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Often an air comes idling by
With news of cities and of men. I hear a multitudinous sigh,
And lapse into my soul again.
Shall her great noons and sunsets be
Now from these veins the strength of old,
Full of mortality, behold
The cavern that was once my heart!
For not though mightiest mortals fall,
The thunder of His wheels be stayed. A changeless pace His coursers keep,
And halt not at the wells of sleep.
The South shall bless, the East shall blight,
The million-lilied stream of Night
'Who prates to me of arms and kings,
Broils, and the dust of foolish blows.
Thy sounding annals are at best
'With oceans heedless round her feet, And the indifferent heavens above,
Earth shall the ancient tale repeat
Of wars and tears, and death and love;
'The advent of that morn divine
When nations may as forests grow, Wherein the oak hates not the pine,
Nor beeches wish the cedars woe, But all, in their unlikeness, blend Confederate to one golden end
Beauty: the vision whereunto,
In joy, with pantings from afar,
12. the ruined dream of Spain. See Froude's 'Destruction of the Armada in Ireland 1588,' ch. 71 of the History.
16. Cranmer's scorched, uplifted hand. Cranmer recanted his Protestantism six times; but Mary had determined that he should die. At his martyrdom (1556) he thrust his right hand into the fire, as it had 'offended in writing, contrary to his heart'.
20. The sweet queen. Lady Jane Grey, proclaimed Queen by Northumberland, ruled for eleven days and was then sent to the Tower by Mary, where she was executed. A portrait of piety, purity, and free noble innocence uncoloured' (Froude).
24. Fotheringay. Where Mary Queen of Scots was executed in 1587.
33. Hesper. Sidney was the 'evening star' of the great day of chivalry. The story of his death at Zutphen in 1586 is well known.
36. More. Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Henry VIII's Chancellor, executed for refusing to take the oath of supremacy. He was the most distinguished of the leaders of the New Learning in England, and the bosom friend of Erasmus.
37. The roystering prince. Prince Hal, afterwards Henry V. 'Madcap Harry's' exploits, as told in Shakespeare's Henry IV, are probably mostly fictitious: at the age of sixteen he was holding a responsible position in the army at the battle of Shrewsbury (1403), and in 1410 presiding at the Council.
47. that dim fane. Westminster Abbey, which has a special side-chapel for Henry V.
49. the mother minster. Canterbury Cathedral. The Black Prince's 'dusky mail' still hangs over his tomb.
57. roughshod to a stained renown, &c. An allusion to Edward I's ruthless treatment of Scotland and Wales, and to his death at Burgh-on-Sands ('Solway strand') in a determined attempt to put down Bruce's rebellion. But his fame rests securely on the wise laws he made, and on the perfecting of the Parliamentary system and constitution during his reign.
64. Pomfret, or Pontefract Castle, in Yorkshire, where probably Richard II was murdered in 1399.
65. him. Henry II.
lightly leaping words.
'What a parcel of fools have
I nourished in my house that none of them can be found to avenge me on one upstart clerk.'
67. Eleanor's undaunted son. Richard the Lion Heart, who failed to retake Ascalon, captured by Saladin in 1187, and who is buried in the abbey of Fontevrault.
72. Fontevraud. An abbey near Saumur.
83. the tanner's daughter's son. William the Conqueror was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, and Arletta, the daughter of a tanner of Falaise.
93. fair-haired despots. The Vikings or Northmen.
103. by the Cataracts. This may refer to the end of the Civil War between Pompey and Caesar. Egypt came under the influence of Rome about 90 B. C.
106. Helvetian snow. A reference to Caesar's campaigns in Gaul.
112. O'er Tigris passed. The battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C., ended in the destruction of Crassus's army by the Parthians.
120. Julian. Julian 'the Apostate', Emperor of Rome, died A. D. 363 fighting the Persians.
BOADICEA (A.D. 61)
In A.D. 61 Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni (a tribe inhabiting what is now Norfolk and Suffolk), headed a rising of Britons against the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus. She captured Colchester, St. Albans, and London, but she was eventually defeated, and to avoid captivity drank poison.
WHEN the British warrior queen,
Sage beneath a spreading oak
Weep upon thy matchless wrongs,
All the terrors of our tongues.
Rome shall perish-write that word
Deep in ruin as in guilt.
Rome, for empire far renown'd,
Tramples on a thousand states;
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground-
Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier's name;
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize-
Then the progeny that springs
From the forests of our land,
Regions Caesar never knew
Such the bard's prophetic words,
She, with all a monarch's pride,
Ruffians, pitiless as proud,
Heav'n awards the vengeance due;
Empire is on us bestow'd,
Shame and ruin wait for you.
2. Roman rods. Boadicea had been publicly flogged by the Romans.
6. Druid. The Druids were the priests of the religion which the Britons practised. They were also the poets, prophets, and judges of the people.
20. the Gaul. Rather, the Goth. The Goths sacked Rome in A.D. 408.
21-2. Other Romans. The sequence of ideas shows that Cowper is thinking of a period subsequent to the discovery of America, when Italy, once supreme in arms, was become famous only in the arts, and England, now mistress of the seas, was planting colonies in the New World.
44. Shame and ruin. The break-up of the Roman Empire.