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Time was when, settling on thy leaf, a fly
Could shake thee to the root-and time has been
When tempests could not. At thy firmest age
Thou hadst within thy bole solid contents
That might have ribb'd the sides and plank'd the
Of some flagg'd admiral; and tortuous arms,
The shipwright's darling treasure, didst present
To the four-quarter'd winds, robust and bold,
Warp'd into tough knee-timber, many a load!*
But the axe spared thee. In those thriftier days
Oaks fell not, hewn by thousands, to supply
The bottomless demands of contest waged
For senatorial honours. Thus to time
The task was left to whittle thee away
With his sly sithe, whose ever-nibbling edge,
Noiseless, an atom, and an atom more,
Disjoining from the rest, has, unobserved,
Achieved a labour which had, far and wide,
By man perform'd, made all the forest ring.
Embowell'd now, and of thy ancient self
Possessing nought but the scoop'd rind, that seems
A huge throat calling to the clouds for drink,
Which it would give in rivulets to thy root,
Thou temptest none, but rather much forbidd'st
The feller's toil, which thou couldst ill requite.
Yet is thy root sincere, sound as the rock,
* Knee-timber is found in the crooked arms of oak, which, by reason of their distortion, are easily adjusted to the angle formed where the deck and the ship's sides meet.
A quarry of stout spurs and knotted fangs,
Which, crook'd into a thousand whimsies, clasp
The stubborn soil, and hold thee still erect.
So stands a kingdom, whose foundation yet Fails not, in virtue and in wisdom laid, Though all the superstructure, by the tooth Pulverized of venality, a shell
Stands now, and semblance only of itself!
Thine arms have left thee. Winds have rent
Long since, and rovers of the forest wild
With bow and shaft have burnt them.
A splinter'd stump bleach'd to a snowy white;
And some memorial none where once they grew.
Yet life still lingers in thee, and puts forth
Proof not contemptible of what she can,
Even where death predominates. The spring
Finds thee not less alive to her sweet force
Than yonder upstarts of the neighbouring wood,
So much thy juniors, who their birth received
Half a millennium since the date of thine.
But since, although well qualified by age
To teach, no spirit dwells in thee, nor voice
May be expected from thee, seated here
On thy distorted root, with hearers none,
Or prompter, save the scene, I will perform
Myself the oracle, and will discourse
In my own ear such matter as I may.
One man alone, the father of us all,
Drew not his life from woman; never gazed,
With mute unconsciousness of what he saw,
On all around him; learn'd not by degrees,
Nor owed articulation to his ear;
But, moulded by his Maker into man
At once, upstood intelligent, survey'd
All creatures, with precision understood
Their purport, uses, properties, assign'd
To each his name significant, and, fill'd
With love and wisdom, render'd back to Heaven
In praise harmonious the first air he drew
He was excused the penalties of dull
Minority. No tutor charged his hand
With the thought-tracing quill, or task'd his mind.
With problems. History, not wanted yet,
Lean'd on her elbow, watching time, whose course,
Eventful, should supply her with a theme.
WHENCE is it that, amazed, I hear
From yonder wither'd spray,
This foremost morn of all the year,
The melody of May?
WHICH THE AUTHOR HEARD SING ON NEW YEAR'S DAY.
And why, since thousands would be proud
Of such a favour shown,
Am I selected from the crowd
To witness it alone?
Sing'st thou, sweet Philomel, to me,
For that I also long
Have practised in the groves like thee,
Though not like thee in song?
Or sing'st thou, rather, under force
Of some divine command,
Commission'd to presage a course
Of happier days at hand!
Thrice welcome then! for many a long
And joyless year have I,
As thou to-day, put forth my song
Beneath a wintry sky.
But thee no wintry skies can harm,
Who only need'st to sing
To make e'en January charm,
And every season spring.
LINES WRITTEN IN AN ALBUM
OF MISS PATTY MORE'S, SISTER OF HANNAH MORE.
In vain to live from age to age
While modern bards endeavour,
I write my name in Patty's page,
And gain my point for ever.
SONNET TO WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, ESQ.
THY Country, Wilberforce, with just disdain,
Hears thee by cruel men and impious call'd
Fanatic, for thy zeal to loose the inthrall'd
From exile, public sale, and slavery's chain.
Friend of the poor, the wrong'd, the fetter-gall'd, Fear not lest labour such as thine be vain.
Thou hast achieved a part; hast gain'd the ear Of Britain's senate to thy glorious cause; [pause Hope smiles, joy springs, and, though cold caution And weave delay, the better hour is near That shall remunerate thy toils severe By peace for Afric, fenced with British laws.
Enjoy what thou hast won, esteem and love
From all the just on earth, and all the blest above.
April 16, 1792.