A Horatian ode in five Spenserians posthumously published in Works (1825). Mrs. Barbauld, possibly reflecting on her experiences as a schoolmistress, regrets the passing of youthful fancy and the temptations of worldly cares. The "manner" is hardly that of Spenser, though the stanzas may well have been suggested by James Thomson's Castle of Indolence: "Ah, why should man, in hard unsocial strife, | And withering care whose vigils never cease, | Fretting away this little thread of life, | Of his sad birthright reap such large increase! | Why should he toil for aught but bread and peace?"
Monthly Repository: "With a sound and vigorous understanding, Mrs. Barbauld united an exquisite perception of the right and true in character and conduct, a richly cultivated mind, and a playful but chaste imagination. She had formed herself as a writer upon a pure English model. She was not ashamed to admire Addison, Pope, and Dryden; she equalled the two first in their terseness and elegance, and she sometimes reminds us of the fervid genius of the last" 20 (August 1825) 484.
William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft: "The only text is [Works] 1825, between 'A Thought on Death' and 'To [Sarah Taylor].' This implies composition in autumn 1814, upward of two and a half years after ALB published her last major poem" Poems (1994) 321n.
C. H. Timperley: "Anna Laetitia Barbauld was the sister of Dr. John Aikin, and born at Kibworth, Leicestershire, June 20, 1743. About 1774, she married the rev. Rochemont Barbauld, a dissenting minister at Palgrave, Suffolk, and died at Stoke Newtington, March 9, 1825. She employed her excellent genius to the noblest ends, in exciting infancy to virtue, and maturer age to a love of freedom" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:836n.
So long estranged from every Muse's lyre,
And groveling in the tangled net of Care;
What powerful breath shall kindle up that fire
Smothered with damps of most unkindly air?
Ah, how is quenched the lamp that burnt so fair!
Come, sweet seducers, late too far away,
Once more to my deserted cell repair;
Your rebel courts again your gentle sway;—
Come, soothe the winter's night, and charm the summer's day.
Come, dear companions of my youthful hour,
Fill my fond breast with your majestic themes;
Meet me again on hill, by stream, or bower,
And bathe my fancy in the bliss of dreams.
Vain wish! no more the star of Fancy gleams;
They with becoming scorn reject thy prayer:
Nor will they haunt thy bower, or bless thy streams,
No more to thy deserted cell repair:—
"Go, court the world," they cry, "thou art not worth our care."
Bustle and hurry, noise and thrall they hate,
And plodding Method with her leaden rule;
And all that swells th' unwieldy pomp of state,
And all that binds to earth the golden fool;
And creeping Labour with his patient tool:
Free like the birds they wander unconfined,
Nor dip their wings in Lucre's muddy pool;
Business they hate, in crowded nook enshrined,
That spins her dirty web, and clouds th' ethereal mind.
Ah, why should man, in hard unsocial strife,
And withering care whose vigils never cease,
Fretting away this little thread of life,
Of his sad birthright reap such large increase!
Why should he toil for aught but bread and peace?
Why rear to heaven his clay-built pyramids?
Nor from his tasks himself, poor slave! release;
With anxious thought, which wholesome rest forbids,
Drying the balm of sleep from sorrow's swollen lids.
Despising cheap delights, he loves to scoop
His marble palace from the rock's hard breast,
And in close dungeon walls himself to coop,
On golden couches wooing pale unrest;
With foreign looms his stately halls are drest,
And grim-wrought tapestry clothes the darkened room;
While in the flowery vale Peace builds her nest,
Amidst the purple heath or yellow broom,
Or where midst rustling corn the nodding poppies bloom.