1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elfin Eclogues.

Poems by Thomas Townshend, Esq.

Thomas Townshend


A collection of three fairy eclogues in which the usual heroic measure is shortened to octosyllabic, though large passions course through this diminished world. In the first two eclogues the fairy kingdom is adapted from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, though in the third the pranks take on a much more wicked character apparently drawn from Irish folklore. The poems assume different forms, though the immortal nature of the characters presumably excluded the possibility of an elfin elegy. This first edition of Thomas Townshend's poems was published in Dublin; the second edition was published in London (1796) with vignettes of the fairies engraved by Thomas Stothard. Much of volume consists of allegorical odes.

In the first eclogue the fairy king and queen discover the fair Julia asleep in the woods and decide to keep watch through the night. The queen bids the owls and toads stand off, while the king bids Oberon to send her pleasant dreams: "Swift e'er yonder nightingale | Closes her last-warbled tale, | Quickly from her dying throat | Wrest her softest melting note; | Hither quick as thought appear, | Drop it in fair Julia's ear, | So shall it her bosom move | To the sighing joys of love" pp. 97-98. The fairies disperse with the coming of dawn.

The second eclogue is a lover's complaint with a variable refrain. Puck, charmed at the sight of Mella's charms, has loitered about his business: "When to the Elfin court return'd, | At my delay our monarch burn'd, | And raving seiz'd me chill'd with dread, | And hurl'd me o'er a tulip's head, | Haply a thistle's floating down | Preserv'd the safety of my crown" p. 104. He is scourged and banished, though the fair Mella, who originally scorned his affection, returns to relieve his affliction.

The third eclogue is a kind of boasting contest; as the storm howls, Swart and Mildew relate some of the murderous pranks they have played on unweeting mortals, among them substituting a changeling for Thyrsis new-born child: "I by mandate of our Queen | Stole away the babe unseen; | And to Collin's rustic dame | Swiftly with the boy I came, | Chang'd him for her hair-lip'd son; | Back to Thyrsis then did run" p. 118. The revelry breaks off with the coming of morning.

Critical Review: "This volume consists of Elfin Eclogues, Odes, and Elegiac Odes. The superstitious belief of fairies has been so richly adorned by the sportive fancy of Drayton, and wilder imagination of Shakspeare, that the modern writer who would avail himself of it, can expect little honour from the comparison. In these poems we have indeed the costume of the elfin tribe; they 'bound with the rose's damask head;' they light their fairy ring with glow-worms; they lie in the flower-bud, and rifle the blossoms of their odour. But all this has been said before, and said better. If Mr. Townshend has represented these beings in new situations, they are such as do not belong to them: the mischief which they should commit is merry mischief, such as will make the reader smile; not such acts of malignant cruelty as will make him shudder" Review of Poems (1797) NS 22 (February 1798) 185.



ECLOGUE I.
KING, QUEEN, OBERON, ATTENDANT FAIRIES.
SCENE, A BLOOMING WILD. — TIME, NIGHT.

KING.
Now the lazy bat-wing'd night
Creeps along in limping plight,
And the star-enlighten'd green
Brightens in its dewy sheen,
Come my spirits light and gay,
Wake the fairy roundelay.

QUEEN.
O'er the cups of hare-bells blue,
Draining drops of pearly dew,
Round the roses damask head
On we bound with frolic tread;
O'er th' unbending pearly blade
Lightly trip each Elfin maid;
Round the honey-suckle sweet
Brisk we go on nimble feet,
Waking there the glutton bee
As we wander merrily;
O'er the sheety lake we go,
Revellers with unwet toe.

OBERON.
Hush the timbrel and the lute,
Fairy voices now be mute;
Where you breathing roses twine
With the mellow eglantine,
Creeping round the myrtle shed,
Lo! a nymph reclines her head,
Lull'd on little flow'rets gay,
Who breathe their fragrant lives away;
Minstrels quaint conclude the song,
Round the sleeping beauty throng.

KING.
Hush! each forward Elfin tread
Back each busy prying head,
Lo! 'tis Julia slumbers here,
To the piping shepherd dear,
Sweetest of the mortal train,
Gladd'ning all the noon-day plain.

QUEEN.
Hence away my fairy ring,
Thousand glow-worms hither bring,
Hang them round on every flow'r;
Gaily light this little bow'r.
Come now gentle elves and peep,
Sunk she lies in balmy sleep.

OBERON.
See the melting light which flies
From her haply half-clos'd eyes,
Glancing o'er the rose's head,
Paints it with a lovelier red.
See the playful dimples sleek,
Softly circling o'er her cheek,
While each angel witching grace
Idly wanders o'er her face,
And the archer tribes of love
O'er its sweets unarm'd rove.

