1754
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Immortality: or, the Consolation of Human life. A Monody.

Immortality: or, the Consolation of Human life. A Monody.

Rev. Thomas Denton


31 Prior stanzas. Immortality or the Consolation of Human Life begins as a devotional meditation in the graveyard manner, before a visionary form appears to discourse on mutability and immortality. The poem is not written in the regular Spenserian stanza with the usual archaisms, a manner which in the 1750s was still associated with burlesque poetry. Thomas Denton perhaps alludes to Spenser in stanza twenty-four: "Thus the young Poet at the close of Day | Led by the Magic of some Fairy Song | Thro' the dun Umbrage winds his heedless Way" p. 17 Thomas Parnell's popular Night-Piece on Death was likely an influence here, as it was also on Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. Denton's poem, originally published anonymously, went into a second edition the following year, and after its inclusion in Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems became one of the more frequently reprinted imitations of Spenser.

A portion of the poem was anonymously published under the title "Reflections on the short Duration of Life" in the Universal Magazine 16 (February 1755) 83.

Monthly Review: "The present monody, conceived and effused in the true spirit of elegiac poetry, discloses a gravely pleasing melancholy-piece, in a well-adapted, slow, and, as it were, spondaic stanza, replenished with much pensive imagery, and solemn description. The scenery in the first part, as we may term it, of the poem, is a night-piece, which, naturally exciting the idea of death, introduces the poet's reflections on the short duration of vegetable beauty and life, from mere annuals to those of oaks; this he continues into animal life, and extends it at last to that of man, whose existence, from analogy, in his gloomy discontented state of mind, he is disposed to consider as equally dissolvable by death, and even less less to be chosen, because attended with more care and sensibility. But to be just to this elegant writer, we must present his sentiments, and imagery, in his own expression and colouring.... The beautiful metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the aurelia, and its noted application to our transition into a different state of existence, follows. The incessant physical change of our living bodies; the meer instrumentality of the organs of sense to the mind; the phaenomena of dreams; the delineating and recollecting powers of the imagination and memory; and the probability of such abstracted powers surviving their corporeal instruments, are very agreeably and philosophically expressed" 12 (1755) 54.

J. Moir: "Monody, of all sorts of poetry, is best adapted to the strains of melancholy. It is a species of the irregular Ode, in which measure has, in appearance at least, little or no part of the Poet's attention. Milton's Lycidas and Lyttelton's Lucy, are the only poems in our language which strictly deserve the name. Others, however, have assumed the title to some of their pieces; but with almost as little propriety, perhaps, as I have done to mine. Mason's Monody, to the Memory of Pope, beautiful as it is, he labours too much; West on the Memory of Queen Caroline, is not enough weighty; and Denton on Immortality, sings too much like a bird in a cage" Westminster Magazine 5 (August 1777) 436n.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Thomas Denton, 1724-1777, Rector of Ashted, Surrey. Religious Retirement; from Gother. Immortality, 1755, 4to. The House of Superstition, 1762, 5to. The two preceeding are poems, and are thought to be good imitations of Spenser. Sermons, 1775, 8vo. He compiled the supplemental volume to the 1st edition of the Biographical Dictionary" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:494.

William Lyon Phelps: "Thomas Denton (1724-1777), a minor poet, also belongs to the Spenserian school. He was an Oxford man, receiving his M.A. in 1752. He wrote two imitations of Spenser, Immortality (1754) and The House of Superstition (1762). Both of these are in ten-lined stanzas, and rime after Prior's model. Immortality is imitative of Spenser only in form. Its language is distinctly that of the eighteenth century. It exhibits the contemporary note of melancholy, and in the fascination of grave-damp. There are, however, even in this piece, some curiously Romantic touches, as in the eleventh stanza, beginning, as it unfortunately does, with 'Cynthia'.... In its general tone the poem, of course, belongs to the school of Blair, Young, and Gray" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 83-84.

Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "Can Denton be thinking of Spenser's 'Mutability' cantos? At any rate, both the similarities and the differences are interesting" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1942) 2:200.

Earl R. Wasserman describes the Monody as "a pageantry of richly ornamented abstractions" Elizabethan Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1947) 120.

