Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE: ADDRESSED TO SIR THOMAS HAMNER (1), by WILLIAM COLLINS (1721-1759)



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AN EPISTLE: ADDRESSED TO SIR THOMAS HAMNER (1), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: While born to bring the muse's happier days
Last Line: A fond alliance with the poet's name.
Subject(s): Corneille, Pierre (1606-1684); Dramatists; Fletcher, John (1579-1625); Homer (10th Century B.c.); Jonson, Ben (1572-1637); Lucan (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus); Plays & Playwrights ; Poetry & Poets; Racine, Jean (1639-1699); Shakespeare, William (1564-1616); V


On his edition of Shakespeare's Works

While, born to bring the muse's happier days,
A patriot's hand protects a poet's lays;
While, nursed by you, she sees her myrtles bloom,
Green and unwithered o'er his honoured tomb;
Excuse her doubts, if yet she fears to tell
What secret transports in her bosom swell:
With conscious awe she hears the critic's fame,
And blushing hides her wreath at Shakespeare's name.
Hard was the lot of those injured strains endured,
Unowned by science, and by years obscured:
Fair fancy wept; and echoing sighs confessed
A fixed despair in every tuneful breast.
Not with more grief the afflicted swains appear,
When wintry winds deform the plenteous year;
When lingering frosts the ruined seats invade
Where peace resorted, and the graces played.

Each rising art by just gradation moves,
Toil builds on toil, and age on age improves:
The muse alone unequal dealt her rage,
And graced with noblest pomp her earliest stage.
Preserved through time, the speaking scenes impart
Each changeful wish of Phaedra's tortured heart;
Or paint the curse that marked the Theban's reign,
A bed incestuous, and a father slain.
With kind concern our pitying eyes overflow,
Trace the sad tale, and own another's woe.

To Rome removed, with wit secure to please,
The comic sisters kept their native ease:
With jealous fear, declining Greece beheld
Her own Menander's art almost excelled;
But every muse essayed to raise in vain
Some laboured rival of her tragic strain:
Ilissus' laurels, though transferred with toil,
Drooped their fair leaves, nor knew the unfriendly soil.

As Arts expired, resistless dullness rose;
Goths, priests, or vandals, -- all were learning's foes.
Till Julius [Pope Julius II] first recalled each exiled maid,
And Cosmo owned them in the Etrucian shade:
Then, deeply skilled in love's engaging theme,
The soft Provencal passed to Arno's stream:
With graceful ease the wanton lyre he strung;
Sweet flowed the lays -- but love was all he sung.
The gay description could not fail to move,
For, led by nature, all are friends to love.

But Heaven, still various in its works, decreed
The perfect boast of time should last succeed.
The beauteous union must appear at length,
Of Tuscan fancy, and Athenian strength:
One greater muse Eliza's reign adorn,
And even a Shakespeare to her fame be born!

Ye ah! so bright her morning's opening ray,
In vain our Britain hoped an equal day!
No second growth the western isle could bear,
At once exhausted with too rich a year.
Too nicely Jonson knew the critic's part;
Nature in him was almost lost in art.
Of softer mould the gentle Fletcher came,
The next in order, as the next in name;
With pleased attention, 'midst his scenes we find
Each glowing thought that warms the female mind;
Each melting sigh, and every tender tear;
The lover's wishes, and the virgin's fear.
His every strain, the smiles and graces own;
But stronger Shakespeare felt for man alone:
Drawn by his pen, our ruder passions stand
The unrivaled picture of his early hand.

With gradual steps and slow, exacter France
Saw art's fair empire over her shores advance:
By length of toil a bright perfection knew,
Correctly bold, and just in all she drew:
Till late Corneille, with Lucan's spirit fired.
Breathed the free strain, as Rome and he inspired:
And classic judgment gained to sweet Racine
The temperate strength of Maro's chaster line.

But wilder far the British laurel spread,
And wreaths less artful crown our poet's head.
Yet he alone to every scene could give
The historian's truth, and bid the manners live.
Waked at his call I view, with glad surprise,
Majestic forms of mighty monarchs rise.
There Henry's trumpets spread their loud alarms,
And laurelled conquest waits her hero's arms.
Here gentler Edward claims a pitying sigh,
Scarce born to honours, and so soon to die!
Yet shall thy throne, unhappy infant, bring
No beam of comfort to the guilty king:
The time shall come when Gloucester's heart shall bleed,
In life's last hours, with horror of the deed;
When dreary visions shall at last present
The vengeful image in the midnight tent:
Thy hand unseen the secret death shall bear,
Blunt the weak sword, and break the oppressive spear!

Wherever we turn, by fancy charmed, we find
Some sweet illusion of the cheated mind.
Oft, wild of wing, she calls the soul to rove
With humbler nature, in the rural grove;
Where swains contented own the quiet scene,
And twilight fairies tread the circled green:
Dressed by her hand, the woods and valleys smile,
And spring diffusive decks the enchanted isle.

O, more than all in powerful genius blest,
Come, take thine empire over the willing breast!
Whatever the wounds this youthful heart shall feel,
Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal!
There every thought the poet's warmth may raise,
There native music dwells in all the lays.
O might some verse with happiest skill persuade
Expressive picture to adopt thine aid!
What wondrous draughts might rise from every page!
What other Raphaels charm a distant age!

Methinks even now I view some free design,
Where breathing nature lives in every line:
Chaste and subdued the modest lights decay,
Steal into shades, and mildly melt away.
And see where Anthony, in tears approved,
Guards the pale relics of the chief he loved:
Over the cold corse the warrior seems to bend,
Deep sunk in grief, and mourns his murdered friend!
Still as they press, he calls on all around
Lifts the torn robe, and points the bleeding wound.

But who is he, whose brows exalted bear
A wrath impatient, and a fiercer air?
Awake to all that injured worth can feel,
On his own Rome he turns the avenging steel;
Yet shall not war's insatiate fury fall
(So heaven ordains it) on the destined wall.
See the fond mother, 'midst the plaintive train,
Hung on his knees, and prostrate on the plain!
Touched to the soul, in vain he strives to hide
The son's affection, in the Roman's pride:
Over all the man conflicting passions rise;
Rage grasps the sword, while pity melts the eyes.

Thus, generous critic, as thy bard inspires,
The sister arts shall nurse their drooping fires;
Each from his scenes her stores alternate bring,
Blend their fair tints, or wake the vocal string:
Those sibyl leaves, the sport of every wind,
(For poets ever were a careless kind,)
By thee disposed, no farther toil demand,
But, just to nature, own thy forming hand.

So spread over Greece, the harmonious whole unknown,
Even Homer's numbers charmed by parts alone.
Their own Ulysses scarce had wandered more,
By winds and waters cast on every shore:
When, raised by fate, some former Hamner joined
Each beauteous image of the boundless mind;
And bade, like thee, his Athens ever claim
A fond alliance with the poet's name.






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