Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sydney Dobell—"Farewell"

(England in Time of War, 1856)

Can I see thee stand
On the looming land?
Dost thou wave with thy white hand
Farewell, farewell?
I could think that thou art near,
Thy sweet voice is in mine ear,
Farewell, farewell!
While I listen, all things seem
Singing in a singing dream,
Farewell, farewell!
Echoing in an echoing dream,
Farewell, farewell!

Yon boat upon the sea,
It floats 'twixt thee and me,
I see the boatman listless lie;
He cannot hear the cry
That in mine ears doth ring
Farewell, farewell!
Doth it pass him o'er and o'er,
Heard upon the shore behind,
Farewell, farewell!
Heard upon the ship before,
Farewell, farewell!
Like an arrow that can dart
Viewless thro' the viewless wind,
Plain on the quivering string,
And plain in the victim's heart?

Are there voices in the sky,
Farewell, farewell?
Am I mocked by the bright air,
Farewell, farewell?
The empty air that everywhere
Silvers back the sung reply,
Farewell, farewell!
While to and fro the tremulous accents fly,
Farewell, farewell!
Now shown, now shy,
Farewell, farewell!
Now song, now sigh,
Farewell, farewell!
Toy with the grasping heart that deems them nigh,
Come like blown bells in sudden wind and high,
Or far on furthest verge in lingering echoes die,
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Oh, Love! what strange dumb Fate
Hath broken into voice to see us hope?
Surely we part to meet again?
Like one struck blind, I grope
In vain, in vain;
I cannot hold a single sense to tell
The meaning of this melancholy bell,
Farewell, farewell!
I touch them with my thought, and small and great
They join the swaying swell,
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Aye, when I felt thee falling
On this heaving breast—
Aye, when I felt thee prest
Nearer, nearer, nearer,
Dearer, dearer, dearer—
Aye, while I saw thy face,
In that long last embrace,
The first, the last, the best—
Aye, while I held thee heart to heart,
My soul had pushed off from the shore,
And we were far apart;
I heard her calling, calling,
From the sea of nevermore
Farewell, farewell!
Fainter, fainter, like a bell
Rung from some receding ship,
Farewell, farewell!
The far and further knell
Did hardly reach my lip,
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Away, you omens vain!
Away, away!
What! will you not be driven?
My heart is trembling in your augury.
Hence! Like a flight of seabirds at a gun,
A thousand ways they scatter back to Heaven,
Wheel lessening out of sight, and swoop again as one!
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Oh, Love! what fatal spell
Is winding winding round me to this singin?
What hands unseen are flinging
The tightening mesh that I can feel too well?
What viewless wings are winging
The syren music of this passing bell?
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Arouse my heart! arouse!
This is the sea: I strike these wooden walls:
The sailors come and go at my command:
I lift this cable with my hand:
I loose it and it falls:
Arouse! she is not lost,
Thou art not plighted to a moonlight ghost,
But to a living spouse.
Arouse! we only part to meet again!

Oh thou moody main,
Are thy mermaid cells a-ringing?
Are thy mermaid sisters singing?
The saddest shell of every cell
Ringing still, and ringing
Farewell, farewell!
To the sinking sighing singing
To the floating flying singing,
To the deepening dying singing,
In the swell,
Farewell, farewell!
And the failing wailing ringing,
The reaming dreaming ringing
Of fainter shell in deeper cell,
To the sunken sunken singing,
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell!
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

Sydney Dobell—"She Touches a Sad String of Soft Recall"

(England in Time of War, 1856)

"Return, return! all night I see it burn,
All night it prays like me, and lifts a twin
Of palmèd praying hands that meet and yearn—
Yearn to the impleaded skies for thy return.
Day, like a golden fetter, locks them in,
And wans the light that withers, tho' it burn
As warmly still for thy return;
Still thro' the splendid load uplifts the thin
Pale, paler, palest patience that can learn
Nought but that votive sign for thy return—
That single suppliant sign for thy return,
Return, Return.

