Southern Poets and Poems, Part VII

A series by Clyde Wilson

WASHINGTON ALLSTON (1779–1843) of South Carolina was one of the most important of early American painters.  The first two poems were written in response to his first viewing of major artistic works in Italy.

On a Falling Group in the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo, in the Cappella Sistina

How vast how dread, o’erwhelming, is the thought  

Of space interminable! to the soul

A circling weight that crushes into naught

Her mighty faculties! a wondrous whole,

Without or parts, beginning, or an end!

How fearful, then, on desperate wings to send

The fancy e’en amid the waste profound!

Yet, born as if all daring to astound,

Thy giant hand, O Angelo, hath hurled

E’en human forms, with all their mortal weight,

Down the dread void,–fall endless as their fate!

Already now they seem from world to world

For ages thrown; yet doomed, another past,

Another still to reach, nor e’er to reach the last!

                                                *

On the Group of the Three Angels before the Tent of Abraham, by Raffaelle, in the Vatican

O, now I feel as though another sense,

From heaven descending, had informed my

soul; I feel the pleasurable, full control

In thee, celestial Group, embodied lives

The subtile mystery, that speaking gives

Itself resolved; the essences combined       

Of Motion ceaseless, Unity complete.

Borne like a leaf by some soft eddying wind,

Mine eyes, impelled as by enchantment sweet,

From part to part with circling motion rove,

Yet seem unconscious of the power to move;

From line to line through endless changes run,

O’er countless shapes, yet seem to gaze on One.

                                                         *

                  The French Revolution

The Earth has had her visitation. Like to this
She hath not known, save when the mounting waters
Made of her orb one universal ocean.
For now the Tree that grew in Paradise,
The deadly Tree that first gave Evil motion,
And sent its poison through Earth’s sons and daughters,
Had struck again its root in every land;
And now its fruit was ripe,—about to fall,—
And now a mighty Kingdom raised the hand,
To pluck and eat. Then from his throne stepped forth
The King of Hell, and stood upon the Earth:
But not, as once, upon the Earth to crawl.
A Nation’s congregated form he took,
Till, drunk with sin and blood, Earth to her centre shook.

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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