1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy on a Broken Flute.

New York Magazine and Literary Repository 2 (March 1791) 171-73.

Richard Bingham Davis


A burlesque of Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard in eighteen quatrains, not signed. The poet, about to embark on a water-party on the Hudson River, discovers that his "sweetly-soothing partner" lies in ruins. This elegy might be considered part of the series of descriptive odes on small objects, imitating the manner of Gray rather than Milton and Philips. Like many poems of the era it interweaves the burlesque with the sentimental: "What, tho' no skillful hand, with perfect art, | Rais'd high thy pow'r, while list'ning crowds admir'd, | 'Twas thine with simple notes to cheer my heart, | Or tell the passions which that heart inspir'd." The memoir in Davis's posthumous Poems (1807) paints a pleasing portrait of a sentimental melancholiac who died in the flower of his youth.

Note in Poems: "A note in the MS of Mr. Davis mentions that this was the earliest production of his muse" (1807) 1."



The sun, departing, sheds his latest ray,
And gleams o'er Hudson's wave a short adieu;
Sweet ev'ning now begins her milder sway—
The distant landscape slowly sinks from view.

From yonder barque, that gently moves along,
With sails scarce trembling from the dying gale,
Th' echoing instrument and sprightly song,
With sweetest sounds the raptur'd ear assail.

There join a social band, the gay, the fair,
Who leave the pleasures of the verdant fields,
With looks of joy and hearts devoid of care,
To taste the varied pleasures Neptune yields.

Fain would I too the happy concert join,
But cruel fate to me this bliss denied,
Forbids to taste those joys which once were mine—
My flute, my fav'rite flute in ruin lies.

The gay companion of my happier hours,
The sweetly-soothing partner of my pain,
Lies shatter'd now — lost are its tuneful pow'rs—
Gone — never to delight the heart again.

Sweet instrument! long to thy master dear,
And long delightful, till this luckless day;
From him thy fate demands the grateful tear,
And to thy worth he owes the votive lay.

In vain with anxious breath I fondly strive
Thy once delightful warblings to restore;
Th' imperfect sounds the painful thought revive,
Of what thou wast, but what thou art no more.

No iv'ry tips thy slender form adorn'd,
No silver key with pompous lustre shone;
All dazzling, useless ornaments were scorn'd—
Thy merit center'd in thyself alone.

What, tho' no skillful hand, with perfect art,
Rais'd high thy pow'r, while list'ning crowds admir'd,
'Twas thine with simple notes to cheer my heart,
Or tell the passions which that heart inspir'd.

With care bewilder'd, or oppress'd with grief,
Oft have I felt thy soul-enliv'ning pow'rs;
Thy gentle notes could bring me sweet relief,
And cast a radiance o'er my gloomiest hours:

Or, when with gayer thoughts my bosom glow'd,
When fortune favour'd, or when Emma smil'd,
Thy notes, responsive to my feelings, flow'd,
With joy exalted, or with rapture wild.

But when requir'd to join the tender song,
They softer strains were call'd the fair to please,
Sweet as my Emma's voice they flow'd along,
And gentle as the summer-ev'ning's breeze.

No more thy soothing notes shall lull my pains,
No more thy chearful airs my joys increase,
No more shall Emma praise thy tender strains,
For now thy music must forever cease.

Ah! whither is thy gentle spirit fled?
(For spirit sure thou hast, tho' now 'tis gone,
Thy body lifeless like the human dead)—
Say, where transported — to what world unknown?

Perhaps some envious daemon, music's foe,
By malice strengthen'd, and by hell employ'd,
Urg'd the unlucky hand that laid thee low,
And thus, at once thy tuneful soul destroy'd.

Or else, 'tis gone to those bright worlds of air,
(In Indian fables sung) where souls assume
The shadowy forms of what on earth they were,
And shine forever in Elysian bloom.

Wherever gone, destruction shall not give
Thy much-lov'd mem'ry to oblivion's pow'r:
Thy master has a heart — there shalt thou live,
There shalt thou flourish till his latest hour.

Perhaps, ev'n then, when call'd to worlds of joy,
He'll meet thee there; again his numbers raise,
And 'midst seraphic hosts thy sounds employ,
In heav'n-taught accents of eternal praise.

[pp. 171-73]