1768
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegies on Different Occasions.

Elegies on Different Occasions.

Henry James Pye


A cycle of nine elegies, anonymously published, dated 1761-1767. Henry James Pye's fourth elegy is a formal imitation of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. Set among the gloomy vaults at Oxford, it describes the poet's unhappy love, and supplies his epitaph: "Here rests a youth, who, Love and Sorrow's slave, | Gave up his early life to pining care, | Till worn with woe he sought, in this calm grave, | A safe retreat from comfortless Despair." This elegy was suppressed in Pye's collected Poems (1768). While all are included in Northrop's Gray bibliography, most of these youthful poems are love elegies. Their imagery, melancholy tone, and verbal echoes are very much in the Spenserian-Miltonic tradition.

In Elegy II (at least twice reprinted in the periodicals) the poet compares the turning of the seasons to the ages of man: "Mark this, and boast your fancied worth no more, | Ye great, ye proud, ye learned, and ye brave! | With hasty lapse some circling years are o'er, | And lo! ye slumber in the silent grave!" In place of Gray's comparison of the rich and poor, the poet substitutes stoic and epicurean doctrines, advocating a middle ground as the sure path to the "brighter skies, and aether more serene" of heavenly repose.

John Hawkesworth: "Of these elegies there are nine; and in general they are tender and melodious; there are some improper epithets, some lines that will not be generally pleasing, and some conceits perhaps a little too pretty" Monthly Review 40 (January 1769) 90.

Critical Review: "Although there is no species of poetic composition more delicate to handle, or which more demands genius, than the elegy; there is none upon which the minor poets of the present day are better pleased to exercise their talents.... We now attend to the Elegies before us, and find nothing which can exempt them from the general censure. Nor are their faults merely negative. The thoughts are frequently unnatural and trivial, and sometimes so expressed as to afford little meaning" 27 (1769) 231-32.

The fourth elegy had appeared under the signature "H. P." and the title "Love Elegy" in the London Chronicle (7 April 1763) 333.



ELEGY I.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1761.
O Happiness! thou wish of every mind,
Whose form, more subtle than the fleeting air,
Leaves all thy votaries wandering far behind,
Eludes their search, and mocks their anxious care,

What distant region holds thy fair retreat,
Where no keen look thy footsteps may surprize?
In what lone desarts hast thou fix'd thy seat,
Far from the curious search of mortal eyes?

Amidst the jocund race, say, art thou found,
Who pass in mirth the dreary hours of night;
Or in the dance with pliant sinews bound,
While dazzling lustres cast a noontide light?

Ah no! When Reason reassumes her sway,
And the tamed blood in calmer current flows,
These joys, like fairy visions, melt away,
And leave the bosom pressed with serious woes.

Or, Dost Thou dwell with regal pomp and power,
Revered and honored by the wise and great?
Ten thousand cares on sceptered splendor lour,
And bend the weary monarch with their weight.

Or, Shall we seek Thee through the ranks of war,
Where bold Ambition leads her daring train;
While the shrill clarion, sounding from afar,
Calls the slow warrior to the purple plain?

Alas not there! — Though conquest grace his sword,
Though proudly wave his banners in the air,
By legions guarded, the victorious Lord
Shall find no arms to shield his heart from care.

Dost Thou reside in the gay youth's fond breast,
Who bends obedient to the power of love;
Who, by the fair one he adores caressed,
May all the joys of mutual transport prove?—

With passion fraught, though smiling now serene,
In soft endearments flow each tender hour;
Too soon, alas! must change the blissful scene,
When time's cold blast shall blow on beauty's flower.

And oft, amidst the blooming days of youth,
Inconstancy asserts her fickle reign;
Or pale-eyed Jealousy, with venomed tooth,
Cankers the golden links of Hymen's chain.

All calm and safe the tide of love appears,
The youthful poet's ever darling theme;
The venturous pilot there no quicksands fears,
But launches boldly down the flatt'ring stream,

Till on his bark the warring surges break,
And every billow seems to threaten fate:
The voice of Prudence then begins to speak,
But, ah, the voice of Prudence speaks too late!