Richard Frushell: "It is perhaps the most wretched Spenser imitation ever penned with its first-person moaning ('Come sighing elegy'); supernally generalized, unfathomable content; chaotic hyphenations; impossible diction ('Galileo's tube,' stanza 21), and on it goes. The really poor imitations are consistently about abstractions such as Denton's; and many are in Prior stanzas, as is Denton's" Edmund Spenser in the Early Eighteenth-Century (1999) 84.



When black-brow'd Night her dusky Mantle spread,
And wrapt in solemn Gloom the sable Sky;
When soothing Sleep her opiate Dews had shed,
And seal'd in silken Slumbers ev'ry Eye:
My wakeful Thoughts admit no balmy Test,
Nor the sweet Bliss of soft Oblivion share;
But watchful Woe distracts my aching Breast,
My Heart the subject of corroding Care:
From Haunts of Men with wand'ring Steps and slow
I solitary steal, and sooth my pensive Woe.

Yet no fell Passion's rough discordant Rage
Untun'd the Music of my tranquil Mind;
Ambition's tinsell'd Charms could ne'er engage,
No Harbour there could sordid Av'rice find:
From Lust's foul spring my Grief disdains to flow,
No Sighs of Envy from my Bosom break,
But soft Compassion melts my Soul to woe,
And social Tears fast trickle down my Cheek;
Ah me! when Nature gives one general Groan,
Each Heart must beat with Woe, each Voice responsive moan.

Where'er I cast my moist'ned Eyes around,
Or stretch my Prospect o'er the distant Land,
There foul Corruption's tainted Steps are found,
And Death grim-visag'd waves his iron Hand.
Tho' now soft Pleasure gild the smiling Scene,
And sportive Joy call forth her festive Train,
Sinking in Night each vital Form is seen,
Like air-blown Bubbles on the wat'ry Plain;
Fell Death, like brooding Harpy, the Repast
Will snatch with Talons foul, or sour its grateful Taste.

Ye smiling Glories of the youthful Year,
That ope your fragrant Bosoms to the Day,
That clad in all the Pride of Spring appear,
And steep'd in Dew your silken Leaves display:
In Nature's richest Robes tho' thus bedight,
Tho' her soft Pencil trace your various Dye,
Tho' lures your roseate Hue the charmed Sight,
Tho' Odours sweet your nect'rous Breath supply,
Soon on your Leaves Time's cank'rous Tooth shall prey,
Your dulcet Dews exhale, your beauteous Bloom decay.

Ye hedge-row Elms, beneath whose spreading Shade
The grazing Herds defy the ratt'ling Shower;
Ye lofty Oaks, in whose wide Arms display'd
The clam'rous Rook builds high his airy Bower;
Stript by hoar Winter's rough inclement Rage,
In mournful Heaps your leafy Honours lie,
Ev'n your hard Ribs shall feel the force of Age,
And your bare Trunks the friendly Shade deny;
No more by cheerful Vegetation green,
Your sapless Bolls shall sink, and quit th' evanid Scene.

Ye feather'd Warblers of the vernal Year
That careless sing, nor fear the Frowns of Fate,
Tune your sad Notes to Death and Winter drear!
Ill suit these mirthful Strains your transient State.
No more with cheerful Song nor sprightly Air
Salute the Blushes of the rising Day,
With doleful Ditties, drooping Wings repair
To the lone Covert of the nightly Spray;
Where love-lorn Philomela strains her Throat,
Surround the budding Thorn, and swell the mournful Note.

Come sighing Elegy, with sweetest Airs
Of melting Music teach my Grief to flow,
I too must mix my sad Complaint with theirs,
Our Fates are equal, equal be our Woe.
Come, Melancholy, spread thy Raven Wing,
And in thy ebon Car, by Fancy led,
To the dark Charnel Vault thy vot'ry bring,
The murky Mansions of the mould'ring Dead,
Where dank Dews breathe, and taint the sickly Skies,
Where in sad loathsome Heaps all human Glory lies.

