The HyperTexts

CHATTERTON

the best poems of Thomas Chatterton with an intro and two "modernizations" by Michael R. Burch

Was Thomas Chatterton the greatest child prodigy in the history of poetry and an angelic figure, or was he a dastardly forger and fraud? He has been portrayed as both, sometimes simultaneously. (An interesting aspect of conspiracy theorists is that they are able to believe completely contradictory notions.) That Chatterton was among the most remarkable of child prodigies is hard to dispute, because at age ten he was writing poems that were published, and by his early teens he had taught himself medieval English and was producing poems by a fictitious poet, Thomas Rowley, in the language and style of Chaucer and his contemporaries. The clever young Chatterton taught himself to write in the "ye olde Englische" style, and to use ocher and other chemicals to age the "discovered" manuscripts to make them look like antiques. While his pseudo-medieval compositions were imperfect, in terms of complying with all the complicated rules of that long-ago day, and were eventually exposed as modern work, they enchanted some of the better-known Romantic poets to come―including Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats―who saw Chatterton not only as one of them, but also as a trailblazer leading other poets back to the wellspring of English poetry. They were inclined to view and portray Chatterton as a rejected genius and a rather angelic, tragic figure. His detractors, however, tended to portray him as a deliberate deceiver, forger and fraud. Today, in a number of biographies and scholarly papers about Chatterton, we see both views superimposed on his boyish image: he is the angelic victim with the long, flowing, curly locks who became the notorious conman. But was Chatterton that notorious, really, or were there perhaps perfectly good and understandable reasons for his deceptions? And didn't other writers of his day do similar things, including Horace Walpole, whose curt dismissal of the younger writer may have led to his suicide at age seventeen?

I believe there were perfectly good and understandable reasons for Chatterton's deceptions. First, his family was poor, his father died before he was born, he was sent to a charity school, and to improve his lot in life he needed to make money. (And it can be very difficult for adolescents to make money, or to be taken seriously by adults!) Second, Chatterton had limited options. After leaving school he had basically become an indentured servant to a lawyer who allegedly beat him and tore up his poems, even though Chatterton fulfilled all his duties and only wrote poetry when he had no official work to do. Chatterton only escaped this virtual enslavement by threatening to commit suicide, at which point the lawyer let him go. Third, Chatterton came from a lower-class family at a time when England still had a substantially rigid caste system. Even if Chatterton had been older, the landed and monied gentry would have been unlikely to treat him as their peer. For instance, when Walpole learned that Chatterton was "beneath" him in status, although he had previously been enamored with the Rowley poems and later called them works of "masterly genius," his attitude in his letters changed abruptly and he advised the poet to "get a real job" and work on poetry as a hobby. For a poet with Chatterton's abilities and ambitions, the prejudices of his day were apparently a crushing cross to bear. I see no reason to continue to crucify him.

However, they are other possible reasons for Chatterton pretending to be Rowley. When he fell in love with those illuminated capitals, he may have had a romance of sorts with the elder poets, their language and their work. Perhaps in the beginning he was simply writing poems in a style that he loved and desired to emulate. At times, according to witnesses, he did claim to be the author of the Rowley poems, but it seems the adults refused to take him seriously. So he may have followed the "path of least resistance" and when money was tight and times were dire, perhaps he saw the "medieval" poems as his onlyor most likelysalvation.

But in any case, I believe we must ultimately detach the myth―or even the reality―of Chatterton the "boy genius" and/or "fraud" from our evaluation of his work. In the end, if Chatterton was a poet―and I believe he was―it is the work that really matters: not the myth, not the man (or boy), not our feelings about his life and death, not even his genius even if it can somehow be identified, quantified and measured. There have been other tragic figures who were not necessarily great artists. Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry. His assassination―one of the ultimate tragedies―does not make his poetry better or worse. To determine whether Abraham Lincoln was a great, good, mediocre, bad or terrible poet, we have to consider his poems as poems. And I believe we must do the same with Chatterton's poems, if we are to do them justice, and him. If we determine that Chatterton was a good or great poet as a boy, that does seem rather remarkable. But there is nothing at all remarkable about a boy writing mediocre, bad or terrible poems. I wrote some terrible poems when I was a boy, then tore them all up in frustration. That does not make me a good poet. Nor should writing not-so-good poems and passing them off as someone else's work make Chatterton a legend. But what if his poems were good, or great? In the literary world, that is the question, because that is what determines whether poems live or die, and whether we remember or forget their authors.

Before we proceed, please allow me to point out that if Chatterton's poems have artistic merit, there really isn't a case to be made against him. If he told the truth and really did find the poems, then he was an honest boy who was very unfairly criminalized. If, on the other hand, he wrote the poems himself, he was not a "forger," but an unusually original artist at a surprisingly young age. But in either case, where is the case against him? I don't see one, myself. But a valid question remains: how good were the poems he wrote, since it seems completely obvious at this stage that he really did write the poems? Great poets praised Chatterton. Presumably, great poets should know good poetry when they read it. So let's take a look ...

Thomas Chatterton Timeline

1752 — Thomas Chatterton is born in Bristol, England on November 20, 1752. His father dies before he is born and his family is poor.
1758 — Up to around age six or seven, young Thomas is considered "slow," even a "dunce" and a "fool." But then he discovers a manuscript with illuminated capitals; he becomes enraptured, his mother teaches him to read using these new objects of rapture, and he becomes a voracious devourer of books.
1760 — Around age eight, Chatterton begins attending Colston's Hospital, a Bristol charity-school where "the pupils were tonsured like monks and suspected leanings towards religious non-conformity were punishable by expulsion." The students were forced to wear blue gowns; Chatterton has been called a "blue-coat boy." At Colston's he meets Thomas Phillips, an usher whose verses have been published in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal; Chatterton will soon follow in his footsteps.
1762 — Around age ten, Chatterton writes his first known poem, "On the Last Epiphany, or, Christ Coming to Judgment." It appears in the Bristol Journal on Jan. 8, 1763. Another early poem "The Churchwarden and the Apparition, A Fable" also appears in the Bristol Journal.
1763 — Around age eleven, Chatterton writes "A Hymn for Christmas Day," "Apostate Will" and "Sly Dick."
1764 — Around age twelve, Chatterton writes a medieval pastoral eclogue titled "Elinoure and Juga" (the only Rowley poem published during Chatterton's lifetime).
1767 — Around age fourteen, Chatterton becomes a scrivener (clerk) to a Bristol attorney, but is unpaid except for room and board. When his employer catches Chatterton writing poetry, he tears it up! Chatterton offers "evidence" of his family's "noble pedigree" to Henry Burgum, a Bristol businessman, who pays him five shillings. Chatterton then gives Burgum a medieval version of his poem "Romance of the Knight," telling Burgum that it was written by an ancestor of Burgum's who was "an ornament of the age." Chatterton also provides Burgum with a version of the poem "modernized" by Chatterton. He ends up giving a number of his Rowley poems to Burgum and his associate George Calcott.
1768 — Around age fifteen, Chatterton offers some of his Rowley poems to William Barrett, the author of History of Bristol (1789), who would include the Rowley poems as authentic. Chatterton writing as "Dunelmus Bristoliensis" becomes a frequent contributor to the Bristol Journal, and creates excitement with his "discovery" of the account of ceremonies related to the opening of an ancient Bristol bridge (providentially, just at the time of the dedication of a new bridge!).
1769 — Now sixteen, Chatterton offers some of his Rowley writings to Horace Walpole, who declines to help the younger writer. Chatterton writes a bitter satirical poem in reply, "To Horace Walpole." (Walpole would later say of Chatterton: "I do not believe there ever existed so masterly a genius.") The Rowley poem "Elinoure and Juga" is published by Town and Country Magazine (May 1769). 
1770 — In the spring of 1770, Chatterton writes a letter in which he threatens to commit suicide, perhaps as a ruse to end his unpaid employment. He is let go by the lawyer, then moves to London hoping to earn a living as a writer, arriving on April 25th. Despite his youth, over a period of four months Chatterton appears in eleven of the principal publications then in circulation: the Middlesex Journal, the Court and City Journal, the Political Register, the London Museum, Town and Country, the Christian, the Universal, the Gospel, the London, the Lady's, and the Freeholder's magazines. He even writes a burletta, "The Revenge," to be sung and performed in Marylebone Gardens. But some of the publishers don't pay him, others are tardy, one dies, two end up in prison, and he is slowly starving to death, too proud to accept offers of meals from his landlady. By August he is hoping to go abroad as a surgeon's assistant on an African trader, although he lacks training. On the last day of his life, August 24th, his landlady notes that he has not eaten for two or three days and looks starved. Finally, Chatterton commits suicide by drinking arsenic at age seventeen, three months short of his eighteenth birthday. He is buried in a pauper's grave as "William Chatterton, the Poet." While the rest of the literary world either ignored Chatterton or treated him as a fraud, the great Romantic poets to come would hail him as a true poet, a genius, and the first of their tribe.

