"They only who are curst with breasts of steel / Can mock the foibles of surviving love"

— Mason, William (1725-1797)

Place of Publication
Printed by W. Blanchard
w. 1787, 1797
"They only who are curst with breasts of steel / Can mock the foibles of surviving love"
Metaphor in Context
From southern Cambria's richly-varied clime,
Where grace and grandeur share an equal reign;
Where cliffs o'erhung with shade, and hills sublime
Of mountain lineage sweep into the main;
From bays, where Commerce furls her wearied sails,
Proud to have dar'd the dangers of the deep,
And floats at anchor'd ease inclos'd by vales,
To Ocean's verge where stray the vent'rous sheep:
From brilliant scenes like these I turn my eye;
And, lo! a solemn circle meets its view,
Wall'd to protect inhum'd mortality,
And shaded close with poplar and with yew.
Deep in that dell the humble fane appears,
Whence prayers if humble best to Heaven aspire;
No tower embattled, no proud spire it rears,
A moss-grown croslet decks its lowly choir.
And round that fane the sons of toil repose,
Who drove the plough-share, or the sail who spread;
With wives, with children, all in measur'd rows,
Two whiten'd flint stones mark the feet and head.
While these between full many a simple flow'r,
Pansy, and pink, with languid beauty smile;
The primrose opening at the twilight hour,
And velvet tufts of fragrant chamomile.
For, more intent the smell than sight to please,
Surviving love selects its vernal race;
Plants that with early perfume feed the breeze
May best each dank and noxious vapour chase.
The flaunting tulip, the carnation gay,
Turnsole, and piony, and all the train
That love to glitter in the noontide ray,
Ill suit the copse where Death and Silence reign.
Not but perchance to deck some virgin's tomb,
Where violets sweet their twofold purple spread,
Some rose of maiden blush may faintly bloom,
Or with'ring hang its emblematic head.
These to renew, with more than annual care
That wakeful love with pensive step will go;
The hand that lifts the dibble shakes with fear
Lest haply it disturb the friend below.
Vain fear! for never shall disturber come
Potent enough to wake such sleep profound,
Till the dread herald to the day of doom
Pours from his trump the world-dissolving sound.
Vain fear! yet who that boasts a heart to feel,
An eye to pity, would that fear reprove?
They only who are curst with breasts of steel
Can mock the foibles of surviving love
Those foibles far beyond cold Reason's claim
Have power the social charities to spread;
They feed, sweet Tenderness! thy lambent flame,
Which, while it warms the heart, improves the head.
Its chemic aid a gradual heat applies
That from the dross of self each wish refines,
Extracts the liberal spirit, bids it rise
Till with primeval purity it shines.
Take then, poor peasants, from the friend of Gray
His humbler praise; for Gray or fail'd to see,
Or saw unnotic'd, what had wak'd a lay
Rich in the pathos of true poesy.
Yes, had he pac'd this church-way path along,
Or lean'd like me against this ivied wall,
How sadly sweet had flow'd his Dorian song,
Then sweetest when it flow'd at Nature's call.
Like Tadmor's king, his comprehensive mind
Each plant's peculiar character could seize;
And hence his moralizing[2] Muse had join'd,
To all these flow'rs, a thousand similies.
But he, alas! in distant village-grave
Has mix'd with dear maternal dust his own;
Ev'n now the pang, which parting Friendship gave,
Thrills at my heart, and tells me he is gone.
Take then from me the pensive strain that flows
Congenial to this consecrated gloom;
Where all that meets my eye some symbol shows
Of grief, like mine, that lives beyond the tomb.
Shows me that you, though doom'd the livelong year
For scanty food the toiling arm to ply,
Can smite your breasts, and find an inmate there
To heave, when Mem'ry bids, the ready sigh.
Still nurse that best of inmates, gentle swains!
Still act as heartfelt sympathy inspires;
The taste, which birth from Education gains,
Serves but to chill Affection's native fires.
To you more knowledge than what shields from vice
Were but a gift would multiply your cares;
Of matter and of mind let reasoners nice
Dispute; be Patience, yours, Presumption theirs.
You know (what more can earthly Science know?)
That all must die; by Revelation's ray
Illum'd, you trust the ashes placed below
These flow'ry tufts, shall rise again to day.
What if you deem, by hoar tradition led,
To you perchance devolv'd from Druids old,
That parted souls at solemn seasons tread
The circles that their shrines of clay enfold?
What if you deem they some sad pleasure take
These poor memorials of your love to view,
And scent the perfume for the planter's sake,
That breathes from vulgar rosemary and rue?
Unfeeling Wit may scorn, and Pride may frown;
Yet Fancy, empress of the realms of song,
Shall bless the decent mode, and Reason own
It may be right--for who can prove it wrong?[3]
Searching "breast" and "steel" in HDIS (Poetry)
Text from The Works of William Mason 4 vols. (London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1811). <Link to Google Books>

First published in Poems by William Mason, M.A., (York: Printed by W. Blanchard, 1797). <Link to Vol. III in Google Books>
Date of Entry

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