Wrapt in the Gloom of uncreated Night
Secure we slept in senseless Matter's arms,
Nor Pain could vex, nor pallid Fear affright,
Our quiet Fancy felt no Dream's Alarms.
Soon as to Life our animated Clay
Awakes, and conscious Being opes our Eyes,
Care's fretful Family at once dismay,
With ghastly air a thousand Phantoms rise,
Sad Horror hangs o'er all the deep'ning gloom,
Grief prompts the labour'd Sigh, Death opes the marble Tomb.

Yet Life's strong Love intoxicates the Soul,
And Thirst of Bliss inflames the fev'rous Mind,
With eager Draughts we drain the pois'nous Bowl,
And in the Dregs the Cordial hope to find.
O Heav'n! for this light End were Mortals made,
And plac'd on Earth, with Happiness in view,
To catch with cheated Grasp the flitting Shade,
And with vain Toil the fancied Form pursue,
Then give their short-liv'd Being to the Wind,
As the wing'd Arrow flies, and leaves no Track behind!

Thus lonely wand'ring thro' the nightly Shade
Against the stern Decrees of stubborn Fate,
To mockful Echo my Complaints I made,
Of Life's short Period, or its toilsome State.
'Tis death-like Silence all, no Sound I hear,
Save the hoarse Raven croaking from the Sky,
Or scaly Beetle murm'ring thro' the Air,
Or Screech-owl screaming with ill-omen'd Cry;
Save when with brazen Tongue from yon high Tow'r
The Clock deep-sounding speaks, and counts the passing Hour.

Pale Cynthia mounted on her Silver Car
O'er Heav'n's blue Concave drives her nightly Round;
See a torn Abbey, wrapt in Gloom, appear
Scatter'd in wild Confusion o'er the Ground.
Here rav'nous Ruin lifts her wasteful Hands
O'er bri'ar-grown Grots and bramble-shaded Graves;
Safe from her Wrath one weeping Marble stands,
O'er which the mournful Yew its Umbrage waves;
Ope, ope thy pond'rous Jaws, thou friendly Tomb,
Close the sad deathful Scene, and shroud me in thy Womb!

Forth issuing lovely from the gloomy Shade,
Which stately Pines in Phalanx deep compose,
Fair above Mortals comes a smiling Maid
To sooth my Sighs, and cheer my heart-felt Woes.
Here nurs'd by Contemplation, Matron sage,
Where with mute Solitude she loves to dwell,
In Truth's fair Lore she form'd her early Age,
And trim'd the midnight Lamp in lonely Cell,
Here learn'd clear Reason's heav'n-sprung Light to raise
O'er Passion's low-born Mists, or Pleasure's spurious Blaze.

Her azure Mantle flows with easy Grace,
Nor Fashion's Folds constrain, nor Custom's Tye;
An optic Tube she bears, each Sphere to trace
That rolls its rapid Orbit round the Sky:
Yet not to Heav'n alone her View's confin'd;
A clear reflecting Plane she holds, to show
The various Movements of the reas'ning Mind,
How strange Ideas link, and Habits grow,
Passion's fierce Impulse, Will's free Power to scan,
To paint the featur'd Soul, and mark th' internal Man.

Whence these sad Strains, said she, of plaintive Grief,
Which pierce the sleep-clos'd Ear of peaceful Rest?
Oft has the sick'ning Mind here found relief,
Here quell'd the throbbing Tumults of the Breast:
Lift up thy loaden Eyes to yon fair Cloud,
Where moon-sprung Iris blends her beauteous Dyes:
I lift them soon, and as I gazing stood,
The fleeting Phantom in a Moment Flies;
Where beam'd the gilded Arch of gaudy Hue,
Frowns the dark low'ring Cloud all gloomy to the View.

Life's Emblem fit, said I, that roscid Bow!
The gay illusive Pageant of an Hour
To real Semblance tricks her air Show,
Then sinks in Night's dull Arms, and is no more!
Ah! Fool, said she, tho' now to Fancy's Sight
The Violet pale, the blushing Red decays,
Tho' now no painted Cloud reflect the Light,
Nor Drops prismatic break the falling Rays,
Yet still the Colours live, tho' none appear,
Glow in the darting Beam that gilds yon Crystal Sphere.

