Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EPISTLES ON THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF WOMEN: 2, by LUCY AIKEN



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EPISTLES ON THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF WOMEN: 2, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Once more my muse uplifts her drooping eye
Last Line: Proves every mode of female servitude.
Alternate Author Name(s): Aikin, Lucy
Subject(s): Women's Rights; Feminism


ONCE more my Muse uplifts her drooping eye,
Checks the weak murmur and restrains the sigh;
Once more, my friend, incline thy candid ear,
And grace my numbers with a smile and tear.
Not mine the art in solemn garb to dress
The shadowy forms of delicate distress;
With baleful charms to call from Fancy's bower
Vain shapes of dread to haunt the lonely hour;
In feverish dreams to feed the pampered thought
With heavenly bliss -- on earth how vainly sought!
Fan with rash breath the passions' smouldering fire,
Whet the keen wish, the thrilling hope inspire,
Woo the young soul its blossoms to unfold,
Then leave it chilled with more than wintry cold.
No; -- rude of hand, with bolder lines I trace
The rugged features of a coarser race :
Fierce on thy view the savage world shall glare,
And all the ills of wretched woman there;
Unknown to her fond love's romantic glow,
The graceful throbs of sentimental woe,
The play of passions and the feelings' strife
That weave the web of finely-chequered life.
But thou possest, unspoiled by tyrant art,
Of the large empire of a generous heart,
Thou wilt not scorn plain nature's rudest strain,
Nor homely misery claim thy sighs in vain.
Come then, my friend; my devious way pursue;
Pierce every clime, and search all ages through;
Stretch wide and wider yet thy liberal mind,
And grasp the sisterhood of womankind:
With mingling anger mark, and conscious pride,
The sex by whom exalted or decried;
Crushed by the savage, fettered by the slave,
But served, but honoured, by the good and brave.
With daring keel attend yon convict train
To new-found deserts of the Southern Main;
Beasts of strange gait there roam the trackless earth,
And monstrous compounds struggle into birth;
A younger world it seems, abortive, crude,
Where untaught Nature sports her fancies rude,
By slow gradations rears her infant plan,
And shows, half-humanized, the monster-man.
Mark the grim ruffian roll his crafty glance,
And crouching, slow, his tiger-step advance,
With brandished club surprise his human prey,
And drag the bleeding victim bride away,
While shouts triumphant wake the orgies dire,
And Rage and Terror trim the nuptial fire. 1
Even such is Savage Man, of beasts the worst,
In want, in guilt, in lawless rapine nurst.
To the dumb tribes that plod their even life
Unbruised by tyranny, unvext by strife,
Instincts and appetites kind Nature gave,
These just supplying what the others crave;
The human brute the headlong passions rule,
While infant Reason flies the moody fool,
Hope, Fear, and Memory play their busy part
And mingle all their chaos in his heart;
Hence Vengeance fires, hence Envy's stings infest,
Hence Superstition goads his timorous breast.
O! not for him life's healthful current flows;
An equal stream that murmurs as it goes;
As rage and torpor hold alternate rule,
It roars a flood, or stagnates in a pool,
Whose sterile brink no buds of fragrance cheer
By love or pity nurtured with a tear.
What wonder then, the Western wilds among
Where the red Indian's hunter-bow is strung,
(Nature's tough son, whose adamantine frame
No pleasures soften and no tortures tame)
If, fiercely pondering in her gloomy mind
The desperate ills that scowl on womankind,
The maddening mother gripes the infant slave,
And forces back the worthless life she gave?
"Swift, swift," she cries, "receive thy last release;
Die, little wretch; die once and be at peace!
Why shouldst thou live, in toil, and pain, and strife,
To curse the names of mother and of wife?
To see at large thy lordly master roam,
The beasts his portion and the woods his home,
Whilst thou, infirm, the sheltering hut must seek,
Poorly dependent, timorously weak,
There hush thy babe, with patient love carest,
And tearful clasp him to thy milkless breast
Hungry and faint, while feasting on his way
Thy reckless hunter wastes the jocund day?
Or, harder task, his rapid courses share,
With patient back the galling burden bear,
While he treads light, and smacks the knotted thong,
And goads with taunts his staggering troop along?
Enough; -- 'tis love, dear babe, that stops thy breath;
'Tis mercy lulls thee to the sleep of death:
Ah! would for me, by like indulgent doom,
A mother's hand had raised the early tomb!
Over these poor bones the moons had rolled in vain,
And brought nor stripes nor famine, toil nor pain;
I had not sought in agony the wild,
Nor, wretched, frantic mother! killed my child."
Want hardens man; by fierce extremes the smart
Inflames and chills and indurates his heart,
Arms his relentless hand with brutal force,
And drives over female necks his furious course.
Not such his mind where Nature, partial queen,
With lavish plenty heaps the bounteous scene;
In laughing isles with broad bananas crowned,
Where tufted cocoas shade the flowery ground;
Here, here at least, where dancing seasons shed
Unfading garlands on his sleeping head,
Love melts to love, and man's ingenuous mind
Feels nature's kindness prompt him to be kind;
He acts no tyranny, he knows no strife,
One harmless holiday his easy life.
Ah cheated hopes! -- see Lawless Love invade