Return, return! lest haply, love, or e'er
Thou touch the lamp the light have ceased to burn,
And thou, who thro' the window didst discern
The wonted flame, shalt reach the topmost stair
To find no wide eyes watching there,
No withered welcome waiting thy return!
A passing ghost, a smoke-wreath in the air,
The flameless ashes, and the soulless urn,
Warm with the famished fire that lived to burn—
Burn out its lingering life for thy return,
Its last of lingering life for thy return,
Its last of lingering life to light thy late return,
Return, return.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"Wind"

(England in Time of War, 1856)


Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the winter stark,
Oh the level dark,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Of the mystery
Of the blasted tree
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the owlet’s croon
To the haggard moon,
To the waning moon,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the fleshless stare,
Oh the windy hair,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the cold sigh,
Oh the hollow cry,
The lean and hollow cry,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the white sight,
Oh the shuddering night,
The shivering shuddering night,
on the wold, the wold, the wold!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sydney Dobell—To Dr. Samuel Brown

January 1, 1851

Are we not all tyrants at heart? Those Neros of Rome and Nicholases of Russia, whom I have cursed a thousand times in my soul, and on whom I cry again, in passing, the Anathema Maranatha of mankind—are they not the type of me and of everyone of us? Here have I been wishing devoutly that the Cheltenham people had but one neck that into the mouth thereunto appertaining I may put the despot’s bit.

…And you really fancy that you are to come into these waters and cast anchor in any port but mine! What! near the enchanted island, and play chess anywhere but in Prospero’s cell. Improbe! the winds and waves should avenge me; steer as you will, the conscious waters shall dash you on my door-step. Babble not of hotels and boarding-houses; the ‘laws of nature’ are suspended as to you. Everyone you ask shall look askance at you. Every down bed shall give you up, freezing or melting you shall be everywhere fla-gellated and refused. An outcast from every Inn, you shall pace the streets that estreat you to me, kick at doors that, recalcitrating, shall export you, considerably soured: ‘Multum et terris jactatus et alto,’ you shall be driven southward halting and terrified, and finally, being in the last dilemma, shall at length choose the Coxhorne of it. Moreover, my Miranda shall afflict you with ‘stitches,’ and for me I will quelch you in the ‘knotted cleft’ of everyone of my ‘Pines.’

Forgive me. ‘Venus’ is truly ‘under eclipse,’ but does not pause in her orbit. She ‘moves for all that,’ Galileo… I like the frank simplicity with which you catechize me. My answers shall be as limpid.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"We ought to have generalizations"

excerpt from

We ought to have generalizations, but not abstractions—i.e. the idea of Dog universal as derived from various species of dog, the idea of a true thing as derived from many species of true things, but not the idea of doghood or the idea of Truth. We have the idea of a soft thing as derived from many species of soft things, but not the idea of Softness. We have the idea of a beautiful thing, but not the idea of Beauty. A beautiful thing is that which in a particular kind of mind produces a particular kind of feeling. So of Virtue, Vice, Safety, Hardness, &c., &c., in all which we are verbally separating the qualities of things from the things. (Virtue is the abstraction of an abstraction—the quality of ‘the virtues,’ which are the qualities of good things.) Since we cannot know qualities, let us not name them. Let us speak not of Virtue, but of good things; not of Beauty, but of beautiful things; not of Truth, but of true things.


The mind of man is essentially recipient, and, in a wide sense, auditory. The loftiest poet is the deepest listener. In the meanest experience, as in the most exalted metaphysic, we find ourselves powerless to create or to explain, but we have yet to find the limit which forbids us to receive. The wisest among us cannot account for the humblest of our phenomena; but for all the host of the stars we have heaven enough within us, and we rise without effort from the grasshopper to the thunder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sydney Dobell—To Professor Nichol

TO PROFESSOR NICHOL (author of "The Architecture of the Heavens")
George Street, Edinburgh.

You and I must surely be very awful stars indeed, for the Fates are evidently obstinate against our conjunction. But the greatest human affairs, you know, have always been brought about through all manner of obstruction, and when we do meet, if something extraordinary doesn't happen I'll have no more faith in the philosophy of history.

Seriously—and it is really a serious thing to lose so pleasant a gathering, and at your house, as that to which you invite me—there seems to be something curiously unfortunate in the circumstances under which your welcome invitations always reach me…

…I must again look forward to that week in Glasgow which I still hope to spend, and before your son returns to college, one of the first pleasures of which will be, I hope, a walk to the Observatory. I am right glad you like my new book. People think me callous to all criticism; but the truth is that, in proportion to my carelessness of the ordinary oracles, is my value of the few verdicts which are likely to be verdicts. I hope that in reading it [England in Time of War] you have borne in mind that it is a book of things sung rather than said. Most of the printed objections (e.g. anent 'repetitions') that I have seen may be answered by this fact. The instinct of a song-writer teaches him to express what is necessary in the least variety of phrase, in order that no exertion of the intellect may subtract from the full force of the feelings. The exertion of the intellectual apprehension takes from the sum of that vis vivida which would otherwise be available for the passions. Labor vincit amorem.

