Ode to Solitude.

Monthly Magazine 2 (September 1796) 646.


An allegorical ode in four irregular Spenserians, an octosyllabic variation on the Prior form. This retirement poem is a cento of passages from Milton, Collins, and Gray: "But when at eve the curfew's knell | Winds slowly thro' the dusky grove, | Pensive I'll seek the rural cell, | Or 'midst the gloom in silence rove." It is signed "A., Norwich," the initial corresponding, it may be, to the literary editor of the Monthly Magazine, John Aikin. On the other hand, in 1816 the poem was reprinted in the Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature with the initials "W. A."

Lucy Aikin: "The part which he [John Aikin] took was that of literary editor. All the original correspondence came under his inspection; articles were inserted or rejected according to his judgment, and the proof sheets underwent his revision" Memoir of John Aikin, with Selections of his Miscellaneous Pieces (1823) 1:188-89.

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Now I am on the subject of Anthologies, I must say I am sorry the old pastoral way is fallen into disrepute. The gentry which now indite sonnets are certainly the legitimate descendants of the ancient shepherds. The same simpering face of description, the old family face, is visibly continued in the line. Some of their ancestors' labours are yet to be found in Allan Ramsay's and Jacob Tonson's Miscellanies. But miscellanies decaying, and the old pastoral way dying of mere want, their successors (driven from their paternal acres) now-a-days settle and live upon Magazines and Anthologies. This race of men are uncommonly addicted to superstition. Some of them are idolators and worship the moon. Others deify qualities, as love, friendship, sensibility; or bare accidents, as Solitude. Grief and Melancholy have their respective altars and temples among them, as the heathens builded theirs to Mors, Febris, Pallor, &c." 14 August 1800; in Letters, ed. Thomas Noon Talfourd (1837) 1:232-33.

Far from Ambition's selfish train,
Where Avarice rules the busy day,
And patient Folly "hugs his chain,"
Enslav'd by Custom's ruthless sway,
Lead me, calm spirit! to some still retreat,
Where science shares with thee the blooming mead,
Save when at distance heard, in cadence sweet,
The village minstrel tunes his simple reed.
There, free from cares, from jarring passions free,
Oft may I strike the lyre, sweet Solitude! to thee.

When orient Morn, in blushing pride,
Profusely sheds the glist'ning dew,
Oft let me climb the mountain's side,
And raptur'd mark the varied view.
When Noon directs on earth his parching ray;
Then let me find the cool, the peaceful shade,
Form'd by embow'ring oaks, in firm array,
O'er some small stream that rustles through the glade.
Thither let Fancy lead her magic band,
And o'er my senses wave her soul-entrancing wand.

But when at eve the curfew's knell
Winds slowly thro' the dusky grove,
Pensive I'll seek the rural cell,
Or 'midst the gloom in silence rove;
And when from village spire the solemn toll
Yields its sad tribute to the breathless clay;
As calm Reflection steals upon my soul,
The tear unmark'd shall take its silent way;
And mounted oft I'll cull the violet's bloom,
Heave the sad soothing sigh, and dress the clay-cold tomb.

When Midnight spreads her blackest robe,
And shrouds in sullen mists the sky;—
When Terror rules the silent globe,
And phantoms mock the fearful eye;
Parent of all! whose voice the winds obey,
The raving ocean, and the black'ning storm,
Yet stoop'st to guide the sparrow on his way,
And shed'st thy mercy on the struggling worm!
To thee, great God! to thee my voice I'll raise;
Trembling I'll strike the lyre, and hymn thy boundless praise.

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