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Poem by John Oldham
The Praise of Homer
ODE. I HAIL, God of Verse! pardon that thus I take in vain Thy sacred, everlasting name, And in unhallowed lines blaspheme: Pardon, that with strange fire thy altars I profane. Hail thou! to whom we mortal bards our faith submit, Whom we acknowledge our sole text, and holy writ; None other judge infallible we own, But thou, who art the canon of authentic wit alone. Thou art the unexhausted ocean, whence Sprung first, and still do flow the eternal rills of sense. To none but thee our art divine we owe, From whom it had its rise, and full perfection too. Thou art the mighty bank, that ever dost supply Throughout the world the whole poetic company; With thy vast stock alone they traffic for a name, And send their glorious ventures out to all the coasts of fame. 2 How trulier blind was dull antiquity, Who fastened that unjust reproach on thee? Who can the senseless tale believe? Who can to the false legend credit give, Or think thou wantedst sight, by whom all others see? What land, or region, how remote soe'er, Does not so well described in thy great draughts appear, That each thy native country seems to be, And each t' have been surveyed, and measured out by thee? Whatever earth does in her pregnant bowels bear, Or on her fruitful surface wear; Whate'er the spacious fields of air contain, Or far extended territories of the main; Is by thy skilful pencil so exactly shown, We scarce discern where thou, or nature best has drawn. Nor is thy quick all-piercing eye Or checked, or bounded here; But farther does surpass, and farther does descry, Beyond the travels of the sun, and year. Beyond this glorious scene of starry tapestry, Where the vast purlieus of the sky, And boundless waste of nature lies, Thy voyages thou makest, and bold discoveries. What there the gods in parliament debate, What votes, or acts i'th' heavenly houses pass, By thee so well communicated was, As if thou'dst been of that cabal of state, As if thou hadst been sworn the privy counsellor of fate. 3 What chief who does thy warrior's great exploits survey, Will not aspire to deeds as great as they? What generous readers would he not inspire With the same gallant heat, the same ambitious fire? Methinks from Ida's top with noble joy I view The warlike squadrons, by his daring conduct led; I see the immortal host engaging on his side, And him the blushing gods outdo. Where'er he does his dreadful standards bear, Horror stalks in the van, and slaughter in the rear; Whole swarms of enemies his sword does mow, And limbs of mangled chiefs his passage strew, And floods of reeking gore the field o'erflow; While Heaven's dread monarch from his throne of state, With high concern upon the fight looks down, And wrinkles his majestic brow into a frown, To see bold man, like him, distribute fate. 4 While the great Macedonian youth in nonage grew, Nor yet by charter of his years set free From guardians, and their slavish tyranny, No tutor, but the budge philosophers he knew; And well enough the grave and useful tools Might serve to read him lectures, and to please With unintelligible jargon of the schools, And airy terms and notions of the colleges; They might the art of prating and of brawling teach, And some insipid homilies of virtue preach; But when the mighty pupil had outgrown Their musty discipline, when manlier thoughts possessed His generous princely breast, Now ripe for empire and a crown, And filled with lust of honour and renown, He then learnt to contemn The despicable things, the men of phlegm; Straight he to the dull pedants gave release, And a more noble master straight took place:— Thou, who the Grecian warrior so couldst praise, As might in him just envy raise, Who, one would think, had been himself too high To envy anything of all mortality, ’Twas thou that taught'st him lessons loftier far, The art of reigning, and the art of war. And wondrous was the progress which he made, While he the acts of thy great pattern read. The world too narrow for his boundless conquests grew, He conquered one, and wished, and wept for new; From thence he did those miracles produce, And fought, and vanquished by the conduct of a muse. 5 No wonder rival nations quarrelled for thy birth, A prize of greater and of higher worth Than that which led whole Greece and Asia forth, Than that for which thy mighty hero fought, And Troy with ten years' war, and its destruction bought. Well did they think it noble to have borne that name, Which the whole world would with ambition claim; Well did they temples raise To thee, at whom nature herself stood in amaze, A work she never tried to amend, nor could, In which mistaking man, by chance she formed a god. How gladly would our willing isle resign Her fabulous Arthur, and her boasted Constantine, And half her worthies of the Norman line, And quit the honour of their births to be ensured to thine! How justly might it the wise choice approve, Prouder in this than Crete to have brought forth Almighty Jove! 6 Unhappy we, thy British offspring here, Who strive by thy great model monuments to rear; In vain for worthless fame we toil, Who're pent in the straight limits of a narrow isle; In vain our force and art we spend With noble labours to enrich our land, Which none beyond our shores vouchsafe to understand. Be the fair structure ne'er so well designed, The parts with ne'er so much proportion joined, Yet foreign bards (such is their pride or prejudice) All the choice workmanship for the materials’ sake despise. But happier thou thy genius didst dispense In language universal as thy sense; All the rich bullion which thy sovereign stamp does wear, On every coast of wit does equal value bear, Allowed by all, and current everywhere. No nation yet has been so barbarous found, Where thy transcendent worth was not renowned. Throughout the world thou art with wonder read, Wherever learning does its commerce spread, Wherever fame with all her tongues can speak, Wherever the bright god of wit does his vast journeys take. 7 Happy above mankind that envied name, Which fate ordained to be thy glorious theme: What greater gift could bounteous Heaven bestow On its chief favourite below? What nobler trophy could his high deserts befit, Than these thy vast erected pyramids of wit? Not statutes cast in solid brass, Nor those, which art in breathing marble does express, Can boast an equal life, or lastingness, With their well-polished images, which claim A niche in thy majestic monuments of fame. Here their embalmed, incorruptible memories Can proudest Louvres and Escurials despise, And all the needless helps of Egypt's costly vanities. No blasts of Heaven, or ruin of the spheres, Not all the washing tides of rolling years, Nor the whole race of battering time shall e'er wear out The great inscriptions which thy hand has wrought; Here thou and they shall live, and bear an endless date, Firm as enrolled in the eternal register of fate. For ever cursed be that mad emperor, (And cursed enough he is, be sure) May future poets on his hated name Shed all their gall and foulest infamy, And may it here stand branded with eternal shame, Who thought thy works could mortal be, And sought the glorious fabric to destroy. In this (could fate permit it to be done) His damned successor he had outgone, Who Rome and all its palaces in ashes laid, And the great ruins with a savage joy surveyed: He burned but what might be rebuilt, and richer made; But had the impious wish succeeded here, 'T had razed what age nor art could e'er repair. Not that vast universal flame, Which, at the final doom, This beauteous work of nature must consume, And Heaven, and all its glories, in one urn entomb, Will burn a nobler or more lasting frame; As firm and strong as that, it shall endure, Through all the injuries of time secure, Nor die, till the whole world its funeral pile become.
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