1756
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Written amongst the Ruins of Pontefract Castle. MDCCLVI.

The Poetical Works of John Langhorne. In Two Volumes.

Rev. John Langhorne


Sixteen quatrains: a topographic elegy in the manner of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. John Langhorne regrets the carnage of the Wars of the Roses: "Ah! what avail'd th' alliance of a throne? | The pomp of titles what, or pow'r rever'd? | Happier! to these the humble life unknown, | With virtue honour'd, and by peace endear'd" 1:156. Richard II was imprisoned and murdered at the Norman castle at Pontefract, and several leaders of the York faction were executed there.

Walter Scott: "There is a period in youth when the mere power of numbers has a more strong effect on ear and imagination than in afterlife. At this season of immature taste, the author was greatly delighted with the poems of Mickle and Langhorne" Preface to Kenilworth, 1821; Russell, Book of Authors (1860) 301.

Eleanor M. Sickels: "many of the poems about ruins, especially in the fifties and sixties, are clearly inspired by Gray: 'Ah! what avail'd th' alliance of a throne? | The pomp of titles what, or pow'r rever'd?' asks John Langhorne in 1756" Gloomy Egoist (1932) 105.

The elegy was reprinted over the signature "R. L—" in the Town and Country Magazine 11 (June 1779) 325.



Right sung the bard, that all-involving age,
With hand impartial deals the ruthless blow;
That war, wide-wasting, with impetuous rage,
Lays the tall spire, and sky-crown'd turret low.

A pile stupendous, once of fair renown,
This mould'ring mass of shapeless ruin rose,
Where nodding heights of fractur'd columns frown,
And birds obscene in ivy-bow'rs repose;

Oft the pale matron from the threatning wall,
Suspicious, bids her heedless children fly;
Oft, as he views the meditated fall,
Full swiftly steps the frighted peasant by.

But more respectful views th' historic sage,
Musing, these awful relics of decay,
That once a refuge form'd from hostile rage,
In HENRY'S and in EDWARD'S dubious day.

He pensive oft reviews the mighty dead,
That erst have trod this desolated ground;
Reflects how here unhappy SAL'SBURY bled,
When faction aim'd the death-dispensing wound.

Rest, gentle RIVERS! and ill-fated GRAY!
A flow'r or tear oft strews your humble grave,
Whom Envy slew, to pave Ambition's way,
And whom a Monarch wept in vain to save.

Ah! what avail'd th' alliance of a throne?
The pomp of titles what, or pow'r rever'd?
Happier! to these the humble life unknown,
With virtue honour'd, and by peace endear'd.

Had thus the sons of bleeding Britain thought,
When hapless here inglorious RICHARD lay,
Yet many a prince, whose blood full dearly bought
The shameful triumph of the long-sought day:

Yet many a hero, whose defeated hand
In death resign'd the well contested field,
Had in his offspring sav'd a sinking land,
The Tyrant's terror, and the Nation's shield.

Ill could the Muse indignant grief forbear,
Should Mem'ry trace her bleeding Country's woes;
Ill could she count, without a bursting tear,
Th' inglorious triumphs of the vary'd Rose!

While YORK, with conquest and revenge elate,
Insulting, triumphs on St. Alban's plain,
Who views, nor pities HENRY'S hapless fate,
Himself a captive, and his leaders slain?

Ah prince! unequal to the toils of war,
To stern ambition, Faction's rage to quell;
Happier! from these had Fortune plac'd thee far,
In some lone convent, or some peaceful cell.

For what avail'd that thy victorious queen
Repair'd the ruins of that dreadful day?
That vanquish'd YORK, on Wakefield's purple green,
Prostrate amidst the common slaughter lay:

In vain fair Vict'ry beam'd the gladd'ning eye,
And, waving oft her golden pinions, smil'd;
Full soon the flatt'ring goddess meant to fly,
Full rightly deem'd unsteady Fortune's child.

Let Towton's field — but cease that dismal tale:
For much it's horrors would the muse appall,
In softer strains suffice it to bewail
The Patriot's exile, or the Heroe's fall.

Thus silver wharf, whose crystal-sparkling urn
Reflects the brilliance of his blooming shore,
Still, melancholy-mazing, seems to mourn,
But rolls, confus'd, a crimson wave no more.

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