Dobson, Henry Austin

Britian, (1840-1921)

THE PRAYER OF THE SWINE TO CIRCE

  1. HUDDLING they came, with shag sides caked of mire,—
  2. With hoofs fresh sullied from the troughs o’er-turned,—
  3. With wrinkling snouts,—yet eyes in which desire
  4. Of some strange thing unutterably burned,
  5. Unquenchable; and still where’er She turned
  6. They rose about her, striving each o’er each,
  7. With restless, fierce impórtuning that yearned
  8. Through those brute masks some piteous tale to teach,
  9. Yet lacked the words thereto, denied the power of speech.
  10.  
  11. For these—Eurylochus alone escaping—
  12. In truth, that small exploring band had been,
  13. Whom wise Odysseus, dim precaution shaping,
  14. Ever at heart, of peril unforeseen,
  15. Had sent inland;—whom then the islet-Queen,—
  16. The fair disastrous daughter of the Sun,—
  17. Had turned to likeness of the beast unclean,
  18. With evil wand transforming one by one
  19. To shapes of loathly swine, imbruted and undone
  20.  
  21. But “the men’s minds remained,” and these for ever
  22. Made hungry suppliance through the fire-red eyes;
  23. Still searching aye, with impotent endeavour,
  24. To find, if yet, in any look, there lies
  25. A saving hope, or if they might surprise
  26. In that cold face soft pity’s spark concealed,
  27. Which she, still scorning, evermore denies;
  28. Nor was there in her any ruth revealed
  29. To whom with such mute speech and dumb words they appealed.
  30.  
    1. What hope is ours—what hope! To find no mercy
    2. After much war, and many travails done?—
    3. Ah, kinder far than thy fell philtres, Circe,
    4. The ravening Cyclops and the Lœstrigon!
    5. And O, thrice cursèd be Laertes’ son,
    6. By whom, at last, we watch the days decline
    7. With no fair ending of the quest begun,
    8. Condemned in sties to weary and to pine,
    9. And with men’s hearts to beat through this foul front of swine!
    10.  
    11. For us not now,—for us, alas! no more
    12. The old green glamour of the glancing sea;
    13. For us not now the laughter of the oar,—
    14. The strong-ribbed keel wherein our comrades be;
    15. Not now, at even, any more shall we,
    16. By low-browed banks and reedy river places,
    17. Watch the beast hurry and the wild fowl flee;
    18. Or steering shoreward, in the upland spaces
    19. Have sight of curling smoke and fair-skinned foreign faces.
    20.  
    21. Alas for us!—for whom the columned houses
    22. We left afore-time, cheerless must abide;
    23. Cheerless the hearth where now no guest carouses,—
    24. No minstrel raises song at eventide;
    25. And O, more cheerless than aught else beside,
    26. The wistful hearts with heavy longing full;—
    27. The wife that watched us on the waning tide,—
    28. The sire whose eyes with weariness are dull,—
    29. The mother whose slow tears fall on the carded wool.
    30.  
    31. If swine we be,—if we indeed be swine,
    32. Daughter of Persé, make us swine indeed,
    33. Well pleased on litter-straw to lie supine,—
    34. Well pleased on mast and acorn-shales to feed,
    35. Stirred by all instincts of the bestial breed;
    36. But O Unmerciful! O Pitiless!
    37. Leave us not thus with sick men’s hearts to bleed!—
    38. To waste long days in yearning, dumb distress,
    39. And memory of things gone, and utter hopelessness!
    40.  
    41. Leave us at least, if not the things we were,
    42. At least consentient to the thing we be;
    43. Not hapless doomed to loathe the forms we bear,
    44. And senseful roll in senseless savagery;
    45. For surely cursed above all cursed are we,
    46. And surely this the bitterest of ill;—
    47. To feel the old aspirings fair and free,
    48. Become blind motions of a powerless will
    49. Through swine-like frames dispersed to swine-like issues still.
    50.  
    51. But make us men again, for that thou may’st!
    52. Yea, make us men, Enchantress, and restore
    53. These grovelling shapes, degraded and debased,
    54. To fair embodiments of men once more;
    55. Yea, by all men that ever woman bore;
    56. Yea, e’en by him hereafter born in pain,
    57. Shall draw sustainment from thy bosom’s core,
    58. O’er whom thy face yet kindly shall remain,
    59. And find its like therein,—make thou us men again!
    60.  
    61. Make thou us men again,—if men but groping
    62. That dark Hereafter which th’ Olympians keep;
    63. Make thou us men again,—if men but hoping
    64. Behind death’s doors security of sleep;—
    65. For yet to laugh is somewhat, and to weep;—
    66. To feel delight of living, and to plough
    67. The salt-blown acres of the shoreless deep;
    68. Better,—yea better far all these than bow
    69. Foul faces to foul earth, and yearn—as we do now!
    70.  
  31. So they in speech unsyllabled. But She,
  32. The fair-tressed Goddess, born to be their bane,
  33. Uplifting straight her wand of ivory,
  34. Compelled them groaning to the sties again;
  35. Where they in hopeless bitterness were fain
  36. To rend the oaken woodwork as before,
  37. And tear the troughs in impotence of pain,—
  38. Not knowing, they, that even at the door
  39. Divine Odysseus stood,—as Hermes told of yore.

