All I really know about Robert Southey (picture from here) is that when Charlotte Brontë wrote to him, sending some of her poetry & asking his advice on her following a literary career, he replied, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation.” Charlotte wrote on this letter, “Southey’s advice, to be kept forever.” Interestingly, she may have kept the advice but she completely ignored it, and thank goodness for that! This took place in 1837 when Southey was Poet Laureate, a long time since he was one of the leading Romantic poets, living in the Lake District, along with Wordsworth & Coleridge.
Two of his poems are in my anthology, one of which, After Blenheim, I remember reading in an anthology I had as a child. It’s a beautiful poem about the futility of war. It could be called After the Somme, After Gallipoli, After Balaclava, the sentiments are universal & how sad that we still have no answers to the question of why wars happen. Like the grandfather in the poem, when asked why the battle had to be fought & why so many men died, we’re still told “‘Twas a famous victory.” The poem is a bit long for me to type out here but if you follow the link to the picture above, you’ll find it there.
The other poem has no title. It’s a lovely meditation on the past, on friends & family who have gone before. I can almost forgive Southey his advice to Charlotte Brontë when I read it.
My days among the Dead are passed;
Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.
With them I take delight in weal
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew’d
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.
My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.
My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.