James Beattie: The Hermit

Scottish poet James Beattie (1735-1803) is a precursor of the romantic movement, as this little poem shows. Beattie was a professor of philosophy and opposed to the rationalism of Thomas Hobbes. "The Hermit" features the narrator reflecting on the priority of nature over society and humanity as his teacher and moral exemplar. The poem is highly stylized, but reflects a philosophy of life that is congenial to its narrator and anticipates themes of the romantic movement.

THE HERMIT by James Beattie

At the close of day, when the hamlet is still,
And mortals the sweets of forgetfulness prove,
When nought but the torrent is heard on the hill,
And nought but the nightingale's song in the grove.
'Twas thus, by the cave of the mountain afar,
While his harp rung symphonious, a Hermit began
No more with himself or with nature at war,
He thought as a Sage, though he felt as a Man.

"Ah, why, all abandon'd to darkness and wo,
Why, lone Philomela, that languishing fall?
For Spring shall return, and a lover bestow,
But, if pity inspire thee, renew the sad lay,
Mourn, sweetest complainer, man calls thee to mourn;
O soothe him, whose pleasures like thine pass away
Full quickly they pass - but they never return.

"Now gliding remote, on the verge of the sky,
The Moon, half-extinguish'd, her crescent displays:
But lately I mark'd, when majestic on high
She shone, and the planets were lost in her blaze.
Roll on, thou fair orb, and with gladness pursue
The path that conducts thee to splendour again.
But Man's faded glory what change shall renew!
Ah fool! to exult in a glory so vain!

"'Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more;
I mourn, but, ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;
For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,
Perfumed with fresh fragrance, with glittering dew,
Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
Kind Nature the embryo blossom will save.
But when shall Spring visit the mouldering urn!
O when shall it dawn on the night of the grave!

"'Twas thus, by the glare of false Science betray'd,
That leads, to bewilder; and dazzles, to blind;
My thoughts wont to roam, from shade onward to shade,
Destruction before me, and sorrow behind.
'O pity, great Father of light,' then I cried,
'Thy creature who fain would not wander from Thee!
Lo, humbled in dust, I relinquish my pride:
From doubt and from darkness thou only canst free.

"And darkness and doubt are now flying away,
No longer I roam in conjecture forlorn.
So breaks on the traveller, faint, and astray,
The bright and the balmy effulgence of morn.
see Truth, Love, and Mercy, in triumph descending,
And Nature all glowing in Eden's first bloom!
On the cold cheek of Death smiles and roses are blending,
And Beauty Immortal awakes from the tomb."