Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2/Poetical Sketches

609216Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2 — Poetical Sketches (selections)


[Printed in 1783. Written 1768—77. æt. 11—20.]

There is no need for many further critical remarks on these selections from the Poetical Sketches, which have already been spoken of in Chap. VI. of the Life. Among the lyrical pieces here chosen, it would be difficult to award a distinct preference. These Songs are certainly among the small class of modern times which recall the best period of English song writing, whose rarest treasures lie scattered among the plays of our Elizabethan dramatists. They deserve no less than very high admiration in a quite positive sense, which cannot be even qualified by the slight, hasty, or juvenile imperfections of execution to be met with in some of them, though by no means in all. On the other hand, if we view them comparatively; in relation to Blake's youth when he wrote them, or the poetic epoch in which they were produced; it would be hardly possible to over-rate their astonishing merit. The same return to the diction and high feeling of a greater age is to be found in the unfinished play of Edward the Third, from which some fragments are included here. In the original edition, however, these are marred by frequent imperfections in the metre (partly real and partly dependent on careless printing), which I have thought it best to remove, as I found it possible to do so without once, in the slightest degree, affecting the originality of the text. The same has been done in a few similar instances elsewhere. The poem of Blind-man's Buff stands in curious contrast with the rest, as an effort in another manner and, though less excellent, is not without interest. Besides what is here given, there are attempts in the very modern-antique style of ballad prevalent at the time, and in Ossianic prose, but all naturally very inferior, and probably earlier. It is singular that, for formed style and purely literary qualities, Blake, perhaps, never afterwards equalled the best things in this youthful volume, though he often did so in melody and feeling, and more than did so in depth of thought.


My silks and fine array,
My smiles and languished air,
By love are driven away.
And mournful lean Despair
Brings me yew to deck my grave:
Such end true lovers have.

His face is fair as heaven
When springing buds unfold;
Oh, why to him was't given,
Whose heart is wintry cold?
His breast is Love's all-worshipped tomb
Where all Love's pilgrims come.

Bring me an axe and spade,
Bring me a winding-sheet;
When I my grave have made,
Let winds and tempests beat:
Then down I'll lie, as cold as clay.
True love doth pass away!


Love and harmony combine
And around our souls entwine,
While thy branches mix with mine
And our roots together join.

Joys upon our branches sit,
Chirping loud and singing sweet;
Like gentle streams beneath our feet,
Innocence and virtue meet.

Thou the golden fruit dost bear,
I am clad in flowers fair;
Thy sweet boughs perfume the air.
And the turtle buildeth there.

There she sits and feeds her young;
Sweet I hear her mournful song:
And thy lovely leaves among,
There is Love: I hear his tongue.

There his charm'd nest he doth lay,
There he sleeps the night away,
There he sports along the day,
And doth among our branches play.


I love the jocund dance,
The softly-breathing song,
Where innocent eyes do glance,
Where lisps the maiden's tongue.

I love the laughing vale,
I love the echoing hill,
Where mirth does never fail,
And the jolly swain laughs his fill.

I love the pleasant cot,
I love the innocent bower,
Where white and brown is our lot,
Or fruit in the mid-day hour.

I love the oaken seat
Beneath the oaken tree.
Where all the old villagers meet,
And laugh our sports to see.

I love our neighbours all,
But, Kitty, I better love thee:
And love them I ever shall,
But thou art all to me.

The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs unfold!
But lo! the Morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault
Of paved heaven,
With sorrow fraught,
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe
After night I do crowd,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the East
Whence comforts have increas'd;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.


How sweet I roamed from field to field,
And tasted all the summer's pride,
'Till I the Prince of Love beheld,
Who in the sunny beams did glide!

He show'd me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow.

With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
And Phœbus fired my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
And shut me in his golden cage.

He loves to sit and hear me sing,
Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
And mocks my loss of liberty.


Memory, hither come,
And tune your merry notes;
And, while upon the wind
Your music floats,
I'll pore upon the stream
"Where sighing lovers dream,
And fish for fancies as they pass
Within the watery glass.

I'll drink of the clear stream.
And hear the linnet's song;
And there I'll lie and dream
The day along:
And, when night comes, I'll go
To places fit for woe;
Walking along the darkened valley
With silent Melancholy.

