1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Melancholy.

Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany 7 (March1788) 230.

Anonymous


An allegorical ode on melancholy and poetic composition in four irregular stanzas, not signed: "Thus then, O Melancholy! o'er my lays | Thy saintly veil of sadness throw; | And give my numbers, void of art, | To touch the thought, to reach the heart. | And bid the tear of Pity flow." Modeled on Milton's Il Penseroso, this anonymous ode is a cento of familiar images and epithets from Shakespeare, Milton, and Collins. The third stanza imitates (not to say plagiarizes) the Milton passage in Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character: "Teach me to build the lofty rhime, | And lift my daring song sublime | To that unequall'd pitch of thought, | Which once the seraph, Milton, caught, | When rapt in his immortal theme, | He mus'd, by Siloa's hallow'd stream." That "boon" being denied, the poet proposes to imitate instead Gray's Elegy and Goldsmith's The Deserted Village. Gray and Goldsmith were the poetic cynosure of the periodical poets of the era.



Sister of soft-ey'd Pity, hail!
Say, in what deep-sequester'd vale,
Thy head upon thy hand reclin'd,
Sitt'st thou to watch the last faint gleams of light;
To mark the grey mists sail along the wind,
And shadows dim that veil the brow of night!
Or 'neath some rock abrupt and steep,
Hear'st from many a murky cloud,
Blue light'nings flash by fits, and pealing loud
The solemn thunder shakes th' aerial hall?
Or, lonely loit'ring o'er the plain,
See'st thou the glimm'ring landscape fade,
And bidd'st the soul-commanding lyre
Some such magic numbers chuse
As love and tenderness inspire,
And Heav'n's own calm around diffuse,
Till the sorrow-soothing strain
On the rapt ear with nectar'd sweetness fall,
List'ning; and held in mute Attention's chain,
And all the soul dissolv'd and fainting lie
In Rapture's holy trance, and heav'nly ecstacy?

O teach me, Nymph, retir'd and coy,
That lasting and substantial joy
From peace of mind and sweet content that springs;
And cast thy milder tints o'er all
That may my wilder'd feet befall,
While thro' this vale of tears I go!—
But never may my soul those sorrows know,
Which shook from bleak Misfortune's wings,
Blast all the bloom of life, and wide diffuse
Their cold ungenial damps on Fancy and the Muse.
Nor yet permit my steps to stray
Where on the river's marge sits wild Despair
Wistfully gazing on the fearful deep;
Whose looks the dark resolve declare,
Whose horrid thoughts have murder'd sleep:
Hence too that other fiend, whose eye-balls glare
Madness, who loudly laughs when others weep,
And fiercely stalks around, and shakes his chain:
Hence, far away, ye hideous train;
Go, join the shrieking Stygian crew,
Or there, where Furies in their bow'r
Watch the dreadful midnight-hour,
Hung o'er the taper dim and furnace blue;
But ne'er with madd'ning steps invade
The Muses' consecrated shade,
Or bid her soothing Numbers cease
To bless the tranquil hour of Peace;
Where Love and Joy their sabbath keep,
Whom Rapture only taught to weep.

Come then, with Fancy by thy side,
In all thy robes of flowing state,
To Genius evermore allay'd,
On whom the pensive Pleasures wait;
Teach me to build the lofty rhime,
And lift my daring song sublime
To that unequall'd pitch of thought,
Which once the seraph, Milton, caught,
When rapt in his immortal theme,
He mus'd, by Siloa's hallow'd stream;
But since this boon must be deny'd,
Be mine that solemn dirge of woe
Breath'd from the tender lyre of Gray,
To pour 'midst rustic tombs his polish'd lay;
Th' historic draught shall never fade,
And many a youth, to fame unknown,
Shall bend beneath the yew tree's shade,
To trace the line that marks his stone;
There shall the village maids be seen
Where the forefathers of the hamlet sleep;
And while the muse records the scene,
Hang o'er their turf-clad graves and weep;
Oblivion's rude and wasteful hand
Shall ne'er this little group efface;
For Time shall bid the colours stand,
And lend their charms a finish'd grace.

Nor yet where Auburn crowns the smiling vale,
Pass, thou 'lorn maid, unheeding by;
Where yon poor matron tells her tale,
And points to the inquiring eye,
Where once her little mansion stood,
Shelter'd by a neighb'ring wood;
Recording in her homely phrase
The simple joys of former days:
Thus then, O Melancholy! o'er my lays
Thy saintly veil of sadness throw;
And give my numbers, void of art,
To touch the thought, to reach the heart.
And bid the tear of Pity flow;
For if the muse may e'er unblam'd design,
Or if her hand can colour ought;
'Tis when thy spirit prompts the line,
Gives manliness to verse, and energy to thought.

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