1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Extravaganza; a Poem, on the Old English Model.

Poems on Various Subjects, by Thomas Dermody.

Thomas Dermody


30 stanzas in something like a Spenserian pattern (ababbacc): the fairy nymph Phantasma appears before the minstrel wight to describe "How goblin, elf, and gnome, and Sylphid fare, | Rightly y-clept the denizens of air." Though the elfin people are Irish, the poem appears to originate in Spenser's "Aprill" eclogue and the fairy scene in James Beattie's The Minstrel. Thomas Dermody evidently received a thorough grounding in Spenserian poetry from two Irish schoolmasters, Samuel Whyte and Henry Boyd.

Advertisement: "The Extravaganza, which is, perhaps, the most original, and fanciful Poem, I ever had sufficient powers to compose, (together with two Imitations of Spenser) has been honoured, while in manuscript, with the very flattering approbation of some of the first literary Characters of the day. I do not think myself entitled to particularize the respective names of those celebrated personages; neither might it afford any very favourable idea of my personal modesty, whatever scope it might yield to the emotions of gratitude, and the public avowal of my feelings. My professed aversion to the arbitrary and ill-founded innovations of some modern Reformers, has induced me to aim at the manly style of our Poetical fathers, and to attempt the revival of spirited sentiment, relieved by the chaste, and graceful simplicity of forcible diction. How far I have succeeded, and what degree of lenity may be due to the ardor of emulation, must rest entirely on the candid decision of the reader" p. vii-viii.

James Grant Raymond: "As sir James Burges was sitting in his library, he heard a loud noise and a violent altercation in his hall. On going out to inquire the cause of such an unusual tumult, he found Dermody struggling with two of his servants, who endeavoured to prevent him from forcing his way into the house. And indeed his appearance was such as completely to justify them: for he was literally in rags, was covered with mud (in which it appeared that he had been just rolled), had a black eye, and a fresh wound on his head from which the blood trickled down his breast; and, to crown the whole, was so drunk as to be hardly able to stand or speak. As soon as sir James could recognise him, he released him from the hands of his servants; and conducting him into his library, inquired the reason of his appearing in such a condition. Dermody accounted for his being so ill-drest, by saying that he had pawned his new clothes. As for his dirt and wounds, he said he had been arrested and carried to a spunging-house; where he had been drinking with the bailiffs, and writing a poem which he wished to take to sir James, but they would not let him: so that he had watched his opportunity, and slipped off: but had been overtaken by them, and obliged to fight his way; in which, though with some damage, he had been ultimately successful. He then gave sir James his poem, which proved to be his 'Extravaganza': the uncommon beauty and elegance of which has been universally acknowledged; and which, though it might add fresh honour to the first writer in our language, was thus produced in the midst of intemperance and brutality, by a wretch in a state of intoxication, and lost to every feeling of delicacy or shame. As he was not at that time in a condition to be argued with, sir James advised him to return for the present to the spunging-house, and promised to discharge his debt the next morning" Life of Dermody (1806) 1:169-71.

British Critic: "Notwithstanding the merit of fancy, which it certainly possesses, the quaintness of language, and the profusion of laboured epithets throughout, disgust us more than the writer's originality, in some of the thoughts, strikes or pleases us" 21 (1803) 81.

James Grant Raymond: "The Extravaganza is full of that delightful fancy which is the result of superlative genius alone, and which extends its creative powers to visionary worlds" Life of Dermody (1806) 2:314, 317.



"Oh! for a journey to th' Antipodes:
Or some lone region of remotest Ind!
Where, sagely sad, in solitary ease
My weary sprite a safe retreat might find;
Where nothing might perturb my pensive mind,
But such delicious phantasies as please
The forming eye, when fiery flakes at eve
With wayward shapes the listless sense deceive.

"Then wingy-heel'd Imagination's flight
Would bear me devious through the lamping sky:
Then, haply, should I feel no low delight
From earthly bonnibel's bewitching eye;
Voluptuous in her dainty arms to lie;
Ne stoop inglorious from so proud a height;
While my fond heart pour'd forth it's vain distress,
Snar'd in the fetters of a golden tress!"

Such was my wish, romantic wish I ween,
When that soft necromancer, baulmy Sleep,
Laid me, entraunc'd, amid a pleasant scene,
Where many a welling spring did murmurous creep,
To lull me with its liquid lapses deep;
And, shaking their broad locks of glorious green,
Tall trees their thick lascivious leaves entwin'd,
To wooe with dalliaunce blithe the Western wind.

The Western wind did, scant-respiring, sigh,
Ne ruffled with rude wing th' attemp'red air;
But fuming from the fragrant flow'rs hard by,
Prankt in all hues, and delicately fair,
Did surging clouds of breathing incense bear:
All Summer's bravery refresh'd the eye,
All Musick's charms, above, beneath, around,
Raptur'd the ear with fascinating sound.

