1792
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melancholy.

Poems, chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall. In Two Volumes. [Rev. Richard Polwhele, ed.]

Rev. Richard Hole


After Il Penseroso: a sprawling irregular ode cataloguing the pleasures of melancholy as they appear to a west-country romantic poet: "How wildly dark these groves appear! | And trickling streams beneath that stray! | Yet sweet they murmur to my ear, | As slow they urge their winding way!" The poems in this significant anthology were published without signatures, though the writers' identities of the chief contributors were something of an open secret.

Richard Polwhele: "it was an honour for which the Editor could scarcely hope, in moments of the most sanguine expectation, to have the 'Poet of Arthur' for his associate in this work. But to be favoured with such original pieces as his Odes to Terror, and to Melancholy, was a mark of attention to the Editor, which checked, in silent gratitude, every effort to acknowledge it" 1:vii-viii.

Gentleman's Magazine: "When Mr. Polwhele projected his publication of the Devonshire and Cornwall Poets, Mr. Hole could not be overlooked in his numerous applications; and some of the most highly-finished poems in that collection are from his pen. We cannot enumerate each; but would particularly notice the Ode to Terror and to Melancholy, as little, if at all, inferior to those of Gray, Mason, and Akenside. They seem, however, to have been the production of an earlier period" 73 (June 1803) 599.

Nathan Drake: "Of these poems [by Hole in the collective volume] it would be injustice not to particularize the Odes to Terror and to Melancholy, and that named The Tomb of Gunnar, imitated from the Islandic, as entitled to a very distinguished praise, and to a rank, indeed, next, if not equal, to those of Gray and Collins" "Life of Richard Hole" in Mornings in Spring (1828) 2:139.

Eleanor M. Sickels: "One Mr. Hole has a long irregular ode in which ruins and the transitoriness of 'sublunary power' are again stressed, and the poet's melancholy fancy takes him on far flights as though in a blank verse descriptive poem, ranging with him from Palmyra to Egpyt and thence to the primitive glooms of Canadian forests" Gloomy Egoist (1932) 52.

Another imitation of Milton's L'Allegro, by James Beresford of Merton College, appears in the Looker-On (1792-94).



Hail, MELANCHOLY! whom of yore
To Grief wild-tressed Fancy bore.
From him 'tis thine with downcast eyes,
While swells thy breast with secret sighs,
To muse and melt at others woe:
Yet so to mourn let none repine;
For pleasing are such tears as thine,
Tears, that from virtuous feelings flow.

From her 'twas given, with active mind,
To roam creation unconfin'd,
And paint, as to thy view they rise,
Ideal scenes (to vulgar eyes
But dimly-imag'd or unknown)
To form, combine, and make them all thy own.

Sweet matron of the pensive brow!
Mysterious power! to thee I bow,
Whose charms a mournful joy impart,
That thrills my soul, and melts my heart.
I am thy slave, yet would not freedom gain;
I feel thy magic bonds, yet glory in my chain.

Now, at midnight's aweful hour,
I own the greatness of thy power!—
Thought after thought swells in my soul,
As waves oh waves successive roll,
Then break against the shore.
And my revolving mind displays
Sages and kings of ancient days,
And mighty empires that exist no more.

Palmyra, queen of cities! I behold
Thy faded glories: from the time-wom base
Thy pillars now are fall'n; no fretted gold
Inlays thy roofs; thy walls no statues grace.

The sun direct pours down his fervid rays,
And the parch'd soil seems kindled with the blaze.
Spreading wide its shadowy screen,
No tree adorns the cheerless scene.
Where the grain waved, and verdure smil'd,
Behold a barren sandy wild.
Sands, that when eddying winds arise,
In clouds of darkness sweep the plain,
As billows roll along the storm-vex'd main—
The traveller mark, their course — in horror shrinks and dies.

Beneath this mould'ring arch I'll lay me down,
And muse upon the awe-inspiring scene.—
Where is thy former pride, thy old renown?
Extinct, forgot, as if it ne'er had been.

Here once the busy courtiers throng'd around
Their purpled monarch: Here the sons of war
At peaceful pomp and dull inaction frown'd,
Or call'd to arms, and shook the threat'ning spear.

Mark, where yon broken pillars strew the plain!
There rose a stately dome in ancient time:
There oft was heard the soul-entrancing strain,
And laurell'd bards awoke the song sublime.

In choral dance gay youths and maids appear'd,
And light they tript to many a sprightly sound.
Nor dance, nor song, nor sprightly lay is heard,
But more than midnight silence reigns around.

Where crowds opposing crowds have often toil'd,
Like mingling streams, athwart the street to pass,
In endless tides, is now a vacant wild,
With hoary moss bespread and spiry grass.

Through royal palaces now serpents glide—
Heard you that dismal hiss? — It spoke them nigh:
They wreathe around yon column's shatter'd pride,
And their scales glitter in day's fiery eye.

Through stately temples, where the sacred light,
By crowds ador'd, diffus'd perpetual day;
Wounding with horrid yells the ear of night,
The gaunt Hyaena roams in vain for prey.

Oh! what is pomp, and sublunary power?
And what is man who boasts himself so high?
The sport of fate — the tenant of an hour;
Dust, animated dust, that breathes to die!

