The Quest of the Muse

Miss Porden

By her forsaken admirer

I start upon no search grotesque
Of humour or the picturesque
But on my plighted Lady’s flight
Dash boldly as a loyal knight
Thro’ flood and fire to find her track
To quell her foes and bring her back.
Nor wonder, since the Muse can stray,
If mine should be a rambling lay:
I late to show how much I prized her
In attic circles advertized her,
And finding that attempt in vain
Start on my pilgrimage of pain.
My cheek is lean, my frown is spare
And ink has dyed my flaxen hair,
While my slack eye may well discover
The grief of a forsaken lover.
An inkhorn and a pen are seen
Embroidered on my pelerine,
And to supply the pilgim’s wand
A role of paper arms my hand.

Alas! I find, as Quixote found
Castles are levelled to the ground
While inns, and dear ones too, abound
So, for I scorn all false pretences
I’ll print my tour to pay expenses
The Muse — oh how shall I declare
Her form or features — eyes or hair — 
My heart, my head, her fire has warmed
Her siren voice my ear has charm’d,
I’ve been her lover many a year
And always seem’d to feel her near,
While still her magic presence gave
New lustre to the dancing wave,
A deeper azure to the sky,
The velvet lawn a greener dye,
And bade the nightingale complain
To brighter moon, in softer strain;
Nay if with her I dared to trace
Some youthful beauty’s roseate face,
No envy chilled her soul — but she
Lent each soft feature symmetry,
While sense and virtue seem to lie
In the blue heaven of every eye.

Whene’er a tuneful tale I’ve plann’d
I’ve felt her guide my trembling hand,
Etherial raptures filled me then
And halos danced around my pen
Till my fond soul would quite forget
These eyes have never seen her yet.
And if I ask her form, I find
Each paints some image of his mind;
One draws her cross and old and lean,
One fair as youth’s delightful queen,
One with a mien reserved and high,
One with a bright and laughing eye,
Yet all — if you’ll believe — pretend
She’s been their long and constant friend.

Thus in the dark, without a choice
I seek her by her angel voice
And mounted upon Fancy’s steed
A creature of no common breed
But blending every semblance vain
That thought can raise, or poet feign
I fly — like falling meteors over
The paltry herring pond at Dover.
Nor pause, till now he sets me down
In Paris, that enchanted town.
Oh! ’twas a happy thought, no doubt
I here shall quickly find her out;
In Senates, in their Public Places
They talk of Muses and of Graces,
And Rome’s discarded Gods ’tis clear
Have taken summer lodging here.
Besides — oh faithless and disloyal!
I lost her in the Palais Royal
And yet to me it seems most plain
I shall not find her there again.

Oh Paris! thou whose every part
Was beauty to my raptured heart
When with my Muse I viewed thee, now
How dirty mean and wretched thou — 
Ye sons of gain, who pace away
Your round-head orange groves each day,
Be wise and take them to the shops
For Paris is in want of mops.
No more mine eye delighted roves
The Luxembourg’s befrizzled groves,
Or where beside the Tuileries planted
A thousand Dames like Dames enchanted,
Meagre and shivering, white-washed, lone,
Catch cold on pedestals of stone.

I’ve sought her at Nicola’s, where round
His tables, each with viands crown’d
Seven smirking Damsels, in a line,
Profess themselves the Muses nine,
And great Apollo in the middle
Improves the banquet with his fiddle.
The bright Italian café drew
My steps, and might have drawn hers too;
Gay was the music, bright the glare,
And hundreds took their ices there;
But she was absent, nor was gone
To swell the crowded Mille Colonnes
Nor where some watchmen’s lanterns lighted
To gloomy Tivoli invited,
Nor where the tapes glare illumes
With livelier light, the Catacombs,
Nor at the vaunted Drama, where
Was one a stiff affected fair
Who claims and bears a Muses’s name,
But how unlike my vanquish’d Dame;
Nor is she one of those who choose
To venture down the Montagnes Russes
(Of old Leucate poets tell
This flying leap might serve as well)
Where Gallic delegates assemble
To make the states of Europe tremble,
I thought, since females were allow’d,
That she might herd among the crowd;
I sought her at the Observatory
And reached with pain its twentieth story
But on a poet’s faith, declare
Her steps could ne’er have wandered there;
Its vacant halls, at cost profuse
Were built for show, and not for use — 

Seeks thee the Institute? oh no!
There science reigns, and well we know
That still the haughty Dame refuses
All friendship with her Sister Muses.

Alas! thro’ Paris I have sought her,
And often thought I’d nearly caught her,
But when her name is bruited most
I find she’s farthest — to my cost.
And since (for nothing can be plainer)
That neither France nor Spain contain her,
Nor Italy, in antient times
Beloved — but left for happier climes — 
Nor Belgium, where her soul might thrill
At the bare mention of a hill,
But vainly stretch her eager eye
To catch the blest reality,
Since not out loftiest poets drew
Her transient gaze at Waterloo,
But pitiless, she left them all,
Unhonor’d on its plains to fall;
In foreign climes no more I’ll fret,
Perchance she lurks in London yet,
(The place young Watson can attest
Where guilt and treason shroud them best)
If you have burst your prison’s bar
And wish for safety, fly not far,
Close by its walls your den prepare
Secure that none will seek you there.

Hail happy England! oh once more
With what delight I tread thy shore.
Avaunt these uncouth scrannel strains
A rhyme to loose my soul disdains,
Such novel warmth my fancy fires
Methinks the Muse again inspires,
Let her where’er she chooses roam,
I quit no more my country’s home.

Oh England! if there be some happier clime
With fields more fair and mountains more sublime,
Where softer breezes breathe, and happier toil
Wins richer harvests from the fertile soil,
Where famine never scowls in writer’s brain,
Nor whirlwinds rage, or earthquakes shake the plain,
Where no volcanoes flame, nor baleful breath
Of sultry summer breeds disease and death — 
Oh! if on Earth such happy spot be found
With endless spring, with brightest verdure crown’d,
What should I gain — if Man’s uncultured mind
Should prove more niggard in a soil more kind,
And dearth and misery — vice, disease and care
And passion’s whirlwinds make their dwelling there.
Oh! England oh my country, give me still
Each smooth green plain, each gently swelling hill,
Each flowery hedgerow, each sequestered glade,
Each murmuring brook, each grove’s time-honored shade;
Aspiring domes and marble halls I scorn,
Be mine the home that art and taste adorn — 
For oh! there is no country shows like thee
Attempered rule and legal liberty,
So bright in useful beauty — or so rife
In ale the social elegance of life.
Here if no wonders lure the stranger’s sight,
No splendors dazzle and no spells invite,
All knows its place, smooth equable and just
No danger threaten, and no wants disgust.

Yes! ’twas the Muse, but she is gone,
And like a drowning rat alone
My bridge of straw disjointed quite
She leaves me all adrift in spite.
I thought, I felt, I thought I sung
Ah no! it was her sweeter tongue
And, just as I had turn’d to watch her,
Some demon from my sight must snatch her.
Roland, Charlemagne — heroic breed
Your patience and your strength I need,
Alas! again she’s snatched away,
And I’ve a Dover bill to pay.

To be continued