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 Ebenezer Elliott:

Poems & articles

Last poem (untitled) 

Woman's Mission

The People's Anthem

Sonnets:

In These Days

John

Poet vs.  Parson

Trees at Brimham

Powers of the Sonnet

Toy of the Titans!

Fountains Abbey

Battle Song

Plaint

The Pilgrim Fathers

ESSAY: The Character of Burns.




Last Poem (Untitled)


Thy notes, sweet Robin, soft as dew,
    Heard soon or late, are dear to me;
To music I could bid adieu,
                But not to thee.

When from my eyes this lifeful throng
    Has passed away, no more to lie;
Then, Autumn's primrose, Robin's song,
                Return to me.

――――♦――――

Woman's Mission


What highest prize hath woman won
In science, or in art?
What mightiest work, by woman done,
Boasts city, field, or mart?
'She hath no Raphael!'  Painting saith;
'No Newton!'  Learning cries;
'Show us her steam-ship! her Macbeth!
Her thought-won victories!'

Wait, boastful man!  though worthy are
Thy deeds, when thou are true;
Things worthier still, and holier far,
Our sisters yet will do;
For this the worth of woman shows,
On every peopled shore,
That still as man in wisdom grows,
He honors her the more.

Oh, not for wealth, or fame, or power,
Hath man's meek angel striven,
But, silent as the growing flower,
To make of earth a heaven!
And in her garden of the sun
Heaven's brightest rose shall bloom;
For woman's best is unbegun!
Her advent yet to come! 

――――♦――――

The People's Anthem


WHEN wilt Thou save the people?
         O God of mercy!  when?  
Not kings and lords, but nations!
         Not thrones and crowns, but men! 
Flowers of Thy heart, O God, are they!
Let them not pass, like weeds, away!
Their heritage a sunless day!
                  God save the people! 

Shall crime bring crime for ever,
         Strength aiding still the strong?  
Is it Thy will, O Father!
         That man shall toil for wrong?  
"No!" say Thy mountains; "No!" Thy skies;
"Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs."
                  God save the people!

When whilt thou save the people?
         O God of mercy!  when?  
The people, Lord!  the people!
         Not thrones and crowns, but men! 
God save the people!  Thine they are;
Thy children, as Thy angels fair;
Save them from bondage and despair!
                  God save the people!;

――――♦――――

In these days .  .  .
 


In these days, every mother's son or daughter
Writes verse, which no one reads except the writer,
Although, uninked, the paper would be whiter,
And worth, per ream, a hare, when you have caught her.
Hundreds of unstaunched Shelleys daily water
Unanswering dust; a thousand Wordsworths scribble;
And twice a thousand Corn Law Rhymers dribble 
Rhymed prose, unread.  Hymners of fraud and slaughter,
By cant called other names, alone find buyers—
Who buy, but read not.  "What a loss in paper,"
Groans each immortal of the host of sighers!
"What profanation of the midnight taper
In expirations vile!  But I write well,
And wisely print.  Why don't my poems sell?"

――――♦――――

John .  .  .
 


John.  In the sound of that rebellious word
There is brave music.  Jack, and Jacobin,
Are vulgar terms; law-linked to shame and sin,
They have a twang of Jack the Hangman's cord:
Yet John hath merit which can well afford
To be called Jack's.  By life's strange offs and ons!
Glory hath had great dealings with the Johns,
Since history first awaked where fable snored.
John Cade, John Huss, John Hampden, and John Knox!
Ay, these were the names of fellows who had will.
John Wilson's name, far sounded, sounds not ill;
But how unlike John Milton's or John Locke's!
John Bright, like Locke and Milton, scorns paid sloth;
And Johnson might have liked to gibbet both.

