1768
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the Lyric Muse. An Ode.

The Land of the Muses: A Poem, in the Manner of Spenser. With Poems on Several Occasions. By Hugh Downman, A.B.

Dr. Hugh Downman


Nine Pindaric stanzas in the manner of Milton's Il Penseroso follow the progress of Love and the Lyric Muse around the globe, including America: "There too the heavenly Muse | Showers perchance her kindly dews, | While thus some Indian Horace sings, | As to his love he strikes the strings." Should the Muse turn to Hugh Downman in his place of retirement, "Ye in that secret cell should find, | And subject to your laws, a willing mind."

Critical Review: "In his odes our author has not employed any of our established lyric measures, but has rather chosen, in imitation of certain moderns, to write with returns of the strophe and antistrophe; for which, perhaps, no reason can be given, except that the same returns are observed by Pindar. That no end of poetic harmony is answered by them, is plain from the single consideration, that no such end was proposed by Pindar himself. It is now well known, those changes in the measure merely had reference to changes in the dancing with which the antient ode was accompanied. We acknowledge however, that the adoption of this more sober plan, has contributed much to discontinue the monstrous species of composition, first introduced among us by Cowley, under the name of Pindar odes. 'Sed quia te exempla juvat spinis a pluribus una?' Why reject the rhapsodies of this writer and his imitators as irregular and wild, when this classic model can only pretend to uniform regularity? since, of odes thus constructed, the stanzas may be of any length; composed of verses the most disproportionate, and of rhimes the most distant, provided the same disorder is observed in those that correspond.... This censure, however, must not be extended to all the odes equally; and to shew that our author was capable of writing in a superior strain, we gladly quote the following [first two] stanzas from his Address to the Lyric Muse" 26 (1768) 195-96.



I. 1.
Say, will the Lyric Muse
The themes of tender love refuse?
Though she with haughty state presides
Over the big tumultuous tides,
Which down the sacred mountain pour,
And stun the ear with deafening roar;
Yet where more gentle currents stray,
And through the flowery vallies play,
Laughing with transport as they flow,
Where roses and where myrtles grow,
She has e'er now been often found
To scatter her enchanting blessings round.

I. 2.
Long in the Grecian isles,
Retain'd by Cytheraea's smiles,
Enamour'd of her rosy hue,
While frolic pleasures round her flew,
Stole from her lips the nectar'd kiss,
And bath'd their light-plum'd wings in bliss;
While Hebe danc'd with graceful tread,
And the soft airs, and passions led;
While sallying from her temple's porch,
Young Love wav'd high his magic torch,
Thou too with sweetest look appear'd,
And often thy melodious voice was heard.

I. 3.
Hast thou forgot the melting strain
Which taught by thee thy Sappho sung,
When stretch'd upon the Lesbian plain,
O'er her the form of tender Pity hung?
Didst thou not bountifully shed
Thy visions o'er Anacreon's head?
And e'en the frozen breast of age,
In amorous nets and toils engage,
While all the virgins wondering stood,
And laugh'd, yet found themselves subdu'd?
And when he immaturely died,
Say, did not Grief thy heavenly beauties hide?

II. 1.
On what wide-seated shore
Do mortals now thy name adore,
Celestial Love? Thy haunts of old,
What clouds of darkness now enfold,
Instead of the pure incense bright,
Which then diffus'd a genial light!
Within th' incircled Haram reign
Tyrannic Lust, and jealous Pain,
Bitter Constraint, internal Fears,
Lean Anguish, and corroding Cares;
Unknown are there the mutual sighs
Which from the sympathetic breast arise.

II. 2.
Thy more than human mien
By Tiber has of yore been seen;
And ere the Roman eagle flew
The sons of Britain to subdue,
With native Innocence allied,
Haply thy power did there reside:
But big with plentitude of woes,
From the rank earth a pest arose;
Nature his shape with grief espied,
And for her death-doom'd offspring sigh'd;
They sunk beneath, an easy prey,
And Love fled far from Avarice away.

II. 3.
Didst thou then seek Columbia's strand,
There thy propitious forehead shew,
While rais'd by thy creative hand,
The blooming flowers of social rapture grew?
Too short a time, alas! from thence
Didst thou thy radiant gifts dispense:
Behold, th' impetuous monster haste,
Rapine, and Violence, and Waste,
Follow attendant on his flight:
And lo, before thy pitying sight,
Welt'ring in blood thy people lies,
To cursed gold the fated sacrifice.

III. 1.
By force exil'd, ah! where
Did thy insulted steps repair!
Some island in the southern main,
Perhaps enjoy'd thy bounteous reign;
Or didst thou steer thy vagrant course
To Orellana's distant source?
There while in artlessness array'd,
The youth beholds his sun-burnt maid;
There while of every wish possest,
He leans with fondness on her breast,
Thou seest them in the palmy grove,
And o'er their heads thy purple pinions move.

III. 2.
There too the heavenly Muse
Showers perchance her kindly dews,
While thus some Indian Horace sings,
As to his love he strikes the strings.
"Ah, when you praise my rival's charms,
His jetty neck, and sable arms,
With passion swells my fervid breast,
With passion hard to be supprest:
My senses float in terrors vain,
My blood retreats, and comes again;
The tears steal down my cheeks, and say,
With what slow fires I totally decay."

III. 3.
Oh, if with me, ye gentle powers,
Ye sometimes would but deign to dwell,
Born by the quickly-circling hours,
If ye would visit my sequester'd cell:
One who with purest passion glows,
Who not the face of Avarice knows,
Nor by Ambition drawn aside,
But owning Nature for his guide;
Who from his earliest day of youth,
Confess'd her charms, and worshipp'd Truth;
Ye in that secret cell should find,
And subject to your laws, a willing mind.

[pp. 42-46]