Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO CURIO, by MARK AKENSIDE



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AN EPISTLE TO CURIO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Thrice has the spring beheld thy faded fame
Last Line: And teach her slaves that vice was born to fear.
Subject(s): Freedom; Roman Empire; Slavery; Tyranny & Tyrants; Liberty; Serfs; Dictators


THRICE has the spring beheld thy faded fame,
And the fourth winter rises on thy shame,
Since I exulting grasp'd the votive shell,
In sounds of triumph all thy praise to tell;
Blest could my skill through ages make thee shine,
And proud to mix my memory with thine.
But now the cause that waked my song before,
With praise, with triumph, crowns the toil no more.
If to the glorious man whose faithful cares,
Nor quell'd by malice, nor relax'd by years,
Had aw'd Ambition's wild audacious hate,
And dragg'd at length Corruption to her fate;
If every tongue its large applauses ow'd,
And well-earn'd laurels every muse bestow'd;
If public Justice urged the high reward,
And Freedom smiled on the devoted bard;
Say then, to him whose levity or lust
Laid all the people's generous hopes in dust;
Who taught Ambition firmer heights of power,
And sav'd Corruption at her hopeless hour;
Does not each tongue its execrations owe?
Shall not each muse a wreath of shame bestow?
And public Justice sanctify th' award?
And Freedom's hand protect the impartial bard?

Yet long reluctant I forbore thy name,
Long watch'd thy virtue like a dying flame,
Hung o'er each glimmering spark with anxious eyes,
And wish'd and hoped the light again would rise.
But since thy guilt still more entire appears,
Since no art hides, no supposition clears;
Since vengeful Slander now too sinks her blast,
And the first rage of Party-hate is past;
Calm as the judge of truth, at length I come
To weigh thy merits, and pronounce thy doom:
So may my trust from all reproach be free;
And Earth and Time confirm the fair decree.

There are who say they view'd without amaze
The sad reverse of all thy former praise:
That through the pageants of a patriot's name,
They pierc'd the foulness of thy secret aim;
Or deem'd thy arm exalted but to throw
The public thunder on a private foe.
But I, whose soul consented to thy cause,
Who felt thy genius stamp its own applause,
Who saw the spirits of each glorious age
Move in thy bosom, and direct thy rage;
I scorn'd the ungenerous gloss of slavish minds,
The owl-eyed race whom Virtue's lustre blinds.
Spite of the learned in the ways of vice,
And all who prove that each man has his price,
I still believed thy end was just and free;
And yet, even yet believe it—spite of thee.
Even though thy mouth impure has dared disclaim,
Urg'd by the wretched impotence of shame,
Whatever filial cares thy zeal had paid
To laws infirm, and liberty decay'd;
Has begg'd Ambition to forgive the show;
Has told Corruption thou wert ne'er her foe;
Has boasted in thy country's awful ear,
Her gross delusion when she held thee dear;
How tame she followed thy tempestuous call,
And heard thy pompous tales, and trusted all—
Rise from your sad abodes, ye curs'd of old
For laws subverted, and for cities sold!
Paint all the noblest trophies of your guilt,
The oaths you perjured, and the blood you spilt;
Yet must you one untempted vileness own,
One dreadful palm reserv'd for him alone;
With studied arts his country's praise to spurn,
To beg the infamy he did not earn,
To challenge hate when honour was his due,
And plead his crimes where all his virtue knew.
Do robes of state the guarded heart enclose
From each fair feeling human nature knows?
Can pompous titles stun the enchanted ear
To all that reason, all that sense would hear?
Else could thou e'er desert thy sacred post,
In such unthankful baseness to be lost?
Else couldst thou wed the emptiness of vice,
And yield thy glories at an idiot's price?

When they who, loud for liberty and laws,
In doubtful times had fought their country's cause,
When now of conquest and dominion sure,
They sought alone to hold their fruits secure;
When taught by these, Oppression hid the face,
To leave Corruption stronger in her place,
By silent spells to work the public fate,
And taint the vitals of the passive state,
Till healing Wisdom should avail no more,
And Freedom loath to tread the poison'd shore;
Then, like some guardian god that flies to save
The weary pilgrim from an instant grave,
Whom, sleeping and secure, the guileful snake
Steals near and nearer through the peaceful brake;
Then Curio rose to ward the public woe,
To wake the heedless, and incite the slow,
Against Corruption Liberty to arm,
And quell the enchantress by a mightier charm.

Swift o'er the land the fair contagion flew,
And with thy country's hopes thy honours grew.
Thee, patriot, the patrician roof confess'd;
Thy powerful voice the rescued merchant bless'd;
Of thee with awe the rural hearth resounds;
The bowl to thee the grateful sailor crowns;
Touch'd in the sighing shade with manlier fires,
To trace thy steps the love-sick youth aspires;
The learn'd recluse, who oft amazed had read
Of Grecian heroes, Roman patriots dead,
With new amazement hears a living name
Pretend to share in such forgotten fame;
And he who, scorning courts and courtly ways,
Left the tame track of these dejected days,
The life of noble ages to renew
In virtues sacred from a monarch's view,
Rous'd by thy labours from the bless'd retreat
Where social ease and public passions meet,
Again ascending treads the civil scene,
To act and be a man, as thou hadst been.

