Gothic Readings, compiled by Rictor Norton


Say who is this mysterious creature
So bitterly accusing nature,
With loose attire, and mien so wild?
She looks like madness or her child.
Pursue her steps! yet still beware
Of some bewitchment or a snare.
She goes with look enthusiastic
To yonder edifice fantastic,
Where fancy speaking from its trances
Gives inspiration of romances.
Here vot'ries crowd of all conditions
To view the fleeting exhibitions;
And, well as crazy brain permits
Sketch down each vision as it flits:
While deeper mysteries are brewing
They see at first a gothic ruin.
(This seems to be a rule of late
From which none dare to deviate)
'Tis castle large with turrets high
Intruding always on the sky;
And as they're old in place of clothes
Around them ivy kindly grows;
Somewhat like Adam's coat or Eve's,
Except for fig, they're ivy leaves.
On ev'ry tow'r, to please the sight,
The moon bestows a speck of light
Like patches stuck on ladies' skin,
To shew how fair, or p'rhaps how thin.
The stairs and passages so wind,
The way's impossible to find;
And who to venture in them durst
Must always lose himself at first.
The windows close, thro' which, about
Each hour, some curious Ghost peeps out;
As if he had a slight suspicion
Folks might walk in without permission:
For all such castles, with their rights
Are ever property of sprites;
And Lords who think they own them still
Are merely tenantry at will.
Woods all around are thickly set
Which 'stead of green, are black as jet.
Beyond these rise a ridge of rocks
At which imagination shocks;
While each his horrid face out pushes
Like robbers peeping over bushes.
Then comes a true and valiant Knight
Who only seems to live to fight;
One moment never free from toils
If possible, and cruel broils;
To whom, cuts, gashes, wounds, and bruises
Are toys, with which he self amuses.
Whene'er good humour'd, nought but grace
Should dare intrude upon his face;
But, when his looks to anger waken
From Cerberus they should be taken.
That which he rides, a milk-white steed
Most usually's of fairy breed,
What road to take, if slow or faster,
Seems to know better than his master.
Next comes a monk with disposition
Endeav'ring solely for perdition;
Without design or end in view
For which the devil's work he'll do.
Attend! for lo, a virgin form
Swells on 'the zephyr's bosom warm;'
From her blue eye a magic glance
Must lay the valiant Knight in trance;
For special purpose, that which much
Ado, she may his hand just touch:
He seldom the occasion misses
Upon her hand to perch some kisses,
Which should thereon be seen to linger
More plain than rings upon her finger.
Whene'er she moves 'tis done by notes
Nor e'er walks vulgarly, 'She floats:'
. . .

          On her misfortunes swiftly press
To plunge her into deep distress,
Borne off by night by wizard rogue or
A giant, griffon, or an ogre;
Which accident the Knight must hear
By furies screech'd within his ear;
With some small share rejoicing too
As giving him somewhat to do;
Then on his steed exactly flies
To where his virgin captive lies:
The dreadful castle where no breath
Can stir, but thro' the jaws of Death;
Thro' darkness ever he must grope,
Locks burst, doors fly, and windows ope;
Bells toll, and while his ears are dinning
A dozen ghosts at eyes are grinning.
'Till starting up a sulph'rous flame
Without intending, shews the dame.
Then strange to tell! when tale is done
The reader learns 'twas all in fun.
And easy the enchantment's broke
By saying it was but a joke.

          This species seems to rank most high
Of all amid romantic fry;
When, in innumerable hosts
Rise up mock wizards, gorgons, ghosts.
'Twas one like these that Quixote made
To turn upon knight-errant trade;
As most unluckily his head
Had never the conclusion read.
And in these days, the Gothic sect
Can scribble with a good effect,
Whene'er these tales like lighted match
Can fire imagination's thatch:
Yet strange! by those who're undeceiv'd
Such frauds are o'er again believ'd,
And for their sake, from meals they fast
But to be cheated at the last.
Some breeds there are whose sullen brain
Can scarce such lofty flights attain;
Not fully gifted in their fancy
With artificial necromancy:
But all must conjure castles, knights,
And virgins, noises, mystic lights,
With plot of an infernal hue,
Impervious to the keenest view:
For myst'ries puzzles in relation
Essential are to their formation,
As much as is to bullets, lead,
Or flour and water are to bread.
. . .

          Hail! Germany most favored, who
Seems a romantic rendezvous;
Thro'out whose large and tumid veins
The unmixt Gothic current reigns!
Much thou hast giv'n of precious hosts
Of monsters, wizards, giants, ghosts:
Yet, give our babes of fancy more
Impart to novelists thy store!
'Till classic science dull monastic
Dissolves in flood enthusiastic.
. . .

[SOURCE: The Age; A Poem (London: Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, 1810), pp. 201–]

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