1764
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Fair Penitent. An Elegiac Ballad.

London Chronicle (13 October 1764) 358.

Anonymous


Sixteen anapestic quatrains, not signed. This lyric develops Shenstone's inconstancy theme in a manner that has more to do with ballad than with pastoral: the poet, recently married to Beverly, has since fallen in love with Clerimont, and describes the guilt and fear she suffers as an adulteress: "To meet with poor Beverly's kiss, | What transport appears in my air! | Tho' his breast, once the pillow of bliss, | Swells only with death and despair." While this poem is not unique in pursuing ballad rather than pastoral, such lyrics were uncommon in the busy series of poems inspired by Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad.



Ye mountains so dreary and dread,
To whom I so often repair,
In pity fall down on my head,
And snatch me at once from despair.

In mercy ye skies to my woes,
Let your thunders avengingly roll,
And death kindly hush to repose
The Etna that bursts on my soul.

Twelve moons have I scarcely been wed,
And honour'd with Beverly's name;
Yet how has the conjugal bed
Been steep'd in pollution and shame!

To the fondest and worthiest youth,
All spotted and perjur'd I stand;
And this ring, which once swore to my truth,
Now deadens, thro' guilt, on my hand.

Perdition quick fall on the hour
That first I saw Clerimont's face,
And fatally gave him a pow'r
To plunge me in endless disgrace.

From time's swiftly silvering wing
This instant O let it be torn;
And pluck from remembrance a sting,
Too bitter by far to be borne.

Once white as the moon's purest ray,
This bosom could consciously heave,
Despise ev'ry thought to betray,
And detest ev'ry wish to deceive.

Once crown'd with contentment and rest,
My days held the happiest race;
And the night saw me equally blest,
In my Beverly's honest embrace.

But now, one continued disguise,
I'm hackney'd in falsehood and art;
And teach every glance of my eyes
To conceal every wish of my heart.

To meet with poor Beverly's kiss,
What transport appears in my air!
Tho' his breast, once the pillow of bliss,
Swells only with death and despair.

If a look is by accident caught,
I'm fill'd with a thousand alarms;
And Clerimont fires ev'ry thought,
When I melt e'en in Beverly's arms.

Great ruler of all things above,
Whom father of mercies we deem,
Let duty direct me to love
Where reason compels my esteem.

Yet how to thy throne shall I run?
For pardon, how can I exclaim?
When every renewel of sun
Beholds a renewal of shame!

Nay, now while the guilt I detest,
My conscience so dreadfully wrings;
This Clerimont grows on my breast,
And insensibly twists round the strings.

Distraction, this instant repair,
And seize the least atom of brain;
For nature no longer can bear
This incredible fulness of pain!

Let Mercy employ its own time,
I dare not look upward that way;
For unless I desist from my crime,
'Tis blasphemy surely to pray.

[p. 358]