1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode for the 18th Day of January, 1794.

The Oracle (18 January 1794).

Mary Robinson


Eight irregular Spenserians (ababccddeE) signed "M. R." The occasion was the birthday of Queen Charlotte. In its tone and topics the Ode is more a conversation poem than an ode, contrasting celebrations at home with the bloodshed in France, and concluding with an invocation to Hope: "Come, soft-eyed HOPE, in spotless vest, | Come, and our brows with olive deck! | Bathe, with thy balm, the human breast, | And rear new charms on NATURE'S wreck!" The birthday celebration was marked by a ball at court and illuminations at London and Westminster.

Headnote: "Of the periodical tributes of the venal Muse, no one can entertain sentments more contemptuous than our own. What follows is the verse of a Daughter of Liberty, and the tender compliment elicited by the private worth of the THRONE will be felt and valued as proceeding declaredly from opinions that are popular. The Ode is — as all composition should be — regular: there can be no difficulty, and consequently slender praise in desultory composition — but, indeed, with some few exceptions, and those resulting from a mistaken notion that they were imitating Pindar, all our best writers have written with the regular returns of Stanza.



The Dawn steals on, with tardy pace,
All silver'd o'er with WINTER'S breath;
While NATURE hides her icy face,
And sleeps in temporary death!
The SUN with humid veil peeps forth,
Chill'd by the black tempestuous North;
The battlements, that clasp our shore,
Rock with wild OCEAN'S dreadful roar!
The sweeping WHIRLWIND comes on viewless wings,
While, with its deaf'ning howl, HEAVEN'S STARRY TEMPLE RINGS!

Bleak blows the petrifying gale
Upon the PEASANT'S rushy roof!
His breast a thousand pangs assail,
As though his HEART were tempest-proof!
His shiv'ring infants round him mourn;
And cry, "Ah! when will SPRING return?
Do all like us distress endure?—
So cold! So wretched! and so poor?"
Yet, when the day is past, stern Fate bestows
The balmy hour of rest, that greatness seldom knows!

Ye threat'ning storms malignant fly!
Cloud not this fair, this festive day;
Burst forth to splendour, lowring sky,
And flash around a vivid ray!
Swiftly, ye whispering Zephyrs, chase
The drops that bathe Compassion's face!
Bid mournful Memory cease to gaze
On livelier scenes of peaceful days!
When ev'ry morning breeze, that fann'd our Isle,
Awoke her hardy sons to labour — and to smile!

No more Reflection, sorrowing Maid;
O'er Reason cast thy awful veil!
Where Mirth, in careless garb array'd,
And Smiles, and thoughtless Jest prevail!
For should'st thou trace, with pensive mien,
The fatal, agonizing scene!
Where legions wade through human gore!
And DEATH shoots swift from shore to shore!
The splendid glare of revelry would fade,
And all its phantoms sink in Sorrow's whelming shade!

For FANCY might, per chance, descry
The woe which PLEASURE'S TRIBE ne'er saw!
The bleeding breast! the phrenzied eye!
That chill the soul with dreadful awe!
FANCY might paint th' embattl'd plain!
The shrieking wife! the breathless swain!
The blazing cot! the houseless child,
Driv'n on misfortune's rugged wild!
And Truth might whisper to the sensate mind—
Such is the chequer'd lot of hapless Human Kind!

Now let the happier tribe advance—
Let only present joys be known!
And let blithe BEAUTY'S light'ning glance
Dart lustre round BRITANNIA'S Throne!
Yet, if amidst the gaudy sight,
A sparkling tear of liquid light,
Caught be a sigh from PITY'S breast,
Should fall, to gem the regal crest!
Oh! let it shine, with Heaven's approving blaze,
An attribute sublime, to mock inferior rays!

The MUSE, who pours the votive strain,
Weeps o'er each tributary line;
And grieves to know that conscious pain
Perverts her glorious, great design!
For ah! in vain of Joy she sings,
While PITY shackles rapture's wings!
And meek Dejection's trickling tear
Responsive flows to sight sincere!
While MEDITATION, fraught with rending woes,
To every feeling mind a scene of misery shows!

Come, soft-eyed HOPE, in spotless vest,
Come, and our brows with olive deck!
Bathe, with thy balm, the human breast,
And rear new charms on NATURE'S wreck!
Bid drooping COMMERCE thrive again!
Spread rapture o'er the rustic plain!
Wash, with the spring from MERCY'S eye,
The blood that bids the laurel die!
And spread, once more, about this favour'd Isle,
The fost'ring rays of PEACE! that bid fair Freedom smile.

[unpaginated]