A rural rhapsody in 71 elegiac quatrains, published anonymously. Contemplation is one of the earliest imitations of Gray's Elegy (1751), though it owes at least as much to Milton: the first half is in an "L'Allegro" mode, the second more "Penseroso," and the two are joined by a "fairy" passage that seems to allude to Spenser and Shakespeare. The closing stanzas suggest that Richard Gifford, who graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1748, wrote the poem while living with a pupil, possibly Hugo Meynell, at whose recommendation he later obtained the rectory of North Okendon in Essex. This is the only published poem by a writer who spent most of his long life pursuing antiquarian studies as a clergyman in Derbyshire.
Gifford's unassuming verses were admired by Samuel Johnson, who took an illustration from this poem for his Dictionary, and who quoted the sixth stanza from memory during the journey to Scotland with Boswell: "Verse softens Toil, however rude the Sound; | She feels no biting Pang the while she sings; | Nor, as she turns the giddy Wheel around, | Revolves the sad Vicissitude of things" p. 6.
Monthly Review: "An ingenious poem, written in the manner of Mr. Gray's church-yard elegy; and which wou'd have appeared to greater advantage, had it preceded, instead of following, the publication of that excellent original" 8 (1753) 393.
Monthly Magazine: "It was printed for Dodsley more than half a century ago, and the name of the author does not appear in the title page. From the paucity of the remaining copies, the intrinsic merit of the composition, and the notice thus incidentally attracted [by Boswell], it has now become a sort of literary curiosity" 38 (October 1814) 237.
John Nichols: "One small poem of his, intituled Contemplation, was printed in 1753, which attracted the notice of Dr. Johnson, who has quoted it in his Dictionary; a circumstance which Mr. Gifford has frequently mentioned to the writer of this article with much satisfaction. The general encouragement of the poem, however, was not sufficient to allure him to further progress in that fascinating pursuit" Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 5:183.
Iolo Williams: "Gifford's pictures of rural life are not hardly realistic, or at least they leave out all that the hard realist would put in. Yet he is not dull and not altogether untruthful; he is one of the soft realists — to attempt to coin a phrase that has a very definite place waiting for it in the classification of artists — one of those who show the pleasant parts of what they are describing, and who, in their way, are just as faithful to nature as those who give us nothing but the ugly parts. Both are artists of an imperfect kind, yet the gloomy ones seem to have had all the praise lately. But why should only the very great be allowed to summon us pleasant phantoms, while any second-rater has full licence to fill our bookshelves with demons and devils — and be praised for it? I for one take this opportunity of praising the minor and agreeable Richard Gifford" By-ways Round Helicon (1922) 50.
Dropt in the sable Mantle of the Night;
The early Lark salutes the rising Day,
And, while she hails the glad Return of Light,
Provokes each Bard to join the raptur'd Lay.
The Music spreads thro' Nature: while the Flocks
Scatter their silver Fleeces o'er the Meed,
The jolly Shepherd 'mid the vocal Rocks
Pipes many a Strain upon his oaten Reed:
And sweetest Phoebe, she, whose rosy Cheeks
Outglow the Blushes of the ruddy Morn,
All as her Cows with eager Step she seeks,
Vies with the tuneful Truth on yonder Thorn.
Unknown to these each fair Aonian Maid
Their Bosoms glow with Nature's truer Fire;
Little, ye Sister-Nine, they need your Aid,
Whose artless Breasts these living Scenes inspire.
Ev'n from the straw-roof'd Cott the Note of Joy
Flows full and frequent, as the Village-Fair,
Whose little Wants the busy Hour employ,
Chanting some rural Ditty sooths her Care.
Verse softens Toil, however rude the Sound;
She feels no biting Pang the while she sings;
Nor, as she turns the giddy Wheel around,
Revolves the sad Vicissitude of things.
Nor yet alone the varied Lay invites
To fly the Lubber God, who locks each Sense
In dull Inaction; ever-new Delights
Pour on the Soul, while lost in sweet Suspense
She views the tufted Groves, the Sea-bound Hills,
The lucid Lake, the Flow'r-embroider'd Vale,
She hears the Murmurs of a thousand Rills,
And breathes Arabian Sweets in ev'ry Gale.