If your reading time is limited, or you'd like to have some idea where to start, here in my opinion, for whatever it's worth, are the best poems of Thomas Chatterton:

The Top Ten Poems of Thomas Chatterton (in one person's opinion)

"Song from Ælla: Under the Willow Tree" or "Minstrel's Song" (a Rowley poem with an accompanying "modernization")
"An Excellent Ballad of Charity" (a Rowley poem with an accompanying "modernization")
"Elegy, Written At Stanton-Drew"
"Elegy on the Death of Mr. Phillips" (written for the Colston's usher who befriended Chatterton and may have been his mentor)
"The Resignation"
"To Horace Walpole"
"Elinoure and Juga" (perhaps the first Rowley poem, written around age 12)
"The ROMANCE of the KNIGHT" (a poem Chatterton wrote around age 14 and modernized himself)
"A Hymn for Christmas Day," "The Gouler's Requiem", "Apostate Will" and "Sly Dick" (all written around age 11-12)

All the poems listed above appear on this page; two of the Rowley poems appear side-by-side with my "translations" or "modernizations." Other poems by Chatterton were written in more modern English and can easily be read and understood in their original forms. There has been speculation that Chatterton wrote his Rowley poems in modern English, then "backdated" them using glossaries of archaic words. If so, it seems the originals may have been lost or destroyed.

Song from Ælla: Under the Willow Tree, or, Minstrel's Song
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17 or younger
Modernization/Translation by Michael R. Burch

MYNSTRELLES SONGE                            MINSTREL'S SONG

    O! synge untoe mie roundelaie,                 O! sing unto my roundelay,         roundelay=poem/song with a refrain
    O! droppe the brynie teare wythe mee,     O! drop the briny tear with me,
    Daunce ne moe atte hallie daie,                 Dance no more at holy-day,        holidays were originally "holy days"
    Lycke a reynynge ryver bee;                     Like a running river be:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                    My love is dead,
        Gon to hys death-bedde,                           Gone to his death-bed
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                    All under the willow-tree.             a "weeping" willow suggests sorrow

    Blacke hys cryne as the wyntere nyghte,   Black his crown as the winter night,     cryne=crown/hair/locks
    Whyte hys rode as the sommer snowe,      White his flesh as the summer snow     rode=complexion/skin/flesh
    Rodde hys face as the mornynge lyghte,    Red his face as the morning light,
    Cale he lyes ynne the grave belowe;          Cold he lies in the grave below:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                    My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                         Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                     All under the willow-tree.           

    Swote hys tyngue as the throstles note,         Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note,     throstle=song thrush
    Quycke ynn daunce as thoughte canne bee,  Quick in dance as thought can be,                       
    Defte hys taboure, codgelle stote,                  Deft his tabor, cudgel stout;                      tabor=portable drum
    O! hee lyes bie the wyllowe tree:                   O! he lies by the willow-tree!
        Mie love ys dedde,                                        My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                             Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                         All under the willow-tree.           

    Harke! the ravenne flappes hys wynge,         Hark! the raven flaps his wing
    In the briered delle belowe;                            In the briar'd dell below;
    Harke! the dethe-owle loude dothe synge,     Hark! the death-owl loud doth sing
    To the nyghte-mares as heie goe;                   To the nightmares, as they go:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                          My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                               Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                          All under the willow-tree. 

    See! the whyte moone sheenes onne hie;        See! the white moon shines on high;
    Whyterre ys mie true loves shroude;               Whiter is my true-love's shroud:
    Whyterre yanne the mornynge skie,                Whiter than the morning sky,
    Whyterre yanne the evenynge cloude:            Whiter than the evening cloud:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                            My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                                 Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                           All under the willow-tree.     

    Heere, uponne mie true loves grave,               Here upon my true-love's grave      
    Schalle the baren fleurs be layde.                    Shall the barren flowers be laid;
    Nee one hallie Seyncte to save                        Not one holy saint to save
    Al the celness of a mayde.                               All the coldness of a maid:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                           My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                                Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                          All under the willow-tree.   

    Wythe mie hondes I'lle dente the brieres        With my hands I'll frame the briars     dent=fasten/gird/frame        
    Rounde his hallie corse to gre,                         Round his holy corpse to grow:          corse=corpse; gre=grow
    Ouphante fairie, lyghte youre fyres,                Elf and fairy, light your fires,              ouph=elf; "Elf and Fairy"     
    Heere mie boddie stylle schalle bee.                Here my body, stilled, shall go:    
        Mie love ys dedde,                                            My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                                 Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                           All under the willow-tree.

    Comme, wythe acorne-coppe & thorne,          Come, with acorn-cup and thorn,
    Drayne mie hartys blodde awaie;                     Drain my heartès blood away;
    Lyfe & all yttes goode I scorne,                       Life and all its good I scorn,
    Daunce bie nete, or feaste by daie.                  Dance by night, or feast by day:
        Mie love ys dedde,                                            My love is dead,   
        Gon to hys deathe-bedde,                                 Gone to his death-bed           
        Al under the wyllowe tree.                           All under the willow-tree.           

    Waterre wytches, crownede wythe reytes       Water witches, crowned with plaits,
    Bere mee to yer leathalle tyde.                         Bear me to your lethal tide. 
    I die; I comme; mie true love waytes.              I die; I come; my true love waits. 
    Thos the damselle spake, and dyed.                 Thus the damsel spoke, and died.  

The song above is, in my opinion, competitive with Shakespeare's songs in his plays, and may be the best of Thomas Chatterton's Rowley poems. It seems rather obvious that this song was written in modern English, then "backdated." One wonders whether Chatterton wrote it in response to Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree." The greenwood tree or evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The "weeping willow" is a symbol of sorrow, and the greatest human sorrow is that of mortality and the separations caused by death. If Chatterton wrote his song as a refutation of Shakespeare's, I think he did a damn good job. But it's a splendid song in its own right.

The Resignation
by Thomas Chatterton, age unknown

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.

This is a powerful, moving poem. One can imagine hearing the influences of Charles Wesley in the first stanza, George Herbert in the fifth, John Donne in the eighth (I believe Donne called God his "East" in one of his holy sonnets). But Chatterton was not merely imitating other poets; he was clearly speaking for himself in what one might call a "high romantic style" that has been rivaled by few other poets. Phrases like "dewy tear," "languid vitals' feeble rill," "gush of mis'ry" and the "drooping" soul seem to anticipate (or perhaps pave the way for) the work of emotive poets like Shelley and Keats to come. I would hazard that this poem rivals the best of Donne's holy sonnets, and is more powerful and moving than the best poems in this genre by Herbert and Henry Vaughn. I don't think we can compare Chatterton to Gerard Manley Hopkins directly because their styles were so different, but I am inclined to say that this poem compares favorably with the best poetic expressions of faith in the English language.

