The Pleasures of Variety, a Poetical Essay.

The Port Folio NS 8 (December 1812) 648-54


A blank-verse descriptive ode, not signed. The title suggests that this poem in a Philadelphia literary journal is part of the series imitating Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination. It is on a smaller scale, of course, and the argument exists merely for the sake of the description. The formal structure of The Pleasures of Variety seems to be modeled on that of Milton's Il Penseroso, which is accommodated to the manner of Akenside and the poems on the pleasures that were so popular at this time.

The poem opens with a rural landscape, with reflections on pleasing variety of "Objects innumerous," leading to an invocation of Evening: "Veil'd in a robe | Of sable hue, the rayless goddess walks | The dun expanse etherial, and allures, | With the soft music of the tuneful spheres, | Lone Contemplation from her hermit cell" p. 650. Retiring, the poet gives himself over to the reign of fancy, and then to historical recollection of ancient times. Travelers enjoy exotic landscapes, like witnessing a volcanic eruption, or, for contrast, vineyards and Icelandic geysers. "Now the constituted forms, | Perhaps, of government his thoughts direct, | T' observe their various tendencies" p. 651. Then too, there is the scientific appreciation of nature, the pleasures of the botanist and the astronomer: "Thus, from thine influence, sweet Variety! | Our numerous pleasures spring" p. 654.

The Power, enliv'ning, whose unbounded reign
Spreads, ever varying, whereso'er the sun—
Or with his rising, or his setting beam—
Wide, glancing, gilds this universal round;
The Muse, excursive, now presumes to sing.
High on the summit of you eastern hill,
That bath'd with ceaseless dews, or whelm'd in snows,
Lifts to the stars his dauntless brow sublime,
Fancy her station takes; and, casting o'er
The wide horizon round, her ardent gaze,
Dwells with delight upon the various scene.
Here winds, illusive, the retiring vale
Bosom'd in willows: there green hills ascend:
The mountain yonder verges to the skies,
Leaving the hills behind; whose bosom's swell,
Seems from th' exalted promontory's top
(Such the vast distance to the tow'ring point)
A flattened surface, level with the plain.
Here, charg'd with plenty, groan the burthen'd plains—
Fruit of unwearied toil. Full many a sun,
Circling, had smil'd on man's assiduous care,
Ere the kind earth, with generous return,
Had spread her golden lap. The farmer views,
Joyful, the favours of th' All-bounteous Hand,
And, grateful, breathes his orisons to Heaven
Beneath the foot of yonder branching elm,
Whose dim-seen form scarce strikes the straining eye,
First springs the infant wave. See how it swells;
Increasing still, as still the volume rolls;
From each o'ertaken stream, gathering new force;
Till, spurning all control of shore or mound
Opposing, wide it breaks upon the land,
With force resistless, roaring to the main.
O! too descriptive of the angry mind!
Urged by inhuman passions, rage and hate,
Revenge and jealousy, the wildered soul,
That should have cherished other feelings far,
And felt restraint from Virtue's frown severe,
Swells like the torrent, blasting every joy!
Here, too, with freshest verdure, glows the lawn;
Oft on this spot, in frolic mirth, are seen,
Happy, and reckless of impending fate,
The shepherd's fleecy pride. Bounding they roam,
In gay confusion, round th' encircling hill;
Now browsing silent here, or there engaged
In sport fantastic, variegate the scene.
'Tis Nature's pleasure to delight with change.
Where'er we bend our view, incessant rise
Objects innumerous, various in their form
And nature; some by Providence designed,
Man's wants, imperious, to supply; and, some,
No higher honour claiming, than to please.
Nor is thine influence, fair Variety!
Alone employed, to decorate and charm
This lovely scene exterior. Day and night,
By ceaseless revolution of our sphere
Diurnal, bring with light, or softer shade
(To rouse to action, or to lull to peace)
Alternate pleasures, and serene repose!
O! sweet the approach of Evening's presence mild,
Slow rising in the East. Veil'd in a robe
Of sable hue, the rayless goddess walks
The dun expanse etherial, and allures,
With the soft music of the tuneful spheres,
Lone Contemplation from her hermit cell.

The scene is stillness all, and fit for thought,
Composure's choicest gift! Hush'd each soft note
Of tuneful bird, that all the livelong day,
Mid flowering umbrage, or on soaring wing,
Descanted amorous; nor is ever heard
Beneath these western skies, the tender strain
(That, sympathetic, wakes each bosom's thrill)
Of lovely Philomela, Evening's pride!