Then let not Fancy with her vagrant Blaze
Mislead in trackless Paths of wild Deceit;
On Reason's steady Lamp still ardent gaze;
Led by her sober Light to Truth's retreat.
Tho' wond'ring Ign'rance sees each Form decay,
The breathless Bird, bare Trunk, and shrivel'd Flow'r:
New Forms successive catch the vital Ray,
Sing their wild Notes, or smile th' allotted Hour,
And search Creation's ample Circuit round,
Tho' Modes of Being change, all Life's immortal found.

See the slow Reptile grov'ling o'er the Green,
That trails thro' slimy Paths its cumbrous Load,
Start in new Beauty from the lowly Scene,
And wing with flutt'ring Pride th' aetherial Road;
Burst their Shell-prisons, see the feather'd Kind,
Where in dark Durance pent awhile they lie,
Dispread their painted Plumage to the Wind,
Brush the brisk Air, swift shooting thro' the Sky,
Hail with their choral Hymns the new-born Day,
Distend their joy-swoln Breasts, and carol the sweet Lay.

See man thro' varied Periods fixt by Fate
Ascend Perfection's Scale by slow Degree;
The plant-like Foetus quits its senseless State,
And helpless hangs sweet-smiling on the Knee;
Soon outward Objects steal into the Brain,
Next prattling Childhood lisps with mimic Air,
Then Mem'ry links her fleet ideal Train,
And sober Reason rises to compare,
The full-grown Breast some manly Passion warms,
It pants for Glory's Meed, or beats to Love's Alarms:

Then say since Nature's high Behest appears
That living Forms should change of Being prove,
In which new Joy the novel Scene endears,
New Objects rise to please, new Wings to move;
Since Man too taught by sage Experience knows
His Frame revolving treads Life's varying Stage,
That the Man-plant first vegetating grows,
Then Sense directs, then Reason rules in Age;
Say, is it strange, should Death's all-dreaded Hour
Waft to some unknown Scenes, or wake some-untried Pow'r?

The wise Creator wrapt in fleshly Veil
The Ray divine, the pure aetherial Mate;
Tho' worn by Age the brittle Fabric fail,
The smiling Soul survives the Frowns of Fate:
Each circling Year, each quick-revolving Day
Touches with mould'ring Tooth thy flitting Frame,
With furtive Slight repairs th' unseen Decay;
For ever changing, yet in change the same,
Oft hast thou dropt unhurt thy mortal Part,
Dare the grim Terror then, nor dread his guiltless Dart.

The twinkling Eye, whose various-humour'd Round
Takes in soft Net th' inverted Form behind,
The list'ning Ears, that catch the waving Sound,
Are but mere Organs of the feeling Mind:
External Matter thus can lend its Aid,
And distant Shapes with foreign Pow'r supply;
Thus the long Tube by Galilaeo made
Brings home the Wonders of the peopled Sky:
The Pow'r percipient then feels no Decay,
Tho' blind the Tube, and Darkness blot the visual Ray.

When lock'd in short Suspence by Sleep's soft pow'r
In temporary Death the Senses lie,
When solemn Silence reigns at Midnight Hour,
Deaf the dull Ear, and clos'd the curtain'd Eye;
Objects of Sense, each conscious Sense asleep,
With lively Image strike the wakeful Soul,
Some frowning Rock that threats the foaming Deep,
Or wood-hung Vale, where Streams meand'ring roll,
Some long-lost Friend's returning Voice you hear,
Clasp the life-pictur'd Shade, and drop the pleasing Tear.

Each outward Organ, as Ideas rise,
Gives easy Entrance to the motley Train;
Reflection calm, with retrospective Eyes
Surveys her Treasures in the formful Brain;
Tho' Death relentless shed his baleful Dew,
In Lethe dip each Form-conveying Pow'r,
Unhurt Reflection may her Themes pursue,
Smile at the Ruin, safe amidst her Store;
Without one Sense's Aid in Life's low Vale,
Fancy can furnish Joys, and Reason lift her Scale.

