1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Llangollan Vale.

Llangollen Vale, with other Poems: By Anna Seward.

Anna Seward


29 irregular Spenserians (ababcC): a house poem recording a visit to the once-famous Welsh residence of Lady Eleanor Butler and her companion Miss Posonby. Julius Nicholas Hook describes the poem as reminiscent of Spenser in "Eighteenth-Century Imitations of Spenser" (1941) 142n. While the imitation does not extend beyond the stanza and some upper-case abstact nouns, there is no mistaking the gothic accouterments, including a prelude on Owen Glendour, that imitates Gray's The Bard, a digression on Hoel, and a comparison of the elegant retirement of the present inhabitants to the barbarity of the monks of yore.

The presence of an Aeolian harp leads Anna Seward to incorporate the appropriate lines from Thomson's Castle of Indolence, which may have suggested some of the themes of the poem.

European Magazine: "The principal piece celebrates Llangollen Vale, where Owen Glendower formerly 'gave its scenes to fame,' and where two ladies, the honourable Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Posonby, by a now seventeen years residence, have continued the celebrity of this sequestered spot. Our readers will recollect the view of their Cottage in our Magazine for March 1794. The other Pieces are Verses on Wrexham, Hoyle Lake; Herva at the Tomb of Argantyr, of which there is a translation in Dryden's Miscellanies, and a prose one in Dr. Percy's Relicks of Runic Poetry; some pleasing verses on Eyam, which have already appeared in our Magazine for October 1792; Verses to Time Past, short, but beautiful; and four Sonnets selected from a Centenary written during the course of twenty years, and intended to be published hereafter collectively. After this enumeration we need add nothing further, than that the pleasure we have received in the perusal cannot but be communicated to any one who reads them, and is sensible to the charms of poetical composition" 29 (April 1796) 260.

Gentleman's Magazine: "There is no complaint more universal among us, and, at the same time, more true, than that there has been, and still is, a lamentable dearth of good poetry in Britain. We are compelled to accept of the sweetness of the honey-comb instead of the strength of the lion, and Taste and Elegance proudly occupy the throne of Genius. Yet there are still some occasional rays of light, which, darting across the hemisphere of the Muses, give us a transient glimpse of the realms where the lyres of Milton, Pope, and Collins, remain yet suspended, though unstrung. There are few to whom the lovers of poetry owe greater obligations than to Miss Seward; and we only lament that we have not more frequent opportunity of making her our acknowledgments" 66 (July 1796) 594.

British Critic: "We by no means approve of the frequent position of the verb before the nominative case, a liberty, or rather licentiousness, very seldom to be found in authors of good authority. Thus, in p. 3. 'Gleams the wan morn,' et passim" 7 (1796) 405.

Walter Scott: "The beauties of Llangollen Vale, with the talents, virtues, and accomplishments of the ladies who have so long honoured it with their residence, claimed and obtained commemoration. Its inmates were among those whom Miss Seward valued most highly, and the regard was reciprocal" in Seward, Poems (1810) 1:xix.

Elijah Waring: Edward Williams "used particularly to distinguish Miss Seward as one of his kindest friends at this time [about 1790] This amiable and accomplished literary lady, appears to have been initiated into the bardic order, as he styles her in the list of subscribers to his English poems, Ofyddes ym mraint Beirdd ynys Prydain" Recollections and Anecdotes of Edward Williams (1850) 24.

Rowland E. Prothero: "Among the many people who visited them in their retreat, and have left descriptions of them, are Madame de Genlis, De Quincey, Prince Puckler-Muskau. Their friendships were sung by Southey and Anne Seward, and their cottage was depicted by Pennant. 'It is very singular,' writes John Murray, August 23, 1829, to his son (Memoir of John Murray, vol. ii. p. 304), 'that the ladies, intending to retire from the world, absolutely brought all the world to visit them, for after a few years of seclusion their strange story was the universal subject of conversation, and there has been no person of rank, talent, and importance in any way who did not procure introductions to them'" Byron, Letters and Journals (1898-1901) 1:134-35n.

Anna Seward describes her visit to Llangollen vale in a long letter to the Rev. Henry White, 7 September 1795; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:98-109; during this visit she met Mary Tighe, later the author of Psyche, one of the most notable romantic imitations of Spenser (1805). On the many other literary visitors who paid homage to this famous pair of female friends, see E. V. Lucas, A Swan and her Friends (1907).



