1808
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Day in Spring.

A Day in Spring, and other Poems. By Richard Westall, Esq. R.A.

Richard Westall


Richard Westall's poem is in effect a paraphrase of the descriptive passages in Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, recasting its images in the sentimental mode that made him such a successful as a literary illustrator; the volume contains several engravings of Westall's paintings. The stanza divisions in the title poem were perhaps introduced to suggest something of a gallery, and Westall is of course attentive to visual phenomena throughout. He makes a point of addressing the visual as well as the verbal muse: "Thou, who mute, dost language use, | Powerful as the vocal muse: | Thee my infant choice approv'd, | Thee I woo'd, for thee I lov'd" p. 32.

Stepping into a shady grove, Westall's narrator imagines Spenser's imaginings: "Then, methinks, I range the glade, | Where of old young Spenser stray'd, | While his fairy tutors shed | Dreams delicious o'er his head" p. 15. This image is the germ of the poem "Spencer" later in the volume, and also the engraving illustrating it. Spenser's character is followed by a character of Milton alluding to (and interpreting) the Milton passage in Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character: "Once, again, that noble strain, | Sun-bright Fancy, once again! | Ah! vain wish! the niggard Muse, | Doth to modern brows refuse, | Ev'ry wreath, but that, the meed | Of the lute, or pastoral reed, | Hiding in her secret cell | The ancient, lofty, epic shell" p. 16. The conclusion of the poem probably owes something to Collins's Ode to Evening.

Throughout, the narrator appears as a more socially engaged character than either Allegro or Penseroso. For example, Westall depicts him reading aloud surrounded by his family at home. The "early gifted sage" is Chaucer, "the drama's source" is Shakespeare. Laurence Strene might seem like an odd addition to this list, though of course he was the founder of the sentimental school. A note informs us that this passage alludes to the poet's early patron, William Ayton of Macclesfield.

Critical Review: "Milton's L'Allegro, has been the model of his first and longest piece. Perhaps nothing can afford a more perilous test of ability than the imitation of that unrivalled poem. The enterprise is beset on every side with snares and pitfalls. Dull and prolix uniformity on the one hand, namby-pamby infantility on the other, are the enemies only principally to be dreaded; and we cannot at present recollect a single poem written on this professed model, (beginning with one of the most celebrated, Grongar hill,) that is not more or less tinctured with both those defects. If then, we cannot pronounce Mr. Westall to be altogether free from them, it is but fair to add that his plan itself deserves censure more than his execution" S3 15 (October 1808) 186.

Thomas Denman: "Though a want of attention and and experience, however, has betrayed the author into faults like these, his good taste and a natural ear for harmony have often enabled him to express himself with fluency and grace; and in preserving a view of some of the leading poems, we hope to prove to our readers that Mr. Westall has studied very successfully, with the eye of a painter. The Day in Spring describes a rural walk taken, in that delightful season, by a person who is resolved to see the most favourable side of every object, and is exhilarated by all that surrounds him. This subject naturally provokes a comparison with the Allegro; yet, though the imagery cannot boast of much novelty, we observe nothing servile in Mr. Westall's manner" Monthly Review NS 57 (October 1808) 153.



I.
'Twas but late the mourning year,
Felt the force of Winter drear,
When from forth his chill abode
Clad in double night he rode,
Scatt'ring with his blighting breath,
Hail, and terror, storms, and death.
Now let Spring her form unfold,
Robed in green and gem'd with gold.
Lo! she comes, by Zephyrs led,
(Blooms unnumber'd round her head)
Over valley, hill, and grove,
Breathing life, and health, and love.

II.
Wake, my soul, with vigour new,
Give the Goddess welcome due!
As she moves, the laughing hours
Fill the gladden'd earth with flowers,
And the placid waters pour
Myriads round the sea-girt shore,
And throughout the lucid sky,
(Emblem of the Deity)
Lo! the glorious source of day,
Bounteous spreads his procreant ray.

III.
Let me, bounding o'er the heath,
Revel in its scented breath;
Or the rugged mountain climb,
Plucking oft the luscious thyme,
While the shepherd boy is near,
Mindful of his fleecy care,
Leaning o'er the shaded style,
(Simply carolling the while)
Shore's or Rosamonda's fall,
Or some pensive madrigal,
Where the Muse in artless lays,
Tells the cares of ancient days.

IV.
Now I seek the quiet grove,
Where the ring-dove woos his love;
Where, beneath each spreading tree,
Clust'ring grows the strawberry;
And the tangling underwood,
Frequent turns the devious road,
Till a sloping lawn I cross,
Girt with oak, and soft with moss,
Whose deep bosom thick is set
With the purple violet,
And the orchis rears his head
Spiral from its velvet bed.
Here, an ancient legend says,
Nightly sport the laughing Fays,
Though by mortals seldom seen,
Nightly foot the dasied green.

