"Where is the stamp which marks th' immortal soul, / And places thee above the growling brute?"

— Robinson [Née Darby], Mary [Perdita] (1758-1800)

Place of Publication
Printed for Richard Phillips [etc.]
"Where is the stamp which marks th' immortal soul, / And places thee above the growling brute?"
Metaphor in Context
'Mid the grey horrors of his narrow cell,
The wasted monk is seen. His silv'ry beard
Falls, like Helvetia's snow, half down his breast,
Shading his frozen heart. A torpid spell
Benumbs life's fountain, while the feeble pulse
Marks the slow progress of time's weary course,
With languid circulation. Ev'ry clock
That sounds the passing hour, appears the knell
Which warns him to oblivion. A coarse garb
Hangs round his meagre frame; his hollow cheek,
Shrivell'd with frequent fasting as with age,
Scarce hides his bony jaws. Beneath his cowl,
His dimly-gleaming eyes, sunk in their cells,
And glaz'd with midnight watching, ask of Heav'n
A solitary grave. Poor, breathing ghost!
Tell that still questioner, thy weary mind,
'Twas not for cloister'd, visionary glooms,
For castigation and sequester'd hours,
For cold inanity, life's conscious death,
That nature gave thee strength in busy scenes
To act a nobler part. Misguided monk!
Thou wretched slave of bigotry and fraud!
Was it to gabble o'er a canting tale,
To trim the wasting lamp, to wear away
The flinty pavement with thy wounded knees,
To scourge thy meagre flesh, embrace cold saints,
To starve thy appetites, till ev'ry bone
Shews what a wretched, ghastly thing thou art,
Robb'd of thy outward form? Was it for this
That reason dawn'd upon thy op'ning youth;
And science smil'd, while love, with sportive mein,
Danc'd gaily on, leading expectant joys
Which told thee thou wert man? O! did the spark,
Th' electric spark which kindles fancy's fire,
Ne'er in perspective bright unfold such scenes
As bade thy bosom glow, ambition warm'd,
Or melt in rapt'rous visions? What art thou?
Deluded, sad, forgotten! Like a tree
Plac'd on a blasted desert, where no sun
Visits the sapless trunk, but all around
One gloom perpetual reigns. Where are thy pow'rs?
Where the perception strong, the active mind,
Th' ethereal essence that expands the heart;
The depth of knowledge, and the will to act?
Where is the stamp which marks th' immortal soul,
And places thee above the growling brute?

