1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode IV. To Superstition.

Odes on Various Subjects. By Joseph Warton, B.A. of Oriel College, Oxon.

Rev. Joseph Warton


An allegorical ode in six octosyllabic stanzas (aabccB) with the Spenserian alexandrine. Superstition was a perennial topic in Spenserian poetry from the very first, growing out the anti-catholic sentiments that fired the first generation of Spenserians and extending down through eighteenth-century hymns to liberty and progress. But the fascination with this topic indicates that there was something attractive and dangerous about superstition as well, though superstition could only be made the basis for romantic poetry when safely distanced in time or space. A shorter version of the poem had previously appeared in Dodsley's periodical, The Museum.

William Wollaston (1660-1724) is the author of Religion of Nature Delineated (1724).

Raymond Dexter Havens: "In view of the close relationship between Collins and Joseph Warton that led to their exchanging copies of their odes six months before publication, there is undoubtedly a direct connection between the Ode to Simplicity and Warton's ode To Superstition and To a Gentleman upon his Travels thro' Italy [the latter actually by Thomas Warton]. Warton used the same meter as his friend, except that his first, second, fourth, and fifth lines are tetrameter, instead of trimeter as in Collins and Milton [Nativity Ode], a change for the worse" Influence of Milton (1922) 566.

Amy Louise Reed: "In the ode To Superstition, Superstition vanishes when Reason lifts her head and Ignorance and Fear disappear with her" The Background of Gray's Elegy (1924) 184.



Hence to some Convent's gloomy isles,
Where chearful day-light never smiles,
Tyrant, from Albion haste, to slavish Rome;
There by dim tapers' livid light,
At the still solemn hours of night,
In pensive musings walk o'er many a sounding tomb.

Thy clanking chains, thy crimson steel,
Thy venom'd darts, and barbarous wheel,
Malignant fiend, bear from this isle away,
Nor dare in Error's setters bind
One active, freeborn, British mind,
That strongly strives to spring indignant from thy sway.

Thou bad'st grim MOLOCH's frowning priest
Snatch screaming infants from the breast,
Regardless of the frantic mother's woes;
Thou led'st the ruthless sons of Spain
To wond'ring India's golden plain,
From deluges of blood where tenfold harvests rose.

But lo! how swiftly art thou fled,
When REASON lifts his radiant head;
When his resounding, awful voice they hear,
Blind IGNORANCE, thy doating sire,
Thy daughter, trembling FEAR, retire;
And all thy ghastly train of terrors disappear.

So by the Magi hail'd from far,
When PHOEBUS mounts his early car,
The shrieking ghosts to their dark charnels flock;
The full-gorg'd wolves retreat, no more
The prowling lionesses roar,
But hasten with their prey to some deep-cavern'd rock.

Mail then, ye friends of Reason hail,
Ye foes to Myst'ry's odious veil,
To Truth's high temple guide my steps aright,
Where CLARKE and WOOLASTON reside,
With LOCKE and NEWTON by their side,
While PLATO sits above enthron'd in endless light.

[pp. 19-21]