The Poetry Corner

Prologue To Thomson's 'Sophonisba.'[59]

By Alexander Pope

When Learning, after the long Gothic night, Fair, o'er the western world, renew'd its light, With arts arising, Sophonisba rose; The tragic Muse, returning, wept her woes. With her th' Italian scene first learn'd to glow, And the first tears for her were taught to flow: Her charms the Gallic Muses next inspired; Corneille himself saw, wonder'd, and was fired. What foreign theatres with pride have shown, Britain, by juster title, makes her own. When freedom is the cause, 'tis hers to fight, And hers, when freedom is the theme, to write. For this a British author bids again The heroine rise, to grace the British scene: Here, as in life, she breathes her genuine flame, She asks, What bosom has not felt the same? Asks of the British youth--is silence there? She dares to ask it of the British fair. To-night our homespun author would be true, At once to nature, history, and you. Well pleased to give our neighbours due applause, He owns their learning, but disdains their laws; Not to his patient touch, or happy flame, 'Tis to his British heart he trusts for fame. If France excel him in one freeborn thought, The man, as well as poet, is in fault. Nature! informer of the poet's art, Whose force alone can raise or melt the heart, Thou art his guide; each passion, every line, Whate'er he draws to please, must all be thine. Be thou his judge: in every candid breast Thy silent whisper is the sacred test.