Yet man, unthinking man!
Deems not, that, swift as glides away
Each hour unmark'd, he hastens to decay:
Still busied with some idle plan
To spend in scenes of joy the coming years,
Or leave a bootless fame to grace his unknown heirs.—
Those heirs, who soon like him shall be no more,
Borne by the tide of fate to dark oblivion's shore.

Vain race, farewell! my mind excursive flies,
Swift as a meteor cleaves the skies,
To lands by human feet untrod,
Stern DESOLATION'S drear abode.
Beyond wide Canada's domain
Extends her solitary reign.
Aloft, on tempest-wings I soar;
Beneath, the Atlantic's untam'd surges roar:
Now cultur'd fields and lowing herds appear;
Now the wild Indians' shrieks assail my ear.
I see expanded waters gleam below,
And mountains crested with eternal snow.

How wildly dark these groves appear!
And trickling streams beneath that stray!
Yet sweet they murmur to my ear,
As slow they urge their winding way!

All hail, ye venerable oaks!
Ye never felt the woodman's strokes;
But here aloft majestic tower,
Coeval with Time's earliest hour.
All hail, ye fathers of the wood!
As here I rest in thoughtful mood,
Through your dark boughs that wave around,
Let only whispering breezes sound;
Or beetle's hum, or distant rill,
Pierce the silence deep and still.
Hail solemn scenes, and musings holy,
Far sweeter than the din of folly!

Lo! from the aerial chambers of the north,
I mark the raging tempest issue forth;
The pealing thunder heaven's high concave rends!
I hear the Genius of the woods reply
In hollow murmurs: rushing rain descends
In torrents: lightening streams athwart the sky!

Again, 'tis silence all around—
Save where yon turtle wakes the plaintive strain.
The beasts their dens forsake: before me bound
The nimble deer: with fix'd amaze
Awhile on me they gaze,
Then fearless crop the herb, and sport along the plain.

Blest wanderers of the forest wild,
On you indulgent nature smil'd,
And plac'd you far from man's destructive race;
The world's high-vaunted lord — but oh! the world's disgrace.

Creative FANCY waves the magic wand—
And lo! amid those scenes so drear and rude,
Ideal beings in my presence stand,
And people all the solitude.
The voice of Sylvan Deities I hear,
And Satyrs bounding on yon heath appear.
With equal steps the dance they lead,
As PAN attunes his oaten reed.

And oft he holds his jocund court
In yonder wood with verdure crown'd.
The lovely Dryads there resort,
Their brows with oaken garlands bound.
And FLORA joins the festive train;
His queen the enamour'd ZEPHYR leads,
And lo! where'er the Goddess treads,
Spontaneous flowers arise, and deck the smiling plain.

Ever-changing, ever new,
Those air-spun visions, FANCY weaves, delight:
Though tinctur'd with the rainbow's varying hue,
Whose every tear is cloth'd in light,
They strike with chasten'd joy the mental sight.

I yield to thy controuling sway:
With thee, my guide, I bend my way
To Egypt's distant shore;
Egypt, once fam'd for arts, and wisdom's sacred lore.

How fall'n! — yet still thy Pyramids sublime
Rear their bold heads, and mock the rage of time.
Unknown their mighty Builder's name,
They tower aloft, man's glory and his shame.

Through the drear catacombs I stray,
Where rest the manes of the royal dead;
And by a dim-decaying taper led,
Urge, musing on, my doubtful way—
The walls e'er dank with dew: low murmurs sound.
Night, shadowy night, now closes thick around.

Behold! from yonder widely-yawning tomb
The great SESOSTRIS rises to my view.
As slow he moves along the silent dome,
I mark his robes that glow with Tyrian hue;
The golden sceptre waving in his hand,
And awful brow, that speak his high command.

In faded splendor, yet with haughtier mien,
Succeeding kings appear: and es they glide
In solemn silence through the pageant scene,
On me they bend their fiery eyes of pride.
I see wild fury on each brow pourtray'd,
And horror in each bloodless cheek display'd.

Vanish, oh vanish from my sight,
Tyrannic shades, beneath whose sway
Earth trembled — and behold, in night
The fear-form'd spectres fade away.

Far different scenes unfold, and tranquillize
My late-distemper'd mind. — See, Night's sweet Queen,
Her car slow-wheeling through the cloudless skies,
With silvery lustre gilds the blue serene.

Mute is the hill, the grove, the plain,
The echoing storm has ceas'd to roar:
No sound, — save where the billowy main
Low-murmurs on the distant shore.

Where o'er the deep yon rock projecting lours,
I'll rest, and wear in thought the fleeting hours;
There muse upon the days already past,
And those to come — how swift they too will fly!
Muse on the gloomy cell to which we haste,
As shoots the enkindled vapour through the sky.
Sudden it fades — its path no more is known—
A few brief hours elaps'd, its fate must be our own!

Rapt above sublunary scenes I tower,
And mark life's transient pleasures vague and vain.
Shall I then sigh at envious fortune's power,
Or disappointment thrill my breast with pain?

The light-wing'd moments, like the eastern blast.
Ere we can count them, fleet away:
And pomp and poverty, these moments past,
The oppressor and the opprest are undistinguish'd clay.

[1:86-94]