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The purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books online

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Of prancing steeds, and terrible me!6e,
And dancing plumes, he told: of high proclaim
By pageant herald; victor-garland gay
Bestowed with peerless blush of maiden shame,
Revealing peerless maiden's conscious flame ;
Of honours by spectator kings conferred ;
And royal mandate that the conqueror's fame
Be borne through Christendom, yea, to the beard
Of the swart Soldan, 'mid his sweltering turbanned herd ;


A stately burthen, couched in antique tongue
And magic rhyme, unto his mystic shell
With tuneful voice, the unseen minstrel sung.
But suddenly, his lofty harpings fell
To dirge-like melody ; for smit by spell
Of memory, the bard his heartless foil
On earth, and breath of hope hushed by the knell
Of early death, sung sadly. Dull recoil
His harp seized, next, as if it shrunk from overtoil.

The sorrow-broken songster, soon, to wake
Its chords in wailful cavatina strove : [7]
He sung of the proud, slighted bosom's ache,
Of soul-consuming fires more fierce than love
Or jealousy, of restless hopes that move
Their young possessor to aspirings wild,
Of disappointment's gall when frowns disprove
His smiling day-dreams, till the draught defiled
The deathly chalice tempts the scorn-stung Poet-child !

Sobbings, that heaved as they would rend the heart,
Succeeded, and the lyre was dumb ! Then passed
The shade of fated Chatterton athwart
My path, sad, mournful, slow, with eyes downcast,
And visage ye might emblem by a waste
Of over-prurience, or tropic field
Where luscious fruitage springing thick and fast
Expires of hasty ripeness, ere can yield
To th' taste its sweets, or their rich value be revealed.


The shade evanished from my eager gaze,
Seeking, with haste of heart-galled misanthrope,
Some dark secluded nook of forest-maze.
And, now, came o'er my spirit a grim troop
Of self-accusing thoughts, swift summoned up
By Memory, who, again, with mystic might
Seemed high endowed. How oft, in youth, the dupe
I, also, was, of dreams, and misused flight
Of years, she sternly pictured to my humbled sight.

To manhood, reached before the dreams of youth
Were half relinquished, passed my bodiless
Being, and seemed to sigh, where oft, in truth,
The waking heart had sighed, deep blamefulness
Of indolence beholding, pride's excess,
And thousand errors although inly mourned
Still followed. Then a love-look of distress
Was pictured, telling how one bosom yearned
To bless me, as if still the soul on earth sojourned.-

Anon, a change came o'er my dream. Disposed
In stately length, a twilight avenue
Of trees funebrous suddenly disclosed
I saw, where the tall cypress, ancient yew,
Dark pine, and spreading cedar, as by due
Observance of nice art, like colonnade
Of desert Tadmor, [8] were arranged, and grew
A solemn vista clothed with musing shade
Such as the rapt soul's holiest retrospect might aid.

A monumental form, that meekly glowed
With softest radiance, sadly o'er an urn
Sepulchral, 'neath a lofty cypress, bowed.
Midway, along this sombrous pathway. Lorn
It droop'd, and, voieeless, seemed to tell ' I mourn
'With more than mortal grief;' yet, was such grace
Celestial by that drooping statue worn,
That one desired for ever in that place
To stay and gaze upon its spiritual face.


Enrapt to ecstasy, I gazed till life
Began to fill its breast, and passion shone
Through its unmarbled eyes! Death a vain strife
Essayed, with chilly grasp around her zone,
To hold in sculptured grief that ardent one.
Lo ! high, immortal Love breathed vital power
On her fair limbs, and, with a gentle moan,
She raised her head a monument no more
Of sorrow but, for love, a peerless cynosure !

