1761
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Ode to Contentment.

Poems on Several Occasions. By Myles Cooper, M.A. of Queen's College, Oxford.

Rev. Myles Cooper


A retirement ode in the measure of Collins's Ode to Evening. Myles Cooper's choice of this form for a poem more argumentative than lyric seems peculiar. Cooper appears to read Collins through his source in Milton's companion poems, a not uncommon mode of imitation early in a series where the imitator is more properly an emulator. The Ode to Contentment presents a "choice of life" argument in which the character of a hermit is contrasted with the character of a virtuous peasant. Both are found lacking: "O never in my lap be cast | The hermit's, or the peasant's lot,— | If this dull ignorance, | That selfish solitude, | Constant awaits." True contentment, it seems, is the lot of the Oxford fellow tranquilly pursuing philosophy and love on the banks of the pastoral Isis. The ode concludes with a "resolve" in the manner of Milton's Il Penseroso.



Celestial nymph, Contentment, come,
And lead me to thy haunts, where thou,
With smooth pacific look,
In mild serenity,
And all at ease, art wont to tread;—
Parent of joys, O guide my feet
To where Felicity
Resides: Say, by what art
Thy pupils oft enrich'd the mind,
And turn'd to affluence their want?—
Lo, in a gaping cliff
Of yonder shaggy rock,
Where many a giant oak uprears
His blasted summit, waving wide
His moss-clad arms; where climbs
The wanton ivy; where
Nods o'er the precipice abrupt
The mouldering turf; where, far beneath,
The thick-entangling brake
O'erruns the plain; where, round,
The drear wild glooms; where Solitude
And Melancholy, sister-twins,
Their dismal mansion hold,
Nor Echo talks; — there dwells,
Hoary and wearing wisdom's guise,
A bearded sage. Hid from the world
He lives, and lives serene;—
On wholesome herbs he feeds,
And from the limpid stream allays
His thirst; — at morn by nature's call
And friendly light awak'd;
By the soft lapse at eve
Of murmuring rills to slumber lull'd,
Chearful he measures day and night.
Yes, — many a tranquil hour
Enjoys he 'mid grey rocks,
What time o'er nature's face has thrown
The veil of horrour; — he nor feels
The sting of envious pride,
Nor aught the passions heeds,
That labour in the human breast;
What passes in a busy world
Is last of all his cares:
But let him know, that Heaven
His stolen felicity detests.
Why was his reason given? To be
Employ'd. For whom? Himself?
Man to converse with man,
And lend the mutual-aiding hand,
Wise Heaven decrees; nor yet excludes
Private from public good.
Who wou'd not then condemn
The hermit's choice? He of himself
Enamour'd, and from social ties
Estrang'd, an useless life
Leads in lone solitude.
Oft on the hamlet's humble shed
Thou deign'st to cast thy fostering eye,
O Goddess, and art pleas'd
To bless the village-hind
With influence benign. What though
With sweating brow he earns his food;—
What though, when summer suns
Dart down the feverous beam,
The live-long day, in circling toil,
And labour ending but with life,
He plies the glebe? 'Tis thine
To solace every care;—
Thou draw'st propitious o'er his eye
Sleep's silken veil: No sigh is heard,
Nor idle wish for wealth,
Nor plaint of poverty.
No sooner mounts on quivering wing
The trilling lark at early dawn,
But vigorous from his couch
He rises to resume
The daily task; — the rose of health
Blooms on his cheek; — the rising sun
Shall view him blest alike
To-morrow as to-day.
Yes, — in his rural cot secure,
Hush'd every care, the peasant lives;
He whistles o'er his work
Content, nor asks he more.
Yet o'er his mental eye is drawn
The dusky veil of ignorance;—
The circling systems roll,
The tuneful planets turn;
Thousands of glittering orbs are seen,
Spangling the skies from pole to pole,
And countless objects rise
To rouze his search; — in vain.—
Enough for him, that he observes
The seasons come and go, — enough,
To tell when timeliest 'tis
The sow the golden grain;
To prune the vine; from snowy flocks
To cull the annual fleece; to bare
The boughs of yellow fruit;
From waxen cells to press
The honied store; and to commit
The sickle to the ripen'd fields;—
These are his arts, — than these
No higher soars his mind.
O never in my lap be cast
The hermit's, or the peasant's lot,—
If this dull ignorance,
That selfish solitude,
Constant awaits. — Conduct my steps,
Goddess, to where OXONIA'S towers
Lift their proud heads aloft,
And emulate the clouds;—
Fair Science there her face unveils,
And eagle-ey'd Philosophy
Enjoys her peaceful reign;—
There rest the tuneful Nine:
For erst when Mars with dire alarms
Shook Greece, they left Parnassus' top,
And thence to Latium wing'd
Their airy course; but soon
Flying from tyranny and vice,
They next to sea-girt Albion came,
And fix'd on Isis' banks:—
There many a bard sublime
Teaches the mockful nymph his song.
Charm'd, as he tunes the vocal shell,
Or on the Dorian reed
Warbles the pastoral song,
Fair Isis stands to hear her son,
While scarce her listening waves are seen
To roll along the vale,
Their tribute to the main.
Contentment, there if thou would'st deign
To tread, thy votary shou'd wish,
Shelter'd beneath thy wing,
To close his eve of life.

[pp. 77-83]