1773
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Poem to the Memory of John Cunningham.

A Poem to the Memory of John Cunningham, by R. Fergusson.

Robert Fergusson


A pastoral elegy for John Cunningham (1729-1773) in twenty-two anapestic quatrains. In addition to publishing his famous pastoral ballads, Cunningham was a provincial actor who performed in Edinburgh and the north of England. He died in straightened circumstances, which Fergusson alludes to in one of the standard pastoral ballad themes: "Let the favour'd of Fortune attend | To the Ails of the wretched and Poor: | Tho' Corydon's Lays could befriend, | 'Tis Riches alone that can cure" p. 7. Fergusson may have known the older poet, or he may have known others in Edinburgh who did. His poem was certainly inspired by lines "Written by Mr. Cunningham, about Three Weeks before his Death" that were reprinted in many periodicals.

Fergusson would himself die in 1774 under circumstances much worse than Cunningham's. In keeping with a tradition that began with Cunningham's verses to Shenstone, he too would be mourned in the pastoral ballad measure, including a sequence of poems that began with Charles Keith's "An Attempt towards a Pastoral Elegy to the Memory of Mr. Robert Fergusson" Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement 26 (3 November 1774) 177.

Robert Chambers: "In one department — lyrical poetry — whence Burns draws so much of his glory — Fergusson does not seem, though a singer, to have made any efforts to excel. In English poetry be utterly failed, and if we consider him in reference to his countrymen, Falconer or Logan (he received the same education as the latter), his inferior rank as a general poet will be apparent" Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:130.



Ye mournful MEANDERS and Groves,
Delight of the Muse and her Song;
Ye Grottos and dreeping Alcoves,
No Strangers to Corydon's Tongue.

Let each SYLVAN and DRYAD declare
His Themes and his Musick how dear,
Their Plaints and their Dirges prepare,
Attendant on Corydon's Bier.

The ECHO that join'd in the Lay,
So amorous, sprightly, and free,
Shall send forth the Sounds of Dismay,
And sigh with sad Pity for thee.

Wild wander his FLOCKS with the Breeze;
His REED can no longer controul;
His Numbers no longer can please,
Or send kind Relief to the Soul.

But long may they wander and bleat,
To Hills tell the Tale of their Woe;
The Woodlands the Tale shall repeat,
And the Waters shall mournfully flow.

For these were the Haunts of his Love,
The sacred Retreats of his Ease,
Where favourite Fancy would rove,
As wanton, as light, as the Breeze.

Her ZONE will discolour'd appear,
With fanciful Ringlets unbound,
A Face pale and languid she'll wear,
A Heart fraught with Sorrow profound.

The Reed of each Shepherd will mourn;
The Shades of Parnassus decay:
The Muses will dry their sad Urn,
Since 'reft of young Corydon's Lay.

To him every Passion was known
That throbb'd in the Breast with Desire;
Each gentle Affection was shown
In the soft sighing Songs of his Lyre.

Like the carroling Thrush on the Spray
In Music soft warbling and wild,
To Love was devoted each Lay,
In Accents pathetic and mild.

Let Beauty and Virtue revere,
And the Songs of the Shepherd approve,
Who felt, who lamented the Snare,
When repining at pityless Love.

The Summer but languidly gleams,
Pomona no comfort can bring,
Nor Vallies, nor Grottos, nor Streams,
Nor the May-born FLOURETS of Spring.

They have fled all with Corydon's Muse,
For his Brows to form Chaplets of woe,
Whose Reed oft awaken'd their Boughs
As the whispering Breezes that blow.

To many a fanciful Spring
His Lyre was melodiously strung;
While FAIRIES and FAUNS in a Ring
Have applauded the Swain as he sung.

To the chearful he usher'd his Smiles,
To the woeful his Sigh and his Tear;
A Condoler with Want and her Toils,
When the Voice of Oppression was near.

Tho' TITLES and WEALTH were his due,
Tho' Fortune denied the Reward;
Yet Truth and Sincerity knew
What the Goddess would never regard.

Avails ought the generous Heart,
Which Nature to Goodness design'd,
If Fortune denies to impart
Her kindly Relief to the Mind?

'Twas but faint the Relief to DISMAY,
The Cells of the wretched among;
Tho' Sympathy sung in the Lay,
Tho' Melody fell from his Tongue.

Let the favour'd of Fortune attend
To the Ails of the wretched and Poor:
Tho' Corydon's Lays could befriend,
'Tis Riches alone that can cure.

But they to Compassion are dumb,
To Pity their Voices unknown;
Near Sorrow they never can come,
'Till MISFORTUNE has mark'd them her own.

Now the Shades of the Evening depend;
Each Warbler is lull'd on the Spray;
The Cypress doth ruefully bend
Where the Corps of cold Corydon stay.

Adieu then the Songs of the Swain,
Let Peace still attend on his Shade;
And his Pipe that is dumb to his Strain,
In the Grave be with CORYDON laid.

[pp. 3-7]