――――♦――――

Poet vs.  Parson


A hireling's wages to the priest are paid;
While lives and dies, in want and rags, the bard! 
But preaching ought to be its own reward,
And not a sordid, if an honest trade. 
Paul, labouring proudly with his hands, arrayed
Regenerated hearts in peace and love;
And when, with power, they preached the mystic dove,
Penn, Barclay, Clarkson, asked not Mammon's aid. 
As, for its own sake, poetry is sweet
To poets—so, on tasks of mercy bound,
Religion travels with unsandaled feet,
Making the flinty desert holy ground;
And never will her triumph be complete
While one paid pilgrim upon earth is found.

――――♦――――

Trees at Brimham


Gnarled oak and holly!  stone-cropped like the stone! 
Are ye of it, or is it part of you? 
Your union strange is marvellously true,
And makes the granite which I stand upon
Seem like the vision of an empire gone,
Gone, yet still present, though it never was
Save as a shadow,—let the shadow pass! 
So perish human glories, every one! 
But, rocks!  ye are not shadows; trees!  ye cast
The Almighty's shadow over the homeward bee,
His name on Brimham!  yea, the coming blast
Beneath his curtains reads it here with me,
And pauses not to number marvels past
But speeds the thunder on over land and sea. 

――――♦――――

Powers of the Sonnet


Why should the tiny harp be chained to themes
In fourteen lines, with pedant rigour bound? 
The sonnet's might is mightier than it seems:
Witness the bard of Eden lost and found,
Who gave this lute a clarion's battle sound. 
And lo!  another Milton calmly turns
His eyes within, a light that ever burns,
Waiting till Wordsworth's second peer be found! 
Meantime, Fitzadam's mournful music shows
That the scorned sonnet's charm may yet endear
Some long deep strain, or lay of well-tolled woes;
Such as in Byron's couplet brings a tear
To manly cheeks, or over his stanza throws
Rapture and grief, solemnity and fear. 

――――♦――――

Toy of the Titans! 


Toy of the Titans!  Tiny Harp!  again
I quarrel with the order of thy strings,
Established by the law of sonnet-kings,
And used by giants who do nought in vain. 
Was Petrarch, then mistaken in the strain
That charms Italia?  Were they tasteless things
That Milton wrought?  And are they mutterings
Untuneful, that pay Wordsworth with pleased pain? 
No.  But I see that tyrants come of slaves;
That states are won by rush of robbers' steel;
And millions starved and tortured to their graves,
Because as they are taught men think and feel;
Therefore, I change the sonnet's slavish notes
For cheaper music, suited to my thoughts.

――――♦――――

Fountains Abbey


Abbey!  for ever smiling pensively,
Amid her loveliest works!  as if the skies,
Clouded with grief, were arched thy roof to be,
And the tall trees were copied all from thee! 
Mourning thy fortunes—while the waters dim
Flow like the memory of thy evening hymn,
Beautiful in their sorrowing sympathy;
As if they with a weeping sister wept,
Winds name thy name!  But thou, though sad, art calm,
And Time with thee his plighted troth hath kept;
For harebells deck thy brow, and, at thy feet,
Where sleep the proud, the bee and redbreast meet,
Mixing thy sighs with Nature's lonely psalm.

――――♦――――

Battle Song

  
DAY, like our souls, is fiercely dark;
        What then?  'Tis day! 
We sleep no more; the cock crows—hark! 
        To arms!  away! 
They come!  they come!  the knell is rung
        Of us or them;
Wide o'er their march the pomp is flung
        Of gold and gem. 
What collar'd hound of lawless sway,
        To famine dear—
What pension'd slave of Attila,
        Leads in the rear? 
Come they from Scythian wilds afar,
        Our blood to spill? 
Wear they the livery of the Czar? 
        They do his will. 
Nor tassell'd silk, nor epaulet,
        Nor plume, nor torse—
No splendour gilds, all sternly met,
        Our foot and horse. 
But, dark and still, we inly glow,
        Condensed in ire! 
Strike, tawdry slaves, and ye shall know
        Our gloom is fire. 
In vain your pomp, ye evil powers,
        Insults the land;
Wrongs, vengeance, and the Cause are ours,
        And God's right hand! 
Madmen!  they trample into snakes
        The wormy clod! 
Like fire, beneath their feet awakes
        The sword of God! 
Behind, before, above, below,
        They rouse the brave;
Where'er they go, they make a foe,
        Or find a grave.

