“O, Festus Dies Hominis!”—O, the Joyful Day of Man!
Why, (when the hours of school-day bliss are o’er,
And puerile pleasures charm the mind no more,
When childhood shrinks before youth’s riper day,
Like morning dews by sunbeams chas’d away,)
Delights the mind with exstacy to dwell
On joys her earlier moments lov’d so well?
Why do those dreams, to golden memory dear,
More bright than Life’s progressive day appear,
And Fancy rush, with repercussive spring,
To where she first essay’d her callow wing?
Some spell ineffable the mind employs,
To paint the birth-place of her infant joys!
O Fulton! tutor of my early hour,
Nurse of its shoot—its bud—its op’ning flow’r—
Beneath whose fost’ring hand the scion rose,
Beneath whose grafted counsels still it grows,
Deign to accept the blossom of that tree,
The only gift the muse can offer thee!
Come, Inspiration, from they radiant bow’rs,
Wave thy light wand, her fancy’s slumb’ring flow’rs,
Bid Evan’s name resound her hills among,
And Memory prompt and Truth record the song!
Hark! with sweet sounds th’ aerial billows swell,
Some muse respires them from her sylvan cell;—
“Fair Castlereagh!” she sings, or seems to sing,
And woods, and lawns, and meads, the strain responsive ring.
Majestic daughter of th’ expansive plain
Where rural stillness holds her placid reign!
Once, ’mid thy woods, a happy child I stray’d,
Or rambled careless o’er thy vista’d glade,
Traced the blue windings of some woodland rill,
Or, lab’ring, gain’d the summit of yon’ hill
To view the green redundancy below,
Roll, like old Ocean, when the tempests blow.
Nor could sublimer objects then impart
One ray of pleasure to my bounding heart;
And, if it rov’d beyond those golden hours,
Hope, in perspective, strew’d the path with flow’rs.
Thus Time fled on, ’till youth’s maturer day
Called into life my soul’s expanding sway;—
More solid thoughts my moments then engage,
And Knowledge tempts me with her open page,
’Till now life’s business drives his sober team,
And sheds, o’er all my mind, a mellowing beam;—
Those visions fade that charm’d its thoughts before,
And fairy forms and landscapes glow no more.
When dawning Phoebus shed his golden hue,
To robe yon mountains and dispel the dew,
Our little band, awaking from repose,
Obedient to the oft-heard chime, arose,
Banish’d each thought of indolence away,
And, with new zeal, commenced the studious day.
On tardy wings the measur’d moments flew,
Till Time’s broad lapse his silken veil withdrew;
The welcome hour arrives,—then all repair
To join their tutor in th’ unstudy’d pray’r.
(To him, kind pastor! was the blessing given,
To ask the boon and to be heard in heaven,—
If e’er ’twas order’d that the good above
Plants of our God should be, and children of his love.
Swiftly elaps’d the recreative hour,
And Pallas soon resum’d her latent pow’r,
Again retrac’d her long-accustomed round,
Her reign, with truth and laureate honours, crown’d,—
Again it fled—once more the wonted chime
Strikes on our ear, and tells the lapse of Time,
Then Heav’n incites us on her sacred way,
To offer up thanksgiving and to pray.
Thus flow the hours of pure unclouded joy,—
No cares to ruffle and no sweets to cloy,—
Meek our engagements, calm as evening air,—
The peaceful moments sanctified by pray’r,
Down seas of bliss our little shallops glide,
And fairy islets spangle all the tide.
O happy days! unvalued while ye glow,
Unheeded felt until ye cease to flow,
How oft have I, for freedom panting strong,
Thought the task tedious and the school-hours long!
How often wish’d to cast their chain away,
And burst the barrier of youth’s ling’ring day!
How often wish’d for pinions like the dove,
That I might careless fly, or freely rove,
Shake off the shackles that my will confined,
And be the helm to prompt and guide my mind?
But these were thoughts youth’s riper hours disown,
Thoughts of a child, and of a child alone.
Nature has giv’n all creatures to be free,
And Man in embryo pants for liberty;
It is a charm instructive, and which dwells
In all, and all to one great wish impels;—
It bids the Negro spurn his galling chain,
And curse—tho’ vainly curse—its unearn’d pain;
It bids the captive lion, in his grate,
Burst its strong bars and re-assume his state;
By it impell’d, the youngling eagle flies,
Spurns the low plain and soars along the skies.
But yet it most befits the human race;
Man’s bosom is its noblest dwelling place;
Down from the cradle to the dying couch,
He feels the influence of its quick’ning touch,
And, e’en when weary life is almost o’er,
When one faint throb ’twill heave, and heave no more,
Then wakes the soul beneath its kindling ray,
And mounts and flutters in the beam of day.
Thrice happy days! the nurse of ev’ry joy,
And ev’ry sweet that ripen’d man employ,
Tranquil probation to the genius giv’n,
And mild indulgence of a smiling Heav’n!
