Threnodia Augustalis

by John Dryden

John Dryden


Thus long my grief has kept me dumb:
Sure there's a lethargy in mighty woe,
Tears stand congealed, and cannot flow,
And the sad soul retires into her inmost room:
Tears for a stroke foreseen afford relief,
But unprovided for a sudden blow
Like Niobe we marble grow,
And petrify with grief.
Our British heaven was all serene,
No threatening cloud was nigh,
Not the least wrinkle to deform the sky;
We lived as unconcerned and happily
As the first age in nature's golden scene;
Supine amidst our flowing store
We slept securely, and we dreamt of more:
When suddenly the thunder-clap was heard
It took us unprepared and out of guard,
Already lost before we feared.
Th' amazing news of Charles at once were spread,
At once the general voice declared
Our gracious Prince was dead.
No sickness known before, no slow disease
To soften grief by just degrees,
But like a hurricane on Indian seas
The tempest rose;
An unexpected burst of woes,
With scarce a breathing space betwixt,
This now becalmed, and perishing the next:
As if great Atlas from his height
Should sink beneath his heavenly weight,
And with a mighty flaw, the flaming wall
(As once it shall)
Should gape immense and rushing down o'erwhelm this nether ball;
So swift and so surprising was our fear:
Our Atlas fell indeed; but Hercules was near.


His pious brother, sure the best
Who ever bore that name,
Was newly risen from his rest,
And with a fervent flame
His usual morning vows had just addressed
For his dear sovereign's health,
And hoped to have 'em heard
In long increase of years,
In honour, fame and wealth.
Guiltless of greatness thus he always prayed,
Nor knew nor wished those vows he made
On his own head should be repaid.
Soon as th' ill-omened rumour reached his ear
(Ill news is winged with fate, and flies apace),
Who can describe th' amazement in his face!
Horror in all his pomp was there,
Mute and magnificent without a tear;
And then the hero first was seen to fear.
Half unarrayed he ran to his relief,
So hasty and so artless was his grief:
Approaching greatness met him with her charms
Of power and future state,
But looked so ghastly in a brother's fate,
He shook her from his arms.
Arrived within the mournful room he saw
A wild distraction, void of awe,
And arbitrary grief, unbounded by a law.
God's image, God's anointed lay
Without motion, pulse or breath,
A senseless lump of sacred clay,
An image now of death.
Amidst his sad attendants' groans and cries,
The lines of that adored, forgiving face,
Distorted from their native grace,
An iron slumber sate on his majestic eyes.
The pious Duke — forbear, audacious Muse,
No terms thy feeble art can use
Are able to adorn so vast a woe:
The grief of all the rest like subject-grief did show,
His like a sovereign did transcend;
No wife, no brother such a grief could know,
Nor any name, but friend.


O wondrous changes of a fatal scene,
Still varying to the last!
Heaven, though its hard decree was past
Seemed pointing to a gracious turn again,
And death's uplifted arm arrested in its haste.
Heaven half repented of the doom,
And almost grieved it had foreseen
What by foresight it willed eternally to come.
Mercy above did hourly plead
For her resemblance here below,
And mild forgiveness intercede
To stop the coming blow.
New miracles approached th' etherial throne,
Such as his wondrous life had oft and lately known,
And urged that still they might be shown.
On earth his pious brother prayed and vowed,
Renouncing greatness at so dear a rate,
Himself defending what he could
From all the glories of his future fate.
With him th' innumerable crowd
Of armed prayers
Knocked at the gates of heaven, and knocked aloud,
The first, well-meaning rude petitioners:
All for his life assailed the throne,
All would have bribed the skies by offering up their own.
So great a throng not heaven itself could bar,
'Twas almost borne by force as in the giants' war.
The prayers at least for his reprieve were heard;
His death, like Hezekiah's, was deferred.
Against the sun the shadow went
Five days, those five degrees were lent
To form our patience and prepare th' event.
The second causes took the swift command,
The med'cinal head, the ready hand,
All eager to perform their part,
All but eternal doom was conquered by their art.
Once more the fleeting soul came back
T' inspire the mortal frame,
And in the body took a doubtful stand,
Doubtful and hovering like expiring flame
That mounts and falls by turns, and trembles o'er the brand.