But, as a song which made no appeal to the intellect would be too narrow to be thoroughly human, one is instinctively led to accustom the perceptions to an idea and phrase in one portion of a lyric, and then to repeat them in other parts, with slight variations, or under fresh conditions of context, &c., &c. And this instinct of the song-writer has led to the same results in all times and circumstances.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sydney Dobell—The Duties of an English Foreign Secretary


Your teacher or your philosopher may choose their seasons, may make to themselves wings, and, as sea birds over an inundation, alight only whereupon they find rest for the soles of their feet—good watch-cliff or commanding fishery above the rich turbulence below. But the statesman as swimmer must needs enter the seething trouble—his whole power therein depending upon his contact. By the very conditions of his office he can ignore, omit, decline, select, nothing. No escape for him from this present scalding unmistakable moment—which, if one could but skip, what golden shores beyond! No matter how foul a hand the present holds to him, he must clasp it; for so only does he keep up the rapport of the centuries, and for that rapport is here. Other students of this world dip from the witches’ cauldron such peculiar ‘eye of newt’ as is specific to their appetites, he only is, ex officio, professor of the hell-broth as it boils; esse the single science in which he graduates, and ‘to be or not to be’ for him no ‘question’ at all. So far there is a resemblance between the statesman and the philosopher. One of the French dreamers foretells a system of nature wherein every great beast shall have his particular opposite—expatiate in the same fields of exercise with precisely counteracting powers. The lion his kata-lion, the horse his anti-horse. Some such relation ordinarily bear the statesman and the philosopher. Both occupied with indiscriminate facts; but dealing with them under opposite conditions, for opposite purposes, through opposite elaborations, to opposite results. For the philosopher, his facts are achronous. Time is no part of his universe: he may leave his ooze-bed to dry into a stratum, if he will. For the statesman, his facts are temporal, and are known to him principally as they exist in time. The one therefore is free, the other bound; and this stern necessity becomes to the statesman the mother of his whole invention. Both standing before the world of facts, with all its contained universals and particulars, the great effort of the one is to erect the first from the last, of the other to extract the last from the first. Both before a single fact, the one is conversant with its attributes, to the other the accidents are life or death;—the one straining after substance and the absolute, the other alive only to modes and relations; the one caring for its reflections in the pure crystal of genius, the other anxious for its image in the waved mirror of ordinary mind. The one sitting at the feet of God in the universe, the other of the king in the council-chamber; and each estimating all things by the power of the respective potentate. The one having the gospel of the possible, the other of the practicable. The one mind moving on the great circle of the Divine, the other on the small of the human; the one, looking on to-day as upon his face in the eternal ocean, the other, carrying eternity as a simulacrum in the solid mirror of to-day. The one seeking to do that he may know, the other to know that he may do. The one, rich in premises—learned in thunders, whirlwinds, and still small voices from which he has not dared to draw the inference of finite intelligence; the other, with instincts seared and faculties perverted by the inexorable necessities of perpetual conclusions. The one with an intellect full of glorious imperfections—the fossil bones of things and eras yet unknown; the other with ready brain of ever-furnished ability, peopled assiduously with monstrous composites, and showing the miracles of that triumphant ‘order’ by which mammoth and dinornis, saurian and marsupian, redeemed from a natural and useless disagreement, may be nailed, sawn, and soldered into wholesome constituents, and do duty once more in an eclectic status quo. Therefore, in ordinary times statesmanship has been an employment below the ambition of great minds. Genius has been too much inspired to descend to its calculation of chances, too much absorbed to tolerate its equality of cares; and, to say sooth, diplomacy has seldom been so rash as to spread its gossamer meshes for that lion. The entente cordiale would have fared badly with your prophet. He must evoke what he must from ‘the vasty deep,’ careless whether his ‘spirits’ bring calm or storm. But the statesman’s care is to hold that raft together on which, between past and future, the prophet stands.

The science of living dogs against dead (or unborn) lions, of to-day’s atom against to-morrow’s globe, of paltry success against glorious failure, of the lamp on Downing-street backstairs against another light ‘that never was on sea or shore’—this elaborate littleness and learned levity has found therefore, in its average experience, no very divine gifts ‘to admire the nothing of it.’ Doubtless since every atom is inextricable from the universe, there is none of which the contemplation may not lead us to the infinite, no era of mediocrity that a Secretary Milton would not have seen brooding under it the principles of the grandest times. But to common senses those are viewless influences which bind planet to planet, age to age, and transmit from one social convulsion to another the force of mankind. These volcanoes travel so long underground that eruptions become traditionary, and men build in one century round the crater of the last and above the earthquake of the next.

