Corsica

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

------------------- A manly race

Of unsubmitting spirit, wise and brave;

Who still thro' bleeding ages struggled hard

To hold a generous undiminish'd state;

Too much in vain!

THOMSON. {1}

 

HAIL generous CORSICA! unconquer'd isle! {2}

The fort of freedom; that amidst the waves

Stands like a rock of adamant, and dares

The wildest fury of the beating storm.

And are there yet, in this late sickly age

(Unkindly to the tow'ring growths of virtue)

Such bold exalted spirits? Men whose deeds,

To the bright annals of old GREECE oppos'd,

Would throw in shades her yet unrival'd name,

And dim the lustre of her fairest page!

And glows the flame of LIBERTY so strong

In this lone speck of earth! this spot obscure,

Shaggy with woods, and crusted o'er with rock,

By slaves surrounded and by slaves oppress'd!

What then should BRITONS feel? should they not catch

The warm contagion of heroic ardour,

And kindle at a fire so like their own?

Such were the working thoughts which swell'd the breast

Of generous BOSWEL; when with nobler aim {3}

And views beyond the narrow beaten track

By trivial fancy trod, he turn'd his course

From polish'd Gallia's soft delicious vales,

From the grey reliques of imperial Rome,

From her long galleries of laurel'd stone,

Her chisel'd heroes, and her marble gods,

(Whose dumb majestic pomp yet awes the world,)

To animated forms of patriot zeal;

Warm in the living majesty of virtue;

Elate with fearless spirit; firm; resolv'd;

By fortune unsubdu'd; unaw'd by power.

How raptur'd fancy burns, while warm in thought

I trace the pictur'd landscape; while I kiss

With pilgram lips devout, the sacred soil

Stain'd with the blood of heroes. CYRNUS, hail! {4}

Hail to thy rocky, deep indented shores,

And pointed cliffs, which hear the chafing deep

Incessant foaming round their shaggy sides.

Hail to thy winding bays, thy shelt'ring ports

And ample harbours, which inviting stretch

Their hospitable arms to every sail:

Thy numerous streams, that bursting from the cliffs

Down the steep channel'd rock impetuous pour

With grateful murmur: on the fearful edge

Of the rude precipice, thy hamlets brown

And straw-roof'd cots, which from the level vale

Scarce seen, amongst the craggy hanging cliffs

Seem like an eagle's nest aerial built.

Thy swelling mountains, brown with solemn shade

Of various trees, that wave their giant arms

O'er the rough sons of freedom; lofty pines,

And hardy fir, and ilex ever green,

And spreading chesnut, with each humbler plant,

And shrub of fragrant leaf, that clothes their sides

With living verdure; whence the clust'ring bee

Extracts her golden dews: the shining box,

And sweet-leav'd myrtle, aromatic thyme,

The prickly juniper, and the green leaf

Which feeds the spinning worm; while glowing bright

Beneath the various foliage, wildly spreads

The arbutus, and rears his scarlet fruit

Luxuriant, mantling o'er the craggy steeps;

And thy own native laurel crowns the scene.

Hail to thy savage forests, awful, deep:

Thy tangled thickets, and thy crowded woods,

The haunt of herds untam'd; which sullen bound

From rock to rock with fierce unsocial air,

And wilder gaze, as conscious of the power

That loves to reign amid the lonely scenes

Of unbroke nature: precipices huge,

And tumbling torrents; trackless desarts, plains

Fenc'd in with guardian rocks, whose quarries teem

With shining steel, that to the cultur'd fields

And sunny hills which wave with bearded grain

Defends their homely produce. LIBERTY,

The mountain Goddess, loves to range at large

Amid such scenes, and on the iron soil

Prints her majestic step. For these she scorns

The green enamel'd vales, the velvet lap

Of smooth savannahs, where the pillow'd head

Of luxury reposes; balmy gales,

And bowers that breath of bliss. For these, when first

This isle emerging like a beauteous gem

From the dark bosom of the Tyrrhene main

Rear'd its fair front, she mark'd it for her own,

And with her spirit warm'd. Her genuine sons,

A broken remnant, from the generous stock

Of ancient Greece, from Sparta's sad remains,

True to their high descent, preserv'd unquench'd

The sacred fire thro' many a barbarous age:

Whom, nor the iron rod of cruel Carthage,

Nor the dread sceptre of imperial Rome,

Nor bloody Goth, nor grisly Saracen,

Nor the long galling yoke of proud Liguria,

Could crush into subjection. Still unquell'd

They rose superior, bursting from their chains,

And claim'd man's dearest birthright, LIBERTY.

And long, thro' many a hard unequal strife

Maintain'd the glorious conflict; long withstood

With single arm, the whole collected force

Of haughty Genoa, and ambitious Gaul.

And shall withstand it, trust the faithful Muse!

It is not in the force of mortal arm,

Scarcely in fate, to bind the struggling soul

That gall'd by wanton power, indignant swells

Against oppression; breathing great revenge,

Careless of life, determin'd to be free.

