"Written in the year 1776" Poems (1793) 1:22. The epithalamium was composed for George Butt's former pupil, Edwin Winnington, baronet (1749-1805) of Stanford Court in the county of Worcester.
This is easily one of the most elaborate and attractive epithalamia written in the eighteenth century, consisting of an allegory in which Hymen, Love, and Venus pay a call on Pomona, who resides in the Worcestershire valley where the wedding is to take place. While there a number of Spenserian turns of phrase, Milton is perhaps the presiding figure as George Butt is plainly reminded of the social and topographic setting of Milton's Comus and the octosyllabic couplets of "L'Allegro."
The poem opens with a landscape description in which Palemon (the poet) is asked to praise Abberley-lodge, a former seat where William Walsh ("Corin") had entertained Dryden ("Damaetas"), Addison ("Alexis"), and Pope ("Damon"); in a note Butt speculates that it was the model for the seat of Sir Roger de Coverley. The landscape description is followed by an allegorical pageant, in which Hymen's festivities are interrupted by the undesired approach of Avarice and his train; the description is modelled on Spenser: "Yet grinning wide, with toothless jaws, | The blear-eyed sage looks proud applause" 1:28. Avarice is chased away by Hymen, and to complete the central triumph, Vanity and her fashionable crew are dispersed by May in a spring shower. The wedding party next enter, led by the poet. The bride and bridegroom are described, and the poet makes an appropriate speech in his dual capacity as tutor and friend. The epithalamium concludes with a dance and a "Io Hymen."
Tho' Phoebus from his noon-day height
Now pours the broadest blaze of light,
Yet, sailing in the Heavens afar,
Methinks I see Diana's car
Softly sliding down the skies,
Above yon hills which eastern rise.
Bellona thence, in elder days,
Bade great Glendower's tents to blaze
'Mid spacious mounds, which now bestow
The sheep a fence from driving snow,
Or, when the Sun meridian rides,
Protect 'em with their ridgy sides.
Lo! to these hills Diana's car
Seems now its glitt'ring pomp to bear,
As if on that aerial seat
Meant a choir of Gods to meet
Pomona, busied to prepare
Her rich repast and nectar'd fare
On mountains, whence her raptur'd eye
Views the vales that such supply.
Ah! as the glories nigher move,
The car I saw seems that of Love;
And Hymen, with his festive trains,
In Pomona's valley deigns,
At Love's request, his visit pay—
Redoubling the delights of May.
Then, Hymen, with thy smiling friend,
Young Love, and Beauty's queen descend,
Where Pomona's genial hand
Sheds plenty o'er the laughing land.
But, hovering first in air sublime,
Deign hear Palemon's rapt'rous rhyme;
And, whilst he paints the valley's praise,
Gaze, O ye Gods, delighted gaze!
See, ranging o'er yon beacon-height,
The glooming groves chastise the light;
Mix'd with the copse, the moor, the down—
Uplands green and fallows brown,
As Chance hath left or Art design'd,
With varying lights and shadows please,
Such as chequer waving seas.
And now behold the sheep that stray,
The lambs too which about them play
Beside yon thyme-empurpled hill,
Beneath whose shelter, gracious still
To worth, time-honour'd Courtesy
Her gate expands with heart-felt glee,
And bids Palemon praise the dome
Where once Damaetas found his home,
Smiting with more than past'ral fire,
And yet with past'ral ease, his lyre;
Where wise Alexis, mild of mien,
Sooth'd the soul with airs serene,
Yet on his lyre could varying play
Airs that made the gravest gay;
Where all-accomplished Corin shew'd
To Damon what to Fame was ow'd,
Pointing his enthusiast guest
The path by poet's foot unpress'd;
Where Art, with unrelenting aim,
Smooths and works her way to fame.
Now mark the glittering rocks that rise
Amid yon wilds, where Labour plies,
Darkling, deep in mines, the toil
Which bids the Winter's evening smile,
When all around the blazing fire
Ariconian cups inspire
Those honest hearts, whose jovial glee
Laughs with old Simplicity.
