Part of the ancient and magnificent Abbey at Malmesbury, in
Wiltshire, is used as the parish church. On one of the mouldering
walls of the ruins contiguous, (near the great archway,) a solitary
plant, not elsewhere found in the neighbourhood, was pointed out to
the writer of the following stanzas, as growing at a height “ not to
be come at by the willing hand.”*
The Hand that gives the angels wings,1
And plants the forest by its power,2
O’er mountain, vale, and champaign flings3
The seed of every herb and flower ;4
Nor forests stand, nor angels fly,5
More at God’s will, more in his eye,6
Than the green blade strikes down its root,7
Expands its bloom, and yields its fruit.8
Beautiful daughter of a line9
Of unrecorded ancestry !10
What herald’s scroll might vie with thine,11
Where monarchs trace their pedigree ?12
* The Dianthus caryophyllus, occasionally found on old
and decayed buildings, as well as on sparry rocks.
Thy first progenitor had birth,13
While man was yet unquicken’d earth ;14
And thy posterity may wave15
Their flag o’er man’s last-open’d grave.16
Down from the day of Eden lost,17
(A generation in a year,)18
Unscathed by heat, unnipt by frost,19
True to the sovereign sun, appear20
The units of thy transient race21
Each in its turn, each in its place,22
To make the world, a little while,23
Lovelier and sweeter with its smile.24
How camest thou hither ?  from what soil,25
Where those that went before thee grew,26
Exempt from suffering, care, or toil,27
Array’d by sunbeams, fed with dew ?28
Tell me, on what strange spot of ground29
Thy Alpine kindred yet are found,30
And I the carrier-dove will be31
To bring them wondrous news of thee :32
How here, by wren or redbreast dropt,33
Thy parent-germ was left behind ;34
Or, in its pathless voyage stopt,35
While sailing on the autumnal wind ;36
Not rudely wreckt, but haply thrown37
On yonder ledge of quarried stone,38
Where the blithe swallow builds and sings,39
And the pert sparrow pecks his wings,40
Then, by some glance of moonshine sped,41
Queen Mab, methinks, alighting there,42
A span-long, hand-breadth terrace spread,43
A fairy garden hung in air,44
Of lichens, moss, and earthy mould,45
To rival Babylon’s of old,46
In which that single seed she nurst,47
Till forth its embryo-wilding burst.48
Now, like that solitary star,49
Last in the morn’s resplendent crown,50
Or first emerging, faint and far,51
When evening-glooms the air embrown,52
Thy beauty shines, without defence,53
Yet safe from gentle violence,54
While infant-hands and maiden-eyes55
Covet in vain the tempting prize.56
Yon arch, beneath whose giant-span57
Thousands of passing feet have trod58
Upon the dust that once was man,59
Gather’d around this house of God60
That arch, which seems to mock decay,61
Fix’d as the firmament to-day,62
Is fading, like the rainbow’s form,63
Beneath the stress of Time’s long storm :64
But thou shalt boast perennial prime :65
The blade, the stem, the bud, the flower66
Not ruin’d, but renew’d by time,67
Beyond the great destroyer’s power,68
Like day and night, like spring and fall,69
Alternate, on the Abbey-wall,70
Shall come and go, from year to year,71
And vanish but to re-appear.72
Nay, when in utter wreck are strown73
Arch, buttress, all this mighty mass ;74
Crumbled, and crush’d, and overgrown75
With thorns and thistles, reeds and grass ;76
While Nature thus the waste repairs,77
Thine offspring, Nature’s endless heirs,78
Earth’s “ stony ground” shall re-possess,79
And people the new wilderness.80
So be it ! —but the sun is set,81
My song must end, and I depart ;82
Yet thee I never will forget,83
But plant thee in my inmost heart,84
Where this shall thy memorial be85
If God so cares for thine and thee,86
How can I doubt that love divine,87
Which watches over me and mine ?88