1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Despair.

Odes, and other Poems.

Henry Neele


A Pindaric ode. Henry Neele's notes identify Despair, "the man of dark imaginings," as Spenser's Despair from the first book of the Faerie Queene: "That cursed man low sitting on the ground, | Musing full sadly in his sullein mind." Though not known as a melancholiac, Henry Neele committed suicide at the height of his fame when he was only thirty years old.

British Lady's Magazine: "We are also aware that some of the poets subsequently mentioned by Mr. Neele as following the gifted Collins, meaning the Wartons and Masons, have dilated greatly; but it is precisely because they rather talk about than to their prosopopeia, — rather narrate than pour out. Spenser did not write odes, but some persons may deem Spenser an exception; but, to say the truth, his divine Fairy Queen tends to confirm us in our theory, — he raised not mortals, or mortal ideas, to the skies, but brought his angels, or phantasmagoria, beautifully down. He gives us sentiments, passions, and qualities in earthly shapes, — clothes them in terrestrial habiliments: making them men and women to awaken our sympathies, the perception of the allegory scarcely renders them more vapoury than the acknowledged adventure of chivalrous and fabulous times. All this may be deemed impertinent; but, esteeming Mr. Neele, as we do, a very promising genius, we cannot help advising him to assume a broader genius for the superstructure of reputation which he is so likely to erect.... We are aware that Johnson and others have disapproved the ode without rhyme in the English language; but who, unfettered by critical authority, can read that of Collins Ode to Evening, and agree with them. The following stanzas to Despair may furnish another testimony of the fallacy of the tone dictatorial in this particular instance" 5 (March 1817) 162-63.

Literary Chronicle: "He possesses great energy of feeling and a vigorous conception, but a deep melancholy pervades, we had almost said tinges, mots of his effusions. In this respect, he will remind the reader very much of Collins, and that early blasted blossom of the muse, Henry Kirke White. His odes strongly resemble the celebrated ones of Collins, to whom he is second only in this species of writing" 3 (20 January 1821) 40.

Monthly Magazine: "we still more particularly recommend the following Ode to Despair, which in our opinion, affords an example of the very highest order of poetical description, both in conception and expression. We strain a point to give the whole of it" 50 (January 1821) 517.

The titles of Neele's romantic odes are perhaps worth enumerating. Book I: To Time, To Hope, To Memory, To Horror, To Despair, To the Moon. Book II: To Enthusiasm, The Harp, To Fancy, The Power of Poetry, To Pity, To Allegory. In the best eighteenth-century manner, they are all written in different forms. There are no Spenserian stanzas in the odes themselves, though the 1821 volume which reprints these poems is framed by poems in that form.



I.
It was Despair,
He roll'd his large red eye around,
And laid his wither'd hand upon the lyre;
Then woke that strain so wildly terrible,
That Madness
Ceas'd for awhile her idiot grin, and Fear
Call'd Disappointment from his iron cell,
To pause and listen while his own pale cheek
Grew paler.

II.
It was Despair:
The man of dark imaginings,
Who sits sullen on some blasted heath,
Which the pale moon-beam saddens, not relieves;
There raving,
Fashioning shapes huge, strange, and horrible,
And starting wild, he points at vacancy,
And to the spirits of the night-blast tells
His sorrows.

III.
He asks not aid,
Nor does the big sigh heave his breast,
Nor does the sorrowful tear suffuse his eyes,
For sighs and tears bespeak a spirit worn,
Not withered;
Bended, not broken: they are like the rains
That bless the plains they deluge, when the flow'rs
E'en while they bend beneath their weight, are seen
Reviving.

IV.
There was a light,
That us'd to flit across his path,
Lonely, yet lovely, and it cheer'd his soul,
And he would cherish it, and call it Hope:
That vanish'd—
And he must wander now despairingly,
Where never taper lends its little ray,
Where never moon must soothe, and never sun
Shall gladden.

V.
Despair is Death:
And though he come not in the storm
That blasts the roses, yet he lurks unseen,
Eating their core away, and o'er them sheds
His mildew:
While of such sad, sad change, the cause and cure
Alike unknown, we can but mourn the flow'rs
That look less beautiful and count the leaves
That wither.

VI.
Thou Sun of heaven!
Tho' thou art cheerful, and he dull
As blackest night, Despair resembles thee;
Fierce as thou art, and lasting as thou seem'st,
His sorrows
Thy setting sees the same pale marble cheeks,
Thy rising radiance vainly strove to gild;
The same dull eye's fix'd glare, the same wild steps,
Still wand'ring.

VII.
Yet he can smile
With seeming careless jollity,
And o'er the goblet gay will join the laugh,
And strive to play the courtier deftily.
But vainly—
The worm that fattens in the dead man's socket,
Looks not less like the life that glitter'd there,
Than that faint smile, the heart-exulting mirth
It mimics.

VIII.
O saddest lot!
Thus barely doom'd to breathe and be,
To wander up and down this care-bound sphere,
And only know we live, because we feel
Life's sorrows;
And only shrink from death because we fear
The grave itself may hold some dream like life,
And even that dark slumber may not be
Unbroken.

[(1821) 31-37]