1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Sleep, written at Midnight.

The Florence Miscellany.

William Parsons


William Parsons, Esq., the Della Cruscan writer, imitates Milton's Il Penseroso. The original "sleep" passages from Statius, Virgil, Ovid, Ariosto, and Spenser were printed with the poem in the Universal Magazine 79 (1786) 43; Parsons incorporated more House of Morpheus imagery into later versions of this poem, which was very widely reprinted.

The Florence Miscellany was undertaken in part to encourage British poetry to take a Miltonic turn. While the specific contribution of the original Della Cruscans is debatable, there is no doubt what had previously been a largely academic mode was becoming extremely popular as allegorical odes modeled on Milton and Collins became standard fare in the magazines.

Henry Mackenzie: "The somewhat late admiration of Collins excited the imitation of a very inferior set of rhymers, who spun their No Ideas into mellifluous words, without meaning. Such were they whom Gifford so successfully ridiculed in his satirical poem of The Baviad" Anecdotes and Egotisms (ca. 1825) ed. Thompson (1927) 158.

Roy Benjamin Clark: "William Parsons must have been a sort of bore to some members of the circle in which he moved. One of the Berry sisters characterized him as 'that high priest of ennui.' In 1796 he published an 'Ode to a Boy at Eton, Three Sonnets, and One Epigram.' The Ode was written to correct what he considered a wrong impression of Eton given by Gray's 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.' The 'boy at Eton' was Bertie Greatheed, Jr.'" William Gifford (1930) 65.



Now ebon shades obscure the room,
And no kind rays the scene illume,
Save through the pane in languid streams
The wan Moon sheds her yellow beams,
With chequer'd radiance decks the ground,
And gently gilds the gloom around.
—At this lone hour when Midnight reigns
With Silence o'er the twilight plains,
While drowsy birds forget to sing,
No echoes in the forest ring,
No zephyr in the valley blows,
But all is hush'd in deep repose,
Shall I alone sad vigils keep?
Why dost thou fly me gentle Sleep?
O'er come with toil the cottag'd swain
Is sure thy partial smiles to gain,
On hardy bed outstretch'd he lies,
And ready slumbers close his eyes.
E'en the poor sea-boy on the mast
Thou deign'st to lock in fetters fast,
Tho' round him blows the whistling gale,
And rattling shrouds his ears assail.
Nor dost thou to the slave refuse
The balm of thine oblivious dews,
He, yielding to the welcome sway,
Flies from his tyrant far away,
Escapes the scourge and galling chains,
And temporary freedom gains.
Lo! where, with weight of sorrows prest,
Pale Grief reclines and sinks to rest,
E'en pining Care forgets his woes,
And Pain to thee a respite owes.
Love only thou forsak'st, O Sleep,
Love only wakes — and wakes to weep!
Once thou wert wont unsought to shed
Thy peaceful poppies o'er my head,
But since my Stella's angel charms
Have fill'd my soul with soft alarms,
Sadly I waste the night in sighs,
And no kind slumbers close mine eyes.
Oh come! diffuse thine influence bland,
Steal on my sense with downy hand;
And Morpheus on thy friendly wing
Some sweetly-soothing vision bring.
I ask not dreams of high renown,
The Poet's wreath, or Monarch's crown,
Or to deform the fancied plain
With clouds of smoke, and hills of slain,
Far, far, such aweful forms remove
From him who only thinks of love;
But bear me to some vernal scene,
Empurpled mead, or alley green,
Where o'er famed Arno's gentle tide
The dark pines wave their umbrage wide,
And bring my Stella to my mind
Ah! bring her fair, — and bring her kind!

[pp. 65-67]