© Austin Dobson. Collected Poems. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., (1895).

Editor’s Note:

In the Notes section of Collected Poems Dobson refers to Rivière, Briton painting Circe as an inspiration for this poem, in particular the first line:

HUDDLING they came, with shag sides caked of mire,—

THE ‘SQUIRE AT VAUXHALL

  1. NOTHING so idle as to waste
  2. This Life disputing upon Taste;
  3. And most—let that sad Truth be written—
  4. In this contentious Land of Britain,
  5. Where each one holds “it seems to me”
  6. Equivalent to Q. E. D.,
  7. And if you dare to doubt his Word
  8. Proclaims you Blockhead and absurd.
  9. And then, too often, the Debate
  10. Is not ‘twixt First and Second-rate,
  11. Some narrow Issue, where a Touch
  12. Of more or less can’t matter much,
  13. But, and this makes the Case so sad,
  14. Betwixt undoubted Good and Bad.
  15. Nay,—there are some so strangely wrought,—
  16. So warped and twisted in their Thought,—
  17. That, if the Fact be but confest,
  18. They like the baser Thing the best.
  19. Take BOTTOM , who for one, ’tis clear,
  20. Possessed a “reasonable Ear;”
  21. He might have had at his Command
  22. The Symphonies of Fairy-Land ;
  23. Well, our immortal SHAKESPEAR owns
  24. The Oaf preferred the “Tongs and Bones”! 1
  25.  
  26. ‘Squire HOMESPUN from Clod-Hall rode down,
  27. As the Phrase is—”to see the Town;”
  28. (The Town, in those Days, mostly lay
  29. Between the Tavern and the Play.)
  30. Like all their Worships the J.P.’s,
  31. He put up at the Hercules;
  32. Then sallied forth on Shanks his Mare,
  33. Rather than jolt it in a Chair,—
  34. A curst, new-fangled Little-Ease,
  35. That knocks your Nose against your Knees.
  36. For the good ‘Squire was Country-bred,
  37. And had strange Notions in his Head,
  38. Which made him see in every Cur
  39. The starveling Breed of Hanover;
  40. He classed your Kickshaws and Ragoos
  41. With Popery and Wooden Shoes;
  42. Railed at all Foreign Tongues as Lingo,
  43. And sighed o’er Chaos Wine for Stingo. 2
  44.  
  45. Hence, as he wandered to and fro,
  46. Nothing could please him, high or low.
  47. As Savages at Ships of War
  48. He looked unawed on Temple-Bar;
  49. Scarce could conceal his Discontent
  50. With Fish-Street and the Monument;
  51. And might (except at Feeding-Hour)
  52. Have scorned the Lion in the Tower,
  53. But that the Lion’s Race was run,
  54. And—for the Moment—there was none.
  55.  
  56. At length, blind Fate, that drives us all,
  57. Brought him at Even to Vauxhall,
  58. What Time the eager Matron jerks
  59. Her slow Spouse to the Water-Works,
  60. And the coy Spinster, half-afraid,
  61. Consults the Hermit in the Shade.
  62. Dazed with the Din and Crowd, the ‘Squire
  63. Sank in a Seat before the Choir.
  64. The FAUSTINETTA , fair and showy,
  65. Warbled an Air from Arsinoë,
  66. Playing her Bosom and her Eyes
  67. As Swans do when they agonize.
  68. Alas! to some a Mug of Ale
  69. Is better than an Orphic Tale!
  70. The ‘Squire grew dull, the ‘Squire grew bored;
  71. His chin dropt down; he slept; he snored.
  72. Then, straying thro’ the “poppied Reign,”
  73. He dreamed him at Clod-Hall again;
