BETA

On the Portrait of Wickliffe.

Had it not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates, against the divine and admirable spirit
of Wickliffe, to suppress him as a schismatic or innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Husse, and Jerome, no, nor the name of Luther or of Calvin, had ever been known.”
Milton, For the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.

I.

When Superstition overspread the realm,1
And Truth’s bright star was shaded ;2
When Tyranny struggled to overwhelm3
A world by her gloom pervaded ;4
From out that midnight, so dark and deep,5
A voice cried, “ Ho—awaken ! ”6
Till the sleepers aroused themselves from sleep,7
And the thrones of earth were shaken.8

II.

Wickliffe ! that noble voice was thine,9
Which called the free to their stations ;10
Thou gavest the light of Heaven to shine11
Again on the blinded nations : —12
When foes were many, and friends were none,13
Though pitfalls yawn’d around thee,14
On the hill of defiance aloft—alone15
The hour of danger found thee.16

III.

I love to trace the lines of that face,17
So calm, yet so commanding ;18
Thy white beard’s venerable grace19
O’er thy russet vest expanding ;20
Thine eyebrows so deeply arch’d—thy look21
Of serenest contemplation,22
At whose kindling glance the guilty shook23
In pitiful consternation.24

IV.

Methinks I note thy youthful gaze,25
Truth’s holiest pages perusing,26
Where summer boughs exclude the rays,27
An emerald calm diffusing ;28
I follow thy steps from bower to bower,29
Still pondering on what enthrall’d thee,30
Till the bell of Merton’s toll’d forth the hour,31
Which to vesper service call’d thee.32

V.

Fear never smote thy dauntless heart,33
That, spurning at craft and folly,34
Burn’d, in its ardours, to impart35
The Gospel unmarr’d and holy ;36
’Mid persecution’s storm it rose,37
And, triumphing nobly o’er it,38
Pierced through the corslet of Craft, and bore39
Superstition to earth before it.40

VI.

The purple pride of the Papal See41
Could not to silence win thee ;42
It’s loudest thunders were less to thee,43
Than the still small voice within thee :44
In the conclave hall, erectly tall,45
’Twas thine to stand undaunted,46
’Mid threatening throngs, that sought thy wrongs,47
And insolent power that vaunted.48

VII.

To the death ’ twas thine to persevere,49
Though the tempest around thee rattled ;50
And wherever Falsehood was lurking, there51
Thy spirit heroic battled :52
And though thy bones from the grave were torn,53
Long after thy days were ended,54
The sound of thy words, to times unborn,55
Like a trumpet-call descended.56

VIII.

A light was struck—a light which shew’d57
How hideous were Error’s features,58
And how perverted the law, bestow’d59
By Heaven to guide its creatures ;60
At first, for that spark, amid the dark,61
The Friar his fear dissembled ;62
But soon at the fame of Wickliffe’s name,63
The throne of St Peter trembled !64

IX.

Oh ! that the glory, so fair to see,65
Should from men’s eyes be shrouded ;66
Oh ! that the day-dawn, which rose with thee,67
Illumining all, should be clouded !68
In vain have heroes and martyrs bled69
When all that they nobly fought for70
Is recklessly given, like carrion dead,71
To the dogs, whenever sought for ! !72

X.

Oh ! that the lamp of Faith burns dim73
That our public men grow cravens74
And oh ! for the spirit that burn’d in him,75
An eagle amid the ravens !76
Of the book which had been a sealed-up book,77
He tore the clasps, that the nation,78
With eyes unbandaged, might thereon look,79
And learn to read salvation.80

XI.

I turn me from him—I cannot gaze81
On the calm, heroic features,82
When I think how we have disgraced our days83
Poor, miserable creatures !84
And when, how we have betray’d our trust85
The sons of our sons shall hearken,86
Can it be else than that o’er our dust87
The spittle of scorn should barken !88