――――♦――――

Plaint

  
DARK, deep, and cold the current flows
Unto the sea where no wind blows,
Seeking the land which no one knows. 

O'er its sad gloom still comes and goes
The mingled wail of friends and foes,
Borne to the land which no one knows. 

Why shrieks for help yon wretch, who goes
With millions, from a world of woes,
Unto the land which no one knows? 

Though myriads go with him who goes,
Alone he goes where no wind blows,
Unto the land which no one knows. 

For all must go where no wind blows,
And none can go for him who goes;
None, none return whence no one knows. 

Yet why should he who shrieking goes
With millions, from a world of woes,
Reunion seek with it or those? 

Alone with God, where no wind blows,
And Death, his shadow—doom'd, he goes. 
That God is there the shadow shows. 

O shoreless Deep, where no wind blows! 
And thou, O Land which no one knows! 
That God is All, His shadow shows.

――――♦――――

The Pilgrim Fathers.


    A VOICE of grief and anger—
    Of pity mixed with scorn—
Moans o'er the waters of the west,
    Thro' fire and darkness borne;
    And fiercer voices join it—
    A wild triumphant yell!
For England's foes, on ocean slain,
    Have heard it where they fell.

    What is that voice which cometh
    Across the sceptred sea? —
The voice of men who left their homes
    To make their children free.
    Of men whose hearts were torches
    For Freedom's quenchless fire;
Of men whose mothers have brought forth
    The sire of Franklin's sire.

    They speak!  The Pilgrim Fathers
    Speak to ye from their graves!
For earth hath muttered to their bones
    That we are soulless slaves!
    The Bradfords, Carvers, and Penslaws,
    Have heard the worm complain
That less than men oppress the men
    Whose sires were Pym and Vane!

    What saith the voice which boometh
    Athwart the upbraiding waves? —
"Tho' slaves are ye, our sons are free—
    Then why will you be slaves?
    The children of your fathers
    Were Hampden, Sidney, Vane!"
Land of the sires of Washington,
    Bring forth such men again!


――――♦――――
 


 
Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

Volume 1, Issue 1.    June 1850


THE CHARACTER OF BURNS.
BY
EBENEZER ELLIOTT.

PERHAPS no falsehood has been more frequently repeated, than that men of genius are less fortunate and less virtuous than other men; but the obvious truth, that they who attempt little are less liable to failure than they who attempt much, will account for the proverbial good luck of fools.   In our estimate of the sorrows and failings of literary men, we forget that sorrow is the common lot; we forget, too, that the misfortunes and the errors of men of genius are recorded; and that, although their virtues may be utterly forgotten, their minutest faults will be sure to find zealous historians.  And this is as it should be.  Let the dead instruct us.   But slanderers blame, in individuals, what belongs to the species.  "We women," says Clytemnestra in Eschylus, when meditating the murder of her husband, and in reply to an attendant who was praising the gentleness of the sex, "We women are—what we are."  So is it with us all.  Then let every fault of men of genius be known; but let not hypocrisy come with a sponge, and wipe away their virtues.

    Of the misfortunes of Cowper we have all heard, and certainly he was unfortunate, for he was liable to fits of insanity.  But it might be said of him, that he was tended through life by weeping angels.  Warm-hearted friends watched and guarded him with intense and unwearied solicitude; the kindest hearted of the softer sex, the best of the best, seems to have been born only to anticipate his wants.  A glance at the world will show us that his fate, though sad, was not the saddest; for how many madmen are there, and how many men still more unfortunate than madmen, who have no living creature to aid, to soothe, or pity them?  Think of Milton—"blind among enemies!"

