1750
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Sleep.

Four odes. I. On Sleep. II. On Beauty. III. On Taste. IV. To the Right Hon. the Lady **** on the death of her Son.

William Gerard Hamilton


A square of ten ten-lined stanzas (aabccbddeE) by William Gerard Hamilton, an Oxford undergraduate educated at Winchester College. The poet dreams of poets: "When by some pale and livid light | I cheat the tedious hours of night, | Indulging o'er the Attick page, | The dying taper warns to rest, | Thy visions seize my ravish'd breast, | And pictur'd beauties real woes assuage." There follows a verse catalogue of ten Greek poets. Hamilton's four odes, perhaps not surprisingly, bears a strong resemblance to those of Joseph Warton and William Collins. In later life the Hamilton made his reputation as a politician.

Edmond Malone: "He was bred at Winchester school, then under the care of Dr. Burton; and from thence was removed to Oriel College in Oxford, where he was admitted a Gentleman-Commoner, March 1st, 1744-5, Dr. Bentham, being his tutor. That during his residence at Oxford he did not neglect those studies which he had commenced at Winchester, may be presumed from the poems introduced in this volume, which probably were written in 1748 or 1749, before he had attained his twenty-first year, and exhibit proofs of classical acquirements, and a correct and cultivated taste. They were originally printed in quarto in 1750, and appear to have been at first intended for publication; but it is believed, that from an unwillingness to encounter the shafts of criticism, he did not publish these early productions, contenting himself with distributing only a few copies for the gratification of a select number of his friends" memoir in Hamilton, Parliamentary Logick (1808) xiii-xiv.



Friend to the gloomy Shade of Night!
Vast Source of fanciful Delight!
Power! whose Care-dissolving Sway,
The Slave that pants o'er Indian Hills,
The Wretch whom Snow-girt Zembla chills,
And wide Creation's fertile Race obey.
The joyous Choristers that flit in Air,
The Mutes that dwell beneath the Silver Flood,
The Savage howling o'er the affrighted Wood,
And Man, th' imperious Lord of all, thy Pow'r declare.

Thy Magic Wand can oft restrain
The Miser's sordid Hopes of Gain;
Can make each Heart-felt, Trouble cease:
Or from the sick'ning Thought suspend
The Image of a dying Friend;
And lull Suspicion's wakeful Eyes in Peace.
If thou but soothe the faithful Lover's Rest,
No fond Remembrance of each parting Sigh,
Of Beauty's Smile, or Pity's streaming Eye,
In Grief's soft Moments steal around his aking Breast.

Fair Virtue's Friend! thou ne'er shalt shed
Thy Blessings o'er the impious Head,
Or 'midst the Noise of Crowds be found;
Thy Balm-distilling Sweets, alone
To Ermin'd Innocence are known,
And gay Content with rural Garlands crown'd.
By thee the Shadow-trembling Murd'rer's Guilt
With doubled Terror wrings the tortur'd Soul,
The purpled Steel, the Life-destructive Bowl,
Recall the baleful Horrors of the Blood he spilt.

When by some pale and livid Light,
I cheat the tedious Hours of Night,
Indulging o'er the Attick Page;
The dying Taper warns to Rest,
Thy Visions seize my ravish'd Breast,
And pictur'd Beauties real Woes assuage.
O'er Helicon my bleating Lambs I guard,
Or, mix'd with dull Boeotia's simple Swains
Protect my Flocks in humble Ascra's Plains,
And view the Sky-born Sisters hail their fav'rite Bard.

Methinks I hear the Theban Lyre:
I feel my ravish'd Soul aspire:
The Nymphs surround the infant Boy.
Already conscious of his Fame
The festive Choirs their Hopes proclaim,
While Pan exults with uncouth Signs of Joy;
For Thee, sole Glory of thy abject Race,
The Thyme-fed Bees their luscious Sweets diffuse,
To soothe the Numbers of thy copious Muse,
And in Boeotia fix each coy reluctant Grace.

Oft fir'd with Bacchanalian Rage,
The Father of the Graecian Stage
In Terror clad annoys my Rest;
I feel unnumber'd Horrors rise!
The Sight forsakes my swimming Eyes,
While hissing Furies rush upon my Breast.
In solemn Pomp, I see old Gela mourn;
Dissolv'd in Grief beside the Poet's Grave
To sorrowing Wounds he lulls each plaintive Wave,
His Willows fading, and his Sea-green Mantle torn.

With longing Taste, with eager Lip,
In raptured Visions oft I sip
The Honeys of the Tragic Bee;
Whose Strains could every Tempest quell,
Could ev'ry noxious Blast dispell,
And still the hollow roaring of the Sea.
Whose pow'rful Fancy, whose exhaustless Vein,
Whose daring Genius, whose triumphant Wing,
Deep Source from whence Ten thousand Rivers spring,
Just Bounds could limit, and each rigid Rule restrain.

How oft inspir'd with Magic Dread.
By Fancy to the Cave I'm led
Where sits the wise Pierian Sage;
With piercing Eye, with pensive Mind,
In Attick Solitude reclin'd,
Stern Virtue's Precepts chill the Poet's Rage.
Blest Bard! whose Muse, mid mildest Morals strong,
Could each rebellious Appetite controul,
Could wake each tender feeling of the Soul,
And deck Instruction in the pleasing Charms of Song.

With Patriot Ardour I behold
The mirthful Muse, for Freedom bold;
Tho' chaste, severe; tho' poignant, sweet;
For, long uncertain where to rest,
At length upon the Poet's Breast
The sportive Graces fix'd their gay Retreat.
With simpler Strains the Doric Muses charm;
And, oft to nobler Themes of Heav'nly Praise
As Lybia's Poet hymns his solemn Lays,
The wanton Teian Loves each chaster Thought disarm.

Thus may thy languid Charms dispense
Their Blessings o'er my ravish'd Sense,
By Thee to Attic Worlds convey'd.
Thus if at Juno's fond Request
Thou e'er on Ida's Top opprest
The Almighty Thund'rer with thy dewy Shade,
To soothe one Mortal thy fond Care employ!
Thus Morpheus may thy mild Lethean Pow'rs,
For ever hov'ring round my Midnight Hours,
Thro' Fancy's Mirror wrap me in Ideal Joy.

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