1695
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Mourning Muse of Alexis. A Pastoral.

The Mourning Muse of Alexis. A Pastoral. Lamenting the Death of our late gracious Queen Mary of ever Blessed Memory. By Mr. Congreve.

William Congreve


In a significant poem in the Spenserian tradition, William Congreve names "British Colins mourning Muse" as the object of his emulation in an elegy for Queen Mary. The imitation is general rather than formal, its object being "melting Words, and moving Numbers ... Sweet as British Colins mourning Muse" p. 2. Though this mode of pastoral elegy was soon superseded, Spenser was once again being imitated by a major writer in serious verse. Congreve's poem was, in turn, an object of emulation in elegies by Ambrose Philips and Alexander Pope ("Albino" and "Winter").

Richard Steele praises the poem in To Mr. Congreve: "Whene'er you draw an undissembled woe, | With sweet distress your numbers flow" Bell's Fugitive Poetry (1789-97) 6:127.

Cibber Shiels: "Queen Mary died. Upon that occasion Mr. Congreve produced an elegiac Pastoral, a composition which the admirers of this poet have extolled in the most lavish terms of admiration, but which seems not to merit the incense it obtained" Lives of the Poets (1753) 4:88.

Samuel Johnson: "Queen Mary conferred upon both these plays [The Old Batchelor and The Double Dealer] the honour of her presence, and when she died soon after Congreve testified his gratitude by a despicable effusion of elegiack pastoral [Mourning Muse of Alexis]; a composition in which all is unnatural, and yet nothing is new.... And many years after he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit, for on the death of the marquis of Blandford this was his song: 'And now the winds, which had so long been still, | Began the swelling air with sighs to fill [. . .]. In both these funeral poems, when he has 'yelled' out many 'syllables' of senseless 'dolour', he dismisses his reader with senseless consolation: from the grave of Pastora rises a light that forms a star, and where Amaryllis wept for Amyntas from every tear sprung up a violet" "William Congreve" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:217-18; 231.

Hartley Coleridge: "Towards the end of 1694 Queen Mary died. Few queens have made fewer personal enemies, and perhaps few have been more sincerely regretted. But were we to judge of the quality of national affliction by the sable flights of lugubrious verse that were devoted to the good Queen's memory, we should say that the English nation were the worst actors of royal woe in the world. Congreve committed a pastoral among the rest, — perhaps not the worst copy of verses produced on the occasion. It must be a very indifferent Keen that is not better than any of them. Such drivel might make the Muses join in the hyperbolical prayer of Flatman, that 'Kings should never die'" in "William Congreve" Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire (1836) 681.

W. J. Courthope: "He was the son of William Congreve of Bardsey Grange, near Leeds, and was baptized in Bardsey Church on the 10th of February 1669-70. His father being an officer in the army, and stationed in Ireland, he was educated at Kilkenny and Trinity College, Dublin, whence he was admitted to the Middle Temple on the 17th of March 1690-1. His first play, The Old Bachelor, acted at Drury Lane in 1692-3, was highly successful, and through the patronage of Halifax he obtained a place in the Pipe Office, and another in the Customs, worth about £600 a year" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:428.

Edmund Gosse: "The complete neglect which has overtaken the minor writings of Congreve is regrettable. His odes and pastorals are deformed by a too-conscious rhetoric, and his imagery is apt to be what is called 'artificial,' that is to say, no longer in fashion. But they bear evidence of high cultivation and an elevated sense of style. When Dr. Johnson said that The Mourning Muse of Alexis (1695) was 'a despicable effusion' he fell into the sin of over-statement. I admit that this agony of regret for the death of good Queen Mary II may not have been very sincere, and that the imagery is often vapid. Yet the poem is an interesting and a skilful exercise in a species of art which has its place in the evolution of our literature. It is not so good as Marvell would have made it earlier or as Collins later. But in 1695 I know not who could have done it better except Dryden, and even he, if more vigorous, was not commonly so melodious" "A Note on Congreve" in Aspects and Impressions (1922) 85.

Marion K. Bragg: "Spenser's influence ... is chiefly indirect; Congreve mentions him as a master, but borrows neither diction, names, nor meters" The Formal Eclogue in Eighteenth-Century England (1926) 42.

J. H. Pafford: "It is clear that Congreve has read not only Astrophel, but Bryskett's poems on Sidney's death, but thinks himself indebted only to Spenser" Lodowick Bryskett: Literary Works (1972) xii.



ALEXIS, MENALCAS.

MENALCAS.
Behold, Alexis, see this Gloomy Shade,
Which seems alone for Sorrow's Shelter made;
Where, the glad Beams of Light can never play,
But, Night succeeding Night, excludes the Day;
Where, never Birds with Harmony repair,
And lightsom Notes, to cheer the Dusky Air,
To welcome Day, or bid the Sun farewel,
By Morning Lark, or Evening Philomel.

