1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melpomene.

Gentleman's Magazine 55 (November 1785) 906.

Anna Seward


Anna Seward adapts her Ode to Melpomene from Horace's Ode 3, Book 4. She composed several "Paraphrases and Imitations of Horace" in irregular Spenserian patterns: To Sallust (ababccdD); To Titus Valgius (ababcC); To Licinius Murena (ababccdD); To the Fountain of Blandusia (ababcC). Seward published a series of her Horatian poems in the Gentleman's Magazine, including an "Ode to Phidyle" in December, in the same measure though without the alexandrine.

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele: "I have, in the course of the past winter, amused myself with endeavouring to make spirited and intelligible little English poems on some of Horace's odes, which are vapid and obscure in all the translations I have seen; but then I take only the general ideas, scrupling not to add whatever appears to me eligible to elucidate their sense, and strengthen their imagery. Idioms, local customs, and allusions to circumstances over which time draws a veil, involve a faithful translation in the disadvantages of hard and laborious language, and in all the vapidness resulting from every species of fetter upon the imagination and the style. If we emancipate ourselves, and seize on the beauties of our author, which remain unimpaired by the changes of passing ages, and, without attempting to preserve what they have rendered valueless, supply the place of obsolete by intelligible allusion, then it is that scholastic pride rings its grating changes upon 'modern tinsel' being substituted for the 'pure gold of antiquity,' &c.; while the fidelity it requires is incompatible with all my poetic enthusiasms; and to read verse without feeling our enthusiasm awakened, is like conversing with mere good sort of people" 18 September 1785; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:171.

Anna Seward to Humphrey Repton: "If I have rendered a few of them interesting to even but one genuine disciple of the muses, my trifling, for I cannot call it labour, has not been in vain. Over the lyre of Horace I throw an unfettered, perhaps a presumptuous, hand" 23 February 1786; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 1:127.



Not he, O Muse! whom the auspicious eyes
Kind in his primeval hour beheld,
Shall victor in the Isthmian contest rise;
Nor o'er the long-resounding field
The rapid horse his kindling wheels shall roll,
Gay in th' Olympic race, and foremost at the goal.

Nor in the Capitol, triumphant shown,
The victor laurel on his brow,
For the proud threats of vaunting kings o'erthrown;
But Tiber's streams, that warbling flow,
And groves of fragrant gloom, resound his strains,
Whose sweet Aeolian grace high celebration gains.

Now that his name, her noblest bards among,
Th' imperial city loudly hails,
That proud distinction guards his rising song,
When Envy's carping tongue assails;
In sullen silence now she hears his praise,
Nor shed her canker'd spots upon his springing bays.

O Muse! who rulest every dulcet lay
That floats along the gilded shell;
That the mute tenant of the watery way
Canst teach, at pleasure, to excel
The softest notes harmonious sorrow brings,
When the expiring swan her own sad requiem sings.

Thine be the praise, that pointing Romans guide
The stranger's eye, with proud desire,
That well he note the man, whom crowds decide
Should boldly string the Latian lyre.—
Ah! when I please, if still to please be mine,
Nymph of th' Aeolian shell, be all the glory THINE.

[pp. 146-47]