The withering scene, and poison every shade;
Embruted nations couch beneath his yoke,
And infant gore on his dire altars smoke!
Lost Otaheite! -- Breathe one parting sigh,
Then swift, my friend, we turn the bashful eye.
Thrice holy Power, whose fostering, bland embrace
Shields the frail scions of each transient race,
To whom fair Nature trusts the teeming birth
That fills the air, that crowds the peopled earth,
Maternal Love! thy watchful glances roll
From zone to zone, from pole to distant pole;
Cheer the long patience of the brooding hen,
Soothe the she-fox that trembles in her den,
'Mid Greenland ice-caves warm the female bear,
And rouse the tigress from her sultry lair.
At thy command, what zeal, what ardour, fires
The softer sex! a mightier soul inspires: --
Lost to themselves, our melting eyes behold
Prudent, the simple, and the timid, bold.
All own thy sway, save where, on Simoom wing
Triumphant sailing over the blasted spring,
(Whether in Otaheitan groves accurst,
Or Europe's polished scenes the fiend be nurst)
Unhallowed Love bids Nature's self depart,
And makes a desert of the female heart.
But O! how oft, their tender bosoms torn
By countless shafts, thy noblest votaries mourn!
See the soft hind forsake the dewy lawns
To shroud in thicket-shades her tender fawns;
Fearless for them confront the growling foe,
And aim with hoof and head the desperate blow
Freely for them with new-born courage face
The howling horrors of the deathful chase:
Ah! fond in vain, see fired by furious heat
The jealous stag invade her soft retreat,
Wanton in rage her pleading anguish scorn,
And gore his offspring with relentless horn.
Hark to that shriek! from Afric's palmy shore
The yell rolls mingling with the billows' roar:
Grovelling in dust the frantic mother lies; --
"My son, my son, O spare my son!" she cries:
"Sell not thy child! Yon dreary ocean crost,
To thee, to me, to all forever lost,
The white man's slave, no swift-returning oar
Shall homeward urge the wretched captive more,
No tidings reach: -- Who then with kindly care
Shall tend our age, and leafy beds prepare?
Who climb for us the cocoa's scaly side,
Or drain the juicy palm? -- who skim the tide,
Or bold in woods with pointed javelin roam,
And bear to us the savoury booty home?
Save thine own flesh! -- we must not, will not part --
O save this bleeding, bursting, mother's heart!"
Ah fruitless agony! ah slighted prayer!
That bids the husband and the father, spare!
On to the mart the sable tyrant drives
His flocks of children and his herds of wives:
For toys, for drams, their kindred blood is sold,
And broken female hearts are paid with gold;
Exulting Avarice gripes his struggling prize,
The savage tenders, and the christian -- buys . 4
Shrinkst thou, my startled friend, with feeling tear,
From tints too lively, numbers too sincere?
Swift wouldst thou fly to some unspotted scene
Where love and nature rule the blue serene?
Hail, Pastoral Life; to thy calm scenes belong
The lore of sages and the poet's song;
Nurse of rude man, in whose soft lap reclined,
Art, science, dawn upon his wakening mind,
And passion's tender strains, and sentiment refined!
Where cloudless heavens overarch Chaldea's plain,
Stretched by his nightly flock, the vacant swain,
His upturned gaze as sportful fancy warmed,
With ready crook the sand-drawn monsters formed;
Thence learned, Astronomy, thy studious eye,
To track yon orbs, to sweep yon pathless sky.
While still young David roamed the pastoral wild,
The harp, the song, his ardent soul beguiled,
And now to heaven upsoared the ethereal flame,
Now blazed some humble charmer's rustic fame.
Even now, by Freedom led, see gay Content
Stoop from above, to shepherd-wanderers sent;
See over the green expanse of pathless plain
The sunburnt Tartars urge the tented wain;
How gay the living prospect! far and wide
Spread flocks and herds, and shouting herdsmen ride;
And hark! from youths and maids, a mingled throng,
How full, how joyous, bursts the choral song!
Free are these tribes and blest; a churlish soil
They till not, bowed by tyranny and toil;
Nor troll the deep for life's precarious stay;
Nor, beastlike, roam the tangled woods for prey;
Their lot, with sober kindness, gives to share
Labour with plenty, and with freedom, care:
Yet seek not here the boon, all boons above,
The generous intercourse of equal love;
A homely drudge, the Tartar matron knows
No eye that kindles and no heart that glows;
For foreign charms the faithless husband burns,
And clasps in loathed embrace, which fear returns,
The captive wife or tributary maid
By conquest snatched, or lawless terror paid.
No! -- vain the search, -- of warm poetic birth,
Arcadian blossoms scorn the fields of earth;
No lovelorn swains, to tender griefs a prey,
Sigh, sing, and languish through the livelong day;
No rapturous husband and enamoured wife,
To live and love their only care in life,
With crook and scrip on flowery banks reclined
Breathe the warm heart and share the answering mind:
The sprightly Caffre over the moonlight meads
In jovial dance his dusky partner leads,
And vacant Hottentots, short labour done,
Toy, pipe, and carol, in the evening sun;
But the high promptings of the conscious soul
The weak that elevate, the strong control,
Respect, decorum, friendship, ties that bind
To woman's form the homage of the mind,
Heaven's nobler gifts, to riper ages lent,
Disdain the hunter's cave, the shepherd's tent,
And lawless man, or cold, or fierce, or rude,
Proves every mode of female servitude.









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