1791
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Music.

Poems by Thomas Townshend, Esq.

Thomas Townshend


An allegorical ode, after the manner of Collins's Ode on the Passions. Thomas Townshend also takes a hint from Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character, opening with the creation of Music by Jove; after a moment's pause, she takes up the lyre and "Pour'd its full soul'd accent round, | Each planet felt the magic sound, | And charm'd assum'd his destin'd place, | While tones of sympathy then sweetly strong, | Calm-breathing swell'd the gen'ral song." p. 39. After songs addressed to (or through) Venus, Mars, and Bacchus, Music directs her powers earthward, wither the powers of Olympus descend to assume their destined sway. From thence, in concluding the poem, the poet directs his own voice back towards heaven: "Nurse of ev'ry softer pleasure, | Parent of each trilling measure, | Hail! Music, goddess of the golden strain! | Thy voice can spread new blessings o'er the plain" p. 51.

In addition to the imitations of Collins, several passages recall Collins's source in Dryden's Alexander's Feast, and the poem as a whole is indebted to the tradition of songs to St. Ceclia. More specifically, it contributes to the series of imitations of the Ode on the Passions concerned with the sister arts, as in Leigh Hunt's "Progress of Painting" (1801). Compare also John Jortin's Spenserian "Hymn to Harmony" (1729). The poem was considerably revised for the second edition of Townshend's Poems.

1796 Preface: "Of the few Odes of the abstract sort which follow, I confess that I do not encourage any expectation of seeing them become popular. Of the mass who read, there are but a very few indeed who possess any very keen relish for abstract poetry; whose minds can intuitively accede to remote allusions, and whose imaginations can warmly receive that imagery which is not obvious. I am the more confirmed in the fate of poetry of this order, when I reflect how few comparatively can be ranked among its admirers. It is in the regions of the Muse as in those of material nature: various sorts of scenery have their several advocates; and the gross bulk of those who gaze upon them generally prefer the sober features of trim culture, to the rude grandeur and rough magnificence of unornamented greatness. The admirers of Shenstone very far out-number those of Gray and Collins" pp. iv-v.

James Bannister: "In the following Ode to Music, the author seems to exert his utmost powers.... This passage, with the greater part of the Ode, is to us perfectly unintelligible: but amid the gloom and darkness with which we are encompassed, we think we discover traces of an ill-judged imitation of Collins's famous Ode to the Passions" in review of Townshend, Poems (1797); Monthly Review 24 (December 1797) 426-63.

Critical Review: "In Mr. Townshend's Ode to Music, we are often reminded of Collins. The birth of music, the different gods striking the strings, are imitations of that author. The first of these passages is a favourable specimen of this long poem, which contains nearly five hundred lines.... Some of these lines are very defective in harmony. It is impossible, by any artifice of accent or tone, to read as verse 'Immensely spreading, to life she sprang'" in review of Townshend, Poems (1797); NS 22 (February 1798) 186-87.



When from the dreary void
Of chaos and of night,
Sprung at the word the blaze
Of wide disclosing light;
Long o'er the vast stupendous scene
Gaz'd all the orient crowds of heaven,
While in undefined tracks
Thro' the wild space the whirling spheres were driven.

Jove smil'd, and swift to shew
The energies by which he wrought—
O'er the infinite expanse
Shot his swift-creating glance,
And thought.

A fright'ning silence still'd the boundless space;
Before the Gods a beauteous sight!
Celestial clouds of aether bright
In silvery curls slow-spreading rose,
And sweet unveiling did disclose
A virgin form of radiant white,
With sapphire wings which flung a trembling light,
And eyes of lambent fire,
And full expos'd a golden lyre,
She held with more than heavenly grace.

As if inanimate she lovely stood,
Gay-beaming 'till of grace a flood
Immensely spreading to the life she sprung,
And struck the chords with frantic hand,
Breaking the pause wild numbers flung,
And every raptur'd Goddess band,
Shouting, "Music, hail!" the aetherial regions rung.

The new-created sound,
The mad Enthusiast dasht around,
And dropping tears of rapture wild,
Rav'd and laugh'd, and wept and smil'd,
And to the thund'rer dread the hymn she rais'd,
And while she grateful prais'd,
And her loudly panting string
Pour'd its full soul'd accent round,
Each planet felt the magic sound,
And charm'd assum'd his destin'd place,
While tones of sympathy then sweetly strong,
Calm-breathing swell'd the gen'ral song,
The sun stood tranc'd, the earth in fondest grace,
Around him wheel'd in varying ring,
The frolic seasons danc'd, the hours did sing.
Heaven was rapt in lauding wonder,
And to the sounding wires soft murmur'd thunder;
Fix'd by the strains each orb did roll,
And strong Attraction's hand unerring link'd the whole.