Whether on Ida's shady brow,
Or in the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the sun that now
From ancient melody have ceased;

Whether in Heaven ye wander fair,
Or the green corners of the earth,
Or the blue regions of the air,
Where the melodious winds have birth;

Whether on crystal rocks ye rove
Beneath the bosom of the sea,
Wandering in many a coral grove;
Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry;

How have you left the ancient love
That bards of old enjoy'd in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move,
The sound is forced, the notes are few.

Thou fair-hair'd angel of the Evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy brilliant torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves; and whilst thou drawest round
The curtains of the sky, scatter thy dew
On every flower that closes its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And then the lion glares through the dun forest.
The fleeces of our flocks are covered with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.

O thou, with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills do tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavilion: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy softest kisses on her bosom, and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.

O thou who passest thro' our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! Thou, O Summer
Oft pitched'st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when Noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven. Beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys; on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw all
Thy draperies off, and rush into the stream!
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Qur bards are famed who strike the silver wire;
Our youths are bolder than the southern swains;
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance;
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven.
Nor laurel-wreaths against the sultry heat.

When silver snow decks Susan's clothes,
And jewel hangs at th' shepherd's nose,
The blushing bank is all my care,
With hearth so red and walls so fair;
'Heap the sea-coal, come, heap it higher,
'The oaken log lay on the fire.'
The well-washed stools, a circling row,
With lad and lass, how fair the show!
The merry can of nut-brown ale,
The laughing jest, the love-sick tale:
'Till, tired of chat, the game begins,
The lasses prick the lads with pins;
Roger from Dolly twitched the stool,
She falling, kissed the ground, poor fool!
She blushed so red, with side-long glance
At hob-nail Dick who grieved the chance.
But now for Blind-man's Buff they call;
Of each incumbrance clear the hall!

Jenny her silken 'kerchief folds.
And blear-eyed Will the black lot holds;
Now, laughing, stops, with 'Silence! hush!'
And Peggy Pout gives Sam a push.
The Blind-man's arms, extended wide,
Sam slips between;—O woe betide
Thee, clumsy Will!—but tittering Kate
Is penned up in the corner strait!
And now Will's eyes beheld the play,
He thought his face was t'other way.
Now, Kitty, now! what chance hast thou!
Roger so near thee trips!—I vow
She catches him!—then Roger ties
His own head up, but not his eyes;
For thro' the slender cloth he sees,
And runs at Sam, who slips with ease
His clumsy hold; and, dodging round,
Sukey is tumbled on the ground!
See what it is to play unfair!
Where cheating is, there's mischief there.
But Roger still pursues the chase,—
'He sees! he sees!' cries softly Grace.
O Roger, thou, unskilled in art.
Must, surer bound, go through thy part!

Now Kitty, pert, repeats the rhymes,
And Roger turns him round three times;
Then pauses ere he starts—But Dick
Was mischief-bent upon a trick:
Down on his hands and knees he lay,
Directly in the Blind-man's way—
Then cries out, 'Hem!' Hodge heard and ran
With hood-winked chance—sure of his man;
But down he came.—Alas, how frail
Our best of hopes, how soon they fail!
With crimson drops he stains the ground,
Confusion startles all around!
Poor piteous Dick supports his head.
And fain would cure the hurt he made;
But Kitty hastens with a key,
And down his back they straight convey
The cold relief; the blood is stay'd,
And Hodge again holds up his head.
Such are the fortunes of the game;
And those who play should stop the same
By wholesome laws: such as,—all those
Who on the blinded man impose
Stand in his stead. So, long a-gone.
When men were first a nation grown,
Lawless they lived, till wantonness
And liberty began to increase.
And one man lay in another's way:
Then laws were made to keep fair play.



SCENE I.—The coast of France: King Edward and
Nobles before it; the Army.

· · · · · · · · ·
King. . . . . Our names are written equal

In Fame's wide-trophied halls; 'tis ours to gild
The letters, and to make them shine with gold
That never tarnishes: whether Third Edward,
Or Prince of Wales or Montacute or Mortimer,
Or e'en the least by birth, gain brightest fame,
Is in His hand to whom all men are equal.
The world of men is like the numerous stars
That beam and twinkle in the depth of night,
Each clad in glory according to his sphere:—
But we that wander from our native seats,
And beam forth lustre on a darkling world,
Grow larger as we advance; and some, perhaps
The most obscure at home, that scarce were seen
To twinkle in their sphere, may so advance
That the astonish'd world, with upturn'd eyes,
Regardless of the moon and those once bright,
Stand only but to gaze upon their splendour.

