Washington Allston (1779-1843)

From Lectures on Art, and Poems (1850)

From the Southern Literary Messenger (August 1842)

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From The Sonnet in American Literature

"In Washington Allston we come to a poet of more substantial merit [than previous American sonneteers], although it is doubtful if his best work was done in the sonnet form. Sylphs of the Seasons, Boston, 1813, contains six sonnets on topics suggested by his activities as an artist. Lectures on Art and Poems, 1850, contains these six and seven others. Allston's sonnets, although irregular in structure, are arresting by the simple dignity of their diction.

He painted a picture of Coleridge, and had these lines written of him by Robert Southey in A Vision of Judgment:

. . . he, who returning
Rich in praise to his native shores, hath left a remembrance
Long to be honored and loved on the banks of the Thames and the Tiber.

Allston's best sonnet, perhaps, is the one he wrote on the death of Coleridge." (Sterner)

Sonnet on the Late S. T. Coleridge

And thou art gone, most loved, most honoured friend!
No, never more thy gentle voice shall blend
With air of Earth its pure ideal tones,
Binding in one, as with harmonious zones,
The heart and intellect. And I no more
Shall with thee gaze on that unfathomed deep,
The Human Soul,—as when, pushed off the shore,
Thy mystic bark would through the darkness sweep,
Itself the while so bright! For oft we seemed
As on some starless sea,—all dark above,
All dark below,—yet, onward as we drove,
To plough up light that ever round us streamed.
But he who mourns is not as one bereft
Of all he loved: thy living Truths are left.

(Text above from The Sonnet in American Literature.)

On a Falling Group in the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo, in the Cappella Sistina

How vast, how dread, o'erwhelming, is the thought
Of space interminable! to the soul
A circling weight that crushes into naught
Her mighty faculties! a wondrous whole,
Without or parts, beginning, or an end!
How fearful, then, on desperate wings to send
The fancy e'en amid the waste profound!
Yet, born as if all daring to astound,
Thy giant hand, O Angelo, hath hurled
E'en human forms, with all their mortal weight,
Down the dread void,—fall endless as their fate!
Already now they seem from world to world
For ages thrown; yet doomed, another past,
Another still to reach, nor e'er to reach the last!

On the Group of the Three Angels before the Tent of Abraham, by Raffaelle, in the Vatican

O, now I feel as though another sense,
From heaven descending, had informed my soul;
I feel the pleasurable, full control
Of Grace, harmonious, boundless, and intense.
In thee, celestial Group, embodied lives
The subtile mystery, that speaking gives
Itself resolved; the essences combined
Of Motion ceaseless, Unity complete.
Borne like a leaf by some soft eddying wind,
Mine eyes, impelled as by enchantment sweet,
From part to part with circling motion rove,
Yet seem unconscious of the power to move;
From line to line through endless changes run,
O'er countless shapes, yet seem to gaze on One.

On Seeing the Picture of Æolus by Pelligrino Tibaldi, in the Institute at Bologna

Full well, Tibaldi, did thy kindred mind
The mighty spell of Buonarroti own.
Like one who, reading magic words, receives
The gift of intercourse with worlds unknown,
'T was thine, deciphering Nature's mystic leaves,
To hold strange converse with the viewless wind;
To see the Spirits, in embodied forms,
Of gales and whirlwinds, hurricanes and storms.
For, lo! obedient to thy bidding, teems
Fierce into shape their stern, relentless Lord:
His form of motion ever-restless seems;
Or, if to rest inclined his turbid soul,
On Hecla's top to stretch, and give the word
To subject Winds that sweep the desert pole.

On Rembrandt; Occasioned by His Picture of Jacob's Dream

As in that twilight, superstitious age
When all beyond the narrow grasp of mind
Seemed fraught with meanings of supernal kind,
When e'en the learned, philosophic sage,
Wont with the stars through boundless space to range,
Listened with reverence to the changeling's tale;—
E'en so, thou strangest of all beings strange!
E'en so thy visionary scenes I hail;
That, like the rambling of an idiot's speech,
No image giving of a thing on earth,
Nor thought significant in Reason's reach,
Yet in their random shadowings give birth
To thoughts and things from other worlds that come,
And fill the soul, and strike the reason dumb.

