1795
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Lycon.

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

Robert Southey


A verse epistle or Horatian ode in ten irregular Spenserians (ababccC), signed "Bion." After an address to the absent friend, Robert Southey compares his situation (at Oxford, presumably) to Ovid living in exile. The remainder of the poem unfolds as a retirement ode in which the poet imagines a placid existence enjoyed in obscurity: "Be mine to taste the humbler joys of life, | Lull'd in oblivion's lap to wear away, | And flee from grandeur's scenes of vice and strife, | And flee from fickle fashion's empty sway: | Be mine, in age's drooping hour, to see | The lisping children climb their grandsire's knee, | And train the future race to live and act like me" p. 84. The picture bears more than a passing resemblance to the life Southey really would live with his family at Greta Hall, far removed from literary London.



And does my friend again demand the strain,
Still seek to list the sorrow-soothing lay?
Still would he hear the woe-worn heart complain,
When melancholy loads the lingering day?
Shall partial friendship turn the favouring eye,
No fault behold, but every charm descry;
And shall the thankless bard his honour'd strain deny?

"No single pleasure shall your pen bestow:"
Ah, LYCON! 'tis that thought affords delight;
'Tis that can soothe the wearying weight of woe,
When memory reigns amid the gloom of night:
For fancy loves the distant scene to see,
Far from the gloom of solitude to flee,
And think that absent friends may sometimes think of me.

Oft when my steps have trac'd the secret glade,
What time the pale moon glimmering on the plain
Just mark'd where deeper darkness dyed the shade,
Has contemplation lov'd the night-bird's strain:
Still have I stood, or silent mov'd and slow,
Whilst o'er the copse the thrilling accents flow,
Nor deem'd the pensive bird might pour the notes of woe.

Yet sweet and lovely is the night-bird's lay,
The passing pilgrim loves her notes to hear,
When mirth's rude reign is sunk with parted day,
And silence sleeps upon the vacant ear;
For staid reflection loves the doubtful light,
When sleep and stillness lull the noiseless night,
And breathes the pensive song a soothing sad delight.

Fearful the blast, and loud the torrent's roar,
And sharp and piercing drove the pelting rain,
When wildly wandering on the Volga's shore,
The exil'd OVID pour'd his plaintive strain;
He mourn'd for ever lost the joys of Rome,
He mourn'd his widow'd wife, his distant home,
And all the weight of woe that load the exile's doom.

Oh! could my lays, like SULMO'S minstrel, flow,
Eternity might love her BION'S name;
The muse might give a dignity to woe,
And grief's steep path should prove the path to fame:
But I have pluck'd no bays from PHOEBUS' bower,
My fading garland, form'd of many a flower,
May haply smile and bloom to last one little hour.

To please that little hour is all I crave,
Lov'd by my friends, I spurn the love of fame;
High let the grass o'erspread my lonely grave,
Let cankering moss obscure the rough-hewn name:
There never may the pensive pilgrim go,
Nor future minstrel drop the tear of woe,
For all would fail to wake the slumbering earth below.

Be mine, whilst journeying life's rough road along
O'er hill and dale the wandering bard shall go,
To hail the hour of pleasure with the song,
Or soothe with sorrowing strains the hour of woe;
The song each passing moment shall beguile,
Perchance too, partial friendship deigns to smile,
Let fame reject the lay, I sleep secure the while.

Be mine to taste the humbler joys of life,
Lull'd in oblivion's lap to wear away,
And flee from grandeur's scenes of vice and strife,
And flee from fickle fashion's empty sway:
Be mine, in age's drooping hour, to see
The lisping children climb their grandsire's knee,
And train the future race to live and act like me.

Then, when the inexorable hour shall come
To tell my death, let no deep requiem toll,
No hireling sexton dig the venal tomb,
Nor priest be paid to hymn my parted soul;
But let my children, near their little cot,
Lay my old bones beneath the turfy spot:
So let me live unknown, so let me die forgot.

[pp. 80-84]