1781
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melancholy.

Whitehall Evening Post (23 August 1781).

Anonymous


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso, not signed, in the full-dress gothic mode: "Hail, sweet horrors, dreadful bliss! | What calm can bring a joy like this?— | The wind's distress, the thunder's roll, | Is music to a life sick soul; | The ruin'd vault, or time-worn tow'r, | More grateful than a roseate bow'r." This brief poem, a night piece, sports a thunderstorm, ruined tower, graveyard, and fairy revel. The poetry column in the Whitehall Evening post was called (not very euphoniously) "The Helicon Bag."

Headnote in The New Spectator: "Mr. Spectator: Many poets have exercised their talents on the subject of Melancholy,, none of which have been able to succeed like Milton, in his inimitable Il Penseroso. The following lines, however, have sufficient merit to entitle them to a place in the New Spectator. I am, Sir, Yours, &c. Edgar" (25 May 1784) 4.



Goddess of the solemn hour,
Let me feel thy pensive pow'r!
Shun my walk, vain Noise and Folly,
Welcome pleasing Melancholy!

Hark! the signal of the show'r
Whistles thro' yon ruin'd tow'r;
From the ivy, climbing high,
See the boding night-bird fly,
Hooting, from its omen'd breath,
Sounds of horror, sounds of death!—

Hark! the thunder from on high
Grumbles o'er the vaulted sky!
See the gleamy lightnings play,
Flashing momentary day!
Now the winds the forest bend,
Now the mighty storms descend;
Howl the winds, in dreadful song,
Yon temple's shadowy ailes among,
Hail, sweet horrors, dreadful bliss!
What calm can bring a joy like this?—
The wind's distress, the thunder's roll,
Is music to a life sick soul;
The ruin'd vault, or time-worn tow'r,
More grateful than a roseate bow'r,
Far sweeter than a lover's dream,
By myrtle grove or purling stream,
And can more calm reflections bring
Than all the tributes of the Spring.—

Now at length those horrors cease,
The elements are hush'd to peace!
See the Moon with silv'ry light
Gilds the sadly pleasing night:
Step we on where yonder tow'r
With iron tongue proclaims the hour.
With turfy verdure, lightly prest,
The fathers of the village rest:
Many a sprightly maid and swain,
Whilom fav'rites of the plain,
Forego their toils and spotless love
To join in guiltless throngs above.
Here the milk-maid, wont to greet
The dew-rob'd morn with carols sweet;
No more the vocal vales repeat
Her sylvan love in ditties sweet;
Death triumphs o'er her rosy bloom,
And oziers bind the decent tomb.—

Here a youth, in early pride,
Late another victim died.
Oft around the maypole tall
Has he led the rural ball;
From the lofty mountain's view
Oft he stole the morning's dew;
Rang'd the haycocks with his hand
In a goodly seeming band;
The new-wash'd sheep his sheers have shorn,
His sickle levell'd fields of corn;
Vain boast of sylvan toils, I ween,
Since Death's sharp sickle levels him.

Now along the vaulted sky
Midnight spirits for mischief fly;
Wicked imps, the foes of man,
Scatter down their mortal bane.
See pale Hecate grimly smile
At her antic sister's toil!
Hear the instruments of Hell
Mutt'ring harsh their horrid spell!
Now they mock the wretches moan,
Now the charm-rais'd spirits groan;
Now the air-play'd cymbals sound,
Now they dance their magic round;
Swift upon the wings of Night
Now they take their gambol'd flight,
To their foggy caverns borne,
Sick'ning at the breath of Morn.
For, soft! behold a distant ray,
O'er yonder hill, of grey ey'd Day!
The early lark forsakes his bed,
And sparrows quit the cottage-shed.
The twitt'ring swallow leaves her bow'r,
And dew drops glaze the morning flow'r.

Goddess of the pensive mien,
Grant me still this solemn scene;
Day will wake the sons of Folly,
Shade me still, sweet Melancholy!

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