Luxuriant Vale, thy country's early boast,
What time great GLENDOUR gave thy scenes to Fame;
Taught the proud numbers of the English Host,
How vain their vaunted force, when Freedom's flame
Fir'd him to brave the Myriads he abhorr'd,
Wing'd his unerring shaft, and edg'd his victor sword.

Here first those orbs unclosing drank the light,
Cambria's bright stars, the meteors of her Foes;
What dread and dubious omens mark'd the night,
That lour'd ere yet his natal morn arose!
The Steeds paternal, on their cavern'd floor,
Foaming, and horror-struck, "fret fetlock-deep in gore."

PLAGUE, in her livid hand, o'er all the Isle,
Shook her dark flag, impure with fetid stains;
While "DEATH, on his pale Horse," with baleful smile,
Smote with its blasting hoof the frighted plains.
Soon thro' the grass-grown streets, in silence led,
Slow moves the midnight Cart, heapt with the naked Dead.

Yet in the festal dawn of Richard's reign,
Thy gallant GLENDOUR'S sunny prime arose;
Virtuous, tho' gay, in that Circean fane,
Bright Science twin'd her circlet round his brows;
Nor cou'd the youthful, rash, luxurious King
Dissolve the Hero's worth on his Icarian wing.

Sudden it drops on its meridian flight!—
Ah! hapless Richard! never didst thou aim
To crush primeval Britons with thy might,
And their brave Glendour's tears embalm thy name.
Back from thy victor-Rival's vaunting Throng,
Sorrowing, and stern, he sinks LLANGOLLEN'S shades among.

Soon, in imperious Henry's dazzled eyes,
The guardian bounds of just Dominion melt;
His scarce-hop'd crown imperfect bliss supplies,
Till Cambria's vassalage be deeply felt.
Now up her craggy steeps, in long array,
Swarm his exulting Bands, impatient for the fray.

Lo! thro' the gloomy night, with angry blaze,
Trails the fierce Comet, and alarms the Stars;
Each waning Orb withdraws its glancing rays,
Save the red Planet, that delights in wars.
Then, with broad eyes upturn'd, and starting hair,
Gaze the astonish'd Crowd upon its vengeful glare.

Gleams the wan Morn, and thro' LLANGOLLEN'S Vale
Sees the proud Armies streaming o'er her meads.
Her frighted Echos warning sounds assail,
Loud, in the rattling cars, the neighing steeds;
The doubling drums, the trumpet's piercing breath,
And all the ensigns dread of havoc, wounds, and death.

High on a hill as shrinking CAMBRIA stood,
And watch'd the onset of th' unequal fray,
She saw her Deva, stain'd with warrior-blood,
Lave the pale rocks, and wind its fateful way
Thro' meads, and glens, and wild woods, echoing far
The din of clashing arms, and furious shout of war.

From rock to rock, with loud acclaim, she sprung,
While from her CHIEF the routed Legions fled;
Saw Deva roll their slaughter'd heaps among,
The check'd waves eddying round the ghastly dead;
Saw, in that hour, her own LLANGOLLEN claim
Thermopylae's bright wreath, and aye-enduring fame.

Thus, consecrate to GLORY. — Then arose
A milder lustre in its blooming maze;
Thro' the green glens, where lucid Deva flows,
Rapt Cambria listens with enthusiast gaze,
While more enchanting sounds her ear assail,
Than thrill'd on Sorga's bank, the Love-devoted Vale.

'Mid the gay towers on steep Din's Branna's cone,
Her HOEL'S breast the fair MIFANWY fires.—
O! Harp of Cambria, never hast thou known
Notes more mellifluent floating o'er the wires,
Than when thy Bard this brighter Laura sung,
And with his ill-starr'd love LLANGOLLEN'S echoes rung.

Tho' Genius, Love, and Truth inspire the strains,
Thro' Hoel's veins tho' blood illustrious flows,
Hard as th' Eglwyseg rocks her heart remains,
Her smile a sun-beam playing on their snows;
And nought avails the Poet's warbled claim,
But, by his well-sung woes, to purchase deathless fame.

Thus consecrate to LOVE, in ages flown,—
Long ages fled Din's-Branna's ruins show,
Bleak as they stand upon their steepy cone,
The crown and contrast of the VALE below,
That, screen'd by mural rocks, with pride displays
Beauty's romantic pomp in every sylvan maze.