KING.
Lo! the lily pluck'd doth rest,
Envious on her whiter breast,
While these jealous roses seek
To gaze the blushes from her cheek—
Mark her limbs of peerless grace
Vying with her powers of face—
Airy tribes around her stand,
Ne'er was seen in fairy land,
Beauties such as here display'd,
Sweetly deck this mortal maid.

QUEEN.
All my virgin elves away,
Cull me visions light and gay,
Soothing dreams light-handed spread
Round the sleeping beauty's head.

KING.
Soft, before her fancy's eye
Let her true-love shepherd sigh,
Let her know his anxious fears,
Let her see his streaming tears.
Swift e'er yonder nightingale
Closes her last-warbled tale,
Quickly from her dying throat
Wrest her softest melting note;
Hither quick as thought appear,
Drop it in fair Julia's ear,
So shall it her bosom move
To the sighing joys of love.

QUEEN.
Screaming owl on pinion gray,
And the flitting bat away;
Wreathing snakes with spotted crest
Hiss not to disturb her rest;
Beetles hum not in her ear,
Panting toads now come not near;
Angry spirit of the wild
Shrieking fright not beauty's child,
But let sleep from velvet wing
O'er the maid her soft dews fling.

KING.
Linnets piping in soft lay
Slumber on this flow'ry spray;
Red-breast come with liquid throat
Trill in dreams thy little note;
And 'bove all sweet philomel,
In this flower-inwoven cell,
Sing the lingering night away
In thy most enchanting lay.
Three times round this virgin fair
Trip my elves with silent care;
Duck the daisy-crowned head,
Myrtle dews around her spread,
Strew the vivid blossoms gay,
Pilfer'd from the lap of May;
Thus as circling round we go,
Now the guarding spell I throw,
Which endow'd with magic charm
Shall keep the maid from midnight harm.
List thee, OBERON, thy care,
Let it be to guard this fair,
Ever as an elfin friend
On her wandering steps attend;
Turn her eye from Vice's road,
And to Virtue's bright abode
Guide her with unerring tread,
Ne'er by cheating views misled;
And to tender thought inclin'd
Ever turn her gentle mind;
On her cheek let oft appear
Life's sweet pearl-Pity's tear;
So, her shepherd true shall find
Julia's not more fair than kind;
And — but lo! the morning gleam
Silvers o'er the bubbling stream,
And the rising prince of light
Gilds the robes of flying night,
While the rosy tribes of day
Smiling sweep his orient way.
Hark! the morning minstrel sings,
High unseen on struggling wings;
Come, my elves, our watch let's close,
And betake to day's repose,
Here within these buds we'll creep,
Soft to rest in fragrant sleep,
'Till the moon with gentle ray
Wake us to our pastimes gay.


ECLOGUE II.
PUCK AND MELLA.
SCENE, A WILDERNESS. — TIME, NIGHT.

PUCK.
Wide o'er the glitt'ring plains outspread
The Summer moon her lustre shed,
And thro' the spangled vault of night
Was wandering in her utmost height;
Calm sleep with downy robe around
The active powers of life had bound;
And silence pausing still'd the vale,
And bound the pinions of each gale,
When PUCK from out a violet's bell
Slow rising left his musky cell;
And thus, unus'd to wailing plight,
Sigh'd in the list'ning ear of night:—
"No elf like me did ever prove
Sad exile, and the woes of love."

While now our frolic tribes advance,
And lightly wheel the braided dance,
Thro' airy halls of moon-beams made,
Where fairy pageants are display'd,
Lo! I an exile from their sport
Must pining shun their gay resort;
Nor dare I join the gladsome ring,
Such the decree pass'd by our king.
Since speeding from the northern pole,
With glittering ice-beams which I stole
Deftly from out the studs which rest
On pale-ey'd Winter's pearly breast,
By order of our shadowy king
To deck his favourite changeling,
With MELLA fair in converse gay,
Round the earth's axle I did play,
Altho' our monarch bade me fly
Swift as a meteor thro' the sky.
But heedless of his dread command,
What wight can love's soft pow'rs withstand?
As round the horned moon I drew,
The beauteous MELLA bless'd my view,
A ray shot from an eagles eye,
Upbore her smiling thro' the sky;
With tender tales I woo'd the fair,
Long loitering on the boundless air,
'Till to the well the hast'ning night
On twilight wing quick aim'd her flight.

When to the Elfin court return'd,
At my delay our monarch burn'd,
And raving seiz'd me chill'd with dread,
And hurl'd me o'er a tulip's head,
Haply a thistle's floating down
Preserv'd the safety of my crown;
Then from a beetle's wing he cut
A thousand thongs, on each a knot,
And to a lupin's stalk me tied,
Then o'er my back dealt lashes wide—
Thou, MELLA, dewy-footed fair,
Dropt not one wish nor sigh'd one prayer,
When I was banish'd from the court,
And all the merry imps of sport,
And doomed here in woe t' abide,
And on the dappled toad to ride
Thrice yon blighted willow round,
Nor dare I pass the order'd bound.
"No Elf like me did ever prove
Such exile, and the woes of love."