[He here knights the Prince and other young Nobles.

Now let us take a just revenge for those
Brave lords who fell beneath the bloody axe
At Paris. Noble Harcourt, thanks, for 'twas
By your advice we landed here in Brittany,
A country not as yet sown with destruction,
And where the fiery whirlwind of swift war
Hath not yet swept its desolating wing.
Into three parties we divide by day,
And separate march, but join again at night:
Each knows his rank, and Heaven marshals all. [Exeunt.

SCENE III.— At Cressy. The King and Sir Thomas Dagworth. The Prince of Wales and Sir John Chandos.

King. What can Sir Thomas Dagworth
Request that Edward can refuse?

Dagw. I hope
Your majesty cannot refuse so mere
A trifle: I've gilt your cause with my best blood,
And would again, were I not now forbid
By him whom I am bound to obey. My hands
Are tied up, all my courage shrunk and wither'd,
My sinews slacken'd, and my voice scarce heard:
Therefore I beg I may return to England.

King. I know not what you could have ask'd, Sir Thomas,
That I would not have sooner parted with
Than such a soldier as you, and such a friend;
Nay, I will know the most remote particulars
Of this your strange petition, that if I can
I still may keep you here.

Dagw. Here on the fields of Cressy we are settled,
'Till Philip spring the timorous covey again.
The wolf is hunted down by causeless fear;
The lion flees, and fear usurps his heart,
Startled, astonish'd at the clamorous cock.
The eagle that doth gaze upon the sun
Fears the small fire that plays about the fen;
If at this moment of their idle fear
The dog seize the wolf, the forester the lion,
The negro, in the crevice of the rock,
Seize on the soaring eagle, undone by flight
They tame submit—such the effect flight has
On noble souls. Now hear its opposite:
The timorous stag starts from the thicket wild,
The fearful crane springs from the plashy fen,
The shining snake glides o'er the bending grass:
The stag turns head, and bays the crying hounds,
The crane o'ertaken fighteth with the hawk.
The snake doth turn and bite the padding foot.
And if your majesty's afraid of Philip,
You are more like a lion than a crane:
Therefore I beg I may return to England.

King. Sir Thomas, now I understand your mirth,
Which often plays with wisdom for its pastime,
And brings good counsel from the breast of laughter.
I hope you'll stay, and see us fight this battle,—
And reap rich harvest in the field of Cressy,
Then go to England, tell them how we fight,
And set all hearts on fire to be with us.
Philip is plum'd, and thinks we flee from him,
Else he would never dare to attack us. Now,
Now is the quarry set! and Death doth sport
In the bright sunshine of this fatal day.

Dagw. Now my heart dances, and I am as light
As the young bridegroom going to be married.
Now must I to my soldiers, get them ready.
Furbish our armours bright, new plume our helms,
And we will sing like the young housewives busied
In the dairy. Now my feet are wing'd, but not
For flight, an 't please your grace.

King. If all my soldiers are as pleased as you,
'Twill be a gallant thing to fight or die.
Then I can never be afraid of Philip.

Dagw. A rawbon'd fellow t'other day pass'd by me;
I told him to put off his hungry looks;
He said: ' I hunger for another battle.'
I saw a Welshman with a fiery face:
I told him that he look'd like a candle half
Burn'd out. He answer'd he was 'pig enough
To light another pattle.' Last night beneath
The moon I walk'd abroad when all had pitch'd
Their tents, and all were still:
I heard a blooming youth singing a song
He had compos'd, and at each pause he wip'd
His dropping eyes. The ditty was,—'If he
Return'd victorious he should wed a maiden
Fairer than snow and rich as midsummer.'
Another wept, and wish'd health to his father.
I chid them both, but gave them noble hopes.
These are the minds that glory in the battle,
And leap and dance to hear the trumpet sound.

King. Sir Thomas Dagworth, be thou near our person:
Thy heart is richer than the vales of France;
I will not part with such a man as thou.
If Philip came arm'd in the ribs of death,
And shook his mortal dart against my head,
Thou'dst laugh his fury into nerveless shame!
Go now, for thou art suited to the work,
Throughout the camp; inflame the timorous,
Blow up the sluggish into ardour, and
Confirm the strong with strength, the weak inspire,
And wing their brows with hope and expectation:
Then to our tent return, and meet the Council.