See there the winding path-way, worn
Across the lightsome fields of corn,
Whence with delight the wand'rer sees
Hoary glens and shadowy trees;
Where, murmuring down the shrubby glade,
Streamlets flash thro' twilight shade.
Yon woods beside, yon orchards near,
Her farm-cot Ceres joys to rear—
Each with its flowery garden grac'd,
Where the thatch'd hive duly plac'd,
Busy bee, with humming lay,
Sings the birth of merry May.
Bedeck'd with blossoms white as snow,
Bloom the pear-trees, many a row;
Whilst Ariconium's roseat tree
Widely wafts its fragrancy.
Deign'd he, the Muse's god, again
Frequent the meads — a tuneful swain,
The Muse's god would fail in lays
Fitting yon fair meads to praise—
To praise yon stream which winding flows,
And half the valley's grace bestows,
Its silvery zone, that seems to glide
Amid the scene with parent pride.
There, in their fresh attire, the trees,
Oft waving with the river's breeze,
O'er-hanging, now conceal the stream,
Now yield it to the sunny beam,
Disclosing to the distant sight,
Its liquid mirror of the light.
Haste, Hymen, haste, and here descend
With thy laughter-loving friend,
With sportive Health of ruddy mien,
With Hope, and Peace, and Beauty's queen,
Hear from yon cloud the blithe-ey'd May
Tune for thee her roundelay,
Whilst all about her, as she sings,
The Zephyrs crowd and flap their wings.
Haste then with thy beauteous train,
Whose influence guards thy golden reign,
Whose presence now breathes grace and joy,
Some blest event proclaiming nigh.
From many a realm of warmer day,
Glad Hymen cries, I bend my way,
Nor ill exchange the citron grove,
Or the myrtle bow'rs of love,
For this fair vale, by Nature drest
In Pomona's greenest vest,
Where Summer seeks select retreat,
From the swart domains of heat,
Where thou, so lov'd by me, sweet May,
Shalt crown me with thy garland gay.
He spake, and May, nigh hovering, showers,
From her unfolded mantle, flowers,
Which falling, snow-like, o'er the vale,
Fragrance, worthy Heav'n, exhale,
Whilst ev'ry where from ev'ry tree
Trill the birds new melody.
Palemon snatch'd his harp, yet fears
(Such warblings so enchant his ears)
To touch it — though his raptur'd eye
Sparkles a lightning flash of joy.
Where, on a mount bedeck'd with bowers,
To Hymen rais'd, a temple towers;
There, 'mid the rose and jasmine, rise
Clouds of incense to the skies.
But now the clarion's mellow voice
Bids the vale rejoice, rejoice!
As through the temple's golden gate,
The Gods glide on with godlike state,
Till Hymen, thron'd, lifts high his hand,
And utters thus his blest command:
"Let all, whom gen'rous love would bind,
Approach, and here my favour find."
Scarce had he spoken, when, behold!
Clouds 'gan gather — air grew cold;
Songs from the greenwood sound no more,
But Silence reigns the valley o'er.
A form, half-shrunk to Death, appears,
Bow-like bent by weight of years;
White were his hairs, which thinly spread,
Bestreak'd his bald, brown, wrinkled head—
The wight, by name of Av'rice known,
Bow'd, tremor-struck, before the throne—
Yet grinning wide, with toothless jaws,
The blear-eyed sage looks proud applause
At many a couple in his train,
Who barter'd love away for gain.
Momus, when mad, for frolic ties,
In soon-snapt band, such contraries;
But sure as mad is carking Care,
That gravely wolf and lamb would pair—
Bid toothless Age young Hebe please,
And twine brisk Health about Disease.
"Wretch," said offended Hymen, "here
Presums't thou with thy crew t' appear?
Thou foe to love, thou slave to gold—
Madly mingling young with old,
The living with the dead; away,
Wint'ry blast, nor blight the May:
Ice-hearted Crone, from me begone,
And fly the rage of Beauty's son."
