THE MORNING OF THE DAY APPOINTED FOR A GENERAL THANKSGIVING.
JANUARY 18, 1816
The first stanza of this Ode was composed almost extempore, in
front of Rydal Mount, before church-time, and on such a morning
and precisely with such objects before my eyes as are here
described. The view taken of Napoleon's character and proceedings
is little in accordance with that taken by some historians and
critical philosophers. I am glad and proud of the difference, and
trust that this series of poems, infinitely below the subject as
they are, will survive to counteract, in unsophisticated minds,
the pernicious and degrading tendency of those views and doctrines
that lead to the idolatry of power, as power, and, in that false
splendour to lose sight of its real nature and constitution as it
often acts for the gratification of its possessor without
reference to a beneficial end--an infirmity that has characterised
men of all ages, classes, and employments, since Nimrod became a
mighty hunter before the Lord.
HAIL, orient Conqueror of gloomy Night!
Thou that canst shed the bliss of gratitude
On hearts howe'er insensible or rude;
Whether thy punctual visitations smite
The haughty towers where monarchs dwell;
Or thou, impartial Sun, with presence bright
Cheer'st the low threshold of the peasant's cell!
Not unrejoiced I see thee climb the sky
In naked splendour, clear from mist or haze,
Or cloud approaching to divert the rays,
Which even in deepest winter testify
Thy power and majesty,
Dazzling the vision that presumes to gaze.
--Well does thine aspect usher in this Day;
As aptly suits therewith that modest pace
Submitted to the chains
That bind thee to the path which God ordains
That thou shalt trace,
Till, with the heavens and earth, thou pass away!
Nor less, the stillness of these frosty plains,
Their utter stillness, and the silent grace
Of yon ethereal summits white with snow,
(Whose tranquil pomp and spotless purity
Report of storms gone by
To us who tread below)
Do with the service of this Day accord.
--Divinest Object which the uplifted eye
Of mortal man is suffered to behold;
Thou, who upon those snow-clad Heights has poured
Meek lustre, nor forget'st the humble Vale;
Thou who dost warm Earth's universal mould,
And for thy bounty wert not unadored
By pious men of old;
Once more, heart-cheering Sun, I bid thee hail!
Bright be thy course to-day, let not this promise fail!
'Mid the deep quiet of this morning hour,
All nature seems to hear me while I speak,
By feelings urged that do not vainly seek
Apt language, ready as the tuneful notes
That stream in blithe succession from the throats
Of birds, in leafy bower,
Warbling a farewell to a vernal shower.
--There is a radiant though a short-lived flame,
That burns for Poets in the dawning east;
And oft my soul hath kindled at the same,
When the captivity of sleep had ceased;
But He who fixed immoveably the frame
Of the round world, and built, by laws as strong,
A solid refuge for distress--
The towers of righteousness;
He knows that from a holier altar came
The quickening spark of this day's sacrifice;
Knows that the source is nobler whence doth rise
The current of this matin song;
That deeper far it lies
Than aught dependent on the fickle skies.
Have we not conquered?--by the vengeful sword?
Ah no, by dint of Magnanimity;
That curbed the baser passions, and left free
A loyal band to follow their liege Lord
Clear-sighted Honour, and his staid Compeers,
Along a track of most unnatural years;
In execution of heroic deeds
Whose memory, spotless as the crystal beads
Of morning dew upon the untrodden meads,
Shall live enrolled above the starry spheres.
He, who in concert with an earthly string
Of Britain's acts would sing,
He with enraptured voice will tell
Of One whose spirit no reverse could quell;
Of One that 'mid the failing never failed--
Who paints how Britain struggled and prevailed
Shall represent her labouring with an eye
Of circumspect humanity;
Shall show her clothed with strength and skill,
All martial duties to fulfil;
Firm as a rock in stationary fight;
In motion rapid as the lightning's gleam;
Fierce as a flood-gate bursting at midnight
To rouse the wicked from their giddy dream--
Woe, woe to all that face her in the field!
Appalled she may not be, and cannot yield.
And thus is 'missed' the sole true glory
That can belong to human story!
At which they only shall arrive
Who through the abyss of weakness dive.
The very humblest are too proud of heart;
And one brief day is rightly set apart
For Him who lifteth up and layeth low;
For that Almighty God to whom we owe,
Say not that we have vanquished--but that we survive.
How dreadful the dominion of the impure!
Why should the Song be tardy to proclaim
That less than power unbounded could not tame
That soul of Evil--which, from hell let loose,
Had filled the astonished world with such abuse
As boundless patience only could endure?
--Wide-wasted regions--cities wrapt in flame--
Who sees, may lift a streaming eye
To Heaven;--who never saw, may heave a sigh;
But the foundation of our nature shakes,
And with an infinite pain the spirit aches,
When desolated countries, towns on fire,
Are but the avowed attire
Of warfare waged with desperate mind
Against the life of virtue in mankind;
Assaulting without ruth
The citadels of truth;
While the fair gardens of civility,
By ignorance defaced,
By violence laid waste,
Perish without reprieve for flower or tree!
