1776
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to the Sun.

Odes, by Richard Cumberland, Esq.

Richard Cumberland


Richard Cumberland's irregular ode on the sublime scenery of the Lake District is filled with spectacular scenic effects, like this account of a landslide: "Hush, not a whisper here, | Beware, for Echo on the watch | Sits with erect and listening ear | The secrets of the scene to catch, | Then swelling, as she rolls around, | The hoarse reverberated sound, | With loud repeated shocks | She beats the loose impending rocks, | Tears down the fragment big with death, | And hurls it thund'ring on the wretch beneath" p. 16.

The ode contains a salute to the Thomas Gray (d. 1771) consisting of a redaction of The Bard and a comment on literary emulation that in Cumberland's case would prove but too true: "He saw your scenes in harmony divine, | On him indulgent suns could shine, | Me turbid skies and threat'ning clouds await, | Emblems, alas! of my ignoble fate" p. 18. On this account Herbert W. Starr includes the poem in his list of imitations in Bibliography of Gray (1953). But Cumberland's cascading perspectives, like his breathless verse, is really quite unlike Gray's landscapes or literary manner.

Richard Cumberland: "In the autumn of this year [1775?] I made a tour in company with my friend, the Earl of Warwick, to the lakes in Cumberland. He took with him Mr. Smith, well known to the public for his elegant designs after nature in Switzerland, Italy, and elsewhere: my noble friend himself is a master in the art of drawing and designing landscapes in a bold and striking character, of which our tour afforded a vast variety. Whilst we passed a few days at Keswick, I hastily composed an irregular ode, 'which was literally struck out on the spot, and is addressed to the sun; for as the season was advancing towards winter, we had frequent temptations to invoke that luminary, who was never very gracious to our suit, except while we were viewing the lake of Keswick and its accompaniments'" Memoirs (1806; 1856) 194-95.

Critical Review: "This publication consists of two odes. The first is said to have been struck out in one of those stupendous scenes, and is addressed to the sun. It is animated with a considerable share of the lyric spirit" 41 (1776) 318.

John Langhorne: "The first of these Odes, addressed to the sun, is irregular and unappropriated, having little or no reference to the nature and operations of that glorious luminary. It is employed chiefly on the scenery of the northern lakes, and is evidently framed on the model of Gray's Cambrian Ode. But the Author will hardly escape the fate of the Gens Imitatorum. The second, addressed to the late Dr. James, appears to be a tribute of gratitude" Monthly Review 54 (April 1776) 339.

Walker's Hibernian Magazine: "On this ode Mr. Gray's Journal is the best commentary, as it refers to all the scenes here hinted at. Some of his Pindaric fire seems also caught by our bard, tho' if we are not mistaken, both Messrs. Gray and Mason are great enemies to irregularity in odes, or that measure which is safely called Pindaric, such as Cowley adopted, and which is often only an excuse for idleness" (1776) 350.

Samuel Johnson: "Sir Joshua mentioned Mr. Cumberland's Odes, which were just published. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, are they would have been thought as good as Odes commonly are, if Cumberland had not put his name to them; but a name immediately draws censure, unless it be a name that bears down everything before it. Nay, Cumberland has made his Odes subsidiary to the fame of another man [the dedicatee, George Romney the painter]. They might have run well enough by themselves; but he has not only loaded them with a name, but has made them carry double'" 1776; in Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 3:50.

William Barnard: "Garrick being asked to read Cumberland's Odes, laughed immoderately, and affirmed that such stuff might as well be read backwards as forwards, and the witty Roscius accordingly read them in that manner, and wonderful to relate! produced the same good sense and poetry as the sentimental author ever had genius to write" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (19 October 1776).

Edward S. Creasy: "'The Lakes' had not then become a regular district for tourists; and very few Englishmen, even among those who could declaim about Switzerland, were aware of the beautiful scenery of this part of our island. Indeed, susceptibility to the beauties of nature was not the characteristic of the literary men of the time; most of whom, like Johnson, thought a walk down Fleet Street the most delightful and the most picturesque in its objects of all the tours that could be made" "Thomas Gray" Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850)318.

Myra Reynolds: "Richard Cumberland wrote in 1776 several Odes, something in the style of Gray's Bard, in honor of the artist Romney.... One of the poems, the Ode to the Sun, has Helvellyn, Skiddaw, the Derwent, Lodore, 'Keswick's sweet fantastic vale,' 'stately Windermere,' 'Savage Wyburn,' and 'delicious Grasmere's calm retreat' as its important scenic elements.... In contrast to the grandeur and splendor of Nature man seems but 'weak, contemptible, and vain, the tenant of a day.' Imperial Ulls-water is not only declared to be superior in charm to Loch Lomond or Killarney, but it can maintain its own even against 'ought that learned Poussin drew' or anything painted by 'dashing Rosa.' Eighteenth-century praise of scenery could go no farther" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 176-77.



Soul of the world, refulgent SUN,
Oh take not from my ravisht sight
Those golden beams of living light,
Nor, ere thy daily course be run,
Precipitate the Night.
Lo, where the ruffian clouds arise,
Usurp the abdicated skies,
And seize the aetherial throne;
Sullen-clad the scene appears,
Huge HELVELLYN streams with tears,
Hark, 'tis giant SKIDDAW'S groan!
I hear terrific LAWDOOR roar;
The Sabbath of thy reign is o'er,
The anarchy's begun;
Father of light, return; break forth, refulgent Sun!

