1821
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melancholy.

Poems; being the genuine Compositions of Elizabeth Bentley.

Elizabeth Bentley


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso. Elizabeth Bentley varies her source poem by substituting the annual for the diurnal round, concluding the poem at home on a winter's night: "Be then my lot some page to read | Where the soften'd mind may feed; | Where moral fiction stands display'd, | In Fancy's glowing robes array'd, | Irradiate with poetic fire, | Pure as breath'd from Milton's lyre; | Enraptur'd with th' inspiring lay, | Pleas'd my heart shall own thy sway" p. 65. The imagery of the poem would have been conventional enough in the 1780s and 1790s when Bentley first began teaching herself to write poetry. The ode may in fact date from that early period, though like many other autodidacts, Bentley, having mastered one style, was content to hold on to it.



Hail! Melancholy! sable queen,
With aspect awfully serene;
Of silent Solitude the birth,
Foe to giddy senseless Mirth;
With raven plumes thy brows are crown'd,
And cypress foliage twining round.
Oh! thou, advance, with solemn pace,
But guide not here thy hideous race:
Trembling Terror, grisly Care,
Distracting Doubt and dire Despair,
Nor let Austerity be nigh,
Who darts displeasure from his eye
Where'er he sees Contentment dwell,
And loves the murky dismal cell.
Thy hand let calm Composure lead,
Before thy path let Reason tread;
Thy steps let Wisdom close attend,
And deep Reflection, Wisdom's friend;
Staid Meditation with thee bring,
Religion's handmaid, she, whose wing
Ne'er rests on earth, whose piercing sight
Explores yon azure fields of light;
Where countless round each central sun
Vast worlds their annual circles run,
Still soaring to th' Eternal Cause
Of changeless Nature's perfect laws;
The soul's immortal only friend,
Her guide thro' life, her hope's great end.
When Summer's gaudy vesture fades,
As graver Autumn's hand invades,
Musing, oft the pensive mind,
Tastes thy pleasures, pure, refin'd,
When thro' winding shady ways,
With thee in solitude she strays,
Views the sallow falling leaves,
And a sigh unbidden heaves,
While Reflection pointing says,
Thus shall end thy transient days.
Or wand'ring from Life's busy throng,
To catch the blackbird's plaintive song,
Her faithful mate who mourns in vain,
By wanton Sport untimely slain;
Or hoarser raven's grating cry,
Or dusky bat, shrill screaming by.
Or wafted o'er the dreary vale,
Slowly, dying on the gale,
To hear the sad, the solemn bell,
Sound a soul's departing knell.
Which is thy chosen haunt, O! say?
Is it the lonely moss-grown way?
The trackless valley winding deep,
Shelter'd by the craggy steep?
Or where the midnight bird complains,
Mid some rude structure's half remains,
By creeping ivy now conceal'd,
Save here and there a stone reveal'd,
Where Desolation seems to low'r,
Erst a huge gigantic tow'r,
From whose tops stupendous height,
Romantic prospects, charm'd the sight:
Here, as Fiction's bards report,
Some fairy kept her elfin court;
Now Fancy paints the nimble train,
Swiftly skimming o'er the plain,
Or with their airy-mantled queen,
Dancing on th' enchanted green,
While solemn Music's melting note,
Seems on the liquid air to float.
Or dost thou more delight to tread
The still retirement of the dead?
Where Sculpture bids each honour'd name,
Survive in monumental fame;
The lofty roofs o'er-arching space,
With awful grandeur, marks the place:
Or where the simpler turf conceals
Their clay, whose deeds no brass reveals,
And not a stone relates where lies,
The brave, the virtuous, fair, or wise.
In equal slumbers each shall rest,
While no rude hands their dust molest,
Till final judgement shall declare,
Who shall eternal glories share.
Shelter'd in some lonely cot,
All the joys of Spring forgot,
When Winter's hand each riv'let seals,
And Nature's life his touch congeals,
While the chilling hollow blast,
Howling bids his empire last,
And the hoary snow descends,
Or pattering hail the lattice rends,
Then, sober, serious, pensive pow'r,
To thee we consecrate the hour:
Be then my lot some page to read
Where the soften'd mind may feed;
Where moral fiction stands display'd,
In Fancy's glowing robes array'd,
Irradiate with poetic fire,
Pure as breath'd from Milton's lyre;
Enraptur'd with th' inspiring lay,
Pleas'd my heart shall own thy sway;
My muse on Emulation's wing shall rise,
Nor deign to rest beneath th' empyreal skies.

[pp. 62-65]