Her islet shell the burning Lesbian took
From sad repose upon the urn that feigned
To hold the image of her grief, and strook
The matchless chords as one who pain disdained :
Then, proudly, though with tears, she thus complained
Of slighted tenderness, vowing to feed
Her fruitless flame till, spirit disenchained
From torture, her deep constancy its meed
Should find in some blest state for souls by gods decreed :

Phaon ! beloved, unloving Phaon ! thee
The maid enamoured hymns, by pain unchanged
In Hades, as by scorn on earth : on me
Let angry Jove, the Torturer, be avenged
For slighted life, and order disarranged
Of his stern government : woe shall not wrest
Thy image from its throne : never estranged
Shall be her love from Sappho's faithful breast :
She can love on unloved, despised, ache-doomed, unblest !

Ingrate ! I offered thee no vulgar toy,
No mindless, soulless prize : hadst thou my flame
Returned, the passion of a thoughtless boy,
Compared with mine, were like the lustre tame
Of night's pale worm shewn to the sun-lit gem.
Cold, undiscerning clay, thou wast not worth
My love ! Alas ! each winged reproach I aim
At thee back on my soul recoils with birth
Of fond remorse more torturous than woes of earth.



Phaon beloved ! unloving though thou wert,
My love burns on, and shall all pain survive
A deathless flame : my soul lives all-amort
By her own nature, since she doth derive ^
Her essence from intenseness, nor can live
An atom of her life in meek, cold, calm
Indifference. Mystic hopes that in me strive
For utterance ! do ye truly shape the palm
I claim, or doth sick Fancy feign the spirit's balm ?


Fidelity to Nature's impulses
Shall bring, at length, ineffable reward :
They who, all unsubdued, 'gainst miseries
Of scorn and death have waged the combat hard
Shall meet their guerdon : dreams of gifted bard
And visions of gray seer shall be fulfilled :
Torture that long the universe hath marred,
Shall end : of Love and Hate the life-war wild
Shall cease : the discords of the soul for aye be sfilled.


It cannot be that with the Beautiful
Deformity shall ever, envious, blend :
Mercy divine, shall demon Wrath annul,
Love conquer Hate, and glorious goodness bend
Her iris over life till it transcend
The power of Evil, and annihilate
Its sting for ever !

Ardent Lesbian, end
Thy dreams, nor dare Futurity and Fate
To fix, by thy fond wish, in fancied happy state !


Thus broke upon my spirit accents stern,
Haughty, abrupt ; and, forthwith, stood beside
Sappho's soft form a spirit cold and dern
Of aspect, but whose stately, seemly pride
Outspoke the tuneful Roman suicide
Who wooed the Muse to leave her wonted hill,
And tread the plain with philosophic stride,
And, slighting toys, with manly themes to fill
The soul of its own Liberty, Fate, Good, and 111. [9]



Dispel these sanguine dreams ! the proud bard said :
Passion, warm maid, hath seized the heritance
Of Reason in thee : proof hath Nature spread
That strong Necessity rules wide expanse
Of Universe : primeval atoms Chance
May have assorted ; but, once joined, 'tis vain
To dream a separation. Partial glance
On Nature renders thy warm essence fain
To witness unmixed Good begin its ceaseless reign :


But, know, the Universe is perfect, since
Eternal Destiny forbade all germs
Diverse from what exist. Let it convince
Short-sighted murmurers at the mingled swarms
Of being, that all which is is best, though storms
And darkness, death and havoc, mix with peace
And radiance, life and love ; since each conforms
To high Necessity. Let passion cease,
Lesbian, to dazzle thee with fraudful garishness.

So spake Lucretius ; but, with look undimmed
Of intellectual ardour, Sappho thus
Rethemed her yearning thought :

Guesses sublimed

By doubt, rather than argument abstruse
And wise, thou utter'st, incredulous
Epicurean ! Failing to foreknow
The future, and with haste incurious
Glancing at past and present, thou art slow
To mark how Nature doth her bright intents foreshow.


