Winter. An Elegy

Public Advertiser (2 April 1763).

Henry James Pye

Fourteen elegiac quatrains, signed "H. P." In this juvenile poem, the future laureate adapts Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard to life at Oxford: "What boots it then to turn the learned page, | 'Till morn subdues the wasting taper's flame, | To stem the torrent of an impious age, | Or nobly daring seek a martial fame?" The Public Advertiser had previously published Pye's contribution to the recent Oxford volume of gratulatory verse, which seems to have provoked him to contribute a whole series of poems to the newspaper in 1763. These lines, considerably revised, were published in Pye's Elegies (1768) as Elegy II. Written in 1762.

Headnote: "Sir, If you think the following Elegy worth inserting in your very entertaining Paper, you may expect to hear again soon from your constant Reader and Admirer, H. P."

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "Henry James Pye was Poet Laureat, who immediately preceded Southey, and was born in 1745, appointed Laureat in 1790, made London police Magistrate in 1792, and died in 1813. He wrote a great many bad verses: — the best known being an epic, called 'Alfred'" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:292n.

Now the brown woods their leafy load resign,
And rage the tempests with resistless force,
Mantled with snow, the silver mountains shine,
And icy fetters chain the riv'let's course.

No pleasing verdure chears the dreary view,
No spreading branches rise amidst the glade,
Save that o'er yonder tomb the sable yew
Casts forth an awful, solitary shade.

Short is the spring, and short the summer hour,
And short the time the yellow autumn reigns;
But tedious roll the days when winter's pow'r,
Soon he arrives, and slowly leaves our plains.

As swiftly wears our spring of youth away;
As swiftly will our jolly summer go;
But, ah! when winter clouds our chearless day,
Again the vernal breezes never blow.

Why views the sage fair pleasure's transient charm,
And all her vot'ries gay, with scowling eye?
Alike he stoops to fate's superior arm,
Alike he suffers, and alike must die.

In vain we bend to virtue's rigid lore,
In vain the threats of tyrant malice brave,
With sudden lapse some fleeting years are o'er,
And lo! we slumber in the peaceful grave.

What boots it then to turn the learned page,
'Till morn subdues the wasting taper's flame,
To stem the torrent of an impious age,
Or nobly daring seek a martial fame?

What boots it then, with stoic brow severe,
The silken bonds of lux'ry to despise,
To bring by thought the day of horror near,
And view the tempest ere the clouds arise?

Better with laughing nymphs in revels gay,
To give the soul to Venus, wine, and song;
And since the rapid moments never stay,
To catch some pleasure as they roll along.

Deluded man! whom empty sounds beguile,
What pleasures here await thy anxious soul?
Know, love abhors the harlot's venal smile,
And hell-born fury rages in the bowl.

Seek virtue to be blest: — But seek her far,
Far from the gloomy sons of letter'd pride,
Who, 'gainst the passions wage eternal war,
And foes to nature, nature's dictates chide.

Let mirth, not madness, crown the temp'rate feast,
Let love and beauty joys refined impart;
Tho' mere sensation please the groveling breast,
'Tis mutual transports fire the gen'rous heart.

The various blessings gracious heav'n bestows,
With gratitude and charity repay,
Relieve thy suff'ring friend, or share his woes,
But from his failings turn thine eyes away.

So when the wintry storms of death are past,
In brighter skies, and Ether more serene,
Thy wither'd boughs shall bud again, to last
For ever blooming, and for ever green.