A crouching purpose--a distracted will--
Opposed to hopes that battened upon scorn,
And to desires whose ever-waxing horn
Not all the light of earthly power could fill;
Opposed to dark, deep plots of patient skill,
And to celerities of lawless force;
Which, spurning God, had flung away remorse--
What could they gain but shadows of redress?
--So bad proceeded propagating worse;
And discipline was passion's dire excess.
Widens the fatal web, its lines extend,
And deadlier poisons in the chalice blend.
When will your trials teach you to be wise?
--O prostrate Lands, consult your agonies!
No more--the guilt is banished,
And, with the guilt, the shame is fled;
And, with the guilt and shame, the Woe hath vanished,
Shaking the dust and ashes from her head!
--No more--these lingerings of distress
Sully the limpid stream of thankfulness.
What robe can Gratitude employ
So seemly as the radiant vest of Joy?
What steps so suitable as those that move
In prompt obedience to spontaneous measures
Of glory, and felicity, and love,
Surrendering the whole heart to sacred pleasures?
O Britain! dearer far than life is dear,
If one there be
Of all thy progeny
Who can forget thy prowess, never more
Be that ungrateful Son allowed to hear
Thy green leaves rustle or thy torrents roar.
As springs the lion from his den,
As from a forest-brake
Upstarts a glistering snake,
The bold Arch-despot re-appeared;--again
Wide Europe heaves, impatient to be cast,
With all her armed Powers,
On that offensive soil, like waves upon a thousand shores.
The trumpet blew a universal blast!
But Thou art foremost in the field:--there stand:
Receive the triumph destined to thy hand!
All States have glorified themselves;--their claims
Are weighed by Providence, in balance even;
And now, in preference to the mightiest names,
To Thee the exterminating sword is given.
Dread mark of approbation, justly gained!
Exalted office, worthily sustained!
Preserve, O Lord! within our hearts
The memory of thy favour,
That else insensibly departs,
And loses its sweet savour!
Lodge it within us!--as the power of light
Lives inexhaustibly in precious gems,
Fixed on the front of Eastern diadems,
So shine our thankfulness for ever bright!
What offering, what transcendent monument
Shall our sincerity to Thee present?
--Not work of hands; but trophies that may reach
To highest Heaven--the labour of the Soul;
That builds, as thy unerring precepts teach,
Upon the internal conquests made by each,
Her hope of lasting glory for the whole.
Yet will not heaven disown nor earth gainsay
The outward service of this day;
Whether the worshippers entreat
Forgiveness from God's mercy-seat;
Or thanks and praises to His throne ascend
That He has brought our warfare to an end,
And that we need no second victory!--
Ha! what a ghastly sight for man to see;
And to the heavenly saints in peace who dwell,
For a brief moment, terrible;
But, to thy sovereign penetration, fair,
Before whom all things are, that were,
All judgments that have been, or e'er shall be;
Links in the chain of thy tranquillity!
Along the bosom of this favoured Nation,
Breathe Thou, this day, a vital undulation!
Let all who do this land inherit
Be conscious of thy moving spirit!
Oh, 'tis a goodly Ordinance,--the sight,
Though sprung from bleeding war, is one of pure delight;
Bless Thou the hour, or ere the hour arrive,
When a whole people shall kneel down in prayer,
And, at one moment, in one rapture, strive
With lip and heart to tell their gratitude
For thy protecting care,
Their solemn joy--praising the Eternal Lord
For tyranny subdued,
And for the sway of equity renewed,
For liberty confirmed, and peace restored!
But hark--the summons!--down the placid lake
Floats the soft cadence of the church-tower bells;
Bright shines the Sun, as if his beams would wake
The tender insects sleeping in their cells;
Bright shines the Sun--and not a breeze to shake
The drops that tip the melting icicles.
'O, enter now his temple gate!'
Inviting words--perchance already flung
(As the crowd press devoutly down the aisle
Of some old Minster's venerable pile)
From voices into zealous passion stung,
While the tubed engine feels the inspiring blast,
And has begun--its clouds of sound to cast
Forth towards empyreal Heaven,
As if the fretted roof were riven.
'Us', humbler ceremonies now await;
But in the bosom, with devout respect
The banner of our joy we will erect,
And strength of love our souls shall elevate:
For to a few collected in his name,
Their heavenly Father will incline an ear
Gracious to service hallowed by its aim;--
Awake! the majesty of God revere!
Go--and with foreheads meekly bowed
Present your prayers--go--and rejoice aloud--
The Holy One will hear!
