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A Leaf from the Old Forest

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     Critics of art, connoisseurs of fair Fame,Who on her bulwarks stand, to guard the wayUnto the courts wherein her favored dwell,Where they have gained admittance by the pass“True merit,” which alone can bring them there;Thine is the power the unworthy to debar,To tell them that they are unfit to comeTo seek a standing near her honored throne.Away in sorrow the beseigers turn,Foiled in their effort, to more humble scenes,With showers of censure pouring round them fast,And shame in volleys flying on to them.These are thy missiles, and they lose no mark,But bear sore torture to the vanquished wretch,Until oblivion hides him from their power.Stay they to barter, then the task is vain;’Tis but a weary while they can withstandThe many darts sent with a fatal aim.     I make me bold to speak a word with thee,Though better far my tongue had held its peace,And though my mission be a barren task,And woe betide me in the course I take.If ye my motive deem it good to ask,In form of motto, I will give it thus:“He who doth not to battle venture forthNo trophy takes, as they who go to win.”It is not meet that I should dare to judgeIf Merit tend me in the mission here;But I will trust that Honor may attend,And that ye will a fair decision give.I urge no claim to learning high and great,Nor kinship to the noble in descent,Nor hold a name to offer of renown;But from the ranks of secret come, unknown,And trust in time of fortune to advance,Then to behold thee in a happy mood.For men have moods which to their acts implyAn impulse, which doth change the scenes in viewFrom cheerful unto gloomy, or reverse;And critics, doubtless, are as other men,Prone to the changes which incite the throng.


     Time honored Seers, of every age bestowedThe reverence of man; whose is the powerTo scan the future, and draw back the veil,That people of the present may beholdThe scenes and fates which lie secluded there;To tell strange stories of the time to come,The kind of life which is awaiting some;Whereat the heart doth shudder to beholdWhat it shall be, of revel mirth propelled,Or bound in joys licentious and wild,Inoculate with sin of blackest hue,Verging on crime—yea, crime in hideous form,To crown the ruin of this hapless one.     If any of this God-like race remain,Who pry the future with such wondrous skill,Pass on the pages of this book a glance,And tell if ye can see upon the time to come,Aught which is worthy in the art of rhyme;If from this rugged riplet ye can gleanA flower or two which bear poetic worth;And if ye see the stream go gliding onIn pleasant ways, through the far distance, spreadOn fertile banks, till it at length attainA fair and undisturbéd flow, and giveA beauty to the scenes which round it lie,Or if it ripple for a weary while,And die at length into a marshy waste,Give choice to say the former; for the voiceOf him who doth a tiding good conveyIs sweeter far than his which speaketh ill....