Love shook his brow, with anger red;
Av'rice saw the flame, and fled:
And where his flying legion goes,
Loud-hissing Scorn her curses throws—
Croak toads, cry ravens, asses bray,
Bellow big bulls athwart their way—
Through ev'ry dell, from ev'ry door,
Barking dogs, re-echo'd, roar—
And, screaming o'er 'em, rav'nous kites,
Emblematic mock the wights.
Veil'd in a cloud, above the dome,
Blithe May beholding what would come,
Forc'd, by the rustling of her veil,
Rain by fits, or pattering hail:
Now breezes whisper, storms invade,
Now light has flash'd, and now 'tis shade.
Then high-plum'd Vanity is seen
Slow swimming in with mincing mien:
A robe she wears of thousand dies,
And rolls a thousand ways her eyes.
The damask lip of Venus smil'd;
But Love's regard was laughter wild;
Pomona, rural goddess, stares,
So new to her such modish airs;
Hope frown'd, and o'er her beauteous face
Drawing her veil with solemn grace,
Lets slip her anchor on the ground,
Startling Hymen with the sound.
Away, pernicious Vanity,
Exclaims the God — thou foe to me;
Thy vap'ring folly's frantic haste,
Mounts to Ruin's blaze at last:
Away, and with thee lead thy train,
Vicious soon from being vain,
The slaves of Lux'ry, Fashion's fools,
Whom thy pride-fed madness schools,
To fly the bliss which only lies
On the down of Charities,
Assigned by Virtue and by me,
The meed of their simplicity,
Whose heartfelt love and lasting truth,
Win from me what raptures youth,
And, whilst it comforts manhood's cares,
Sheds the best balm on hoary hairs.
Mark, Venus, mark yon shameless crew,
They borrow not one grace from you,
Nor deem'st thou, gen'rous Love, that they
Can ought extend thy blissful sway:
The satyr Lust, their God alone,
Shakes thro' them your sacred throne,
Where Virtue seems about its base
Sportive babes reflect your grace;
Firm Faith and tear-bright Pity stand,
Sees, and triumphs in your band.
Away, pernicious Vanity,
For ever found the foe to me.
The fools of Fashion flit away,
But not unmark'd by smiling May,
Who on her cloud forth sayling goes,
And, sailing o'er her frighted foes,
On them hails and rains by fits,
And now her cloud the lightning splits,
Her thunder now assails each ear,
And rives the weak-soul'd crew with fear.
Soon with their shrieks in chorus join,
Whilst echo aids the Pow'rs design,
The screaming peacock, chattering jay,
And the cuckoo of the May;
Whilst mimic starlings, with the pie,
Cuckoo mocking, cuckoo cry;
Then fierce with hate of Folly's dame,
Minerva's birds, an army, came,
Hoot, flap their wings, or, vulture-like,
The proud ones with their talons strike.
Plagues after plagues assail the crew,
Whom last the hinds with prongs pursue,
And bid them with a hoarse, rough roar,
Nature's walks insult no more.
Rapt on the wing, with speed divine,
Exulting stands near Hymen's shrine,
That gayest form of Beauty, May,
Dealing 'round her garlands gay.
Soon as the wreaths the gifted grac'd,
May, by willing Venus plac'd,
Smil'd, when she saw sweet-smiling Love
Their accord, as wont, approve.
Oh! then, what stillness spread around,
Rais'd by Music's solemn sound,
Which by degrees to livelier strain
Ascending, fill'd with joy the fane!
Forth Hymen blaz'd with all his grace,
And triumph glow'd in Love's young face.
The golden gates then opening wide,
Rapture views the billowy tide
Of many a youth and many a maid,
Who beneath the scented shade
Of flow'ry canopies high rear'd,
In the bounding dance appear'd:
Their eyes, their hearts, their feet, their hands
Obey the timbrel's brisk commands.