Thus by degrees thy cause superior grew,
And the great end appear'd at last in view:
We heard the people in thy hopes rejoice,
We saw the senate bending to thy voice;
The friends of freedom hail'd the approaching reign
Of laws for which our fathers bled in vain;
While venal Faction, struck with new dismay,
Shrunk at their frown, and self-abandon'd lay.
Waked in the shock the public Genius rose,
Abash'd and keener from his long repose;
Sublime in ancient pride, he raised the spear
Which slaves and tyrants long were wont to fear:
The city felt his call: from man to man,
From street to street, the glorious horror ran;
Each crowded haunt was stirr'd beneath his power,
And, murmuring, challenged the decided hour.

Lo! the deciding hour at last appears;
The hour of every freeman's hopes and fears!
Thou, Genius! guardian of the Roman name,
O ever prompt tyrannic rage to tame!
Instruct the mighty moments as they roll,
And guide each movement steady to the goal.
Ye spirits by whose providential art
Succeeding motives turn the changeful heart,
Keep, keep the best in view to Curio's mind,
And watch his fancy, and his passions bind!
Ye shades immortal, who by Freedom led,
Or in the field or on the scaffold bled,
Bend from your radiant seats a joyful eye,
And view the crown of all your labours nigh.
See Freedom mounting her eternal throne!
The sword submitted, and the laws her own:
See! public power chastised beneath her stands,
With eyes intent, and uncorrupted hands!
See private life by wisest arts reclaim'd!
See ardent youth to noblest manners fram'd!
See us acquire whate'er was sought by you,
If Curio, only Curio will be true.

'Twas then—O shame! O trust how ill repaid!
O Latium, oft by faithless sons betray'd!—
'Twas then—What frenzy on thy reason stole?
What spells unsinew'd thy determined soul?
—Is this the man in Freedom's cause approved?
The man so great, so honour'd, so beloved?
This patient slave by tinsel chains allured?
This wretched suitor for a boon abjured?
This Curio, hated and despised by all?
Who fell himself to work his country's fall?

O lost alike to action and repose!
Unknown, unpitied in the worst of woes!
With all that conscious, undissembled pride,
Sold to the insults of a foe defied!
With all that habit of familiar fame,
Doom'd to exhaust the dregs of life in shame!
The sole sad refuge of thy baffled art
To act a statesman's dull, exploded part,
Renounce the praise no longer in thy power,
Display thy virtue, though without a dower,
Contemn the giddy crowd, the vulgar wind,
And shut thy eyes that others may be blind.
—Forgive me, Romans, that I bear to smile,
When shameless mouths your majesty defile,
Paint you a thoughtless, frantic, headlong crew,
And cast their own impieties on you.
For witness, Freedom, to whose sacred power
My soul was vow'd from reason's earliest hour,
How have I stood exulting, to survey
My country's virtues opening in thy ray!
How, with the sons of every foreign shore
The more I match'd them, honour'd hers the more!
O race erect! whose native strength of soul,
Which kings, nor priests, nor sordid laws control,
Bursts the tame round of animal affairs,
And seeks a noble centre for its cares;
Intent the laws of life to comprehend,
And fix dominion's limits by its end.
Who, bold and equal in their love or hate,
By conscious reason judging every state,
The man forget not, though in rags he lies,
And know the mortal through a crown's disguise:
Thence prompt alike with witty scorn to view
Fastidious grandeur lift his solemn brow,
Or, all awake at pity's soft command,
Bend the mild ear, and stretch the gracious hand:
Thence large of heart, from envy far removed,
When public toils to virtue stand approved,
Not the young lover fonder to admire,
Not more indulgent the delighted sire;
Yet high and jealous of their free-born name,
Fierce as the flight of Jove's destroying flame,
Where'er oppression works her wanton sway,
Proud to confront, and dreadful to repay.
But if to purchase Curio's sage applause,
My country must with him renounce her cause,
Quit with a slave the path a patriot trod,
Bow the meek knee, and kiss the regal rod;
Then still, ye powers, instruct his tongue to rail,
Nor let his zeal, nor let his subject fail:
Else, ere he change the style, bear me away
To where the Gracchi, where the Bruti stay!

