Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EPISTLES ON THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF WOMEN: 1, by LUCY AIKEN

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: Hear, o my friend, my anna, nor disdain
Last Line: Be hushed, my plaintive lyre! My listening friend, adieu!
Alternate Author Name(s): Aikin, Lucy
Subject(s): Women's Rights; Feminism

HEAR, O my friend, my Anna, nor disdain
My sober lyre and moralizing strain!
I sing the Fate of Woman: -- Man to man
Adds praise, and glory lights his mortal span;
Creation's lord, he shines from youth to age,
The blooming warrior or the bearded sage;
But she, frail offspring of an April morn,
Poor helpless passenger from love to scorn,
While dimpled youth her sprightly cheek adorns
Blooms a sweet rose, a rose amid the thorns;
A few short hours, with faded charms to earth
She sinks, and leaves no vestige of her birth.
Even while the youth, in love and rapture warm,
Sighs as he hangs upon her beauteous form,
Careless and cold he views the beauteous mind,
For virtue, bliss, eternity designed.
"Banish, my fair," he cries, "those studious looks;
Oh! what should beauty learn from crabbed books?
Sweetly to speak and sweetly smile be thine;
Beware, nor change that dimple to a line!"
Well pleased she hears, vain triumph lights her eyes;
Well pleased, in prattle and in smiles complies;
But eyes, alas! grow dim, and roses fade,
And man contemns the trifler he has made.
The glass reversed by magic power of Spleen,
A wrinkled idiot now the fair is seen;
Then with the sex his headlong rage must cope,
And stab with Juvenal, or sting with Pope.
Be mine, while Truth with calm and artless grace
Lifts her clear mirror to the female face,
With steadier hand the pencil's task to guide,
And win a blush from Man's relenting pride.
No Amazon, in frowns and terror drest,
I poise the spear, or nod the threatening crest,
Defy the law, arraign the social plan,
Throw down the gauntlet in the face of man,
And, rashly bold, divided empire claim,
Unborrowed honours, and an equal's name:
No, Heaven forbid! I touch no sacred thing,
But bow to Right Divine in man and king;
Nature endows him with superior force,
Superior wisdom then I grant, of course;
For who gainsays the despot in his might,
Or when was ever weakness in the right ?
With passive reverence too I hail the law,
Formed to secure the strong, the weak to awe,.
Impartial guardian of unerring sway,
Set up by man for woman to obey.
In vain we pout or argue, rail or chide,
He mocks our idle wrath and checks our pride;
Resign we then the club and lion's skin,
And be our sex content to knit and spin;
To bow inglorious to a master's rule,
And good and bad obey, and wise and fool;
Here a meek drudge, a listless captive there,
For gold now bartered, now as cheap as air;
Prize of the coward rich or lawless brave,
Scorned and caressed, a plaything and a slave,
Yet taught with spaniel soul to kiss the rod,
And worship man as delegate of God.
Ah! what is human life? a narrow span
Eked out with cares and pains to us and man;
A bloody scroll that vice and folly stain,
That blushing Nature blots with tears in vain,
That frowning Wisdom reads with tone severe,
While Pity shudders with averted ear.
Yet will I dare its varying modes to trace
Through many a distant tribe and vanisht race;
The sketch perchance shall touch the ingenuous heart,
And hint its moral with a pleasing art.
Aid me, Historic Muse! unfold thy store
Of rich, of various, never-cloying lore;
Thence Fancy flies with new-born visions fraught,
There old Experience lends his hoards to Thought.
When slumbering Adam pressed the lonely earth, --
Unconscious parent of a wondrous birth, --
As forth to light the infant-woman sprung,
By pitying angels thus her doom was sung:
"Ah! fairest creature! born to changeful skies,
To bliss and agony, to smiles and sighs:
Beauty's frail child, to thee, though doomed to bear
By far the heavier half of human care,
Deceitful Nature's stepdame-love assigned
A form more fragile, and a tenderer mind;
More copious tears from Pity's briny springs,
