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SACRED POETRY.

MATTHEW PRIOR.

a

In the eighteenth century, some valuable additions were made to our stores of sacred minstrelsy, by authors who, in the stricter sense of the word, were scarcely Christian poets. Perhaps it is for this reason that Mr Montgomery, in his “ Christian Poet,” has given no specimen of Prior; but we think it would be almost as unfair to ignore his “ Solomon,” as to deprive our readers of Pope's “Messiah.” Like an airy upland in the midst of an unwholesome jungle, such a production is a welcome retreat from the frivolity and ribaldry in the midst of which it occurs ; nor should it lessen the value of the work that most of its thoughts and images are borrowed from Ecclesiastes and the Canticles. The form of a soliloquy, into which the author has thrown the poem, makes the three books rather tedious; but the reader's perseverance is often rewarded by passages vigorously emphasised or finely pointed, and the flattest intervals, with their melodious verse and happy diction, convey a certain pleasure, even in the midst of the prevailing monotony.

MATTHEW PRIOR was born July 21, 1664, and died at Wimple, near Cambridge, then the seat of Lord Oxford, September 18, 1721.

The Vanity of Science.

Forced by reflective reason, I confess
That human science is uncertain guess.
Alas! we grasp at clouds, and beat the air,
Vexing that spirit we intend to clear.
Can thought beyond the bounds of matter climb ?
Or who shall tell me what is space or time?

VOL. IV.

2

In vain we lift up our presumptuous eyes
To what our Maker to their ken denies :
The searcher follows fast; the object faster flies.
The little which imperfectly we find,
Seduces only the bewilder'd mind
To fruitless search of something yet behind.
Various discussions tear our heated brain :
Opinions often turn ; still doubts remain ;
And who indulges thought increases pain.

How narrow limits were to Wisdom given !
Earth she surveys; she thence would measure Heaven :
Through mists obscure now wings her tedious way;
Now wanders dazzled with too bright a day ;
And from the summit of a pathless coast,
Sees infinite, and in that sight is lost.

Remember that the cursed desire to know,
Offspring of Adam! was thy source of woe.
Why wilt thou then renew the vain pursuit,
And rashly catch at the forbidden fruit ?
With empty labour and eluded strife
Seeking, by knowledge, to attain to life :
For ever from that fatal tree debarr’d,
Which flaming swords and angry cherubs guard.

Castle-Building.

The power of wealth I tried,
And all the various luxe of costly pride.
Artists and plans relieved my solemn hours ;
I founded palaces, and planted bowers.
Birds, fishes, beasts of each exotic kind,
I to the limits of my court confined.
To trees transferr'd I gave a second birth,
And bid a foreign shade grace Judah’s earth ;
Fish-ponds were made where former forests grew,
And hills were levell’d to extend the view.
Rivers diverted from their native course,
And bound with chains of artificial force,
From large cascades in pleasing tumult roll’d,
Or rose through figured stones, or breathing gold.

PRIOR'S “

SOLOMON.'

363

From furthest Africa's tormented womb
The marble brought, erects the spacious dome;
Or forms the pillars’ long extended rows,
On which the planted grove, and pensile garden grows.

The workmen here obey'd the master's call,
To gild the turret, and to paint the wall;
To mark the pavement there with various stone,
And on the jasper-steps to rear the throne :
The spreading cedar that an age had stood,
Supreme of trees, and mistress of the wood,
Cut down and carved, my shining roof adorns,
And Lebanon his ruin'd honour mourns.

A thousand artists shew their cunning power,
To raise the wonders of the ivory tower.
A thousand maidens ply the purple loom,
To weave the bed, and deck the regal room ;
Till Tyre confesses her exhausted store,
That on her coast the murex is no more ;
Till from the Parian isle, and Libya's coast,
The mountains grieve their hopes of marble lost;
And India's woods return their just complaint,
Their brood decay'd, and want of elephant.

My full design with vast expense achieved,
I came, beheld, admired, reflected, grieved ;
I chid the folly of my thoughtless haste,
For, the work perfected, the joy was past.

ALEXANDER POPE.

Satirist, philosopher, and critic, the translator of Homer and the imitator of Horace, there was nothing which the bard of Twickenham deemed beyond his powers, and of all which he attempted nothing proved an absolute failure. Even the lyre of David and Isaiah he ventured to handle, and to his touch the chords were musical. In reading verses like the following, we forget the conceited correspondent of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, and we wish to forget the irascible career and perpetual embroilment of the author of “ The Dunciad.”

Like “The Dying Christian,” the “Messiah” was written early in life, and first saw the light in the pages of “The Spectator.”

POPE was born in Lombard Street, London, May 22, 1088, and on the 30th of the same month of May 1744, he died at Twickenham.

Messiah.

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Ye nymphs of Solyma ! begin the song :
To leavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pindus and th' Aonian maids,
Delight no more-0 Thou my voice inspire
Who touch'd Isaiah's hallow'd lips with fire !

Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
A virgin shall conceive, a virgin bear a Son!
From Jesse's root behold a Branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies :
Th’ ethereal spirit o'er its leaves shall more,
And on its top descends the mystic Dove.
Ye heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly shower !
The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
From storm a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient frauds shall fail ;
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale ;
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend.
Swift fly the years, and rise th' expected morn!
Oh spring to light, auspicious Babe, be born!
See, Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring,
With all the incense of the breathing spring:
See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
See nodding forests on the mountains dance :
See spicy clouds from lowly Sharon rise,
And Carmel's flowery top perfume the skies !
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers ;
Prepare the way! a God, a God appears !

POPE'S 5 MESSIAH."

365

A God, a God! the vocal hills reply ;
The rocks proclaim th' approaching Deity.
Lo! earth receives Him from the bending skies !
Sink down, ye mountains ! and ye valleys rise !
With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay !
Be smooth, ye rocks! ye rapid floods, give way!
The Saviour comes ! by ancient bards foretold :
Hear Him, ye deaf! and all ye blind, behold !
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eye-ball pour the day :
'Tis He th' obstructed paths of sound shall clear,
And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear :
The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
And leap exulting, like the bounding roe.
No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear ;
From every face lle wipes off every tear.
In adamantine chains shall death be bound,
And hell's grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound.
As the good shepherd tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air ;
Explores the lost, the wandering sheep directs,
By day o'ersees them, and by night protects ;
The tender lambs le raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warnis :
Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage,
The promised father of the future age.
No more shall nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
Nor fields with gleaming steel be covered o'er,
The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
Shall finish what bis short-lived sire begun ;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield,
And the same hand that sow'd, shall reap the field.
The swain in barren deserts with surprise
Sees lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise ;
And starts amidst the thirsty wilds to bear
New falls of water murmuring in his car.

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