Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd

Prologue To Cato

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Oft has the Muse, from heav'nly essence sprung,
The laurel'd deeds of mighty heroes sung,
Oft touch'd the chords that string her golden lyre,
And warm'd the soul, with more than mortal fire,
To give to conq'ring chiefs eternal bays,
And gild Ambition's horrid deeds with praise;
Oft twin'd the wreath to grace the hero's head,
By slaughter nurtur'd, and with carnage red;
Her pow'rs debas'd to serve a shameful cause,
To give to despots undeserv'd applause;
To sing with heroes strew'd th' ensanguin'd plain,
Where furies rage, and Discord holds her reign;
Earth shaking wide with woe and wild affright,
And Nature's self obscur'd in thickest night:
But tear these laurels, strip the hero bare,
And hear the sighs that pierce the dusky air;
Before the eye the mighty victors stand,
The scourge, the grief, the ruin of the land,
Like fell volcanos filling earth with dread,
Whilst clouds of wrath divine hang heavy o'er their head.

Not thus, with tinsel robes and guilty hands,
The great, the God-like Cato nobly stands;
Amidst a nation's vices lifts his head,
And speaking fills a guilty world with dread;
Poor--yet respected in a wealthy state,
In Justice awful--unsubdued by Fate;
He spake: and courts withdrew their dazzling blaze,
Lov'd by the good--the bad conspir'd to praise,
Vice, like a flood, o'erspread the wretched world,
He virtue's banners in the midst unfurl'd;
Dauntless he stood--not knowing how to dread,
Whilst darts fell harmless round his sacred head.
When angry Fortune on his prospects frown'd,
Red lightnings flash'd, and thunders roar'd around;
And pour'd their torrents on his dauntless head,
His son--his friends--his country's freedom bled;
Like steady Atlas reaching to the skies,
Whose foot the waves, whose top the storms defies,
He boldly stood, guilt knew him not from fear,
Nor did he give to Nature's pangs a tear:
Calmly he view'd the raging storm around,
And laugh'd at Fortune's efforts--when she frown'd:
Nobly he struggled in his Country's cause,
For Freedom fought, and gain'd her foes' applause,
For this he all the storms of fate defied
For this he struggled, and for this--he died!
. . .
Ah pause and name it not! ascend ye sighs!
Let tears suffuse the feeling Christian's eyes;
Mistaken, dark, and fill'd with Heathen gloom,
He found a shameful passage to the tomb;
No Gospel cheer'd his mind with heav'nly ray,
And pointed out the road to brighter day;
No kind Religion gave the patriot aid,
And taught him consolations ne'er to fade,
Greatly he liv'd--for light and virtue sigh'd,
He practis'd this--for want of that he died.

Thanks to our God for brighter, fairer times,
When clearest light, with noblest lustre shines,
Beneath Religion's mild and gentle reign,
In happy Britain's ever favor'd plain.--
Let Cato's noble spirit all admire,
And strive to catch the ancient patriot's fire,
Still hasting on in virtue's path's to rise,
Ascend the road that leads us to the skies.

What! tho' around the Christian's dauntless head,
The clouds of adverse Fortune black'ning spread;
Tho' vivid lightnings flash amidst the gloom,
Embitt'ring all his passage to the Tomb,
The Rock of Ages shall support him there,
And angels waft him from this world of care;
Secure, and with eternal pleasures blest,
And 'midst the wreck of suns and worlds at rest--

O! had but Cato known this glorious aid
He still had stood undaunted--undismay'd--
C├Žsar had shudder'd at the good man's sight,
And all his boasted glories sunk in night--
Rome still had stood by Cato's dauntless plea,
And all the nations of the earth been free.

Hence let us learn to quell our coward fears,
And mourn our nature's feeble state with tears;
Let gratitude our ardent breasts inflame,
To join a Briton's with a Christian's name;
Let us enraptur'd catch the virtuous fire,
At once be thankful--pity and admire.

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