1768
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

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


In nine Pindaric stanzas Hugh Downman pledges himself to the select few who have dedicated themselves to the cause of Virtue and Taste. Alas, their value is not generally recognized by the powers that be, who condemn the generous poetic soul to poverty and death: "Or if they hear his voice, is styl'd | Extravagant, excentric, wild, | Because his reason does not lie | Level with their capacity, | Because his active sense springs 'tward the goal, | And dwelling not on parts, takes in the whole."



I. 1.
Who with ungovern'd tongue will blame
The verse th' eternal Muse inspires?
The soul-illuminating flame,
Kindled at heaven's own sacred fires?
Who but the wretch of narrow mind,
Whose sentiments were ne'er refin'd
From the vile dross, whose base alloy
Condemns him still to plod along
But one degree above the bestial throng,
Unconscious of each nobler source of joy?

I. 2.
Yet though unto the frigid ear
Of native Dullness every strain
Of melody uncouth appear,
And all the gifts of Science vain;
Though dazzled by the blaze of light,
Vice starting, turns away her sight
From where the Muses fix their sway;
Though Cruelty, Revenge, and Strife,
And all the plagues which harrass human life,
Keep far aloof, and tread a distant way:

I. 3.
Thy sons, O Virtue, with respect sincere,
Bend lowly down before their holy shrine,
To them they offer up the spotless prayer,
And bless the influence of the powers divine.
All who with more exalted thought
Have Wisdom's valued precepts sought;
All who with pure emotions bless'd,
Love Beauty by the Graces dress'd;
All who to bounteous Nature just,
Dare her instinctive feelings trust,
The Muses hallow'd votary approve,
Enjoy his confidence, and share his love.

II. 1.
Hence then away, ye vulgar crew!
Such would I have condemn my lays;
But hither turn ye worthier few,
Embold'ned by whose genuine praise,
Let the half-soul'd, cold-blooded friend,
Sneer, while affecting to commend,
Let the unfeeling fool laugh loud,
To you alone the bard his lyre
Shall strike, and quitting every mean desire,
Soar far beyond the falsely-judging croud.

II. 2.
Unhappy is the poet's fate,
Th' intrinsic value of whose name
All will pretend to estimate,
And at their will commend, or blame.
Empty deceit! as if their eye
Could trace the light'ning through the sky,
Pursue the comet's devious maze,
Or looking on the blue profound,
Where not the fathom-line could ever sound,
Pierce to the bottom with a single gaze.

II. 3.
Ah wretch, to whom 'tis given to possess
Superior strength and energy of mind,
Unless he's planted in a sphere to bless,
Even against their wills, perverse mankind!
Else mingling with the common train
Full of themselves, he speaks in vain:
Or if they hear his voice, is styl'd
Extravagant, excentric, wild,
Because his reason does not lie
Level with their capacity,
Because his active sense springs 'tward the goal,
And dwelling not on parts, takes in the whole.

III. 1.
Or if their weakness to befriend,
O'er his own thoughts he cast a veil,
Reflection's serious brow unbend,
And her intenser rays conceal;
They view him with familiar eyes,
And being like themselves despise.—
O contradicting law! the chain
Of Nature, draws with all its power,
To mix in life, and seek the social hour;
Indignant Reason goads us thence again.

III. 2.
She proves how vague the hope, how blind,
Which on external good relies;
Which seeks for aught among mankind,
To gratify the just and wise.
Ah! where then should the Bard remove,
Whose song the choral Nine approve?
Or where the Sage, whose breast disdains
The holy juggler's wily cheats?
Where but to those retir'd and still retreats,
Where Solitude close leagued with Virtue reigns?

III. 3.
Hers are the Graces, hers the winning charms,
Which the fix'd bosom from conviction please;
From necessary choice, within her arms
We wish to spend the remnant of our days;
Not so in our first greener years,
New to this world of vice and cares,
By Flattery taught: for what is Fame,
But a delusive idle name,
Fading before the living breath?—
Though having pass'd the vale of Death,
She may with vain solicitude return,
And deck with fruitless wreathes the funeral urn.

[pp. 46-49]