V.
Me, thick-coming fancies lead,
Oft to this sequester'd mead;
When the moon with silv'ry light,
Half unveils the form of night,
And o'er ev'ry scene hath thrown,
Deep solemnity of tone:
Then, methinks, I range the glade,
Where of old young Spenser stray'd,
While his fairy tutors shed
Dreams delicious o'er his head:
Doth my spirit loftier soar?
Loftier visions round me pour:
Then, these shades appear the grove
Mighty Milton lov'd to rove,
When in thought the poet stood,
Firm beside the Stygian flood,
Gazing on the dread profound!
Or when on empyreal ground
Ranged the holy groups among,
Rapt! he breath'd seraphic song.

VI.
Heard ye not his voice divine?
With such sounds the holy nine
Fill'd the star-pav'd courts above,
When they hymn'd their parent Jove.
Once, again, that noble strain,
Sun-bright Fancy, once again!
Ah! vain wish! the niggard Muse,
Doth to modern brows refuse,
Ev'ry wreath, but that, the meed
Of the lute, or pastoral reed,
Hiding in her secret cell
The ancient, lofty, epic shell.

VII.
Roaming on, the place I find,
Where full oft, my lifted mind,
Joying at the op'ning sight,
Deeply drinks the rich delight.
Gradual hills of tend'rest blue,
Which their pure atherial hue
O'er the distance lovely shed,
Like radiance from a sainted head.
Herds, and flocks, and verdant woods,
Murm'ring streams, and rapid floods,
Forests, dark with sturdy oak,
Fearless of the woodman's stroke;
Rocks abrupt, that reach the skies,
On whose cultur'd margin rise
Many a cottage, fenced around
With a well-filled piece of ground,
Where the elder villagers,
Quite forget the weight of years,
As their childrens' children play
Round them on a holiday:
See! they climb their aged knees,
Fraught with little arts to please:
See! they lay their dimples sleek,
Fondly to each furrow'd cheek,
And with kisses sweet as May,
Press the tears of joy away.

VIII.
Oft the weary traveller's feet
Rest in yonder calm retreat;
And the humble habitants,
Glad to aid his little wants,
Haste the nutbrown jug to fill
With beverage suited to his will;
Fresh drawn milk, or home-brew'd ale,
Season'd with some merry tale
That befel at sheep-shearing:
While they talk, their young one's bring
All the orchard can afford,
And bespread the friendly board;
Culling, for their welcome guest,
All the ripest and the best
Grateful, he repays the cheer,
With the tales they love to hear
Of the ghosts that shrouded stalk,
In the frighted pilgrims walk;
While the simple family
Scared, yet pleas'd, stand list'ning by.

IX.
Where the scene is dark with yew,
Solemn rising on the view,
Lo! a gothic pile appears,
Touch'd, but not impair'd by years.
See! a youth with modest pride
To its altar leads his bride,
Who with timid downcast eyes,
Hopes, and blushes! fears, and sighs!
As the priest, with saintly look
Pious opes the holy book;
And their parents, standing near,
Raise to heaven the eye of prayer.
Go, ye blessed! go and prove
That the heaven of life — is love!
Not that wild misguided flame,
Borrowing oft the noble name;
Which like withering light'ning flies,
Lives to wound, and wounding dies;
But that pure, that lasting heat,
Minds in minds congenial meet,
When fair virtues simple train,
Own the maiden and the swain.

X.
Lo! from yonder mountains brow,
Balmy showers descending slow,
Over hill, and wood, and dale,
Gently throw a misty veil.
Underneath the shelter now
Of the oak's wide spreading bough,
Charm'd I rest, and hear the note
Of the thrashes tuneful throat;
Or the blackbirds' whistle clear,
Sweetly pierce the thicken'd air.
Or, perchance, the darken'd noon,
Urges Philomel so soon
To delight the plains and me,
With her perfect melody.

XI.
But if these their song deny,
Fancy, to my mental eye,
Spreads her forms of various hue,
Rudely drawn, but colour'd true;
Then I see, in dews of May,
Autumn's corn, and summer's hay,
And behold the rustic feast,
Where I sit a bidden guest:
All the care collected hoard,
Safe, within the barn is stor'd;
And the farmer's honest face
To his welcome, gives a grace,
Such as art, concealing hate,
Vainly strives to imitate;
While his hardy sun-burnt bands;
Gathering round us, join their hands,
Till the old, but sturdy dome
Trembles to their harvest-home.

