1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Address to Melancholy.

Universal Magazine 100 (June 1797) 438-39.

Anonymous


An irregular ode, not signed, in imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso: "Teach me how to prize aright | The fleeting objects of delight: | Counsel of thee my conscious heart inquires: | Quench not, but duly temper my desires." The ode is constructed around a series of tableaux: a swarm of spectres, a ruined castle, a shattered oak, and a charnel vault. The genealogy of Melancholy, which comes last, lays out the program of a poem intended to reconceive melancholia as a social passion. Thus, in general accord with romantic treatments of gothic sensibililty, Melancholy is made the child of Reflection and Tenderness.



How shall I woo thee, lovely maid!
Of pensive air, in dusky stole array'd,
With flowing train that graceful sweeps the ground,
Thy brow with wreath of cypress bound,
And with a veil of sable lawn
O'er thy expressive features drawn,
How shall I hail, and call thee to mine aid?
Shall th' obedient lyre prolong
With solemn cadence th' elegiac song,
That slowly moves with unaffected grace?
O Melancholy, such thy thoughtful pace:
Or rather shall my numbers rise
Various, as from the venerable fane,
The holy, sacerdotal train
With transporting ecstasies,
Invoke the sacred powers that dwell
In fragrant fields of asphodel.

Now leave me, Mirth! nor with alluring leer
To me thy gaudy form present:
Nor in my lonely path appear
With flaunting air, and soothing blandishment;
Nor trimly twin'd with flowerets gay,
Cast thy chaplet in my way.
Thy boasted joys are not divine;
For tho' with brilliancy they shine,
At once they vanish; as 'mid evening skies
The flashing meteor glows, and dies.—
Lead me, meek-ey'd Melancholy!
Far from the resort of folly;
Oft at twilight's sober hour
Lur'd by Fancy's charming power,
Let my duteous steps, and slow
To silent shades and lone recesses go!

Fancy listens to my lay;
Shrouds, in her dusky pall, th' expiring day!
Anon, athwart the lurid skies,
Slowly the deep, congenial glooms arise;
The lonely moan of the forlorn
On the slow, pausing breath of midnight borne,
Flows from the visionary vale!
Seen by the livid gleam of fear,
Dimly-featur'd shapes appear,
And Melancholy's slow-puls'd heart assail.
Glaring Fiends! and spectres gaunt!
That from the gulf of horror rise, avaunt!
No, not to such terrific forms as these!
But to thoughts that sadly please;
To such I yield, as to consenting hearts
Soft-ey'd Sympathy imparts.

Here a lofty castle rose!
Court and hall and turret rung
Loud with merriment and song.
From the sparkling chalice flows
The flood of care-dispelling wine.
Lo! the gilded ceilings shine
With many a taper blazing bright,
While the gorgeous train advance,
Mingling in the measur'd dance,
And mirth, and laughter, and delight
Bid the festal bliss abound,
And the joyous song resound.
But, unforeseen, in evil hour,
Mischance with overwhelming power,
Frown'd! — The pleasures haste away!
Dance and song and pastime gay
Quit the desolated hall.
In ruins now the fractur'd columns fall;
Now where the storied tap'stry hung;
The rank weed waves, and ivy creeps along;
And from the rampires thro' the starless sky
The screech-owl frightens night with her bewailing cry.

Tall by that river rose an oak,
And gave his branches to the buxom air;
And many a feather'd warbler there,
At rising or declining day,
Carrol'd the melodious lay.
But lo! the shelt'ring boughs are broke,
No more beneath their hospitable shade,
The rural train securely laid,
Avoid the sun's meridian flame;
On furious wing the whirlwind came;
And rag'd, and with tremendous sound,
Hurl'd the lamented ruin to the ground.
"Meet emblem!" will the minstrel say,
Who sighs and pours the plaintive lay;
And bending o'er the sculptur'd urn,
Invokes the tuneful Nine to mourn;
"Meet emblem!" will the minstrel say,
And sigh and pour the plaintive lay;
And grieve that merit cannot save
From dire disease and an untimely grave.

Now I tread, or seem to tread
The dreary mansions of the dead!
Silent and still the sleeper lies;
Clos'd, for ever clos'd his eyes!
Moulders here the lovely face,
Erewhile array'd with winning grace;
The powerful limb, the stately form,
The prey, ah me! of the devouring worm.
Hither turn thee, lofty Pride!
Turn, and for a moment deign
To lay thy witless scorn aside,
And glance oblique of insolent disdain.
Here the high-born and the brave
The wise, the beauteous, and the strong,
An undistinguish'd throng,
Are laid together in the wasteful grave:
Clos'd for ever clos'd their eyes!—
Till the day spring shall arise,
Till the final morn unfold
Her orient portal bright with gold;
Usher the beams of everlasting light;
Annihilate the powers of night;
Burst the fetters of the tomb;
And summon all that sleep to their eternal doom.

Melancholy, ever mild,
Reflection's sober-minded child!
Nor the fell power on deeds of frenzy bent,
Th' offspring of pride and discontent,
Of louring brow and haggard mien,
Whose dire suggestion would controul
The prowess of th' aspiring soul;
Whose witching eye and mutter'd spell
Can in her chain ev'n reason's might compel;
And often to the grasp of wild despair,
Commits with ranc'rous smile, the blood-stain'd dagger bare!—
O Melancholy! ever mild,
Reflection's sober-minded child,
By Tenderness his gentle spouse,
To whom he breath'd his faithful vows;
Fair Virgin! that in early youth
Devoted to the love of truth,
With thoughtful zeal, would often climb
The hermit Contemplation's height sublime,
And thence with calm discerning eye,
The various paths of life descry,
As in the mazy vale below
They led to happiness or woe;
Then would with native diffidence retire
To the deep sequester'd dells,
Where in Elysian calm, Reflection dwells,
And explanation ask of thine enlighten'd Sire:
The other parent all the while
Dispensing with a lenient smile,
Sweet dispositions to thy heart:
Untill she bade thee, soft-ey'd angel, go,
And mingle in the scenes of human woe;
And wisdom to th' ingenuous mind impart.

Gentle spirit! if to thee
I rightly pour my votive minstrelsy,
Whene'er within my beating breast,
Unruly passions would disturb my rest,
Chiefly when my feet resort
To lively Mirth's alluring court,
Let thy secret influence find
My bosom to thy lore inclin'd:
Teach me how to prize aright
The fleeting objects of delight:
Counsel of thee my conscious heart inquires:
Quench not, but duly temper my desires.

[pp. 438-39]