Here cherries riper than thy leman's lip,
Th' ambrosial lip of love, thou might'st behold;
Here purple plums their unctuous amber weep,
And mellow pears their shapely size unfold;
Here pensile balls of vegetable gold,
With blushes blent, through the fresh foliage peep;
At once luxurious to the taste and sight,
Here loaded boughs with nodding head invite.

The nascent rose join'd, prodigal of sweets,
The gaudy tulip, in rich broider'd vest;
Here, too, th' ambitious, flaunting sun-flow'r greets
Her garish lord, with wide expanded breast;
Nor wanted crocus coy, in saffron drest;
Harebell, affecting most obscure retreats;
And of all leaf and verdure, myriads more,
Each alley, emerald-pav'd, that purfled o'er.

But viler than the sleeky sedge, that strews
The barren sand, uptorne from ocean-bed,
Were all those baser gauds, and meaner views,
To that sweet semblance, next its influence shed,
Descending in a veil of roses red;
Delectable! not GRACE, nor fabled MUSE,
By THESPIAN spring, or in THESSALIAN shade,
Such peerless pomp of symmetry displaid.

Not she that, slighting her IDALIAN bowre,
Did with the rose-fac'd jolly huntsman toy;
Nor she, her rightful lord, in evil hour
Enchafing, who dismantled stately TROY;
Nor she, on LATMOS' top who raped the boy;
Nor yet sweet ENNA'S pride, (grim paramour!)
Whom griesly ORCUS bore from upper air,
Might with this nymph for sovranty compare.

Her sunny ringlets, wove in cunning braid,
Form'd for her lily front a coronet;
Her persant eyes two precious gems betraid,
In living alabaster featly set,
Arch'd with their graceful brows of shiny jet;
Her swelling bosom through its slender shade
Leap'd to be seen; her round and dimply chin
Would tempt a frozen eremite to sin.

A silken samile slightly did enfold
Her luscious limbs, girt with a starry zone,
Its colour heav'nly blue, bedropt with gold,
And crimson, gorgeous as the proud pavone;
A lambent glory on her temples shone:
In sooth, she look'd not one of Nature's mold,
But some gay creature whom the Minstrel sees
Aerial floating on the evening-breeze.

Scarce my daz'd eye could I uplift to trace
Th' insufferable splendence of her frame;
Much less could loiter on each rising grace,
Insinuating soft a subtile flame.
I wist not how the fond infection came,
When, sudden, (while a gracious smile her face
With modest flush most amiably arraid,)
Thus spoke in tuneful words the mystic Maid:

"Thy fond intreaty, youth of bold design!
Is heard, and sanctified thy way ward pray'r;
My soul in unison accords with thine;
Henceforth, initiate, thou shalt be my care.
Thou shalt not grieve for any mundane fair,
Ne for the daughters of frail clay repine:
Celestial quintessence thou shalt embrace;
No mortal I, but of the SYLPHID-race!

"Deem not this airy texture too refin'd,
The sacred energies of Love to feel:
True Love is seated in the dureful mind,
Which aught of fleshly converse ne'er can heal;
True Love is a sublim'd, nectareous meal,
Where the pure sense can never surfeit find;
Which Time in vain may labour to destroy,
Fed on eternal flowres of blooming joy.

"In swinish riotise, his bouzing-cann
The debochee may round the table move,
Trolling lewd madrigal, mistaken man,
To his imperious dear, and call it Love;
But 'tis not so: the leven-brond of Jove,
Since first its forked function it began,
Such ruinous dismay, and baleful fire,
Did ne'er elance, as his profane desire.

"Clipt in some harlot's captivating twine,
As, erst, the champion who at GAZA fell,
His sinews lose their wonted strength divine,
His passions rude for mastery rebel:
Ne can his prowess their combustion quell,
Ne will they their obdurate hold resign,
Till quite distraught, discomfited, forlore,
His powre, and gallant portaunce, are no more!

"With me far other shall thy pleasures be,
If thou abjure, (as meet,) each terrene thought;
Thy beastly wassail, loathsome revelrie,
Ravine, and painful covetise forgot.
Thou must the earth's broad bosom hold as nought,
Poudred with orient pearl; nay 'sdain to see
Kesars or kings who wrest a transient throne,
Frail pomp! if paragon'd with me alone!

"Thy penance is but small, thy guerdon great:
Ne sorrow shalt thou know, ne drery-head;
In some deep cave of cloud, a bland retreat,
Myself will, duteous, delve thy bridal bed;
Trust me, thy wishes are completely sped.
Now silent list while briefly I repeat
How goblin, elf, and gnome, and Sylphid fare,
Rightly y-clept the denizens of air.