No Violet here, nor Daisy e'er was seen,
No sweetly budding Flower, nor springing Green:
For fragrant Myrtle, and the blushing Rose,
Here, baleful Yew with deadly Cypress grows.
Here then, extended on this wither'd Moss,
We'll lie, and thou shalt sing of ALBION's Loss;
Of ALBION's Loss, and of PASTORA's Death,
Begin thy mournful Song, and raise thy tuneful Breath.

ALEXIS.
Ah Woe too great! Ah Theme, which far exceeds
The lowly Lays of humble Shepherds Reeds!

O could I sing in Verse of equal Strain,
With the Sicilian Bard, or Mantuan Swain;
Or melting Words, and moving Numbers chuse,
Sweet as the British Colins mourning Muse;
Could I, like him, in tuneful Grief excel,
And mourn like Stella for her Astrofel;
Then might I raise my Voice, (secure of Skill,)
And with melodious Woe the Valleys fill;
The list'ning Echo on my Song should wait,
And hollow Rocks PASTORA's Name repeat;
Each whistling Wind, and murm'ring Stream should tell
How Lov'd she liv'd, and how Lamented fell.

MENALCAS.
Wert thou with ev'ry Bay and Lawrel crown'd,
And high as Pan himself in Song renown'd,
Yet would not all thy Art, avail to show
Verse worthy of her Name, or of our Woe:
But such true Passion, in thy Face appears,
In thy pale Lips, thick Sighs, and gushing Tears,
Such tender Sorrow in thy Heart I read,
As shall supply all Skill, if not exceed.
Then leave this common Form of dumb Distress,
Each vulgar Grief, can Sighs and Tears express;
In sweet complaining Notes, thy Passion vent,
And not in Sighs, but Words explaining Sighs, lament.

ALEXIS.
Wild be my Thoughts, Menalcas, wild my Words,
Artless as Nature's Notes, in untaught Birds;
Boundless my Verse, and roving be my Strains,
Various as Flow'rs on unfrequented Plains.
And thou Thalia, Darling of my Breast,
By whom inspired, I sung at Comus Feast;
While in a Ring, the Jolly Rural Throng
Have sate and smil'd to hear my chearful Song:
Begon, with all thy Mirth and sprightly Lays,
My Pipe, no longer now thy Pow'r obeys;
Learn to lament, my Muse, to weep, and mourn,
Thy springing Lawrels, all to Cypress turn;
Wound with thy dismal Cries, the Tender Air,
And beat thy Snowy Breast, and rend thy yellow Hair;
Far hence, in utmost Wilds thy Dwelling chuse,
Begon Thalia, Sorrow is my Muse.

I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.
No more, these Woods shall with her Sight be bless'd,
Nor with her Feet, these Flow'ry Plains be press'd;
No more, the Winds shall with her Tresses play,
And from her Balmy Breath, steal Sweets away;
No more, these Rivers chearfully shall pass,
Pleas'd to reflect the Beauties of her Face;
While on their Banks the wond'ring Flocks have stood,
Greedy of Sight, and negligent of Food.

No more, the Nymphs shall with soft Tales delight
Her Ears, no more with Dances please her Sight;
Nor ever more shall Swain make Song of Mirth,
To bless the Joyous Day, that gave her Birth:
Lost is that Day, which had from her its Light,
For ever lost with her, in endless Night;
In endless Night, and Arms of Death she lies,
Death, in Eternal Shades has shut PASTORA's Eyes.

Lament ye Nymphs, and mourn ye wretched Swains,
Stray all ye Flocks, and desart be ye Plains,
Sigh all ye Winds, and weep ye Crystal Flouds,
Fade all ye Flowers, and wither all ye Woods.
I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.

Within a Dismal Grott, which Damps surround,
All Cold she lies upon th' unwholsom Ground;
The Marble weeps, and with a silent Pace,
Its trickling Tears distil upon her Face.
Falsly ye weep, ye Rocks, and falsly mourn!
For never, will you let the Nymph return!
With a feign'd Grief the faithless Tomb relents,
And like the Crocodile it's Prey laments.

O she was Heav'nly fair, in Face and Mind!
Never in Nature were such Beauties join'd:
Without, all shining; and within, all white;
Pure to the Sence, and pleasing to the Sight;
Like some rare Flow'r, whose Leaves all Colours yield,
And opening, is with sweetest Odours fill'd.
As lofty Pines o'ertop the lowly Reed,
So, did her graceful Height all Nymphs exceed,
To which excelling Height, she bore a Mind
Humble, as Osiers bending to the Wind.
Thus excellent she was—
Ah wretched Fate! She was, but is no more.
Help me ye Hills, and Valleys, to deplore.
I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.

From that blest Earth, on which her Body lies,
May blooming Flow'rs, with fragrant Sweets arise:
Let Myrrha weeping Aromatick Gum,
And ever-living Lawrel shade her Tomb.
Thither, let all th' industrious Bees repair,
Unlade their Thighs, and leave their Hony there;
Thither, let Fairies with their Train resort,
Neglect their Revels, and their midnight sport,
There, in unusual wailings waste the Night,
And watch her, by the fiery glow-worms light.

