Ode IX: To Curio

by Mark Akenside

Mark Akenside

Thrice hath the spring beheld thy faded fame
Since I exulting grasp'd the tuneful shell:
Eager through endless years to sound thy name,
Proud that my memory with thine should dwell.
How hast thou stain'd the splendor of my choice!
Those godlike forms which hover'd round thy voice,
Laws, freedom, glory, whither are they flown?
What can I now of thee to time report,
Save thy fond country made thy impious sport,
Her fortune and her hope the victims of thy own?
There are with eyes unmov'd and reckless heart
Who saw thee from thy summit fall thus low,
Who deem'd thy arm extended but to dart
The public vengeance on thy private foe.
But, spite of every gloss of envious minds,
The owl-ey'd race whom Virtue's lustre blinds,
Who sagely prove that each man hath his price,
I still believ'd thy aim from blemish free,
I yet, even yet, believe it, spite of thee
And all thy painted pleas to greatness and to vice.
"Thou didst not dream of Liberty decay'd,
Nor wish to make her guardian laws more strong:
But the rash many, first by thee misled,
Bore thee at length unwillingly along."
Rise from your sad abodes, ye curst of old,
For faith deserted or for cities sold,
Own here one untry'd, unexampled, deed;
One mystery of shame from Curio, learn,
To beg the infamy he did not earn,
And scape in Guilt's disguise from Virtue's offer'd meed.
For saw we not that dangerous power avow'd
Whom freedom oft hath found her mortal bane,
Whom public Wisdom ever strove to exclude,
And but with blushes suffereth in her train?
Corruption vaunted her bewitching spoils,
O'er court, o'er senate, spread in pomp her toils,
And call'd herself the states directing soul:
Till Curio, like a good magician, try'd
With Eloquence and Reason at his side,
By strength of holier spells the inchantress to control.
Soon with thy country's hope thy fame extends;
The rescued merchant oft thy words resounds:
Thee and thy cause the rural hearth defends;
His bowl to thee the grateful sailor crowns:
The learn'd recluse, with awful zeal who read
Of Grecian heroes, Roman patriots dead,
Now with like awe doth living merit scan:
While he, whom virtue in his blest retreat
Bade social ease and public passions meet,
Ascends the civil scene, and knows to be a man.
At length in view the glorious end appear'd:
We saw thy spirit through the senate reign;
And Freedom's friends thy instant omen heard
Of laws for which their fathers bled in vain.
Wak'd in the strife the public Genius rose
More keen, more ardent from his long repose:
Deep through her bounds the city felt his call:
Each crowded haunt was stirr'd beneath his power,
And murmuring challeng'd the deciding hour
Of that too vast event, the hope and dread of all.
O, ye good powers! who look on human kind,
Instruct the mighty moments as they roll;
And watch the fleeting shapes in Curio's mind,
And steer his passions steady to the goal.
O Alfred, father of the English name,
O valiant Edward, first in civil fame,
O William, height of public virtue pure,
Bend from your radiant seats a joyful eye
Behold the sum of all your labours nigh,
Your plans of law complete, your ends of rule secure.
'Twas then - O shame! O soul from faith estrang'd!
O Albion, oft to flattering vows a prey!
'Twas then - Thy thought what sudden frenzy chang'd?
What rushing palsy took thy strength away?
Is this the man in Freedom's cause approv'd?
The man so great, so honour'd, so belov'd?
Whom the dead envy'd, and the living bless'd?
This patient slave by tinsel bonds allur'd?
This wretched suitor for a boon abjur'd?
Whom those that fear'd him, scorn; that trusted him, detest?
O lost alike to action and repose!
With all that habit of familiar fame,
Sold to the mockery of relentless foes,
And doom'd to exhaust the dregs of life in shame,
To act with burning brow and throbbing heart
A poor deserter's dull exploded part,
To slight the favour thou canst hope no more,
Renounce the giddy crowd, the vulgar wind,
Charge thy own lightness on thy country's mind,
And from her voice appeal to each tame foreign shore.
But England's sons, to purchase thence applause,
Shall ne'er the loyalty of slaves pretend,
By courtly passions try the public cause;
Nor to the forms of rule betray the end.
O race erect! by manliest passions mov'd,
The labours which to virtue stand approv'd,
Prompt with a lover's fondness to survey;
Yet, where Injustice works her wilful claim,
Fierce as the flight of Jove's destroying flame,
Impatient to confront, and dreadful to repay.
These thy heart owns no longer. In their room
See the grave queen of pageants, Honour, dwell
Couch'd in thy bosom's deep tempestuous gloom
Like some grim idol in a sorcerer's cell.
Before her rites thy sickening reason flew,
Divine Persuasion from thy tongue withdrew,
While Laughter mock'd, or Pity stole a sigh:
Can Wit her tender movements rightly frame
Where the prime function of the soul is lame?
Can Fancy's feeble springs the force of Truth supply?
But come: 'tis time: strong Destiny impends
To shut thee from the joys thou hast betray'd:
With princes fill'd, the solemn fane ascends,
By Infamy, the mindful demon sway'd.
There vengeful vows for guardian laws effac'd,
From nations fetter'd, and from towns laid waste,
For ever through the spacious courts resound:
There long posterity's united groan,
And the sad charge of horrours not their own,
Assail the giant chiefs, and press them to the ground.
In sight old Time, imperious judge, awaits:
Above revenge, or fear, or pity, just,
He urgeth onward to those guilty gates
The great, the sage, the happy, and august.
And still he asks them of the hidden plan
Whence every treaty, every war began,
Evolves their secrets, and their guilt proclaims:
And still his hands despoil them on the road
Of each vain wreath by lying bards bestow'd,
And crush their trophies huge, and rase their sculptur'd names.
Ye mighty shades, arise, give place, attend:
Here his eternal mansion Curio seeks:
- Low doth proud Wentworth to the stranger bend,
And his dire welcome hardy Clifford speaks:
"He comes, whom Fate with surer arts prepar'd
To accomplish all which we but vainly dar'd;
Whom o'er the stubborn herd she taught to reign:
Who sooth'd with gaudy dreams their raging power,
Even to it's last irrevocable hour;
Then baffled their rude strength, and broke them to the chain."
But ye, whom yet wise Liberty inspires,
Whom for her champions o'er the world she claims,
(That household godhead whom of old your sires
Sought in the woods of Elbe, and bore to Thames)
Drive ye this hostile omen far away;
Their own fell efforts on her foes repay;
Your wealth, your arts, your fame, be her's alone:
Still gird your swords to combat on her side;
Still frame your laws her generous test to abide;
And win to her defence the altar and the throne.
Protect her from yourselves, ere yet the flood
Of golden luxury, which Commerce pours,
Hath spread that selfish fierceness through your blood,
Which not her lightest discipline endures:
Snatch from fantastic demagogues her cause:
Dream not of Numa's manners, Plato's laws:
A wiser founder, and a nobler plan,
O sons of Alfred, were for you assign'd:
Bring to that birthright but an equal mind,
And no sublimer lot will Fate reserve for man.

Last updated January 14, 2019