Mary Robinson: "Anselmo, The Hermit of the Alps"

After a youthful notoriety as an actress and consort of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), Mary Robinson (1758-1800) suffered a debilitating paralysis and settled into a literary life. She became a prolific poet, writing elegant and reflective poetry. She clearly embraces romantic themes but with a refined taste, as this portrait of a timeless and troubled hermit shows.

"Anselmo, The Hermit of the Alps" by Mrs. Mary Robinson

Where, mingling, with Helvetia's skies,
The snow-clad mountains glitt'ring rise;
Far from the din of busy life,
From specious fraud, and envious strife;
From trivial joys, and empty show,
And all the taunting tribes of woe;
Deep in a forest's silent shade,
For holy Meditation made,
Anselmo liv'd! -- his humble shed
Rear'd, 'midst the gloom, its rushy head.
Full many a flow'r, of loveliest hue,
Around his mossy threshold grew;
His little vineyard food supply'd,
His healthful cup the rippling tide;
The wood his tranquil bow'r of noon,
His midnight lamp the silv'ry moon;
His simple garb and modest mien,
The emblems of the soul within.

Lost to the world, by all forgot;
No envious fiend assail'd his cot;
His matin pray'r, his ev'ning song,
Proclaim'd a conscience void of wrong;
While, with a pure and feeling mind,
He wept the woes of human kind.
For when the young Anselmo try'd
The paths of luxury and pride,
He found in every gaudy scene
Light Vanity, with wanton mien,
And base Self-Interest, grov'ling guest,
And Envy with deep-wounded breast,
And Pow'r that spurn'd the hapless race,
And Splendour gilding o'er disgrace;
And bold Oppression's pond'rous chain,
To load the groaning Sons of Pain!

Anselmo's heart, with virtue stor'd,
Disgusted every path explor'd;
For still in each a thorn he found,
Whose hidden point was sure to wound;
Friends murd'ring, with a specious smile,
And kindred bosoms fraught with guile;
And reptiles who, in baseness bold,
Unblushing barter'd love for gold!

Blest might have been his lot obscure!
What cannot patient worth endure?
But, ah! within his feeling heart,
Long-cherish'd Passion fix'd its dart,
And, braving Reason's pow'rful aid,
Had bid his cheeks bright crimson fade.
With every mental joy at strife,
Its poisons dash'd the sweets of life;
Brought Discontent, and all her train,
To wring his soul with ceaseless pain,
Each morn with clouds to cross his way,
To haunt his path at sinking day;
And when his midnight couch he press'd,
With weedy mischiefs sting his breast.

Despairing, lost, perplex'd to find
No balm to heal his tortur'd mind;
At early dawn, at twilight's close,
Still wounding thought deny'd repose.
In vain, to quit the maid ador'd,
Anselmo solitude explor'd:
For e'en amidst the glooms around
Her peerless beauty still he found.
In every rose her blushing cheek
Seem'd with resistless grace to speak;
The lily fair, in perfumes drest,
Pourtray'd her spotless fragrant breast;

The stream, reflecting back the sky,
Brought to his mind her azure eye;
The sun, in amber lustre roll'd,
Glow'd like her locks of silky gold;
The lonely turtle's plaintive moan
Recall'd her song's celestial tone;
And ev'ry dew-drop, trembling near,
Gave to his soul -- her parting tear!

Oh! fatal hour, when friends severe
Beheld unmov'd that parting tear,
When, vanquish'd by the sordid crew,
Anselmo bade the world adieu;
When, bow'd to rigid duty's sway,
He saw his fairest hopes decay,
His short-liv'd visions of delight
O'erwhelm'd, and lost in endless night.

Once more in search of peace to roam,
Anselmo left his hermit's home:
For three long years had bid him prove
That absence cannot conquer love;
That in the breast where passion burns,
Each nerve officious reason spurns;
Though in the gulph of mis'ry cast,
It loves to ponder on the past;
While Mem'ry, with a keener sense,
Still paints the eye's soft eloquence,
Still marks the blush of feeling meek,
Still whispers more than words can speak,
Still bids tumultuous throbbings prove
That language was not made for love!
Still Fancy cheats the wounded breast,
With momentary raptures blest;
And, e'en when Hope denies relief,
Reflection feeds the source of grief.

