1760 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Robert Lloyd and George Colman, "To Obscurity" Two Odes (1760) 5-15.



I. 1.
Daughter of Chaos and old Night,
Cimmerian Muse, all hail!
That wrapt in never-twinkling gloom canst write,
And shadowest meaning with thy dusky veil!
What Poet sings, and strikes the strings?
It was the mighty Theban spoke.
He from the ever-living Lyre
With magick hand elicits fire.
Heard ye the din of Modern Rhimers bray?
It was cool M—n: or warm G—y
Involv'd in tenfold smoke.

I. 2.
The shallow Fop in antick vest,
Tir'd of the beaten road,
Proud to be singularly drest,
Changes, with every changing moon, the mode.
Say, shall not then the heav'n-born Muses too
Variety pursue?
Shall not applauding Criticks hail the vogue?
Whether the Muse the stile of Cambria's sons,
Or the rude gabble of the Huns,
Or the broader dialect
Of Caledonia she affect,
Or take, Hibernia, thy still ranker brogue?

I. 3.
On this terrestial ball
The tyrant Fashion, governs all.
She, fickle Goddess, whom, in days of yore,
The Ideot Moria, on the banks of Seine,
Unto an antick fool, hight Andrew, bore.
Long she paid him with disdain,
And long his pangs in silence he conceal'd:
At length, in happy hour, his love-sick pain
On thy blest Calends, April, he reveal'd.
From their embraces sprung,
Ever changing, ever ranging,
Fashion, Goddess ever young.

II. 1.
Perch'd on the dubious height, She loves to ride
Upon a weather-cock, astride.
Each blast that blows, around she goes,
While nodding o'er her crest,
Emblem of her magick pow'r,
The light Cameleon stands confest,
Changing it's hues a thousand Times an hour.
And in a vest is she array'd,
Of many a dancing moon-beam made,
Nor zoneless is her waist:
But fair and beautiful, I ween,
As the cestos-cinctur'd Queen,
Is with the Rainbow's shadowy girdle brac'd.

II. 2.
She bids pursue the fav'rite road
Of lofty cloud-capt Ode.
Meantime each Bard with eager speed,
Vaults on the Pegasean Steed:
Yet not that Pegasus, of yore
Which th' illustrious Pindar bore,
But one of nobler breed.
High blood and youth his lusty veins inspire.
From Tottipontimoy He came,
Who knows not, Tottipontimoy, thy name?
The Bloody-shoulder'd Arab was his Sire.
His White-nose. He on fam'd Doncastria's plains
Resign'd his fated breath:
In vain for life the struggling courser strains.
Ah! who can run the race with death?
The tyrant's speed, or man or steed,
Strives all in vain to fly.
He leads the chace, he wins the race,
We stumble, fall, and die.

II. 3.
Third from Whitenose springs
Pegasus with eagle wings:
Light o'er the plain, as dancing cork,
With many a bound he beats the ground,
While all the Turf with acclamation rings.
He won Northampton, Lincoln, Oxford, York:
He too Newmarket won.
There Granta's Son
Seiz'd on the Steed;
And thence him led, (so fate decreed)
To where old Cam, renown'd in poet's song,
With his dark and inky waves,
Either bank in silence laves,
Winding slow his sluggish streams along.


III. 1.
What stripling neat, of visage sweet,
In trimmest guise array'd,
First the neighing steed assay'd?
His hand a taper switch adorns, his heel
Sparkles refulgent with elastick steel:
The whiles he wins his whiffling way,
Prancing, ambling, round and round,
By hill, and dale, and mead, and greenswerd gay:
Till sated with the pleasing ride,
From the lofty Steed dismounting,
He lies along, enwrapt in conscious pride,
By gurgling rill or crystal fountain.

III. 2.
Lo! next, a Bard, secure of praise,
His self-complacent countenance displays.
His broad Mustachios, ting'd with golden die,
Flame, like a meteor, to the troubled air:
Proud his demeanor, and his eagle eye,
O'er-hung with lavish lid, yet shone with glorious glare.
The grizzle grace
Of bushy Peruke shadow'd o'er his face.
In large wide Boots, whose ponderous weight
Would sink each wight of modern date,
He rides well pleas'd. So large a pair
Not Garagantua's self might wear:
Not He, of nature fierce and cruel,
Who, if we trust to antient Ballad,
Devour'd Three Pilgrims in a Sallad;
Nor He of fame germane, hight Pantagruel.

III. 3.
Accoutred thus, th' adventrous Youth
Seeks not the level lawn, or velvet mead,
Fast by whose side clear streams meandring creep;
But urges on amain the fiery Steed
Up Snowdon's shaggy side, or Cambrian rock uncouth:
Where the venerable herd
Of Goats with long and sapient beard,
And wanton Kidlings their blithe revels keep.
Now up the mountain see him strain!
Now down the vale he's tost,
Now flashes on the sight again,
Now in the Palpable Obscure quite lost.

IV. 1.
Man's feeble race eternal dangers wait,
With high or low, all, all, is woe,
Disease, mischance, pale fear, and dubious fate.
But, o'er every peril bounding,
Ambition views not all the hills surrounding,
And, tiptoe on the mountain's steep,
Reflects not on the yawning deep.

IV. 2.
See, see, he soars! With mighty wings outspread,
And long resounding mane,
The Courser quits the plain.
Aloft in air, see, see him bear
The Bard, who shrouds
His Lyrick Glory in the Clouds,
Too fond to strike the stars with lofty head!
He topples headlong from the giddy height,
Deep in the Cambrian Gulph immerg'd in endless night.

IV. 3.
O Steed Divine! what daring spirit
Rides thee now? tho' he inherit
Nor the pride, nor self-opinion,
Which elate the mighty Pair,
Each of Taste the fav'rite minion,
Prancing thro' the desert air;
By help mechanick of Equestrian Block,
Yet shall he mount, with classick housings grac'd,
And, all unheedful of the Critick Mock,
Drive his light Courser o'er the bounds of Taste.