1758
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode on Lyric Poetry.

A Collection of Poems by Several Hands. Vol. 6 [Robert Dodsley, ed.]

Sir James Marriott


Six stanzas, a formal Pindaric in the Miltonic manner. James Marriott was a talented poet, and his ode, in effect a palinode, offers a glimpse into force of emulation affecting an ambitious writer at mid-century Cambridge: "I strive to catch the sacred fire, | And wake thee emulous' on Granta's plain, | Where all the Muses haunt his hallow'd spring... | But, alas! th' amusive reed | Ill suits the lyre that asks a master's hand, | And fond fancies vainly feed | A breast that life's more active scenes demand" 6:252. Marriott was unlikely to have known William Collins's lyric poetry in 1758; the obvious competitors for "the victor palm" would be his friends Gray and Mason. Marriott, a Fellow at the time the Ode on Lyric Poetry was written, would pursue a distinguished legal career and become master of Trinity College.



1. 1.
Inmate of smoaking cots, whose rustic shade,
Within its humble bed,
Her twittering progeny contains,
The swallow sweeps the plains,
Or lightly skims from level lakes the dew.
The ringdove ever true
In plaintive accents tells of unrelenting fate,
Far from the raven's croak, and bird of night
That shrieking wings her flight
When, at his mutter'd rite,
Hid in the dusky desart vale,
With starting eye, and visage pale
The grimly wizard sees the spectres rise unholy;
But haunts the woods that held her beauteous mate,
And wooes the Echo soft with murmurs melancholy.

1. 2.
Sublime alone the feather'd monarch flies,
His nest dark mists upon the mountains shrow'd;
In vain the howling storms arise,
When borne on outstrech'd plume aloft he springs
Dashing with many a stroke the parting cloud,
Or to the buoyant air commits his wings
Floating with even sail adown the liquid skies;
Then darting upward, swift his wings aspire,
Where thunders keep their gloomy seat,
And lightnings arm'd with heaven's avenging ire.
None can the dread artillery meet,
Or thro' the airy region rove,
But he who guards the throne of Jove,
And grasps the flaming bolt of sacred fire.

I. 3.
Know, with young Ambition bold,
In vain, my Muse, thy dazled eyes explore
Distant aims, where wont to soar,
Their burning way the kindling spirits hold.
Heights too arduous wisely shun;
Humbler flights thy wings attend;
For heaven-taught Genius can alone ascend
Back to her native sky,
And with directed eagle eye
Pervade the lofty spheres, and view the blazing sun.

II. 1.
But hark! o'er all the flow'r-enamell'd ground
What music breaths around!
I see, I see the virgin train
Unlock their streams again,
Rolling to many a vale their liquid lapse along.
While at the warbled song
Which holds entranc'd Attention's wakeful ear,
Broke are the magic bands of iron sleep.
Love, wayward child, oft wont to weep,
In tears his robe to steep
Forgets; and Care that counts his store,
Now thinks each mighty business o'er;
While sits on ruin'd cities, war's wide-wasting glory,
Ambition, ceasing the proud pile to rear,
And sighs; unfinish'd leaving half her ample story.

II. 2.
Then once more, sweet enthusiast, happy lyre,
Thy soothing solace deign awhile to bring.
I strive to catch the sacred fire,
And wake thee emulous' on Granta's plain,
Where all the Muses haunt his hallow'd spring,
And where the Graces shun the sordid train
Scornful of heaven-born arts which thee and peace inspire;
On life's sequester'd scenes they silent wait,
Nor heed the baseless pomp of power,
Nor shining dreams that crowd at Fortune's gate;
But smooth th' inevitable hour
Of pain, which man is doom'd to know,
And teach the moral mind to glow
With pleasures plac'd beyond the shaft of Fate.

II. 3.
But, alas! th' amusive reed
Ill suits the lyre that asks a master's hand,
And fond fancies vainly feed
A breast that life's more active scenes demand.
Sloth ignoble to disclaim
'Tis enough: the lyre unstring.
At other feet the victor palm I fling
In Granta's glorious shrine;
Where crown'd with radiance divine
Her smiles shall nurse the Muse; the Muse shall lift her fame.

[6:250-52]