  74. He heard once more the well-known Sounds,
  75. The Crack of Whip, the Cry of Hounds.
  76. He rubbed his Eyes, woke up, and lo!
  77. A Change had come upon the Show.
  78. Where late the Singer stood, a Fellow,
  79. Clad in a Jockey’s Coat of Yellow,
  80. Was mimicking a Cock that crew.
  81. Then came the Cry of Hounds anew,
  82. Yoicks! Stole Away! and harking back;
  83. Then Ringwood leading up the Pack.
  84. The ‘Squire in Transport slapped his Knee
  85. At this most hugeous Pleasantry.
  86. The sawn Wood followed; last of all
  87. The Man brought something in a Shawl,-
  88. Something that struggled, scraped, and squeaked
  89. As Porkers do, whose tails are tweaked.
  90.  
  91. Our honest ‘Squire could scarcely sit,
  92. So excellent he thought the Wit.
  93. But when Sir Wag drew off the Sheath
  94. And showed there was no Pig beneath,
  95. His pent-up Wonder, Pleasure, Awe,
  96. Exploded in a long Guffaw:
  97. And, to his dying Day, he’d swear
  98. That Naught in Town the Bell could bear
  99. From “Jockey wi’ the Yellow Coat
  100. That had a Farm-Yard in his Throat!”
  101.  
  102. MORAL THE FIRST you may discover:
  103. The ‘Squire was like TITANIA ‘s lover;
  104. He put a squeaking Pig before
  105. The Harmony of CLAYTON ‘s Score.
  106.  
  107. MORAL THE SECOND-not so clear;
  108. But still it shall be added here:
  109. He praised the Thing he understood;
  110. ‘Twere well if every Critic would.

© Austin Dobson. Poems on Several Occasions. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., (1902).
  1. In the Notes section of Poems on Several Occasions Dobson refers to Bottom’s request – “I have a reasonable good ear in music: let us have the tongs and the bones.” from A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Act iv, Sc. i.[↑]
  2. In the Notes section of Collected Poems Dobson says that for the line “And sighed o’er Chaos Wine for Stingo.” Squire Homespun probably ment ‘Cahors.’[↑]

About the Poet

Henry Austin Dobson (1840-1921) commonly ‘Austin Dobson,’ was an English poet, critic, essayist and biographer. In 1856, Dobson became a civil servant at the British Board of Trade in the Harbour Department, where he remained until his retirement in 1901.

Dobson began to publish poetry in magazines in 1864. In the 1870s he played an important part in the revival of intricate medieval French verse forms. After making successful use of the triolet, he subsequently published the first original ballade written in English, followed by English versions of the rondel, rondeau and villanelle. The ease and effectiveness with which he handled these artificial French poetry forms helped to revive their use in English.

After 1885 Dobson was engaged mainly in critical and biographical prose. The same affection and knowledge of the 18th century that lent a graceful elegance to Dobson’s poetry now inspired his critical studies. He added considerably to the general knowledge of the 18th century. Dobson’s biographies of Henry Fielding, Thomas Bewick, Richard Steele, Horace Walpole and William Hogarth are marked alike by assiduous research, sympathetic presentation and sound criticism. [DES-11/10]

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