Does not the prospect stir your nature, proud, subtle, large-brained Henry Temple? And then the grand humour of the divine comedy! We have seen lately, more than once, the grim niaiserie with which you can enjoy a terrible jest. This great Europe below and its mock kings over it—did you ever play a game so solemnly grotesque? These dozen puppets of gilt gingerbread, and these three hundred million burly school-boys a-hungered for it! These gaunt bearded masks of sapless paint and paper and those myriad hot flushed human faces behind them! The ermined effigies through which the wind already whistles, with their tinsel crowns and swords of lath, and this great continent of fighting men with a living heart in each and a wrong in the core of it! And you are to honour the gingerbread, protocol the pasteboard, take counsel with the purple rag?—and like Mahomet’s saints in naked Paradise, you are forbidden to laugh!

More and harder. The hungry jaws, the flesh and blood faces and the world of fighting men—it is to these you must speak, for these manoeuvre, with these make faith, when you bow to the gingerbread, rub noses with the mask, and hang a treaty on the bauble of Guy Fawkes; but woe to you, cries diplomatic decency, if you cast an eye in the direction of your thoughts, look but once, however much askant, upon that flesh and blood which loads your days and wakes your nights. Woe to you, cries another voice, to which your skilled ear will more readily listen, if with your inward eye you see aught else in these times. Standing under the sear forest of latter autumn, woe to him who trusts in the dead November leaves! What if there be a wind to-night? While it lay a wide, brown, homogenous umbrage before you, have you so far been conscious of what was hid that you shall lose nothing and fear nothing and regret nothing, if it stands up to-morrow black and roaring? This is the test for a Foreign Secretary in these days.

Your sun-staring eagle would starve with blindness where the meanest owl that shrieks would grow fat. Set your poet on Pisgah, and hear him: but beware of Balaam on the Treasury benches. Pull down the golden cloud from heaven, and it may be a fog in your nostrils—haply the blight and the pestilence. Dante was great when he said—

il Veltro
Verrà, che la farà morir di doglia,

and his old-world prophecy is swelling eleven million hearts today; but when he dared to add,

E sua nazion sarà tra Feltro e Feltro,

he was less than the stature of a lesser man.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sydney Dobell—Tommy's Dead

(England in Time of War, 1856)


You may give over plough, boys,
You may take the gear to the stead,
All the sweat o' your brow, boys,
Will never get beer and bread.
The seed's waste, I know, boys,
There's not a blade will grow, boys,
'T is cropped out, I trow, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

Send the colt to the fair, boys,
He's going blind, as I said,
My old eyes can't bear, boys,
To see him in the shed;
The cow's dry and spare, boys,
She's neither here nor there, boys,
I doubt she's badly bred;
Stop the mill to-morn, boys,
There'll be no more corn, boys,
Neither white nor red;
There's no sign of grass, boys,
You may sell the goat and the ass, boys,
The land's not what it was, boys,
And the beasts must be fed:
You may turn Peg away, boys,
You may pay off old Ned,
We've had a dull day, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

Move my chair on the floor, boys,
Let me turn my head:
She's standing there in the door, boys,
Your sister Winifred!
Take her away from me, boys,
Your sister Winifred!
Move me round in my place, boys,
Let me turn my head,
Take her away from me, boys,
As she lay on her death-bed,
The bones of her thin face, boys,
As she lay on her death-bed!
I don't know how it be, boys,
When all's done and said,
But I see her looking at me, boys,
Wherever I turn my head;
Out of the big oak-tree, boys,
Out of the garden-bed,
And the lily as pale as she, boys,
And the rose that used to be red.

There's something not right, boys,
But I think it's not in my head,
I've kept my precious sight, boys—
The Lord be hallowed!
Outside and in
The ground is cold to my tread,
The hills are wizen and thin,
The sky is shrivelled and shred,
The hedges down by the loan
I can count them bone by bone,
The leaves are open and spread
But I see the teeth of the land,
And hands like a dead man's hand.
There's nothing but cinders and sand,
The rat and the mouse have fed,
And the summer's empty and cold;
Over valley and wold
Wherever I turn my head
There's a mildew and a mould,
The sun's going out over head,
And I'm very old,
And Tommy's dead.

