1792
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Aurora.

Poems, by F. Sayers, M.D.

Dr. Frank Sayers


Twelve blank-verse stanzas salute the dawn: "To some the dull still hours of night are dear, | To me the chearful day, fair queen of morn" p. 170. Frank Sayers's ode is part of the sequence inspired by Collins's Ode to Evening, though as was common he quarries Milton's L'Allegro for imagery. Milton, of course, had used this stanza before Collins. In the 1803 edition of Sayers's poems the "Ode to Aurora" was replaced by an "Ode to Night" in the same measure — a curious way of handling what would otherwise be regarded as a pair of companion poems.

Sayers came late to poetry and was approaching the age of thirty when this volume appeared in 1792, shortly after the work that won him an international reputation, Dramatic Sketches of the Ancient Northern Mythology. He had recently given up the medical profession when his nerves proved unable to withstand the sight of surgery. Sayers would spend the rest of his life pursuing literary and antiquarian studies in Norwich. Like Collins, he was much taken by Greek tragedy, the basis for his Dramatic Sketches.

William Taylor of Norwich: "On the whole, this little volume, like the classical poems of Collins, may expect slowly to find a select number of warm and lasting admirers. It is difficult to suppose that the system of Gothic superstition will soon be so far familiarized, as to render the loftier and more glowing efforts of this bard, strictly speaking, popular: — but to whom is the praise of the many more valuable than that of the few?" Monthly Review NS 7 (March 1792) 332.

European Magazine: "The Ode to Aurora, and The Epigram to a Swallow are superiorly well translated.... On the whole, these Poems will command a permanent and applausive attention, and will be numbered among the truly original exertions of English genius, which has ever delighted rather to stamp a few unremoving vestiges in paths seldom frequented, than, by obeying what are called the laws of taste, to secure for its productions that general complacence, which seldom rises to the enthusiasm of admiration" 23 (April 1793) 271-72.

William Taylor of Norwich: "In 1791, was executed the Ode to Aurora, a worthy companion for Collins' Ode to Evening, and the Fly, which Dr. Sayers considered as the most finished and perfect of all his minor productions; it resembles and vies with that ode to a Glow-worm, printed after Peter Pindar's Epistle to Bruce. Oswald, and some translations from the Greek and Latin Anthologies, continued to vary the poetic occupations of Dr. Sayers, until a second edition of the Dramatic Sketches became requisite, when these further exertions were inserted" memoir in Sayers, Collective Works (1823) lx-lxi.



Bright is the eastern sky — Aurora mounts
In car dew-dripping, round her snowy breast
The rosy radiance plays
And sparkles o'er the deep.

Hence, dreary darkness, to the caves of death,
Hence, ye fell ghosts, whose fearful shapes have sail'd
Across my lonely couch,
When blackest midnight reign'd.

Bring me the lyre, and while I strike the chords
Strew odorous flowers around — hail! goddess, hail!
Hail to the living ray
Which gilds the dusky earth!

For thee the purple violet breathes its sweets,
For thee the streaked blossoms fragrant bud,
And balmy breezes waft
Their grateful scents around;

Nor scorn the suppliant Muse's song of praise,
Whose notes of thrilling sound have floated oft
Athwart the dark-blue sky,
And charm'd the listening gods;

But who, O goddess fairest of thy race,
Who, beauteous mother of the shining day,
Can praise in equal strains
Thy form of heavenly mould?

Before those blushing cheeks, those glittering locks
The yellow-twinkling stars abash'd retreat,
The fading moon retires
And shuns thy splendid step;

From shades of gloomy night thy beams awak'd
The mortal race, wide-shooting o'er the land
They dy'd with varied light
The many-tinted flowers;

Thou, goddess, from the languid closed eye,
Driv'st heavy sleep, the hated kin of death,
And active man again
Pursues his wonted joys.

The traveller starts, and briskly plies his steps,
The ploughman drives his vigorous team afield,
The jocund shepherd's care
Swift hastens to the plain.

The buskin'd goddess and her fleet-limb'd nymphs
O'er the moist lawn swift chase the reeking stag,
And cheer the panting hounds,
With loud and joyful shout.

To some the dull still hours of night are dear,
To me the chearful day, fair queen of morn,
O give me oft to view
Thy purple-streaming light.

[pp. 167-70]