1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Nocturnal Excursion of Fancy. A Rhapsody.

Gentleman's Magazine 16 (February 1746) 102-03.

Anonymous


A descriptive ode in blank verse, not signed. The inspiration for this poem is Milton's Il Penseroso, as appears from passages alluding to the mystical grove at the beginning and conclusion of the poem. The manner, however, derives more from the blank-verse, geographic rhapsodies of Savage, Ralph, and Thomson, a mode recently revived in Joseph Warton's The Enthusiast and Mark Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination, both published in 1744. It would be difficult to find a better example of Warton's notion of "pure poetry" than The Nocturnal Excursion of Fancy. As Warton expressed the idea in the preface to his Odes (1746): "he is convinced that the fashion of moralizing in verse has been carried too far, and ... he looks upon Invention and Imagination to be the chief faculties of a Poet."

In sleep the poet encounters Fancy: "The goddess rested on a shadowy cloud, | Whose lap the moon with ever-changing forms | Joy'd to diversify." Together they circumnavigate the Mediterranean, cataloguing mountains, rivers, and deserts before alighting on Mount Atlas, where "from the hanging steep the Goddess view'd | Fortunate isles, and happy fields, like gems, | That grace the bosom of the boundless deep." Following a watercourse, they descend into a fabulous grove, the contents of which fill much of the second part of the poem, including a catalogue of trees: "The poplar tall, that fears the wand'ring sun; | The spiring fir, with silver verdure crown'd; | The flow'ry lime, that feeds th' industrious bee; | The genial platan, friend to social joy; | The spreading beech, whose shade the shepherd loves." As the trees give way to flowers, the poet enters a bower where he is met by a fantastic figure: "as she mov'd | Her graceful steps, and turn'd her rosy neck, | Shining refulgent, her ambrosial hair | Drop'd heav'nly fragrance o'er the flow'ry vale." This proves to be Aurora, heralding the coming of day and the conclusion of the vision.