Weakly, not wisely, Mind doth refuge take
In greater mystery from less : though faith
In government of kindly gods forsake
The soul full oft, beholding pain and death
Of fairest things endowed with lease of breath,
Yet seems it blind procedure to conclude
Our puzzled survey with a word that saith
The gods are helpless as ourselves, and feud
Of Good with Evil hath by law of Fate ensued :



Fate, or Necessity : Bard, what is this
But Ign'rance veiled in simulance of words ?
Nature's strange strife must be because it is ;
Or, is because it must be : dull discords
Of reason ! If its help, indeed, affords
No sager explications of the cause
Of things, sterile its rules my soul regards,
And cleaves to Phantasy, from which she draws
Faith more ennobling to interpret Nature's laws.


The soul loathes Pain, Deformity, Decay :
Nature hath made them loathsome to her sense :
Therefore, they shall not always be. Bard, say,
What proves this truthless ? Wordy eloquence
Of doubt compriseth all the proof from whence
Thou dost affirm Necessity ; and why
Should spirits slight the cheering evidence
Of their own sympathies with Nature's high
Proclaim, to embrace clouds of dull dubiety ?


The sanguine Lesbian ceased ; and thus replied
The philosophic bard :

Couldst thou efface

My doubts, rapt, tuneful one, to list thee chide
With this sweet earnestness and winning grace [10]
Long season would I yield. A resting-place
My spirit yearns to find within the veil
Of Truth but yearns in vain. We still but chase
Shadows, and evermore the substance fail
To find, of Truth : our clearest light is mystical.


Deformity and discord war with fair
And lovely shapes throughout the universe :
What wonder, then, if gifted spirits share
This wishful trust that Good shall 111 disperse
Victorious, yet ? I own, 'tis not through fierce
Impetuous desire, but by innate
Devotion to the Beautiful to hearse
All pain in joy woe, wrong, to' annihilate
Thy essence, Lesbian, builds this happy after-slate :
9 K



It is the native yearning of the Mind :
The soul attuned to harmony and love
Longs from the chains of discord to unbind
All thought and being. Yet, I view, enwove
Through Nature, laws by which all things comrnove
Despite our choice, misnamed, or joy or woe
Of sentient creatures : laws it doth behove
High Powers to conserve, lest men below,
Judging them null, should cease within their fanes to bow.


Or, if uncaused the Universe exists
Mystery beyond the plummet of our thought !
Who, then, shall sperse the dark eternal mists
That veil all being ? who break the irksome knot
With which Necessity binds fast the lot
Of every sensuous thing exposed to death,
And pain, and hate ? who cancel the huge blot
Of suffering from life ? The shadow fleetu
Of Truth ! Spirits,* we wander in a mystic path !


How know we whether it be fair and good
And godlike to desire plenipotence
Of love, whereby to pour a bounteous flood
Upon the universe, and fill all sense
And thought with joy, or, whether vehemence
Of folly be the fitter name whereby
To note our wish ? Unknowing indigence
With all our toil- beggars the soul : we try
In vain to grasp Truth's substance : all is phantasy f


If it were fair and good to bless all thought
And life with joy, why was not Nature clad
In never-changing smiles from birth ? why fraught
For ages thus, her life with suffering sad,
With pain and agony ? Will Evil add,
By mystic providence, unto the sum
Of everlasting Good ? What rapture glad
Would fill the soul, what blest delirium
Of joy, could she burst through the veil that hides her doom !



But all is doubt, and dark : we struggle on
Like limed birds : still captive, but the strife
Maintain, in trust that freedom shall be won :
How vain may prove our trust ! Spirits, what if
Our ignorance have misnamed the hues of Life
Evil and Good ? From whence, then, shall we earn
Knowledge to unknow our strange errors ? Rife
With mystery all ay, all appears ; and yearn
For ever, vainly may the soul pure Truth to learn !


Lucretius ceased : and dark debate and doubt
Brooded on brows of many a habitant
Of that strange clime who now, in wondering rout

Listed the theme.