Is bliss sincere then no where to be found,
The vain creation of the Enthusiast's mind?
Or, if she deign to dwell on mortal ground,
Where may we hope her fair abode to find?

The sweets of pleasure, and the pomp of power,
In the gay garb of tainting Luxury dressed,
She slights with deepest scorn; nor will reside
But in the precincts of the virtuous breast.

The virtuous breast, in conscious honour bold,
Will want and pain and death itself despise:
Will from each trying woe, like heated gold,
With greater splendor, greater merit rise.

There she has ever fixed her firmest throne;
There scorned the bolts by rage and malice hurled;
And, found by wisdom, and by worth alone,
Mocked the vain labors of a vicious world.


ELEGY II.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1762.
Now the brown woods their leafy load resign,
And rage the tempests with resistless force;
Mantled with snow the silver mountains shine,
And icy fetters chain the rivulets course.

No pleasing object charms our wearied view,
No waving verdure decks the dreary glade,
Save that o'er yonder tomb the mournful yew
Projects an aweful solitary shade.

Short is the Spring, and short the Summer hour,
And short the time that fruitful Autumn reigns;
But tedious roll the days when Winter's power
Asserts its empire o'er our wasted plains.

As swiftly wears our Spring of life away;
As swiftly will our jolly Summer go;
But, ah! when Winter clouds our chearless day,
Again the vernal breezes never blow!

Mark this, and boast your fancied worth no more,
Ye great, ye proud, ye learned, and ye brave!
With hasty lapse some circling years are o'er,
And, lo, ye slumber in the silent grave!

Why views the sage fair Pleasure's transient charm,
And all her votaries gay with scowling eye?
Alike he stoops to Fate's superior arm,—
Alike he suffers, and alike must die!

Say, what avails it then with brow severe
The silken bands of Luxury to despise;
To bring by thought the day of horror near,
And view the tempest ere the clouds arise?

Better with laughing nymphs in revels gay
To give the hours to Venus, wine, and song;
And, since the rapid moments never stay,
To catch some pleasures as they glide along.

Deluded man! whom empty sounds beguile,
What transports here await thy anxious soul?
Know, love abhors the venal harlot's smile,
And hell-born fury rages in the bowl.

Seek Virtue to be blest; but seek her far,
Far from those gloomy sons of lettered pride,
Who 'gainst the passions wage eternal war,
And, foes to Nature, Nature's dictates chide.

Let mirth, not madness, crown the temperate feast;
Let love and beauty joys refined impart:
Though mere sensation charm the groveling breast,
'Tis mutual passion fires the generous heart.

The various blessings bounteous Heaven bestows
Own grateful, and by charity repay,
Relieve thy suffering friend, or share his woes,
But from his failings turn thine eyes away.

So, when the wintry storms of death are past,
In brighter skies, and ether more serene,
Thy wither'd boughs shall bud again, to last
For ever blooming, and for ever green.


ELEGY III.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1763.
The dewy morn her saffron mantle spreads
High o'er the brow of yonder eastern hill;
Each blooming shrub a roseate fragrance sheds,
And the brisk sky-lark sings his carol shrill.

Not all the sweets that scent the morning air,
Not all the dyes that paint the vernal year,
Can from my breast divert its weighty care;
Can from my pale cheeks charm the trickling tear.

Here, where the willows to the rivulet bend,
That winds it's channel through the enamelled mead,
I'll o'er the turf my waining form extend,
And rest on sedges dank my listless head.

In vain the stream o'er pebbles glides along,
And murmurs sweetly-lulling as it flows;
In vain the stock-dove chaunts her gurgling song,
Inviting slumber soft and calm repose.

The cruel pangs of fierce desire I prove;
And think with transport on my absent fair:
Ah, cruel state! To scorch in flames of love,
Amidst the chilling frosts of cold despair!

'Tis not my DELIA'S scorn, my DELIA'S pride,
That sinks my hopes in everlasting night;
No charms to her the lavish gods denied,
Who formed her tender, as they formed her bright.