Hence let me haste to share the tranquil hour,
And pierce you deep'ning wood. Ye dusky clouds,
That wave your heavy pinions through the skies,
On whose soft down descends the dewy eve,
Spread all your darkness round. I love your gloom,
That gives sweet intimation of release
From studious toil. Now, o'er the busy mind,
Continual flitting, Fancy kindles up
Her magic forms, and spreads the fairy feast.
Life's rugged surface, now, to the fond eye,
Sweetly delusive, fair Elysium seems,
Where Peace perennial reigns. No jarring sounds
Discordant rise, nor Pain her horrent crest
And tortured visage dares presume to rear.
No ruthless passion, o'er the placid scene,
Bears her destructive sway — insatiate Strife,
Injustice foul, Oppression's iron power,
Deceit ungenerous, and the countless ills
That vex mankind, can find no entrance here,
Where all is sweet serenity and joy!
Thus to the willing soul, in musing lost,
Does Fancy picture scenes of future bliss:
She, pleased with the enchantment, courts the fond
Though vain illusion, nor conceives the thought,
That all the lovely picture, blooming gay,
Is but the penciling of an idle dream.
Now themes of other import lure the mind,
Freed from the wild delusions Fancy framed.
Vigorous and bold she prunes her ardent wing,
And darting back through ages, whose dull toll
Funereal, long has ceas'd, and over shades
Of fallen empires, glorious once in war,
In wisdom fam'd, her eye wide-roving flings.
And now alighting where the Roman arm,
Invincible, o'er all the Ausonian realms
Bore unresisted sway; or, farther still,
Where once Achaia's sons, renowned race,
When Happiness primeval blest the world,
Pass'd their unblemish'd lives; incessant throng
Around the musing mind, innumerous thoughts
Of ancient virtue, ancient valour, truth
Inflexible, of manners pure and free,
And all the glories of those "prime of days;"
Till with th' attractive scene delighted, charm'd,
We dwell upon the view, and much lament
Its alter'd state; but more the fatal cause
That hurled its glories down, and midst the wreck
Of general ruin, not a vestige leaves,
That Hope may gild with her reviving rays.
Thus glide the evening hours. The mind refresh'd
From the hard toil of the industrious day
(Whatever occupation claim'd its care)
Freed and released, with the first matin note
Rising, again th' unwearied course renews,
Variety imparting all the charm.
Familiarized to scenes where youth has pass'd
Its pleasing moments, charm'd no longer now
With objects whose accustomed forms present
The same unvaried view, the traveller,
In quest of novelty in other climes,
Resigns his home and traverses the globe.
Now, on his captivated vision rise
Scenes, where 'tis Nature's pleasure to display,
Wond'rous, the efforts of her mighty hand;
Or, tranquillizing every sense to joy,
Lavishes beauty on the landscape round.
Perhaps, the fierce volcano now allures
His wandering steps. What wild commotions thrill
His agitated bosom, when aloft
On some high cliff, far from the burning scene
Terrific, seated, bursts the flaming cloud
Sulphureous, darting swift its upward flight,
Then rolling off, sway'd by some wind sea risen,
Shakes o'er the nations terror and dismay!
While down the ravag'd side incessant roll
Torrents of sulphurous lava, rocks and trees,
Commingling, o'er the devastated realm!
Caught from the view horrific, fairer scenes
Luxuriant smile; of cultivated fields,
Vineyards wide blushing, gardens, olive groves,
And every flower, that loads the heathful gale,
With odoriferous freshness. A soft calm
Steals o'er his bosom, recompensing sweet,
For the wild terrors of the thund'rous roar,
With gay complacence and enliven'd joy.
Or, should he, venturous, seek those regions, where
Whelm'd in perennial snows, or bound in frost,
Drear Iceland floats upon the polar main;
There, too, are objects that sublime the soul—
There Giesar roars — Fierce as volcanic flames
From Etna or Vesuvius bursting wild,
The fire-vexed fountain, from encavern'd rock,
Hurls his hot streams against a frozen sky.
Meantime, loud bellowing o'er the troubled scene,
Bursts on the astounded ear the roaring swell
Of mingling sounds beneath, resembling most
The dashing of some distant torrent's fall,
Impetuous raging down stupendous rocks,
Hurl'd from some height sublime. The traveller hears
The wildering noise, amazed; while, on his eye,
Enormous swells the horrid prospect round,
The city's thronging multitudes, perhaps,
Next strike his roving eye. Around him swells
Boasting superior excellence and strength,
High towering castles, palaces, and fanes,
Built by some ancient master of renown.
Innumerous objects on his busied mind
Press endless. Now the constituted forms,
Perhaps, of government his thoughts direct,
T' observe their various tendencies, to mark
Their virtues and defects, and thence educe
Whate'er may profit or adorn his own.
Or, now, with closer observation, loves
Their customs, arts, and manners to review;
To trace their progress, or their difference mark
From those of other countries; and in all
Finds a variety that recommends
Each novel object, trivial or sublime,
And fills his bosom with increas'd delight.
Thus, from thine influence, sweet Variety!
Our numerous pleasures spring. Thou lead'st us on,
As roams from flow'r to flow'r th' industrious bee,
Satiate with one, to other scenes of joy,
And bid'st us range them all. By thy kind hand
Guided, inquisitive, the florist roams
Through Nature's boundless garden, pleasing task
To cull her endless beauties. Led by thee
Th' observing naturalist new wonders finds
In all her works. The ingenious chemist, too,
Who loves to penetrate her secret depths
Discovering all her treasured stores; and he
Whose optic search, beyond this lower sphere
Terrestrial, sparing midst celestial worlds,
Not heav'n's immense circuity confines.
Wak'd by thy presence, things indiff'rent else
And sure to be unnotic'd, or, perhaps,
Rejected in disdain, possess a charm,
That renders them to all acceptable,
And objects of delight: by thee adorn'd
Things in themselves unpleasing often please;
Deprived of thee, pleasures soon please no more!

[pp. 648-54]