1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode written on the First of January, 1794.

Poems, By Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey


The melancholy poet greets the new year in fourteen graveyard quatrains that substitute for elegiac measure the blank verse of William Collins's Ode to Evening: "Oh there are those who love the pensive song | To whom all sounds of Mirth are dissonant!" p. 52. The Ode written on the First of December 1793, a more upbeat poem in the same volume, is written in similar blank verse quatrains, octosyllabics with a shortened fourth line. In the second edition Southey changed the sequence of the poems in the volume, placing the two odes together.

Analytical Review: "Our readers will immediately associate Mr. Southey's name with the epic poem which he lately published, Joan of Arc.... From that difficult and dignified species of composition he has descended to amuse himself with these easier and more artless strains; and we are happy to remark, that the same lively fancy, the same delicacy of sentiment, the same melodious flow of language, which marked that rapid production, and diverted the attention, perhaps, from some censurable defects, may be distinguished in the little volume which now lies before us" 25 (January 1797) 36.

Anna Seward to Thomas Lister: "Southey's Ode, written on the 1st of January 1794, is in the measure of Collins's Ode to Evening, and of scarce inferior excellence. It has a striking coincidence of idea to a sonnet of my centenary, written on the 31st of December 1782. From my earliest years, evening in the piping, dancing time of youth, I never heard the bells ring out the old year, without falling into a similar strain of idea to that of my ensuing sonnet, and of Southey's ode, written twelve years later" 13 April 1797; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:329.



Come melancholy Moralizer — come!
Gather with me the dark and wintry wreath;
With me engarland now
The SEPULCHRE OF TIME!

Come Moralizer to the funeral song!
I pour the dirge of the Departed Days,
For well the funeral song
Befits this solemn hour.

But hark! even now the merry bells ring round
With clamorous joy to welcome in this day,
This consecrated day,
To Mirth and Indolence.

Mortal! whilst Fortune with benignant hand
Fills to the brim thy cup of happiness,
Whilst her unclouded sun
Illumes thy summer day,

Canst thou rejoice — rejoice that Time flies fast?
That Night shall shadow soon thy summer sun?
That swift the stream of Years
Rolls to Eternity?

If thou hast wealth to gratify each wish,
If Power be thine, remember what thou art—
Remember thou art Man,
And Death thine heritage!

Hast thou known Love? does Beauty's better sun
Cheer thy fond heart with no capricious smile,
Her eye all eloquence,
Her voice all harmony?

Oh state of happiness! hark how the gale
Moans deep and hollow o'er the leafless grove!
Winter is dark and cold—
Where now the charms of Spring?

Sayst thou that Fancy paints the future scene
In hues too sombrous? that the dark-stol'd Maid
With stern and frowning front
Appals the shuddering soul?

And would'st thou bid me court her faery form
When, as she sports in some happier mood,
Her many-colour'd robes
Dance varying to the Sun?

Ah, vainly does the Pilgrim, whose long road
Leads o'er the barren mountain's storm-vext height,
With anxious gaze survey
The fruitful far-off vale.

Oh there are those who love the pensive song
To whom all sounds of Mirth are dissonant!
There are who at this hour
Will love to contemplate!

For hopeless Sorrow hails the lapse of Time,
Rejoicing when the fading orb of day
Is sunk again in night,
That one day more is gone.

And he who bears Affliction's heavy load
With patient piety, well pleas'd he knows
The World a pilgrimage,
The Grave the inn of rest.

[pp. 49-52]