Monday, August 21, 2023

Thomas Chatterton

Thomas Chatterton (1752―1770) is a poet from Bristol who was a forerunner and inspiration to such Romantic poets as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly, and Keats ― all of whom commemorated him and his tragic death in their work.

Obsessed with the fifteenth century, Thomas Chatterton wrote inventive forgeries he claimed had been written by a fifteenth-century monk he called Thomas Rowley. He even produced complete manuscripts using techniques to distress the pages to make them appear old ― far more convincing than when children soak paper in tea for school assignments to make them look like old documents.

After he moved to London, he made little money. He wrote satires of well-known writers under a pseudonym, and often went without eating, although neighbours tried to have him join them for a meal. All of this led to his untimely death, and his mystique.

In many ways the myth of Chatterton mattered more to the Romantics than whatever might or might not be true. As a little-known poet, long-dead, who allegedly committed suicide shortly before his eighteenth birthday, he was held up as the Romantic ideal: literally a young, starving artist, who was misunderstood and ignored; some now suggest his death may have been from an accidental overdose of medication. Unfortunately, it seems he did not live up to the determination he expressed in the following poem.

The Resignation

O God, whose thunder shakes the sky,
Whose eye this atom globe surveys,
To thee, my only rock, I fly,
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.

The mystic mazes of thy will,
The shadows of celestial light,
Are past the pow'r of human skill,—
But what th' Eternal acts is right.

O teach me in the trying hour,
When anguish swells the dewy tear,
To still my sorrows, own thy pow'r,
Thy goodness love, thy justice fear.

If in this bosom aught but Thee
Encroaching sought a boundless sway,
Omniscience could the danger see,
And Mercy look the cause away.

Then why, my soul, dost thou complain?
Why drooping seek the dark recess?
Shake off the melancholy chain.
For God created all to bless.

But ah! my breast is human still;
The rising sigh, the falling tear,
My languid vitals' feeble rill,
The sickness of my soul declare.

But yet, with fortitude resigned,
I'll thank th' inflicter of the blow;
Forbid the sigh, compose my mind,
Nor let the gush of mis'ry flow.

The gloomy mantle of the night,
Which on my sinking spirit steals,
Will vanish at the morning light,
Which God, my East, my sun reveals.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.