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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By The Course of Time (1827). I. The Poet’s Autobiography (From Book iii)

Robert Pollok (1798–1827)

ONE of this mood I do remember well:

We name him not—what now are earthly names?

In humble dwelling born, retired, remote;

In rural quietude, ’mong hills, and streams,

And melancholy deserts, where the Sun

Saw, as he passed, a shepherd only, here

And there, watching his little flock, or heard

The ploughman talking to his steers. His hopes,

His morning hopes, awoke before him, smiling,

Among the dews and holy mountain airs:

And fancy coloured them with every hue

Of heavenly loveliness. But soon his dreams

Of childhood fled away—those rainbow dreams

So innocent and fair, that withered Age,

Even at the grave, cleared up his dusty eye,

And passing all between, looked fondly back

To see them once again ere he departed:

These fled away, and anxious thought, that wished

To go, yet whither knew not well to go,

Possessed his soul, and held it still awhile.

He listened, and heard from far the voice of Fame,

Heard, and was charmed: and deep and sudden vow

Of resolution made to be renowned:

And deeper vowed again to keep his vow.

His parents saw—his parents whom God made

Of kindest heart, saw, and indulged his hope.

The ancient page he turned, read much, thought much,

And with old bards of honourable name

Measured his soul severely; and looked up

To fame, ambitious of no second place.

Hope grew from inward faith, and promised fair.

And out before him opened many a path

Ascending, where the laurel highest waved

Her branch of endless green. He stood admiring;

But stood, admired, not long. The harp he seized,

The harp he loved, loved better than his life,

The harp which uttered deepest notes, and held

The ear of thought a captive to its song.

He searched, and meditated much, and whiles,

With rapturous hand, in secret touched the lyre,

Aiming at glorious strains; and searched again

For theme deserving of immortal verse;

Chose now, and now refused, unsatisfied;

Pleased, then displeased, and hesitating still.

Thus stood his mind, when him round came a cloud.

Slowly and heavily it came, a cloud

Of ills we mention not: enough to say,

’Twas cold, and dead, impenetrable gloom.

He saw its dark approach, and saw his hopes,

One after one, put out, as nearer still

It drew his soul; but fainted not at first,

Fainted not soon. He knew the lot of man

Was trouble, and prepared to bear the worst

Endure whate’er should come, without a sigh

Endure, and drink, even to the very dregs,

The bitterest cup that Time could measure out;

And, having done, look up, and ask for more.

He called Philosophy, and with his heart

Reasoned. He called Religion, too, but called

Reluctantly, and therefore was not heard.

Ashamed to be o’ermatched by earthly woes,

He sought, and sought with eye that dimmed apace,

To find some avenue to light, some place

On which to rest a hope; but sought in vain.

Darker and darker still the darkness grew.

At length he sank; and Disappointment stood

His only comforter, and mournfully

Told all was past. His interest in life,

In being, ceased; and now he seemed to feel,

And shuddered as he felt, his powers of mind

Decaying in the spring-time of his day.

The vigorous, weak became; the clear, obscure;

Memory gave up her charge; Decision reeled;

And from her flight Fancy returned, returned

Because she found no nourishment abroad.

The blue heavens withered; and the moon and sun,

And all the stars, and the green earth, and morn

And evening withered; and the eyes, and smiles,

And faces of all men and women, withered,

Withered to him; and all the universe,

Like something which had been, appeared, but now

Was dead and mouldering fast away. He tried

No more to hope, wished to forget his vow,

Wished to forget his harp; then ceased to wish.

That was his last; enjoyment now was done.

He had no hope, no wish, and scarce a fear.

Of being sensible, and sensible

Of loss, he as some atom seemed, which God

Had made superfluously, and needed not

To build creation with; but back again

To nothing threw, and left it in the void,

With everlasting sense that once it was.

Oh! who can tell what days, what nights he spent

Of tideless, waveless, sailless, shoreless woe!

And who can tell how many, glorious once,

To others and themselves of promise full,

Conducted to this pass of human thought,

This wilderness of intellectual death,

Wasted and pined, and vanished from the earth,

Leaving no vestige of memorial there!

It was not so with him. When thus he lay,

Forlorn of heart, withered and desolate,

As leaf of autumn, which the wolfish winds,

Selecting from its fallen sisters, chase,

Far from its native grove, to lifeless wastes,

And leave it there alone, to be forgotten

Eternally, God passed in mercy by—

His praise be ever new!—and on him breathed,

And bade him live, and put into his hands

A holy harp, into his lips a song,

That rolled its numbers down the tide of Time.

Ambitious now but little to be praised

Of men alone; ambitious most to be

Approved of God, the Judge of all; and have

His name recorded in the Book of Life.