The Ruined Abbey, or, The Affects of Superstition

At length fair Peace, with olive crown'd, regains
Her lawful throne, and to the sacred haunts
Of wood or fount the frighted Muse returns.
Happy the bard who, from his native hills,
Soft musing on a summer's eve, surveys
His azure stream, with pensile woods enclosed;
Or o'er the glassy surface with his friend,
Or faithful fair, through bordering willows green,
Wafts his small frigate. Fearless he of shouts,
Or taunts, the rhetoric of the watery crew
That ape confusion from the realms they rule;
Fearless of these; who shares the gentler voice
Of peace and music; birds of sweetest song
Attune from native boughs their various lay,
And cheer the forest; birds of brighter plume
With busy pinion skim the glittering wave,
And tempt the sun; ambitious to display
Their several merit, while the vocal flute
Or number'd verse, by female voice endear'd,
Crowns his delight, and mollifies the scene.
If solitude his wandering steps invite
To some more deep recess (for hours there are
When gay, when social minds to Friendship's voice,
Or Beauty's charm, her wild abodes prefer),
How pleased he treads her venerable shades,
Her solemn courts! the centre of the grove!
The root-built cave, by far extended rocks
Around embosom'd, how it soothes the soul!
If scoop'd at first by superstitious hands,
The rugged cell received alone the shoals
Of bigot minds, Religion dwells not here,
Yet Virtue, pleased at intervals retires:
Yet here may Wisdom, as she walks the maze,
Some serious truths collect, the rules of life,
And serious truths of mightier weight than gold!
I ask not wealth; but let me hoard with care,
With frugal cunning, with a niggard's art,
A few fix'd principles, in early life,
Ere indolence impede the search, explored;
Then, like old Latimer, when age impairs
My judgment's eye, when quibbling schools attack
My grounded hope, or subtler wits deride,
Will I not blush to shun the vain debate,
And this mine answer: 'Thus, 'twas thus I thought,
My mind yet vigorous, and my soul entire;
Thus will I think, averse to listen more
To intricate discussion, prone to stray.
Perhaps my reason may but ill defend
My settled faith; my mind, with age impair'd,
Too sure its own infirmities declare.
But I am arm'd by caution, studious youth,
And early foresight: now the winds may rise,
The tempest whistle, and the billows roar;
My pinnace rides in port, despoil'd and worn,
Shatter'd by time and storms, but while it shuns
The unequal conflict, and declines the deep,
Sees the strong vessel fluctuate, less secure.'
Thus while he strays, a thousand rural scenes
Suggest instruction, and instructing please.
And see betwixt the grove's extended arms
An Abbey's rude remains attract thy view,
Gilt by the mid-day sun: with lingering step
Produce thine axe (for, aiming to destroy
Tree, branch, or shade, for never shall thy breast
Too long deliberate), with timorous hand
Remove the obstructive bough; nor yet refuse,
Though sighing, to destroy that favourite pine,
Raised by thine hand, in its luxuriant prime
Of beauty fair, that screens the vast remains.
Aggrieved, but constant as the Roman sire,
The rigid Manlius, when his conquering son
Bled by a parent's voice, the cruel meed
Of virtuous ardour, timelessly display'd;
Nor cease till; through the gloomy road, the pile
Gleam unobstructed: thither oft thine eye
Shall sweetly wander; thence returning, soothe
With pensive scenes thy philosophic mind.
These were thy haunts, thy opulent abodes,
O Superstition! hence the dire disease
(Balanced with which the famed Athenian pest
Were a short headache, were the trivial pain
Of transient indigestion) seized mankind.
Long time she raged, and scarce a southern gale
Warm'd our chill air, unloaded with the threats
Of tyrant Rome; but futile all, till she,
Rome's abler legate, magnified their power,
And in a thousand horrid forms attired.
Where then was truth to sanctify the page
Of British annals? if a foe expired,
The perjured monk suborn'd infernal shrieks,
And fiends to snatch at the departing soul
With hellish emulation: if a friend,
High o'er his roof exultant angels tune
Their golden lyres, and waft him to the skies.
What then were vows, were oaths, were plighted faith?
The sovereign's just, the subject's loyal pact,
To cherish mutual good, annull'd and vain
By Roman magic, grew an idle scroll
Ere the frail sanction of the wax was cold.
With thee, Plantagenet! from civil broils
The land awhile respired, and all was peace.
Then Becket rose, and, impotent of mind,
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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