Hope and Memory

Poems by Joanna Baillie


NAY , sister, what hast thou to boast
Of joy? a poor reciter thou,
Whose happiest thought is but the ghost
Of some past pleasure vanish'd now.
When better things may not be found,
By sad reflecting, weary men,
They on thy records look around,
Their only friend, and only then.

Then on delight for ever fled
They cast a melancholy view,
Where, as on pictures of the dead,
The likeness makes the sorrow true.
But could'st thou from thy page efface
What brings regret, remorse, or shame,
Nor all our wandering steps retrace,
Then mortals might endure thy name.


And what art thou, vain Hope? a cheat:
For didst thou ever promise make,
That either time did not defeat
Or some intruding evil break?
Or say that chance has prov'd thee true,
The expected joy shall be thy own;
No sooner comes the good in view,
But Hope herself is lost and gone.

Soon as the hop'd-for thing appears,
That was with such delight pursued,
Another aspect then it wears,
And is no more the fancied good.
So 'tis in dreams, men keenly chase
A something lov'd, desir'd, caress'd;
They overtake, and then embrace
That which they loathe, despise, detest.

True, sister, true! in every age
Will men in thy delusions share;
And thou a lasting war wilt wage
With Wisdom's joy and Reason's care.
Who comes to thee? the rash, the bold,
The dreaming bard, the sighing youth:

For what? for fame, for love, for gold,
And they receive thy tales for truth.

Emmas and Lauras at thy shrine
Attend, and deem thy answers true,
And, calling Hope a power divine,
Their Corydons and Damons view.
And girls at school, and boys at taw,
Seduced by thy delusive skill,
Think life is love, and love is law,
And they may choose just whom they will.


Say is not mine the early hold
On man? whose heart I make my own
And, long e'er thy dull tale be told,
I bear him forth to worlds unknown.
Before the mind can trust to thee,
And slowly gain thy heavy store,
It travels far and wide with me,
My worlds and wonders to explore.

Thou lend'st him help, to read, to spell,
His progress slow, his efforts mean:
I take him in my realms to dwell,
To win a throne, to wed a queen.

How could he bear the pedant's frown,
That frights the sad bewilder'd boy,
Or hear such words as verb and noun,
But for my tales of love and joy?


True, to thy fairy world he goes,
And there his terms he idly keeps,
Till Truth breaks in on his repose,
And then for past neglect he weeps.
What, if we grant the heart is thine
Of rash and unreflecting youth,
How is it in his life's decline,
When truth is heard and only truth?

On me the quiet few rely,
For Memory's store is certain gain;
For aid to thee the wretched fly,
The poor resource of grief and pain.
My friends like lawful traders deal
With just accounts, with real views;
But thine as losing gamesters feel,
Who stake the more the more they lose.


And they are right, for thus employ'd
They fall not to disease a prey;
Thus every moment is enjoy'd,
And 'tis a cheerful game they play.
And tell me not they lose at last;
Such loss is light, such care is vain,
For if they hope till life be past,
What hours for care or grief remain.

You say the rash, the young, the bold,
Are mine, and mine they are, 'tis true;
But, sister, art thou sure the old
And grave are not my subjects too?

Struck by the palsy's powerful blow,
By the hir'd hands of servants led,
Cold, tottering, impotent, and slow,
Borne to the board, and to the bed,
Hear how the ancient trembler prays,
Smit with the love of lingering here!
"Hold yet my thread, flow on my days,
"Nor let the last sad morn appear!"

The sage physician feels my aid
Most when he knows not what to do:
I whisper then, "Be not afraid,
"For I inspire thy patient too."


Vain of thy victories, thus misled
Thy power I own; alas! I fear,
It is this syren song I dread
Which wretches long and die to hear.
No ears are stopt, no limbs are bound,
Impatient to thy coast they fly,
And soon as heard thy witching sound,
They rest, they sleep, they dream, they die.

A poet once--the tribe are thine,
But yet I would my counsel give,--
And said, " 'Tis naught! the work decline:
"Thou once hast fail'd, this will not live."
Deeply he sighed, and thou wert by,
To fan the half extinguish'd fire:
"Try once again," thou saidst, "oh! try,
"For now shall all the world admire."


And how, I pray, can this be wrong?
The man has clear and certain gain;
For when the world condemns his song,
He can condemn the world again.
Inspir'd by me, in strains sublime
Shall many a gifted genius write,
For mine is that bewitching rhyme
That shall the wondering world delight.


Yes, thou hast numbers light and vain,
And mayst, I grant, a poet boast;
I cannot show so large a train,
But I have one, and he an host.


Still, I'm the nurse of young desire,
The fairy promiser of bliss:
I am the good that all require
In passing through a world like this.


Say, rather, thou'rt the glow-worm light,
That mocks us with a faint display
Of idle beams, that please the sight,
But never serve to show the way.


Alas! but this will never end,
'Tis like a grave old aunt's relation:
I would that reason might attend,
And terminate our disputation.


Obedient to your wish am I,
And thus my sentiments disclose:
Together you must live and die,
Together must be friends or foes.

For what is Hope, if Memory gives
No aid, nor points her course aright?
She then a useless trifler lives,
And spends her strength in idle flight.

And what from Memory's stores can rise
That will for care and study pay?
Unless upon that store relies
The Hope that heav'nward wings her way?

Be friends, and both to man be true;
O'er all their better views preside;
For Memory greatest good will do
As Hope's director, strength, and guide.

So shall ye both to mortals bring
An equal good in Reason's scale;
And Hope her sweetest song shall sing,
When Memory tells her noblest tale.

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