Elegy, Written At Stanton-Drew
by Thomas Chatterton, probably age 16 or earlier

Joyless I hail the solemn gloom,
Joyless I view the pillars vast and rude
Where erst the fool of Superstition trod,
In smoking blood imbrued
And rising from the tomb—
Mistaken homage to an unknown God.
Fancy, whither dost thou stray,
Whither dost thou wing thy way?
Check the rising wild delight—
Ah! what avails this awful sight?
Maria is no more!
Why, curst remembrance, wilt thou haunt my mind?
The blessings past are misery now;
Upon her lovely brow
Her lovelier soul she wore.
Soft as the evening gale
When breathing perfumes through the rose-hedged vale,
She was my joy, my happiness refined.
All hail, ye solemn horrors of this scene,
The blasted oak, the dusky green.
Ye dreary altars, by whose side
The druid-priest, in crimson dyed,
The solemn dirges sung,
And drove the golden knife
Into the palpitating seat of life,
When, rent with horrid shouts, the distant valleys rung.
The bleeding body bends,
The glowing purple stream ascends,
Whilst the troubled spirit near
Hovers in the steamy air;
Again the sacred dirge they sing,
Again the distant hill and coppice-valley ring.
Soul of my dear Maria, haste,
Whilst my languid spirits waste;
When from this my prison free,
Catch my soul, it flies to thee;
Death had doubly armed his dart,
In piercing thee, it pierced my heart.

This may be the best of Chatterton's modern English love poems. Stanton Drew is eight miles south of Bristol, where Chatterton lived until the last year of his life. It is the site of a standing stone circle, similar to the one at Stonehenge, with the second-largest standing stones in England. It is thought that such sites were used for human sacrifices, to which Chatterton alludes in the poem.

Below, the original poem appears on the left. My translation/modernization on the right can be used as a reference or study guide. If you prefer not to wrestle with the medieval spellings, you can start with the translation and refer back to the original poem as you prefer. Please keep in mind that translating or "modernizing" such a poem is far from a perfect science. Concessions must be made to meter, if the poem is to remain rhythmic; this means sometimes adding a word here and deleting a word there, hopefully without altering the poet's intended meaning. Chatterton is difficult to interpret, in spots, because it seems likely that he coined words to suit his meter and purpose. While there is nothing "wrong" with that (Shakespeare did the same), it is not always completely obvious what Chatterton meant. I have tried to remain faithful to what I interpret as his "larger" meaning. ― Michael R. Burch

An Excelente Balade of Charitie                          An Excellent Ballad of Charity
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17                                by Thomas Chatterton, age 17
Original Version                                                      Modernization/Translation by Michael R. Burch                 

In Virgynë the sweltrie sun gan sheene,                  In Virgynë the swelt'ring sun grew keen,
And hotte upon the mees did caste his raie;            Then hot upon the meadows cast his ray;
The apple rodded from its palie greene,                  The apple ruddied from its pallid green
And the mole peare did bende the leafy spraie;      And the fat pear did bend its leafy spray;
The peede chelandri sunge the livelong daie;          The pied goldfinches sang the livelong day;
’Twas nowe the pride, the manhode of the yeare,   'Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And eke the grounde was dighte in its moste           And the ground was mantled in fine green cashmere.
defte aumere.

The sun was glemeing in the midde of daie,             The sun was gleaming in the bright mid-day,
Deadde still the aire, and eke the welken blue,        Dead-still the air, and likewise the heavens blue,
When from the sea arist in drear arraie                    When from the sea arose, in drear array,
A hepe of cloudes of sable sullen hue,                     A heap of clouds of sullen sable hue,
The which full fast unto the woodlande drewe,       Which full and fast unto the woodlands drew,
Hiltring attenes the sunnis fetive face,                     Hiding at once the sun's fair festive face,
And the blacke tempeste swolne and gatherd          As the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.
up apace.

Beneathe an holme, faste by a pathwaie side,         Beneath a holly tree, by a pathway's side,
Which dide unto Seyncte Godwine’s covent lede,  Which did unto Saint Godwin's convent lead,
A hapless pilgrim moneynge did abide.                    A hapless pilgrim moaning did abide.
Pore in his newe, ungentle in his weede,                  Poor in his sight, ungentle in his weed,
Longe bretful of the miseries of neede,                    Long brimful of the miseries of need,
Where from the hail-stone coulde the almer flie?    Where from the hailstones could the beggar fly?
He had no housen theere, ne anie covent nie.          He had no shelter there, nor any convent nigh.

Look in his glommed face, his sprighte there scanne;    Look in his gloomy face; his sprite there scan;
Howe woe-be-gone, how withered, forwynd, deade!     How woebegone, how withered, dried-up, dead!
Haste to thie church-glebe-house, asshrewed manne!    Haste to thy parsonage, accursèd man!  
Haste to thie kiste, thie onlie dortoure bedde.                 Haste to thy crypt, thy only restful bed.
Cale, as the claie whiche will gre on thie hedde,             Cold, as the clay which will grow on thy head,
Is Charitie and Love aminge highe elves;                        Is Charity and Love among high elves;
Knightis and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.    Knights and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.

The gatherd storme is rype; the bigge drops falle;            The gathered storm is ripe; the huge drops fall;
The forswat meadowes smethe, and drenche the raine;   The sunburnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;
The comyng ghastness do the cattle pall,                          The coming aghastness makes the cattle pale;
And the full flockes are drivynge ore the plaine;              And the full flocks are driving o'er the plain;
Dashde from the cloudes the waters flott againe;             Dashed from the clouds, the waters float again;
The welkin opes; the yellow levynne flies;                       The heavens gape; the yellow lightning flies;
And the hot fierie smothe in the wide lowings dies.          And the hot fiery steam in the wide flamepot dies.

Liste! now the thunder’s rattling clymmynge sound         Hark! now the thunder's rattling, clamoring sound
Cheves slowlie on, and then embollen clangs,                  Heaves slowly on, and then enswollen clangs,
Shakes the hie spyre, and losst, dispended, drown’d,       Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drown'd,
Still on the gallard eare of terroure hanges;                      Still on the coward ear of terror hangs;
The windes are up; the lofty elmen swanges;                   The winds are up; the lofty elm-tree swings;
Again the levynne and the thunder poures,                      Again the lightningthen the thunder pours,
And the full cloudes are braste attenes in stonen             And the full clouds are burst at once in stormy showers.
showers.

Spurreynge his palfrie oere the watrie plaine,                  Spurring his palfrey o'er the watery plain,
The Abbote of Seyncte Godwynes convente came;        The Abbot of Saint Godwin's convent came;
His chapournette was drented with the reine,                  His chapournette was drenchèd with the rain,
And his pencte gyrdle met with mickle shame;                And his pinched girdle met with enormous shame;
He aynewarde tolde his bederoll at the same;                  He cursing backwards gave his hymns the same;
The storme encreasen, and he drew aside,                       The storm increasing, and he drew aside
With the mist almes craver neere to the holme to bide.   With the poor alms-craver, near the holly tree to bide.

His cope was all of Lyncolne clothe so fyne,                   His cape was all of Lincoln-cloth so fine,
With a gold button fasten’d neere his chynne;                 With a gold button fasten'd near his chin;
His autremete was edged with golden twynne,                 His ermine robe was edged with golden twine,
And his shoone pyke a loverds mighte have binne;          And his high-heeled shoes a Baron's might have been;
Full well it shewn he thoughten coste no sinne:                Full well it proved he considered cost no sin;
The trammels of the palfrye pleasde his sighte,                The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight
For the horse-millanare his head with roses dighte.          For the horse-milliner loved rosy ribbons bright.

“An almes, sir prieste!” the droppynge pilgrim saide,       "An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
“O! let me waite within your covente dore,                      "Oh, let me wait within your convent door,
Till the sunne sheneth hie above our heade,                      Till the sun shineth high above our head,
And the loude tempeste of the aire is oer;                         And the loud tempest of the air is o'er;
Helpless and ould am I alas! and poor;                              Helpless and old am I, alas!, and poor;
No house, ne friend, ne moneie in my pouche;                 No house, no friend, no money in my purse;
All yatte I call my owne is this my silver crouche.”          All that I call my own is thismy silver cross.

