Monody Written at Matlock

William Lisle Bowles

Matlock! amid thy hoary-hanging views,
Thy glens that smile sequestered, and thy nooks
Which yon forsaken crag all dark o'erlooks;
Once more I court the long neglected Muse,
As erst when by the mossy brink and falls
Of solitary Wainsbeck, or the side
Of Clysdale's cliffs, where first her voice she tried,
I strayed a pensive boy. Since then, the thralls
That wait life's upland road have chilled her breast,
And much, as much they might, her wing depressed.                
Wan Indolence, resigned, her deadening hand
Laid on her heart, and Fancy her cold wand
Dropped at the frown of fortune; yet once more
I call her, and once more her converse sweet,
'Mid the still limits of this wild retreat,
I woo;--if yet delightful as of yore
My heart she may revisit, nor deny
The soothing aid of some sweet melody!
I hail the rugged scene that bursts around;
I mark the wreathed roots, the saplings gray,                    
That bend o'er the dark Derwent's wandering way;
I mark its stream with peace-persuading sound,
That steals beneath the fading foliage pale,
Or, at the foot of frowning crags upreared,
Complains like one forsaken and unheard.
To me, it seems to tell the pensive tale
Of spring-time, and the summer days all flown;
And while sad autumn's voice ev'n now I hear
Along the umbrage of the high-wood moan,
At intervals, whose shivering leaves fall sere;                  
Whilst o'er the group of pendant groves I view
The slowly-spreading tints of pining hue,
I think of poor Humanity's brief day,
How fast its blossoms fade, its summers speed away!
When first young Hope, a golden-tressed boy,
Most musical his early madrigal
Sings to the whispering waters as they fall,
Breathing fresh airs of fragrance and of joy,
The wild woods gently wave, the morning sheds
Her rising radiance on the mountain heads,                       
Strewed with green isles appears old ocean's reign,
And seen at distance rays of resting light
Silver the farthest promontory's height:
Then hushed is the long murmur of the main,
Whilst silent o'er the slowly-crisping tides,
Bound to some beaming spot, the bark of pleasure glides.
Alas! the scenes that smile in light arrayed
But catch the sense, and then in darkness fade.
We, poor adventurers, of peace bereft,
Look back on the green hills that late we left,                  
Or turn, with beating breast and anxious eye,
To some faint hope that glimmering meets our sight
(Like the lone watch-tower in the storm of night),
Then on the dismal waste are driv'n despairing by!
Meantime, amid the landscape cold and mute,
Hope, sweet enchanter, sighing drops his lute:
So sad decay and mortal change succeeds,
And o'er the silent scene Time, like a giant, speeds!
Yet the bleak cliffs that lift their heads so high
(Around whose beetling crags, with ceaseless coil,               
And still-returning flight, the ravens toil)
Heed not the changeful seasons as they fly,
Nor spring, nor autumn: they their hoary brow
Uprear, and ages past, as in this now,
The same deep trenches unsubdued have worn,
The same majestic frown, and looks of lofty scorn.
So Fortitude, a mailed warrior old,
Appears; he lifts his scar-intrenched crest;
The tempest gathers round his dauntless breast;
He hears far off the storm of havoc rolled;                      
The feeble fall around: their sound is past;
Their sun is set, their place no more is known;
Like the wan leaves before the winter's blast
They perish:--He, unshaken and alone
Remains, his brow a sterner shade assumes,
By age ennobled, whilst the hurricane,
That raves resistless o'er the ravaged plain,
But shakes unfelt his helmet's quivering plume.
And so yon sovereign of the scene I mark
Above the woods rear his majestic head,                          
That soon all shattered at his feet shall shed
Their short-lived beauties: he the winter dark
Regardless, and the wasteful time that flies,
Rejoicing in his lonely might, defies.
Thee, wandering in the deep and craggy dell,
Sequestered stream, with other thoughts I view:
Thou dost in solitude thy course pursue,
As thou hadst bid life's busy scenes farewell,
Yet making still such music as might cheer