There is a charm no vulgar mind can reach,
No critic thwart, no mighty master teach;
A charm how mingled of the good and ill!
Yet still so mingled that the mystic whole
Shall captive hold the struggling gazer's will,
Till vanquished reason own its full control.
And such, O Rubens, thy mysterious art,
The charm that vexes, yet enslaves the heart!
Thy lawless style, from timid systems free,
Impetuous rolling like a troubled sea,
High o'er the rocks of reason's lofty verge
Impending hangs; yet, ere the foaming surge
Breaks o'er the bound, the refluent ebb of taste
Back from the shore impels the watery waste.

To My Venerable Friend, the President of the Royal Academy

From one unused in pomp of words to raise
A courtly monument of empty praise,
Where self, transpiring through the flimsy pile,
Betrays the builder's ostentatious guile,
Accept, O West, these unaffected lays,
Which genius claims and grateful justice pays.
Still green in age, thy vigorous powers impart
The youthful freshness of a blameless heart:
For thine, unaided by another's pain,
The wiles of envy, or the sordid train
Of selfishness, has been the manly race
Of one who felt the purifying grace
Of honest fame; nor found the effort vain
E'en for itself to love thy soul-ennobling art.

The French Revolution

The Earth has had her visitation. Like to this
She hath not known, save when the mounting waters
Made of her orb one universal ocean.
For now the Tree that grew in Paradise,
The deadly Tree that first gave Evil motion,
And sent its poison through Earth's sons and daughters,
Had struck again its root in every land;
And now its fruit was ripe,—about to fall,—
And now a mighty Kingdom raised the hand,
To pluck and eat. Then from his throne stepped forth
The King of Hell, and stood upon the Earth:
But not, as once, upon the Earth to crawl.
A Nation's congregated form he took,
Till, drunk with sin and blood, Earth to her centre shook.


What master-voice shall from the dim profound
Of Thought evoke its fearful, mighty Powers?—
Those dread enchanters, whose terrific call
May never be gainsaid; whose wondrous thrall
Alone the Infinite, the Uncreate, may bound;
In whose dark presence e'en the Reason cowers,
Lost in their mystery, e'en while her slaves,
Doing her proud behests. Ay, who to sense
Shall bring them forth?—those subtile Powers that wear
No shape their own, yet to the mind dispense
All shapes that be. Or who in deepest graves
Seal down the crime which they shall not uptear?—
Those fierce avengers, whom the murdered dead
Shall hear, and follow to the murderer's bed.

A Smile

A smile!—Alas, how oft the lips that bear
This floweret of the soul but give to air,
Like flowering graves, the growth of buried care!
Then drear indeed that miserable heart
Where this last human boon is aye denied!
If such there be, it claims in man no part,
Whose deepest grief has yet a mirthful bride.
For whose so many as the sad man's face?
His joy, though brief, is yet reprieve from woe;
The waters of his life in darkness flow;
Yet, when the accidents of time displace
The cares that vault their channel, and let in
A gleam of day, with what a joyous din
The stream jets out to catch the sunny grace!


O Art, high gift of Heaven! how oft defamed
When seeming praised! To most a craft that fits,
By dead, prescriptive Rule, the scattered bits
Of gathered knowledge; even so misnamed
By some who would invoke thee; but not so
By him,—the noble Tuscan,*—who gave birth
To forms unseen of man, unknown to Earth,
Now living habitants; he felt the glow
Of thy revealing touch, that brought to view
The invisible Idea; and he knew,
E'en by his inward sense, its form was true:
'T was life to life responding, - highest truth!
So, through Elisha's faith, the Hebrew Youth
Beheld the thin blue air to fiery chariots grow.

* Michael Angelo.

On the Statue of an Angel, by Bienaimé, of Rome, in the possession of J. S. Copley Green, Esq.

Oh, who can look on that celestial face,
And kindred for it claim with aught on earth?
If ever here more lovely form had birth—
No—never that supernal purity—that grace
So eloquent of unimpassioned love!
That, by a simple movement, thus imparts
Its own harmonious peace, the while our hearts
Rise, as by instinct, to the world above.
And yet we look on cold, unconscious stone.
But what is that which thus our spirits own
As Truth and Life? 'Tis not material Art—
But e'en the Sculptor's soul to sense unseal'd.
Oh, never may he doubt—its witness so reveal'd—
There lives within him an immortal part.