Robert Southey

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They sin who tell us love can die.

Robert Southey (August 12 1774March 21 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called Lake Poets, and Poet Laureate.




  • If you would be pungent, be brief ; for it is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
    • Quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern, ed. Tryon Edwards, F. B. Dickerson Company (1908), p. 52
  • "You are old, Father William." the young man cried,
    "The few locks which are left you are grey;
    You are hale, Father William—a hearty old man:
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."
  • "In my days of youth, I remembered my God,
    And he hath not forgotten my age."
    • The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them, st. 6.
  • It was a summer evening,
    Old Kaspar's work was done,
    And he before his cottage door
    Was sitting in the sun,
    And by him sported on the green
    His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
    • St. 1.
  • He came to ask what he had found,
    That was so large, and smooth, and round.
    • St. 2.
  • "'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he,
    "Who fell in the great victory."
    • St. 3.
  • But what they fought each other for
    I could not well make out.
    • St. 6.
  • "And everybody praised the Duke
    Who this great fight did win."
    "But what good came of it at last?"
    Quoth little Peterkin.
    "Why, that I cannot tell," said he,
    "But 'twas a famous victory."
    • St. 11.
  • From his brimstone bed, at break of day,
    A-walking the Devil is gone,
    To look at his little, snug farm of the World,
    And see how his stock went on.
    • St. 1.
  • How, then, was the Devil dressed?
    Oh! he was in his Sunday's best;
    His coat was red, and his breeches were blue,
    And there was a hole where his tail came through.
    • St. 3.
  • He passed a cottage with a double coach-house,
    A cottage of gentility;
    And he owned with a grin
    That his favorite sin
    Is pride that apes humility.
    • St. 8. Compare: "And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin / Is pride that apes humility", Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Devil's Thoughts.
  • Thou hast confessions to listen,
    And bells to christen,
    And altars and dolls to dress;
    And fools to coax,
    And sinners to hoax,
    And beads and bones to bless;
    And great pardons to sell
    For those who pay well,
    And small ones for those who pay less.
    • St. 25.
  • At this good news, so great
    The Devil's pleasure grew,
    That, with a joyful swish, he rent
    The hole where his tail came through.
    • St. 31.
  • "Great news! bloody news!" cried a newsman;
    The Devil said, "Stop, let me see!"
    "Great news? bloody news?" thought the Devil;
    "The bloodier the better for me."
    • St. 33.


  • How beautiful is night!
    A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
    No mist obscures; nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain,
    Breaks the serene of heaven:
    In full-orbed glory, yonder moon divine
    Rolls through the dark blue depths;
    Beneath her steady ray
    The desert circle spreads
    Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky.
    How beautiful is night!
  • And then they knew the perilous Rock,
    And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok.
  • Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,
    “Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”
    • The Inchcape Rock, st. 15.
  • Will ye believe
    The wonders of the ocean? how its shoals
    Sprang from the wave, like flashing light; .. took wing,
    And, twinkling with a silver glitterance,
    Flew through the air and sunshine? yet were they
    To sight less wondrous than the tribe who swam,
    Following like fowlers, with uplifted eye,
    Their falling quarry: .. language cannot paint
    Their splendid tints! though in blue ocean seen,
    Blue, darkly, deeply, beautifully blue,
    In all its rich variety of shades,
    Suffus'd with glowing gold.
    • Madoc in Wales, Part I, Sec. V - 48 (1805). Compare: "'Darkly, deeply, beautifully blue,' As some one somewhere sings about the sky", Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto iv. stanza 110.
  • What will not woman, gentle woman dare,
    When strong affection stirs her spirit up?
    • Madoc in Wales, Part II, 2 (1805).


  • And last of all an Admiral came,
    A terrible man with a terrible name,—
    A name which you all know by sight very well,
    But which no one can speak, and no one can spell.
    • March to Moscow, St. 8 (1814).
  • Where Washington hath left
    His awful memory
    A light for after times!
    • Ode written during the War with America (1814).
  • The laws are with us, and God on our side.
    • On the Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection, Essay viii, Vol. ii (1817).
  • My days among the Dead are past;
    Around me I behold,
    Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
    The mighty minds of old;
    My never-failing friends are they,
    With whom I converse day by day.
  • Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
    That will not perish in the dust.
    • My Days Among the Dead Are Past, st. 4.

The Curse of Kehama (1810)

  • Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost.
    • Motto.
  • They sin who tell us love can die;
    With life all other passions fly,
    All others are but vanity.
    . . . . .
    Love is indestructible,
    Its holy flame forever burneth;
    From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.
    . . . . .
    It soweth here with toil and care,
    But the harvest-time of love is there.
    • Canto X, st. 10.
  • Oh, when a mother meets on high
    The babe she lost in infancy,
    Hath she not then for pains and fears,
    The day of woe, the watchful night,
    For all her sorrow, all her tears,
    An over-payment of delight?
    • Canto X, st. 11.
  • Thou hast been called, O sleep! the friend of woe;
    But ’tis the happy that have called thee so.
    • Canto XV, st. 11.


