1 THERE was a time when Aetna's silent fire
2 Slept unperceiv'd, the mountain yet entire,
3 When conscious of no danger from below,
4 She towr'd a cloud-capt pyramid of snow.
5 No thunders shook with deep intestine sound
6 The blooming groves that girdled her around,
7 Her unctuous olives and her purple vines,
8 (Unfelt the fury of those bursting mines)
9 The peasant's hopes, and not in vain, assur'd,
10 In peace upon her sloping sides matur'd.[Page 358]
11 When on a day, like that of the last doom,
12 A conflagration lab'ring in her womb,
13 She teem'd and heav'd with an infernal birth,
14 That shook the circling seas and solid earth.
15 Dark and voluminous the vapours rise,
16 And hang their horrors in the neighb'ring skies,
17 While through the stygian veil that blots the day,
18 In dazzling streaks the vivid light'nings play.
19 But oh! what muse, and in what pow'rs of song,
20 Can trace the torrent as it burns along?
21 Havock and devastation in the van,
22 It marches o'er the prostrate works of man,
23 Vines, olives, herbage, forests disappear,
24 And all the charms of a Sicilian year.
25 Revolving seasons, fruitless as they pass,
26 See it an uninform'd and idle mass,
27 Without a soil t'invite the tiller's care,
28 Or blade that might redeem it from despair.
29 Yet time at length (what will not time atchieve?)
30 Cloaths it with earth, and bids the produce live,[Page 359]
31 Once more the spiry myrtle crowns the glade,
32 And ruminating flocks enjoy the shade.
33 Oh bliss precarious, and unsafe retreats,
34 Oh charming paradise of short liv'd sweets!
35 The self-same gale that wafts the fragrance round,
36 Brings to the distant ear a sullen sound,
37 Again the mountain feels th' imprison'd foe,
38 Again pours ruin on the vale below,
39 Ten thousand swains the wasted scene deplore,
40 That only future ages can restore.
41 Ye monarchs, whom the lure of honour draws,
42 Who write in blood the merits of your cause,
43 Who strike the blow, then plead your own defence,
44 Glory your aim, but justice your pretence;
45 Behold in Aetna's emblematic fires
46 The mischiefs your ambitious pride inspires.
47 Fast by the stream that bounds your just domain,
48 And tells you where ye have a right to reign,[Page 360]
49 A nation dwells, not envious of your throne,
50 Studious of peace, their neighbours and their own.
51 Ill-fated race! how deeply must they rue
52 Their only crime, vicinity to you!
53 The trumpet sounds, your legions swarm abroad,
54 Through the ripe harvest lies their destin'd road,
55 At ev'ry step beneath their feet they tread
56 The life of multitudes, a nation's bread;
57 Earth seems a garden in its loveliest dress
58 Before them, and behind a wilderness;
59 Famine and pestilence, her first-born son,
60 Attend to finish what the sword begun,
61 And ecchoing praises such as fiends might earn,
62 And folly pays, resound at your return.
63 A calm succeeds — but plenty with her train
64 Of heart-felt joys, succeeds not soon again,
65 And years of pining indigence must show
66 What scourges are the gods that rule below.
67 Yet man, laborious man, by slow degrees,
68 (Such is his thirst of opulence and ease)[Page 361]
69 Plies all the sinews of industrious toil,
70 Gleans up the refuse of the general spoil,
71 Rebuilds the towr's that smok'd upon the plain,
72 And the sun gilds the shining spires again.
73 Increasing commerce and reviving art
74 Renew the quarrel on the conqu'rors part,
75 And the sad lesson must be learn'd once more;
76 That wealth within is ruin at the door.
77 What are ye monarchs, laurel'd heroes, say,
78 But Aetnas of the suff'ring world ye sway?
79 Sweet nature stripp'd of her embroider'd robe,
80 Deplores the wasted regions of her globe,
81 And stands a witness at truth's awful bar,
82 To prove you there, destroyers as ye are.
83 Oh place me in some heav'n-protected isle,
84 Where peace and equity and freedom smile,
85 Where no Volcano pours his fiery flood,
86 No crested warrior dips his plume in blood,
87 Where pow'r secures what industry has won,
88 Where to succeed is not to be undone,[Page 362]
89 A land that distant tyrants hate in vain,
90 In Britain's isle, beneath a George's reign.
About this text
Title (in Source Edition): HEROISM.
Author: William Cowper
Themes: patriotism; glory of the British nation
Genres: heroic couplet; essay
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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.
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