Vex'd I see with envious eye
The elves their little labours ply:
Some paint the cowslip's golden head,
Some tinge the rose with newer red,
Its older dyes young fairies seek
To deck the mortal maiden's cheek,
And some gay-cheating fancies spread
Around the shepherd's love-sunk head;
Some speed the circling globe around,
Or soothe with sweetly plaintive sound
The hapless virgin's charmed ear,
And melt to hope each rising fear;
Some glide before the pilgrim hind,
While thousand terrors fill his mind;
The gentle breath of placid night
Soft sighing numbs him with affright.
But happier toils those fairies prove
Who tread the train of pensive love,
Who with their Elfin virgins stray,
And sweetly sigh the hours away,
"While I, alas! doth pining prove
Sad exile, and the woes of love."

No wayward prank now glads my mind,
To softer views, alas! inclin'd.
The gamesome clown his fears may end,
And distant revels safe attend,
Nor quake at bogs and quagmires dread,
By me no longer lanthorn led;
No dairy sour'd or pans o'erturn'd
Has late the thrifty house-wife mourn'd;
No changeling quaint with crabbed flare
The cheated mother's kiss shall share,
Nor mischiefs, such as grandames tell,
The fright'ning village tale shall swell—
Alas! unturn'd the parish mill,
Now at this fairy hour is still;
No house-dog's dreams awaken fear,
And hint the meddling fairy near,
While I, the once arch wandering sprite,
Thus mourn away the tedious night;
"No Elf like me did ever prove
Sad exile, and the woes of love."

While thus he sigh'd a silvery sound
Stole from the moon-light thicket round,
And straight to brisker measures grown,
PUCK wondering hears the lively tone,
'Till bounding from the hiding shades
Advanc'd a band of fairy maids,
Led by fair MELLA o'er the plain,
Who thus addrest her Elfin swain:

MELLA.
Thou brooding wight, long have we heard
The plaints which thou in woe prefer'd;
Ideal are the ills which move
Thy doubting breast to rail at love;
And piqued to see thy railing plight,
We've listen'd all the passing night,
Altho' we came with forward speed
To tell thee thou'rt from exile freed.
Yet here if thou wou'dst rather stay,
Sunk in false griefs — we'll hence away,
"And leave thee waiting here to prove
Sad exile, and the woes of love."

PUCK.
Herald of joy, sweet MELLA, hear,
Long to thy loving fairy dear;
That breast to faithful love most true,
Feels most its fears and sorrows too;
Forgive me all the idle woes,
My faultering tongue did now disclose:
And now releas'd from pining care,
Thus let me clasp my sheeny fair;
Now on the wings of joy let's fly,
And join our tribes e'er morning nigh,
Shoots o'er the plains her infant ray,
Or frights us with the glare of day.
"Now happy grown, no more I'll prove
Sad exile, and the woes of love."


ECLOGUE III.
NIGHT, — A RUIN.
SWART AND MILDEW.

SWART.
Now her face the moon doth shroud,
Labouring in the gloomy cloud,
And the wasting storm raves
O'er the abbey's foot-worn graves,
Seeming in the mortal ear,
Dread to utter shrieks of fear,
While the restless raven's note,
And the owl with scaring throat,
Screaming from the rocking tow'r,
Swell the horrors of the hour;
MILDEW, let us here relate
Many a wayward wicked feat,
Done by fancy or command
O'er this tempest-beaten land.

MILDEW.
SWART, agreed: do thou begin.

SWART.
In other times our Elfin king
Once by headlong passion fir'd,
Lovely Phaebe much desir'd,
And with her was often seen
On the daisy-painted green,
And at mid-day's fervid hour
In the leafy-cluster'd bower:
And her melting heart to gain
Guis'd just like her loving swain,
Damon's form he would wear,
Cheating soft the tender fair.
But it happened on a day,
Damon wandered that way,
Where our king in his disguise
Phaebe prest with vows and sighs.
I who watching close behind
Saw the luckless coming hind
Straight in Phaebe's form and air
Staid him looking softly fair.

Much of love we fondly talk'd,
While o'er vales and plains we walk'd,
And with many a glance and smile
Much I did his heart beguile.
When we gain'd a steep brook side,
Sly I dropt into the tide,
Loud imploring Damon's aid,
Quick to save his true-love maid.
Swift as lightning's rapid beam
Damon plung'd into the stream,
While I seeming down to sink,
Chang'd a zephyr gain'd the brink,
And Damqn diving swift to save
His fancied maiden, met his grave.