The Sons of Sloth, in Sleep's soft Fetters bound,
Lose the rich Breeze from ev'ry op'ning Flow'r;
Or rouz'd by Folly, measure the dull Round,
Where Triflers waste th' irrevocable Hour:
Ambition wakes, ere from the Mountain's Side
The lusty Shepherd hails the smiling Dawn,
But, borne to Levees on the Wings of Pride,
Nor tastes the Breeze, nor treads the Sun-clad Lawn:
Yet 'tis in vain from Nature's Charms we fly;
A little Moment, and the sick'ning Mind,
Pall'd with such sordid Trash, as deep shall sigh
For rural Sweets and Pleasures more refin'd.
Dryads, and Mountain-Nymphs, I raptur'd trace
Your sacred Haunts! and all my Bosom glows,
As the fond Shepherd's, tho' his warm Embrace
The dear kind Object of his Vows inclose!
Like him, Love-taught, I call the rustic Muse
To sing the various Sweets fair Nature sheds,
Who bounteous Drops in soft refreshing Dews
The blushing Rose, and Tulip's gawdy Beds.
What if these Numbers flow devoid of Art?
Simple I seek no Poet's honor'd Name;
Who speaks alone the Language of the Heart,
Nor idle Censure fears, nor pants for Fame.
Here when the BARDS in many an uncouth Rhyme,
That Nature prompted, taught th' enquiring Youth
Doctrines coaeval with the Birth of Time,
FUTURITY and ONE ETERNAL TRUTH;
Harsh were the Strains the bearded Sages sung,
Struck with the Wonders of the circling Year,
Yet on each Accent soft Persuasion hung,
And Nature's Voice touch'd ev'ry list'ning Ear;
While on the Herbs her lavish Hand had spread
With kind Profusion o'er th' untrodden Waste,
Contented with their homely Meal, they fed,
And blest the Giver of the sweet Repast.
Of Manners gentle! and of Soul refin'd!
They chose with awful Solitude to dwell;
Each little Care of busy Life resign'd
For the brown Umbrage, and the Moss-grown Cell.
Alone with Ivy-wreaths their Locks were bound,
(O Virtue, heavenly-fair, how small thy Meed!)
Yet shone less bright the Wreaths that Warriors crown'd,
By Tyrants boasted, or by Slaves decreed.
Then to my Breast, fair Goddess, while my Soul
Wrapt in sweet Nature mocks at every Toy,
Beauty forgot, abjur'd the smiling Bowl,
The Dream of Glory, and the laugh of Joy.
O come, fair Virtue, ever-sacred Guest!
For thee and Nature if the Muse resign
Each gay Desire, that wantons in my Breast,
Be thou, and Peace, the white-rob'd Cherub, mine!
"Be thine," she cries from yonder Wood-bind Bow'r
Profuse of Sweets, "Be thine," the Goddess cries,
"The Bliss to trifle Life's unwearied Hour
'Mid vernal Roses, and autumnal Skies."
Ye Friends of Nature, you who pant to rove
O'er Tempe's Vale, or Haemus' flow'ry Side,
The Muse shall lead you thro' the vocal Grove,
Down the tall Cliff, and where the Riv'lets glide,
Unknown to Song, whose Crystal Fountains rise
'Mid Hills, along whose Tops for ever green
From Sweet to Sweet, gay Fancy, as she flies,
With vivid Tints shall brighten ev'ry Scene.
O here to wander all the smiling Day,
And view the plodding Rustic's envied Lot!
Where thro' the Round of Prospect all is gay,
Each Passion husht, and ev'ry Care forgot!
To sit beside the Stream, whose Silver Flood
With gentle Murmurs lulls to soft Repose!
To hear the merry Songsters of the Wood,
And laugh with real Joy at fancied Woes!
To count the frisking Lambs! to tread the Shade
That Echo haunts, who, when the love-sick Swain
Dwells on the Coldness of some cruel Maid,
Touch'd with his Woes sighs o'er the piteous Strain.
There, as the Horn along the silent Lake
'Wakes dulcet Harmony, (while all around
Their sedgy Locks the raptur'd Naiads shake)
Still sweeter from yon Grove returns the Sound.
Yet as I wander thro' the magic Seat,
Let me but whisper * * 's much-lov'd Name,
Lest the fair Babler ev'ry Sound repeat,
And idly tell a busy World my Flame.