And what, 'mid silence deep, with faith sincere,
Ye, in your low and undisturbed estate,
Shall simply feel and purely meditate--
Of warnings--from the unprecedented might,
Which, in our time, the impious have disclosed;
And of more arduous duties thence imposed
Upon the future advocates of right;
Of mysteries revealed,
And judgments unrepealed,
Of earthly revolution,
And final retribution,--
To his omniscience will appear
An offering not unworthy to find place,
On this high DAY of THANKS, before the
Throne of Grace!
Title: 'Thanksgiving Ode.'
Wholly unworthy of touching upon the momentous subject here
treated would that Poet be, before whose eyes the present
distresses under which this kingdom labours could interpose a veil
sufficiently thick to hide, or even to obscure, the splendour of
this great moral triumph. If I have given way to exultation,
unchecked by these distresses, it might be sufficient to protect
me from a charge of insensibility, should I state my own belief
that the sufferings will be transitory. Upon the wisdom of a very
large majority of the British nation rested that generosity which
poured out the treasures of this country for the deliverance of
Europe: and in the same national wisdom, presiding in time of
peace over an energy not inferior to that which has been displayed
in war, 'they' confide, who encourage a firm hope that the cup of
our wealth will be gradually replenished. There will, doubtless,
be no few ready to indulge in regrets and repinings; and to feed a
morbid satisfaction, by aggravating these burthens in imagination;
in order that calamity so confidently prophesied, as it has not
taken the shape which their sagacity allotted to it, may appear as
grievous as possible under another. But the body of the nation
will not quarrel with the gain, because it might have been
purchased at a less price; and, acknowledging in these sufferings,
which they feel to have been in a great degree unavoidable, a
consecration of their noble efforts, they will vigorously apply
themselves to remedy the evil.
Nor is it at the expense of rational patriotism, or in disregard
of sound philosophy, that I have given vent to feelings tending to
encourage a martial spirit in the bosoms of my countrymen, at a
time when there is a general outcry against the prevalence of
these dispositions. The British army, both by its skill and valour
in the field, and by the discipline which rendered it, to the
inhabitants of the several countries where its operations were
carried on, a protection from the violence of their own troops,
has performed services that will not allow the language of
gratitude and admiration to be suppressed or restrained (whatever
be the temper of the public mind) through a scrupulous dread lest
the tribute due to the past should prove an injurious incentive
for the future. Every man deserving the name of Briton adds his
voice to the chorus which extols the exploits of his countrymen,
with a consciousness, at times overpowering the effort, that they
transcend all praise.--But this particular sentiment, thus
irresistibly excited, is not sufficient. The nation would err
grievously if she suffered the abuse which other states have made
of military power to prevent her from perceiving that no people
ever was or can be independent, free, or secure, much less great,
in any sane application of the word, without a cultivation of
military virtues. Nor let it be overlooked that the benefits
derivable from these sources are placed within the reach of Great
Britain, under conditions peculiarly favourable. The same insular
position which, by rendering territorial incorporation impossible,
utterly precludes the desire of conquest under the most seductive
shape it can assume, enables her to rely, for her defence against
foreign foes, chiefly upon a species of armed force from which her
own liberties have nothing to fear. Such are the privileges of her
situation; and, by permitting, they invite her to give way to the
courageous instincts of human nature, and to strengthen and refine
them by culture.
But some have more than insinuated that a design exists to
subvert the civil character of the English people by
unconstitutional applications and unnecessary increase of military
power. The advisers and abettors of such a design, were it
possible that it should exist, would be guilty of the most heinous
crime, which, upon this planet, can be committed. Trusting that
this apprehension arises from the delusive influences of an
honourable jealousy, let me hope that the martial qualities which
I venerate will be fostered by adhering to those good old usages
which experience has sanctioned, and by availing ourselves of new
means of indisputable promise: particularly by applying, in its
utmost possible extent, that system of tuition whose master-spring
is a habit of gradually enlightened subordination;--by imparting
knowledge, civil, moral, and religious, in such measure that the
mind, among all classes of the community, may love, admire, and be
prepared and accomplished to defend, that country under whose
protection its faculties have been unfolded and its riches
acquired;--by just dealing towards all orders of the state, so
that, no members of it being trampled upon, courage may everywhere
continue to rest immoveably upon its ancient English foundation,
personal self-respect;--by adequate rewards and permanent honours
conferred upon the deserving;--by encouraging athletic exercises
and manly sports among the peasantry of the country;--and by
especial care to provide and support institutions in which, during
a time of peace, a reasonable proportion of the youth of the
country may be instructed in military science.
I have only to add that I should feel little satisfaction in
giving to the world these limited attempts to celebrate the
virtues of my country, if I did not encourage a hope that a
subject, which it has fallen within my province to treat only in
the mass, will by other poets be illustrated in that detail which
its importance calls for, and which will allow opportunities to
give the merited applause to PERSONS as well as to THINGS.
The ode was published along with other pieces, now interspersed
through this volume.
Stanza 6, 10: "Discipline the rule whereof is passion."