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As dark hair straggling o'er a snow-white breast,
Or the light tracks by fairy feet imprest,
Or those which tremulous music would indite
In the pure ether of a summer's night,
If music's course were palpable to sight,-
So fine, in sable tinct and sinuous grace,
The meaning lines which female fingers trace.
Well then may I, whose characters are quaint
As antique legend of a monkish saint,
As hieroglyphic of the wise Egyptian,
Or prentice-posing doctor's learn'd prescription ;
As Runic, Coptic, Chaldee, Erse, or Ogham,
Or schoolboy's tasks, for which their masters flog ’em;
As hand of cooks, by love impell’d to scrawl,
Or hand of Bishops, which is worst of all ;-
Well may I view the argent field with fear,
And all the soft memorials treasured here,
When ask'd by one to whom I can't say nay,
My poor poetic mite of verse to pay ;
When bid the melody of song to garble,
Mix hemp with finest flax, and brick with marble.
I own I like to see my works in print ;
The page looks knowing, though there 's nothing in't;
But still a thought shows neatest, to my mind,
In well-bound Album penn'd by maiden kind.
So smooth each well-turn'd distich seems to flow,
So bright appears each ardent thought to glow,
So close the epithets in front adhere
To their o'ertopping subjects in the rear,
While, like tall Captains, leading each his column,
As Ensigns spruce, and like Drum-Majors solemn,
In single file the capitals aspire,
Proud of their comely shape and trim attire :
We think our thoughts so very fine are grown,
We scarce can think they ever were our own.
But how can partial judgment e'er be bribed
By halting rhymes in uncouth text inscribed ?
Or who 'll admire me when, poor barren elf,
I scarce, with all my pains, admire myself?
In eastern tales we read, how, in one night,
A gorgeous palace grew by magic might,
A solid pile of Iris-tinted light.
Whate'er of beautiful or strange, the deep,
Unmoved by winds, and hush'd in endless sleep,
In its abysmal waters held in fee,
Or the dark earth's infernal treasury
Withheld from mortal touch, and mortal view,
Spontaneous in that wondrous fabric grew.
As soft and silent as the falling dew,
It came by strong behest of wizard power,
Nor broke the stillness of the darksome hour.
At once mature its radiant domes it rears
'Mid groves of spice and incense, odorous tears
Dropping from hoary trunks, that tell of distant years,
As if a weary age had passèd away
In time-forgetting sleep since yesterday.
There the dark cypress waved its lofty spire
By walls of ice, and battlements of fire,
And where the mighty banian's " echoing shade
Spreads far and wide its verdurous colonnade,
The silver portals sent their lucid streams
Adown the umbrageous aisles in lengthen'd beams :
The fading hues, so fair, so fleet, alas !
That o'er the cheek of eve like blushes pass
In unabating beauty, here were blended,
Unchanged to last till earth itself were ended.
Now, strange to say, this work of mystic art,
The old world's wonder, stored in every part
With every idol of a wanton heart,-
From artist's negligence, or art's defect,
Or some close purpose of the architect,
One window had, unfinish’d, unadorn'd,
An uncouth gap, forgot, or shunn'd, or scorn'd;
A yawning void deform’d the gayest bower
That e'er received a royal paramour ;
And stranger still, not all the flowery groves
That waved around, nor all the fair alcoves,
Elaborate pride of oriental loves,
Nor radiant splendours that outshone the skies,
From that unsightly blank could screen the critic eyes:
the talk of all who loved to wonder,
It help'd the crowd to stare, the wise to blunder,-
The magic beauties ne'er perplex'd their soul,
But all were gravell’d with that frightful hole.
Wild is the tale, but such in fact we find
The course and current of the general mind.
So fairest things, unnumber'd and unnoted,
Pass with the hour while rare defects are quoted :-
The timeless frost that in their cradle níps
The babes of April, or one short eclipse,
One blighting meteor's momentary blaze,
Outlast in fame an age of sunny days.
So, gentle lady—may I freely call thee
My gentle friend ?—it haply may befal thee.
When this fair volume, like an honour'd fane,
Or holy tomb of Saint, or Martyr slain
In Truth's defence, or virgin void of stain,
With gems of verse from many a region brought,
Shall gleam effulgent with untainted thought,
And each soft hand that loves to rest in thine,
With dear memorial decks the beauteous shrine,
Then the wild words, that like bewilder'd chimes
Limp into tune, and stumble upon rhymes,
And these rude characters, the meet apparel
Of the strange fancies of my old-world carol,
Shall oft detain the
that heedless strays O'er the smooth page, which calls for nought but praise. Where all's so good, the critic senses starve all, But lines like mine will suit them to a marvel. Nay sometimes many a softer gaze beguile, And change a winning to a wondering smile ; May light the orbs of darkly-rolling eyes, With the wide brilliance of a gay surprise ; May prompt some voice in tones acute to ask, To whom was given, or who usurp'd the task, To set, ’mid famous Bards' melodious strains, The product of his own fantastic brains ? What strange acquaintance of a maiden fair Could plant a thistle in her prim parterre ? Then may'st thou say—but say whate'er you choose, Or if you will, confess yourself my muse.