1793
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Despair. Translated from the French of Tristan, one of the early French Writers.

Poetical Works of William Preston, Esq. in two Volumes.

William Preston


Nine couplet stanzas with the Spenserian alexandrine, by an Irish poet. Whether the poem is a really a translation is doubtful since William Preston's gothicism is so much in the contemporary eighteenth-century manner. Certainly Preston imitates the mannerisms of William Collins and introduces some Spenserian diction ("Come, ghastly phantom, with thy direful band, | Come, guide the stroke with unrelenting hand"). The alexandrine line in quotation marks is not actually from the Despair episode in the first book of the Faerie Queene, though it sounds like it: "Oh fly thou wretch from life, nor future woes abide."

Preston was the secretary of the Royal Irish Academy, and took an interest in classics and Italian literature. The sonnets in his Poems are introduced with a prefatory essay that briefly discusses Spenser: "In some of his sonnets, Surrey admits more than two rhymes into the two quatrains; and there is one of them, in which the same two rhymes run on through the fourteen lines. Spenser, in the succeeding age, showed us a more correct and perfect model of the sonnet; which he adopted from Bellay, whom he seems to have admired and studied, for, his visions of Bellay he has translated literally from the songe of that writer, without even deviating from the sonnet stanza, in which the original is written. As Spenser caught his fondness for the sonnet from Bellay, whom a congenial spirit endeared to the incorrect imagination of our english bard, debauched by the love of allegory; so, he was infected by him with the love of quaint antithesis, and frigid concette" 1:267-68.

Critical Review: "The first circumstance with which we were struck, on taking these volumes into our hands, was the beauty of the typographical part; both the style of the printing, and the execution of the vignettes, reflect honour on the elegance of the Dublin press. Nor are the works of Mr. Preston unworthy of the form in which they appear; there is in them a flow and fertility of fancy, which shew their author to be a man of talents, though we cannot but be of opinion he would have ranked higher as a poet, if he had written less, and exercised on his own productions a greater severity of judgment. Two volumes of good poetry would be a rare present indeed to the public. That these are of unequal merit, the author himself, in a well written preface, seems sufficiently aware" NS 13 (February 1795) 176.

British Critic: "Mr. Preston laments that Ireland is not, properly speaking, a literary country, and from that circumstance is doubtful of the success of his volumes; but we can venture to promise ample amends will be made to him here: where we doubt not that his poems will obtain a circulation as extensive as any publication of the kind can have, in times so little favourable to tranquil pleasures" 6 (August 1795) 160.



My fruitless love, with many a lavish'd song,
And altars, grac'd thee 'midst th' immortal throng;
Ungrateful maid, neglected and forlorn,
I stand the mark for all thy shafts of scorn;
Ungrateful maid, thy fierce contempt deplore,
With sighs of living flame, and tears of streaming gore.

When my fond numbers would conceal her hate,
And snatch her beauties from oblivious fate,
From pole to pole when Clara's praises sound,
Ungrateful maid! she mocks the am'rous wound.
Her single word a healing balm might show'r,
Yet she that word withholds, and vaunts her cruel pow'r.

Dear galling yoke, which I must never rend!
Dear cruel maid, whom pray'rs must never bend!
By one last blow, my hand, fulfil her doom,
And rest, my sorrows, in eternal gloom!
Thou wretch, at once, thy chains and life resign;
With courage worthy love, and worthy charms divine.

Tremendous pow'r, thou demon, pale, deform,
Who ne'er art call'd, but when the gather'd storm
O'er life is spread, nor hope remains below,
Despair, I call thee to relieve my woe!
Oh come, — thy kindly cruel aid impart;
Teach me, to heal the pangs that gnaw my bursting heart.

Come, ghastly phantom, with thy direful band,
Come, guide the stroke with unrelenting hand.
Oh bring me peace, and close my weary days;
No pomp of death my settled woe dismays.
Since Clara's eyes withdraw their chearing light,
The genial beams of heav'n but pain my aching sight.

I see thee come, with horror in thy train,
Affliction, phrenzy, rage, despair and pain;
Devouring flames and swords around are seen,
The baneful aconite, and poniard keen,
That set sad Pyramus from anguish free,
And gave to Cato's soul its darling liberty.

A bloody torrent rolls thy path along,
Fell, fell despite is there, and giant wrong,
That angry heav'n defy, and fortune's hate;—
I see the pangs for me reserv'd by fate,
And shame and wrath the ling'ring purpose chide,
"Oh fly thou wretch from life, nor future woes abide."

Yes, I will die, to glad the savage heart.—
Receive the victim of thy cruel art.—
Yes, thou shalt see, — no longer mock my pain,—
I burst the prison of thy fell disdain.
When pity fails to balm the lover's wound,
The rest of death remains, and poison may be found.—

Thersander spake — and fix'd on heav'n his eyes,
While birds ill-omen'd pass'd before his eyes;
As screaming round, they clapp'd their murky wings,
He grasps the steel, to drain the vital springs;
While silent night displays her sable weed,
And waits with dewy tears to mourn the frantic deed.

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