To Horror.

Poems, by Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey

Robert Southey's juvenile verse was very much in the vein of William Collins and the Wartons. Horror, variously conceived, was a particularly popular topic in periodical verse at a time when gothic romances were likewise appearing on a monthly basis. The metrical pattern of Southey's ode was modified in later editions. To ridicule the laureate, in 1816 Leigh Hunt reprinted portions of the poem in The Examiner under the heading "Specimens of early Jacobin Poetry."

Preface to Poems (1837): "My school-boy verses savoured of Gray, Mason, and my predecessor Warton; and in the best of my juvenile pieces it may be seen how much the writer's mind had been imbued by Akenside" 1:viii-ix.

Critical Review: "Though the Ode has been rendered subservient to the meanest and most worthless purposes, yet we cannot concede to Mr. Southey that it is in its own nature the most worthless species of poetry, or incapable of rendering important services to mankind. Our author confesses it is the most difficult species of poetry; but if it admits of, if it absolutely requires, a fire of genius professed by few, spirit, sublimity, and elegance, that is important in morals and sacred in liberty, as well as the lighter pursuits of pleasure and love, may be advanced by the Ode, — Mr. Southey will, we think, on reflection, concede that he has spoken too hastily" NS 19 (March 1797) 304.

William Haller: "Among his acknowledged poems we have an ode To Horror dated 1791, which serves to show the kind of thing he was learning to do in imitation of Collins, possibly even of Anna Matilda [Hannah Cowley], who wrote on the same theme. This schoolboy performance was a poem of the sort in which, it has been said, the muse goes on the grand tour; she here surveys the scenes of horror which are to be found upon moss-cankered seats in old sepulchres, beneath the abbey's ivied wall, in Greenland, on the field of battle, or on Afric's shore where the impaled negro writhes round the stake" Early Life of Robert Southey (1917)

W. N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley: "there seems little doubt that Southey's Ode to Horror (1791) owes much to Mrs. Cowley's Invocation to Horror (1788), an example of the Della Cruscans passing on the 'Schauerromane' to the younger generation" The English Della Cruscans and their Time, 1783-1828 (1967) 56.

The 1765 edition of Collins's Poems appears in the 1844 sale catalogue of Southey's library; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 9:121.

Dark HORROR! hear my call!
Stern Genius, hear from thy retreat
On some old sepulchre's moss-canker'd seat,
Beneath the Abbey's ivied wall
That trembles o'er its shade;
Where wrapt in midnight gloom, alone,
Thou lovest to lie and hear
The roar of waters near,
And listen to the deep dull groan
Of some perturbed sprite
Borne fitful on the heavy gales of night.

Or whether o'er some wide waste hill
Thou mark'st the traveller stray,
Bewilder'd on his lonely way,
When, loud and keen and chill,
The evening winds of winter blow,
Drifting deep the dismal snow.

Or if thou followest now on Greenland's shore,
With all thy terrors, on the lonely way
Of some wrecked mariner, where to the roar
Of herded bears, the floating ice-hills round
Pour their deep echoing sound,
And by the dim drear Boreal light
Givest half his dangers to the wretches sight.

Or if thy fury form,
When o'er the midnight deep
The dark-wing'd tempests sweep,
Beholds from some high cliff the encreasing storm,
Listening with strange delight,
As the black billows to the thunder rave,
When by the lightning's light
Thou see'st the tall ship sink beneath the wave.

Dark HORROR! bear me where the field of fight
Scatters contagion on the tainted gale,
When to the Moon's faint beam,
On many a carcase shine the dews of night,
And a dead silence stills the vale,
Save when at times is heard the glutted Raven's scream.

Where some wreck'd army from the Conqueror's might
Speed their disastrous flight,
With thee, fierce Genius! let me trace their way,
And hear at times the deep heart-groan
Of some poor sufferer left to die alone;
His sore wounds smarting with the winds of night;
And we will pause, where, on the wild,
The mother to her frozen breast,
On the heap'd snows reclining clasps her child,
And with him sleeps, chill'd to eternal rest!

Black HORROR! speed we to the bed of Death,
Where he whose murderous power afar
Blasts with the myriad plagues of war
Struggles with his last breath,
Then to his wildly-starting eyes
The spectres of the slaughter'd rise,
Then on his frenzied ear
Their groans for vengeance and the Demons' yell
In one heart-maddening chorus swell;
Cold on his brow convulsing stands the dew,
And night eternal darkens on his view.

HORROR! I call thee yet once more!
Bear me to that accursed shore,
Where on the stake the impaled Negro writhes.
Assume thy sacred terrors then! dispense
The blasting gales of Pestilence!
Arouse the race of Afric! holy Power;
Lead them to vengeance! and in that dread hour
When Ruin rages wide
I will behold and smile by MERCY's side.

[pp. 140-44]