MILDEW.
How we fairies, arch and gay,
Laugh at drossy sons of clay!
Once when all the village boys
Shouting loud in sportive noise,
Sought a dang'rous bloomy steep,
Where the purple vi'lets peep,
'Mid wild roses sweet that shed
Fragrance, from the pendant head;
One the hopeful only care
Of a tender anxious pair,
Loveliest of the truant band,
Cull'd his flowers with daring hand;
Scrambling high above the rest,
Youthful glory in his breast,
While his sunny tresses fair
Floated in the balmy air,
On me shap'd a crumbling sod,
He in heedless ardor trod;
Quick I twitch'd him by the heel,
Down the urchin fair did reel
From rock to rock — 'till kindly death
Snatcht from his mangled form his breath.

SWART.
When the musing shepherd swain
Told in hope his counted gain,
While he saw yon russet rocks
Whiten'd o'er with nibbling flocks,
Hoarding up in fancy sage
'Gainst th' uncertain hour of age;
Unperceiv'd I mock'd his aims,
And turn'd his hopes to idle dreams;
For when gentle night came on,
And the young moon softly shone
With a fair innoxious beam,
I swell'd the rapid, pouring stream,
And down the foaming rude wash'd hills,
To torrents wild I chang'd the rills,
Sweeping with a madding sway
This woe-struck shepherd's lambs away,
While all his hopes the waters bore
Breathless o'er the delug'd shore.

MILDEW.
When Autumn with his golden hair
Smiling blest the farmer's care,
And his largely-giving hand,
In varying yellow drest the land,
As the plenty-laden grain
Chear'd the hoping village swain,
From the hedge's russet side,
Where I did unseen abide,
A deadly blighting blast I blew,
Which o'er the pregnant harvest flew;
And while I laugh'd in mischief keen,
Sad wither'd all the waving scene.

SWART.
Last when tyrant Winter's sway
Held each season sweet and gay,
In his numbing fetters bound,
And spread snowy blankness round,
As an age-bent widow'd dame
O'er the damps slow-moving came,
Press'd with charitable food,
Gather'd for her starving brood,
And with aching eager mind
Sought her lonely hut to find,
'Mid the darkness of the night
I with small deluding light
Did her wat'ry eye beguile,
And led her many a weary mile;
'Till o'er the icy-cover'd way,
Chill'd into death the wand'rer lay.
Then away with nimble tread
To her hut I laughing sped,
There the infant tribe I found,
Group'd the fading embers round,
Boding sad the parent's fate,
Wailing loud in suff'ring state;
And with sighs and streaming tears
Lisping all their little fears;
Oft they'd hang the list'ning head,
Hush'd to hear the mother's tread,
When I trampled at the door,
And amid the tempest's roar,
In her voice wou'd often cry
Loud, to make them think her nigh,
'Till wearied with this sport I flew
To seek me other frolics new,
And left these little imps of woe,
Who sunk beneath pale Famine's blow.

MILDEW.
When the bells in pealing sound
Gladly told the village round
Wealthy Thyrsis got an heir,
All his wish and all his care;
I by mandate of our Queen
Stole away the babe unseen;
And to Collin's rustic dame
Swiftly with the boy I came,
Chang'd him for her hair-lip'd son;
Back to Thyrsis then did run;
E'er the evening star askance
Twinkled thrice his gentle glance.

SWART.
When the shepherd boy at dawn
Carrol'd o'er the bright'ning lawn,
As he stept with heedless tread
On the wild bee's dulcet bed,
I who lay in pleasant calm,
Careless o'er the honied balm,
Rous'd the sadly-ruin'd bee,
And made him in anger flee
Round the boy, and vengeful cling
On his cheek with pointed sting,
'Till his face blue-swoll'n grown,
The youth bewail'd with many a groan.

MILDEW.
Lately down the winding vale
Julia felt the evening gale,
While within a willow bow'r
Piping at that gentle hour,
In a soften'd melting strain
Sate her tender loving swain,
And anon with lab'ring tongue
The beauteous maiden's praise he sung.
When each other they espied,
Julia blush'd, the shepherd sigh'd;
Sorrow touch'd her soften'd breast,
On which I embliss'd did rest—
Pity rising, I kept down,
O'er her face I spread a frown;
His pipe he broke and sped away,
The maiden wou'd have bade him stay;
As she call'd him with a sigh,
I chang'd the sounds, and bade him fly.

SWART.
Hark! our airy bugle-horn
Tells the coming light of morn;
Now the pining storm subsides,
Calmness o'er the scene presides;
And now o'er the misty plain
Lightly troop our elfin train—
Hark! 'again, the summons gay
To our pastimes calls away;
Let us from this drear resort
Fly to mischief, fun, and sport.

[pp. 93-120]