Dull to these Joys, if Discontent should sigh
For Eden's Fruits, or Arab's Ev'ning-breeze,
Repiner know, while Virtue can supply
The Heart-felt Transport of a Mind at Ease,
Each Wild breathes Fragrance, as from Woodbind Bow'rs
Rich Gales of Odor wanton Zephyrs stole,
Each craggy Summit teems with purple Flow'rs,
And spreads ambrosial Fruits to cheer the Soul.
Ye Sons of Mirth, who love the simple Tale
The Nurse invents to cheat the tedious Night,
Or the grey Cobbler hums o'er festive Ale,
Of Goblin bloody, or of mirthful Sprite;
O come! here hoary-lock'd Tradition tells
Of wayward Hags in tatter'd Remnants drest,
Of unblest Wizards and their binding Spells,
Of virtuous Knights confin'd and Maids distrest,
Of sportive Elves, who crouch in Bells of Flow'rs,
'Till Sleep around his gentle Poppies shed,
Then, 'till the Morn bring on the roseate Hours,
Guard from each threat'ning Ill the Virgin's Bed;
Or haply by the Flame-rob'd Glow-worm's Light
They trip, unseen, the light fantastic Round;
Yet Morn displays the jocund Feats of Night,
And Fairy Ringlets mark the hallow'd Ground.
O come! here oft the sheeted Ghost appears,
When Ev'ning's Shades embrown the silent Mead,
And, rais'd by many a pale-eyed Milkmaid's Fears,
Waves in the Bough, or quivers in the Reed.
For this the Infant-pratlers of the Farm
Leave with the Sun their little Revelry,
And, list'ning thoughtful to the nightly Charm
Of ghostly Tale, cling round their Mother's Knee;
There learn, how hapless Maids, who pin'd away,
(For Love had stol'n the Roses from their Cheek)
Leave the sad Church-yard at the Close of Day,
And o'er the Lawn the faithless Shepherd seek;
Or how some restless Miser's haggard Shade
All the long Night broods o'er the hidden Gold,
And sweeps unwilling thro' the dewy Glade,
When Chanticleer awakes the drowsy Fold.
Yet if some God, whose Torch the Lamp of Day
Survives, hath seiz'd some Dovelike-tender Maid,
Where the Moon darts in vain her feeble Ray,
Each Fear forgot, she wanders undismay'd.
Meet her with equal Warmth, thou favour'd Youth!
Beneath the broad Beech, or the Chesnut Shade,
Yet O! be mindful of her Love and Truth,
Be mindful of the holy Vows you made.
O come! here on the Wings of balmy Gales,
(While Jest and Laughter fill the mirthful Train)
Flies smooth-cheek'd Health along the flow'ry Vales,
And mixes in the Labors of the Plain.
How shall I woo thee, sweetest, Rose-lip'd Fair?
When to my eager Bosom press thy Charms?
No fleecy Lambkins ask my Ev'ning's Care,
No Morning-toils have nerv'd my youthful Arms.
Yet say, O say, bright Daughter of the Sky,
Wilt thou still shun the Student's Midnight-oil!
And, O too partial! ev'ry Grace deny
To all but yonder sturdy Sons of Toil?
Would Numbers win thee, thou no Lay shouldst need,
Whether the Muses sacred Band resides
Among the Dryads, on the daisied Mead,
Where Cam's fair Stream, or Silver Isis glides:
But thy chill Breast repells the Poet's Fires;
Ev'n rapt Musaeus felt, amid the Strains
That drew down Angels from the golden Lyres,
Head-clouding Vapors, and Heart-rending Pains.
If solemn Scenes delight, as oft the Muse
Is wrapt in Meditation, then she strays
Thro' silent Church-yards, where the sable Yews
Spread kindred Gloom, and holy Musings raise.
There, as she wanders o'er the low-laid Dead,
Wrecks of the Wife, the Fair, the Just, the Brave,
Oft calls Reflection from the Clay-cold Bed
Of Death, "No Sherlock preaches like the Grave."
Why on yon fresh-turn'd Sod the Lawrel green
Mixt with gay Summer's sweetest Flow'rets lies,
If Fancy ask, as o'er the gloomy Scene
She throws her Eye, the weeping Muse replies.
The gentle Lucy, deck'd with ev'ry Grace,
That gilds the Mead beneath the vernal Sky,
Ow'd to no Art the Roses of her Face,
Nor anxious wish'd the Triumphs of her Eye.
