The British Critic, 41 ( March 1813 ), 227-30
[Review of] The Banks of the Wye, a Poem in Four Books
ART. III. The Banks of the Wye; a Poem. In four Books. By Robert Bloomfield, Author of the Farmer's Boy. 12mo. 134pp. 5s. Vernor and Co. &c 1811
1. THE poet of native inspiration, neither needing nor disdaining cultivation, may not unaptly be compared, himself, to the banks of the Wye, which abounding in natural beauties, are yet neither savage nor untractable. Of the Wye, however, we speak, as the bard did till lately, by fame alone, and not without a feeling that approaches to envy, respecting the delightful excursion of ten days, which his Muse has here immortalized.
2. In his beautiful poem called 'Shooter's Hill,' (published in his 'Wild Flowers,') Bloomfield had spoken thus of the scenes of Wales.
'Of Cambrian mountains still I dream, And mouldering vestiges of war; By time-worn cliff, or classic stream Would rove,—but prudence holds a bar. Come then, O health, I'll strive to bound 5 My wishes to this airy stand, 'Tis not for me to trace around The wonders of my native land.'
3. Some kind friends of the poet determined to offer him that pleasure, of which he there seemed to despair, and invited him to accompany them in a short excursion to South Wales. 'It was now,' says he, 'in the power of this happy party, to falsify such predictions, and to render a pleasure to the writer of no common kind.' The invitation was gladly accepted, and the plan realized in August, 1807. The present poem commemorates the thoughts and feelings of the author on this occasion; and though he does not undertake to give an elaborate account of the scenes which struck his delighted imagination, yet he offers what is much better, a lively image of a poet's mind, under circumstances of natural and innocent gratification. The following introduction tells, in a spirited and pleasing manner, the origin of the excursion.
'Rouse from thy slumber, pleasure calls, arise; Quit thy half-rural bower, awhile despise The thraldom that consumes thee. We who dwell Far from thy land of smoke*, advise thee well, Here Nature's bounteous hand around shall fling, 5 Scenes that thy Muse hath never dar'd to sing; When sickness weigh'd thee down, and strength declin'd, When dread eternity absorb'd thy mind, Flow'd the predicting verse, by gloom o'erspread, That 'Cambrian mountains' thou should'st never tread, 10 That 'time-worn cliff and classic stream to see' Was wealth's prerogative, despair for thee. Come to the proof; with us the breeze inhale, Renounce despair, and come to Severn's vale; And, where the COTSWOLD HILLS are stretch'd along, 15 Seek our green dell, as yet unknown to song: Start hence with us, and trace, with raptur'd eye, The wild meanderings of the beauteous Wye; Thy ten days leisure ten days joys shall prove, And rock and stream breathe amity and love.' 20
'Such was the call; with instant ardour hailed, The syren Pleasure caroll'd, and prevail'd; Soon the deep dell appear'd, and the clear brow Of ULEY BURY smil'd o'er all below, Mansion, and flock, and circling woods that hung 25 Round the sweet pastures, where the sky-lark sung. O for the fancy, vigorous and sublime, Chaste as the theme, to triumph over time! Bright as the rising day, and firm as truth, To speak new transports to the low-born youth, 30 That bosoms still might throb, and still adore, When his, who strives to charm them, beats no more.' P. 3.
4. These lines are all that the poem contains of this measure; the whole remainder is in the easy and cheerful eight syllable couplet, which Mr. W. Scott has lately raised to dignity and fashion. The beginning of the tour offers a lively picture.
'The morrow came, and Beauty's eye Ne'er beam'd upon a lovelier sky; Imagination instant brought, And dash'd amidst the train of thought, Tints of the bow. The boatman stript; 5 Glee at the helm exulting tript, And wav'd her flower-encircled wand,
'Away, away, to Fairy Land.' Light dipt the oars; but who can name The various objects, dear to fame, 10 That changing, doubting, wild, and strong, Demand the noblest powers of song.' P. 10.
