April 28 1816: A Poem for Byron

james_henry_leigh_hunt_by_benjamin_robert_haydon

THE EXAMINER. No. 435.

SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 1816.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LORD BYRON, ON HIS DEPARTURE FOR ITALY AND GREECE.

Dio ti dia, baron, venture.——Pulci.

Since you resolve, dear Byron, once again
To taste the far-eyed freedom of the main,
And as the coolness lessens in the breeze,
Strike for warm shores that bathe in classic seas,—
May all that hastens, pleases, and secures,
Fair winds and skies, and a swift ship, be yours,
Whose sidelong deck affords, as it cuts on,
An airy slope to lounge and read upon;
And may the sun, cooled only by white clouds,
Make constant shadows of the sails and shrouds;
And may there be sweet, watching moons at night,
Or shews, upon the sea, of curious light;
And morning wake with happy-blushing mouth,
As though her husband still had “eyes of youth;”
While fancy, just as you discern from far
The coasts of Virgil and of Sannazar,
May see the Nymphs emerging, here and there,
To tie up at the light their rolling hair.

I see you now, half eagerness, half ease,
Ride o’er the dancing freshness of the seas;
I see you now (with fancy’s eyesight too)
Find, with a start, that lovely vision true,
While on a sudden, o’er the horizon’s line
Phœbus looks forth with his long glance divine,
At which old Ocean’s white and shapely Daughters
Crowd in the golden ferment of the waters,
And halcyons brood, and there’s a glistering show
Of harps, ’midst bosoms and long arms of snow;
And from the breathing sea, in the God’s eye,
A gush of voices breaks up to the sky
To hail the laurelled Bard, that goes careering by.

And who, thus gifted, but must hear and see
Wonders like these, approaching Italy,—
Enchantress Italy,—who born again
In Gothic fires, woke to a sphery strain,
And rose and smiled, far lovelier than before,
Copier of Greece, and Amazon no more,
But altogether a diviner thing,
Fit for the Queen of Europe’s second spring,
With fancies of her own, and finer powers
Not to enslave these mere outsides of ours,
But bend the godlike mind, and crown it with her flowers.

Thus did she reign, Bright-eyed, with that sweet tone
Long in her ears; and right before her throne
Have sat the intellectual Graces three,
Music, and Painting, and wing’d Poetry,
Of whom were born those great ones, thoughtful-fac’d,
That led the hierarchy of modern taste;—
Heavenly Composers, that with bow symphonious
Drew out, at last, music’s whole soul harmonious;
Poets, that knew how Nature should be wooed,
With frank address, and terms heart-understood;
And Painters, worthy to be friends of theirs,
Hands that could catch the very finest airs
Of natural minds, and all that soul express
Of ready concord, which was made to bless,
And forms the secret of true amorousness.

Not that our English clime, how sharp soe’er,
Yields in ripe genius to the warmest sphere;
For what we want in sunshine out of doors,
And the long leisure of abundant shores,
By freedom, nay by sufferance, is supplied,
And each man’s sacred sunshine, his fire-side.
But all the four great Masters of our Song,
Stars that shine out amidst a starry throng,
Have turned to Italy for added light,
As earth is kissed by the sweet moon at night;—
Milton for half his style, Chaucer for tales,
Spenser for flowers to fill his isles and vales,
And Shakespeare’s self for frames already done
To build his everlasting piles upon.
Her genius is more soft, harmonious, fine;
Our’s bolder, deeper, and more masculine;
In short, as woman’s sweetness to man’s force,
Less grand, but softening by the intercourse,
So the two countries are,—so may they be,—
England the high-souled man, the charmer Italy.

But I must finish, and shall chatter less
On Greece, for reasons which yourself may guess.
Only remember what you promised me
About the flask from dark-welled Castaly,—
A draught, which but to think of, as I sit,
Makes the room round me almost turn with wit,
Gods! What may not come true, what dream divine,
If thus we are to drink the Delphic wine!
Remember too elsewhere a certain town,
Whose fame, you know, Cæsar will not hand down.

And pray, my Lord, in Italy take care,
You that are poet, and have pains to bear,
Of lovely girls, that step across the sight,
Like Houris in a heaven of warmth and light,
With rosy-cushioned mouths, in dimples set,
And ripe dark tresses, and glib eyes of jet.
The very language, from a woman’s tongue,
Is worth the finest of all others sung.

And yet alas, what charm could make you stay,
On whom the thought of one that’s far away
Shall ever wait, close as a lambent fire,—
An anxious angel face, pretending ire.
Nay, you may shake your head;—but pride scarce stirs
The lip, that yields again at thought of hers:
Nor shall that brow, whose haughty lamps of blue
Turn, almost dimm’d with unaccustomed dew,
Be long without the light that warm’d it’s bays,
Still less for clouds, that poisonous inks would raise,
And least of all, like Orpheus’s of yore,
For having turn’d to gaze on her once more.

And so adieu, dear Byron,—dear to me
For many a cause, disinterestedly;—
First, for unconscious sympathy, when boys,
In friendship, and the Muse’s trying joys;—
Next for that frank surprise, when Moore and you
Came to my cage, like warblers kind and true,
And told me, with your arts of cordial lying,
How well I looked, when you both thought me dying;—
Next for a rank worn simply, and the scorn
Of those who trifle with an age free-born;—
For early storms, on Fortune’s basking shore,
That cut precocious ripeness to the core;—
For faults unhidden, other’s virtues owned;
Nay, unless Cant’s to be at once enthroned,
For virtues too, with whatsoever blended,
And e’en were none possessed, for none pretended;—
Lastly, for older friends,—fine hearts, held fast
Through every dash of chance, from first to last;—
For taking spirit as it means to be,—
For a stretched hand, ever the same to me,—
And total, glorious want of vile hypocrisy.

Adieu, adieu:—I say no more.—God speed you!
Remember what we all expect, who read you.

Hampstead, April 1816. Leigh Hunt.

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