“Varlet,” replyd the Abbatte, “cease your dinne;             "Varlet," replied the Abbott, "cease your din;
This is no season almes and prayers to give;                      This is no season alms and prayers to give;
Mie porter never lets a faitour in;                                       My porter never lets a beggar in;
None touch mie rynge who not in honour live.”                 None touch my ring who in dishonor live."
And now the sonne with the blacke cloudes did stryve,     And now the sun with the blackened clouds did strive,
And shettynge on the grounde his glairie raie,                    And shed upon the ground his glaring ray;
The Abbatte spurrde his steede, and eftsoones roadde      The Abbot spurred his steed, and swiftly rode away.
awaie.

Once moe the skie was blacke, the thunder rolde;              Once more the sky grew black; the thunder rolled;
Faste reyneynge oer the plaine a prieste was seen;             Fast running o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Ne dighte full proude, ne buttoned up in golde;                  Not full of pride, not buttoned up in gold;
His cope and jape were graie, and eke were clene;             His cape and jape were gray, and also clean;
A Limitoure he was of order seene;                                    A Limitour he was, his order serene;
And from the pathwaie side then turned hee,                      And from the pathway side he turned to see
Where the pore almer laie binethe the holmen tree.            Where the poor almer lay beneath the holly tree.

“An almes, sir priest!” the droppynge pilgrim sayde,          "An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
“For sweete Seyncte Marie and your order sake.”              "For sweet Saint Mary and your order's sake."
The Limitoure then loosen’d his pouche threade,                The Limitour then loosen'd his purse's thread,
And did thereoute a groate of silver take;                            And from it did a groat of silver take;
The mister pilgrim dyd for halline shake.                             The needy pilgrim did for happiness shake.
“Here take this silver, it maie eathe thie care;                      "Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care;
We are Goddes stewards all, nete of oure owne we bare.   "We are God's stewards all, naught of our own we bear."

“But ah! unhailie pilgrim, lerne of me,                                  "But ah! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,
Scathe anie give a rentrolle to their Lorde.                            Scarce any give a rentroll to their Lord.
Here take my semecope, thou arte bare I see;                       Here, take my cloak, as thou are bare, I see;
Tis thyne; the Seynctes will give me mie rewarde.”              'Tis thine; the Saints will give me my reward."
He left the pilgrim, and his waie aborde.                                He left the pilgrim, went his way abroad.
Virgynne and hallie Seyncte, who sitte yn gloure,                 Virgin and happy Saints, in glory showered,
Or give the mittee will, or give the gode man power.             Let the mighty bend, or the good man be empowered!

TRANSLATOR'S NOTES: It is possible that some words used by Chatterton were his own coinages; some of them apparently cannot be found in other medieval literature. In a few places I have used similar-sounding words that seem to not overly disturb the meaning of the poem, which are not "exact matches" for the original poem's words. ― Michael R. Burch

Bristol
by Thomas Chatterton, age 16

The Muses have no Credit here; and Fame
Confines itself to the mercantile name.
Bristol may keep her prudent maxims still;
I scorn her Prudence, and I ever will.
Since all my vices magnify'd are here,
She cannot paint me worse than I appear.
When raving in the lunacy of ink,
I catch the Pen and publish what I think.

The lines above were apparently written by Chatterton to explain to his literate friends why he chose to leave Bristol for London at age sixteen.

Sentiment
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17

Since we can die but once, what matters it,
If rope or garter, poison, pistol, sword,
Slow-wasting sickness, or the sudden burst
Of valve arterial in the noble parts,
Curtail the miseries of human life?
Though varied is the cause, the effect's the same:
All to one common dissolution tends.

The lines above apparently reflect Chatterton's views on the manner of a human being's passing. He also wrote that he did not consider suicide to be a crime, at a time when it was considered a "mortal sin" by church, state and courts. For instance, Hume's Essay on Suicide was not published until after his death in 1777, and seven years after Chatterton's. When the essay was finally published, it was almost immediately suppressed. The idea that human beings had a right to end their lives was still very much ahead of its time. Unsuccessful suicides would continue to face public scorn, and either prison or the gallows.

The Methodist
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17

Says Tom to Jack, 'tis very odd, 
These representatives of God, 
In color, way of life and evil, 
Should be so very like the devil. 

Toward the end of his life, Chatterton wrote that he was "no Christian." He seemed to especially dislike the hypocrisy and lack of compassion and good works that he saw in organized religion and its representatives, as the lines above demonstrate.

On The Last Epiphany (or, Christ Coming To Judgment)
by Thomas Chatterton, age 10

Behold! just coming from above,
The judge, with majesty and love!
The sky divides, and rolls away,
T'admit him through the realms of day!
The sun, astonished, hides its face,
The moon and stars with wonder gaze
At Jesu's bright superior rays!
Dread lightnings flash, and thunders roar,
And shake the earth and briny shore;
The trumpet sounds at heaven's command,
And pierceth through the sea and land;
The dead in each now hear the voice,
The sinners fear and saints rejoice;
For now the awful hour is come,
When every tenant of the tomb
Must rise, and take his everlasting doom.

As far as I have been able to determine, this is the first poem written by Thomas Chatterton, when he was around age ten, if not younger. While I wouldn't call the poem a masterpiece, it does exhibit good meter, rhyme, imagery and drama (especially in the last three lines). It is obviously a remarkable poem for a child to have written. "The sun, astonished, hides its face" is an arresting image. "Dread lightnings flash, and thunders roar" is another.

A Hymn For Christmas Day
by Thomas Chatterton, age 11

Almighty Framer of the Skies!
O let our pure devotion rise,
Like Incense in thy Sight!
Wrapt in impenetrable Shade
The Texture of our Souls were made
Till thy Command gave light.
The Sun of Glory gleam'd the Ray,
Refin'd the Darkness into Day,
And bid the Vapours fly;
Impell'd by his eternal Love
He left his Palaces above
To cheer our gloomy Sky.

How shall we celebrate the day,
When God appeared in mortal clay,
The mark of worldly scorn;
When the Archangel's heavenly Lays,
Attempted the Redeemer's Praise
And hail'd Salvation's Morn!

A Humble Form the Godhead wore,
The Pains of Poverty he bore,
To gaudy Pomp unknown;
Tho' in a human walk he trod
Still was the Man Almighty God
In Glory all his own.

Despis'd, oppress'd, the Godhead bears
The Torments of this Vale of tears;
Nor bade his Vengeance rise;
He saw the Creatures he had made,
Revile his Power, his Peace invade;
He saw with Mercy's Eyes.

How shall we celebrate his Name,
Who groan'd beneath a Life of shame
In all Afflictions tried!
The Soul is raptured to conceive
A Truth, which Being must believe,
The God Eternal died.

My Soul exert thy Powers, adore,
Upon Devotion's plumage soar
To celebrate the Day;
The God from whom Creation sprung
Shall animate my grateful Tongue;
From him I'll catch the Lay!

This is a fine hymn, one worthy of a seasoned composer. The first stanza is especially good, and the entire hymn is commendable. That a child wrote it makes it a wonder.

The Churchwarden and the Apparition: A Fable
by Thomas Chatterton, age 11

The night was cold, the wind was high,
And stars bespangled all the sky;
Churchwarden Joe had laid him down,
And slept secure on bed of down;
But still the pleasing hope of gain,
That never left his active brain,
Exposed the churchyard to his view,
That seat of treasure wholly new.
“Pull down that cross,” he quickly cried,
The mason instantly complied:
When lo! behold, the golden prize
Appears—joy sparkles in his eyes.
The door now creaks, the window shakes,
With sudden fear he starts and wakes;
Quaking and pale, in eager haste
His haggard eyes around he cast;
A ghastly phantom, lean and wan,
That instant rose, and thus began:
“Weak wretch—to think to blind my eyes!
Hypocrisy’s a thin disguise;
Your humble mien and fawning tongue
Have oft deceived the old and young.
On this side now, and now on that,
The very emblem of the bat:
Whatever part you take, we know
’Tis only interest makes it so,
And though with sacred zeal you burn,
Religion’s only for your turn;
I’m Conscience called!” Joe greatly feared;
The lightning flashed—it disappeared.

