1774
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hymn to Venus, on a great Variety of Roses being planted around her Cottage.

Plays and Poems by William Whitehead, Esq. Poet Laureate, and Register and Secretary to the most Honourable Order of the Bath. 2 Vols.

William Whitehead


Five undated octosyllabic Prior stanzas; the epigraph is from Lucretius. William Whitehead renders the garden of Adonis in Augustan verse: "And each revolving year new hymns shall grace | Thy showery month, which wakes the vegetable race."

Westminster Magazine: "This collection of Mr. Whitehead's various productions, among which are a sentimental tender poem from Ann Boleyn to Henry VIII. and some beautiful elegies, prove him not unworthy of the honourable distinction to which he has been advanced" 2 (April 1774) 202.

Town and Country Magazine: "We are here presented with a correct edition of this gentleman's works, which prove with how just a title he claims the seat of Poet Laureat" 6 (March 1774) 156.

Herbert E. Cory: "William Whitehead attempted a lyrical version of the [Prior] stanza in his Hymn to Venus and used it regularly in his Vision of Solomon" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 59n.

Edmund Gosse: "The instrument of verse had reached an extraordinary smoothness, and no instance of its capability could be more interesting than the poetry of Shenstone, with his perfect utterance of things essentially not worth saying. In the most important writers of that very exhausted moment, technical skill seems the only quality calling for remark, and when we have said all that sympathy can say for Whitehead and Akenside, the truth remains that the one is vapid and the other empty. The Wartons saw that more liberty of imagination was wanted, and that the Muse was not born to skim the meadows, in short low flights, like a wagtail" "Joseph and Thomas Warton" in Some Diversions of a Man of Letters (1920) 74.



O Venus, whose inspiring breath
First waken'd Nature's genial power,
And cloth'd the teeming Earth beneath
With every plant, with every flower,
Which paints the verdant lap of Spring,
Or wantons in the Summer's ray;
Which, brush'd by Zephyr's dewy wing,
With fragrance hails the opening day;
Or, pour'd profuse on hill, on plain, on dale,
Reserves its treasur'd sweets for evening's softer gale!

To thee, behold, what new delights
The master of this shade prepares!
Induc'd by far inferior rites,
You've heard a Cyprian's softest prayers;
There form'd to wreaths, the sickly flower
Has on thy altars bloom'd and died;
But here, around thy fragrant bower,
Extends the living incense wide;
From the first rose the fost'ring Zephyrs rear,
To that whose fainter blush adorns the dying year.

Behold one beauteous flower assume
The lustre of th' unsullied snow!
While there the Belgic's softer bloom
Improves the damask's deeper glow;
The Austrian here in purple breaks,
Or flaunts in robes of yellow light;
While there, in more fantastic streaks,
The red rose mingles with the white,
And in its name records poor Albion's woes,
Albion, that oft has wept the colours of the rose!

Then VENUS, come; to every thorn
Thy kind prolific influence lend;
And bid the tears of eve and morn
In gently dropping dews descend;
Teach every sunbeam's warmth and light
To pierce thy thicket's inmost shade;
Nor let th' ungenial damps of night
The breeze's searching wings evade,
But every plant confess the power that guides,
And all be beauty here where beauty's queen presides.

So shall the master's bounteous hand
New plans design, new temples raise
To thee, and wide as his command
Extend the trophies of thy praise.
So daily, nightly, to thy star
The bard shall tribute pay,
Whether it guilds AURORA'S car,
Or loiters in the train of day;
And each revolving year new hymns shall grace
Thy showery month, which wakes the vegetable race.

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