1774
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Absence: a Song. In the Manner of Shenstone.

Scots Magazine 36 (February 1774) 94.

Rev. Thomas Blacklock


A pastoral lyric in six double-quatrain stanzas signed "the Rev. Thomas Blacklock, D.D." In this uncollected poem by Blacklock, Britain's famous blind poet, the singer laments his absence from Melissa, Blacklock's poetical name for his wife. As he was wont to do, he goes out of his way to introduce visual effects he could not have observed, addressing "Ye harvests that wave in the breeze | As far as the view can extend! | Ye mountains, umbrageous with trees, | Whose tops so majestic ascend!" A decade after this lyric was published Blacklock was instrumental in persuading Robert Burns to give over his plans to emigrate to Jamaica and instead pursue his literary fortunes in Edinburgh.

George Birkbeck Hill: "Johnson wrote on Aug. 17, 1773: — 'This morning I saw at breakfast Dr. Blacklock, the blind poet, who does not remember to have seen light, and is read to by a poor scholar in Latin, Greek, and French. He was originally a poor scholar himself. I looked on him with reverence.' Piozzi Letters, 1. 110. See also Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 17, 1773. Spence published an Account of Blacklock, in which he meanly omitted any mention of Hume's great generosity to the blind poet. J. H. Burton's Hume, 1. 392. Hume asked Blacklock whether he connected colour and sound. 'He answered, that as he met often with the terms expressing colours, he had formed some false associations, but that they were of the intellectual kind. The illumination of the sun, for instance, he supposed to resemble the presence of a friend.' Ib. p. 389" Boswell, Life of Johnson (1791); ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 1:539n.



Ye rivers so limpid and clear,
Who reflect, as in cadence you flow,
All the beauties that vary the year,
All the flow'rs on your margins that grow!
How blest on your banks could I dwell,
Were Melissa the pleasure to share,
And teach your sweet echoes to tell
With what fondness I doat on the fair!

Ye harvests that wave in the breeze
As far as the view can extend!
Ye mountains, umbrageous with trees,
Whose tops so majestic ascend!
Your landscape what joy to survey,
Were Melissa with me to admire!
Then the harvest would glitter, how gay,
How majestic the mountains aspire!

In pensive regret, whilst I rove,
The fragrance of flow'rs to inhale;
Or watch from the pastures and grove,
Each music that floats on the gale.
Alas! the delusion how vain!
Nor odours nor harmony please
A heart agonizing with pain,
Which tries every posture for ease.

If anxious to flatter my woes,
Or the languor of absence to chear,
Her breath I would catch in the rose,
Or her voice in the nightingale hear:
To cheat my despair of its prey,
What object her charms can assume?
How harsh is the nightingale's lay,
How insipid the rose's perfume?

Ye zephyrs that visit my fair,
Ye sun-beams around her that play,
Does her sympathy dwell on my care?
Does she number the hours of my stay?
First perish ambition and wealth,
First perish all else that is dear,
Ere one sigh should escape her by stealth,
Ere my absence should cost her one tear.

When, when shall her beauties once more
This desolate bosom surprise?
Ye Fates! the blest moments restore
When I bask'd in the beams of her eyes;
When, with sweet emulation of heart,
Our kindness we struggled to show;
But the more that we strove to impart,
We felt it more ardently glow.

[p. 94]