There, may no dismal Yew, nor Cypress grow,
Nor Holly bush, nor bitter Elders bow;
Let each unlucky Bird, far build his Nest,
And distant Dens receive each howling Beast;
Let Wolves be gone, be Ravens put to flight,
With hooting Owls, and Batts that hate the light.

But let the sighing Doves, their Sorrows bring,
And Nightingales in sweet Complainings Sing;
Let Swans from their forsaken Rivers fly,
And Sick'ning at her Tomb, make haste to dye,
That they may help to Sing her Elegy.
Let Echo too, in Mimick Moan deplore,
And cry with me, PASTORA is no more!
I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.

And see, the Heav'ns to weep in dew prepare,
And heavy Mists obscure the burd'ned Air;
A sudden damp, o'er all the Plain is spread,
Each Lilly folds its Leaves, and hangs its Head.
On ev'ry Tree the Blossoms turn to Tears,
And ev'ry Bow a weeping Moisture bears.
Their Wings, the Feather'd Airy People droop,
And Flocks beneath their dewy Fleeces stoop.

The Rocks are cleft; and new descending Rills,
Furrow the Brows of all th' impending Hills.
The Water-Gods, to Flouds their Riv'lets turn,
And each with streaming Eyes, supplies his wanting Urn.

The Fawns forsake the Woods, the Nymphs the Grove,
And round the Plain, in sad Distractions rove;
In prickly brakes, their Tender Limbs they tear,
And leave on Thorns, their Locks of Golden Hair.

With their sharp Nails, themselves the Satyrs wound,
And tug their shaggy Beards, and bite with grief the ground.

Lo, Pan himself, beneath a blasted Oak
Dejected lies, his Pipe in pieces broke.
See Pales weeping too, in wild despair,
And to the piercing Winds her Bosom bare.

And see yond fading Myrtle, where appears
The Queen of Love, all bath'd in flowing Tears,
See how she wrings her Hands, and beats her Breast!
And tears her useless Girdle from her waste:
Hear the sad Murmurs, of her sighing Doves,
For Grief they sigh, forgetful of their Loves.

Lo, Love himself, with heavy Woes opprest!
See, how his Sorrows swell his tender Breast;
His Bow he breaks, and wide his Arrows flings,
And folds his little Arms, and hangs his drooping Wings;
Then, lays his Limbs upon the dying Grass,
And all with Tears bedews his Beauteous Face,
With Tears, which from his folded Lids arise,
And even Love himself has weeping Eyes.
All Nature mourns; the Flouds and Rocks deplore,
And cry with me, PASTORA is no more!
I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.

The Rocks can melt, and Air in Mists can mourn,
And Flouds can weep, and Winds to Sighs can turn;
The Birds, in Songs, their Sorrows can disclose,
And Nymphs and Swains, in Words, can tell their Woes.
But oh! behold that deep and wild Despair,
Which neither Winds can show, nor Flouds, nor Air.

See the Great Shepherd, Chief of all the Swains,
Lord of these Woods, and wide extended Plains,
Stretch'd on the Ground, and close to Earth his Face,
Scalding with Tears, th' already faded Grass;
To the cold Clay, he joyns his throbbing Breast,
No more, within PASTORA's Arms to rest!
No more! For those once soft and circling Arms
Themselves are Clay, and cold are all her Charms.
Cold are those Lips, which he no more must Kiss,
And cold that Bosome, once, all downy Bliss;
On whose soft Pillows, lull'd in sweet Delights,
He us'd in Balmy Sleep, to lose the Nights.

Ah! Where is all that Love and Fondness fled?
Ah! Where is all that tender Sweetness laid?
To Dust must all that Heav'n of Beauty come!
And must PASTORA moulder in the Tomb!
Ah Death! more fierce, and unrelenting far,
Than wildest Wolves or savage Tygers are;
With Lambs and Sheep, their Hungers are appeas'd,
But ravenous Death, the Shepherdess has seiz'd.
I mourn PASTORA dead, let ALBION mourn,
And Sable Clouds her Chalkie Cliffs adorn.

"But see, Menalcas, where a sudden Light,
With Wonder stops my Song, and strikes my Sight!
And where PASTORA lies, it spreads around,
Shewing all Radiant Bright, the Sacred Ground.
While from her Tomb, behold a Flame ascends
Of whitest Fire, whose Flight to Heav'n extends!
On flaky Wings it mounts, and quick as Sight
Cuts thro' the yielding Air, with Rays of Light;
'Till the Blew Firmament at last it gains,
And fixing there, a Glorious Star remains:"
Fairest it shines of all that light the Skies,
As once on Earth were seen PASTORA's Eyes.

[pp. 1-10]