Dickens /Poems /The Patrician’s Daughter

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The Patrician’s Daughter  – 1842 – A Poem

This was written as the proplogue to John Westland Morrisons tragedy play by Charles Dickens. The play was something of an experiment, to test the effect of a tragedy set in modern times and in modern dress. The novelist’s Prologue was intended to show that there need be no incongruity between plain clothes of the nineteenth century and high tragedy.

It was first performed at the Drury Lane Theater on 19 Dec 1842, and Dickens lines were read by Macready a leading actor of that time.

The Prologue wasprinted in the Sunday Timeson 11 Dec 1842, and then in The Theatrical Journal on 17 Dec 1842,
THE PROLOGUE: spoken by Mr Macready

No tale of streaming plumes and harness bright
Dwells on the poet’s maiden harp to-night;
No trumpet’s clamour and no battle’s fire
Breathes in the trembling accents of his lyre;
Enough for him, if in his lowly strain
He wakes one household echo not in vain;
Enough for him, if in his boldest word
The beating heart of MAN be dimly heard.

Its solemn music which, like strains that sigh
Through charmèd gardens, all who hearing die;
Its solemn music he does not pursue
To distant ages out of human view;
Nor listen to its wild and mournful chime
In the dead caverns on the shore of Time;
But musing with a calm and steady gaze
Before the crackling flames of living days,
He hears it whisper through the busy roar
Of what shall be and what has been before.
Awake the Present! Shall no scene display
The tragic passion of the passing day?
Is it with Man, as with some meaner things,
That out of death his single purpose springs?
Can his eventful life no moral teach
Until he be, for aye, beyond its reach?
Obscurely shall he suffer, act, and fade,
Dubb’d noble only by the sexton’s spade?
Awake the Present! Though the steel-clad age
Find life alone within its storied page,
Iron is worn, at heart, by many still—
The tyrant Custom binds the serf-like will;
If the sharp rack, and screw, and chain be gone,
These later days have tortures of their own;
The guiltless writhe, while Guilt is stretch’d in sleep,
And Virtue lies, too often, dungeon deep.
Awake the Present! what the Past has sown
Be in its harvest garner’d, reap’d, and grown!
How pride breeds pride, and wrong engenders wrong,
Read in the volume Truth has held so long,
Assured that where life’s flowers freshest blow,
The sharpest thorns and keenest briars grow,
How social usage has the pow’r to change
Good thoughts to evil; in its highest range
To cramp the noble soul, and turn to ruth
The kindling impulse of our glorious youth,
Crushing the spirit in its house of clay,
Learn from the lessons of the present day.
Not light its import and not poor its mien;
Yourselves the actors, and your homes the scene.

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