Now with a vestal lustre glows the VALE,
Thine, sacred FRIENDSHIP, permanent as pure;
In vain the stern Authorities assail,
In vain Persuasion spreads her silken lure,
High-born, and high-endow'd, the peerless Twain,
Pant for coy Nature's charms 'mid silent dale, and plain.

Thro' ELEANORA, and her ZARA'S mind,
Early tho'genius, taste, and fancy flow'd,
Tho' all the graceful Arts their powers combin'd,
And her last polish brilliant Life bestow'd,
The lavish Promiser, in Youth's soft morn,
Pride, Pomp, and Love, her friends, the sweet Enthusiasts scorn.

Then rose the Fairy Palace of the Vale,
Then bloom'd around it the Arcadian bowers;
Screen'd from the storms of Winter, cold and pale,
Screen'd from the fervours of the sultry hours,
Circling the lawny crescent, soon they rose,
To letter'd ease devote, and Friendship's blest repose.

Smiling they rose beneath the plastic hand
Of Energy, and Taste; — nor only they,
Obedient Science hears the mild command,
Brings every gift that speeds the tardy day,
Whate'er the pencil sheds in vivid hues,
Th' historic tome reveals, or sings the raptured Muse.

How sweet to enter, at the twilight grey,
The dear, minute Lyceum of the Dome,
When, thro' the colour'd crystal, glares the ray,
Sanguine and solemn 'mid the gathering gloom,
While glow-worm lamps diffuse a pale, green light,
Such as in mossy lanes illume the starless night.

Then the coy Scene, by deep'ning veils o'erdrawn,
In shadowy elegance seems lovelier still;
Tall shrubs, that skirt the semi-lunar lawn,
Dark woods, that curtain the opposing hill;
While o'er their brows the bare cliff faintly gleams,
And, from its paly edge, the evening-diamond streams.

What strains Aeolian thrill the dusk expanse,
As rising gales with gentle murmurs play,
Wake the loud chords, or every sense intrance,
While in subsiding winds they sink away!
Like distant choirs, "when pealing organs blow,"
And melting voices blend, majestically slow.

"But ah! what hand can touch the strings so fine,
Who up the lofty diapason roll
Such sweet, such sad, such solemn airs divine,
Then let them down again into the soul!"
The prouder sex as soon, with virtue calm,
Might win from this bright Pair pure Friendship's spotless palm.

What boasts Tradition, what th' historic Theme,
Stands it in all their chronicles confest
Where the soul's glory shines with clearer beam,
Than in our sea-zon'd bulwark of the West,
When, in this Cambrian Valley, Virtue shows
Where, in her own soft sex, its steadiest lustre glows?

Say, ivied VALLE CRUCIS, time-decay'd,
Dim on the brink of Deva's wandering floods,
Your riv'd arch glimmering thro' the tangled glade,
Your grey hills towering o'er your night of woods,
Deep in the Vale's recesses as you stand,
And, desolately great, the rising sigh command,

Say, lonely, ruin'd Pile, when former years
Saw your pale Train at midnight altars bow;
Saw SUPERSTITION frown upon the tears
That mourn'd the rash irrevocable vow,
Wore one young lip gay ELEANORA'S smile?
Did ZARA'S look serene one tedious hour beguile?

For your sad Sons, nor Science wak'd her powers;
Nor e'er did Art her lively spells display;
But the grim IDOL vainly lash'd the hours
That dragg'd the mute, and melancholy day;
Dropt her dark cowl on each devoted head,
That o'er the breathing Corse a pall eternal spread.

This gentle Pair no glooms of thought infest,
Nor Bigotry, nor Envy's sullen gleam
Shed withering influence on the effort blest,
Which most should win the other's dear esteem,
By added knowledge, by endowment high,
By Charity's warm boon, and Pity's soothing sigh.

Then how should Summer-day or Winter-night,
Seem long to them who thus can wing their hours!
O! ne'er may Pain, or Sorrow's cruel blight,
Breathe the dark mildew thro' these lovely bowers,
But lengthen'd Life subside in soft decay,
Illum'd by rising Hope, and Faith's pervading ray.

May one kind ice-bolt, from the mortal stores,
Arrest each vital current as it flows,
That no sad course of desolated hours
Here vainly nurse the unsubsiding woes!
While all who honour Virtue, gently mourn
LLANGOLLEN'S VANISHED PAIR, and wreath their sacred urn.

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