1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melancholy.

Fugitive Pieces in Verse. By the late Emelius Felix Smith.

Emelius Felix Smith


An imitation of Il Penseroso, posthumously published in 1804, after the poet was killed in action near Calcutta. The verse is homely, yet not the less pleasing for that, especially in the central episode of the poem, where Melancholy "Bids, before my streaming eyes, | A much lov'd father's ghost arise, | Which seems to beckon me, and say, | Thou animated piece of clay,— | Thou child of misery and woe,— | Quit this world of grief below; | To a higher region rise, | And tread with me the heav'nly skies." Smith's poems were published at Calcutta and received little attention at home, save in the European Magazine which reprints this ode along with a memoir of the author, who travelled to Indian as an ensign in the 86th regiment.

European Magazine: "The pieces contained in this volume, which has been transmitted to us from the East Indies, are the uncorrected performances of a soldier, who, had his life been spared, seemed to promise much excellence. On works which had not received the author's last polish it would be uncandid to criticize too rigorously; we shall, therefore only select the following poem [Ode to Melancholy] as a specimen" 49 (June 1806 444]



O Melancholy! maid of woe!
Thy saddest grief full well I know;
Thy pensive pleasure, gloomy joy,
Had charms for me when but a boy.
O sweetly pensive, mournful maid!
From infancy I lov'd thy shade,
And thy sad luxury of woe,
More than all the joys below:
Oft, tearful maid, with sorrow deep,
I seek thy secret haunts to weep;
Where, stretch'd upon the earth, I lie,
And wet the green turf as I cry;
Or join my tears with the dew,
And sadly mourn, sweet maid! for you.
And oft, inspir'd by thee, I rove
To thy unfrequented grove,
To thy woods, of gloomy shade,
Where cheerful Phoebus can't pervade;
Where all is silent, lone, and drear;
Where no living soul is near;
Where ev'ry object seems to say,
Hither come and weep away:
There I sadly rove and sigh,
While Melancholy fills my eye;
Or in thy wild recesses deep,
Where the grey owl loves to sleep;—
Solemn, sacred, bird of prey,
Who shuns, like me, the face of day,
And sits in solitary state
On some shady branch of height,
Pendant o'er the stream which flows
In gloomy, still, profound repose;
Where trees and thickets help to throw
A deeper gloom on all below;
Where sacred Silence keeps her seat,
And Contemplation lone retreat;
Philosophy, with brow serene,
Of aspect mild, and sober mien,
Loves to rove in Sorrow's stole,
The gloomy dress which suits its soul;
And heave the heavy secret sigh,
Think on death, and wish to die.
O gloomy maid! with tear-wet cheek,
At dusky eve thy shades I seek;
When o'er the plain, which spreads immense,
Beyond the reach of visual sense;
Departing day begins to fade,
And Erebus ev'ry object shade;
When all the wilderness around
In solemn silence and profound;
Then, in this solitary scene,
Where no living soul is seen,
Upon the ground I lay reclin'd,
While pensive sadness fills my mind;
Reflection bids my sorrows flow,
And swells my heart with bitter woe;
Bids, before my streaming eyes,
A much lov'd father's ghost arise,
Which seems to beckon me, and say,
Thou animated piece of clay,—
Thou child of misery and woe,—
Quit this world of grief below;
To a higher region rise,
And tread with me the heav'nly skies,
Where father, mother, brother, son,
Live inseparate in one.—
When roaring storms howl in the air,
Lay plains, and hills, and vallies bare;
While all around the lightning flies,
And flames across the groaning skies;
Discov'ring sometimes by its light
The dreadful miseries of the night:
Tho' storms, and winds, and lightning join,
And all the elements combine,
Yet still I to no shelter turn,
But view the scene with unconcern;
When in such horrid, dismal scenes,
Heroes are even timid seen;
Melancholy feels delight,
And loves the horror of the night;
For these are scenes congenial, kind,
To the sad melancholy mind;
These the scenes which give relief
To a mind oppress'd with grief;
When none but these sad guests are nigh,
Then sorrowful I sit and sigh;
For here I sing my song of woes,
When all mankind in sleep repose;
When all is silent, all is mute,
I play my soft, pathetic flute;
When sadly sorrow fills the eye,
The woe-fraught bosom heaves the sigh;
When the heart's oppress'd with grief,
Music, alone, can give relief;
When in plaintive accents slow
Its notes, congenial to our woe;
For music's soft mellifl'ous strain
Can mitigate the rudest pain;
Ease the hapless lover's state,
Alleviate the frowns of fate;
Lift the mind to heaven above,
Or melt and soothe it into love;
Despair and misery can destroy,
And charm the wretched into joy;
For so resistless is its art
O'er all the feelings of the heart.
Sad maid of woe! still guide my feet
To your silent, dark retreat;
To thy lonely cheerless shade,
For pensive melancholy made;
Where stern wisdom, far from folly,
Loves the sweets of melancholy;
With thoughts profound, and searching eye,
Meditates upon the sky.
In thy bow'r, O maid divine!
Of dark, mournful, waving pine,
Weeping willows, cypress, yew,
Let me live alone with you;
Share with thee thy gloomy joy,
And thy mournful grief enjoy;
Afar from all the silly train,
Who frolick o'er the festive plain;
Far from all their giddy noise,
Live with thee in gloomy joys;
And with pensive sorrow dwell,
In thy dark, silent, lonely cell.

[European Magazine 49 (June 1806) 444-45]