This poem is, perhaps, average in places for a more mature poet, but quite vivid in others. Again, for a child it is rather remarkable. And I think the perception that the churchwarden saw the churchyard as a "seat of treasure" and his "hope of gain" is remarkable for a child.

Sly Dick
by Thomas Chatterton, age 11

Sharp was the frost, the wind was high
And sparkling stars bedeckt the sky
Sly Dick in arts of cunning skill'd,
Whose rapine all his pockets fill'd,
Had laid him down to take his rest
And soothe with sleep his anxious breast.
'Twas thus a dark infernal sprite
A native of the blackest night,
Portending mischief to devise
Upon Sly Dick he cast his eyes;
Then straight descends the infernal sprite,
And in his chamber does alight;
In visions he before him stands,
And his attention he commands.
Thus spake the sprite―hearken my friend,
And to my counsels now attend.
Within the garret's spacious dome
There lies a well stor'd wealthy room,
Well stor'd with cloth and stockings too,
Which I suppose will do for you,
First from the cloth take thou a purse,
For thee it will not be the worse,
A noble purse rewards thy pains,
A purse to hold thy filching gains;
Then for the stockings let them reeve
And not a scrap behind thee leave,
Five bundles for a penny sell
And pence to thee will come pell mell;
See it be done with speed and care
Thus spake the sprite and sunk in air.
When in the morn with thoughts erect
Sly Dick did on his dreams reflect,
Why faith, thinks he, 'tis something too,
It might―perhaps―it might be true,
I'll go and see―away he hies,
And to the garret quick he flies,
Enters the room, cuts up the clothes
And after that reeves up the hose;
Then of the cloth he purses made,
Purses to hold his filching trade.

This is, indeed, a sly poem for a child to write. Again, it demonstrates considerable perception.

Apostate Will
by Thomas Chatterton, age 11

In days of old, when Wesley's power
Gathered new strength by every hour;
Apostate Will, just sunk in trade,
Resolved his bargain should be made;
Then strait to Wesley he repairs,
And puts on grave and solemn airs;
Then thus the pious man addressed.
Good sir, I think your doctrine best;
Your servant will a Wesley be,
Therefore the principles teach me.
The preacher then instructions gave.
How he in this world should behave;
He hears, assents, and gives a nod,
Says every word's the word of God,
Then lifting his dissembling eyes,
How blessed is the sect! he cries;
Nor Bingham, Young, nor Stillingfleet,
Shall make me from this sect retreat.
He then his circumstances declared,
How hardly with him matters fared,
Begg'd him next morning for to make
A small collection for his sake.
The preacher said, Do not repine,
The whole collection shall be thine.
With looks demure and cringing bows,
About his business strait he goes.
His outward acts were grave and prim,
The methodist appear'd in him.
But, be his outward what it will,
His heart was an apostate's still.
He'd oft profess an hallow'd flame,
And every where preach'd Wesley's name;
He was a preacher, and what not,
As long as money could be got;
He'd oft profess, with holy fire.
The labourer's worthy of his hire.
It happen'd once upon a time,
When all his works were in their prime,
A noble place appear'd in view;
Then ______ to the methodists, adieu.
A methodist no more he'll be,
The protestants serve best for he.
Then to the curate strait he ran,
And thus address'd the rev'rend man:
I was a methodist, tis true;
With penitence I turn to you.
O that it were your bounteous will
That I the vacant place might fill!
With justice I'd myself acquit,
Do every thing that's right and fit.
The curate straitway gave consent―
To take the place he quickly went.
Accordingly he took the place,
And keeps it with dissembled grace.

This is another sly, very perceptive poem. Lines like: "Then lifting his dissembling eyes, How blessed is the sect! he cries" are worthy of a mature satirist. Again, we have a damn good poem for a mature poet, a wonder for a child.

Elinoure and Juga
by Thomas Chatterton, age 12
Published in Town and Country Magazine (May 1769) pp 273-74.

Onne Ruddeborne bank twa pynynge maydens sate,
Theire teares faste dryppeyn to the waterre cleere;
Echone bementynge for her absente mate,
Who atte Seyncte Albonns shouke the morthynge speare.
The nottebrowne Ellynor to Juga fayre,
Dydde speke acroole, with languyshmente of eyne,
Lyke droppes of pearlie dew, lemed the quyvrynge brine.

ELINOURE.
O gentle Juga! hear mie dernie plainte,
To fyghte for Yorke mie love is dyght in stele;
O mai ne sanguen steine the whyte rose peyncte;
Maie good Seyncte Cuthberte watch Syrre Robynne wele.
Moke moe thanne deathe in phantasie I feelle;
See! see! upon the grounde he bleedynge lies!
Inhild some joice of life, or else my deare love dies.

JUGA.
Systers in sorrowe on thys daise-ey'd banke,
Where melancholych broods we wylle lamente:
Be wette with mornynge dewe and evene danke;
Lyche levynde okes in eche the oder bente,
Or lyke forletten halles of merriemente,
Whose gastlie mitches holde the traine of fryghte,
Where lethale ravens bark, and owlets wake the nyghte.

No mo the miskynette shalle wake the morne,
The minstrelle daunce, good cheere, and morryce plaie;
No mo the amblynge palfrie and the horne,
Shall from the lessel rouze the foxe awaie:
I'll seke the forest alle the lyve-longe daie:
Alle nete amenge the gravde chirche glebe wyll go,
And to the passante spryghtes lecture mie tale of woe.

Whan mokie cloudes do hange upon the leme,
Of leden moon ynn sylver mantels dyghte:
The tryppeynge faeries weve the golden dreme,
Of selyness, whyche flyethe with the nyghte:
Thenne (butte the seynctes forbydde!) gif to a spryghte,
Syrre Rychardes forme is lyped; I'll holde dystraughte,
Hys bledeynge clai-colde corse, and die eche daie yn thoughte.

ELINOURE.
Ah woe bementynge wordes; what wordes can shewe!
Thou limed river on thie Linche mai bleede,
Champyons, whose bloude wylle wythe thie waterres flowe,
And Rudborne streeme be Rudborne streeme indeede!
Haste gentle Juga trippe ytte oere the meade,
To know or wheder wee muste waile agayne,
Or whythe oure fallen knyghte be menged onne the plain.

So saeing lyke twa levyn blasted-trees,
Or twain of cloudes that holdeth stormie raine;
Theie moved gentle o'ere the dewie mees;
To where Seyncte Albons holie shrynes remayne.
There dyd theye finde that bothe their knyghtes were sleyne;
Distraughte: thei wandered to swollen Rudborne's syde.
Yelled theyre leathalle knelle; sonke in the waves and dyde.

This poem is a war-eclogue in seven rhyme-royal Spenserians, "Written three hundred Years ago by T. Rowley, a Secular Priest" (p. 273). The poem, the only Rowley poem to be published in Chatterton's lifetime, is signed with Chatterton's usual signature, "D. B. Bristol, May, 1769."

