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James Henry Leigh Hunt

(19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859 / Southgate, London)

A Thought or Two on Reading Pomfret's


I have been reading Pomfret's "Choice" this spring,
A pretty kind of--sort of--kind of thing,
Not much a verse, and poem none at all,
Yet, as they say, extremely natural.
And yet I know not. There's an art in pies,
In raising crusts as well as galleries;
And he's the poet, more or less, who knows
The charm that hallows the least truth from prose,
And dresses it in its mild singing clothes.
Not oaks alone are trees, nor roses flowers;
Much humble wealth makes rich this world of ours.
Nature from some sweet energy throws up
Alike the pine-mount and the buttercup;
And truth she makes so precious, that to paint
Either, shall shrine an artist like a saint,
And bring him in his turn the crowds that press
Round Guido's saints or Titian's goddesses.

Our trivial poet hit upon a theme
Which all men love, an old, sweet household dream:--
Pray, reader, what is yours?--I know full well
What sort of home should grace my garden-bell,--
No tall, half-furnish'd, gloomy, shivering house,
That worst of mountains labouring with a mouse;
Nor should I choose to fill a tawdry niche in
A Grecian temple, opening to a kitchen.
The frogs in Homer should have had such boxes,
Or Aesop's frog, whose heart was like the ox's.
Such puff about high roads, so grand, so small,
With wings and what not, portico and all,
And poor drench'd pillars, which it seems a sin
Not to mat up at night-time, or take in.
I'd live in none of those. Nor would I have
Veranda'd windows to forestall my grave;
Veranda'd truly, from the northern heat!
And cut down to the floor to comfort one's cold feet!
My house should be of brick, more wide than high,
With sward up to the path, and elm-trees nigh;
A good old country lodge, half hid with blooms
Of honied green, and quaint with straggling rooms,
A few of which, white-bedded and well swept,
For friends, whose name endear'd them, should be kept.
The tip-toe traveller, peeping through the boughs
O'er my low wall, should bless the pleasant house:
And that my luck might not seem ill-bestow'd,
A bench and spring should greet him on the road.

My grounds should not be large. I like to go
To Nature for a range, and prospect too,
And cannot fancy she'd comprise for me,
Even in a park, her all-sufficiency.
Besides, my thoughts fly far, and when at rest
Love not a watch-tow'r but a lulling nest.
A Chiswick or a Chatsworth might, I grant,
Visit my dreams with an ambitious want;
But then I should be forc'd to know the weight
Of splendid cares, new to my former state;
And these 'twould far more fit me to admire,
Borne by the graceful ease of noblest Devonshire.
Such grounds, however, as I had should look
Like "something" still; have seats, and walks, and brook;
One spot for flowers, the rest all turf and trees;
For I'd not grow my own bad lettuces.
I'd build a cover'd path too against rain,
Long, peradventure, as my whole domain,
And so be sure of generous exercise,
The youth of age and med'cine of the wise.
And this reminds me, that behind some screen
About my grounds, I'd have a bowling-green;
Such as in wits' and merry women's days
Suckling preferr'd before his walk of bays.
You may still see them, dead as haunts of fairies,
By the old seats of Killigrews and Careys,
Where all, alas! is vanish'd from the ring,
Wits and black eyes, the skittles and the king!
Fishing I hate, because I think about it,
Which makes it right that I should do without it.
A dinner, or a death, might not be much,
But cruelty's a rod I dare not touch.
I own I cannot see my right to feel
For my own jaws, and tear a trout's with steel;
To troll him here and there, and spike, and strain,
And let him loose to jerk him back again.
Fancy a preacher at this sort of work,
Not with his trout or gudgeon, but his clerk:
The clerk leaps gaping at a tempting bit,
And, hah! an ear-ache with a knife in it!
That there is pain and evil is no rule
That I should make it greater, like a fool;
Or rid me of my rust so vile a way,
As long as there's a single manly play.
Nay, "fool"'s a word my pen unjustly writes,
Knowing what hearts and brains have dozed o'er "bites";
But the next inference to be drawn might be,
That higher beings made a trout of me;
Which I would rather should not be the case,
Though Isaak were the saint to tear my face,
And, stooping from his heaven with rod and line,
Made the fell sport, with his old dreams divine,
As pleasant to his taste, as rough to mine.
Such sophistry, no doubt, saves half the hell,
But fish would have preferr'd his reasoning well,
And, if my gills concern'd him, so should I.
The dog, I grant, is in that "equal sky,"
But, heaven be prais'd, he's not my deity.
All manly games I'd play at,--golf and quoits,
And cricket, to set lungs and limbs to rights,
And make me conscious, with a due respect,
Of muscles one forgets by long neglect.
With these, or bowls aforesaid, and a ride,
Books, music, friends, the day I would divide,
Most with my family, but when alone,
Absorb'd in some new poem of my own,
A task which makes my time so richly pass,
So like a sunshine cast through painted glass
(Save where poor Captain Sword crashes the panes),
That cold my friends live too, and were the gains
Of toiling men but freed from sordid fears,
Well could I walk this earth a thousand years.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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