1821
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Mirth.

Poems; being the genuine Compositions of Elizabeth Bentley.

Elizabeth Bentley


An allegorical ode in octosyllabic couplets, after the manner of Milton's L'Allegro. Elizabeth Bentley concludes with what might seem like tepid praise: "Yet momentary is thy stay; | Scarcely thro' one fleeting day | Can'st thou the thoughtful mind employ, | Which sighs for more substantial joy; | Not too oft thy voice obeying, | But Wisdom's purer form surveying, | Bursting thy silken chain, the soul shall soar | To nobler bliss, on Heav'n's eternal shore" p. 51. The poem is not dated and may have been written as much as thirty years before the volume was published in 1821.

Much of the "Genuine Compositions" consists of odes imitating Milton's companion poems in a variety of measures and themes: an Ode to Happiness, Ode to Summer, Ode to Contemplation, etc. The book was sold in London by Taylor and Hessey, Keats's publishers. Bentley (1767-1839) continued to write poetry into her riper years: a third volume of Miscellaneous Poems was published in 1835.

Gentleman's Magazine: "In our vol. LXI. p. 747, we introduced this unassuming Female to the notice of our Readers, with a fair specimen of her poetical talents, in the exercise of which she has not been wholly indolent. But 'the plain and simple annals' of a meritorious life will now be her best recommendation" 92 (February 1822) 153.



Youthful Queen of sportive pleasures,
Wake thy lute to airy measures;
Tripping o'er the gayest green,
Deck'd with roses, thou art seen,
And every flow'r that fairest blows,
And peacock plumage shades thy brows.
Foe to Grief and gloomy Care,
With thy jocund train appear:
Let Friendship pour her beams benign,
Let playful Wit the chorus join;
But thy scenes of festive joy,
Let frantic Folly ne'er annoy,
Nor furious Strife thy bliss devour,
But sober Reason guard each hour.
Thou lov'st when Morn new beauty yields,
To frolic o'er the blooming fields,
Where many a flow'ret, tipt with dew,
Fresh unfolds its vivid hue;
Its charms the eastern sky displays,
While the bright sun's golden rays
Disperse each lightly-flitting cloud,
The lab'ring peasant carols loud,
And linnet, thrush, and blackbird sing,
Welcome to the smiling Spring.
When 'scaped from Winter's deadly hand,
Nature has burst his icy band,
Blest in the joy-inspiring change,
Careless with thee thy votaries range,
Thro' fields of fragrant scented hay,
To taste the sweets of vernal May.
And when the glowing beam descends,
And Ev'ning's touch each shade extends,
See, the rustic train advance,
In haste to form the mazy dance,
Meeting near the cottage door,
Now the daily task is o'er;
Pleas'd they join the rural song,
While nymphs and shepherds hither throng,
With oaten pipe, whose merry lays
Fills the woodlands with thy praise.
Here rosy Health and nimble Sport,
Peace and Innocence resort;
Ambition never enters here,
Nor Envy taints their joy sincere,
But gay Content each hour beguiles,
And sheds o'er every face her smiles.
Oft o'er the lawns with thee we run,
To view the brilliant western sun;
Each cloud thro' which his orb declines.
In Beauty's varied lustre shines,
And glitters on the glassy flood,
While the glad songsters of the wood,
Their throats with sweetest warblings swell,
To bid his parting beams farewell.
If these thy pleasures, who would choose
In gloomy solitude to muse;
But sometimes to thy vale descend,
And cheerly greet thee as their friend.
Yet momentary is thy stay;
Scarcely thro' one fleeting day
Can'st thou the thoughtful mind employ,
Which sighs for more substantial joy;
Not too oft thy voice obeying,
But Wisdom's purer form surveying,
Bursting thy silken chain, the soul shall soar
To nobler bliss, on Heav'n's eternal shore.

[pp. 49-51]