O long revered, and late resign'd to shame!
If this uncourtly page thy notice claim
When the loud cares of business are withdrawn,
Nor well-dress'd beggars round thy footsteps fawn;
In that still, thoughtful, solitary hour,
When Truth exerts her unresisted power,
Breaks the false optics tinged with fortune's glare,
Unlocks the breast, and lays the passions bare;
Then turn thy eyes on that important scene,
And ask thyself—if all be well within.
Where is the heartfelt worth and weight of soul,
Which labour could not stop, nor fear control?
Where the known dignity, the stamp of awe,
Which, half abash'd, the proud and venal saw?
Where the calm triumphs of an honest cause?
Where the delightful taste of just applause?
Where the strong reason, the commanding tongue,
On which the senate fired or trembling hung?
All vanish'd, all are sold—and in their room,
Couch'd in thy bosom's deep, distracted gloom,
See the pale form of barbarous grandeur dwell,
Like some grim idol in a sorcerer's cell!
To her in chains thy dignity was led;
At her polluted shrine thy honour bled;
With blasted weeds thy awful brow she crown'd,
Thy powerful tongue with poison'd philters bound,
That baffled Reason straight indignant flew,
And fair Persuasion from her seat withdrew:
For now no longer Truth supports thy cause;
No longer Glory prompts thee to applause;
No longer Virtue breathing in thy breast,
With all her conscious majesty confess'd,
Still bright and brighter wakes the almighty flame,
To rouse the feeble, and the wilful tame,
And where she sees the catching glimpses roll,
Spreads the strong blaze, and all involves the soul;
But cold restraints thy conscious fancy chill,
And formal passions mock thy struggling will;
Or, if thy genius e'er forget his chain,
And reach impatient at a nobler strain,
Soon the sad bodings of contemptuous mirth
Shoot through thy breast, and stab the generous birth,
Till, blind with smart, from truth to frenzy toss'd,
And all the tenor of thy reason lost,
Perhaps thy anguish drains a real tear;
While some with pity, some with laughter hear.
—Can art, alas! or genius, guide the head,
Where truth and freedom from the heart are fled?
Can lesser wheels repeat their native stroke,
When the prime function of the soul is broke?

But come, unhappy man! thy fates imbend;
Come, quit thy friends, if yet thou hast a friend;
Turn from the poor rewards of guilt like thine,
Renounce thy titles, and thy robes resign;
For see the hand of destiny display'd
To shut thee from the joys thou hast betray'd!
See the dire fane of infamy arise!
Dark as the grave, and spacious as the skies;
Where, from the first of time, thy kindred train,
The chiefs and princes of the unjust remain.
Eternal barriers guard the pathless road
To warn the wanderer of the curs'd abode;
But prone as whirlwinds scour the passive sky,
The heights surmounted, down the steep they fly.
There, black with frowns, relentless Time awaits,
And goads their footsteps to the guilty gates;
And still he asks them of their unknown aims,
Evolves their secrets, and their guilt proclaims;
And still his hands despoil them on the road
Of each vain wreath, by lying bards bestow'd,
Break their proud marbles, crush their festal cars,
And rend the lawless trophies of their wars.
At last the gates his potent voice obey;
Fierce to their dark abode he drives his prey;
Where, ever arm'd with adamantine chains,
The watchful demon o'er her vassals reigns,
O'er mighty names and giant-powers of lust,
The great, the sage, the happy, and august.
No gleam of hope their baleful mansion cheers,
No sound of honour hails their unblest ears;
But dire reproaches from the friend betray'd,
The childless sire and violated maid;
But vengeful vows for guardian laws effaced,
From towns enslaved, and continents laid waste;
But long posterity's united groan,
And the sad charge of horrors not their own,
For ever through the trembling space resound,
And sink each impious forehead to the ground.

Ye mighty foes of liberty and rest,
Give way, do homage to a mightier guest!
Ye daring spirits of the Roman race,
See Curio's toil your proudest claims efface!
—Awed at the name, fierce Appius rising bends,
And hardy Cinna from his throne attends:
"He comes," they cry, "to whom the fates assign'd
With surer arts to work what we design'd,
From year to year the stubborn herd to sway,
Mouth all their wrongs, and all their rage obey;
Till own'd their guide, and trusted with their power,
He mock'd their hopes in one decisive hour;
Then, tired and yielding, led them to the chain,
And quench'd the spirit we provoked in vain."
But thou, Supreme, by whose eternal hands
Fair Liberty's heroic empire stands;
Whose thunders the rebellious deep control,
And quell the triumphs of the traitor's soul,
O turn this dreadful omen far away!
On Freedom's foes their own attempts repay:
Relume her sacred fire so near suppress'd,
And fix her shrine in every Roman breast:
Though bold corruption boast around the land,
"Let virtue, if she can, my baits withstand?"
Though bolder now she urge the accursed claim,
Gay with her trophies raised on Curio's shame;
Yet some there are who scorn her impious mirth,
Who know what conscience and a heart are worth.
—O Friend and Father of the human mind,
Whose art for noblest ends our frame design'd!
If I, though fated to the studious shade
Which party-strife, nor anxious power invade,
If I aspire in public virtue's cause,
To guide the Muses by sublimer laws,
Do thou her own authority impart,
And give my numbers entrance to the heart.
Perhaps the verse might rouse her smother'd flame,
And snatch the fainting patriot back to fame:
Perhaps by worthy thoughts of human kind,
To worthy deeds exalt the conscious mind;
Or dash corruption in her proud career,
And teach her slaves that vice was born to fear.






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