The weary passenger that journeys near.                          
Such are the songs of Peace in Virtue's shade;
Unheard of Folly, or the vacant train
That pipe and dance upon the noontide plain,
Till in the dust together they are laid!
But not unheard of Him, who sits sublime
Above the clouds of this tempestuous clime,
Its stir and strife; to whom more grateful rise
The humble incense, and the still small voice
Of those that on their pensive way rejoice,
Than shouts of thousands echoing to the skies;                  
Than songs of conquest pealing round the car
Of hard Ambition, or the Fiend of War,
Sated with slaughter. Nor may I, sweet stream,
From thy wild banks and still retreats depart,
Where now I meditate my casual theme,
Without some mild improvement on my heart
Poured sad, yet pleasing! so may I forget
The crosses and the cares that sometimes fret
Life's smoothest channel, and each wish prevent                 
That mars the silent current of content!
In such a spot, amidst these rugged views,
The pensive poet in his drooping age
Might wish to place his reed-roofed hermitage;
Where much on life's vain shadows he might muse.
If fortune smiled not on his early way,
If he were doomed to mourn a faithless friend,
Here he might rest, and when his hairs were gray,
Behold in peace the parting day descend.
If a hard world his errors scanned severe,
When late the earth received his mouldering clay,               
Perhaps some loved companion, wandering near,
Plucking the gray moss from the stone, might say:
Him I remember, in our careless days,
Vacant and glad, till many a loss severe
First hung his placid eyelids with a tear;
Yet on such visions ardent would he gaze,
As the Muse loved, that oft would smile and die,
Like the faint bow that leaves the weeping sky;
His heart unguarded, yet it proudly beat
Against hard wrong, or coward cold deceit;--                    
Nor passed he e'er without a sigh the cell
Where wretchedness and her pale children dwell.
He never wished to win the world's cold ear,
Nor, prized by those he loved, its blame could fear;
Its praise he left to those who, at their will,
The ingenious strain of torturing art could trill!
Content, as random fancies might inspire,
If his weak reed, at times, or plaintive lyre,
He touched with desultory hand, and drew
Some softened tones, to Nature not untrue.                      
The leaves, O Derwent! on thy bosom still
Oft with the gust now fall--the season pale
Hath smote with hand unseen the silent vale,
And slowly steals the verdure from the hill;
So the fair scene departs, yet wears a while
The lingering traces of its beauteous smile:
But we who by thy margin stray, or climb
The cliff's aërial height, or join the song
Of hope and gladness amidst yonder throng,
Losing the brief and fleeting hours of time,                    
Reck not how age, even thus, with icy hand,
Hangs o'er us;--how, as with a wizard's wand,
Youth blooming like the spring, and roseate mirth,
To slow and sere consumption he shall change,
And with invisible mutation strange,
Withered and wasted send them to the earth;
Whilst hushed, and by the mace of ruin rent,
Sinks the forsaken hall of merriment!
Bright bursts the sun upon the shaggy scene!
The aged rocks their glittering summits gray                    
Hang beautiful amid the beams of day;
And all the woods, with slowly-fading green,
Yet smiling wave:--severer thoughts, away!
The night is distant, and the lovely day
Looks on us yet;--the sound of mirthful cheer
From yonder dome comes pleasant to mine ear.
From rock to rock reverberated swells,
Hark,--the glad music of the village bells!
On the crag's naked point the heifer lows,
And wide below the brightening landscape glows!               
Though brief the time and short our course to run,
Derwent! amid the scenes that deck thy side,
Ere yet the parting paths of life divide,
Let us rejoice, seeking what may be won
From the laborious day, or fortune's frown:
Here may we, ere the sun of life goes down,
A while regardless of the morrow, dwell;                      
Then to our destined roads, and speed us well!
I have ventured in this place to make Hope a boy.

 

Author's own note: "yon sovereign of the scene" - Matlock High Tor