Palemon leads, with Friendship's pride,
Young Edwin and his beauteous bride;
His floating robe was forest green,
Befitting well that sylvan scene,
Whence all the fragrance of the May
His care had cull'd to grace the day,
And for his garland, crook, and crown,
Had search'd the meadow, dale, and down.
Fair Annabel, rob'd lilly-white,
Rose of youth, salutes the sight,
Whilst Edwin's bliss-bespeaking air,
Shew'd him as fond as she was fair:
The Gods behold his noble pride,
Nor wonder'd when they saw his bride;—
Hope on her anchor lean'd anew,
Bade Love the pair ('twas needless) view,
(For well, I ween, his urchin heart
Had there not feebly wrought its part),
Whilst Venus ey'd th' exulting boy,
Serenely sat, but shar'd his joy,
And, with a smile that might appease
Into a calm the raging seas,
Told, she had lent the bride that grace,
Which now lit joy in Hymen's face.
Palemon then explor'd his lyre,
To find the sounds that fit his fire,
Then cry'd, can speech, can song impart
The movements which inspire my heart?
O Annabel, whose silken chain
Shall so thy Edwin's heart retain,
That he no more would now be free,
Thus blest, supremely blest in thee!
What joy to view thy form of grace,
Those ingenious charms of face,
Those roseate hues, whose rapid flow
Discern'd beneath that chrystal snow,
With 'witching rhet'ric speak in thee
Young health, and sacred modesty;
Those eyes — but Cytherea smiles
At my purpos'd fruitless toils,
And so would smile would Homer here,
Did not Homer's self not fear,
With all his stretch of skill divine,
Eyes to paint like her's and thine.
Ah! Edwin, tears of friendship tell,
Whilst I praise thy Annabel,
That thee I deem of her possess'd,
As far as friend can wish thee blest.
For is not her's sweet innocence,
Pure piety without pretence,
Gay-featur'd ease, conversant fire,
The worth that principles inspire,
Quick comprehensive claims of Charity,
With Pity's softly sweet control,
Diffusing grace o'er Honour's soul?
Tho' practic'd wisdom is the root
That boasts sweet temper its best fruit,
That temper here in earliest age,
Seems, my lov'd Edwin, to presage
(Blent with the pow'rs of reas'ning mind)
The blest companion you shall find,
The mild adviser, priceless friend,
To smooth your life, till life shall end.
Yet Annabel, thy tend'rer sex
Life's brambly mazes would perplex,
Did not the force of manhood's soul
The fiends which haunt the wild control;
Know then in Edwin the due zeal
For his lov'd Annabel to feel—
The heart, the taste, the mind to see
How much that zeal is due to thee:
Assur'd, in him that honour know
Whose fluctuation works no woe,
That ease, with courtesy combin'd,
Which nurses love in noble mind,
Those arts, that genius, which shall yield,
'Mid all Life's tasks, a sportive field
The care-spent spirit to restore,
And smooth its toil till life is o'er.
These arts shall still diversify
Each to each in other's eye;
And tho' the body's frame decay,
The mind with growing grace array;
And shall when thou, fair Annabel,
May less in Beauty's charms excel,
Still to thy Edwin shew thee fair,
His love continue with his care,
And, 'mid the snows of hoary age,
The myrtles set that mock his rage.
Hymen, 'tis thine, the bright renown
With which this pair thy shrine shall crown;
And may their blended worth reclaim
The long-lost lustre of thy name.
Then all the Gods at once arise,
When all in rapture, Hymen cries:
"Ye social pow'rs of Hymen's reign,
Assembled here to grace his fane,
Bid Triumph all his pomp display,
Bid Joy assume, and crown the day—
Let the fair nymphs their timbrels bring,
Dance, and Io Hymen sing;
Let the brisk youths, to join the dance,
With lifted garlands now advance,
And, as their light feet kiss the ground,
A louder — Io Hymen — sound.
Yea, all ye pow'rs of Hymen's reign,
Haste, and join the jocund train,
And on this noble pair bestow
The utmost bliss which man can know."