1802
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Powers of Painting.

Poems on Various Subjects, by Thomas Dermody.

Thomas Dermody


An allegorical ode in imitation of Collins's Ode on the Passions, the subject being adapted to the visual arts. Within his beech-tree grove, Painting essays a portrait of the maid Fancy, calling to his aid his associate powers. They appear in a sequence of allegorical figures: Design, Light and Shade, Costume (identified in a note), Science, Memory, and Historic Truth, Expression, and Colouring. While the ode rather trails off at the end, this is a highly-finished poem by Thomas Dermody's standards, and an attractive variation on Collins's musical theme. Possibly we are to imagine the Powers of Painting as made up into a kind of group portrait as opposed to an ode for music. Compare Leigh Hunt's Progress of Painting published the previous year.

Monthly Magazine: "There is a display of so much taste and genius in this little volume, that we anticipated with pleasure the productions of Mr. Dermody's maturer years. Alas! the hand of Death has fallen upon him; but his memory will, we understand, be rescued from oblivion by the friendly hand of Mr. Raymond" 15 (Supplement, 1803) 637.

Critical Review: "The shorter pieces are mere trifles. The author evidently writes with facility; and we suspect he publishes all he writes. Many complimentary lines to living authors are inserted, and these are always more creditable to his good-nature than his judgment. The ludicrous poems are miserably bad" NS 37 (January 1803) 52.



From HYPERION'S purple Wain,
Pendent o'er the western main,
Twinkling thro' the twilight shade,
Arrowey lines of splendor play'd;
Silence, on her pinion clos'd,
Deaf to sorrow's wail, repos'd,
Save, that where fresher buds betray
The silver streamlet's sinewy way,
A Naiad, all to song unknown,
With moist heel slipp'd from stone to stone,
And stole adown the haunted dale,
To chide the tardy Nightingale;
When, his beechen bow'r beneath,
Hung with many a field-flow'r wreath,
Pensive PAINTING, first, essay'd
The semblance of a fav'rite maid:
FANCY! — whom he, oft, had seen,
Nymph-like, tripping o'er the green,
Richly dight in varied hues,
(By her side the tendant Muse,)
What time, with heav'n's own dyes imprest,
The glitt'ring Rainbow zon'd her breast.
Artless, first, the sketch began;
Rude the pencil's early plan;
'Till from the waving wood behind,
Whose foliage shook without a wind,
Proud to fan his genuine flame,
The pitying Pow'rs of PAINTING came.

First, in decent garb array'd,
Succint with pearly clasp her stole,
Slow advanc'd a meek-ey'd Maid,
And curb'd the workings of his soul;
With easy grace her state she mov'd;
Each fault her patient touch improv'd;
The long, luxuriant line,
She gave with chaster charm to flow;
And, from her blue cloud's ruby-tinctur'd glow,
Pleas'd BEAUTY, stooping, smil'd upon DESIGN.

Next appear'd a twin-like Pair;
One, flush'd with bloom, divinely fair,
Dusky one, of negro-race,
Yet amiable either face;
Quick they thrid the checquer'd maze,
Borrowing still, and lending aid,
While the mellowing tint betrays,
The sweet diversity of LIGHT and SHADE.

But who is she, exactly drest,
With classic care, in ATTIC vest!
Her slender leg with buskin bound:
And now, still changing as she turns,
Bright on her starry front the turban burns,
Anon, with ROMAN casque, or INDIAN plumage crown'd;
Behind her follow, SCIENCE, daring youth!
And taleful MEM'RY, and HISTORIC TRUTH.

But oh! how rich the bosom-shrine,
Op'ning to thy pure possession,
Thou! whose eyes so softly shine,
How they languish! — fond EXPRESSION!
On the finish'd piece they pour
Saintly-fading gleams of glory;
O'er each scene, and o'er each story,
Breathing an irradiate show'r:
Whether, (fair COLOURING ardent by thy side,)
On opal tow'r thou fling'st thy moonlight-beam;
Or tinge the murd'rer's poignard, slaughter-dy'd,
And shed strange horrors on the sanguine stream;
Or, inly bleeding, while he bends to trace
The sacred scroll of long-remember'd woe;
Thy spell anneals the tears, that, ling'ring, flow,
Down the pale ruins of the Lover's face!

[pp. 68-71]