But, ah! the influence of some baneful star,
That frowned malignant at my hapless birth,
Has to my wishes placed an endless bar,
Superior to the strongest power on earth!

If crowding myriads, armed for deadly war,
Held from my longing eyes my bosoms queen,
And kept her deep in gloomy caves afar,
While mountains rose, and oceans rolled between;

I might not force through spears and swords my way,
I might not reach secure the distant shore,
Yet, armed by VENUS I'd provoke the fray,
Or perish bravely in the tumult's roar.

When fell ambition drives us to the plain,
Dismayed by fear the doubting squadrons move;
But I alike should certain pleasure gain,
To fall or conquer for the maid I love.

Cursed by the wretch, who first with impious hand
Taught servile error o'er the world to roll!—
This chaces freedom from each groaning land,
This warps, ah sad effect! my DELIA'S soul!—

But shall free love, that boundless as the wind
On active pinions every region tries,
And mocks even reason's dictates, be confined
By superstition's ever galling tyes?

Ye fairy dreams of gay delusion, hence!—
Your flattering visions but increase my smart;
I'll hear the nobler voice of manly sense,
And quell my passion, though I break my heart.

How vain my hopes! My fixed resolves how vain!
No force, alas! the power of love can brave;
One thought of DELIA wounds my peace again,
Subdues my soul, and binds me more her slave.


ELEGY IV.
WRITTEN AT — COLLEGE, OXON, 1763.
The solemn hand of sable-suited night
Enwraps the silent earth with mantle drear;
Thick gathering clouds obscure fair CYNTHIA's light;
Nor shines one star the dusky scene to chear.

O'er the sad mansion, hid in aweful gloom,
The Aethiop darkness spreads her ebon sway;
Save that alone from yonder studious room
The wasting taper sheds a trembling ray.

Now, while the tenants of this sacred dome
Turn the grave page, or sink to soft repose,
Along the Gothic cloisters let me roam,
And, deep in thought, the tedious moments lose.

Now breathes the whistling wind a mournful song,
And pattering drops the drizzly tempest tell;
While Echo stalks the gloomy vaults among,
Sadly-responsive to the midnight bell.

And hark! — the staring owl with boding strain
Shrieks notes of terror from the learned grove.
Ah horrid sounds! full well ye soothe my pain!
Full well your music greets despairing love!

No longer now around the social bowl
I join the festive laugh, or sprightly lay;
But pour in ceaseless sighs my lovesick soul,
Till fades the lamp at bright AURORA'S ray.

How at the fragrant hour of rising morn
Would eager transport throb in ev'ry vein,
To hear the swelling shout and jocund horn
Invite the hunter to the sportive plain!

But, ah, the gay delights of youth are fled!—
In sighs and tears my fading life I wear;
So the pale lilly hangs its drooping head,
When frosts untimely blast the ripening year.

Philosophy, thou guardian of the heart,
O come in all thy rigid virtue dressed!
With manly precept ease my killing smart,
And drive this tyrant from my wounded breast.

Oft would my eyes, disdaining balmy sleep,
The aweful labors of thy sons explore,
Fathom with restless toil each maxim deep,
And hang incessant o'er the sacred lore:

Alas! opposed to love how weak, how frail
Is all the reasoning of the unfeeling sage!
No forceful arm can o'er his power prevail;
No lenient hand the wounds he gives asswage.

Yes, tyrant, yes; thou must retain thy power,
Till my torn bosom yields to stronger Death:
Still must I love, even in that fatal hour,
And call on DELIA with my latest breath.

And when all pale my lifeless limbs extend,
And fate has sealed the irrevocable doom,
May then my memory find a faithful friend,
To write these votive numbers on my tomb:

"Here rests a youth, who, Love and Sorrow's slave,
Gave up his early life to pining care,
Till worn with woe he sought, in this calm grave,
A safe retreat from comfortless Despair."

So, when the stone lies o'er my clay-cold head,
If chance fair DELIA to the place draw near,
With one sad sigh she may lament me dead,
And bathe the senseless marble with a tear.