What if the rebel blast shall rend
Those nodding horrors from the mountain's brow—
Hither thy glad deliverance send,
Ah save the votarist and accept the vow!
And, say, thro' thy diurnal round,
Where, great Spectator, hast thou found
Such solemn soul-inviting shades,
Ghostly dells, religious glades?
Where Penitence may plant its meek abode,
And hermit Meditation meet its God.

Now by the margin of yon glassy deep
My pensive vigils let me keep;
There, by force of Runic spells,
Shake the grot where Nature dwells;
And in the witching hour of night,
Whilst thy pale sister lends her shadowy light,
Summon the naked wood-nymphs to my sight.

Trembling now with giddy tread,
Press the Moss on GOWDAR'S head,
But lo, where sits the bird of Jove,
Couch'd in his airy far above;
Oh, lend thine eye, thy pinion lend,
Higher, yet higher let me still ascend:
'Tis done; my forehead smites the skies,
To the last summit of the cliff I rise;
I touch the sacred ground,
Where step of man was never found;
I see all Nature's rude domain around.

Peace to thy empire, queen of calm desires,
Health crown thy hills and plenty robe thy vales;
May thy groves wave untoucht by wastful fires,
Nor commerce croud thy lakes with sordid sails:
Press not so fast upon my aking sight
Gigantic shapes, nor rear you heads so high,
As if ye meant to war against the sky,
Sons of old Chaos and primaeval Night.
Such were the heights enshrined BRUNO trod,
When on the cliff he hung his tow'ring cell,
Amongst the clouds aspired to dwell,
And half ascended to his God.
The prim canal, the level green,
The close-clipt hedge that bounds the flourisht scene,
What rapture can such forms impart
With all the spruce impertinence of art?

Ye pageant streams, that roll in state
By the vain windows of the great,
Rest on your muddy ooze and see
Old majestic DERWENT force
His independent course,
And learn of him and nature to be free,
And you, triumphal arches, shrink,
Ye temples, tremble, and ye columns, sink!
One nod from WALLAH'S craggy brow
Shall crush the Dome
Of sacerdotal Rome,
And lay her glittering gilded trophies low.

Now downward as I bend my eye,
What is that atom I espy,
That speck in Nature's plan?
Great Heaven! is that a Man?
And hath that little wretch its cares,
Its freakes, its follies, and its airs;
And do I hear the insect say,
"My lakes, my mountains, my domain?"
O weak, contemptible, and vain!
The tenant of a day,
Say to old SKIDDAW, "Change thy place,"
Heave HELVELLYN from his base,
Or bid impetuous DERWENT stand
At the proud waving of a master's hand.

Now with silent step and slow
Descend, but first forbear to blow,
Ye felon winds, let discord cease,
And Nature seal an elemental peace:
Hush, not a whisper here,
Beware, for Echo on the watch
Sits with erect and listening ear
The secrets of the scene to catch,
Then swelling, as she rolls around,
The hoarse reverberated sound,
With loud repeated shocks
She beats the loose impending rocks,
Tears down the fragment big with death,
And hurls it thund'ring on the wretch beneath.

Not so the Naid, she defies
The faithless Echo, and with yelling cries
Howls on the summit of rude LAWDOOR'S brow;
Then, with a desperate leap
Springs from the rocky steep,
And runs enamour'd to the lake below.
So the Cambrian minstrel stood,
White as foam his silver beard,
And loud and shrill his voice was heard;
All the while down SNOWDON'S side,
Winding slow in dread array,
He saw the victor king, pursue his way;
Then fearless rush'd into the foaming tide,
Curs'd him by all his idol gods and died.

Ah! where is he that swept the sounding lyre,
And while he touch'd the master string,
Bad "Ruin seize thee ruthless King"
With all a prophet's fire?
Mourn him, ye naids, and ye wood-nymphs mourn,
But chiefly ye, who rule o'er KESWICK'S vale,
Your visitor bewail,
And pluck fresh laurels for his hallow'd urn;
He saw your scenes in harmony divine,
On him indulgent suns could shine,
Me turbid skies and threat'ning clouds await,
Emblems, alas! of my ignoble fate.

But see the embattled vapours break,
Disperse and fly,
Posting like coursers down the sky;
The grey rock glitters in the glassy lake;
And now the mountain tops are seen
Frowning amidst the blue serene,
The variegated groves appear,
Deckt in the colours of the waning year;
And, as new beauties they unfold,
Dip their skirts in beaming gold.
Thee, savage WYBORN, now I hail;
Delicious GRASMERES calm retreat,
And stately WYNDEMERE I greet,
And KESWICK'S sweet fantastic vale:
But let her naids yield to thee,
And lowly bend the subject knee,
Imperial lake of Patrick's dale,
For neither Scotish LOMOND'S pride,
Nor smooth KILLARNEY'S silver tide,
Nor aught that learned POUSSIN drew,
Or dashing ROSA flung upon my view,
Shall shake thy sovereign undisturbed right,
Great scene of wonder and sublime delight!

Hail to thy beams, O Sun! for this display
What, glorious orb, can I repay?
Not MEMNON'S costly shrine,
Not the white coursers of imperial Rome,
Nor the rich smoke of Persia's hecatomb;
Such proud oblations are not mine;
Nor thou my simple tribute shall refuse,
The thanks of an unprostituted muse:
And may no length of still returning day
Strike from thy forehead one refulgent ray;
But let each tuneful, each attendant sphere
To latest time thy stated labours chear,
And with new Paeans crown the finisht year.

[pp. 11-20]