Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE RETROSPECT, by ROBERT SOUTHEY

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THE RETROSPECT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: As on I journey through the vale of years
Last Line: Onward in faith—and leave the rest to heaven.
Subject(s): Faith; Life; Maturity; Memory; Travel; Wisdom; Belief; Creed; Journeys; Trips

AS on I journey through the vale of years,
By hopes enlivened or deprest by fears,
Allow me, Memory, in thy treasured store
To view the days that will return no more.
And yes! before thine intellectual ray,
The clouds of mental darkness melt away!
As when, at earliest day's awakening dawn
The hovering mists obscure the dewy lawn,
O'er all the landscape spread their influence chill,
Hang o'er the vale, and wood, and hide the hill;
Anon, slow-rising, comes the orb of day,
Slow fade the shadowy mists and roll away,
The prospect opens on the traveller's sight,
And hills, and vales, and woods reflect the living light.

O thou, the mistress of my future days,
Accept thy minstrel's retrospective lays;
To whom the minstrel and the lyre belong,
Accept, my Edith, Memory's pensive song.
Of long-past days I sing, ere yet I knew
Or thought and grief, or happiness and you;
Ere yet my infant heart had learnt to prove
The cares of life, the hopes and fears of love.

Corston, twelve years in various fortunes fled
Have past in restless progress o'er my head,
Since in thy vale beneath the master's rule
I roamed an inmate of the village school.
Yet still will memory's busy eye retrace
Each little vestige of the well-known place;
Each wonted haunt and scene of youthful joy
Where merriment has cheered the careless boy;
Well-pleased will fancy still the spot survey
Where once he triumphed in the childish play
Without one care where every morn he rose,
Where every evening sunk to calm repose.
Large was the house, though fallen by varying fate
From its old grandeur and manorial state.
Lord of the manor here, the jovial squire
Once called his tenants round the crackling fire;
Here while the glow of joy suffused his face
He told his ancient exploits in the chase,
And proud his rival sportsmen to surpass
He lit again the pipe, and filled again the glass.

But now no more was heard at early morn
The echoing clangour of the huntsman's horn;
No more the eager hounds with deepening cry
Leapt round him as they knew their pastime nigh;
The squire no more obeyed the morning call,
Nor favourite spaniels filled the sportsman's hall;
For he, the last descendant of his race,
Slept with his fathers and forgot the chase.
There now in petty empire o'er the school
The mighty master held despotic rule;
Trembling in silence all his deeds we saw,
His look a mandate, and his word a law;
Severe his voice, severe and stern his mien,
And wondrous strict he was, and wondrous wise I ween.

Even now through many a long long year I trace
The hour when first with awe I viewed his face;
Even now recall my entrance at the dome,
'Twas the first day I ever left my home!
Years intervening have not worn away
The deep remembrance of that wretched day,
Nor taught me to forget my earliest fears,
A mother's fondness, and a mother's tears;
When close she prest me to her sorrowing heart
As loath as even I myself to part.
And I, as I beheld her sorrows flow,
With painful effort hid my inward woe.

But time to youthful troubles brings relief,
And each new object weans the child from grief.
Like April showers the tears of youth descend,
Sudden they fall, and suddenly they end;
A fresher pleasure cheers the following hour,
As brighter shines the sun after the April shower,

Methinks even now the interview I see,
The mistress's kind smile, the master's glee;
Much of my future happiness they said,
Much of the easy life the scholars led,
Of spacious play-ground, and of wholesome air,
The best instruction, and the tenderest care;
And when I followed to the garden door
My father, till through tears I saw no more,
How civilly they soothed my parting pain,
And how they never spake so civilly again.

Why loves the soul on earlier years to dwell,
When memory spreads around her saddening spell,
When discontent, with sullen gloom o'ercast,
Turns from the present and prefers the past?
Why calls reflection to my pensive view
Each trifling act of infancy anew,
Each trifling act with pleasure pondering o'er,
Even at the time when trifles please no more?
Yet is remembrance sweet, though well I know
The days of childhood are but days of woe;
Some rude restraint, some petty tyrant sours
The tranquil calm of childhood's easy hours;
Yet is it sweet to call those hours to mind,
Those easy hours for ever left behind;
Ere care began the spirit to oppress
When ignorance itself was happiness.

Such was my state in those remembered years
When one small acre bounded all my fears;
And therefore still with pleasure I recall
The tapestried school, the bright brown boarded hall,
The murmuring brook, that every morning saw
The due observance of the cleanly law,
The walnuts, where, when favour would allow,
Full oft I wont to search each well-stript bough;
The crab-tree whence we hid the secret hoard
With roasted crabs to deck the wintry board.
These trifling objects then my heart possest,
These trifling objects still remain imprest;
So when with unskilled hand the idle hind
Carves his rude name within the sapling's rind,
In after years the peasant lives to see
The expanding letters grow as grows the tree,
Though every winter's desolating sway
Shake the hoarse grove and sweep the leaves away,
That rude inscription uneffaced will last,
Unaltered by the storm or wintry blast.

Oh, while well pleased the lettered traveller roams
Among old temples, palaces, and domes,
Strays with the Arab o'er the wreck of time,
Where erst Palmyra's towers arose sublime,
Or marks the lazy Turk's lethargic pride,
And Grecian slavery on Ilyssus' side,
Oh, be it mine aloof from public strife
To mark the changes of domestic life,
The altered scenes where once I bore a part,
Where every change of fortune strikes the heart.
As when the merry bells with echoing sound
Proclaim the news of victory around,
Rejoicing patriots run the news to spread
Of glorious conquest, and of thousands dead,
All join the loud huzza with eager breath,
And triumph in the tale of blood and death;
But if extended on the battle-plain,
Cut off in conquest, some dear friend be slain,
Affection then will fill the sorrowing eye,
And suffering nature grieve that one should die.

Cold was the morn and bleak the wintry blast
Blew o'er the meadow, when I saw thee last.
My bosom bounded as I wandered round
With silent step the long-remembered ground,
Where I had loitered out so many an hour,
Chased the gay butterfly, and cull'd the flower,
Sought the swift arrow's erring course to trace,
Or with mine equals vied amid the chase.
I saw the church where I had slept away
The tedious service of the summer day;
Or listening sad to all the preacher told,
In winter waked, and shivered with the cold.
Oft have my footsteps roamed the sacred ground
Where heroes, kings, and poets sleep around,
Oft traced the mouldering castle's ivied wall,
Or aged convent tottering to its fall,
Yet never had my bosom felt such pain,
As, Corston, when I saw thy scenes again;
For many a long-lost pleasure came to view,
For many a long-past sorrow rose anew;
Where whilome all were friends I stood alone,
Unknowing all I saw, of all I saw unknown.

There where my little hands were wont to rear
With pride the earliest salad of the year;
Where never idle weed to spring was seen,
Rank thorns and nettles rear'd their heads obscene:
Still all around was sad, I saw no more
'The playful groupe, nor heard the playful roar;
There echoed round no shout of mirth and glee,
It seemed as though the world were changed like me.

Enough! it boots not on the past to dwell,
Fair scene of other years a long farewell.
Rouse up, my soul! it boots not to repine.
Rouse up! for worthier feelings should be thine.
Thy path is plain and straight—that light is given—
Onward in faith—and leave the rest to heaven.

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