What am I staying for, boys,
You're all born and bred,
'Tis fifty years and more, boys,
Since wife and I were wed,
And she's gone before, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

She was always sweet, boys,
Upon his curly head,
She knew he'd never see't, boys,
And she stole off to bed;
I've been sitting up alone, boys,
For he'd come home, he said,
But it's time I was gone, boys,
For Tommy's dead.

Put the shutters up, boys,
Bring out the beer and bread,
Make haste and sup, boys,
For my eyes are heavy as lead;
There's something wrong i' the cup, boys,
There's something ill wi' the bread,
I don't care to sup, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

I'm not right, I doubt, boys,
I've such a sleepy head,
I shall never more be stoud, boys,
You may carry me to bed.
What are you about, boys.
The prayers are all said,
The fire's raked out, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

The stairs are too steep, boys,
You may carry me to the head,
The night's dark and deep, boys,
Your mother's long in bed,
Tis time to go to sleep, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

I'm not used to kiss, boys,
You may shake my hand instead.
All things go amiss, boys,
You may lay me where she is, boys,
And I'll rest my old head:
'T is a poor world, this, boys,
And Tommy's dead.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sydney Dobell—Balder: Scene XLI

The study. BALDER, solus, by the window. <…>

A shut and funeral city hung with black
Is not more different from the daily streets
Than this day from another…
Down the moist walls
The long snail slimes; cold things of fen and pool
Come within doors and as a native stone
Do crawl the gristly hearth; and in my soul
This palpable obscurity repeats
The outer darkness, and within, without,
Cosmic and microcosmic, as yon twain
Round answering hemispheres, world answers world.
I cannot see the hills or the mild sky,
Or aught of gentler aspect that beheld
Might yet dissuade me. To mine inward eyes
That might have met unmanned such sweet array
Of sacred opposition, there is now
Nought but the inner mist and through the mist
A path stark clear. Therefore it must be done.
As one who having stared upon the sun,
Turning his eyeballs downward doth bedaub
The blotted world with black, to my hot sight
A moving pall is in the air and when
I think of her it falls upon the face
I could not slay. Therefore it must be done.
Nature herself consenting to the deed
Lets her veil round it and to me shut in
Of all her universe doth leave alone
The victim and the knife. Therefore, oh God,
It must be done. [He attempts to rise.
I will arise. Rare moment!
The slow will hath not reached the idle thews
Yet, being dispatched, the irrevocable deed
Is now in act, and I that have not moved
Already am felonious. What! is this
A dream, that the strong cause o'ershoots the effect
And passes with its message the untouched
Dull functions it should stir? At length I stand.
What! am I chained? Have I trunk-hose of lead?
The door—the door—my limbs do help the ground
Sucking me in. The threshold is not yet.
I labour against the stedfastness o' the air,
Which bars my breast, and, as two walls of ice
Falling together with mine head between,
Enlocks me. Hands, hands, nothing but hands—Ah!
Is it so horrible that very nothing
Conceives to stay it? Off! I will be free.
Darkness at noon! Aye, aye, the flood swells fast.
This lightning— [Sinks in a swoon.
[After lying long he recovers and sits up.
A swoon? So best. Zero once past is past,
And the uncounted scale beneath hath not
A credible extreme. I am a man…

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sydney Dobell—Balder: Scene XXXVIII

The Hill-side. Enter

I that walked
All this long night upon the bare hill-top
Grow heavy in the sunshine and would sleep.
[He lies down and sleeps—after a while starts up.
This dream! why I came leaping out of it
Half-witted and half-dead as one escapes
From dungeons into air. I must have wept, too,
The grass below my face is all bedewed,—
[Turns and sleeps—Leaps up with disordered looks.
No, no, it cannot be, it must not be,
It shall not be!—Amy!—
[Looking up, his eye catches the clouds.
You white full heavens!
You crowded heavens that mine eyes left but now
Shining and void and azure!—
Ah! ah! ah!
Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!
By Satan! this is well. What! am I judged?
You ponderous and slow-moving ministers,
Are you already met? Are crimes begot
Above? And do we sin to give the train
And hungry following of the stately gods
An office? Doth their pastime tarry there
Because I lag? Is it to be endured
That while I sleep the ready forum forms
About me, and the conscript fathers wait
The unaccomplished wrong? Hence! clear the heavens!
Break up! What! can I not so much as dream
But your substantial thunders must surround
The ghostly fault, and with material towers
And bodily environment hem in
The thin unflesh'd commission? Do you close
Upon me like a weary prey run down,
Stalked to the final onset? But I live!
Will you sit at the board while the meal walks?
How if you are too soon? Who sees the game?
Look down upon us here—which is your man?
What have I done? My hands are white—behold!
You solemn imperturbable o'er-high
All-seeing and prededicate avengers,
For once ye sit in vain! My will is not
Yours; nor shall any terrors of your loud
Discomfiture, nor any warning sign—
No, tho' the rocked right half of heaven rolled o'er
And stood at heaps on the sinister side—
Unplant my fixed resolve. Mine eyes do pierce
The lower ostentations of your brief
And temporary royalty to reach
A Paramount Supreme.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"The Orphan's Song"