Spiritual pursuivant

Or herald ghost, meanwhile, with ministrant
Aspect approached ; and him thus greet the crowd :
Hail bard who didst the world-waged victory chaunt
Of Ccesar and Pharsalia ! message-browed
Thy visage seems: we listen: thy full thoughts unshroud!


High-gifted spirits of self-exiled land,
Replied the soul of Lucan ; Minds, that erst
On earth caught inspiration from the grand
And beautiful in Nature, and conversed
With her Divinity until she nursed
Within ye thoughts and forms of glorious might
And loveliness, which in their fulness burst
Upon the world suffusing Man with bright
Ecstatic visions of the reign of Truth and Right,


I come with embassage from high divan
Of spirits who on earth held sceptred sway
Or civic honour. Deep debate began
Their essences, of late, if throned-array
And pomps, in Hades, ceaseless state pourtray
Of monarchy on earth, or phantoms build
Their regal seats, and mythic shapes display
Lessons of change, that dynasts unbeguiled
May be, of pride which hath, perchance, their souls defiled :

K 2



Exalted Hellene spirits challenge proof
Of natural kingship ; while a haughty host
Of Thrones contend, beneath cerulean roof,
For ceaseless rule of princes. To their coast
The court of sceptred suicides each ghost
Inviteth of your king-soulled lineage,
That ye the quest may aid which long hath tossed
Hades in doubt ; and blissful heritage
Of Truth spirits may win. Ye have my embassage.

We come, we come ! with rapturous minstrelsy
Of many a mystic harp the Poet-choir
Respond: we come to join the jubilee
Of thought ! The true-born children of the lyre
High emprise of the soul can never tire.
To guage the depths of doubt ; the heights to scale
Of phantasy ; the strength of passion's fire
To prove ; to labour on, though footsteps fail
Of Mind in Mystery's path ; our essence shall not quail !

To dare to think our rightful attribute

We claim. What though we vainly thread the maze

Of thought ? Ours be the banquet of dispute

The feast of argument. And if the ways

Of dark Necessity still shun our gaze

Better in vain to search, than irk and pine

In low ignoble sloth !

Receding rays

Shed the rapt choir. From Phantasy's confine
Slowly crept back the soul unto her clayey shrine.


tl] Stanza 3. " The barb-leaved hart's-tongue." I find
that I have mis-named the Arrow-head, or Sagittaria sagittifolia
of Linnaeus. The plant is common in Lincolnshire streams ;
arid we were wont to call it the hart's tongue. It is, says
Sowerby (vol. ii. p. 84), "one of the most beautiful orna-
ments of our rivers, pools, and ditches, throughout England.
Its flowers are short-lived, the petals soon falling off ; but
there is a succession of them through the months of July and

[2] Stanza 7." Three-thrum," the purr of the cat when
pleased. I give the word by which it is described in old
Lincolnshire ; but know not whether it be common to the
peasantry of other districts.

[3J Stanza 9. " Grunsel" or ground-sill, a word common
in Lindsey, and. other districts, for threshokl, Milton has
made it classical, in his description of Dagon,

' Who mourned in earnest, when the captive ark
' Maimed Ids brute image, head and hands lopt off
' In his own temple, on the grunsel edge,
' Where he fell flat and shamed his worshippers."

Parad. Lost, Boofc 1, vv. 458461.

[4J and [5] Stanzas 11 and 12. "This dear, dear land,"
&c. Dying speech of Gaunt . Shakspere, Rich. II. Act 2.

[6] Stanza 23. "Derry-down." I read, somewhere, when
a boy, that these words, so well known as the burthen of an
old song, had descended to us from the Druids, with whom they


made part of the chorus sung as they went to gather misletoe
from the oak, at Yule-tide ; but have searched various ety-
mologies in the British Museum Library, without being able
to furnish the reader with my authority. All that I, at pre-
sent, discover is, that derry is understood to signify " the place
of oaks."

