1772
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Damon to his Friends. A Ballad.

Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement 17 (16 July 1772) 81-82.

Robert Fergusson


A pastoral ballad in seventeen anapestic quatrains signed "R. Fergusson." In this early contribution to the Weekly Magazine the poet announces that fortune has smiled; he has purchased a shady bower and invites all his stedfast friends to partake of his happiness: "Attend, ye kind youth of the plain! | Who oft with my sorrows condol'd; | You cannot be deaf to the strain, | Since Damon is master of gold." The poem inverts two common pastoral ballad themes, substituting the friends for a lover, and connecting money with generosity. Since Fergusson at this time was struggling to make a living as a law-clerk in Edinburgh, we are left to imagine the circumstances to which this poem might refer.

James Gray: "His mind seems to have been completely imbued with the love of rhyme; every circumstance that occurred seems to have suggested a poem — but it does not appear that he derived any important advantage from these local effusions, or attracted the smallest notice from any man of genius or literature, though there must have been many in Edinburgh at that period. In this respect he was less fortunate than Burns. No refined or enlightened mind seems to have taken any interest in the youthful Poet. No Blacklock, no Mackenzie, no Dugald Stewart "fanned the flame," or rather purified its source, and directed its progress by that intellectual conversation which is the best means of improving the taste, and correcting the moral principle. His associates were chiefly the young and the gay, whose greatest enjoyment is the convivial party, the living spirit of which Fergusson seems to have been, and the subjects he too frequently chose for his Muse were those most calculated to promote the amusement of the evening. This is the more to be regretted, as he possessed very superior and various powers of conversation" Fergusson, Poems (1821) xi-xii.



The billows of life are supprest,
Its tumults, its toils disappear,
To relinquish the storms that are past,
I think on the sunshine that's near.

Dame Fortune and I are agreed;
Her frowns I no longer endure:
For the Goddess has kindly decreed,
That Damon no more shall be poor.

Now riches will ope the dim eyes,
To view the increase of my store;
And many my friendship will prize
Who never knew Damon before.

But those I renounce and abjure,
Who carried contempt in their eye:
May poverty still be their dow'r
That could look on misfortune awry!

Ye pow'rs that weak mortals govern,
Keep pride at his bay from my mind;
O let me not haughtily learn
To despise the few friends that were kind:

For theirs was a feeling sincere;
'Twas free from delusion and art;
O may I that friendship revere,
And hold it yet dear to my heart:

By which was I ever forgot;
It was both my physician and cure,
That still found the way to my cot,
Altho' I was wretched and poor:

'Twas balm to my canker-tooth'd care;
The wound of affliction it heal'd;
In distress it was Pity's soft tear,
When naked cold Poverty's shield.

Attend, ye kind youth of the plain!
Who oft with my sorrows condol'd;
You cannot be deaf to the strain,
Since Damon is master of gold.

I have chose a soft sylvan retreat,
Bedeck'd with the beauties of spring;
Around my flocks wander and bleat,
While the musical choristers sing.

I force not the waters to stand
In an artful canal at my door,
But a river at Nature's command,
Meanders both limpid and pure.

She's the Goddess that darkens my bow'rs
With tendrils of joy and of vine;
She tutors my shrubs and my flow'rs,
Her taste is the standard of mine.

What a pleasing diversified group
Of trees taught has she spread o'er my ground!
She has taught the grave laryx to droop,
And the birch to deal odours around.

For whom has she perfum'd my groves?
For whom has she cluster'd my vine?
If friendship despise my alcoves,
They'll ne'er be recesses of mine.

He who tastes his grape juices by stealth,
Without chosen companions to share,
Is the basest of slaves to his wealth,
And the pitiful minion of care.

O come! and with Damon retire
Amidst the green umbrage embower'd;
Your mirth and your songs to inspire,
Shall the juice of his vintage be pour'd?

O come, ye dear friends of his youth!
Of all his good fortune partake;
Nor think 'tis departing from truth,
To say 'twas preserv'd for you sake.

[pp. 81-82]