"Philosophers, anatomists of soul, / Ye have display'd a fearful spectacle, / The human heart exposed in nakedness!"

— Anster, John (1793-1867)

Place of Publication
Edinburgh and London
T. Cadell and W. Davies, William Blackwood
"Philosophers, anatomists of soul, / Ye have display'd a fearful spectacle, / The human heart exposed in nakedness!"
Metaphor in Context
Philosophers, anatomists of soul,
Ye have display'd a fearful spectacle,
The human heart exposed in nakedness!

Come, gaze upon a kindred sight of woe;
A hideous phantom,--from the bloated limb
Dull drops the heavy flesh,--the bloodless vein
Shrinks,--and the long cold arm, so ghastly white,
Strikes with damp rattle on the bony thigh;
A sickly green hath rusted on the brow,
As though 'twere borrow'd from the charnel stone;
And the dry dust is on the spider's web,
That shades the vacant dwelling of the eye;
A few thin locks still linger on the brow,
And the chill breeze will sometimes shake those locks,
With something not unlike the stir of life,
More fearful than the fearful calm beneath;--
Well may'st thou shudder now,--but if that frame
Should move, if from his lonely prison-place,
By old Seville, or where Toledo taught
Black secrets, started some foul fiend, whose task
It is, to breathe around the vaulted grave
The dewy dampness, that the mouldwarp loves,--
To bathe the fungus, with the clammy drop,
That oozes from the dead decaying flesh,--
To feed in silence the sepulchral lamp;
What, if o'erwearied with the tedious task,
He loos'd the ligaments that held him there,
And, bursting thro' the sepulchre's cold clasps,
He bathed his black wings in the moonlight sea,
And flinging round his path a meteor-shower,
And pouring on the gale his stormy voice,
Stain'd with his dusky presence the blue night;
--What if he breath'd himself into that frame,
Swell'd out those limbs to giant vastitude,
Gave animation to the morbid mass,
Lit the deserted fortress of the eye,
And stalk'd 'mong men, and call'd upon the tribes,
That gaz'd in awe, to bow before his might,
And conquering, and to conquer, bent his course,
And rous'd a thousand brother-fiends to share
The spoil, and glory in the gloomy view!--
--Even such a Spirit over Earth has pass'd,
Dimm'd the green beauties of Columbia's vales,
And, scoffing at each dear humanity
Of life, infected with his poisonous breath
The heaven of France--"Hail, Revolution, hail!
All hail, redeeming Spirit!"--shout and song,
The ceaseless voice of maddening multitudes
Rung the acclaim!--through courts, through cottages,
That Spirit stalk'd--the temple's sanctuary
Is foul--the altar hath been stain'd with blood--
The lovely novice-nun, whose lingering ear
Dwelt on the evening hymn, who half believ'd,
As through the chapel's painted panes she view'd
The slow-descending sun, that from his orb
On some slant beam angelic psalmists come
To join the hymns of earth:--oh! she hath shrunk
To feel the ruffian's hand fling back her veil,
To see the face that scorn'd her agonies,
To hear the screams, and shouts, and heavier sobs,
Till sight, and sense, and feeling past away;
At length she wakens from that utter trance
Never to smile again; and fears to pray,
And hates herself for her unworthiness:--
(ll. 1-64, pp. 48-50)
Seaching in LION
Text from Poems. With some Translations from the German. By John Anster (Edinburgh and London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, William Blackwood, 1819).
Date of Entry

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