  • Agreed to differ.
    • Life of Wesley (1820).
  • How little do they see what is, who frame
    Their hasty judgement upon that which seems!
    • A Tale of Paraguay (1827), Canto IV, Stanza 54.
  • The arts babblative and scribblative.
    • Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, No. 1, pt. 2 (1829).
  • The march of intellect.
    • Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, No. 1, pt. 14. Compare: "The march of the human mind is slow", Edmund Burke, Speech on the Conciliation of America, Vol. ii., p. 149.
  • How does the water
    Come down at Lodore?
    • St. 1.
  • So I told them in rhyme,
    For of rhymes I had store.
    • St. 1.
  • From its fountains
    In the mountains,
    Its rills and its gills;
    Through moss and through brake,
    It runs and it creeps
    For a while, till it sleeps
    In its own little lake.
    • St. 2.
  • It runs through the reeds,
    And away it proceeds,
    Through meadow and glade,
    In sun and in shade,
    And through the wood-shelter,
    Among crags in its flurry,
    • St. 2.
  • Rising and leaping,
    Sinking and creeping,
    Swelling and sweeping,
    Showering and springing,
    Flying and flinging,
    Writhing and ringing,
    Eddying and whisking,
    Spouting and frisking,
    Turning and twisting,
    Around and around
    With endless rebound:
    Smiting and fighting,
    A sight to delight in;
    Confounding, astounding,
    Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound.
    • St. 4.
  • And so never ending, but always descending,
    Sounds and motions forever and ever are blending
    All at once and all o'er, with a mighty uproar, —
    And this way the water comes down at Lodore.
    • St. 8.


  • No sooner was the Baltic open to our merchants, than corn was bought up there for importation into England; at the same time the continent was glutted with English goods, which, because the supply greatly exceeded the demand, were sold at less than their prime cost, and upon which the foreign governments soon laid new prevent the ruin of their own manufactures. This might have been a salutary lesson, if nations were ever rendered wise by experience; it might have taught us that, however willing one part of this nation might be to see the other ruined by the free admission of foreign grain, foreign governments would never consent to have their fabrics destroyed by the unrestricted introduction of British goods. It is a sound maxim in politics, whatever it may be in morals, that charity begins at home.
    • 'On the Corn-Laws', The Quarterly Review, Vol. LI. (March & June 1834), p. 231
  • Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be.
    • Letter to Charlotte Brontë in March 1837, reported in Gaskell The life of Charlotte Brontë, Vol. I (1857), p. 139, and in Mumby Letters of Literary Men, Vol. II (1906), p. 185.
  • Write poetry for its own sake — not in a spirit of emulation, and not with a view to celebrity; the less you aim at that the more likely you will be to deserve and finally to obtain it.
    • Letter to Charlotte Brontë in March 1837; Gaskell The life of Charlotte Brontë, Vol. I (1857), p. 140.
  • And then she went to the porridge of the Little, Small, Wee Bear, and tasted that; and that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.
  • Somebody has been sitting in my chair!
    • "The Story of the Three Bears", The Doctor (1837).
  • Wild dreams! but such
    As Plato lov'd; such as with holy zeal
    Our Milton worshipp'd. Blessed hopes! awhile
    From man with-held, even to the latter days
    When Christ shall come, and all things be fulfill'd.
    • For the apartment in Chepstow Castle where Henry Marten the Regicide was imprisoned thirty years.

About Robert Southey

  • Bob Southey! You're a poet—Poet-laureate,
      And representative of all the race;
    Although 'tis true that you turn'd out a Tory at
      Last—yours has lately been a common case;
    And now, my Epic Renegade! what are ye at?
      With all the Lakers, in and out of place?
    A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
    Like "four and twenty Blackbirds in a pye;
    "Which pye being open'd they began to sing"
      (This old song and new simile holds good),
    "A dainty dish to set before the king,"
      Or Regent, who admires such kind of food;
    And Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing,
      But like a hawk encumber'd with his hood,
    Explaining Metaphysics to the nation—
    I wish he would explain his Explanation.
    *You, Bob! are rather insolent, you know,
      At being disappointed in your wish
    To supersede all warblers here below,
      And be the only Blackbird in the dish;
    And then you overstrain yourself, or so,
      And tumble downward like the flying fish
    Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
    And fall, for lack of moisture quite a-dry, Bob!
  • Ye vales and hills, whose beauty hither drew
    The poet's steps, and fixed him here, on you
    His eyes have closed; and ye, loved books, no more
    Shall Southey feed upon your precious lore,
    To works that ne'er shall forfeit their renown,
    Adding immortal labors of his own;
    Whether he traced historic truth with zeal
    For the state's guidance, or the church's weal;
    Or Fancy, disciplined by studious Art,
    Informed his pen, or Wisdom of the heart
    Or Judgments sanctioned in the patriot's mind
    By reverence for the rights of all mankind.
    Large were his aims, yet in no human breast
    Could private feelings find a holier nest.
    His joys, his griefs, have vanished like a cloud
    From Skiddaw's top, but he to heaven was vowed
    Through a life long and pure, and steadfast faith
    Calmed in his soul the fear of change and death.
  •   Not the last struggles of the Sun,
      Precipitated from his golden throne,
    Hold darkling mortals in sublime suspense;
      But the calm exod of a man
      Nearer, tho’ far above, who ran
    The race we run, when Heaven recalls him hence.
  • A considerable stir was being made (1795) by two youthful advocates of revolution, who were trying to rouse the people of Bristol. These two young men who protested boldly against the war, the ministry and the established church and social order were Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Colerige.
    • Emile Legouis, The Early Life of William Wordsworth (J. M. Dent & Co., 1897), p. 320
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