Bred to the Toil of Life, her humble Mind
Had heard unmov'd the Pleasures of the Great,
Nor once at what she was had e'er repin'd,
Or envious wish'd to change her lowly State.
'Wak'd with the Dawn, she brush'd the Silver Dew
With eager Steps along the silent Vale,
Then from the Kine her well-taught Fingers drew
The bounteous Blessings of the Milking-pail.
Each Heart's soft Wish! the Theme of ev'ry Tongue!
She reign's the Queen of many a flow'ry May;
And when soft Love inspir'd the artless Song,
Well-pleas'd she read the rural Roundelay;
Yet simple knew not that her Face could charm;
No Heart-sick Lover felt her cold Disdain,
But leaning thoughtful on her ruddy Arm,
She heard the pensive Shepherd's Tale of Pain.
She heard, and Sorrow touch'd her gentle Soul,
But heard so oft, 'till artful Cupid, drest
In meek-ey'd Pity's Sister-form, had stole
Unknown, unnotic'd, to her tender Breast.
He saw her yielding Eye, and warmly prest
The sacred Joys of Hymen's holy Bands;
"The white-rob'd Priest (O may the Rites be blest!)
Shall he, my Lucy, join our willing Hands?
"My little Flock the All of Wealth I boast
Will shield our Cott from hated Poverty;
If that should fail, thro' Winter's hoary Frost,
Thro' Summer-suns 'twere sweet to toil for thee.
"O come, my Lucy! Here are constant Streams
Of Joy, and such as Grandeur never knows;
Our Morning-labors, and our Ev'ning-dreams
Were ill-exchang'd for Pomp, and Midnight-shows.
"Tho' gay the View from yonder Mountain's Brow,
There rage the Storms, and there the Whirl-winds ride;
The quiet Life in the Vale below,
And here soft Peace, and sweet Content abide."
She blush'd Consent; he fix'd the happy Hour;
It came, no threat'ning Cloud obscur'd the Sky,
No hated Screech-owl from the lonely Tow'r,
Or ghastly Raven boded Mischief nigh:
Yet hapless Lucy had resign'd her Breath!
Lucy! who fair as Morn, and sweet as fair,
Might well have stay'd the cruel Darts of Death,
Could his remorseless Hand be taught to spare.
The Flow'rs, a Sister's Fondness would have spread
With rural Rites before the blushing Bride,
Now drop bepearl'd with Tears the lucid Head,
Scatter'd in sad Confusion 'round her Side.
And there, unmark'd the Grave! her Bones are laid.
Yet if that Earth shall to her Soul restore
The once fair Limbs of a Plebeian Maid,
The Urn, the Pyramid can do no more.
Thy Fate, sweet Innocence, far other Note
Had sung, if thy sad Tale had reach'd the Swain,
Who 'mid the Groves erst touch'd his Doric Oat,
And wept Mortality in such a Strain,
That Death relenting, were his savage Ear
Attun'd to Numbers, had a while restrain'd
His Lust of Slaughter; shed the pitying Tear,
And dropt the Dart with human Gore distain'd.
Enough for me, unnumber'd 'mid the few,
Whom Phoebus loves, if while around thy Herse
Each Morn the Muse her Obsequies renew,
Thy gentle Shade accept the plaintive Verse.
Thou honor'd Youth, amid whose Lawns I stray
And sip the genial Sweets of rural Ease,
Know, if thou deign'st to read this simple Lay,
Who write for Pleasure seldom write to please.
Alone Ambition wings the Muse to Fame,
Whose Eagle-flight unnerv'd I cease to soar,
Despair to please hath damp'd the gen'rous Flame,
And ev'ry Wish of Vanity is o'er.
Yet if the Flood of Time (whose wanton Rage,
Wild as it rolls, devours the Things we prize,
The Bard's soft Lay, th' Historian's labor'd Page,
Like Straws while Trifles on its Surface rise)
Shall waft this Verse upon its giddy Stream,
Till Years thy Roman Virtues shall disclose,
Till the sweet Bud, beneath the rip'ning Beam
Of Honor, swell into the full-blown Rose;
O! once again the Muse shall glow to see
The well-fix'd Column of thy Fame aspire
Above each warm Presage she form'd of thee,
And from thy Blaze relume her wonted Fire.