1795
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Hymen.

Poems: containing The Retrospect, Odes, Elegies, Sonnets, &c. By Robert Lovell, and Robert Southey.

Robert Southey


24 blank-verse quatrains signed "Bion." In this poem Robert Southey returns to a favorite theme, complaining about the unpleasantness of life at Oxford: he desires to be among the bosom of a family, far "From these dull haunts, where monkish science holds, | In sullen gloom her solitary reign; | And spurns the reign of love, | And spurns thy genial sway." While the measure is that of Collins's Ode to Evening, Southey seems to have set himself the task of composing an allegorical ode as different as possible from Collins: instead of the gentle oscilations of the source, To Hymen pushes and pulls at the stanza, creating an altogether different and more lively kind of ode, with a strong epigrammatic closure at the end.



God of the torch, whose soul-illuming flame
Beams brightest radiance o'er the human heart;
Of every woe the cure,
Of every joy the source;

To thee I sing: if haply may the muse
Pour forth the song unblam'd from these dull haunts,
Where never beams thy torch
To cheer the sullen scene;

From these dull haunts, where monkish science holds,
In sullen gloom her solitary reign;
And spurns the reign of love,
And spurns thy genial sway.

God of the ruddy cheek and beaming eye,
Whose soft sweet gaze thrills thro' the bounding heart,
With no unholy joy
I pour the lay to thee.

I pour the lay to thee, though haply doom'd
In solitary woe to waste my years;
Though doom'd perchance to die
Unlov'd and unbewail'd.

Yet will the lark, in iron cage inthrall'd,
Chaunt forth her hymn to greet the morning sun,
As wide his brilliant beam
Illumes the landskip round;

As distant 'mid the woodland haunts is heard
The feather'd quire, she chaunts her prison'd hymn,
And hails the beam of joy,
Of joy to her denied.

Friend to each noblest feeling of the soul,
To thee I hymn, for every joy is thine;
And every virtue comes
To join thy generous train.

Lur'd by the splendour of thy beamy torch,
Beacon of bliss, young love expands his plumes,
And leads his willing slaves
To wear thy flowery bands;

And then he yields the follies of his reign,
Throws down the torch that scorches up the soul,
And lights the purer flame
That glows serene with thee.

And chasten'd Friendship comes, whose mildest sway
Shall cheer the hour of age, when fainter beam
The fading flame of love,
The fading flame of life.

Parent of every bliss! the busy soul
Of Fancy oft will paint, in brightest hues,
How calm, how clear, thy torch
Illumes the wintry hour;

Will paint the wearied labourer, at that hour
When friendly darkness yields a pause to toil,
Returning blithely home
To each domestic joy;

Will paint the well-trimm'd fire, the frugal meal
Prepar'd by fond solicitude to please,
The ruddy children round
That climb the father's knee:

And oft will Fancy rise above the lot
Of honest poverty, oft paint the state
Where happiest man is blest
With mediocrity;

When toil, no longer irksome and constrain'd
By hard necessity, but comes to please,
To vary the still hour
Of tranquil happiness.

Why, Fancy, wilt thou, o'er the lovely scene
Pouring thy vivid hues, why, sorceress sweet!
Soothe sad reality
With visionary bliss?

Ah! rather gaze where science' hallow'd light
Resplendent shines: ah! rather lead thy son
Through all her mystic paths
To drink the sacred spring.

Let calm philosophy supply the void,
And fill the vacant heart; lead calmly on
Along the unvaried path,
To age's drear abode;

And teach how dreadful death to happiness,
What thousand horrors wait the last adieu,
When every tie is broke,
And every charm dissolv'd.

Then only dreadful; friendly to the wretch
Who wanes in solitary listlessness,
Nor knows the joys of life,
Nor knows the dread of death.

[pp. 47-50]