excerpt from THE ORPHAN’S SONG
(England in Time of War, 1856)

I had a little bird,
I took it from the nest;
I prest it, and blest it,
And nurst it in my breast.

I set it on the ground,
I danced round and round,
And sang about it so cheerly,
With “Hey my little bird, and ho my little bird,
And oh but I love thee dearly!”

I make a little feast
Of food soft and sweet,
I hold it in my breast,
And coax it to eat;

I pit, and I pat,
I call it this and that,
And sing about it so cheerily,
With “Hey my little bird, and ho my little bird,
And ho but I love thee dearly!”

I may kiss, I may sing,
But I can’t make it feed,
It taketh no heed
Of any pleasant thing.

I scolded, and I socked,
But it minded not a whit,
Its little mouth was locked,
And I could not open it.

I never look sad,
I hear what people say,
I laugh when they are gay
And they think I am glad.

My tears never start,
I never say a word,
But I think that my heart
Is like that little bird.

Every day I read,
And I sing, and I play,
But thro’ the long day
It taketh no heed.

It taketh no heed
Of any pleasant thing,
I know it doth not read,
I know it doth not sing.

With my mouth I read,
With my hands I play,
My shut heart is shut,
Coax it how you may.

You may coax it how you may
While the day is broad and bright,
But in the dead night
When the guests are gone away,

And no more the music sweet
Up the house doth pass
Nor the dancing feet
Shake the nursery glass;

And I’ve heard my aunt
Along the corridor,
And my uncle gaunt
Lock his chamber door;

And upon the stair
All is hushed and still,
And the last wheel
Is silent in the square;

And the nurses snore,
And the dim sheets rise and fall,
And the lamplight’s on the wall,
And the mouse is on the floor;

And the curtains of my bed
Are like a heavy cloud,
And the clock ticks loud,
And sounds are in my head;

And little Lizzie sleeps
Softly at my side
It opens, it opens
With a yearning strong and wide!

It yearns in my breast,
It utters no cry,
‘Tis famished, ‘tis famished,
And I feel that I shall die,
I feel that I shall die,
And none will know why.
Tho’ the pleasant life is dancing round and round
And singing about me so cheerly,
With “Hey my little bird, and ho my little bird,
And ho but I love thee dearly!”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"He Loves and He Rides Away"

(England in Time of War, 1856)

Day and night, day and night,
And I saw no light,
Night and day, night and day,
And in my woe I lay
And dreamed the dreams they dream who cannot sleep:
My speech was withered, and I could not pray;
My tears were frozen, and I could not weep.

I saw the hawthorn rise
Between me and the skies,
I felt the shadow was from pole to pole,
I felt the leaves were shed,
I felt the birds were dead,
And on the earth I snowed the winter of my soul.

While I look on her I seem
Once again in the sweet dream
Of that enchanted day,
When, underneath the hawthorn tree,
I loved my love, and my love loved me:
And lost in love we lay,
And saw the happy ships upon the yielding sea.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sydney Dobell—"The Captain's Wife"

excerpt from THE CAPTAIN'S WIFE
(England in Time of War, 1856)

No, do not speak:
Nor, oh! let any tell of thy pale cheek,
nor paint the silent sorrow of thine eye,
Nor tell me thou art fond, or gay, or glad;
For, ah! so tuned and lightly strung am I,
That howsoe’er thou stir, I ring thereby.
Thy manly voice is deep,
But if thou touch from sleep
The woman’s treble of my shrill reply,
Ah, who shall say thine echoes may not weep?
A jester’s ghost is sad,
The shades of merriest flowers do mow and creep,
And oh, the vocal shadows that should fly
About the simplest word that thou canst say,
Wat after spell shall ever lay?