[7] Stanza 30. "Cavatina." A musical term applied to
airs of various character ; but, in which there is some repe-
tition of the melody.

[8] Stanza 34. " Tadmor" In the wilderness, as it is called
in the Old Testament, is understood to be Palmyra.

[9.] Stanza 43. In an age when all metaphysical poetry is
deemed dull and stupid, ' it would not be easy to create
curiosity respecting the contents of the superb poem on
" The Nature of Things," by Lucretius. Readers of the Latin
classics usually regard it as valuable, chiefly for its masterly
embodiment of the principles of the Epicurean philosophy ;
but Dr. Mason Good (whose splendidly-annotated version, I
have seen, for the first time, in the British Museum Library,
since liberation), opens his preface with this glowing, and
more universal, eulogy of the Roman philosopher-poet :

" There is no poem within the circle of the ancient classics,
more entitled to attention, than " The Nature of Tilings," by
Titus Lucretius Carus. It unfolds to us the rudiments of
that philosophy, which, under the plastic hands of Gassendi
and Newton, has, at length, obtained an eternal triumph over
every other hypothesis of the Grecian schools ; it is com-
posed in language the most captivating and perspicuous that
can result from an equal combination of simplicity and polish,
is adorned with episodes the most elegant and impressive,
and illustrated by all the treasures of natural history. It is-
the Pierian spring from which Virgil drew his happiest
draughts of inspiration ; and constitutes, in point of time, as
of excellence, the first didactic poem of antiquity."

[10] Stanza 50.^-" Sweet earucstuess and winning


I entreat the reader to understand these phrases as an as-
cription to Sappho's real power as a poetess, not as a cha-
racteristic of the manner in which I have made her appa-
rition discourse Ancient and modern critics without number
Longinus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Horace himself,
Vossius, Hoffman, Addison, &c., &c., have paid the highest
tribute to the poetical excellence of the fair suicide of Lesbos ;
but, perhaps, a more finished and eloquent eulogy on her lyric
worth is not to be found in the compass of a few words, than
in the following extract from the 9th vol. of the Erwydopcedia

" There are few intellectual treasures, the loss of which is
more deeply to be regretted than that of the works of this
poetess ; for the remnants which have reached us certainly
display genius of the highest order ; they are rich even to
exuberance, and yet directed .by the most exquisite taste.
In these most delicious of love-songs the tide of passion
*seems deep and exhaustless ; it flows rapidly yet gently on,
while the most sparkling fancy is ever playing over it ; and
the words themselves seem to participate in the sentiments
which they develope. It is a mistake to imagine that the
fragments of Sappho are nothing more than the eloquent
expressions of amatory feeling ; they are really verses of high
imagination, which renders them as beautiful as they are
intense, and, in the opinion of some writers, raises them even
to the sublime."




HAIL eldest Night ! Mother of human fear !
Vague solitude where infant Man first felt
His native helplessness ! Beneath whose drear
And solemn coverture he, trembling, knelt
To what in thy vast womb of darkness dwelt
Unseen, unknown ! but, with the waking Sun,
Shouting, sprang up to see glad Nature melt
In smiles, triumphantly his Joy-God run
Up the blue sky, and Light's bright reign again begun !

Hail starless darkness ! sterile silence hail !
Would that o'er Chaos thy wide rule had been
Perpetual, and reptile Man's birth-wail
Had ne'er been heard ; or, over huge, obscene,
And monstrous births of ocean or terrene
For ever thou hadst brooded ; so that Light
Had ne'er mocked mortals, nor the morning sheen
Broke thy stern sigil to give baleful sight
To Man whose look upon his fellow is a blight!


Season of sepulchred and secret sin !
Beneath thy pall what vileness doth Man hide,
From age to age, the moral Harlequin
Who dons the saint to play the fratricide.
Villainy's jubilee! Crime's revel-tide!
Whose archives opened would yon judge proclaim
More criminal than the thief he lately tried,
Yon priest an atheist, and hold up to shame
Myriads of knaves writ ' honest' in the roll of Fame !