Thus the lone Lover in the pensive Shade
In Day-dreams rapt of soft ecstatic Bliss,
Pursues in Thought the visionary Maid,
Feasts on the fancy'd Smile, and favour'd Kiss:
Thus the young Poet at the close of Day
Led by the Magic of some Fairy Song
Thro' the dun Umbrage winds his heedless Way,
Nor hears the babbling Brook that brawls along:
Thus deathless Newton deaf to Nature's Cries
Would measure Time and Space, and travel 'round the Skies.

When just expiring hangs Life's trembling Light,
And fell Disease strikes deep the deadly Dart,
Reason and Mem'ry burn with Ardour bright,
And gen'rous Passions warm the throbbing Heart;
Oft will the vig'rous Soul in Life's last Stage
With keenest Relish taste pure mental Joys:
Since the fierce Efforts of Distemper's Rage
Nor 'bates her Vigour, nor her Pow'rs destroys,
Say, shall her Lustre Death itself impair?
When in high Noon she rides, then sets in dark Despair?

Tho' through the Heart no purple Tide should flow,
No quiv'ring Nerve should vibrate to the Brain,
The mental Pow'rs no mean dependence know;
Thought may survive, and each fair Passion reign:
As when Lucina ends the pangful Strife,
Lifts the young Babe, and lights her lambent Flame,
Some Pow'rs new-waking hail the dawning life,
Some unsuspended live, unchang'd the same;
So from our Dust fresh Faculties may bloom,
Some posthumous survive, and triumph o'er the Tomb.

This fibrous Frame by Nature's kindly Law,
Which gives each Joy to keen Sensation here,
O'er purer Scenes of Bliss the Veil may draw,
And cloud Reflection's more exalted Sphere.
When Death's cold Hand with all-dissolving Pow'r
Shall the close Tie with friendly Stroke unbind,
Alike our mortal as our natal Hour
May to new Being raise the waking Mind:
On Death's new genial Day the Soul may rise,
Born to some higher Life, and hail some brighter Skies.

The moss-grown Tree, that shrinks with rolling Years,
The drooping Flow'rs that die so soon away,
Let not thy Heart alarm with boding Fears,
Nor thy own Ruin date from their Decay:
The blushing Rose that breathes the balmy Dew,
No pleasing Transports of Perception knows,
The rev'rend Oak, that circling Springs renew,
Thinks not, nor by long Age experienc'd grows;
Thy Fate and theirs confess no kindred Tie,
Tho' their frail Forms may fade, shall Sense and Reason die?

Nor let Life's ills, that in dire Circle rage,
Steal from thy heaving Breast those labour'd Sighs;
These, the kind Tutors of thy Infant Age,
Train the young Pupil for the future Skies:
Unschool'd in early Prime, in riper Years
Wretched and scorn'd still struts the bearded Boy;
The tingling Rod bedew'd with briny Tears
Shoots forth in graceful Fruits of manly Joy:
The painful Cares that vex the toilsom Spring
Shall plenteous Crops of Bliss in Life's last Harvest bring.

She ceas'd, and vanish'd into sightless Wind—
O'er my torn breast alternate Passions sway,
Now Doubt desponding damps the wav'ring Mind,
Now Hope reviving sheds her cheerful Ray.
Soon from the Skies in heav'nly White array'd,
Faith to my Sight reveal'd, fair Cherub! stood,
With Life replete the Volume she display'd,
Seal'd with the ruddy Stains of crimson Blood;
Each Fear now starts away, as Spectres fly
When the Sun's orient Beam first gilds the purple Sky.

Meanwhile the faithful Herald of the Day
The Village Cock crows loud with Trumpet shrill,
The warbling Lark soars high, and Morning grey
Lifts her glad Forehead o'er the cloud-wrapt Hill:
Nature's wild Music fills the vocal Vale;
The bleating Glocks that bite the dewy Ground,
The lowing Herds that graze the Woodland Dale,
And cavern'd Echo, swell the chearful Sound;
Homeward I bend with clear unclouded Mind,
Mix with the busy World, and leave each Care behind.

[pp. 5-20]