And fav'ring heaven approves: for see the Man,

Borne to exalt his own, and give mankind

A glimpse of higher natures: just, as great;

The soul of council, and the nerve of war;

Of high unshaken spirit, temper'd sweet

With soft urbanity, and polish'd grace,

And attic wit, and gay unstudied smiles:

Whom heaven in some propitious hour endow'd

With every purer virtue: gave him all

That lifts the hero, or adorns the man.

Gave him the eye sublime; the searching glance

Keen, scanning deep, that smites the guilty soul

As with a beam from heaven; on his brow

Serene, and spacious front, set the broad seal

Of dignity and rule; then smil'd benign

On this fair pattern of a God below,

High wrought, and breath'd into his swelling breast

The large ambitious wish to save his country.

Oh beauteous title to immortal fame!

The man devoted to the public, stands

In the bright records of superior worth

A step below the skies: if he succeed,

The first fair lot which earth affords, is his;

And if he falls, he falls above a throne.

When such their leader, can the brave despair?

Freedom the cause, and PAOLI the chief! {5}

Success to your fair hopes! a British Muse,

Tho' weak and powerless, lifts her fervent voice,

And breathes a prayer for your success. Oh could

She scatter blessings as the morn sheds dews,

To drop upon your heads! but patient hope

Must wait th' appointed hour; secure of this,

That never with the indolent and weak

Will freedom deign to dwell; she must be seiz'd

By that bold arm that wrestles for the blessing:

'Tis heaven's best prize, and must be bought with blood.

When the storm thickens, when the combat burns,

And pain and death in every horrid shape

That can appall the feeble, prowl around,

Then virtue triumphs; then her tow'ring form

Dilates with kindling majesty; her mien

Breathes a diviner spirit, and enlarg'd

Each spreading feature, with an ampler port

And bolder tone, exulting, rides the storm,

And joys amidst the tempest. Then she reaps

Her golden harvest; fruits of nobler growth

And higher relish than meridian suns

Can ever ripen; fair, heroic deeds,

And godlike action. 'Tis not meats, and drinks,

And balmy airs, and vernal suns, and showers

That feed and ripen minds; 'tis toil and danger;

And wrestling with the stubborn gripe of fate;

And war, and sharp distress, and paths obscure

And dubious. The bold swimmer joys not so

To feel the proud waves under him, and beat

With strong repelling arm the billowy surge;

The generous courser does not so exult

To toss his floating mane against the wind,

And neigh amidst the thunder of the war,

As virtue to oppose her swelling breast

Like a firm shield against the darts of fate.

And when her sons in that rough school have learn'd

To smile at danger, then the hand that rais'd

Shall hush the storm, and lead the shining train

Of peaceful years in bright procession on.

Then shall the shepherd's pipe, the muse's lyre,

On CYRNUS' shores be heard: her grateful sons

With loud acclaim and hymns of cordial praise

Shall hail their high deliverers; every name

To virtue dear be from oblivion snatch'd,

And plac'd among the stars: but chiefly thine,

Thine, PAOLI, with sweetest sound shall dwell

On their applauding lips; thy sacred name,

Endear'd to long posterity, some Muse,

More worthy of the theme, shall consecrate

To after-ages, and applauding worlds

Shall bless the godlike man who sav'd his country.

* * * * * * * * *

So vainly wish'd, so fondly hop'd the Muse:

Too fondly hop'd. The iron fates prevail,

And CYRNUS is no more. Her generous sons,

Less vanquish'd than o'erwhelm'd, by numbers crush'd,

Admir'd, unaided fell. So strives the moon

In dubious battle with the gathering clouds,

And strikes a splendour thro' them; till at length

Storms roll'd on storms involve the face of heaven

And quench her struggling fires. Forgive the zeal

That, too presumptuous, whisper'd better things

And read the book of destiny amiss.

Not with the purple colouring of success

Is virtue best adorn'd: th' attempt is praise.

There yet remains a freedom, nobler far

Than kings or senates can destroy or give;

Beyond the proud oppressor's cruel grasp

Seated secure; uninjur'd; undestroy'd;

Worthy of

Author's Notes:

The poem was written in the year 1769.

Celebration Notes:
    1.    The quote is taken from The Seasons "Autumn", by James Thomson.
    2.    Corsica was attempting to win independence from the Italian state of Genoa. In 1768, Genoa ceded the Corsica to France. France prepared to invade and conquer it. Many British liberals lobbied for Britain to aid Corsica, on the grounds that by doing so Britain would be upholding important British historical and philosophical principles of liberty. On 8 May, 1769, several months after this poem was written, the Corsicans were defeated by the French at the Battle of Pontenuovo.
    3.    James Boswell was attempting to publicize the situation in Corsica and to raise money through private subscription for the Corsicans through publication of An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli (1768) and British Essays in Favour of the Brave Corsicans (1768).
    4.    Cyrnus was another name for Corsica.
    5.    General Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807) was the leader of the Corsican forces.


Main Location:

Corsica, France

Corsican leader, General Pasquale Paoli