SEE how the archèd earth does here
Rise in a perfect hemisphere!
The stiffest compass could not strike
A line more circular and like,
Nor softest pencil draw a brow
So equal as this hill does bow;
It seems as for a model laid,
And that the world by it was made.
Here learn, ye mountains more unjust,
Which to abrupter greatness thrust,10
That do, with your hook-shouldered height,
The earth deform, and heaven fright,
For whose excrescence, ill designed,
Nature must a new centre find,
Learn here those humble steps to tread,
Which to securer glory lead.
See what a soft access, and wide,
Lies open to its grassy side,
Nor with the rugged path deters
The feet of breathless travellers;20
See then how courteous it ascends,
And all the way it rises, bends,
Nor for itself the height does gain,
But only strives to raise the plain;
Yet thus it all the field commands,
And in unenvied greatness stands,
Discerning further than the cliff
Of heaven-daring Teneriff.
How glad the weary seamen haste,
When they salute it from the mast!30
By night, the northern star their way
Directs, and this no less by day.
Upon its crest, this mountain grave,
A plume of agèd trees does wave.
No hostile hand durst e’er invade,
With impious steel, the sacred shade;
For something always did appear
Of the Great Master’s terror there,
And men could hear his armour still,
Rattling through all the grove and hill.40
Fear of the Master, and respect
Of the great nymph, did it protect;
Vera, the nymph, that him inspired,
To whom he often here retired,
And on these oaks ingraved her name —
Such wounds alone these woods became;
But ere he well the barks could part,
’Twas writ already in their heart;
For they, ’tis credible, have sense,
As we, of love and reverence,50
And underneath the coarser rind
The genius of the house do bind.
Hence they successes seem to know,
And in their Lord’s advancement grow;
But in no memory were seen,
As under this, so straight and green;
Yet now no farther strive to shoot,
Contented, if they fix their root,
Nor to the wind’s uncertain gust
Their prudent heads too far entrust.60
Only sometimes a fluttering breeze
Discourses with the breathing trees,
Which in their modest whispers name
Those acts that swelled the cheeks of Fame.
“Much other groves,” say they, “than these,
And other hills, him once did please.
Through groves of pikes he thundered then,
And mountains raised of dying men.
For all the civic garlands due
To him, our branches are but few;70
Nor are our trunks enough to bear
The trophies of one fertile year.”
’Tis true, ye trees, nor ever spoke
More certain oracles in oak;
But peace, if you his favour prize!
That courage its own praises flies:
Therefore to your obscurer seats
From his own brightness he retreats;
Nor he the hills, without the groves,
Nor height, but with retirement, loves.80
Sir Thomas Fairfax, of Denton, afterwards first Lord Fairfax, was born in the manor-house at Bilbrough in 1560; and in 1609 Sir Philip Fairfax, of Steeton, whose father had bought the house, made over all the rights to it to Sir Thomas Fairfax.
Thomas, third Lord Fairfax, to whom this poem is addressed, was son of Sir Ferdinando Fairfax and Mary, daughter of Edward Sheffield, Lord Mulgrave. Lord Fairfax was commander-in-chief of the Parlia- mentary army until 1650, when he resigned the post. He died at Nunappleton in 1671, and his tomb is in Bilbrough Church. The hill, with its clump of trees (the “Grove”), commanded a view of the plain of York, and was a favourite resort of the General during his retirement at Nunappleton.
l.30. “On Bilbrough Hill, 145 feet above the sea, there was then a great clump of trees, which was a land- mark for ships going up the Humber, the land rising very gradually from the Wharfe at Nunappleton, and being crowned by this conical grassy hill, with its leafy tuft.” (Life of the Great Lord Fairfax, by C. R. Markham, 1870, p. 58).
l.43. Lord Fairfax married, in 1637, Anne Vere, daughter of Horatio, first Baron Vere, under whom he had served in the war in the Low Countries.
l.74. The oaks of Dodona.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53