5. But the close of that book is more pleasing, because more distinct and clear.
'Low sunk the sun, his ev'ning beam Scarce reach'd us on the tranquil stream; Shut from the world, and all its din, Nature's own bonds had clos'd us in; Wood, and deep dell, and rock, and ridge, 5 From smiling Ross to MONMOUTH BRIDGE; From morn, till twilight stole away, A long, unclouded, glorious day.' P. 37.
6. This poem will probably, in future, be the companion of those who visit the Wye, for the sake of pleasurable excursion; who will delight to trace the varying scenes as here described, and particularly to discover the 'bluff rock,' which was named by the party after the poet. We will not say that, in every instance, he satisfies our ear with his measure, or our imagination with his pictures, but he has thrown an interest over the whole which will always enable the lover of poetry to attend him with pleasure. The opening of the fourth and last book is particularly pleasing.
''Tis sweet to hear the soothing chime, And by thanksgiving measure time; When hard-wrought poverty awhile Upheaves the bending back to smile; When servants hail, with boundless glee 5 The sweets of love and liberty; For guiltless love will ne'er disown The cheerful Sunday's market town, Clean, silent, when his power's confess'd, And trade's contention lull'd to rest. 10
Seldom has worship cheer'd my soul With such invincible controul! It was a bright benignant hour, The song of praise was full of power; And, darting from the noon-day sky, 15 Amidst the tide of harmony, O'er aile and pillar glancing strong, Heav'n's radiant light inspir'd the song. The word of peace, that can disarm Care with his own peculiar charm, 20 Here flow'd a double stream, to cheer The Saxon and the Mountaineer, Of various stock, of various name, Now join'd in rites, and join'd in fame.' P. 101.
7. In his conclusion, Bloomfield calls upon two classes of persons, more particularly, to visit the banks of the Wye. His invitation is animated and poetical.
'Ye who, ingulph'd in trade, endure What gold alone can never cure, The constant sigh for scenes of peace, From the world's trammels free release: — Wait not, for reason's sake attend, 5 Wait not in chains till times shall mend; Till the clear voice, grown hoarse and gruff, Cries, 'now I'll go, I'm rich enough.' Youth, and the prime of manhood seize, Steal ten days absence, ten days ease, 10 Bid ledgers from your mind depart, Let mem'ry's treasures cheer the heart; And when your children round you grow, With opening charms, and manly brow, Talk of the WYE, as some old dream, 15 Call it the wild, the wizard stream, Sink in your broad arm-chair to rest, And youth shall smile to see you blest.
'Artists, betimes your pow'rs employ, And take the pilgrimage of joy; 20 The eye of genius may behold A thousand beauties here untold; Rock, that defies the winter's storm; Wood, in its most imposing form, That climbs the mountain, bows below, 25 Where deep th' unsullied waters flow. Here Gilpin's eye transported scan'd Views by no tricks of fancy plan'd; Gray here, upon the stream reclin'd, Stor'd with delight his ardent mind. 30 But let the vacant trifler stray From thy enchantments far away; For should, from Fashion's rainbow train, The idle and the vicious, vain, In sacrilege presume to move 35 Through these dear scenes of peace and love, The Spirit of the Stream would rise, In wrathful mood, and tenfold size, And nobly guard his COLDWELL spring, And bid his inmost caverns ring, 40 Loud thund'ring on the giddy crew,
'My stream was never meant for you.' But ye, to nobler feelings born, Who sense and nature dare not scorn, Glide gaily on, and ye shall find 45 The blest serenity of mind, That springs from silence; or shall raise The hand, the eye, the voice of praise. Live then sweet stream! and henceforth be The darling of posterity; 50 Lov'd for thyself, for ever dear, Like beauty's smile, and virtue's tear, Till time his striding race give o'er, And verse itself shall charm no more.'
8. Readers! you have now before you an ample specimen of Bloomfield's 'Banks of the Wye.' You will not probably rank this poem with the happiest of his efforts, nor will you think it unworthy of him. It might have been more perfect, but still it has many charms.