|Minerva Shielding a Sleeping Youth from the Arrow of Cupid|
1797 - Attributed to Thomas Sully - The Walters Art Museum
"Probably written in 1813 to commemorate his marriage to Catherine Elizabeth Taylor on November 20, 1813."Moore's allegorical "Biography" unfolds in 152 lines of iambic tetrameter as a contest for mastery between Minerva the Goddess of Wisdom and Cupid the boy God of Love. The supposed speaker is not Moore himself but an invented female "auth'ress," perhaps a disappointed servant of Minerva or one of the Muses. The important thing is, Love wins.
"Biography of the heart of Clement C. Moore"
Minerva, o’er this western world
In vain her banners had unfurl’d;
No bosoms own’d a kindred cause;
No youths submitted to her laws:
For in a land so pure, so free
From all but Love’s sweet tyranny,
Content each guileless bosom bless’d;
Lull’d each ambitious wish to rest;
And, if for wisdom rose a sigh,
Swift as the wind, Love made it fly;
His light wings o’er the student shook,
Soon chas’d the magic of a book!!
Indignant, this the goddess viewed,
And turn’d to leave a shore so rude,
To seek her native east again,
And, for the last time, cross the main.
Already were her pinions spread,
And rais’d in air her lofty head;
But one foot touch’d the unclassic ground;
When, as her bright eyes roll'd around,
To cast for e'er a farewell glance,
She saw a trembling youth advance;
"Oh! stay, most injur'd Goddess, stay,
"Nor let thy suppliant vainly pray.
Oh! stay; and if a nation’s crime
“Can be repair’d, the task be mine.
“For this, from other powers free,
“My heart, my life alone to thee
“I will devote. Oh! then, he cried,
“Be thou my tut’ress, friend and guide.
“Not only for myself I pray,
“But for my country, goddess, stay.
“Leave not fore’er this wretched land,
Wretched without thy guiding hand.”
A prayer so earnestly preferred,
In pity to the youth, was heard:
For ne’er Minerva turns aside
When she is sought for as a guide;
But lends to those a favouring ear
Whose love for wisdom is sincere.
She stay'd to lead the enraptur'd youth
Through every winding maze of truth:
And had the auth'ress of this rhyme
Some portion of her power, and time,
The inquiring eye should here have view'd
The plans she with the youth pursu’d.
Suffice it, years most swiftly ran;
And when the boy was lost in man,
French and Italian he could speak,
As well as Hebrew, Latin, Greek;
Whilst, treasur'd in his well-stored mind,
Was learning by good sense refin'd,
He shone not with the fire-fly's light,
Which shows itself in flashes bright,
But with the glow-worm's steady ray,
The constant lustre of the day.
Needless it is to say, that love
His breast with passion did not move.
Perhaps the God, with careless eye,
Forever might have pass'd him by;
Grown heedless by unbounded sway,
E'er left him with his guide to stray;
E'er left him with a harden'd heart
Fill'd with contempt for woman's art,
Had not Minerva's pointed quill
Arm'd him with all a poet's skill
Full many a brilliant page to swell
Against Love's officer—a Belle.
Well did the little God repay
The daring, the obtrusive lay;
Well did he make the traitor feel
That vain was e’en Minevera’s steel;
For now, to his rebellious heart
He sent by every belle a dart.
The angry Goddess vainly strove
To shield him from the shafts of Love.
She sought her empire to regain,
By filling him with thirst of fame,
By bringing to his mind the hour
When he swore but to own her power.
She tore him from that dangerous street
Where beaux & beauties daily meet;
She tore him from the giddy town,
That Nature's charms his breast might own,
Hoping that they would strength impart
To make him shun all those of art;
Hoping they would the mist dispel
That arm'd with charms a fluttering belle.
How little wisdom knows of love,
A step to wrong will surely prove.
For now the God triumphant view’d
His flames increas’d by solitude;
Whilst she, still more indignant grown,
The perjur’d man fore’er had flown,
Had not the diffidence she gave
Still cheer’d her with the hope to save,
And once more by her precepts guide
Her pupil, and till late, her pride:
For, with a beam of joy, she found
His tongue with chains of silence bound
Upon that subject which opprest
With grief and pain his troubled breast;
And whilst the wond’ring giddy crowd
Thought he to learning only bow’d,
With heart of flame and looks of snow,
With thoughts of love and studious brow,
Those fires which can the coldest melt,
Unheeded, he in secret felt;
For Cupid, to his eye, array'd
With every charm the worshipp'd maid,
Whilst Wisdom's handmaid, Modesty,
Whisper'd to him, not worthy he
Of daring to such charms aspire,
Daring to show his bosom's fire.
Now Pallas saw, with joy, that time
Had robb'd him of his youthful prime:
For she had hop'd that riper years
Would banish all her cares and fears;
Hop'd that in his maturer age
Again she should his heart engage.
A year, the God, with deepest guile,
Had left him to enjoy her smile
But that he might more fully prove
The sov'reign power of mighty Love:
For doubly painful is the dart
That enters the long sleeping heart.
Late from his guardian's favorite isle,
An ardent votary of style,
A youthful, giddy, flirting maid,
Had come, her Cupid's plans to aid
With sparkling eye, with rosy cheek,
With tongue that lov’d full well to speak
In ev'ry way that best could tell
She was a laughter-loving belle.
Ah! who could dream, this fluttering fair,
This outcast from Minerva's care
Could make her pupil heave a sigh,
And fill with love his thoughtful eye?
But, though it ne'er was dreamt nor thought,
Such was the wonder Cupid wrought.
The Goddess, fill'd with lasting hate,
Now left him to his dreadful fate;
Nor, ere she sought those of his nation
In whom he’d waken’d emulation,
Did she on him denounce a doom;
For well she saw that very soon
The fault its punishment would bring;
She saw that to the thoughtless thing,
When she withdrew her guardian care,
His passion he would then declare,
And that, soon settled as his wife,
The fluttering belle would rule for life.
--Clement C. Moore
Manuscript poem, The New-York Historical Society Library
(AHMC - Moore, Clement C.)