1786
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

December. A Pastoral Poem.

Gentleman's Magazine 56 (November 1786) 982-83.

Dr. William Perfect


Thirteen double-quatrain stanzas, dated "Malling, Oct. 31." The setting of this descriptive poem is a December landscape, and doubtless it was likely begun as a companion to July, a Pastoral Poem published in the Public Advertiser on 2 September 1785. All seasons have their pleasures, "But Winter, tho' wrapt in a cloud, | A gratitude warmer excites; | All Nature proclaims it aloud, | December is fraught with delights." William Perfect would eventually complete poems corresponding to all twelve months. The poet's physico-theological meditations conclude with reflections on Christmas in the last two stanzas.

It was the custom for London newspapers to publish devotional poems on December 25th (when this appeared in the Public Advertiser); in the eighteenth-century they tended, like new-year's odes, to be of a sober cast.



Vegetation, disrob'd of her charms,
In verdure no longer is drest;
The sun has deserted her arms,
And mantles no more, on her breast:
But the ever green frowning and rude,
In foliage deep darken'd I spy,
And the mosses with fruitage endued
Give pleasure to Botany's eye.

The bat, in this season of gloom,
In death-like torpidity lost,
Immur'd in her membranous tomb,
Defies the return of the frost.
From yonder old ivy-bound pile
The red-breast, last friend to the plain,
The desolate day to beguile,
Pays his lone but enlivening strain.

Untouch'd and unblest were my mind,
Mid sullen dark shades of the eve,
Could I not some circumstance find,
When dirgeful the cricket shall grieve.
Then come, Contemplation, explore
Our toils, and our vanities too,
False pleasures, which ebb from the shore,
As we the gay phantoms pursue.

Soft Nurse of Reflection, thy power
Can dissipate solitude's shade,
And brighten December's dark hour,
By Nature's obituary made.
Thy whispers, sobriety's Queen,
Are hymns to this ear of my mind;
Delightfully fair is thy mien,
By Wisdom and Reason refin'd.

Advanc'd Desolations appear;
December, how chearless thy frown!
The knell of the fast-flowing year
Depresses both village and town.
Meditations, O come from thy cell,
Tho' Nature seems prone to decay,
Thy presence her fears shall dispel,
And lengthen the short-living day.

Emotions which flow from thy song,
Most welcome and pang-soothing guest,
The blessings of hope shall prolong
The mind of depressions divest.
What tho' the pale Season denies
Those beauties which brighten the spring,
On pinions borne down from the skies—
'Tis thine pure Contentment to bring.

When odours replenish the gale,
The streamlets run purling along,
The Zephyrs dissuasive prevail,
And Philomel issue her song.
The music of nature display'd
In note unambitiously wild,
The fawns skip and bound in the glade,
And all is most placid and mild.

When Flora awakens the flowers,
Her children of purest perfume,
Descend in refreshment the showers,
To nurture the Innocent bloom:
Aetherial mildness around
Revives with congenial ray,
Enamels the spring garnish'd ground,
And Pleasure leads forward the day.

When the landscape with transport descried
Bright summer presents to the view,
In robes too expressive of pride,
Tho' the mirror of Nature is true;
When Autumn hard labour repays,
And plenty diffuses her crops,
Wide scatters her silver-soft rays
Thro' gardens thick-cluster'd with hops.

When Summer, or Autumn, or Spring,
Their treasures alternate dispense,
Vicissitudes pleasing you bring,
The grateful remembrance of Sense.
But Winter, tho' wrapt in a cloud,
A gratitude warmer excites;
All Nature proclaims it aloud,
December is fraught with delights.

To earth shall some Seraphs of Love,
In tide of full harmony pour
His mandates commission'd above
The race of mankind to restore.
On pinions of rapture he brings
The mercies of unbounded space,
As stream from empyreal strings
His missions of peace and of grace.

Devotion, elate of the sound,
Her incense prepares for the morn,
When tidings of gladness around
Proclaim a Messiah was born;
Superlative news to the breast
Replete with this knowledge divine,
Where thy virtues, dear Innocence, rest,
And Religion's best triumphs are thine.

Let warm acclamations ascend,
Festivity, Reason, be near,
And Charity, Virtue's own friend,
The head of pale sorrow uprear!
Let Wealth all her scorn lay aside,
To Poverty's residence go,
And practice the soul-lifting pride,
In robbing distress of a woe.

[pp. 982-83]