So, thinking of thy debt to Love and me,
In some dull hour beyond the sea,
Do thou but only say
—as carelessly as men do pay their debts—
“Oh, weary day!”
And that one sigh o’ersets
The hive of my regrets,
“Ah, weary, weary day,
Oh, weary, weary day,
Oh, day so weary, oh, day so dreary,
Oh, weary, weary, weary, weary, weary,
Oh, weary, weary!”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Favourable Reviews

It is not very easy to comprehend the exact creed and method of the new [spasmodic] school of poets, who have set themselves at work upon a principle hitherto unknown, or at all events unproclaimed. This much we know from themselves, that they regard poetry not only as a sacred calling, but as the most sacred of any… that they are to the fainting race of Adam, the sole accredited bearers of the Amreeta cup of immortality.... But apart from their exaggerated notions of their calling, let us see what is the practice of poets of the Spasmodic School. In the first place, they rarely, if ever, attempt anything like a plot.... In the second place, we regret to say that they are often exceedingly profane, not, as we suppose, intentionally but because they have not sense enough to see the limits which decency, as well as duty, prescribes. In the third place, they are occasionally very prurient. And in the fourth place, they are almost always unintelligible.

—W. E. Aytoun, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 75 (May 1854)

[A spasmodic poem is] a poem of considerable length, dramatic in form but in essence a monologue or series of dialogues, without well-defined action, setting forth a sequence of varying, often violently alternating moods, particularly pessimism and romantic passion, in the mind of an isolated malcontent young poet, who is Byronic at heart, though he may at times speak in language partly derived from Keats.

—Alan D. McKillop, The Spasmodic School in Victorian Poetry, 1920

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Firmilian, a "Spasmodic" Tragedy: Scene X

by T. Percy Jones (W. E. Aytoun), 1854

Square below the Pillar

Enter Apollodorus, a Critic

Why do men call me a presumptuous cur,
A vaporing blockhead, and a turgid fool,
A common nuisance, and a charlatan?
I've dashed into the sea of metaphor
With as strong paddles as the sturdiest ship
That churns Medusæ into liquid light,
and hashed at every object in my way.
My ends are public. I have talked of men
As my familiars, whom I never saw.
Nay—more to raise my credit—I have penned
Epistles to the great ones of the land,
When some attack might make them slightly sore,
Assuring them, in faith, it was not I.
What was their answer? Marry, shortly this:
"Who, in the name of Zernebock, are you?"
I have reviewed myself incessantly—
Yea, made a contract with a kindred soul
For mutual interchange of puffery.
Gods—how we blew each other! But, 'tis past—
Those halcyon days are gone; and, I suspect,
That, in some fit of loathing or disgust,
As Samuel turned from Eli's coarser son,
Mine ancient playmate hath deserted me.
And yet I am Apollodorus still!
I search for genius, having it myself,
With keen and earnest longings. I survive
To disentangle, from the imping wings
Of our young poets, their crustaceous slough.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Firmilian, a "Spasmodic" Tragedy: Scene X (cont.)

by T. Percy Jones (W. E. Aytoun), 1854

Enter SANCHO, a Costermonger, singing.

Down in the garden behind the wall,
Merrily grows the bright-green leek;
The old sow grunts as the acorns fall,
The winds blow heavy, the little pigs squeak.
One for the litter, and three for the teat—
Hark to their music, Juanna my sweet!


Now, heaven be thanked! here is a genuine bard,
A creature of high impulse, one unsoiled
By coarse conventionalities of rule.
He labors not to sing, for his bright thoughts
Resolve themselves at once into a strain
Without the aid of balanced artifice.
All hail, great poet!


Save you, my merry master! Need you any leeks or onions? Here's the primest cauliflower, though I say it, in all Badajoz. Set it up at a distance of some ten yards, and I'll forfeit my ass if it does not look bigger than the Alcayde's wig. Or would these radishes suit your turn? There's nothing like radishes for cooling the blood and purging distempered humors.


I do admire thy vegetables much,
But will not buy them. Pray you, pardon me
For one short word of friendly obloquy.
Is't possible a being so endowed
With music, song, and sun-aspiring thoughts,
Can stoop to chaffer idly in the streets,
And, for a huckster's miserable gain,
Renounce the urgings of his destiny?
Why, man, thine ass should be a Pegasus,
A sun-reared charger snorting at the stars,
And scattering all the Pleiads at his heels—
Thy cart should be an orient-tinted car,
Such as Aurora drives into the day,
What time the rosy-fingered Hours awake—
Thy reins—


Lookye, master, I've dusted a better jacket than yours before now, so you had best keep a civil tongue in your head. Once for all, will you buy my radishes?