Herbert Croft: "In 'an account of the most celebrated monasteries in Europe' (April, p. 201.) mention is made of the abbey of St. Alban's, which was suppressed at the dissolution of the monasteries. The scene of Elinoure and Juga (in the next month, May, p. 272.) is laid on Ruddeborne bank, a river near St. Alban's (as we learn from Chatterton's notes); and after the dialogue, Elinoure and Juga — 'moved gentle o'er the dewy mees, | To where St. Alban's holy shrines remain.'" (Love and Madness, 1780, p. 218)

George Gregory: "The last of these pastorals, called Elinoure and Juga, is one of the finest pathetic tales I have ever read. The complaint of two young females lamenting their lovers slain in the wars of York and Lancaster, was one of the happiest subjects that could be chosen for a tragic pastoral." (Life of Chatterton, 1789, in Works of Chatterton, 1803, 1:cxxx)

Percival Stockdale: "You will certainly allow that he was equal to the tender melancholy of elegy, when I give you some lines from his Elinoure and Juga. This poem was sent to the man [Horace Walpole] who deprived himself of the high honour of giving an easy, and effectual protection, and encouragement to Chatterton. It was, indeed, a most extraordinary performance, from a boy. Whether he had sent it as his own, or as the production of another, will always be of very little consequence with generous minds, when they reflect that such poetical excellence was achieved by tender years. It would have affected into liberality any literary heart but that of a Walpole." (Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets, 1807, p. 321-322)

Oliver Elton: "The Rowley romance ... began as a piece of childish make-believe, formed itself into a poetic dream, and became, by easy degrees, an elaborated hoax. The stages are not to be sharply distinguished or precisely dated, and all three were present to the end. The charm of black-letter, and of the illuminated capitals, is said to have stirred Chatterton before he was seven; and the vellums, saved from the muniment room of St. Mary Redcliffe, are thought to have set him on the track of his inventions. Elinoure and Juga, according to one story, was written at the age of twelve. In any case, his whole mind came to be subdued, without scruple, to his creative fancy. The tombs and brasses, the science of blazonry, the historic figure of William Canynge the Mayor, the eighteenth-century glossaries of the younger John Kersey and of Nathan Bailey, the poetry of the Elizabethans and Chaucer — out of all this Chatterton came to build a fictitious world, peopled by poets and patrons of poets; and he began to pass off upon the local antiquaries, and on citizens concerned for the glory of Bristol, the series of poems by an imaginary Thomas Rowley, a monk and the confessor of Canynge." (Survey of English Literature 1730-80, 1928, 2:108)

A modernized version in heroic couplets was published in Town and Country Magazine the following month, signed "S. W. A. aged 16" — said to be Richard Nares, afterwards editor of the British Critic. Two later rhyme-royal modernizations were later published, in Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement 43 (30 December 1778) pp. 14-15; and in European Magazine 18 (September 1790) pp. 224-25.

The Gouler's Requiem
by Thomas Chatterton, age 12

Mie boolie entes, adiewe: ne more the syghte
Of guilden merke shalle mete mie joieous eyne;
Ne moe the sylver noble sheenynge bryghte,
Shalle fylle mie hande wythe weighte to speke ytte fyne;
Ne moe, ne moe, alas, I calle you myne;
Whyder must you, ah! whydder moste I goe?
I kenne not either! Oh mie emmers dygne,
To parte wythe you wyll wurche me myckle woe.
I must begon, butte where I dare nott telle,
O storthe unto mie mynde! I goe to helle.
Soone as the morne dyd dyghte the roddie sunne,
A shade of theves eache streacke of lyghte dyd seeme;
Whan yn the Heaven full half hys course was ronne,
Eche styrrynge nayghbour dyd mie harte afleme;
Thie Losse, or quyck or slepe, was aie mie dreme;
For thee, O goulde, I did the lawe ycrase,
For thee I gotten or bie wiles or breme;
Ynn thee I all mie joie and goode dyd place;
Botte nowe to mee thie pleasaunce ys ne moe,
I kenne notte botte for thee I to the quede muste goe.

The ROMAUNTE of the CNYGHTE
By JOHN' DE BERGHAM (Thomas Chatterton)
From a ms. in Chatterton's hand-writing, in the possession of Mr. Cottle

The Sunne ento Vyrgyne was gotten,
The floureys al arounde onspryngede,
The woddie Grasse blaunched the Fenne
The Quenis Ermyne arised fro Bedde;
Syr Knyghte dyd ymounte oponn a Stede
Ke Rouncie ne Drybblette of make

Romaunte: Romance
Cnyghte: Knight
Onspryngede: faded, fallen
Woddie: woody
Blaunched: whitened
Rouncie: a cart horse, or one put to menial services
Dhybblette: small, little

The ROMANCE of the KNIGHT
MODERNISED By THOMAS CHATTERTON
From a ms. of Chatterton's in the possession of Mr. Cottle

The pleasing Sweets of Spring and Summer past,
The falling Leaf flies in the sultry blast,
The Fields resign their spangling Orbs of Gold,
The wrinkled Grass its Silver Joys unfold
Mantling the spreading Moor in Heavenly white,
Meeting from every Hill the ravished sight.
The yellow Flag uprears its spotted Head,
Hanging regardant o'er its wat'ry bed:
The worthy Knight ascends his foaming Steed,
Of Size uncommon, and no common Breed.

To Horace Walpole
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17

WALPOLE, I thought not I should ever see
So mean a heart as thine has proved to be.
Thou who, in luxury nurst, behold'st with scorn
The boy, who friendless, fatherless, forlorn,
Asks thy high favour—thou mayst call me cheat.
Say, didst thou never practise such deceit?
Who wrote Otranto? but I will not chide:
Scorn I'll repay with scorn, and pride with pride.
Still, Walpole, still thy prosy chapters write,
And twaddling letters to some fair indite;
Laud all above thee, fawn and cringe to those
Who, for thy fame, were better friends than foes;
Still spurn th' incautious fool who dares—
Had I the gifts of wealth and luxury shared,
Not poor and mean, Walpole! thou hadst not dared
Thus to insult. But I shall live and stand
By Rowley's side, when thou art dead and damned.
Elegy On The Death Of Mr. Phillips
by Thomas Chatterton, age 16

No more I hail the morning's golden gleam, 
No more the wonders of the view I sing; 
Friendship requires a melancholy theme, 
At her command the awful lyre I string! 

Now as I wander through this leafless grove, 
Where tempests howl, and blasts eternal rise, 
How shall I teach the chorded shell to move, 
Or stay the gushing torrent from my eyes? 

Phillips! great master of the boundless lyre, 
The would my soul-rack'd muse attempt to paint; 
Give me a double portion of thy fire, 
Or all the powers of language are too faint. 

Say, soul unsullied by the filth of vice, 
Say, meek-eyed spirit, where's thy tuneful shell, 
Which when the silver stream was lock'd with ice, 
Was wont to cheer the tempest-ravaged dell? 

Oft as the filmy veil of evening drew 
The thick'ning shade upon the vivid green, 
Thou, lost in transport at the dying view, 
Bid'st the ascending muse display the scene. 

When golden Autumn, wreathed in ripen'd corn, 
From purple clusters prest the foamy wine, 
Thy genius did his sallow brows adorn, 
And made the beauties of the season thine. 

With rustling sound the yellow foliage flies, 
And wantons with the wind in rapid whirls; 
The gurgling riv'let to the valley hies, 
Whilst on its bank the spangled serpent curls. 

The joyous charms of Spring delighted saw 
Their beauties doubly glaring in thy lay; 
Nothing was Spring which Phillips did not draw, 
And every image of his muse was May. 

So rose the regal hyacinthial star, 
So shone the verdure of the daisied bed, 
So seemed the forest glimmering from afar; 
You saw the real prospect as you read. 

Majestic Summer's blooming flow'ry pride 
Next claim'd the honour of his nervous song; 
He taught the stream in hollow trills to glide, 
And led the glories of the year along. 

Pale rugged Winter bending o'er his tread, 
His grizzled hair bedropt with icy dew; 
His eyes, a dusky light congealed and dead, 
His robe, a tinge of bright ethereal blue. 

His train a motley'd, sanguine, sable cloud, 
He limps along the russet, dreary moor, 
Whilst rising whirlwinds, blasting, keen, and loud, 
Roll the white surges to the sounding shore. 

Nor were his pleasures unimproved by thee; 
Pleasures he has, though horridly deform'd; 
The polished lake, the silver'd hill we see, 
Is by thy genius fired, preserved, and warm'd. 