Still night inclos'd the world in gentle shade,
Grateful to man and beast; when sacred Sleep
With purple pinions waving o'er my head
Shed sweet oblivion from his dewy wing.
Now FANCY loves, with imitation wild,
To mock the labours of the busy day;
And oft forsaking the low ground, ascends
Aloft, and wanton plays in distant worlds.
The goddess rested on a shadowy cloud,
Whose lap the moon with ever-changing forms
Joy'd to diversify. With easy course
Sublime she glided thro' the quiet sky,
Wide o'er the subject globe no sound was heard,
But the soft lapse of murm'ring waters down
The lonely thicket, where the wakeful bird
Sings to the list'ning grove her mournful strain.
Now rocky Taurus rears his shaggy head,
White with eternal snow; and far below,
Thro' Spring's mild realms, Euphrates rolls his flood;
Impatient Tygris rushing from the hills
Shoots his swift stream sonorous to the north.
The goddess turns her cloudy car, and views
Th' inhospitable deep, and, on the shore,
Th' imperial city, whose aspiring tow'rs
Shine with the fav'ring moon. Thy sacred groves,
Parnassus, o'er the spring of Helicon
Then wave aloft their everlasting green.
Next high Olympus tow'rs above the storms,
And Octa's rocks frown on the foaming waves.
Then, from the realms of science, o'er the flood
Resounding on the hoarse Calabrian shore,
She, hov'ring, counts the haughty hills
Where tow'r'd the nurse of heroes, lofty Rome.
From Tuscan Tyber, and the fruitful plains
Of Latium, o'er the Middle Sea she soars.
The light wave trembles to the moon; the gales
Fan with soft wings the brow of careless Sleep;
Beneath her flight the goddess leaves the fields
Of Aegypt, where the stream of bounteous Nile
Revives the sacred glebe; the dreary waste
Of Lybia, and the dry Getulian sands,
Where Atlas rears his lofty brow, and sees
All Afric burning underneath his feet.
Here the tall mountain lifts its secret top
Amidst the stars, and props th' incumbent sky.
Around his head incessant roars the storm;
Still swells the pile of undissolving snow.
The middle, woods adorn, whose lofty shade
Darkens, with everlasting night, the realms
Where Silence dreams secure, and widely spreads
Gorgonian horror thro' the black profound.
Below, the gushing torrents from the rock,
Or thro' the windings of the hollow cave,
Impetuous rush, or down the craggy steep
Foam furious, and awake the whirlwind's ire.
Now thunder roars, and the red lightning flames;
Now the sapp'd rock with hideous ruin falls.
But from the hanging steep the Goddess view'd
Fortunate isles, and happy fields, like gems,
That grace the bosom of the boundless deep,
As when a star, when moist Arcturus sets,
Shoots thro' the liquid air the lengthening blaze,
And draws a trail of brightness thro' the sky;
The Goddess so, smooth gliding thro' the air,
Drop'd swiftly down into the nether world.
Fruitful it bloom'd with every tree and flow'r
That decks the sunny bank, or wat'ry dale,
Which sacred Nature, with indulgent hand,
Bounteous had planted in the grateful soil;
Hesperian garden fair. The swelling buds,
On the same bough, where op'ning blossoms breath'd,
Hasten'd the fruit mature. The downy plumb,
And purple fig on unprun'd branches smil'd.
Of juice nectareous hung the clust'ring grape
On slender twig, and, clasping round the stem,
Ambitious climbs the friendly elm; the peach
And golden orange, with their fragrant load,
Bended the trees delicious: and more fair
The fatal apple, with temptation fond,
Which the first Venus gave the cred'lous man,
Deceiving and deceiv'd. Thro' groves to light
Impenetrable, down the hollow stone
The torrent flows unwearied, and awhile
Roars down the steep, but soon remits his course,
And softly gliding thro' the painted lawn,
O'er golden sands, plays slow, with wanton waves.
Here, from her verdant lap, the fruitful earth
Display'd her flow'ry pomp. The lilly chaste,
The od'rous violet, and the blushing rose;
The proud carnation, and the pale-ey'd pink;
And, intermingled in the meadow's green,
Soft daisies sprinkled o'er the grassy vale,
As scatter'd stars adorn the vary'd sky.
On either side a grove aerial wav'd
The poplar tall, that fears the wand'ring sun;
The spiring fir, with silver verdure crown'd;
The flow'ry lime, that feeds th' industrious bee;
The genial platan, friend to social joy;
The spreading beech, whose shade the shepherd loves;
The palm victorious rear'd her lofty head;
And, nodding pompous o'er th' inferior wood,
The stately cedar, and the lasting oak.
In the thick shade innumerable birds
Tun'd their soft notes, with native joy inspir'd,
While thro' the trembling branches Zephyr mild,
With pleasing force unfolding ev'ry flow'r,
Spreads the fresh odour of reviving spring.
Here in the secret grove, where woodbine sweet,
And jasmin intermingling, twin'd a bower,
A lovely form appear'd; and, as she mov'd
Her graceful steps, and turn'd her rosy neck,
Shining refulgent, her ambrosial hair
Drop'd heav'nly fragrance o'er the flow'ry vale;
Beneath her feet the crocus, and the rose
Mix'd their bright hues o'er all the smiling ground.
One of the naked sisters, or the queen
Of charms and smiles, she seem'd, and in her hair
Soft Pleasure clap'd her many-colour'd wings.
Her chearful presence gladden'd every heart;
The birds their songs redoubled, and, with joy
Unbounded, pour'd their rapt'rous strains, and hail'd
The Goddess, who reveals the chearful day.
Awak'd I join'd the grateful choir, and hail'd
Aurora, who reveals the chearful day.
She rising slow her heavenly road began,
And with chaste blushes ting'd the rosy sky.

Hail, GODDESS! always let me meet thy smile
With eager eyes, nor rush with tim'rous guilt
To shun the light, and linger in the gloom.

[pp. 102-03]