1747
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Pleasures of the Night.

London Magazine 16 (May 1747) 239-40.

Anonymous


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso, in blank verse, not signed. The poet, rapt in philosophic melancholy, contemplates the beauty and mystery of the night sky, pausing for a verse character of the blind poet: "'Twas in these shades that thou, unhappy bard, | Whose vocal griefs in melting numbers flow, | And melancholy joys diffuse around, | Heroically humble, didst submit | Thy passions to the Sov'reign's righteous will; | Soft blew the wind, and gently flow'd the stream, | Whilst sympathizing nature made a pause | In deep attention to thy moral song" p. 239. He is then interrupted by sounds of joy from a nearby tower as revelers celebrate the Duke of Cumberland's victory at Culloden. The poem concludes by invoking the night-scenes of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "O! could I equal his majestick strain! | Full oft I'd wander thro' the chequer'd grove, | And paint the beauties of th' enchanting scene" p. 239. In addition to Milton, Edward Young's Night Thoughts (1742-45) would seem to be a source here; the reference to Culloden suggests that The Pleasures of Night was written in 1746, prior to the publication of Thomas Warton's equally Miltonic Pleasures of Melancholy. James Ralph had published Night: A Poem (1728) in blank verse.



O thou! whose pinion did o'erspread the deep,
'Ere the Almighty Father spake the world,
Incumbent o'er the illimitable void,
O Night! O sacred shade! thee sounds my lyre,
Thee, best lov'd subject of the serious Muse.

Of noontide splendors, and the beamy sun,
Of shady woodlands, and of eddying floods,
That, warbling, flow the breezy mead along,
Who sings not, raptur'd with the magick scene?
Far diff'rent joys I sing: — The midnight hour!
The pensive pleasures of the silent Night!

Thy blessings, meditation, how divine!
How sweetly solemn, this thy chosen hour!—

View, heav'nly Muse, yon rolling orbs on high,
Yon rolling orbs in equal balance pois'd,
Obedient to their Maker's great controul.—
Ponder this grateful change of light and shade,
Still light and shade are but the varied God.
His goodness beams, illustrious, in the sun,
Who, early journeying o'er the eastern hills,
Gladdens, with orient ray, th' adoring world:
In ev'ning-tide his tenderness and love
Refresh tir'd nature with the balmy breeze:
His terrors in the boist'rous whirlwind roar,
His kindness lulls the whistling winds to sleep,
And softly breathes along the panting gale.—

From this thick gloom, by light-wing'd fancy led,
The mounting mind pursues the glitt'ring track
Of those, who, victors in the glorious chace,
Shine ever blooming on the rolls of fame;
—Pursues the track — herself, (hard fate!) condemn'd
To sleep, unnoted, with the vulgar dead.

In dusky vapour of the night inspher'd,
Quick fancy penetrates the gen'ral's tent;
He, with dull sleep, treads o'er his solemn round,
And spends in anxious thought the sleepless hour;
High rais'd in station 'bove the common herd,
And 'bove them too with tort'ring cares perplext.

Not so the humble cottagers appears,
Who, on the lily-woven bank reclin'd,
Inhales the freshness of the vernal air:
He (happy mortal!) careless and at ease,
Hears the wild world in loud commotion tost;
Not more dismay'd than is the mariner,
When distant thunders mutter in his ear.—

'Twas in these shades that thou, unhappy bard,
Whose vocal griefs in melting numbers flow,
And melancholy joys diffuse around,
Heroically humble, didst submit
Thy passions to the Sov'reign's righteous will;
Soft blew the wind, and gently flow'd the stream,
Whilst sympathizing nature made a pause
In deep attention to thy moral song.

See 'twixt yon parting clouds the beaming light!
The moon, o'er yon high hill, heaves her broad disk:
Come, heav'nly light, enliv'ning radiance come,
Illumine, with thy ray, the azure vault:
How pleasant, how transporting is the scene!
How sprightly shine the stars, and glitt'ring roll,
By sounds of mystick harmony inform'd,
Thro' trackless aether in their orbits wide!—

Hark, usher'd in by joy's tumultuous voice,
Wakes the loud musick in yon distant tow'r:
On Eurus' wing the rapid sounds aspire,
The mighty concert shakes the troubled sky:
'Tis so — This night to thee, great Cumbria's prince,
In solemn mirth, Britannia consecrates,
To thee — whose sword, vindictive of our rights,
Chastis'd rebellion's insolence, and quell'd
Her savage numbers on the well-fought plain.
They cease — yet more harmonious sounds succeed,
While Philomela, from the neighbouring sounds
Wailing, renews her solitary song;
Borne on the swelling gale, her gentle note,
Softens the murmurs of the dying breeze.
This, sure, the scene that ravish'd Shakespear's eye,
Whose dreaming Muse, in sweet confusion, leads
The well-pleas'd reader thro' the umber'd plain,
O'er hill, o'er dale, beside the rushy brook,
Lur'd with the musick of his fairy song.
O! could I equal his majestick strain!
Full oft I'd wander thro' the chequer'd grove,
And paint the beauties of th' enchanting scene;
Spontaneous, should th' untutor'd numbers flow,
So just, so noble, that e'en Phoebus self,
Tho' my glad verse exalts his rival's praise,
Should, with unfading laurel, wreathe my brow.

[pp. 239-40]