Mute witness of frail beauty's primal wreck !
Carnival hour of gray-haired Lechery !
Foul harvest-time of her who sits to beck
O'er her cursed threshold yon boy-debauchee,
The bawd, all palsy-twitched, whose feignful glee,
When he beholds her face upon the morrow,
With sobered brain, will freeze his jollity
To speechless horror, till he fain would borrow
Thy veil, once more, to hide his young remorseful sorrow t


High noon of the adulterer who doth ask
Of yawning hell to triple thy black hour,
That he, unshooned, may safely, 'neath thy mask,
Reach the unfastened, guilt-frequented door,
And steep his soul in sin unto the core !
Mirth-bringer to the thief grown hunger-fell,
Who laughs to clutch the miser's coffered store,
And, rendered shrewd by law, with smothered yell,
Sends the rich shrivelled fool where he no tales can tell !


Thou great conspirator with men of blood
To curtain murder till the guilty proof
In some lone cave or unfrequented wood,
From man's short-sighted vigilance aloof,
Can be earth'd up ! Oh ! if the ebon woof
Thou stretchest o'er the land could now be changed
Into a mirror, how the poor dupe's scoff'
Would burst upon his teachers seen estranged
From rules they taught ! How he would burn to be avenged !


-At base pretensions unto comely worth,
At foul Hypocrisy's true features shewn,
How would the universal curse burst forth !
Hah ! how I doat ! Am I an idiot grown
In the dank dungeon? Is not the World known
Unto Itself to be a stage of cheats,
Where, whoso plays with skill, if he depone
That each sworn brother-knave's deceits
Are fair, the skilful knave a world- voiced plaudit greets ':'



And, were thy pall, dim Night, asunder torn,
And ugliest portraits thou conceal'st laid bare,
For worship men would soon exchange their scorn.
With flagrant front do not Day's vices glare,
And men that they are virtues sleekly swear ?
Darkness ! still hold thy provident control
O'er half man's life, that some thy cloak may wear
To sin with shame : more seemly 'tis than stole
Of sanctity that, hides, by day, the filthy soul.

Darkness ! thy sceptre still maintain, for thou
Some scanty sleep to England's slaves dost bring :
Leicester's starved stockingers their misery now
Forget; and Manchester's pale tenderling
The famished factory-child its suffering
A while exchangeth for a pleasant dream !
Dream on, poor infant wretch ! Mammon may wring
From out thy tender heart, at the first gleam
Of light, the life-drop, and exhaust its feeble stream !

Darkness ! still rule that the Lancastrian hive
Of starveling slaves may bless thee : for ev'n they,
With all their wretchedness, desire to live!
Ay, men desire to live to whom the day
Will bring again their woman's-task to stay
At squalid home, and play the babe's meek nurse
Till sound of factory-bell, when they away
Must haste, and hold the suckling to life's source,
Within the rails ! Upon their tyrants be my curse !


Nay, rather light that curse on ye, yourselves,
Ye timid, crouching crew ! Is there no heart
Among ye stung to see the puny elves,
His children, daily die ; his wife dispart
Her hair, and glare in madness ? Doth the smart
Of degradation cease to rankle in your veins ?
Faint, though ye be, and feeble, will none start
Unto his feet, and cry, while aught remains
In him of life 'Death ! or deliverance from our chains' !'


Cowards ! do ye believe all men are like
Yourselves ? that craven fear doth paralyze
Each English arm until it dares not strike
A tyrant ? that no voice could exorcize
Old Tyler's spirit, and impel to rise
Millions omnipotent in vengeful ire ?
Fool, that I am ! are there not hungry spies
On every hand, who watch, for dirty hire, [fire ?
Each glance of every eye that glows with Freedom'


Frost ! while I rave in darkness, thou dost feel
The sun in yon far southern felon-land;

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Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 9 of 20)