The joyful short-lived news soon spread around,
Took the same train, the same impetuous bound:
The drooping town in smiles again was dressed,
Gladness in every face expressed,
Their eyes before their tongues confessed.
Men met each other with erected look,
The steps were higher that they took;
Friends to congratulate their friends made haste,
And long inveterate foes saluted as they passed.
Above the rest heroic James appeared
Exalted more, because he more had feared:
His manly heart, whose noble pride
Was still above
Dissembled hate or varnished love,
Its more than common transport could not hide,
But like an eagre rode in triumph o'er the tide.
Thus in alternate course
The tyrant passions, hope and fear,
Did in extremes appear,
And flashed upon the soul with equal force.
Thus, at half ebb, a rolling sea
Returns, and wins upon the shore;
The watery herd, affrighted at the roar,
Rest on their fins awhile, and stay,
Then backward take their wondering way:
The prophet wonders more than they
At prodigies but rarely seen before,
And cries, " A king must fall, or kingdoms change their sway."
Such were our counter-tides at land, and so
Presaging of the fatal blow
In their prodigious ebb and flow.
The royal soul, that like the labouring moon
By charms of art was hurried down,
Forced with regret to leave her native sphere,
Came but awhile on liking here:
Soon weary of the painful strife,
And made but faint essays of life:
An evening light
Soon shut in night,
A strong distemper, and a weak relief,
Short intervals of joy, and long returns of grief.


The sons of art all med'cines tried,
And every noble remedy applied;
With emulation each essayed
His utmost skill; nay more, they prayed:
Never was losing game with better conduct played.
Death never won a stake with greater toil,
Nor e'er was Fate so near a foil:
But like a fortress on a rock,
Th' impregnable disease their vain attempts did mock;
They mined it near, they battered from afar,
With all the cannon of the med'cinal war;
No gentle means could be essayed,
'Twas beyond parley when the siege was laid.
Th' extremest ways they first ordain,
Prescribing such intolerable pain
As none but Caesar could sustain;
Undaunted Caesar underwent
The malice of their art, nor bent
Beneath whate'er their pious rigour could invent:
In five such days he suffered more
Than any suffered in his reign before;
More, infinitely more, than he
Against the worst of rebels could decree,
A traitor or twice-pardoned enemy.
Now art was tired without success,
No racks could make the stubborn malady confess.
The vain insurancers of life,
And he who most performed, and promised less,
Ev'n Short himself forsook th' unequal strife.
Death and despair was in their looks,
No longer they consult their memories or books;
Like helpless friends who view from shore
The labouring ship, and hear the tempest roar,
So stood they with their arms across,
Not to assist, but to deplore
Th' inevitable loss.


Death was denounced; that frightful sound
Which ev'n the best can hardly bear;
He took the summons void of fear,
And unconcernedly cast his eyes around,
As if to find and dare the grisly challenger.
What death could do he lately tried,
When in four days he more than died.
The same assurance all his words did grace,
The same majestic mildness held its place,
Nor lost the monarch in his dying face.
Intrepid, pious, merciful and brave,
He looked as when he conquered and forgave.


As if some angel had been sent
To lengthen out his government,
And to foretell as many years again
As he had numbered in his happy reign,
So cheerfully he took the doom
Of his departing breath;
Nor shrunk, nor stepped aside for death,
But with unaltered pace kept on,
Providing for events to come
When he resigned the throne.
Still he maintained his kingly state,
And grew familiar with his fate.
Kind, good and gracious to the last,
On all he loved before, his dying beams he cast.
O truly good, and truly great,
For glorious as he rose, benignly so he set!
All that on earth he held most dear
He recommended to his care
To whom both heaven
The right had given
And his own love bequeathed supreme command.
He took and pressed that ever-loyal hand,
Which could in peace secure his reign,
Which could in wars his power maintain,
That hand on which no plighted vows were ever vain.
Well for so great a trust he chose
A prince who never disobeyed,
Not when the most severe commands were laid;
Nor want nor exile with his duty weighed:
A prince on whom, if heaven its eyes could close,
The welfare of the world it safely might repose.


That King who lived to God's own heart
Yet less serenely died than he:
Charles left behind no harsh decree
For schoolmen with laborious art
To salve from cruelty:
Those for whom love could no excuses frame,
He graciously forgot to name.
Thus far my Muse, though rudely, has designed
Some faint resemblance of his godlike mind,
But neither pen nor pencil can express
The parting brothers' tenderness:
Though that's a term too mean and low
(The blessed above a kinder word may know);
But what they did, and what they said,
The monarch who triumphant went,
The militant who stayed,
Like painters when their heightening arts are spent,
I cast into a shade.
That all-forgiving King,
The type of him above,
That inexhausted spring
Of clemency and love;
Himself to his next self accused,
And asked that pardon which he ne'er refused:
For faults not his, for guilt and crimes
Of godless men, and of rebellious times,
For an hard exile, kindly meant,
When his ungrateful country sent
Their best Camillus into banishment,
And forced their sovereign's act — they could not his consent.
O how much rather had that injured chief
Repeated all his sufferings past,
Than hear a pardon begged at last
Which given could give the dying no relief.
He bent, he sunk beneath his grief,
His dauntless heart would fain have held
From weeping, but his eyes rebelled.
Perhaps the godlike hero in his breast
Disdained, or was ashamed to show
So weak, so womanish a woe,
Which yet the brother and the friend so plenteously confessed.