The Gods with new-felt throbs of pleasure
All the order'd scene survey'd,
Charm'd by the new and rapturing measure
They smil'd benignant on the minstrel maid;
While the balmy breathing bowl
Beverage for lips divine,
Fill'd with a mantling flood young Hebe bore,
Bacchus his purple crown
Flung laughing down,
With frolic grace the clust'ring grapes he tore,
And squeezing pour'd the thickly-streaming wine.

With joy in many a peal
Olympus trembled round,
Thy angel birth to hail,
Deep plaudits spread the bright profound;
O! Music, sweetest child of heaven,
To thee each influence dear was given,
Each theme the yielding soul which sways
With magic hand thou then didst raise.
Glad Jove his awful locks shook gay,
Diffusing life around,
And to approve thy lovely sway
He bade thee wake the apt-ton'd sound,
The power expressing of each god;
E'er thy golden shell
Thou sweet didst swell,
The stern sisters three,
Rous'd by his mighty nod,
Unroll'd the scroll of mortal destiny;
And thence the theme thou didst assume
Tuning many a wonderous doom;
While soft delights sweet trilling caught their ears,
They melted into smiles, and dropt their ruthless shears.

Venus, queen of smiles, arose,
With thronging Loves and Graces in a band,
While pensively thou sang'st her joys and woes,
She wav'd her lovely hand,
And blooming scen'ry sprung around;
'Mid shades of myrtle green
Cupid in slily-aiming groupes was seen;
Thou then didst pour a dying fall,
And headlong waters dash'd around,
And Echo faint would call,
And mock the gentle sound;
While Hope thy mellow voice,
Deceiver of Love's sorrow,
Promis'd with a soothing grace
A fairer, happier morrow.
Far from the lonely wild-fring'd wood
The hermit Solitude slow beck'ning stood.

The Lesbian maiden's woe
Sorrow'd o'er thy melting strains,
Thy string announced her bosom's throe,
Her sighs — her tears oft pour'd in vain;
The Gods did weep,
When from the high Leucadian steep,
Madness and Hope the lyric maiden led,
And down she plung'd into the op'ning main,
And the wild wasting waves clos'd o'er her sinking head.

The heavenly grief to ease,
A fuller note thou then didst raise,
And sing fair Egypt's Queen,
In all her mighty charms,
Holding the Roman hero clasp'd
Inglorious in her arms.
Lo! within her silken spells
See the sad chang'd hero lie;
O! what magic ever dwells
In the ray from Beauty's eye!
Fame's loud trumpet now is mute,
Baffled by the passion-breathing lute.
As spoke the powers of Glory or of Love,
Thou sang'st the conflicts which his breast did'st move.

Above the reach of mortal thought
To the long-destin'd act thy sounds gave life;
'Till Mars, whose breast reluctant felt,
In wild emotion strange did melt,
Shaking his sabling plumes arose
In frantic haste, his eye-ball flung
A light'ning ray of strife;
The Gods did shrink, while made he sought
His lurid hand to fling
Devious o'er the string,
'Till Venus soothing smil'd, and round the mail'd god clung.

Then didst thou sound the wak'ning numbers:
Hark! the drum in mellow thunders,
And the terror-flinging blast
Of the trumpet which quivers the soul,
While shouts, sighs and groans
Dread express'd in thy tones,
Thick mingling affrightingly roll.

The list'ning groupes look'd pale,
When thou sung'st the sad tale
Of Ilium blazing to the carnaged plain;
Mars shouted 'mid the fancied war,
And yok'd his adamantine car,
And leapt in joy, exulting in the strain.
Rous'd by his kindred sound,
The Monarch of the whelming flood,
Wielding his weed-drest trident round,
Upstood.
Full-swelling notes thou then didst pour,
Now wildly raging — now serenely calm,
While brown-fac'd Commerce felt the songful balm.
Wrapping his watchet robe, the god
In seeming wrath did lour;
Then did the rude sounds rave,
The voice of war
Was utter'd far,
In thunder o'er the swelling wave,
When thou sung'st th' innumerous feats
Wrought by Albion's conquering fleets;
While in the long-retiring cell of Time
Her power the gods beheld wide spread o'er every clime.

Next pale Nemesis down-looking came,
Wrapt in shroud of dreary dye,
And bid her dagger's gleam,
Thick twilight veil'd her eye;
But in vain
To her thou gav'st no long-link'd strain;
A dismal sound,
A solitary string reluctant scatter'd round.

