Ebenezer Elliot (1781-1849)

return to sonnet central return to the Romantic era

"In these days. . ."

In these days, every mother's son or daughter
Writes verse, which no one reads except the writer,
Although, uninked, the paper would be whiter,
And worth, per ream, a hare, when you have caught her.
Hundreds of unstaunched Shelleys daily water
Unanswering dust; a thousand Wordsworths scribble;
And twice a thousand Corn Law Rhymers dribble
Rhymed prose, unread. Hymners of fraud and slaughter,
By cant called other names, alone find buyers--
Who buy, but read not. "What a loss in paper,"
Groans each immortal of the host of sighers!
"What profanation of the midnight taper
In expirations vile! But I write well,
And wisely print. Why don't my poems sell?"

"John. . ."

John. In the sound of that rebellious word
There is brave music. Jack, and Jacobin,
Are vulgar terms; law-linked to shame and sin,
They have a twang of Jack the Hangman's cord:
Yet John hath merit which can well afford
To be called Jack's. By life's strange offs and ons!
Glory hath had great dealings with the Johns,
Since history first awaked where fable snored.
John Cade, John Huss, John Hampden, and John Knox!
Ay, these were the names of fellows who had will.
John Wilson's name, far sounded, sounds not ill;
But how unlike John Milton's or John Locke's!
John Bright, like Locke and Milton, scorns paid sloth;
And Johnson might have liked to gibbet both.

Poet vs. Parson

A hireling's wages to the priest are paid;
While lives and dies, in want and rags, the bard!
But preaching ought to be its own reward,
And not a sordid, if an honest trade.
Paul, laboring proudly with his hands, arrayed
Regenerated hearts in peace and love;
And when, with power, they preached the mystic dove,
Penn, Barclay, Clarkson, asked not Mammon's aid.
As, for its own sake, poetry is sweet
To poets--so, on tasks of mercy bound,
Religion travels with unsandaled feet,
Making the flinty desert holy ground;
And never will her triumph be complete
While one paid pilgrim upon earth is found.

Trees at Brimham

Gnarled oak and holly! stone-cropped like the stone!
Are ye of it, or is it part of you?
Your union strange is marvellously true,
And makes the granite which I stand upon
Seem like the vision of an empire gone,
Gone, yet still present, though it never was
Save as a shadow,--let the shadow pass!
So perish human glories, every one!
But, rocks! ye are not shadows; trees! ye cast
The Almighty's shadow over the homeward bee,
His name on Brimham! yea, the coming blast
Beneath his curtains reads it here with me,
And pauses not to number marvels past
But speeds the thunder on over land and sea.

Powers of the Sonnet

Why should the tiny harp be chained to themes
In fourteen lines, with pedant rigour bound?
The sonnet's might is mightier than it seems:
Witness the bard of Eden lost and found,
Who gave this lute a clarion's battle sound.
And lo! another Milton calmly turns
His eyes within, a light that ever burns,
Waiting till Wordsworth's second peer be found!
Meantime, Fitzadam's mournful music shows
That the scorned sonnet's charm may yet endear
Some long deep strain, or lay of well-tolled woes;
Such as in Byron's couplet brings a tear
To manly cheeks, or over his stanza throws
Rapture and grief, solemnity and fear.

"Toy of the Titans!..."

Toy of the Titans! Tiny Harp! again
I quarrel with the order of thy strings,
Established by the law of sonnet-kings,
And used by giants who do nought in vain.
Was Petrarch, then mistaken in the strain
That charms Italia? Were they tasteless things
That Milton wrought? And are they mutterings
Untuneful, that pay Wordsworth with pleased pain?
No. But I see that tyrants come of slaves;
That states are won by rush of robbers' steel;
And millions starved and tortured to their graves,
Because as they are taught men think and feel;
Therefore, I change the sonnet's slavish notes
For cheaper music, suited to my thoughts.

Fountains Abbey

Abbey! for ever smiling pensively,
How like a thing of Nature dost thou rise
Amid her loveliest works! as if the skies,
Clouded with grief, were arched thy roof to be,
And the tall trees were copied all from thee!
Mourning thy fortunes--while the waters dim
Flow like the memory of thy evening hymn,
Beautiful in their sorrowing sympathy;
As if they with a weeping sister wept,
Winds name thy name! But thou, though sad, art calm,
And Time with thee his plighted troth hath kept;
For harebells deck thy brow, and, at thy feet,
Where sleep the proud, the bee and redbreast meet,
Mixing thy sighs with Nature's lonely psalm.


Fitzadam, referring to five sonnets by Edward Moore written under the pseudonym of Adam Fitzadam (link to come).