1783
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Poems on the Seasons.]

Poetical Sketches. By W. B.

William Blake


A cycle of four miniatures on the seasons; the first and fourth are in unrhymed quatrains, a measure frequently adopted in imitations of Collins's Ode to Evening, some of which treat the georgic times of day theme, and others the theme of the seasons. Blake's gorgeous imagery, likewise derived from Milton and Collins, was already becoming popular in the Della Cruscan poetry of the later 1780s. William Blake's first volume collects juvenilia of various and undetermined date, but certainly influenced by Collins, Gray, and "Ossian."

Samuel Austin Allibone: "William Blake, 1757-1828, born in London, an engraver and author, attracted great attention by his eccentricity and artistic talents" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1: 203.

George Saintsbury: "There can be no reason at all for doubting that the Sketches represent, fairly and rather fully, the poet-painter-prophet's work before and up to his six-and-twentieth year. The Advertisement, in fact, limits them to his twentieth; and so much the better if it be so, for that would put them before 1777, only seven years later than Chatterton's death. As was absolutely inevitable in the circumstances, there is perpetual imitation in them. But, on the one hand, this imitation is largely directed to things which were only just being imitated at all, and which it was not yet fashionable to imitate; and, on the other, there is much which is anything but imitative. Elizabethan and seventeenth-century influences appear everywhere in the opening "Season" pieces; the bold enjambment, the studiously varied pause, the epanaphora, all give evidence of this kind; and the same influence colours, in a fashion partly comic, the Strawberry-Hill supernatural of 'Fair Elenor.' But there is nothing comic in the wonderful eights of 'How sweet I roamed from field to field,' which is Caroline of the best kind. 'My Silks and Fine Array,' though more directly imitative, is Elizabethan in its imitation, and so is 'Memory, hither come.' The fingering in these last three pieces is miraculous; and it must be remembered that the manner had not been transmitted — a little the worse for the transmission, but continuous and alive — as it had been in Burns's case. Nobody except Chatterton had sung like that — since the middle of the seventeenth century" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 3:10-11.

Myra Reynolds: "All of Blake's poetry of Nature is as freshly beautiful as the dewy mornings, that spring-time green, the shining skies, as clear and transparent as the limpid, dimpling streams he loved. There are also frequent passages that besides their metrical flow and exquisite charm of external suggestion seem to reveal the essential spirit of the object described" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 179.



TO SPRING.
O thou, with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning; turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell each other, and the list'ning
Vallies hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavillions: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head,
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee!

TO SUMMER.
O thou, who passest thro' our vallies in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched'st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy, thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy vallies, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our vallies love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam'd who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

TO AUTUMN.
O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof, there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe;
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

"The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees."
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

TO WINTER.
O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o'er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain'd; sheathed
In ribbed steel, I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear'd his sceptre o'er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o'er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal'st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driv'n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla.

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