And, trembling Sympathy! thy finest strings:
While ruder man she prompts, in pride of power,
To bruise, to slay, to ravage, to devour;
On prostrate weakness turn his gory steel,
And point the wounds not all thy tears can heal.
Poor victim! stern the mandate of thy birth,
Ah dote not, smile not, on the things of earth!
Subdue thyself; those rapturous flutterings still!
Armed with meek courage and a patient will,
With thoughtful eye pursue thy destined way,
Adore thy God, and hope a brighter day!"
In solemn notes thus flowed the prescient strain, --
But flowed on Eve's unpractised ear in vain;
In smiling wonder fixt, the new-born bride
Drank the sweet gale, the glowing landscape eyed,
And murmured untried sounds, and gazed on every side.
With look benign the boding angels view
The fearless innocent, and wave adieu:
"Too well thy daughters shall our strain believe;
Too short thy dream of bliss, ill-fated Eve."
Prophetic spirits! that with ken sublime
Sweep the long windings of the flood of time,
Joyless and stern, your deep-toned numbers dwell
On rocks, on whirlpools, and the foaming swell,
But pass unmarked the skiffs that gaily glide
With songs and streamers down the dimpling tide:
Else rapturous notes had floated on the wind,
And hailed the stranger born to bless her kind,
To bear from heaven to earth the golden ties,
Bind willing man, and draw him to the skies.
See where the world's new master roams along,
Vainly intelligent and idly strong;
Mark his long listless step and torpid air,
His brow of densest gloom and fixt infantile stare!
Those sullen lips no mother's lips have prest,
Nor drawn, sweet labour! at her kindly breast;
No mother's voice has touched that slumbering ear,
Nor glistening eye beguiled him of a tear;
Love nursed not him with sweet endearing wiles,
Nor woman taught the sympathy of smiles;
Vacant and sad his rayless glances roll,
Nor hope nor joy illumes his darkling soul;
Ah! hapless world that such a wretch obeys!
Ah! joyless Adam, though a world he sways!
But see! -- they meet, -- they gaze, -- the new-born pair; --
Mark now the wakening youth, the wondering fair:
Sure a new soul that moping idiot warms,
Dilates his stature, and his mien informs!
A brighter crimson tints his glowing cheek;
His broad eye kindles, and his glances speak.
So roll the clouds from some vast mountain's head,
Melt into mist, and down the valleys spread;
His crags and caves the bursting sunbeams light,
And burn and blaze upon his topmost height;
Broad in full day he lifts his towering crest,
And fire celestial sparkles from his breast.
Eve too, how changed! -- No more with baby grace
The smile runs dimpling over her trackless face,
As painted meads invite her roving glance,
Or birds with liquid trill her ear intrance:
With downcast look she stands, abasht and meek,
Now pale, now rosy red, her varying cheek;
Now first her fluttering bosom heaves a sigh,
Now first a tear stands trembling in her eye;
For hark! the youth, as love and nature teach,
Breathes his full bosom, and breaks forth in speech;
His quivering lips the winged accents part,
And pierce, how swift! to Eve's unguarded heart.
Now rose complete the mighty Maker's plan,
And Eden opened in the heart of Man;
Kindled by Hope, by gentle Love refined,
Sweet converse cheered him, and a kindred mind;
Nor deem that He, beneficent and just,
In woman's hand who lodged this sacred trust,
For man alone her conscious soul informed,
For man alone her tenderer bosom warmed;
Denied to her the cup of joy to sip,
But bade her raise it to his greedy lip,
Poor instrument of bliss, and tool of ease,
Born but to serve, existing but to please: --
No; -- hand in hand the happy creatures trod,
Alike the children of no partial God;
Equal they trod till want and guilt arose,
Till Savage blood was spilt, and man had foes:
Ah! days of happiness, -- with tearful eye
I see you gleam, and fade, and hurry by:
Why should my strain the darkening theme pursue ?
Be hushed, my plaintive lyre! my listening friend, adieu!

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