The unconquer'd mind looks down upon the wreck;
And ever stronger as the storms advance,
Firm thro' the closing ruin holds his way,
Where Nature calls him to the destin'd goal.

Say; when the prospect blackens on thy view,
When rooted from the base, heroic states
Mourn in the dust and tremble at the frown
Of curst ambition; when the pious band
Of youths who fought for freedom and their sires,
Lie side by side in gore; when ruffian pride
Usurps the throne of justice, turns the pomp
Of public power, the majesty of rule,
The sword, the laurel, and the purple robe,
To slavish empty pageants, to adorn
A tyrant's walk, and glitter in the eyes
Of such as bow the knee; when honour'd urns
Of patriots and of chiefs, the awful bust
And storied arch, to glut the coward-rage
Of regal envy, strew the public way
With hallow'd ruins; when the muse's haunt,
The marble porch where wisdom wont to talk
With Socrates or Tully, hears no more,
Save the hoarse jargon of contentious monks,
Or of female superstition's midnight prayer;
When ruthless rapine from the hand of time
Tears the destroying scythe, with surer blow
To sweep the works of glory from their base;
Till desolation o'er the grass-grown street
Expands his raven-wings, and up the wall,
Where senates once the price of monarchs doom'd,
Hisses the gliding snake thro' hoary weeds
That clasp the mouldering column.
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