Tir'd Jove desir'd another song,
And upward jolly Bacchus sprung.
Light and gay and sweet the measure,
Brisk inspiring frolic pleasure,
Grapes in transparent purple round
Strew'd the fragrant breathing ground,
Loves and Satyrs hand in hand
Gambol'd in a joyous band.
The shouting crowd,
In voices loud,
Gaily did entwine,
The blended joys of Love and Wine.
Thou, Music, felt the joy
Inspir'd by the lay,
And pleas'd didst wave thy glittering hair,
And laugh the song away.

How the pulse of Music beating
Fills with genial throbs the heart!
Pleasures crowding, cares retreating,
Wine beguiles the bosom's smart.
Broken lies the barb of anguish,
Beauty fills the rising bowl,
While her eyes, bewitching languish,
Wreathes soft blessings round the soul.

Rous'd by the joyous lays
A branch of vine each god did seize,
And aloft did madly wield,
The sapphire goblet high was fill'd
And drain'd, was fill'd and drain'd,
Their lips with purple stain'd,
Their breasts of though beguil'd,
While 'mid the mirthful shouts with Bacchus Beauty smil'd.

The heavenly legends say,
'Twas on that blissful day
That Music's soft'ning power
With bounteous pulse had fill'd Jove's breast,
The while from her ambrosial bower
The angel Mercy him addrest,
And to the honied accents of her tongue
The string a soft persuasive measure sung.
While at his side
The witching suitor sweet applied,
And for the mortal share the cherub minstrel claim'd;
Swift the etherial powers agreed,
That she to bless the sons of earth shou'd speed;
To her they gave
A lov'd enchanting vast controul,
To bid the passions rave,
Or wrap in peace the soul;
And Heav'n's wide radiant vales the precious boon proclaim'd.

Each hallow'd instrument of sound,
Many a fair presiding power then bore,
That came with her to earth of yore,
While from the op'ning skies broke shouts around;
The goddess of the woodland joys
With crescent bright gay fill'd the horn;
Health carol'd with her rose-lip'd boys,
And blithsome echoes woke the morn.

Jocund solacer of labour,
Brisk the dance-inspiring tabor,
Ceres tun'd in grateful song,
While chaplets thick of golden corn
Her tresses yellow did adorn;
The rustic children of the plain
Up-gazing heard the festive strain,
Its measures simple did prolong.
Frolic Pan with swelling face
Tun'd his reed in accents gay;
Satyrs circling in light pace
Gambol'd down the airy way.
Peace her smiles, benignant shedding,
Meek array'd in snow-white suit,
Round her gentle numbers spreading,
Swell'd her myrtle-wreathed lute.
War in the rear thick clouds surrounding,
Slow-following charm'd his trench'd head hung,
Stopt his rude-voic'd clarion's sounding,
While his unbuckled mail soft clattering faintly rung.

Then many a fair uncounted throng
In groupes slow gliding travell'd to the song.
But who the beaming tribes of thought can tell,
Attendant on fair Music's shell,
When thro' the sundering clouds descending
Which roll'd in gold beneath her feet,
While dulcet symphonies attending,
They on her gaz'd with thousand wishes sweet?
And chiefly fair young Fancy smil'd,
In vest array'd of swiftly-changing dyes,
She left her glittering wild,
And sped with Music from the skies;
And now with careless grace her touch wou'd raise,
Gay and grave, and half-sung lays,
And now with voluntaries sweet
The list'ning ears would wildly greet.

Nurse of ev'ry softer pleasure,
Parent of each trilling measure,
Hail! Music, goddess of the golden strain!
Thy voice can spread new blessings o'er the plain.
Thou the sad heart can cheat of all its cares,
And waft soft soothings on thy melting airs,
Bend the rude soul to wish the gentle deed,
At pity's tale to bleed;
Thy magic can the noblest aims inspire,
And bid pale terror feel the hero's fire;
On phalanx'd plain, or love-appointed bow'r,
Thy varied strains avow thy wond'rous pow'r.

O! cou'd my ears drink in the lays
Thou sung'st, lov'd maid, in earlier days;
Or hear the sweet-link'd song
Which with a raptur'd hand
Jubal o'er the peaceful land
Pour'd from his infant harp, and rap't the shepherd throng.

Or too thy soul inspired strains,
Which grac'd of yore the Grecian plains,
Bless'd could I sink into the lap of peace,
The world's wild wish shou'd cease,
Then undebauch'd by sicken'd taste,
Lull'd by the heavenly shell,
The hours of life delicious cou'd I waste,
And above the storms of fate embliss'd cou'd ever dwell.

[pp. 37-52]