Henry Ellison (1811-1880)

"In 1833 there were published at Malta two eccentrically worded and still more eccentrically printed volumes of verse, entitled Madmoments, or First Verse-attempts by a Bornnatural. To this strange heading was appended the following: 'Addressed respectfully to the lightheaded of society at large; but intended more particularly for the use of that world's madhouse, London. By Henry Ellison, of Christchurch, Oxford.' But the poems in these two volumes are very far from being incoherent or inartistically outrés. The printing and general arrangement are so out of the common that a certain artificial air of strangeness does certainly seem to characterise the poems; but the strangeness is only superficial. . . Some years later the same author published his Touches on the Harp of Nature, and in 1884, Poems of Real Life--the last-named containing many of the sonnets which appeared in Madmoments. Perhaps no writer of genuine capacity has ever written so much or lived so long and attracted so little attention. . ." (from Sonnets of This Century)

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The Pen

With this, as little as it seems, can one
Work wonders! build up cities, plough the waste,
Alter customs and laws, and change the taste
Of nations, set up thrones and pluck them down!
What privilege then claims it as its own?
Or what strange subjects neath its sway are placed,
That thus with a few strokes can be effaced--
Things grey as time, familiar as the sun?

Men's thoughts! these move all! act but on the thought
And will of man, and then the lever by
Which mightiest revolutions have been wrought
Is in thy one weak hand! lost to man's eye.
Perhaps, like God, by few or known or sought
Those with two fingers movest the world's machinery!

A Sunset Thought

The sun is burning with intensest light
Behind yon grove; and in the golden glow
Of unconsuming Fire, it doth show
Like to the Bush, in which to Moses' sight
The Lord appeared! and O, am I not right
In thinking that He reappears e'en now
To me, in the old Glory? and I bow
My head, in wonder hush'd, before His might!

Yea! this whole world so vast, to Faith's clear eye,
Is but that burning Bush full of His Power,
His Light, and Glory; not consumed thereby,
But made transparent: till in each least flower,
Yea! in each smallest leaf, she can descry
His Spirit shining through it visibly!

London, after Midnight

Silence broods o'er the mighty Babylon;
And Darkness, his twin brother, with him keeps
His solemn watch; the wearied city sleeps,
And Solitude, strange contrast! muses on
The fate of man, there, whence the crowd anon
Will scare her with life's tumult! The great deeps
Of human Thought are stirless, yet there creeps,
As 'twere, a far-off hum, scarce heard, then gone,
On the still air; 'tis the great Heart doth move
And beat at intervals, soon from its sleep
To start refreshed. Oh Thou, who rul'st above,
Be with it in its dreams, and let it keep,
Awake, the spirit of pure peace and love,
Which Thou breath'st through it now, so still and deep!


The golden foot-prints of departing Day
Are fading from the ocean silently,
And Twilight, stealing onward, halves the sky;
One after one they fade in light away,
While, with a thousand songs, the Earth doth say
Farewell, uplifting all her mountains high,
To catch the last reflections ere they die,
As, one by one, their peaks grow cold and grey.
Yon orb, that hangs upon the ocean's rim,
Looks, Janus-like, both back and forward too,
And, while it fades here to Earth's evening-hymn,
It brightens, from afar, o'er regions new,
Unto the songs of Morning, raised to Him,
Who thus 'twixt night and day the great line drew!

The Daisy

Sweet flower, thou art a link of memory,
An emblem to the heart of bright days flown;
And in thy silence too there is a tone
That stirs the inmost soul more potently
Than if a trumpet's-voice had rent the sky!
I love thee much, for when I stray alone,
Stealing from Nature her calm thoughts, which own
No self-disturbance, and my curious eye
Catches thy magic glance, methinks a spell
Has touched my soul: once more I grow a boy;
Once more my thoughts, that, as a passing-bell,
Seemed to toll o'er departed shapes of joy,
Change to old chimes, and in my bosom swell
Fresh pulses of a bliss without alloy.

The Sonnet

In this strait-waistcoat of poor fourteen lines
Our Shakspear cramped his mighty intellect.
'Tis as if Ocean should confines elect,
Like tributary streams; Golconda's mines
Contract their splendours to one gem that shines
With fraction'd lustre; or great kings reject
Th'imperious sceptre, and instead select
The pastoral crook. But genius all refines.
He in that circumscription still could move
A chartered libertine, and spirits raise,
By his "so potent art" all rules above,
In that small charmed circle; to the rays
Of his fine wit it did a focus prove --
A wheel, whose rondure close confine doth brace.