Shrouded by superstition, chain'd by fear,
Benumb'd by long seclusion from the world;
While naught remains, but a lean, wither'd form,
Inert, enfeebl'd, useless, and debased!
The Indian wild, that roves the pathless steep,
Chasing the famish'd wolf, or savage bear,
Anticipates the hour when to his hut
He drags the bleeding spoil, and shouts, and sings,
In social feasting with his untaught tribes;
The blazing fire encircled, sheds a glow
On the brown cheek, and gilds the gloomy hour
Of wint'ry desolation!--O'er his hut,
Scoop'd in the snowy ridge or flinty rock,
The blast howls horrible, while the gaunt beast,
That roves for prey, fills up the sullen pause
With yell'd defiance.--On the distant shore
The white surge dashes, with a fateful sound,
While the wreck'd mariner the slipp'ry steep
Climbs desperately bold. List'ning he hears
The deaf'ning din of elements combin'd;
Where clouds embattled mingle; while beneath
Waves roll on waves, curling their tyrant heads
In wild fantastic fury. From the cliff
The sea-bird screams, while the half-shrouded moon
Throws its dim light upon the world below,
Frozen and desolate. Yet ev'n there
Man is the friend of man! While the rude grasp,
The deaf'ning war-hoop, or the uncouth garb,
Shews, with fantastic gestures, the caprice
Of ever-varying nature. But, for thee,
O solitary monk! no cheerful hour
Shall mark the summer morn, or deck the wing
Of time with sunny lustre! all, yes all,
To thee shall seem a blank; a dreadful blank,
Veiling the face of nature, while her voice
Whispers reproof; reproof that will be heard
Ev'n in the cloister's melancholy shade;
Till death shall close the tablet of thy fate,
Nor leave one friend, to pity or to praise.
Explore the dungeon's gloom, where, all alone,
The homicide expires; the guilty wretch,
Whose hands are steep'd in gore; whose timid soul,
The mild and pitying angel, hope, forsakes,
While all the demons of despair and hell
Howl in his startled ears! His weary hours
Have many a season pass'd, since to his cheek
The breeze of heav'n gave freshness; since his lip
Imbib'd th' ethereal spirit of the morn,
Or balmy sleep, the opiate of the mind,
Lull'd the sick sense of sorrow. If his brain
Snatches a transitory dream of peace;
If, wearied by perpetual, painful thought,
A short, but broken slumber fills the throne
Of tott'ring intellect: sudden and fierce
Some shriek appalling, or some spectre dire,
Taunts him to waking madness, and again
The mental fever rages! Down his cheek
The scalding tear rolls fast. His bloodshot eyes
Glare motionless and wide, as if their sense
Turn'd inward on his soul. His quiv'ring lip,
Drain'd of the life-stream by the conscious fiend,
Mutters a brief appeal to angry heav'n,
Then freezes into death. No friendly hand
Closes the beamless eye: no kindred breast
Sustains the livid cheek, grief-worn and mark'd
With water-fretted channels. His bow'd head,
Silver'd by sorrow in the prime and pride
Of lusty youth, shews like a goodly tree,
Frost-nipp'd and drooping. Wretched homicide!
Whom did he kill? The minion of his foe;
The sordid Steward, whose infuriate rage
Snatch'd from his helpless babes the well-earn'd store
Of many a toilsome hour; the pamper'd slave,
Whose mind, grown callous by oppression's task,
Repell'd compunctuous pity.--Ask thy heart,
Divine philanthropist! who rais'd his hand
Against the caitiff's life? The caitiff's self!
The petty tyrant, who with barb'rous wrongs
Propell'd him on to sin. For reason's breast,
Arm'd 'gainst oppression, in resistance strong,
Can combat giant fierceness; and tho' oft
By subtle malice vanquish'd or betray'd,
Still owns the plea of nature! In his low cell
The patient child of persecution sits,
Pensively sad. His uncomplaining tongue,
His stedfast eye, his lean and pallid cheek,
Grac'd with the stamp of dignified disdain,
Wait the approach of death. No haggard glance
Ruffles the placid orb, whose lustre, dimm'd
By dungeon vapours, like a dewy star,
Gleams 'midst surrounding darkness. On his lip
Smiles innocence, enthron'd in modest pride,
And eloquently silent! On his breast
His folded arms (shielding his guiltless heart
From the damp poisons of a living grave),
Are firmly interwoven; while his soul,
Calm as the martyr at the kindling pyre,
Holds strong with resignation. Who will now
Breathe the contagious mischiefs of his cell?
Who quit the gorgeous splendours of the sun,
To watch with him the slowly-wasting lamp,
Dim with obtrusive vapours? Who will share
The bread of misery, and with the breath
Of sympathy more palatable make
The cup of human sorrow? Who resign
The midnight revelry of happier scenes,
Turn from the banquet and illumin'd hall,
The throne of flaunting beauty, gaily deck'd,
The costly shews of life, to count with him
The silent hours of anguish? Tell, O truth!
Thou heav'n-descended judge! what has he done?
Has he refus'd to bend the flexile knee
Before the blood-stain'd foot of ruthless pow'r?
To fawn upon the bloated, lordly fool,
Who claim'd his vassalage? Has he refus'd
To load the groaning altars of the church;
Libell'd, by truth, some wanton, courtly dame;
Or, like an arrogant, rebellious knave,
Dar'd talk of freedom? Say, O vengeful man!
Are these thy destin'd victims? Is it thus
Thou deal'st the meed of justice? Dost thou think
Thy petty rage will sever them from him,
Whose attribute is mercy, and whose grace
Mocks all distinctions? O! let nature speak,
And with instinctive force inform thy soul,
That liberty, the choicest boon of heav'n,
Is reason's birth-right, and the gift of God!
Searching "soul" and "stamp" in HDIS (Poetry)
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.