XII.
Homeward now, my steps I trace,
Hungry, and with hurried pace;
Those, whom most I joy to see,
At my threshold meeting me;
While their ardent features shine
With a joy, that equals mine.
Round the festive board we sit,
Joy, and health, awaken wit;
Playful wit, whose darts are found
All to strike, but none to wound.

XIII.
Or, if serious, we would know
What our bards, illumin'd, show;
Whether to the varied page
Of the early gifted sage,
Who his rich ideas drest
In a loose, but comely vest;
Or, to him, the drama's source,
Who his wild, eccentric course,
Like a fiery comet holds,
And within his sphere enfolds
Ev'ry passion's latent cause;
Scorning all the narrow laws,
Which the critic strives to bind
Vainly round his mighty mind:
Whether 'tis to these we turn,
Or to pity-moving Sterne;
Thou, the parent of my fame,
You, whose warmth preserv'd the flame,
Which was dying in my breast,
By cold penury opprest;
Thou, my dear, my early friend,
Thou shalt read, and we'll attend,
Till each soul, impassion'd wears
Joy for joy, and grief for tears.

XIV.
Through the garden now we'll range;
View its sweets and mark their change;
Beauteous fav'rites of a day!
Oh! how sweet the breath of May!
Oh! how rich her form appears,
Bounteous smiling thro' her tears,
As the day-star riding high,
Clears the lately clouded sky!
—Never let my banks be free,
From the flaunting piony;
Or the flower that bears the name
Of the never dying flame;
Or the tulip's pencil'd bell,
Or the pink, with spicy smell:
While beside them lovely grows
Flora's pride, the mossy rose,
And the lily's breast of snow
Blends the heaven-tinctur'd glow:
Let the hollyhock be nigh,
Deeply steep'd in purple dye;
I delight to see him drest
In his dark imperial vest,
Branching wide, and waving loose,
Drunk he seems with Tyrian juice.

XV.
Never wilt thou glad mine eyes,
Song ennobled Helichrise!
Arethusa's banks of old,
Used to shine with loveliest gold,
While her sacred shades among,
Thick thy clust'ring berries hung:
But the doric shepherd died!
And e'er since, thy grief to hide,
Thou hast droop'd in cavern drear,
Shrinking from the balmy air!
Who shall raise a simple strain,
Luring thee to life again?
This, the Mantuan youth essay'd,
And his pipe, enchanting play'd;
But so much of art was found
In the smooth, the polish'd sound,
That thy half uplifted head
Sought again its sullen bed.
—Thee I lack! but still my bower
Shines with many a lovely flower;
At its entrance, close entwine,
Suckling sweet and eglantine;
Round its side the blossom'd May
Loves with twisted branch to stray,
And the jas'min as his mate,
Slender, sweet, and delicate.
There the vine, her tender boughs
Round the oak luxuriant throws,
Hiding in his vig'rous arms,
Like a bride, her blushing charms;
Emblem of the first embrace,
His the strength, and her's the grace.

XVI.
Dear, delicious, favor'd gloom,
Form'd of all that breathes perfume,
Oh! how sweet it is to lie
In thy rich obscurity!
List'ning, while the Zephyrs bring
Sylvan sounds on ev'ry wing;
Hearing each, and charm'd with all,
Whether 'tis the gentle call
Of the woodlark to his mate,
Sweetly soothing! or the prate
Of the neighb'ring rookery,
When it holds a synod high.
Sometimes comes the tink'ling bell
Of the sheep in yonder dell;
Sometimes when the shepherd plays,
Though far off, I catch the lays:
But more dear the jocund noise
Of the pipe's and tabor's voice,
When the festal day is spent
By young and old in merriment;
I their laughter love to hear,
Sometimes distant, sometimes near,
Floating in the genial air:
All the while the painted fly
Skims before my roving eye;
And the bee through aether borne,
Winds in joy her little horn,
And the balm of opening blooms.
Drinks, to fill her waxen combs;
Bearing from each flow'ry stem
Food for her, and joy for them:
When the pollen form'd to rove,
Flies with her to find its love;
Who, with ripen'd blushes spread,
Waits patient in her nuptial bed.

XVII.
—Sometimes, holy Harmony
Here shall breathe her sweetest sigh;
Such as nature, source of truth,
Taught her, in her early youth,
When as yet the immortal maid
Lovely, and unfetter'd stray'd:
Then her power could steep distress
In a glad forgetfulness;
And when Vengeance heard the lay,
All his rage was charm'd away;
From his bare, his blood-stain'd arm
Drop'd the standard of alarm;
While upon her honied tongue,
Fond, the soft'ned savage hung.

