EPISTLE TO AUGUSTA - William Byrd Poems


Poems » william byrd » epistle to augusta


    My sister! my sweet sister! if a name
    Dearer and purer were, it should be thine.
    Mountains and seas divide us, but I claim
    No tears, but tenderness to answer mine:
    Go where I will, to me thou art the same
    A lov'd regret which I would not resign.
    There yet are two things in my destiny--
A world to roam through, and a home with thee.

    The first were nothing--had I still the last,
    It were the haven of my happiness;
    But other claims and other ties thou hast,
    And mine is not the wish to make them less.
    A strange doom is thy father's son's, and past
    Recalling, as it lies beyond redress;
    Revers'd for him our grandsire's fate of yore--
He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.

    If my inheritance of storms hath been
    In other elements, and on the rocks
    Of perils, overlook'd or unforeseen,
    I have sustain'd my share of worldly shocks,
    The fault was mine; nor do I seek to screen
    My errors with defensive paradox;
    I have been cunning in mine overthrow,
The careful pilot of my proper woe.

    Mine were my faults, and mine be their reward.
    My whole life was a contest, since the day
    That gave me being, gave me that which marr'd
    The gift--a fate, or will, that walk'd astray;
    And I at times have found the struggle hard,
    And thought of shaking off my bonds of clay:
    But now I fain would for a time survive,
If but to see what next can well arrive.

    Kingdoms and empires in my little day
    I have outliv'd, and yet I am not old;
    And when I look on this, the petty spray
    Of my own years of trouble, which have roll'd
    Like a wild bay of breakers, melts away:
    Something--I know not what--does still uphold
    A spirit of slight patience; not in vain,
Even for its own sake, do we purchase pain.

    Perhaps the workings of defiance stir
    Within me--or perhaps a cold despair,
    Brought on when ills habitually recur,
    Perhaps a kinder clime, or purer air
    (For even to this may change of soul refer,
    And with light armour we may learn to bear),
    Have taught me a strange quiet, which was not
The chief companion of a calmer lot.

    I feel almost at times as I have felt
    In happy childhood; trees, and flowers, and brooks,
    Which do remember me of where I dwelt
    Ere my young mind was sacrific'd to books,
    Come as of yore upon me, and can melt
    My heart with recognition of their looks;
    And even at moments I could think I see
Some living thing to love--but none like thee.

    Here are the Alpine landscapes which create
    A fund for contemplation; to admire
    Is a brief feeling of a trivial date;
    But something worthier do such scenes inspire:
    Here to be lonely is not desolate,
    For much I view which I could most desire,
    And, above all, a lake I can behold
Lovelier, not dearer, than our own of old.

    Oh that thou wert but with me!--but I grow
    The fool of my own wishes, and forget
    The solitude which I have vaunted so
    Has lost its praise in this but one regret;
    There may be others which I less may show;
    I am not of the plaintive mood, and yet
    I feel an ebb in my philosophy,
And the tide rising in my alter'd eye.

    I did remind thee of our own dear Lake,
    By the old Hall which may be mine no more.
    Leman's is fair; but think not I forsake
    The sweet remembrance of a dearer shore:
    Sad havoc Time must with my memory make
    Ere that or thou can fade these eyes before;
    Though, like all things which I have lov'd, they are
Resign'd for ever, or divided far.

    The world is all before me; I but ask
    Of Nature that with which she will comply--
    It is but in her summer's sun to bask,
    To mingle with the quiet of her sky,
    To see her gentle face without a mask,
    And never gaze on it with apathy.
    She was my early friend, and now shall be
My sister--till I look again on thee.

    I can reduce all feelings but this one;
    And that I would not; for at length I see
    Such scenes as those wherein my life begun,
    The earliest--even the only paths for me--
    Had I but sooner learnt the crowd to shun,
    I had been better than I now can be;
    The passions which have torn me would have slept;
I had not suffer'd, and thou hadst not wept.

    With false Ambition what had I to do?
    Little with Love, and least of all with Fame;
    And yet they came unsought, and with me grew,
    And made me all which they can make--a name,
    Yet this was not the end I did pursue;
    Surely I once beheld a nobler aim.
    But all is over--I am one the more
To baffled millions which have gone before.

    And for the future, this world's future may
    From me demand but little of my care;
    I have outliv'd myself by many a day,
    Having surviv'd so many things that were;
    My years have been no slumber, but the prey
    Of ceaseless vigils; for I had the share
    Of life which might have fill'd a century,
    Before its fourth in time had pass'd me by.

    And for the remnant which may be to come
    I am content; and for the past I feel
    Not thankless, for within the crowded sum
    Of struggles, happiness at times would steal,
    And for the present, I would not benumb
    My feelings further. Nor shall I conceal
    That with all this I still can look around,
And worship Nature with a thought profound.

    For thee, my own sweet sister, in thy heart
    I know myself secure, as thou in mine;
    We were and are--I am, even as thou art--
    Beings who ne'er each other can resign;
    It is the same, together or apart,
    From life's commencement to its slow decline
    We are entwin'd--let death come slow or fast,
The tie which bound the first endures the last!