1726
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Grongar Hill. [Couplets.]

Miscellaneous Poems, by Several Hands. Published by D. Lewis.

Rev. John Dyer


John Dyer's deservedly popular descriptive poem takes its octosyllabic measure from Milton's L'Allegro. Part of the pleasure lies in the happy mixture of emblematic with aesthetic effects (Dyer later trained and worked as a landcape painter): "Thus is Nature's Vesture wrought, | To instruct our wand'ring Thought; | Thus she dresses green and gay, | To disperse our Cares away" p. 228. Grongar Hill was reprinted often enough to have had a substantial influence on the busy sequence of eighteenth-century imitations of Milton's companion poems in both the couplet and stanzaic varieties — Dyer's Pindaric version of Grongar Hill also appeared in 1726.

Samuel Johnson: "Dyer is not a poet of bulk or dignity sufficient to require an elaborate criticism. Grongar Hill is the happiest of his productions; it is not indeed very accurately written, but the scenes which it displays are so pleasing, the images which they raise so welcome to the mind, and the reflections of the writer so consonant to the general sense or experience of mankind, that when it is once read it will be read again" "Life of Dyer" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:345.

John Penn: "Milton's Allegro and Penseroso sufficiently instance the mixture of these [short] verses in poems of an opposite character. Here I will observe that, perhaps, because in these poems, which may be considered as odes to Mirth and Melancholy, or rather as a new kind of composition, Milton has used a descriptive style, Dyer, in a valuable descriptive poem, has, however, innovated, and chosen to reject the more solemn-paced verse of Pope and Denham, which seems much better calculated to convey an adequate idea of the romantic hills and woods of Brecknockshire" in Poems (1801) 2:124.

Heranio: "To make such a great revolution in its construction [by translating the stanzas into couplets] was a daring attempt, and could scarcely be expected to succeed. The versification he first chose gave him the liberty to express his thoughts in the most full and luxurious language; and in endeavouring to compress the same thoughts into the short 'dapper couplet' of his last edition, it is no wonder they were distorted. The defects of the poem may all be attributed to this cause. This has rendered the sense often incomplete and obscure; and, besides the inequality in versification, has occasioned unnatural inversions, and many other grammatical inaccuracies" European Magazine 47 (May 1805) 362.

William Hazlitt: "DYER'S Grongar Hill is a beautiful moral and descriptive effusion, with much elegance, and perfect ease of style and versification" Select British Poets (1824) in Works, ed. Howe (1932) 9:241.

Edmund Gosse: "A friend of Savage and Thomson, of whose early career little is known, was the Welshman John Dyer (1699-1758), to whom, by some accident of fortune, rather more than his share of credit has habitually been given by the critics. No doubt Dyer was very early in the field with his Grongar Hill, a kind of descriptive ode, published in 1726, the year of Thomson's Winter. It is rash to deny genius to a poet whom Gray and Wordsworth have extravagantly praised, and Dyer, who was a painter by profession, had a delicate eye for landscape.... It seems odd that the extreme awkwardness of the opening lines of Grongar Hill, and a certain grammatical laxity running through the work of Dyer, should have been treated with so much lenity by critic after critic. His later didactic poems, in blank verse which owes its existence still more to Milton than to Thomson, are The Ruins of Rome (1740) and The Fleece (1757). Dyer's Welsh landscapes, with their yellow sun, purple groves, and pale blue distances, remind us of the simple drawings of the earliest English masters of water-colour, and his precise mode of treating outdoor subjects, without pedantry, but with a cold succession of details, connects him with the lesser Augustans through Somerville" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 219.

William Minto: "Grongar Hill appeared in 1726, the same year as Thomson's Winter. It is a sweet little descriptive poem, in the four-accent measure of Milton's L'Allegro, as pure and fresh and clear in its vision of natural objects as anything written by any of the Lakers, and exquisitely musical in its numbers" Literature of the Georgian Era (1894) 60.

Myra Reynolds: "His previous study with [the painter Jonathan] Richardson had helped to develop that artistic sensitiveness to external impressions so apparent in his early work. He notes the colors and shapes of the trees grouped below him, the gloomy pine and sable yew, the blue poplar, the sturdy oak with its broad-spread boughs. The changing horizon line as he climbs the hill, the long level lines of the lawn, the various movements of rivers running swift or slow, through sun and shade, the streaks of meadow, the close, small lines of distant hedges, the curling spires of smoke, are observations that show the trained eye. His colors seem to be carefully discriminated" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 102-03.

Robert Arnold Aubin: Grongar Hill "injected into topographical poetry a more sensuous outlook and the L'Allegro-Il Penseroso technique which includes the use of the octosyllabic couplet and the 'ideal day' scheme" Topographical Poetry in XVIIIth-Century England (1936) 84.

For an early study of Grongar Hill and descriptive poetry, see John Scott of Amwell's Critical Essays (1785).



