Thyrsis. A Pastoral Ballad.

Scots Magazine 18 (July 1756) 342-43.


34 anapestic quatrains, anonymous, dated "July 1, 1756." This pastoral ballad is notable for its length, for Thyrsis has much to complain about: loss of youth, the American war, the fickleness of fortune, the tyranny of love, the inconstancy of women, and the loss of a friend. But these topics are mere occasions for a decorative display of grief of almost Elizabethan proportions. The poem achieves its ballad effect partly through the subtle inclusion of archaisms and literary echoes of Spenser, Milton, and Shenstone's recently published Pastoral Ballad (which might account for the unusual length of the poem). The literary echoes are remote, but thickly strewn: "Erst Damon was chearful and gay, | A soother swain pip'd not on the plains; | To the plains he oft tun'd the sweet lay, | And the woodlands re-echo'd his strains." Or this from Lycidas: "Ah! cease thus the tempests to brave; | For Daphnis so spread the curs'd sail: | Him, sunk in the ruthless cold wave, | An orphan, a widow now wail." What the poet does not imitate is Shenstone's characteristic imagery, which would quickly come to dominate the pastoral ballad genre.

Ye swains that so gladden the dale,
And bid it in pleasure to smile;
List to mine, that may soon be your tale,
Since bliss is so changing the while.

Erewhile I was happy like you,
And danced and pip'd on the plain;
But no to each pastime, adieu!
For Thyrsis is doom'd to complain.

Be silent the pipe's merry lays;
No more let the light dance abound:
For while on the mind Sorrow preys,
How vain is each medicine found!

While Sorrow thus preys on the mind;
No dances, no pipe's merry lay,
No charms e'er so pow'rful we find,
To appease the sad tyrant's fell sway.

O Thyrsis! where be thy youth's play?
The sport, and the jest, and the song?
Those years that flow'd reckless away?
Those moments that never seem'd long?

Youth, chearful, and easy, and free,
With thy sports, and thy jests, now adieu!
O fled thy fleet moments now be,
Fled thy innocent pleasures so true!

Farewel, O farewel, happy boy!
Unexperienc'd, devoid of all wo;
Unexperienc'd in aught but in joy;
For what could else innocence know?

Full early I wak'd, in life's morn,
To a calice of unmingled bliss;
I said, Sure to bliss I am born,
Since life dawns in pleasure like this.

O morning so fatally fair!
Why shone so thy treacherous ray?
What swain that had seen thee so clear,
Would have dreamt of so clouded a day?

How pleasant I play'd on the shore!
The prospect was goodly to see;
I wist not what billows would roar,
What shelves and what quicksands there be!

Full many the merciless fiends,
That wreak their despite on mankind;
That, with treach'rous shew of fair friends,
Lead man to the pitfall stone-blind.

While Glory bedims the mind's eye,
War sweeps to fierce battle the swains;
While they in fierce battle low lie,
Fierce battle unpeoples the plains.

See Fortune her car high display;
Why say what vast crouds round it throng?
How unweening, how blindly they stray?
'Tis Fortune that drags them along.

She calls, and the wretches obey;
All dangers death threaten in vain;
Her hand shoves the bark on the sea,
And heaves the dread storms of the main.

Ah! cease thus the tempests to brave;
For Daphnis so spread the curs'd sail:
Him, sunk in the ruthless cold wave,
An orphan, a widow now wail.

Such misery sadden the plains,
From Glory and Fortune, we see;
Yet a fiend more severe to the swains,
Than Glory or Fortune, there be.

Blind Fortune most cruel they prove,
While they spread the loose sail to the wind;
Yet more blind and more cruel is Love;
And its sea far more dreadful they find.

O happy, thrice happy the swain,
Who sinks in fierce battle to rest!
Nor burns with the smart of Love's pain,
Nor groans by Love's thraldom opprest.

How deceitful, how flatt'ring to view;
With what magic inchantment Love shines!
What skill may the witchcraft eschew!
For Damon deep languishing pines.

Ye shepherds, that frolick't away,
O drink not the poisonous wine!
O try not the treacherous play;
Lest with Damon you languish and pine.

For Damon in skill all excell'd;
His wit made each countenance smile:
When discoursing, strange truths he reveal'd,
The shepherds stood list'ning the while.

Erst Damon was chearful and gay,
A soother swain pip'd not on the plains;
To the plains he oft tun'd the sweet lay,
And the woodlands re-echo'd his strains.

O Damon, what boots all thy skill?
What boots it to tune thy sweet lays?
No skill, no sweet lays may Love quell,
While its rage on the marrow keen preys.

Yet Damon, O feed not thy pain;
For time wears all sorrow away;
O shake off the inglorious chain;
For thy hand the shook chain will obey.

Me chanc'd a nymph's charms erst to prove;
She was fairer than nymph e'er was fair;
She talk'd — her accents were love;
She was ev'ry way form'd to endear.

She talk'd — I list'ned, I lov'd:
Most sweet, and most gentle, most kind,
Most kind, most inconstant she prov'd;
And whelm'd in despair all my mind.

Then clouded, indeed, was my day;
What shadowy horrors I view'd!
Yet these shadowy horrors made way
To a far bitt'rer fate that ensu'd.

Philander each grace had combin'd;
All comeliness him did adorn;
His heart to each shepherd was kind,
And was pure as the babe yet unborn.

Philander the swains all admir'd;
At eve they would flock him around:
He spoke — and their souls were all fir'd,
With goodness so rare to be found.

Philander the fairest flow'r sprung;
Full early he flourish'd with pride;
Full early his glory ripe hung;
Full early he wither'd, and dy'd!

O fairest of fairest of flow'rs!
What tongue may thy goodliness tell?
Hence Nature so sadly deplores,
How he blossom'd, and wither'd, and fell!

Yes, Thyrsis, thou still must complain;
Full just is the cause of thy wo;
Fair nymphs may be found; but again
A Philander I never shall know!

Philander, O speak from the grave;
For thy friendship in death was found true:
O teach me life's tempests to brave;
For full shatter'd this bark I now view.

O Philander, Philander, my friend!
Still guide this frail bark to the shore;
There let me thy friendship still find;
Where tempests shall part us no more.

[pp. 342-43]