ELEGY V.
WRITTEN SEPTEMBER 1ST, 1763.
When the still Night withdrew her sable shroud,
And left those climes with steps sedate and slow;
While sad AURORA, kerchiefed in a cloud,
With drizzly vapours hung the mountain's brow;

The wretched bird, from hapless Perdix sprung,
With trembling wings forsook the furrowed plain,
And, calling round her all her listening young,
In faultering accents sung this plaintive strain:

"Unwelcome morn! too well thy louring mien
Foretells the slaughters of the approaching day;
The gloomy sky laments with tears the scene,
Where rage and terror reassume their sway.

"Ah, luckless train! Ah, fate-devoted race!
The dreadful tale experience tells believe;
Dark heavy mists obscure the morning's face,
But blood and death shall close the dreary eve.

"This day fell man, whose unrelenting hate
No grief can soften, and no tears assuage,
Pours dire destruction on the feathered state,
While pride and rapine urge his savage rage.

"I, who so oft have scaped the impending snare,
E're night arrives, may feel the fiery wound;
In giddy circles quit the realms of air,
And stain with streaming gore the dewy ground."

She said, when lo! the pointer winds his prey,
The rustling stubble gives the feared alarm,
The gunner views the covey sleet away,
And rears the unerring tube with skilful arm.

In vain the mother wings her whirring flight,
The leaden deaths arrest her as she flies;
Her scattered offspring swim before her sight,
And, bathed in blood, she flutters, pants, and dies.


ELEGY VI.
WRITTEN JUNE, 1764.
Thee, sad MELPOMENE, I once again
Invoke, nor ask the idly plaintive verse:
Quit the light reed for sorrow's sober strain,
And hang thy flowerets on my DELIA'S herse.

Oft by yon silver fountain's sedgy side,
Or through the twilight shade I used to rove,
Have sung her beauties to the listening tide,
And filled with notes like these the echoing grove:

"Ye fragrant roses, bow your blooming heads;
For can your sweetness with her breath compare?
Ye envious lillies, wither in your beds,
For is your boasted whiteness half so fair?"

Vain was the lay; for O! heart-breaking thought!
Those heavenly features ne'er again must charm,
That form divine, with each perfection fraught,
Is struck by Fate's inexorable arm.

Thus far, O Death, thy cruel reign extends!
Before thy sickle falls each blushing flower;
But Virtue on ethereal wings ascends,
And smiles disdainful on thy boasted power.

Guided by her — (for Virtue's sacred lore
Was ever dear to DELIA'S gentle breast)
She to the endless realms of peace shall soar,
The sacred mansions of eternal rest.

Nor these the wreaths that love and fancy twine
Around the tomb, where rests some flattered maid;
But honors, due to merit's hallowed shrine,
By faithful truth with unfeigned sorrow paid.

The smallest gleam of hope I ne'er could boast;
And raptured love in that dire moment fled,
Which shewed my dearest wish for ever lost,
Which gave my DELIA to a rival's bed.

Yet shall thy memory, dear departed shade,
In this sad breast a place for ever find;
For in thy form each beauty was display'd,
"To charm the senses, and to fix the mind."

O! were I skilled the immortal note to raise,
And down the stream of time to waft thy name!
Then would I sing thy worth in matchless lays,
Bright as thine eyes, and spotless as thy fame.

But, though the Muse such arduous flights denies,
Nor bids with fire divine my fancy glow,
These plaintive numbers nobler truth supplies,
The artless voice of unaffected woe.


ELEGY VII.
WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY, 1766.
Now has bright Sol fulfilled his circling course,
Again to Taurus rolled his burning car,
Since, cruel Prudence, thy resistless force
Tore me from happiness and CYNTHIA far.

How did I, then, or pensively complain,
Or in the maniac's frantic accents rave!
How often vow to prove resistance vain,
And, spite of prudence, live my CYNTHIA'S slave!

Her much-loved form did ev'ry thought employ;
My daily wish she was, and nightly dream;
My aking bosom hoped no dearer joy;
My raptur'd fancy owned no nobler theme.

No more I wish'd, where Isis' clear waves flow,
To pluck fresh laurels from the muse's shade:
I longed to climb the Cambrian mountain's brow,
Since Cambria's mountains hid my favorite maid.