    But the saddest incident in the life of Cowper remains to be told.  In his latter days, he was pensioned by the crown—a misfortune which I can forgive to him, but not to destiny.   It is consoling to think, that he was not long conscious of his degradation after the cruel kindness was inflicted on him.   But why did not his friends, if weary of sustaining their kinsman stricken by the arrows of the Almighty, suffer him to perish in a beggars’ mad-house?   Would he had died in a ditch rather than this shadow had darkened over his grave!   Burns was more fortunate in his death than Cowper: he lived self-supported to the end.  Glorious hearted Burns!  Noble, but unfortunate Cowper!

    Burns was one of the few poets fit to be seen.  It has been asserted that genius is a disease—the malady of physical inferiority.  It is certain that we have heard of Pope, the hunchback: of Scott and Byron, the cripples: of the epileptic Julius Caesar, who, it is said, never planned a great battle without going into fits; and of Napoleon, whom a few years of trouble killed: where Cobbett (a man of talent, not of genius) would have melted St. Helena, rather than have given up the ghost with a full belly.  If Pope could have leaped over five-barred gates, he probably would not have written his inimitable sofa-and-lap-dog poetry; but it does not follow that he would not have written the "Essay on Man;" and they who assert that genius is a physical disease, should remember that, as true critics are more rare than true poets, we having only one in our language, William Hazlitt, so, very tall and complete men are as rare as genius itself, a fact well known to persons who have the appointment of constables.  And if it is undeniable that God wastes nothing, and that we, therefore, perhaps seldom find a gigantic body combined with a soul of Æolian tones; it is equally undeniable, that Burns was an exception to the rule—a man of genius, tall, strong, and handsome, as any man that could be picked out of a thousand at a country fair.

    But he was unfortunate, we are told.  Unfortunate!  He was a tow-heckler who cleared six hundred pounds by the sale of his poems: of which sum he left two hundred pounds behind him, in the hands of his brother Gilbert: two facts which prove that he could neither be so unfortunate, nor so imprudent, as we are told he was.  If he had been a mere tow-heckler, I suspect he would never have possessed six hundred shillings.

    But he was imprudent, it is said.  Now, he is a wise man who has done one act that influences beneficially his whole life.  Burns did three such acts—he wrote poetry—he published it; and, despairing of his farm, he became an exciseman.  It is true he did one imprudent act; and, I hope, the young persons around me will be warned by it; he took a farm, without thoroughly understanding the business of farming.

    It does not appear that he wasted or lost any capital, except what he threw away on his farm.   He was unlucky, but not imprudent in giving it up when he did.   Had he held it a little longer, the Bank Restriction Act would have enriched him at the expense of his landlord; but Burns was an honest man, and, therefore, alike incapable of desiring and foreseeing that enormous villainy.

    But he was neglected, we are told.  Neglected!  No strong man in good health can be neglected, if he is true to himself.  For the benefit of the young, I wish we had a correct account of the number of persons who fail of success, in a thousand that resolutely strive to do well.  I do not think it exceeds one per cent.  By whom was Burns neglected?  Certainly not by the people of Scotland: for they paid him the highest compliment that can be paid to an author: they bought his book!   Oh, but he ought to have been pensioned.  Pensioned!  Can not we think of poets without thinking of pensions?  Are they such poor creatures, that they can not earn an honest living?  Let us hear no more of such degrading and insolent nonsense.

    But he was a drunkard, it is said.  I do not mean to exculpate him when I say that he was probably no worse, in that respect, than his neighbours; for he was worse if he was not better than they, the balance being against him; and his Almighty Father would not fail to say to him, "What didst thou with the lent talent?"   But drunkenness, in his time, was the vice of his country—it is so still; and if the traditions of Dumfries are to be depended on, there are allurements which Burns was much less able to resist than those of the bottle; and the supposition of his frequent indulgence in the crimes to which these allurements lead, is incompatible with that of his habitual drunkenness.

 


 

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