1755 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode to a Friend.

London Magazine 36 (April 1767) 190-91.

Charles Emily


Five irregular stanzas consisting of quatrains terminating with a couplet and alexandrine; the lines were posthumously published in 1767. Charles Emily's Ode is a sort of Cambridge equivalent to Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character. In Miltonic diction and syntax Emily declares his ambition to compose a major poem, georgic, tragic, or sacred epic, "Still, as I haunt the tow'ry-crowned flood | Of Camus, blessed seat of bards divine, | O'er Poesy's delightsome fields to rove | And crop immortal garlands from the muse's grove." Plainly, Milton rather than Spenser is the poet Emily would emulate.

In the event, upon coming into his inheritance Emily retired to his estate, leaving behind at his early death a small number of promising poems, including "Death," the first English sonnet sequence to be written in well over a century. The poem is signed "By the late — Emily, Esq; of Trinity College, Cambridge."

The "Friend" is possibly Robert Lloyd, Emily's contemporary at Trinity College Cambridge, who later published his "Death" in the St. James's Magazine (1762).



I.
How oft in objects uninspir'd with sense,
To musing contemplation, clear and strong
As all the wordy pomp of eloquence,
Or precepts dropt from Plato's honied tongue
Speak's nature's warning voice? For say, while now,
Chaunting so sweetly forth her evening lay,
The love-lorn nightingale on yonder bough
To peaceful slumbers lulls the wearied day,
Say as thou mark'st, the willowy verge beside
Of Camus old in pensive mood reclin'd,
The stealing waves how hastily they glide,
Starts not, my friend, a moral to thy mind?
Waves still successive former waves supply,
No more to seek their native source again,
Another and another passes by,
All hast'ning on to the devouring main:
'Tis thus on years the rolling years succeed,
Day follows day, and hour still urges hour;
While now we speak, we think, the moment fled;
And time flows onward to return no more,
And still shall flow, till it shall swallow'd be
In vast eternity's unfathomable sea.

II.
See'st thou yon golden orb, erewhile that shone
Insufferably bright, and proudly rode
In flamy radiance on it's noon-tide throne
Sublime like nature's universal God?
The shepherd views it with undazzled sight
Now stretching o'er the plain it's level ray;
Now ling'ring on the extremest verge of light
Gradual it sinks, and in the western bay
Descends — E'en now pale darkness 'gins to rear
Her ebon car, by fatal screechowls drawn;
E'en now she spreads around her empire drear
O'er lake and flood, o'er hill and flow'ry lawn:
Ah! such is life! which haply soon may set
In youth's meridian glory now so bright;
With inauspicious note the bird of fate
Soon, soon may warn us of the low'ring night;
And ere a year, a month, perchance a week
On time's fleet pinions shall have slipt away,
You or some kindly friend, like you, may seek
Yon hallow'd mansion of sepulcher'd clay,
There weep for very tenderness, and cry
"Beneath this marble sleeps the faithful Emily!"

III.
Come then, let's seize occasion ere 'tis fled,
Nor waste the treasure of the present day;
If small's the store of life to man decreed,
Less cause have we to squander it away.
Come and let's trace the paths of fair renown,
With sweetest flow'rets strewed, that ever bloom
Ere we shall sleep amid the base unknown
With dark oblivion in the silent tomb:
Yet first with votive offerings, let us bow
In adoration due at nature's shrine;
So may the goddess on our honour'd brow
Fresh chaplets of unfading praise entwine;
She led the poet, when he dar'd to soar
Into the heav'n of heav'ns, an earthly guest;
'Twas she that bad the first of men explore
The comet's path, the sun's eternal rest.
But whosoe'er he be, that for his guide
To seek propitious nature shall disdain,
Fame's adamantine gates to pierce deny'd
Devious he strays, and labours till in vain,
Still vainly sick'ning o'er the studious oil
To pale-ey'd care he gives the sleepless night;
Curst as the wretch, that with unceasing toil
Panting, the cumbrous rock up th' hill's steep height
Hard-struggling heaves — then it rolls down again
With violent rapidity rushing amain.

IV.
O thou the genius of my natal hour,
Soul of my soul in fastest union join'd,
Unseen yet felt, whose heav'n-commission'd pow'r
To deeds of praise directs the yielding mind,
Albeit with mighty Bacon to pursue
Mysterious knowledge thro' untrodden ways,
Or, Newton, led by thine unerring clue
Urge flying science to its inmost maze,
Albeit to me by godlike acts to gain
From shouting multitudes the loud applause,
Rage thro' the storm of battle, and to stain
The sword of vengeance in my country's cause
Permits not heav'n; nor in the per'lous hour
Of dark conspiracy with dauntless tongue
Dash the fierce spirit of Cataline, and pour
The tides of patriot eloquence along,
At least distinguish'd from th' ignoble crowd
O let e'en me not vainly pant for fame;
Else tell me whence, as yet a child, I glow'd
With the warm impulse of its sacred flame?
Still to repose, thou source of every good,
In no inglorious leisure make it mine;
Still, as I haunt the tow'ry-crowned flood
Of Camus, blessed seat of bards divine,
O'er Poesy's delightsome fields to rove
And crop immortal garlands from the muse's grove.

V.
Would that my power but answer'd to my will!
And heav'n auspicious gave not to the wind
My frustrate vows! pluckt from the sacred hill
With laurels than these temples wou'd I bind,
Anxious to rival, with exulting pride
Whom thou, O Albion saw'st in former time
Triumphant mid applauding Io's ride
Rich with the spoils of Eden's happy clime,
While Meles trembling through his farthest waves
The loud acclaims with envious wonders heard,
While sorrowing each within their pearly caves
The nymphs of Mincio wept their conquer'd bard;
Science and Smith, then pleas'd, might see me pay
The pious tribute at their Newton's shrine;
Then Camus might approve the filial lay,
Nor thou, Eliza, blush to call me thine;
Then might I force the captiv'd theatre
To feel the miseries which others felt,
In eyes unconscious of the tender tear
Extort the weeping sympathy, and melt
The soul of adamant: Or pleas'd no more
With fabled Pindus lead the tuneful throng
O'er Sina's top, and on thy palmy shore,
O Jordan, sacred river, laid along,
Advent'rous soar on epic plume, and sing
Of Israel's lawgiver, or Juda's shepherd king.

[pp. 190-91]