On the Strangely Botched Endings of Some of Shakespear's Sonnets

O lame and impotent conclusion! 'Tis
As some full stream should run not to the sea,
But lose itself in sand, or stagnant be;
Or proud steed his last winning leap should miss,
And fall flat t'other side; or lovers kiss,
And with their last word quarrel; or the bee
Taint all the honey by the flower he
Last sucked from; or dove's coo end with snake's hiss!
'Tis like Adonis with a cloven foot;
Fair woman fish-like ending; richest vein
Of gold "at fault"; coarse patch in rarest suit;
Mere discord in last notes of voice or strain
Angelic -- strange all these! That he should do it,
Who wrote what went before, more strange again!

The Sonnet-Rack

Poor Thought! stretched on Rime's Procrustean bed,
And threatened, saving that it doth not kill
Outright, with every mortal ache and ill
By Thought, Thought in the flesh, inherited,
Clothed on with Words, its mortal weeds. First head
And neck must crane and stretch; then feet, until
Of prescribed length, or lopped, sometimes with skill
Surgeonly, oftener hacked, till well-nigh dead.
So liest thou on the rack, Body and Soul,
At odds, in dread of rimed Death, who waits
At every turn, and mocks each twist and roll,
While words unsesquipedalian curse thy Fates!
Now 'tis thy racked brain can't the thought control,
Now thy lame feet won't go; curs'd in both states!

To Poets: Have a Good Leading-Off Rime

Take not, poetic souls, a word amiss:
I mean the unweaned spirits of the age,
Male, female, epicoene--'tis all the rage
To write; the gentler sex, all-licensed, kiss
The Muse's hands, one serving that, one this,
In lyric, ode, song, pastoral; on the stage,
In sock or buskin--lively, sad, gay, sage;
Strings of its own their lyre has, which his,
Proud man's, still lacks. When many sequent rimes,
As in the Sonnet most, offend the ear
Or please, as jangled or well rung the chimes,
With bells each under other answering clear,
Ring ye caesural pauses, rhythmic times,
Following sure lead, well-chosen pioneer.

The Steam-Engine

Off, ye Mastodons, Megalosauroi vast
And monstrous, Nature's ruder tentatives;
Her clumsier essays, of which nought survives
But fossil-bones--dread nightmares of the Past,
Which her less skilful hand in rude moulds cast,
Then brake them; as a 'prentice tries and strives,
Until the cunning of his hand arrives
At full perfection, forms matured, to last;--
Off to dark Night and Chaos! And, instead,
Come thou, true creature of intelligence,
Warm-blooded, on Promethean fire fed;
Born of Man's brain, partaking of his sense;
By Science out of Civilisation bred:
Mightier than these whom thou would'st drive from hence!

On the Effects of Machinery

Were all these means and rich appliances
Meant merely to enable Man to make
More money, not for the diviner sake
Of his immortal Being, that, through these,
It might enlarge with spiritual increase!
Then could I wish that ye might ever wake
And watch, and Mammon's wages only take,
And make but gold, who for it mar your peace--
These things were meant to give Man's soul more time
To look about it, and unto the heights
Of spiritual Being oftener climb--
To bring with the reach of all delights
Confined yet to the few, and give sublime
Direction to the Spirit's daily flight!

Illusions of Sense

The narrow senses over-ride Man's mind,
And into circumscription put his Thought;
Tie up the wings of th'Imagination, caught
And birdlimed, by the shows of things confined;
Strike flat the Earth's rotundity, and bind
Him down with countless threads by Custom wrought,
Like Gulliver by Lilliputians caught,
That seeing he sees not, or but purblind.
Our senses serve us well; but when, as here,
They have no correspondence with true sight,
'Tis like blind leading blind. Far o'er the clear,
Calm sea, a vessel's topmasts Thought invite;
And the grand mirror convex doth appear,
Not flat: thus Science may set Nature right.

Scientific Theories

O Science! proud Iconoclast, thy way
Is strewed with fragments of our reverence
And love--idols with small or no pretence,
Right oft, upon their pedestals to stay,
The light oft intercepting of God's day,
E'en in His Temple! Light too pure, intense,
Which puts the eye out, dazzles the weak sense
Of mere Humanity, after its clay
Shaping its images. But take thou good heed
Thou dost not, in self-blindness and self-pride,
Pluck down the Temple's self, and, in its stead
And on its ruins, strewed far and wide,
Building as not for Living but True-dead,
A cenotaph for Man's lost Soul provide!

Divine Power

O God! Thou openest thy hand, and lo!
Like clustered diamonds, regardlessly
Scattered therefrom, the Pleiads gem the sky!
Stars countless at a wafture Thou dost throw
Along the Milky-Way, their interflow
Of radiance a cloud of light: still high
And higher, far and farther, beyond eye
And telescope, and thought itself, they go!
As beyond sight Thy power is Infinite,
So, also, in Infinitesimal.
In least as greatest great, in depth as height.
The infinitely-small is only small
In term: Creation unto which the mite
Is huge, for very smallness great we call!