1745
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode V. Hymn to Chearfulness. The Author Sick.

Odes on Several Subjects.

Dr. Mark Akenside


Mark Akenside's imitation of "L'Allegro" was one of several written on the subject of health, but perhaps the only one written by a practising physician. The catalogue of poets reflects his interest in the ode as a genre and his interest in Greek literature: the Lesbian poets are Alcaeus and Sappho; the "Sicilian Reed" is Theocritus; the "Teian Rose" is Anacreon. This ode was subsequently much revised.

Horace Walpole to Horace Mann: "There is another of these tame genius's, a Mr. Akenside, who writes Odes: in one he had lately published, he says, 'Light the tapers, urge the fire.' Had you not rather make gods 'jostle in the dark,' [Nathaniel Lee] than light the candles for fear they should break their heads?" 29 March 1745; in Letters, ed Cunningham (1906) 1:347.

John Aikin: "The pensive hymn to Cheerfulness by Akenside, exhibits no other picture of the power he invokes, than that of "a triumphant fair, sweet of language, and mild of mein." He bestows, indeed, many lines on her genealogy, in which he makes her the daughter of Love by Health; but a genealogy is more easily invented than a portrait" "Personifications in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 6 (February 1799) 113.



How thick the shades of evening close!
How pale the sky with weight of snows!
Haste, light the tapers, urge the fire,
And bid the joyless day retire!
—Alas, in vain I try within
To brighten the dejected scene,
While rouz'd by grief these fiery pains
Tear the frail texture of my veins;
While winter's voice, that storms around,
And yon deep death-bell's groaning sound
Renew my mind's oppressive gloom,
Till starting horror shakes the room!
Is there in nature no kind pow'r
To sooth affliction's lonely hour?
To blunt the edge of dire disease,
And teach these wintry shades to please?
Come, CHEARFULNESS, triumphant fair,
Shine thro' the hovering cloud of care;
O sweet of language, mild of mien,
O virtue's friend and pleasure's queen!
Asswage the flames that burn my breast;
Attune my jarring thoughts to rest;
And while thy gracious gifts I feel,
My song shall all thy praise reveal.

As once ('twas in ASTREA'S reign)
The vernal pow'rs renew'd their train,
It happen'd that immortal LOVE
Was ranging thro' the spheres above,
And downward hither cast his eye
The year's returning pomp to spy,
He saw the radiant God of day
Waft in his car the rosy MAY;
The fragrant AIRS and genial HOURS
Were shedding round him dews and flow'rs;
Before his wheels AURORA past,
And HESPER'S golden lamp was last.
But, fairest of the blooming throng,
When HEALTH majestic mov'd along,
All gay with smiles, to see below
The joys which from her presence flow,
While earth inliven'd hears her voice,
And fields, and flocks, and swains rejoice;
Then mighty LOVE her charms confess'd,
And soon his vows inclin'd her breast,
And, known from that auspicious morn,
The pleasing CHEARFULNESS was born.

Thou, CHEARFULNESS, by heaven design'd
To rule the pulse, that moves the mind,
Whatever fretful passion springs,
Whatever wayward fortune brings
To strain the tuneful poize within,
And disarrange the sweet machine;
Thou, Goddess, with a master-hand
Dost each attemper'd key command,
Refine the soft and swell the strong,
Till all is concord, all is song,

Fair guardian of domestic life,
Kind banisher of homebred strife,
Nor sullen lip, nor taunting eye
Deforms the scene where thou art by:
No sick'ning husband damns the hour
Which bound his joys to female pow'r;
No pining mother weeps the cares
That parents waste on thankless heirs:
Th' officious daughters pleas'd attend;
The brother rises to the friend:
By thee their board with flow'rs is crown'd,
By thee with songs their walks resound,
By thee their sprightly mornings shine,
And evening-hours in peace decline.

Is there a youth, whose anxious heart
Beats high with love's unpitied smart?
Tho' now he strays by rills and bow'rs,
And weeping wears the lonely hours,
Or, if the nymph her audience deign,
Shames the soft story of his pain
With slavish looks, discolor'd eyes,
And accents falt'ring into sighs;
Yet thou, auspicious power, with ease
Can'st yield him happier arts to please,
Exalt his mien with manlier charms,
Instruct his tongue with nobler arms,
With more commanding passion move,
And teach the dignity of love.

Friend to the Muse and all her train,
For thee I court the Muse again;
And may the votive lay disclose
How much to thy fair aid she owns!
See, when thy touch reveals her mine,
How pure the stores of fancy shine!
Hark, when thy breath her song impells,
How full the tuneful current swells!
Let melancholy's plaintive tongue
Instruct the nightly strains of Y—;
But thine was HOMER'S ancient might,
And thine victorious PINDAR'S flight:
Thy myrtles crown'd the Lesbian meads;
Thy voice awak'd Sicilian reeds;
Thy breath perfumes the Teian rose,
And Tibur's vine spontaneous flows
While HORACE wantons in thy quire;
The gods and heroes of the lyre.

See where the pale, the sick'ning sage
(A prey perhaps to fortune's rage,
Perhaps by tender griefs oppress'd,
Or glooms congenial to his breast)
Retires in desart-scenes to dwell,
And bids the joyless world farewell.
Alone he treads th' autumnal shade,
Alone beneath the mountain laid
He sees the nightly damps arise,
And gathering storms involve the skies;
He hears the neighbouring surges roll,
And raging thunders shake the pole:
Then, struck by every object round,
And stunn'd by every horrid sound,
He pants to traverse nature's ways;
His evils haunts him thro' the maze:
He views ten thousand demons rise
To wield the empire of the skies,
And chance and fate assume the rod,
And malice blot the throne of GOD.
—O thou, whose pleasing power I sing!
Thy lenient influence hither bring;
Compose the storm, dispell the gloom,
Till nature wear her wonted bloom,
Till fields and shades their sweets exhale,
And music swell each opening gale:
Then o'er his breast thy softness pour,
And let him learn the timely hour
To trace the world's benignant laws,
And judge of that presiding cause
Who founds in discord beauty's reign,
Converts to pleasure every pain,
Subdues the hostile forms to rest,
And bids the universe be blest.

O thou, whose pleasing pow'r I sing!
If right I touch the votive string,
If equal praise I yield thy name,
Still govern thou thy poet's flame;
Still with the Muse my bosom share,
And sooth to peace corroding care.
But most exert thy pleasing pow'r
On friendship's consecrated hour;
And while my AGIS leads the road
To fearless wisdom's calm abode,
Or, warm in freedom's ancient cause,
Pursues the light of Grecian laws,
Attend, and grace our gen'rous toils
With all thy garlands, all thy smiles.
But if, by fortune's stubborn sway,
From him and friendship torn away,
I court the muse's healing spell
For griefs that still with absence dwell,
Do thou conduct my fancy's dreams
To such indulgent, tender themes,
As just the struggling breast may chear,
And just suspend the starting tear,
Yet leave that charming sense of woe
Which none but friends and lovers know.

[pp. 23-31]