Exit Dagworth.

. . . . . . . . .

Prince. Now we are alone, Sir John, I will unburthen
And breathe my hopes into the burning air,
Where thousand deaths are posting up and down,
Commission'd to this fatal field of Cressy.
Methinks I see them arm my gallant soldiers,
And gird the sword upon each thigh, and fit
Each shining helm, and string each stubborn bow,
And dance unto the neighing of our steeds:
Methinks the shout begins, the battle burns;
Methinks I see them perch on English crests.
And roar the wild flame of fierce war upon
The thronged enemy. In truth, I am too full;
It is my sin to love the noise of war.
Chandos, thou seest my weakness; for strong Nature
Will bend or break us. My blood like a spring-tide
Does rise so high to overflow all bounds
Of moderation; while Reason in her
Frail bark can see no shore or bound for vast
Ambition. Come then, take the helm, my Chandos,
That my full-blown sails overset me not
In the wild tempest; condemn my venturous youth
That plays with danger as the innocent child,
Unthinking, plays upon the viper's den:
I am a coward in my reason, Chandos.

Chandos. You are a man, my Prince, and a brave man,
If I can judge of actions; but your heat
Is the effect of youth and want of use;
Use makes the armed field and noisy war
Pass over as a cloud does, unregarded,
Or but expected as a thing of course.
Age is contemplative; each rolling year
Doth bring forth fruit to the mind's treasure-house;
While vacant Youth doth crave and seek about
Within itself, and findeth discontent;
Then, tir'd of thought, impatient takes the wing,
Seizes the fruits of Time, attacks Experience,
Roams round vast Nature's forest, where no bounds
Are set; the swiftest may have room, the strongest
Find prey; till, tir'd at length, sated and tir'd
With the still changing sameness, old variety,
We sit us down, and view our former joys
As worthless.

Prince. Then, if we must tug for experience,
Let us not fear to beat round Nature's wilds
And rouse the strongest prey; then if we fall,
We fall with glory: for I know the wolf
Is dangerous to fight, not good for food,
Nor is the hide a comely vestment; so
We have our battle for our pains. I know
That youth has need of age to point fit prey,
And oft the stander-by shall steal the fruit
Of the other's labour. This is philosophy;
These are the tricks of the world; but the pure soul
Shall mount on wings, disdaining little sport,
And cut a path into the heaven of glory,
Leaving a track of light for men to wonder at.
I'm glad my father does not hear me talk:
You can find friendly excuses for me, Chandos;
But, do you not think, Sir John, that if it please
The Almighty to stretch out my span of life
I shall with pleasure view a glorious action
Which my youth master'd?

Chand. Age, my lord, views motives,
And views not acts. When neither warbling voice
Nor trilling pipe is heard, nor pleasure sits
With trembling age, the voice of Conscience, then
Sweeter than music in a summer's eve,
Shall warble round the snowy head, and keep
Sweet symphony to feather'd angels sitting
As guardians round your chair; then shall the pulse
Beat slow; and taste and touch, sight, sound, and smell,
That sing and dance round Reason's fine-wrought throne,
Shall flee away, and leave him all forlorn—

Yet not forlorn if Conscience is his friend.[Exeunt.

SCENE V.—In Sir Thomas Dagworth's Tent. To him enters Sir Walter Manny.

Sir Walter. Sir Thomas Dagworth, I have been a-weeping
Over the men that are to die to-day.

Dagw. Why, brave Sir Walter, you or I may fall.

Sir Walter. I know this breathing flesh must lie and rot
Cover'd with silence and forgetfulness.—
Death wons in cities' smoke, and in still night,
When men sleep in their beds, walketh about!
How many in walled cities lie and groan.
Turning themselves about upon their beds,
Talking with Death, answering his hard demands!
How many walk in darkness, terrors around
The curtains of their beds, destruction still
Ready without the door! how many sleep
In earth, cover'd with stones and deathy dust.
Resting in quietness, whose spirits walk
Upon the clouds of heaven, to die no more!
Yet death is terrible, though on angels' wings:
How terrible, then, is the field of death!
Where he doth rend the vault of heav'n, and shake
The gates of hell! Oh, Dagworth! France is sick:
The very sky, tho' sunshine light it, seems
To me as pale as the pale fainting man
On his death-bed, whose face is shown by light
Of sickly taper! It makes me sad and sick
At very heart. Thousands must fall to-day.