"Should'ring the beach when angry billows rave,
Some in the bitter blast for plunder yell,
And plunge the drowning wight beneath the wave;
Some in the dire volcano love to dwell,
Oft laying cities waste with fury fell;
Some torture the designing, murd'rous knave,
His palsied nerves with stony glare awake,
And round his pillow sulphurous torches shake.

"Some, when the night-dog bays thewhistling wind,
(Boding sure ill,) and strange sad voices shriek;
When the lone pilgrim often looks behind,
And the blood freezes in his ghastful cheek;
Gigantic rising, from Day's durance break,
Incest, or Rape, or Parricide, to find;
Then savage tear his breast with scorpion-whip,
Or hurl the caitiff down the craggy steep.

"Some dapper imps and swart the mine attend,
And thrid, with agile step, its glist'ring maze;
The gnarled oak some from the mountain rend,
And, ere cock-crowing, in the valley place;
Some, in one night, a flinty fabric raise,
And to its base, the next, its turrets bend;
While some, the dol'rous servants of Despair,
With headless steeds the car of Death prepare.

"Four skeletons the coal-black coursers stride;
With flamy fingers four direct the way;
A winding-sheet so white, distended wide,
Dabbled in blood, the coffin doth array:
Four hideous urchins at the corners play,
And, in quaint gambol, shift from side to side;
Meanwhile, the thrice-repeated groan severe
Smites the expiring Sinner's closing ear.

"Less fearful pranks befit the merry fays:
By the trim margent of some huddling stream,
To revel in the pale moon's tremulous rays;
To prompt the doting nurse's idle dream;
Or lure the mutt'ring carl with wanton gleam;
Yet oft some ouphe malign, in cradle slays
The slumb'ring babe, then sucks his flowing gore,
And, grinning, leaves him strangled on the floor.

"Some, mounted on a butterfly's pied wing,
In imitative turnay dare advance,
Arm'd with the sullen hornet's desperate sting,
Or proudly on a mailed beetle prance,
Trusting their quarrel to chivalrous chance.
Others, quick-bounding in the tiny ring,
Trip to an humble-bee's melodious drone,
More for their courtesy than valour known.

"Some, on the glossy surface of a lake,
In hazel-nut, their little pinnace, swim;
Some their deep thirst from acorn-goblet slake,
Then slily o'er the misty meadow skim,
To pinch the beldame on return from wake;
Some to the river side their course betake,
And mournful pour a melancholy scream;
Some, rattling, mischievous, mid charnel-bones,
Mimic the dreadful mandrake's nightly moans.

"But such low mockery, like thee, I scorn,
Averting thence, in ire, my sullied sight;
In yon ethereal groves of amaranth born,
Nurtur'd by streams of intellectual light
From the Great Spirit emanating bright,
Superior orbs my sister train adorn,
Whom beatific visions still inspire;
Tho' fall'n, coeval with th' angelic quire.

"Some in the halo's humid circle play,
What time the pale-ey'd moon is faintly seen;
Some o'er the beauteous Lunar-rainbow stray,
Shifting their checquer'd change of colours sheen,
Better to grace their silver-shafted Queen;
And, sometimes, more irregularly gay,
Portentous, in the glowing North they rise,
And wave their boreal banners o'er the skies.

"Some the refulgent chariot of the sun
Pursue, descending to its Western goal;
Some, courier-like, from distant planets run;
Some the huge Comet's fiery wonder roll;
Some patient sentry keep at either Pole;
And others, by harmonious witch'ry won,
All heav'n responsive to the dulcet sound,
Turn the smooth spheres on tuneful axis round.

"In every twinkling star, serenely shine
Those white-rob'd ministers of placid bliss;
Important is their toil, more pleasing mine;—
To point the transport of the thrilling kiss,
Ne'er known the maiden's throbbing heart to miss;
T' anneal the drop that falls on Feeling's shrine;
To soothe the Lover's soul when frenzy-fraught;
Or lift sublime the Poet's towering thought.

"Arise! arise! do not thy pulses beat
More lively marches, to forego thy lot?
Feels not thy breast a more exalted heat,
Loos'd from mortality, and yon dim spot?
Surpassing joys, beyond conception wrought,
In my embrace thy purer sense await!"
Embay'd in ecstacies, my humid head
I rear'd; and lo! the fair Phantasma fled.

And now, dank-seething from the dewy earth,
The vaporous exhalation stole away;
The faggot blaz'd upon the cottage-hearth;
And palmer Twilight, clad in amis gray,
Resign'd to ebon Night his shadowy sway.
Musing on descant high, whose future birth,
Haply, may not my humble name abase,
Homeward I bent my desultory pace.

[pp. 29-44]