In vain from cruel love's tyrannic reign
To friendship and to wisdom I appeal;
For such my sufferings, that the amorous pain
Nor wisdom could asswage, nor friendship heal.

Now three revolving moons had rolled away:
Still faded sorrow bent my drooping head;
In slothful rest my nobler passions lay,
Each fire extinguished, and each virtue dead;

When forced to seek a more laborious field,
And mingle chearful with a social train,
To toil and mirth those woes began to yield,
Which thought and care had combated in vain.

In other scenes I now delight could find,
And, far from CYNTHIA, found my heart at rest;
Till love at length the dubious strife declined.
And reason fixed her empire in my breast.

Then, as by sacred truth's unflattering light,
I saw the follies of my former flame,
I turned indignant from the hateful sight,
Struck with remorse, and mortified with shame.

I found imagination's magic wand
Had all my CYNTHIA'S dazzling charms supplied;
And love, misjudging love, with partial hand
Had given those beauties nature's touch denied.

A visionary shape my fancy drew,
In the fair form each polished grace displayed;
Then like the fabled artist amorous grew,
And loved the image which itself had made.


ELEGY VIII.
ADDRESSED TO A PINE-TREE.
WRITTEN MAY, 1766.
The ruffian North has spent his savage power,
Collects his winds, and quits the mountain's side;
And Auster mild, with many a genial shower,
Renews the laughing meadow's grassy pride.

The active swallow wings her rapid flight
In sportive circles through the ether bland,
And in luxuriant foliage proudly dight
The verdant fathers of the forest stand.

No more beneath thy hospitable shade
The shepherd swains their amorous descant sing,
Each wanders forth amid the blooming glade
To hail the new-blown daughters of the spring.

Yet, while yon elms, who now so gaily spread
Their leafy honors to the vernal gale,
Stood naked to the wintry winds, that shed
Their scattered glories o'er the wasted vale;

Thy limbs alone, of all the dreary wood,
Could brave the snowy drift, and chilling blast;
Against the mingled storm uninjur'd stood,
And mocked the howling tempest as it past.

For this, while all the jocund swains around
The blooming season praise with youthful glee,
I'll teach the nodding coverts to resound
A verse that's due to gratitude and thee.

I'll rove, where opening flowers their sweets combine,
Where blossoms fair their varied odours breathe;
Then with assiduous hand a garland twine,
And on thy branches hang the votive wreath.

So, while in honor of the smiling year,
Echoes each hollow dale and every grove;
Thy venerable shade a lay shall hear,
Sacred to friendship firm and constant love.


ELEGY IX.
WRITTEN AUGUST 24, 1767.
O rising Sun! on this auspicious day
With brighter beams gild every hill and grove;
Ye feathered songsters, breathe a sweeter lay!
And fill the echoing woods with joy and love.

And, honored M—, 'midst thy green retreats
Let every tree a prouder foliage wear!
Let every floweret scatter livelier sweets,
And vernal perfumes scent the autumnal year!

Now has the Sun one annual circuit past,
Since in thy happy shades these longing arms
Received the choicest blessings man could taste,
MARIA'S virtues, and MARIA'S charms!

Yet witness every lawn, and every shade!
So dear a bliss my bosom could not know,
When to my breast I clasped the yielding maid,
As now her wedded fondness can bestow.

Let other youths, by vice or folly moved,
For each new object change their former flame;
And blush to own they love what once they loved,
Lest virtue should approve, and idiots blame.

The scorn of fools I ever shall despise;
For ever pleased, when by my constant side
MARIA'S beauty meets the public eyes,
At home my pleasure, and abroad my pride.

Where gold, not fondness, guards the nuptial chain,
Weak is the parent's will, the lawyer's art:
Blaspheming priests those hearts would join in vain,
Whom GOD and GOD's vicegerent, NATURE, part.

But, oh! may we, whose hearts affection joined,
Preserve the blessing till the close of life!
She in the husband still the lover find;
I still enjoy the mistress in the wife.

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