On reading Miss Williams's Poem on Peace (1783)

Yes, Thou hast waked the soul-enchanting Lyre!

The Muses heard, obedient to thy Voice,

And all their mingled harmonies inspire,

The strain that bids a drooping world rejoice.

See! Apathy unseals his drowsy Eyes,

See, midst the wild a new Creation rise.

Lo! the dread Scenes of deathful war appear,

My shuddering Soul recoils with wild affright,

I see the mangled Forms – their groans I hear –

But horror blots the Scene with endless night.

The softer, tenderer Passions claim their share,

Steal to the Heart and plant a Dagger there.

Genius, how vast thy power! our passions move,

Exult, or agonize at thy command;

The vocal Keys not more obedient prove,

Beneath the pressure of a master’s hand.

The fine vibrations thrill through all the Soul,

And every selfish fear and grief controul.

But now more sweet the varying Music flows,

See, Peace descending spreads her sheltering wing,

A Lute by Angels tun’d her hand bestows

And bids fair Williams wake the warbling strings.

What melting Melody pervades thro’ the Grove,

Expanding every breast with purest Love.

Oh! sweet Enchantress of the captive heart,

Accept this humble Lay from one unknown,

Rapture to her thy glowing strains impart,

Though sick’ning at the languor of her own,

As needful were a Taper’s feeble Ray

To shew at noon the blazing Orb of Day.

Text: MS, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, STE 5/3; STE 5/1, where the poem is titled ‘Occasioned by hearing Miss Williams Ode to Peace’; also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 3, pp. 128-29. Reference is to Helen Maria Williams’s An Ode on the Peace (London, 1783), a poem celebrating the end of the American war. A copy of the 1783 edition was owned by Steele and can now be found in STE 14/2. Steele provides the following note prior to the poem in 5/3: ‘see particularly that Stanza And Poesy thy raptur’d shell / The heart shall soothe the Spirit fire’. These lines are actually ‘And Poesy! thy deep-tone’d shell / The heart shall sooth, the spirit fire’, taken from Williams’s Ode on the Peace (London: T. Cadell, 1783), p. 16.