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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Dirge for the Tenth Muse

By John Norton (c. 1651–1716)

[Born 1651. Minister at Hingham, Mass. Died there, 1716. Appended to the Posthumous Edition of Anne Bradstreet’s Poems. 1678.]

ASK not why hearts turn magazines of passions,

And why that grief is clad in several fashions;

Why she on progress goes, and doth not borrow

The smallest respite from th’ extremes of sorrow.

Here misery is got to such an height

As makes the earth groan to support its weight;

Such storms of woe so strongly have beset her,

She hath no place for worse, nor hope for better;

Her comfort is, if any for her be,

That none can show more cause of grief than she.

Ask not why some in mournful black are clad;

The sun is set, there needs must be a shade.

Ask not why every face a sadness shrouds;

The setting sun o’er-cast us hath with clouds.

Ask not why the great glory of the sky,

That gilds the stars with heavenly alchemy,

Which all the world doth lighten with his rays,

The Persian God, the Monarch of the days,—

Ask not the reason of his ecstasy,

Paleness of late, in midnoon majesty,

While that the pale-faced Empress of the night

Disrobed her brother of his glorious light.

Did not the language of the stars foretell

A mournful scene, when they with tears did swell?

Did not the glorious people of the sky

Seem sensible of future misery?

Did not the lowering heavens seem to express

The world’s great loss, and their unhappiness?

Behold how tears flow from the learned hill,

How the bereaved Nine do daily fill

The bosom of the fleeting air with groans

And woful accents, which witness their moans.

How do the Goddesses of verse, the learned choir

Lament their rival quill, which all admire!

Could Maro’s Muse but hear her lively strain,

He would condemn his works to fire again.

Methinks I hear the Patron of the Spring,

The unshorn Deity, abruptly sing.

Some do for anguish weep, for anger I

That Ignorance should live, and Art should die.

Black, fatal, dismal, inauspicious day,

Unblest forever by Sol’s precious ray,

Be it the first of miseries to all,

Or last of life, defamed for funeral.

When this day yearly comes, let every one

Cast in their urn the black and dismal stone,—

Succeeding years, as they their circuit go,

Leap o’er this day, as a sad time of woe.

Farewell, my Muse, since thou hast left thy shrine,

I am unblest in one, but blest in nine.

Fair Thespian Ladies, light your torches all,

Attend your glory to its funeral,

To court her ashes with a learned tear,

A briny sacrifice,—let not a smile appear.

Grave Matron, whoso seeks to blazon thee,

Needs not make use of wit’s false heraldry;

Whoso should give thee all thy worth would swell

So high, as ’twould turn the world infidel.

Had he great Maro’s Muse, or Tully’s tongue,

Or raping numbers like the Thracian song,

In crowning of her merits he would be

Sumptuously poor, low in hyperbole.

To write is easy; but to write on thee,

Truth would be thought to forfeit modesty.

He’ll seem a Poet that shall speak but true;

Hyperboles in others, are thy due.

Like a most servile flatterer he will show,

Though he write truth, and make the subject, You.

Virtue ne’er dies, time will a Poet raise,

Born under better stars, shall sing thy praise.

Praise her who list, yet he shall be a debtor,

For Art ne’er feigned, nor Nature framed, a better.

Her virtues were so great, that they do raise

A work to trouble fame, astonish praise,

When as her name doth but salute the ear,—

Men think that they perfection’s abstract hear.

Her breast was a brave palace, a Broad-street,

Where all heroic ample thoughts did meet,

Where nature such a tenement had ta’en,

That other’s souls, to hers, dwelt in a lane.

Beneath her feet pale envy bites her chain,

And poison malice whets her sting in vain.

Let every laurel, every myrtle bough

Be stripped for leaves to adorn and load her brow,

Victorious wreaths, which, ’cause they never fade,

Wise elder times for Kings and Poets made.

Let not her happy memory e’er lack

Its worth in Fame’s eternal almanac,

Which none shall read, but straight their loss deplore,

And blame their fates they were not born before.

Do not old men rejoice their fates did last,

And infants too, that theirs did make such haste,

In such a welcome time to bring them forth,

That they might be a witness to her worth?

Who undertakes this subject to commend

Shall nothing find so hard as how to end.