Silent Nymph, with curious Eye!
Who, the purple Ev'ning, lye
On the Mountain's lonely Van,
Beyond the Noise of busy Man,
Painting fair the form of Things,
While the yellow Linnet sings;
Or the tuneful Nightingale
Charms the Forest with her Tale;
Come with all thy various Hues,
Come, and aid thy Sister Muse;
Now while Phoebus riding high
Gives Lustre to the Land and Sky!
Grongar Hill invites my Song,
Draw the Landskip bright and strong;
Grongar, in whose Mossie Cells
Sweetly-musing Quiet dwells:
Grongar, in whose silent Shade,
For the modest Muses made,
So oft I have, the Even still,
At the Fountain of a Rill,
Sate upon a flow'ry Bed,
With my Hand beneath my Head;
And stray'd my Eyes o'er Towy's Flood,
Over Mead, and over Wood,
From House to House, from Hill to Hill,
'Till Contemplation had her fill.

About his chequer'd Sides I wind,
And leave his Brooks and Meads behind,
And Groves, and Grottoes where I lay,
And Vistoes shooting Beams of Day:
Wider and wider spreads the Vale;
As Circles on a smooth Canal:
The Mountains round, unhappy Fate,
Sooner or later, of all Height!
Withdraw their Summits from the Skies,
And lessen as the others rise:
Still the Prospect wider spreads,
Adds a thousand Woods and Meads,
Still it widens, widens still,
And sinks the newly-risen Hill.

Now, I gain the Mountain's Brow,
What a Landskip lies below!
No Clouds, no Vapours intervene,
But the gay, the open Scene
Does the Face of Nature show,
In all the Hues of Heaven's Bow!
And, swelling to embrace the Light,
Spreads around beyond the Sight.

Old Castles on the Cliffs arise,
Proudly tow'ring in the Skies!
Rushing from the Woods, the Spires
Seem from hence ascending Fires!
Half his Beams Apollo sheds,
On the yellow Mountain-Heads!
Gilds the Fleeces of the Flocks;
And glitters on the broken Rocks!

Below me Trees unnumber'd rise,
Beautiful in various Dies:
The gloomy Pine, the Poplar blue,
The yellow Beech, the sable Yew,
The slender Firr, that taper grows,
The sturdy Oak with broad-spread Boughs.
And beyond the purple Grove,
Haunt of Phillis, Queen of Love!
Gawdy as the op'ning Dawn,
Lies a long and level Lawn,
On which a dark Hill, steep and high,
Holds and charms the wand'ring Eye!
Deep are his Feet in Towy's Flood,
His Sides are cloath'd with waving Wood,
And antient Towers crown his Brow,
That cast an awful Look below;
Whose ragged Walls the Ivy creeps,
And with her Arms from falling keeps;
So both a Safety from the Wind
On mutual Dependance find.

'Tis now the Raven's bleak Abode;
'Tis now th' Apartment of the Toad;
And there the Fox securely feeds;
And there the pois'nous Adder breeds,
Conceal'd in Ruins, Moss and Weeds:
While, ever and anon, there falls,
Huge heaps of hoary moulder'd Walls.
Yet Time has seen, that lifts the low,
And level lays the lofty Brow,
Has seen this broken Pile compleat,
Big with the Vanity of State;
But transient is the Smile of Fate!
A little Rule, a little Sway,
A Sun-beam in a Winter's Day
Is all the Proud and Mighty have,
Between the Cradle and the Grave.

And see the Rivers how they run,
Thro' Woods and Meads, in Shade and Sun,
Sometimes swift, and sometimes slow,
Wave succeeding Wave they go
A various Journey to the Deep,
Like human Life to endless Sleep!
Thus is Nature's Vesture wrought,
To instruct our wand'ring Thought;
Thus she dresses green and gay,
To disperse our Cares away.

Ever charming, ever new,
When will the Landskip tire the view!
The Fountain's Fall, the River's Flow,
The woody Vallies, warm and low;
The windy Summit, wild and high,
Roughly rushing on the Sky!
The pleasant Seat, the ruin'd Tow'r,
The naked Rock, the shady Bow'r;
The Town and Village, Dome and Farm,
Each give each a double Charm,
As Pearls upon an Aethiop's Arm.

See on the Mountain's southern side,
Where the Prospect opens wide,
Where the Ev'ning gilds the tide;
How close and small the Hedges lie!
What streaks of Meadows cross the Eye!
A Step methinks may pass the Stream,
So little distant Dangers seem;
So we mistake the Future's face,
Ey'd thro' Hope's deluding Glass;
As yon Summits soft and fair,
Clad in Colours of the Air,
Which, to those who journey near,
Barren, and brown, and rough appear;
Still we tread the same coarse Way,
The Present's still a cloudy Day.

Now, ev'n now, my Joy runs high,
As on the Mountain turf I lie;
While the wanton Zephir sings,
And in the Vale perfumes his Wings;
While the Waters murmur deep;
While the Shepherd charms his Sheep;
While the Birds unbounded fly,
And with Musick fill the Sky.
Now, ev'n now, my Joy runs high,

Be full, ye Courts, be great who will;
Open wide the lofty Door,
Seek her on the marble Floor,
In vain ye search, she is not there;
In vain ye search the Domes of Care!
Grass and Flowers Quiet treads,
On the Meads, and Mountain-heads,
Along with Pleasure, close ally'd,
Ever by each other's Side:
And often, by the murm'ring Rill,
Hears the Thrush, while all is still,
Within the Groves of Grongar Hill.

[pp. 223-31]