"Perish the thought!" Anselmo cry'd,
"That hearts, by mutual vows ally'd,
Should passive crouch to tyrant pow'r,
And dark'ning youth's effulgent hour,
Sink in oblivion's whelming tide,
The victims of insatiate pride!

"Perish the thought, that genuine fires
Should fading yield to low desires;
That those who cannot, dare not, prove
The sweet vicissitudes of love,
Should by the spells of paltry gold
The Child of Worth in thraldom hold,
And, dead'ning all the thrills of soul,
Bend Nature to their stern controul.

"Shall man o'er man a tyrant prove,
And Fortune guide the shafts of Love?
Shall those, by Heav'n's own influence join'd,
By feeling, sympathy, and mind,
The sacred voice of truth deny,
And mock the mandate of the sky?
Shall the proud breast, with virtue stor'd,
Bow like the vassal to his lord,
And, prodigal of life's short day,
In base submission fade away?
Then sink unpitied to the grave,
A wretch abhor'd! -- a willing slave!"

Rous'd from his dream, the hermit sought
The scene once more, with mis'ry fraught;
Clad in a pilgrim's mean array,
From morn's approach till parting day
The toilsome thorny path he trod,
No guide but Hope, -- no friend but God!
And when the shades of night o'erspread
The misty mountain's breezy head,
Exhausted, on earth's humid breast,
He kiss'd his cross, and sunk to rest.

At length, his weary weeping eyes
With joy beheld the day-star rise:
For morning gave his raptur'd sight
The long-lost scene of fond delight,
Where gentle Rosa, peerless maid!
Once like a sun illum'd the shade;
Or, as the jewel gilds the mine,
Bade dazzling lustre round her shine.
How throbb'd Anselmo's heart, when near,
The well-known vespers hail'd his ear!
How did he watch declining day,
How pant to greet its parting ray!
For welcome to the lover's sight
Appear the murky shades of night;
And sacred every haunt must prove,
That hides the timid blush of love.

Now Hope inspir'd his bleeding breast --
Now Fear each thrilling joy suppress'd, --
While to his Rosa's proud abode
Forlorn Anselmo sought the road,
And near her lofty window crept,
When all her sordid kindred slept;
While the chaste moon, with pitying light,
Stole veil'd across the dome of night,
And ev'ry zephyr, wand'ring near,
Kiss'd from his cheek a sacred tear.

"Come, Rosa fair!" the Hermit said,
"Bright star of beauty, chear the shade!
Anselmo calls! -- ere rising day
Exulting spreads its envious ray,
Beam comfort on my dark despair,
Light of my life, my Rosa fair!"

Yet all was silent, all was drear,
Anselmo's soul was chill'd with fear!
The sun rush'd forth, his beamy gold
Around the misty mountain roll'd:
The landscape glow'd with colours gay,
New gilded by the eastern ray;
While ev'ry blossom trembling near
Dropp'd from its leaves a chrystal tear,
And seem'd, by sympathy, to show
That Nature weeps a lover's woe!

Fear bade Anselmo's feet depart, .
While anguish wrung his burning heart;
With devious step he sought the wood,
Where, ivy-crown'd, a convent stood;
Where many a young and noble maid,
Like a fair flowret doom'd to fade,
In Superstition's mournful gloom,
A weeping angel -- grac'd a tomb!
Anselmo now, with throbbing breast,
Approach'd the shrine of fancied rest:
With trembling touch the latch he rais'd,
Then, kneeling, cross'd his brow, and prais'd!
The gate on creaking hinges mov'd,
And loud his daring hand reprov'd.
While through the cloister drear he pass'd,
Cold blew the whistling northern blast;
The turrets tott'ring o'er his head,
Shook his faint soul with conscious dread;
Till by the taper's quiv'ring ray
To the long aisle he bent his way,
Where, chaunting o'er a sable bier,
Begem'd with many a holy tear,
The white-rob'd virgins kneeling paid
Sad tribute to a sister's shade!

Anselmo's garb, and downcast look,
A Pilgrim's penitence bespoke!
Though sorrow mark'd his manly face,
His eye retain'd celestial grace.

A welcome guest, he join'd the throng,
The sacred rites, the Heav'nly song!
Till bending o'er the fun'ral bed,
The consecrated oil to shed,
He started back in wild amaze,
Death-wounded by the fatal gaze!
For there his darling maid he found,
And, madd'ning at the sight, fell lifeless to the ground!