True, on the disk of their reflective glass,
The world, in miniature, is seen to pass;
Each passion, temper, action, law, and rule,
That sways the world is found within a school:
The fire but sparkling, or the torpid seed
But feebly shooting of each manly deed;
There marbles—balls, are emblematic toys
Of those which re-engage Earth’s elder boys
And puerile zeal, affection, hatred, strife,
The embryo bus’ness of all human life.
Pleasing reflection! when the mental eye
Reviews the business of years gone bye,
To think how sweet our infancy was spent,
Our minds, like slender twigs, tow’rd virtue bent,
And led by Science, thro’ her flow’ry maze,
With ardent bosoms, emulous of praise.
On scenes like these the mind delights to look,
The fav’rite pages in life’s narrow book!
How pleasant was it, when the drowsy hum
Of study ended with the setting sun;
When, tir’d with application thro’ the day,
We rush’d at once with all out hearts to play!
In diff’rent sports engage the cheerful train;
Some urge the bounding ball across the plain,
Some whirl the top, or bid the arrow fly
Straight to the butt, or upward to the sky;
While other hearts, whom softer pleasures move,
Prefer the converse of the friend they love,
With him, how sweet to spend the leisure hours!
To pluck unstain’d affection’s early flow’rs!
To pour, unask’d, within his faithful breast,
What griefs disturb you, or what thoughts molest?
T’ accept what consolation he could give;
’Twas happy thus, if happy here to live!
O, early friendship! what thy sweets impart,
Let him confess who owns a kindred heart—
Him, who has felt thy sympathetic strain
Breathe in each thought, and throb in ev’ry vein!
He can appreciate (and only he)
Thee, pure incitement of the Deity!
O! I have felt thy mild serene controul
Guide my young steps and lighten all my soul,
And mem’ry yet, reverting to the scene,
Feels thee anew, nor heeds the years between!
But who can paint the pleasure that possess’d
Each lively bosom and each cheek confess’d,
When the long hoped for holiday was come,
When ev’ry latent energy rush’d home,
And close divan commenc’d the joyful day,
To prove how best its hours would glide away?
At length, to blue Nepean’s flow’ry side,
We rush at once, and plunge us in the tide,
The kindly waves a sweet reflection give,
And the lax nerves a livelier tone receive;—
For now, when Sol pours blazing ardour down,
And fiery red sheds all the torrid zone—
When the streams languish, and the pastures fade,
And yawning fissures crack the thirsty glade—
When the clear heav’ns the silent pray’rs deride,
And e’en one show’r to cheer them is deny’d,
A wasting flame breathes in the genial beams,
And the sad system courts the sick’ning streams;
Ah! then, ye cool, ye murm’ring Naiads! tell
What luxuries within Nepean’s bankments dwell!
Refresh’d, thro’ Zean fields we heedless rove,
To where Pomona revels in the grove;
We feel the goddess’s ambrosial breath,
Luxurious curling in the shade beneath;
Her luscious peach diffuses fragrance round,
From cluster’d branches bending to the ground;—
We mount—we gather; and, now well supply’d,
We homeward bend beneath the orchard’s pride
Till on the hours of sober evening creep,
And, faint and weary, Nature sinks to sleep.
O, dreams of bliss! that, o’er the infant brain,
Wave your light wand and beck your fairy train;
There, in idea, ’twill retrace the day,
Again ’twill study, and again ’twill play;
’Twill rove, perhaps, amid ethereal flow’rs,
Or dwell with angels in celestial bow’rs;
’Twill fearless climb the dark impending steep,
Bend o’er the flood and plunge along the deep;
More guilty dreams the mind cannot employ,
Whose charm is innocence, whose gladness joy:
O, could man ever own such dreams as these,
His days all happiness—his nights all peace,
E’en angels might for human semblance sigh,
And gladly shake off immortality!
The sun beams high—and hark! a tinkling chime
Marks one more vestige in the path of Time:
It is the day, by God in mercy giv’n
To man to spend in penitence to heav’n.
The church invites, and, when we enter there,
Let Apathy not shew the face of Pray’r,
Nor roving thoughts (the path by idlers trod)
Teach the lost heart to aberrate from God!
But O let piety our bosom’s charm!
Meek be our pray’rs, and our thanksgivings warm!
As self-impos’d be thought the happy task,
And let us wish for what we ask!
The pastor’s sacred tongue diffuses round
The Gospel truths with holy precepts crown’d;
For him bright hands prepare, in realms above,
A wreath of glory and a crown of love!
For, pious in himself, his lips impart
Those conscious truths that live within his heart;
Cheerful in life, and to his calling true,
He knows the Word by books and practice too!
At length, the tributory off’ring o’er,
The rustics meet before the chapel door;
Then softer thoughts their simple bosoms move,
To glance affection on the maid they love,
And, half-averted, from her piercing eye,
To catch the sly responses as they fly:
In recognition, oft the hearty hand,
Good-nature presses round the friendly band,
With grace less polish’d, but a will more free,
Than e’en adorns the courts of royalty:
The kind enquiry made for absent friends,
The frank, rude greeting each to other sends,
The rural compliment, titt’ring jest,
The blush that’s prompted by the artless breast,
The vague report, and all th’ important news
That Memory o’er her simple tablet strews,
Engage, or to the drear churchyard they go,
(Hearts unaccustom’d to dissemble woe,)
And sadly seek, within that final home,
For some dear friend’s or parent’s hallow’d tomb,
Then drooping mournfully o’er those who sleep,
Indulge their feelings, and in silence weep.
