On the Illness of a Young Lady.

Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 13 (February 1799) 140-42.


29 anapestic quatrains, not signed. Lambkins and lilacs are absent from this unusual pastoral ballad, in which Thyrsis enjoys his follows to set aside their usual pleasures and assume the trappings of grief. He retires to his grotto and reflects on the ravages of time and mortality, considering the prudence of stoic detatchment where friendships are concerned. This position, of course, he rejects: "Though sorrows thrill deep the susceptible mind, | And greatly its portion of pleasure exceed, | Yet its joys and its griefs are so closely combin'd, | What bosom that feels them would wish to be freed!" The length of this poem reflects the work of grieving as Thyrsis come to affirm a friendship that has caused so much pain.

"Ye shepherds, your ill-tim'd amusements forego
Those flower woven garlands so sprightly unbind;
Ill suit your diversions with tidings of woe,
Ill suit with the fears that disquiet my mind.

For sure you must know how, with sickness and pain,
Dorinda has long been severely assail'd,
Each human endeavour prov'd powerless and vain,
And nought the nice efforts of science avail'd.

But, alas! they inform me the symptoms increase,
And life from the conflict seems musing to fly;
Then cease, gentle shepherds, your merriment cease,
And think on the troubles that threaten so nigh.

Ah! rather repair to yon rivulet's side,
And bind your sad brows with the pale willow wreath,
There, lonely reclin'd by the murmuring tide,
The melting effusions of elegy breathe.

For me, I will haste to my midwood recess,
I will haste to the gloom of the woodland profound,
There pensive reclining indulge my distress,
And pore on the sorrows that thicken around.

Erewhile this sequester'd retreat when I sought,
'Twas to pour the soft language of Hope and of Joy,
Bright landscapes luxuriantly rose to my thought,
And the light-footed minutes stole placidly by.

Methought all around me partook of the glee,
The stream thro' the pebbles ran playful away,
The breeze whisper'd mirth as it pass'd thro' the tree,
And fancy's enchantments made everything gay.

Yet, ah! as the hours of affliction advance,
By degrees they awake to reflection and woe;
While Fancy, assiduous our pain to entrance,
Adverse to be neuter, enlists as a foe.

The shadows of evening my grotto obscure,
The stream through the pebbles glides warblingly by,
The oak's aged branches frown awfully o'er,
And the breezes shrill plaining along the cliff sigh.

Ah! 'plain not so sadly, thou querulous wind;
Thou stream with less wailing thy journey pursue;
Little need your laments to disquiet my mind,
Little need that my griefs should be heighten'd by you.

In the circle of youth and of beauty, admired;
How late in the meadows young Phillida shone;
What pleasing emotions her accents inspir'd,
How the shepherds would listen when Phillis begun!

Now cold o'er her grave hang the dew-drops of morn,
And daisies thick-springing the green sods array,
Oft sighs as he passes the shepherd forlorn,
And homeward dejectedly steals on his way.

There oft the sweet Redbreast mellifluent pours,
At the lone hour of dew-fall, his tenderest lay,
And oft with fond industry searches the flowers,
And piously bears the rude insect away.

Ah! gentlest of warblers, continue thy care,
Still guard from aught noxious the favourite soil,
Still warble thy evening roundelays there,
And oh! that my verse could compensate thy toil!

And shouldst thou, Dorinda, too, leave us behind,
What strains could enliven? What valleys could cheer?
Where should I so constant an advocate find?
How should I the loss of thy friendship repair?

How vain are our hopes of felicity here!
How quickly the prospects of youth are o'ercast!
Then let not fresh prospects, fresh beauties insnare!
Be check'd, my fond heart, and reflect on the past!

Ah! think, ere thou giv'st thine affection the rein,
Ah! think will those graces so charming endure!
Say, must I not shortly relinquish with pain
The charms that at present so sweetly allure!

How happy the man who this changeable scene,
With the cursory glance of a traveller eyes,
Nor suffers allurements intruding between,
To divert the pursuit of unchangeable joys.

Who surpris'd that to happiest attachments below,
A sad separation full surely succeeds,
A guarded approvance dares only bestow,
And timely the soft-growing fondness impedes.

But, alas! thro' each moment fresh warnings impart,
Our visions of happiness here to resign,
Tho' instructed to turn the fond hopes of the heart,
To joys that unfadingly permanent shine.

No sooner the waves of affliction retire,
And hope's bright illusions return to the view,
Than, untaught by experience, again we admire,
And tho' still disappointed the folly renew.

Still still there are objects that cling to the beast,
And with softest compassion our wishes confine,
There are seats of affection so deeply imprest,
What heart without bleeding can bear to resign!

And so let it be — thy repinings recall—
'Tis meet we refuse not the favours bestow'd,
'Tis meet that afflictions should sometimes befal,
To wake our desires for a happier abode.

How dire were this state of probation below,
Were there nought of affection to soften the road,
No bordering attraction to steal us from woe,
No friendship to lighten adversity's load!

And shall friendship be shun'd to avoid this distress,
Which the loss of that friendship may one day impart,
Is nought unexempt from decay and disease,
Deem'd worthy to share the fond hopes of the heart?

Ah! hapless Dorinda, how well couldst thou prove,
Though so fading and fleeting is everything here,
There are objects deserving of friendship and love,
Though fading and fugitive, not the less dear.

Though sorrows thrill deep the susceptible mind,
And greatly its portion of pleasure exceed,
Yet its joys and its griefs are so closely combin'd,
What bosom that feels them would wish to be freed!

Yet still do I love you, ye delicate ties,
Tho' blended with troubles your troubles are dear,
Even pleasure oft dwells in a pensive disguise,
Nor scorns the soft features of sorrow to wear."

Thus pour'd the sad Thyrsis his wild running lay,
Till darkness o'ertook him as sadly he mourn'd,
Then stealing at length from the cavern so grey,
All mournfully slow to the village return'd.

[pp. 140-42]