1807
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Meditation.

Poems by Three Friends.

Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen


An imitation of Il Penseroso in the gothic taste, composed by the future translator of Tasso. J. H. Wiffen wrote the Ode when he was fifteen years old and working as an apprentice schoolmaster at a Friends' Academy. The "loved Athenian" is Socrates. The poem was anonymously published in 1813. Not seen.

Literary Panorama: "We have more than once lately had occasion to reprove the 'fine melancholy' of our modern youthful poets. If they really are so unhappy as they describe themselves, they have met with signally bad luck in the world; and it is high time that they left off the rhyming trade, lest its misfortunes should follow and overwhelm them" 14 (December 1813) 942.

Nor was Thomas James Mathias amused by the reigning fashion for gothic effusions: "To pen with garreteers obscure and shabby, | Inscriptive nonsense in a fancied Abbey; | Or some Warkworthian hermit tale endite, | Such ditties as our gossip spinsters write" Pursuits of Literature (1798) 20.

Gentleman's Magazine: "These young Friends were at least harmlessly employed; and their Poetical effusions are not disreputable either to their heads or hearts" 84 (November 1814) 467.

Christopher Lake Moody: "The motive is amiable, and these three friends may be complimented on their fingering of the lyre, as well as on their attachment to each other: but the incongruity of their poetic taste must strike the reader. — We have hymns for a Fast-day, and on the Unsearchableness of the Deity; we have also amatory effusions; translations of the Psalms, of Ossian, and of Horace. Jesus, in one place, is invoked to sway his gentle sceptre; and Anna is the goddess of idolatry in another. We take notice of this circumstance, for the sake of remarking that the doctrines of our faith and the language of passion should be kept as distinct as possible; and that a volume which opens with a solemn and sublime Hymn to the Deity ought not to have its subsequent contents made of up pieces which are light and trifling" Monthly Review NS 72 (December 1813) 439.

Literary Panorama: We can have no objection to such co-partnership accounts, among friends; and when modestly presented as in the preface to this little work, harsh must be the critic who treats them with disdain. To expect perfect poetry, or the more majestic movements of the art from writers in their early years, would betray an ignorance of life, and of things. If such friends please themselves, reciprocally, and displease nobody else, they answer all the purposes they have in view. Had they assumed airs of importance, duty might have compelled our dissent" 14 (December 1813) 940.



Come, Meditation, Heaven-born Power!
Seek with me the shady bower,
Where classic Science spreads her eagle wing;
Or at mellow Music's shrine,
Sweep with the tuneful Nine,
Upborne on Fancy's car, the warbling lyre;
While the fair Dryads join the festive choir,
And on the light toe, form the sportive ring.
But where conceal'd art Thou?
On Appenina's head of snow,
'Mid storms of elemental war,
The mountain-torrent murmuring from afar?
Or in some sylvan glade,
Where the Genius of the shade,
Warbles deep the Doric reed,
By some mossy fountain's side,
As the lonely moorhen sits,
Screaming o'er the sedgy tide;
Or rid'st on the still clouds of starless night,
That roll in sullen gloom, impervious to the sight?

Methinks beneath yon pile I see Thee lie,
Yon Gothic Abbey woos Thy wandering feet;
O'er whose torn height, the screech owl's ivied seat,
The moon resplendent rides athwart the sky.
The sheeted dead, in Fancy's eye,
Stalk along the gloomy aisle;
And melancholy heaves the sigh,
Bending o'er the sainted pile.
Low at the rifted column's base,
Ravenous Ruin holds his place;
And giant Desolation from his bower,
Shakes the dismantled wall, and storms the tottering tower.

But leave the dim, monastic cells,
Where baleful superstition dwells;
And seek Thy dripping cave,
Beside the curling wave.
Here, undisturbed, but by the murmuring gale,
That slowly wafts along the evening tide,
Thou sittest, thoughtful Maid, and by thy side,
Virtue and Truth thy vesper sighs inhale.
Here too, sweet Poesy, her mild head rears,
And scatters from her brow Parnassian bays;
Her upraised arm grasps the Eolian lyre,
While soft she breathes her tuneful lays
In Thy attentive ear,
O Thou, the Maid, whose Heaven-directing Power,
With gifted Truth inspired the Athenian Sage!
He, nursed by Thee in Virtue's sacred bower,
Illumed the darkness of an erring age,
And piercing doubt with eagle eye,
Revealed the visions of Futurity.
O Meditation! let me dwell
For ever in Thy halcyon cell,
Where by Thy heavenly Spirit led,
To hold high converse with the dead,
The hallowed tracks I may explore,
Which he, Thy loved Athenian, trod before.

[Brothers Wiffen, ed. Pattison (1880) 189-90]