Amidst that silent shower the royal mind
An easy passage found,
And left its sacred earth behind:
Nor murmuring groan expressed, nor labouring sound,
Nor any least tumultuous breath;
Calm was his life, and quiet was his death,
Soft as those gentle whispers were
In which th' Almighty did appear:
By the still voice the prophet knew him there.
That peace which made thy prosperous reign to shine,
That peace thou leav'st to thy imperial line,
That peace, O happy shade, be ever thine!


For all those joys thy restoration brought,
For all the miracles it wrought,
For all the healing balm thy mercy poured
Into the nation's bleeding wound,
And care that after kept it sound,
For numerous blessings yearly showered,
And property with plenty crowned,
For freedom still maintained alive,
Freedom which in no other land will thrive,
Freedom, an English subject's sole prerogative,
Without whose charms e'en peace would be
But a dull, quiet slavery;
For these and more accept our pious praise:
'Tis all the subsidy
The present age can raise;
The rest is charged on late posterity.
Posterity is charged the more
Because the large abounding store
To them and to their heirs is still entailed by thee.
Succession, of a long descent
Which chastely in the channels ran,
And from our demi-gods began,
Equal almost to time in its extent,
Through hazards numberless and great,
Thou hast derived this mighty blessing down,
And fixed the fairest gem that decks th' imperial crown.
Not faction, when it shook thy regal seat,
Not senates, insolently loud,
(Those echoes of a thoughtless crowd),
Not foreign or domestic treachery,
Could warp thy soul to their unjust decree.
So much thy foes thy manly mind mistook,
Who judged it by the mildness of thy look:
Like a well-tempered sword, it bent at will,
But kept the native toughness of the steel.


Be true, O Clio, to thy hero's name!
But draw him strictly, so
That all who view the piece may know
He needs no trappings of fictitious fame.
The load's too weighty: thou may'st choose
Some parts of praise, and some refuse:
Write, that his annals may be thought more lavish than the Muse.
In scanty truth thou hast confined
The virtues of a royal mind,
Forgiving, bounteous, humble, just and kind;
His conversation, wit and parts,
His knowledge in the noblest, useful arts,
Were such dead authors could not give,
But habitudes of those who live;
Who lighting him did greater lights receive:
He drained from all, and all they knew;
His apprehension quick, his judgement true,
That the most learned with shame confess
His knowledge more, his reading only less.


Amidst the peaceful triumphs of his reign,
What wonder if the kindly beams he shed
Revived the drooping arts again,
If Science raised her head,
And soft Humanity that from rebellion fled;
Our isle, indeed, too fruitful was before,
But all uncultivated lay,
Out of the solar walk, and heaven's high way,
With rank Geneva weeds run o'er,
And cockle, at the best, amidst the corn it bore:
The royal husbandman appeared,
And ploughed, and sowed and tilled,
The thorns he rooted out, the rubbish cleared,
And blessed th' obedient field;
When straight a double harvest rose,
Such as the swarthy Indian mows,
Or happier climates near the line,
Or paradise manured and dressed by hands divine.


As when the new-born phoenix takes his way
His rich paternal regions to survey,
Of airy choristers a numerous train
Attend his wondrous progress o'er the plain;
So rising from his father's urn
So glorious did our Charles return;
Th' officious Muses came along,
A gay, harmonious choir like angels ever young.
(The Muse that mourns him now his happy triumph sung.)
Ev'n they could thrive in his auspicious reign,
And such a plenteous crop they bore
Of purest and well-winnowed grain,
As Britain never knew before.
Though little was their hire, and light their gain,
Yet somewhat to their share he threw;
Fed from his hand they sung and flew,
Like birds of paradise that lived on morning dew.
O never let their lays his name forget!
The pension of a prince's praise is great.
Live then, thou great encourager of arts,
Live ever in our thankful hearts;
Live blessed above, almost invoked below,
Live and receive this pious vow,
Our patron once, our guardian angel now.
Thou Fabius of a sinking state,
Who didst by wise delays divert our fate,
When faction like a tempest rose
In death's most hideous form;
Then art to rage thou didst oppose,
To weather out the storm:
Not quitting thy supreme command,
Thou held'st the rudder with a steady hand,
Till safely on the shore the bark did land:
The bark that all our blessings brought,
Charged with thyself and James, a doubly royal fraught.