Then go to the devil and shake yourself!


The foul fiend seize thee and thy cauliflowers!
I was indeed a most egregious ass
To take this lubber clodpole for a bard,
and worship that dull fool. Pythian Apollo!
Hear me—O hear! Towards the firmament
I gaze with longing eyes; and, in the name
Of millions thirsting for poetic draughts,
I do beseech thee, send a poet down!
Let him descend, e'en as a meteor falls,
Rushing at noonday—
[He is crushed by the fall of the
body of HAVERILLO.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Firmilian, a "Spasmodic" Tragedy: Preface

by T. Percy Jones (W. E. Aytoun), 1854


As several passages of the following Poems have appeared in the pages of periodicals, I consider it an act of justice to myself to lay the whole before the public. I am not at all deterred by the fear of hostile criticism—I believe that no really good thing was ever injured by criticism; and, so far from entertaining an angry feeling towards the gentlemen who have noticed my work, I thank them for having brought me forward.

It is a common practice, now-a-days, for poets to appeal to the tender mercies of the public, by issuing prefaces in which they acknowledge, in as many words, the weakness and poverty of their verse. If the acknowledgement is sincere, how can they expect the public to show them any favor? If it is a mere hypocritical affectation, it were better omitted. And the practice is unwise as it is absurd. What would we think of the manufacturer who should entreat us to buy his goods, because they were of an inferior kind, or of the tradesman who should deliberately announce that his stock was of a poor quality? For my part, if I conscientiously believed that my poetry was not worthy of admiration, I never would commit the impertinence of asking anyone to read it.

There has been, of late, much senseless talk about "schools of poetry;" and it has been said, on the strength of the internal evidence afforded by some passages in my play, that I have joined the ranks, and uphold the tenets, of those who belong to "the Spasmodic School." I deny the allegation altogether. I belong to no school, except that of nature; and I acknowledge the authority of no living master. But, lest it should be thought that I stand in terror of a nick-name—the general bugbear to young authors—I have deliberately adopted the title of "Spasmodic," and have applied it in the title-page to my tragedy. It is my firm opinion that all high poetry is and must be spasmodic. Remove that element from Lear—from Othello—from Macbeth—from any of the great works which refer to the conflict of the passions—and what would be the residue? A mere caput mortuum. I differ from those who regard verse and poetry as being one and the same thing; or who look upon a collection of glittering conceits, and appropriate similes as the highest proof of poetical accomplishment. The office of poetry is to exhibit the passions in that state of excitement which distinguishes one from the other; and, until a dramatic author has learned this secret, all the fine writing in the world will avail him nothing. Cato is perhaps the best-written tragedy in the English language; and yet, what man in his senses would dream of reading Cato twice?

I have been accused of extravagance, principally, I presume, on account of the moral obliquity of the character of Firmilian. To that I reply, that the moral of a play does not depend upon the morals of any one character depicted in it; and that many of the characters drawn by the magic pencil of Shakespeare are shaded as deep, or even deeper, than Firmilian. Set him beside Iago, Richard III., or the two Macbeths, and I venture to say that he will not look dark in comparison. Consider carefully the character of Hamlet, and you will find that he is very nearly as selfish as Firmilian. Hamlet is said to shadow forth "Constitutional Irresolution;"—my object in Firmilian has been to typify "Intellect without Principle."

If the extravagance is held to lie in the conception and handling of my subject, then I assert fearlessly that the same charge may be preferred with greater reason against Goethe's masterpiece, the Faust. I have not considered it necessary to evoke the Devil in my pages—I have not introduced the reader to the low buffooneries of Auerbach's cellar, or to the Witch with her hybrid apes—nor have I indulged in the weird revelries and phantasmagoria of the Brocken. I do not presume to blame Goethe for his use of such material, any more than I should think of impugning Shakespeare for the Ghost in Hamlet, or the Witches in Macbeth. I merely wish to show that the "utter extravagance" which some writers affect to have discovered in my play, is traceable only to their own defects in high imaginative development.

If I am told that the character of Firmilian is not only extravagant, but utterly without a parallel in nature, I shall request my critic to revise his opinion after he has perused the histories of Madame de Brinvilliers and the Borgias.

I am perfectly aware that this poem is unequal, and that some passages of it are inferior, in interest to others. Such was my object, for I am convinced that there can be no beauty without breaks and undulation.

I am not arrogant enough to assert that this is the finest poem which the age has produced; but I shall feel very much obliged to any gentleman who can make me acquainted with a better.

Streatham, July, 1854