Dagw. Thousands of souls must leave this prison house
To be exalted to those heavenly fields,
Where songs of triumph, palms of victory,
Where peace, and joy, and love, and calm content
Sit singing in the azure clouds, and strew
Flowers of heaven's growth over the banquet table.
Bind ardent Hope upon your feet like shoes,
Put on the robe of preparation,
The table is prepar'd in shining heav'n,
The flowers of immortality are blown;
Let those that fight fight in good steadfastness,
And those that fall shall rise in victory.

Sir Walter. I've often seen the burning field of war
And often heard the dismal clang of arms;
But never, till this fatal day of Cressy,
Has my soul fainted with these views of death.
I seem to be in one great charnel-house,
And seem to scent the rotten carcases!
I seem to hear the dismal yells of Death,
While the black gore drops from his horrid jaws;
Yet I not fear the monster in his pride.—
But oh, the souls that are to die to-day!

Dagw. Stop, brave Sir Walter, let me drop a tear,
Then let the clarion of war begin;
I'll fight and weep! 'tis in my country's cause;
I'll weep and shout for glorious liberty.
Grim War shall laugh and shout, bedeck'd in tears,
And blood shall flow like streams across the meadows,
That murmur down their pebbly channels, and
Spend their sweet lives to do their country service.
Then England's leaves shall shoot, her fields shall smile,
Her ships shall sing across the foaming sea,
Her mariners shall use the flute and viol,
And rattling guns and black and dreary war
Shall be no more.

Sir Walter. Well, let the trumpet sound and the drum beat;
Let war stain the blue heavens with bloody banners.
I'll draw my sword, nor ever sheath it up,
Till England blow the trump of victory,

Or I lie stretch'd upon the field of death. [Exeunt.

SCENE VI.—In the Camp. Several of the Warriors met in the King's Tent. A Minstrel sings.

O Sons of Trojan Brutus, cloth'd in war,
Whose voices are the thunder of the field,

· · · · · · · ·

Your ancestors came from the fires of Troy,
(Like lions rous'd by lightning from their dens,
Whose eyes do glare against the stormy fires,)
Heated with war, fill'd with the blood of Greeks,
With helmets hewn, and shields covered with gore,
In navies black, broken with wind and tide.

· · · · · · · ·

They landed in firm array upon the rocks
Of Albion; they kiss'd the rocky shore:
'Be thou our mother and our nurse,' they said,
'Our children's mother; and thou shalt be our grave,
'The sepulchre of ancient Troy, from whence
'Shall rise cities, and thrones, and awful powers.'

Our fathers swarm from the ships. Giant voices
Are heard from out the hills; the enormous sons
Of Ocean run from rocks and caves: wild men,
Naked, and roaring like lions, hurling rocks,
And wielding knotty clubs, like oaks entangled,
Thick as a forest ready for the axe.

· · · · · · · ·

Our fathers move in firm array to battle;
The savage monsters rush like roaring fire,
Like as a forest roars with crackling flames.
When the red lightning borne by furious storms
Lights on some woody shore, and the parch'd heavens
Rain fire into the molten raging sea.

· · · · · · · ·

Our fathers, sweating, lean on their spears and view
The mighty dead: giant bodies streaming blood,
Dread visages frowning in silent death.
Then Brutus speaks, inspired; our fathers sit
Attentive on the melancholy shore.
Hear ye the voice of Brutus:—'The flowing waves
'Of Time come rolling o'er my breast,' he said,
'And my heart labours with futurity.
'Our sons shall rule the empire of the sea,
'Their mighty wings shall stretch from east to west;
'Their nest is in the sea, but they shall roam
'Like eagles for their prey . . .

· · · · · · · ·

'Our sons shall rise from thrones in joy, each one
'Buckling his armour on; Morning shall be
'Prevented by the gleaming of their swords,
'And Evening hear their song of victory.

· · · · · · · ·

'Freedom shall stand upon the cliffs of Albion,
'Casting her blue eyes over the green ocean;
'Or, towering, stand upon the roaring waves,
'Stretching her mighty spear o'er distant lands,
'While with her eagle wings she covereth
'Fair Albion's shore and all her families.'

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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