Here let Reflection cast her sober eye
O’er the sad trophies of mortality!
Life is a sandy base, which if we trust,
Our minds, our spirits, centre in the dust;
We feel no monitor—no heavenly thrill—
Prompt us to good, or bid us shrink from ill,
But all the soul, by worldly frenzy tost,
Trusts in itself, and is for ever lost.
’Tis thus, self-wise, the atheist’s bosom swells,
Nor thought of God nor hell within him dwells;
His soul is sin, to profanation grown;
Bound to himself, and to himself alone;
He spurns those truths, to man divinely giv’n,
And laughs and scoffs at promises of Heav’n!
Not so, the man whom sacred precepts move
To own the influence of a Saviour’s love,
Angels await to set his spirit free
And waft it up to immortality!
Within these sad, sad sepulchres, repose
Hearts throbbing once with human joys and woes,
Knees that, in holy penitence, have knelt,
And frames that felt whatever we have felt;
A heap of dust is all that now remains,
Oblivion seals their pleasures and their pains;
They shared, as we must share, the common lot,
By some remember’d—but by more forgot;
Yet, when their fellow pilgrims here may cast
A melancholy view on moments past,
And think on those their bosoms then held dear,
Nature will drop a sympathetic tear,
O’ershade the brow and heave th’ half stifled sigh,
And look with sadness upon times gone bye.
Here keen regret a rugged tombstone rears,
Fix’d up with sighs, and sculptured o’er with tears,
A simple structure—now by Seasons worn,
And hid ’neath many a knot of shelt’ring thorn,
Thick spreading vines a blooming mantle wave,
And wrap the slumb’rer in a flowery grave.
Ah! what avail those lips that sweetly move
With all the soft artillery of Love?
Eyes whose refulgence might eclipse the day,
And forms and features where the Graces play?
Beauty must stoop when Death’s stern mandates come,
And, with Deformity, divide the tomb;
But Virtue, then triumphant, will arise,
For ever fair and blooming, to the skies!
Near where the chapel rears its modest top,
And graceful crowns the gently-falling slope,
There is a site, where once a hamlet stood,
But now o’ergrown with weeds and underwood;
Within whose neighbour’ing shade dear mem’ry views
The place where childhood first essay’d the muse,
There, many a scheme of golden life I drew,
And many a happy peaceful moment flew;
Then, in its prime, the new-born hamlet stood,
Like Circe’s palace, circled by a wood,
But sudden Desolation o’er it shed
His desert influence, and its tenants fled—
Save one, who linger’d, like a faithful mate,
Within its purlieu and prolonged its fate;
A sturdy cyclop, whom the forging god
Rear’d in his black Sicilian abode,—
Long did his sledge and bellows echo round
A merry clanking and a roaring sound,
Till roving thoughts his iron mind possess’d
And he, at length, retired behind the rest.
Such was its fate—forsaken now by all,
One tott’ring ruin tells its timeless fall.
Here while I gaze, a golden glimm’ring ray
Shoots down aslant and brings the close of day,
It sheds on ev’ry shrub a brighter green,
And gives a fresh enchantment to the scene;
It bids wrapt Fancy bound with livelier spring,
And wake and re-essay her weary wing.
E’en so, Eugenius’ friend—(his faded eye
Immerging fast into mortality,
Chill Death awaiting in its sombre robe,
T’enwrap his frame and catch his last faint throb,)
One lambent glance illumed his ling’ring end,
It flash’d affection in his weeping friend,—
Then fled his spirit to that unknown shore
Where all are wafted, to return no more.
Fair Castlereagh! I trace thy landscape round,
Each well known spot to me is sacred ground;
In ev’ry mead—in every bow’r or tree,
Some dear companion—some old friend I see;
The myrtle grove that skirts thy sloping sides,
And the tall summit from the plain divides,
The rich acacias waving o’er the rill
That pours its scanty stream beneath the hill;
Thy spreading vale—but here let mem’ry tax
The rude invasions of the spoiling axe,
That chased the dryads from th’ affrighted glade,
And lopped each shrub that once composed their shade.
Thus Art extends her civilizing reign,
Bows the tall wood and casts it on the plain,
Drives Nature’s beauties from their seat away,
And plants a train less lovely far than they;
The landscape shines beneath a borrowed hue,
But graceless more, and diff’rent from the true.
Nurse of my joys! while yet I muse on thee,
The prospects vanish and the shadows flee,
Darkness extends her sad and drowsy reign,
And in a mist envelopes all the plain;
But yet for ever will thy scenes appear
Sweet to reflection, and to memory dear;
And, when their charms bright recollection gives,
And my tranced soul the rosy hours relives,
Fancy around will breathe and endless spring,
And the glad muse, of thee, in choicest numbers sing!