The rough October has his pleasures too; 
But I'm insensible to every joy: 
Farewell the laurel! now I grasp the yew, 
And all my little powers in grief employ. 

Immortal shadow of my much-loved friend! 
Clothed in thy native virtue meet my soul, 
When on the fatal bed, my passions bend, 
And curb my floods of anguish as they roll. 

In thee each virtue found a pleasing cell, 
Thy mind was honour, thy soul divine; 
With thee did every god of genius dwell, 
Thou was the Helicon of all the nine. 

Fancy, whose various figure-tinctured vest 
Was ever changing to a different hue; 
Her head, with varied bays and flow'rets drest, 
Her eyes, two spangles of the morning dew. 

With dancing attitude she swept thy string; 
And now she soars, and now again descends; 
And now reclining on the zephyr's wing, 
Unto the velvet-vested mead she bends. 

Peace, deck'd in all the softness of the dove, 
Over thy passions spread her silver plume; 
The rosy veil of harmony and love 
Hung on thy soul in eternal bloom. 

Peace, gentlest, softest of the virtues, spread 
Her silver pinions, wet with dewy tears, 
Upon her best distinguished poet's head, 
And taught his lyre the music of the spheres. 

Temp'rance, with health and beauty in her train, 
And massy-muscled strength in graceful pride, 
Pointed at scarlet luxury and pain, 
And did at every frugal feast preside. 

Black melancholy stealing to the shade 
With raging madness, frantic, loud, and dire, 
Whose bloody hand displays the reeking blade, 
Were strangers to thy heaven-directed lyre. 

Content, who smiles in every frown of fate, 
Wreath'd thy pacific brow and sooth'd thy ill: 
In thy own virtues and thy genius great, 
The happy muse laid every trouble still. 

But see! the sick'ning lamp of day retires, 
And the meek evening shakes the dusky grey; 
The west faint glimmers with the saffron fires, 
And like thy life, O Phillips! dies away. 

Here, stretched upon this heaven-ascending hill, 
I'll wait the horrors of the coming night, 
I'll imitate the gently-plaintive rill, 
And by the glare of lambent vapours write. 

Wet with the dew the yellow hawthorns bow; 
The rustic whistles through the echoing cave; 
Far o'er the lea the breathing cattle low, 
And the full Avon lifts the darken'd wave. 

Now, as the mantle of the evening swells 
Upon my mind, I feel a thick'ning gloom! 
Ah! could I charm by necromantic spells 
The soul of Phillips from the deathy tomb! 

Then would we wander through the darken'd vale, 
In converse such as heavenly spirits use, 
And, borne upon the pinions of the gale, 
Hymn the Creator, and exert the muse. 

But, horror to reflection! now no more 
Will Phillips sing, the wonder of the plain! 
When, doubting whether they might not adore, 
Admiring mortals heard his nervous strain. 

See! see! the pitchy vapour hides the lawn, 
Nought but a doleful bell of death is heard, 
Save where into a blasted oak withdrawn 
The scream proclaims the curst nocturnal bird. 

Now, rest my muse, but only rest to weep 
A friend made dear by every sacred tie; 
Unknown to me be comfort peace or sleep: 
Phillips is dead- 'tis pleasure then to die. 

Few are the pleasures Chatterton e'er knew, 
Short were the moments of his transient peace; 
But melancholy robb'd him of those few, 
And this hath bid all future comfort cease. 

And can the muse be silent, Phillips gone! 
And am I still alive? My soul, arise! 
The robe of immortality put on, 
And meet thy Phillips in his native skies.
Chatterton’s appearance has been described by those who were familiar with it. According to them all he was well grown and manly, having a proud air and a stately bearing. Whenever he cared to ingratiate himself, he is said to have been exceedingly repossessing; though as a rule he bore himself as a conscious and acknowledged superior. His eyes, which were grey and very brilliant, were evidently his most remarkable feature. One was brighter than the other (Gent. Mag. new ser. x. 133), appearing even larger than the other when flashing under strong excitement. George Catcott describes it as "a kind of hawk’s eye," adding that "one could see his soul through it." William Barrett, who had observed him keenly as an anatomist, said "he never saw such eyes—fire rolling at the bottom of them." He acknowledged to Sir Herbert Croft (Love and Madness, p. 272) that he had often purposely differed in opinion from Chatterton "to see how wonderfully his eye would strike fire, kindle, and blaze up!"

Chatterton Quotes

William Wordsworth called Chatterton "the marvelous boy" in his poem "Resolution and Independence" and said that he "excelled in every species of composition."
Percy Bysshe Shelley mentioned the "rose pale" Chatterton with obvious affection and admiration; in his tribute poem to Keats, "Adonais," Shelley named Chatterton among the "inheritors of unfulfilled renown."
Lord Byron compared Chatterton favorably to Burns and Wordsworth for purity and avoiding vulgar displays of elegance.

John Keats dedicated his poem "Endymion" to Thomas Chatterton and wrote a "Sonnet to Chatterton" in which he praised the "flash" of his "Genius" and his "voice, majestic and elate." Keats also called Chatterton "the most English of poets except Shakespeare." [One very interesting thing about Chatterton―and there are so many!―is the high percentage of "native" English words that he uses (by which I mean words that predate French and later additions to the language). Chatterton seems to have had a natural affiliation for, and a strong inclination to use, the older words in the English lexicon.] Keats also called him the "purest writer in the English language." When Chatterton wrote, he went back to Rossetti's "day-spring" of Romantic poetry: the well that Chaucer first drew from.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's first published poem was "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" in which he called Chatterton a "heaven-born genius" and a "sweet harper." Coleridge stared the poem when he was 13 and revised it at least six times over a period of almost 50 years. The final version was published shortly before his death in 1834.

Dr. Samuel Johnson told his biographer Boswell: "This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti called Chatterton "the true day-spring of Romantic poetry," named him "the absolutely miraculous Chatterton" and declared him to be "as great as any English poet whatever."
Robert Browning praised Chatterton's gift for imitation.
Robert Southey in his poem "A Vision of Judgement" named Chatterton "first" among "the youths whom the Muses / Mark'd for themselves at birth."
Joseph Warton said that Chatterton was "a prodigy of genius, and would have proved the first of English poets had he reached a mature age."
Edmond Malone declared him to be "the greatest genius that England has produced since the days of Shakespeare."
John Evans called Chatterton "the mad genius by birthright."
Joseph Cottle said of Chatterton that "it is fair to proclaim him the very first of all premature geniuses."

Romantic Poet Timeline with Birth Dates

Hallmarks of the "Romantic" poet include: individualism, speaking in the first person or from the poet's individual perspective, the preference for imagination and tolerance over conformity, the belief in social justice and equality, rejection of ancient gods and primitive religious beliefs, rejection of the idea that kings and lords are better than commoners and/or ought to rule them, expressions of raw emotions including passion, and a return to one's natural native language over high-blown rhetoric. Not every poet here is "Romantic" in every sense, but I think the poets below do share certain poetic "genes." I agree with others who have postulated that Modernism is primarily an extension of Romanticism. Thus, I have included those Modernists who seem most "Romantic" to me, but it's far from a perfect science!―Michael R. Burch