O frail estate of human things,
And slippery hopes below!
Now to our cost your emptiness we know,
(For 'tis a lesson dearly bought)
Assurance here is never to be sought.
The best, and best beloved of kings,
And best deserving to be so,
When scarce he had escaped the fatal blow
Of faction and conspiracy,
Death did his promised hopes destroy:
He toiled, he gained, but lived not to enjoy.
What mists of providence are these
Through which we cannot see!
So saints, by supernatural power set free
Are left at last in martyrdom to die;
Such is the end of oft-repeated miracles.
Forgive me, heaven, that impious thought,
'Twas grief for Charles, to madness wrought,
That questioned thy supreme decree!
Thou didst his gracious reign prolong,
Ev'n in thy saints' and angels' wrong,
His fellow-citizens of immortality:
For twelve long years of exile borne
Twice twelve we numbered since his blessed return:
So strictly wert thou just to pay,
Ev'n to the driblet of a day.
Yet still we murmur and complain
The quails and manna should no longer rain;
Those miracles 'twas needless to renew:
The chosen flock has now the promised land in view.


A warlike Prince ascends the regal state,
A Prince long exercised by Fate;
Long may he keep, though he obtains it late.
Heroes in heaven's peculiar mould are cast,
They and their poets are not formed in haste;
Man was the first in God's design, and man was made the last.
False heroes, made by flattery so,
Heaven can strike out, like sparkles, at a blow;
But ere a Prince is to perfection brought,
He costs omnipotence a second thought.
With toil and sweat,
With hardening cold and forming heat
The Cyclops did their strokes repeat,
Before th' impenetrable shield was wrought.
It looks as if the Maker would not own
The noble work for his,
Before 'twas tried and found a masterpiece.


View then a monarch ripened for a throne.
Alcides thus his race began,
O'er infancy he swiftly ran,
The future god at first was more than man.
Dangers and toils, and Juno's hate,
Ev'n o'er his cradle lay in wait,
And there he grappled first with Fate:
In his young hands the hissing snakes he pressed,
So early was the deity confessed:
Thus by degrees he rose to Jove's imperial seat.
Thus difficulties prove a soul legitimately great.
Like his, our hero's infancy was tried;
Betimes the Furies did their snakes provide,
And to his infant arms oppose
His father's rebels and his brother's foes.
The more oppressed, the higher still he rose.
Those were the preludes of his fate
That formed his manhood to subdue
The hydra of the many-headed, hissing crew.


As after Numa's peaceful reign
The martial Ancus did the sceptre wield,
Furbished the rusty sword again,
Resumed the long-forgotten shield,
And led the Latins to the dusty field;
So James the drowsy genius wakes
Of Britain, long entranced in charms,
Restive, and slumbering on its arms:
'Tis roused, and with a new-strung nerve the spear already shakes.
No neighing of the warrior steeds,
No drum or louder trumpet needs
T' inspire the coward, warm the cold;
His voice, his sole appearance makes 'em bold.
Gaul and Batavia dread th' impending blow,
Too well the vigour of that arm they know;
They lick the dust, and crouch beneath their fatal foe.
Long may they fear this awful Prince,
And not provoke his lingering sword;
Peace is their only sure defence,
Their best security his word:
In all the changes of his doubtful state,
His truth, like heaven's, was kept inviolate:
For him to promise is to make it fate.
His valour can triumph o'er land and main;
With broken oaths his fame he will not stain,
With conquest basely bought, and with inglorious gain.


For once, O heaven, unfold thy adamantine book,
And let his wondering senate see
If not thy firm, immutable decree,
At least the second page, of strong contingency,
Such as consists with wills originally free:
Let them with glad amazement look
On what their happiness may be;
Let them not still be obstinately blind,
Still to divert the good thou hast designed,
Or with malignant penury
To sterve the royal virtues of his mind.
Faith is a Christian's, and a subject's test,
O give them to believe, and they are surely blessed!
They do, and with a distant view I see
Th' amended vows of English loyalty.
And all beyond that object there appears
The long retinue of a prosperous reign,
A series of successful years,
In orderly array, a martial, manly train.
Behold, ev'n to remoter shores
A conquering navy proudly spread,
The British cannon formidably roars;
While starting from his oozy bed
Th' asserted ocean rears his reverend head
To view and recognise his ancient lord again,
And with a willing hand restores
The fasces of the main.

Last updated October 14, 2022