XVIII.
—Here the Muses oft shall come,
Fav'ring kind my humble home;
Often, my desiring ear,
With full chorus'd numbers cheer;
As their thoughts divinely rise,
Tranc'd in joy my spirit lies;
Or, upborne their strains upon,
Drinks the dews of Helicon.
If my beating heart should store
But in part the sacred lore,
My weak numbers form'd thereon,
Still shall live, when I am gone!
Fond thought!!
But oh! inspir'd maid,
Never thou, forsake my shade;
Thou, who mute, dost language use,
Powerful as the vocal muse:
Thee my infant choice approv'd,
Thee I woo'd, for thee I lov'd.
Often, when the orient ray
Spoke the near approach of day;
Often, when the evening mild,
Dewy mantled, wept and smil'd;
Often, at the solemn time,
When the pale moon rode sublime,
Thou hast heard my ardent prayer,
Heard, and not disdain'd to hear;
For, around my pillow'd head
Oft thy perfect forms were spread;
And delicious Hope the while
Cheer'd me with her magic smile;
And in sweet prophetic lays
Whisper'd me of coming days.

XIX.
Never then deny to roll
Thy bright visions o'er my soul:
Lo! they come! I feel their power,
Glowing phantoms fill the bower!
Deep within the lesbian grove
Sapho chaunts the hymn of love!
See her soft, her azure eyes
Beam with growing extacies!
As she sings, the son of war
Leaps from off the rushing car;
And the hunter quits the chase;
And the youth of swiftest pace
Leaves the yet unfinish'd race!
As she pours the mystic song,
Joy and rapture fill the throng!
See the lovely Lyrist round,
See they press the mossy ground!
See, their blushing heads they raise
Frequent with the voice of praise;
But the trembling accent dies
All away in longing sighs!!

XX.
—Oh! that I the forms could give,
Strong as in my thoughts they live;
When the rich, the perfect whole,
Comes in splendour on my soul!
My broad canvas then should show
Warm with life's divinest glow!
So that those who came to gaze,
Fix'd should stand in fond amaze;
And, in anxious clusters round,
Wait impatient for the sound!

XXI.
Now when falls a lengthen'd shade,
And the healthy dairy maid
Homeward trips with brimful pail;
Now when silent is the flail,
And the swallow, welcome guest,
Twitters round her growing nest;
And the bat, with giddy flight,
Cheats the vain pursuing sight;
While the sturdy peasants wait
Loit'ring at the' homested gate,
And with boist'rous mirth foretel
Who the champion list shall swell,
Wielding best the oaken stake
At the near approaching wake:
We up yonder hill will stray,
Where the latter beams of day
Love to linger, love to play.

XXII.
Now the sun, who western far,
Downward drives his rapid car,
Seems his sacred locks to lave
In the broad atlantic wave,
Leaving in his progress bright
Streams of many colour'd light;
See, they vary! see, they fade!
Over all is now display'd
One broad tint, more dear to me
Even than variety!
Mark where yonder glassy stream
Glad reflects a ling'ring beam;
Mark too, where the rising smoke,
Tinges soft the aged oak;
Showing to our searching eyes
Where the hidden village lies;
While beneath us all the vale
Echoes to the nightingale,
And the owl (her screeching tongue
Shamed to silence,) hears the song.

XXIII.
Hail, grey-bosom'd Twilight! hail!
Never, never, may I fail
With a vot'ry's zeal to wait
On thy mild, thy placid state;
I around thy modest head
Charm'd behold the planets spread;
Raptur'd see the starry blaze
Widening still its pearly rays,
Till at length the galaxy
Glows across the vaulted sky.

XXIV.
—Such the joys, enchanting Spring!
Which thy genial moments bring:
Not when Summer scents the glade
With her wreath of hay new made;
Not when Autumn's liberal hand
Scatters plenty, o'er the laud:
Not e'en then will I compare,
Sweetest season of the year!
Either of their charms with those
Which thy lucid veils disclose,
When thou com'st in gentle showers,
Braiding thy bright hair with flowers.
Sweetest season of the year!
Winter, when he sees thee near,
Throws aside his robe of snow,
Smiles, and smooths his rugged brow.
Often too attempts to rest
His boar head upon thy breast;
But, when he perceives thy wreath
Dying by his chilling breath,
Sad he turns, and rushing forth,
Hides him in the stormy north:
Then the vegetable race
Feel thy long desir'd embrace;
And the God, who gave it birth,
Seems to walk the blossom'd earth.

[pp. 11-39]