Sappho (circa 630 BC) was the first great lyric poet that we know by name today
The author of the Bible's "Song of Songs" or "Song of Solomon" (circa 500 BC)
Ovid (43 AD) was famous in his early twenties for his erotic love poems
Edmund Spenser (1552) was the father of the English Romantics to follow―in spirit, in emotion, in passion, and in those lovely, flowing, haunting melodies
John Milton (1608) claimed to be "justifying the ways of God to man," but he made Adam, Eva and Lucifer rebellious romantic heroes for the ages!
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712) was an important early influence on the Romantic poets and writers to come
Thomas Gray (1716) may not have been a Romantic, per se, but he did speak eloquently for the common man, a major Romantic theme
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749) was the first superstar of the worldwide Romantic Movement, although he later disavowed being a Romantic!
Thomas Chatterton (1752) was he the first of the major poets of the English Romantic Movement?
William Blake (1757) not only influenced poets to come, but singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Jim Morrison (the Doors were named after Blake's "doors of perception")
Robert Burns (1759) the great Scottish Romantic poet and songwriter ("Auld Lang Syne", etc.) was named the greatest Scotsman of all time in a recent poll
William Wordsworth (1770) was the most famous of the English Romantic poets in his day; his and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads became the prime text of English Romanticism
Sir Walter Scott (1771) is more famous today as a novelist (Ivanhoe, etc.) but he was a talented poet as well
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772) is famous primarily for two poems: "Kubla Khan" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Robert Southey (1774) became England's Poet Laureate and edited Chatterton's poems when they were published; he also introduced the world to Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788) was the "bad boy" of English poetry in his day, but a good poet
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792) is generally considered to have been a major poet despite dying young
John Clare (1793) joined the Romantics in writing poems of individualism and nature, although he was perhaps not a Romantic per se
John Keats (1795)  is generally considered to have been a major poet despite dying young, like his friend Shelley
Victor Hugo (1802) the famous novelist (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Miserables, etc.) was also an important French Romantic poet
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803) was perhaps one of the earliest Modernists, drawing on Oriental sources as well as English
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806) is best known today for her Sonnets from the Portuguese
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807) would rival Alfred Tennyson in fame during their lifetimes
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809) is probably England's most famous Poet Laureate
Edgar Allan Poe (1809) would be a major influence on French Romantics and Symbolists like Charles Baudelaire
Robert Browning (1812) became famous for his dramatic monologues; he was married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (the first star coupling of poets!)
Walt Whitman (1819) was similar to William Blake in many of his views, and to Wordsworth at times, although their writing styles were very different
Herman Melville (1819) is best known for his novels (Moby Dick, etc.), but he was also a poet
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828) is known for his highly Romantic paintings, and he was also an accomplished poet
Christina Rossetti (1830) may have been a better poet than her more famous brother
Emily Dickinson (1830) defies classification, but she sounds decidedly Romantic at times!
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837) is remembered today for his lush rhythms and sometimes "naughty" themes
Thomas Hardy (1840) was a famous novelist who chose to write poetry later in life; his "Darkling Thrush" is one of the most anthologized English poems
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844) is another hard-to-classify poet, but like Chatterton he went back to the day-spring of English poetry
A. E. Housman (1859) while not a Romantic, per se, did share major themes with the Romantics, including the need for tolerance, compassion and sane laws
William Butler Yeats (1865) has been called the Last Romantic and the First Modernist; whatever he was, he was damn good!
Anne Reeve Aldrich (1866) is little-known today, but her best poems rival those of Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti
Ernest Dowson (1867) may be little-known today, but it is hardly his fault, as he wrote some of the most passionate, moving poems on record
Edward Arlington Robinson (1869) was as famous as Robert Frost in their day, and deservedly so
Robert Frost (1874) was a darkly Romantic poet in poems like "Acquainted with the Night" and quite a good love poet in "To Earthward"
Edward Thomas (1878) was a friend of Frost's and wrote one of his best poems, "Adlestrop," on the train going to meet him for the first time
Wallace Stevens (1879) was a master of word-melody, and like the Romantics preferred the human imagination to obsolete religions and imaginary gods
D. H. Lawrence (1885) could match Shelley and Keats in emotional intensity in poems like "Piano" and like the Romantics he believed sex was good, not "evil"
Ezra Pound (1885) may have been the most influential of the Modernists
T. S. Eliot (1888) may have written the most Romantic of modern poems: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Conrad Aiken (1889) was a friend of Eliot's and also sounded quite the modern Romantic in his Senlin poems and the lovely, haunting "Bread and Music"
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892) wrote philosophical love sonnets to rival Shakespeare's, from a woman's perspective
Wilfred Owen (1893) was perhaps the greatest of the anti-war poets, and one of the ultimate modern realists
e. e. cummings (1894) may have been eccentric with capitalization and typography, but he was surely a Romantic at heart, and in his desire for compassion, justice and tolerance
Louise Bogan (1897) is undervalued today, but only because not enough people read her best poems
Hart Crane (1899) the ultimate rhapsode may have written the best love poem in the English language in the longer version of "Voyages"
Langston Hughes (1902) wrote Romantic poems from a black perspective: "Harlem," "Cross," "The Weary Blues," "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
W. H. Auden (1907) may have written the best lullaby in the English language and the best elegy in his tribute to W. B. Yeats
Theodore Roethke (1908) is still remembered for poems like "My Papa's Waltz," "The Waking" and "I Knew a Woman"
Robert Hayden (1913) wrote one of the best and most moving sonnets in the English language: "Those Winter Sundays"
Dylan Thomas (1914) may have been the first modern performance superstar, half a century before M. C. Hammer and Eminem!
John Berryman (1914) was well-known in his day for his Dream Songs and homage to Anne Bradstreet (the first American poet of note)
Randall Jarrell (1914) is best known today as a very able poetry critic and for hyper-realistic poems like "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"
Robert Lowell (1917) was the first of the modern Confessional poets; like the Romantics they were highly individualist in their poems
W. D. Snodgrass (1926) is undervalued today, but he wrote a number of fine poems with Romantic/Confessional attributes
Anne Sexton (1928) was a well-known Confessional poet in her day; she committed suicide in 1974
Sylvia Plath (1932) wrote a number of "supercharged" Romantic/Confessional poems before committing suicide in 1963
Kevin N. Roberts (1969) claimed to be the reincarnation of Swinburne and was highly regarded among the Neo-Romantics; he founded and edited Romantics Quarterly

Famous Juvenile Writers


Poets and other writers who began writing at an early age include:

Mattie Stepanek started writing poems at age 4 and published several best-selling "Heartstrings" poetry books before dying at age 13; President Jimmy Carter called him "the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known."
Marshall Ball wrote his first poem, "Altogether Lovely," at age 5, despite being unable to speak and barely able to move; he learned to write by pointing at alphabet blocks.
E. E. Cummings wrote a poem to his father at age 6, and was writing poetry regularly by age 8.
Marjory Fleming learned to read at age 3, preferring adult books, and died at age 8; Robert Louis Stevenson called her "the noblest work of God."
Thomas Chatterton was considered "slow" and a "fool" at age 6-7; he became a voracious reader and writer and some of his published poems and hymns were written at age 10-12; all his poems were written by age 17.
Thomas Warton, a future Poet Laureate of England, did a translation of a Martial poem at age 9 and wrote his most famous poem, "The Pleasures of Melancholy," at age 17.
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem "Verses on a Cat" at age 10.
Helen Keller, despite being blind, deaf and unable to speak until age 6, wrote a short story, "The Frost King," that was published by age 11.
Alexander Pope wrote the poem "Ode to Solitude" at age 12.
Anne Frank started her famous diary at age 13.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge started writing his monody to Chatterton at age 13.
William Cullen Bryant had his satirical poem "The Embargo" published at age 13.
Lord Byron had poems written at age 14 published in Fugitive Pieces, but the book was recalled and burned because some of the poems were too "hot," especially the poem "To Mary."
Stephen Crane wrote the short story "Uncle Jake and the Bell Handle" at age 14.
Arthur Rimbaud was published at age 15; he retired from writing at age 19 to become a soldier and smuggler!
S. E. Hinton wrote her first book at age 15 and published her best-selling novel The Outsiders at age 18.
Mary Shelley, the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, began work on her famous gothic horror novel Frankenstein at age 18.

Poets Who May Have Been Mad and/or Committed Suicide

Poets who were said to have been mad include: William Blake, Lord Byron, Thomas Chatterton, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Collins, John Gay, Oliver Goldsmith, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Theodore Roethke, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Christopher Smart

Poets who committed suicide include: John Berryman, Paul Celan, Thomas Chatterton, Hart Crane, Randall Jarrell, Vachel Lindsay, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, Marina Tsvetaeva

The HyperTexts