1790 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Despair.

The Poetical Works of the late Mrs. Mary Robinson: including many Pieces never before published. In Three Volumes.

Mary Robinson


An allegorical ode in nine irregular stanzas, posthumously published in 1806. This lengthy ode is more allegorical than descriptive, unfolding as a series of vignettes, imprisoned genius (a note identifies "the living grave" as "the Bastile"), a banditti's haunt, a shipwreck, and a mother weeping over a dying child. The ode concludes with a resolve: "But come not near my calm retreat, | Where Peace and holy FRIENDSHIP meet; | Where SCIENCE sheds a gentle ray, | And guiltless Mirth beguiles the day, | Where Bliss congenial to the MUSE | Shall round my Heart her sweets diffuse, | Where, from each restless Passion free, | I give my noiseless hours, bless'd POESY, to thee" 1:121-22. The manner of this Ode to Despair owes much to Collins's Ode to Fear.



TERRIFIC FIEND! thou Monster fell!
Condemn'd in haunts profane to dwell,
Why quit thy solitary Home,
O'er wide Creation's paths to roam?
Pale Tyrant of the timid Heart,
Whose visionary spells can bind
The strongest passions of the mind,
Freezing Life's current with thy baneful Art.

Nature recoils when thou art near,
For round thy form all plagues are seen;
Thine is the frantic tone, the sullen mien,
The glance of petrifying fear,
The haggard Brow, the low'ring Eye,
The hollow Cheek, the smother'd Sigh;
When thy usurping fangs assail,
The sacred Bonds of Friendship fail,
Meek-bosom'd Pity sues in vain;
Imperious Sorrow spurns relief,
Feeds on the luxury of Grief,
Drinks the hot Tear, and hugs the galling Chain.
AH! plunge no more thy ruthless dart
In the dark centre of the guilty Heart;
The pow'r SUPREME, with pitying eye,
Looks on the erring Child of Misery;
MERCY arrests the wing of Time,
To expiate the wretch's crime:
Insulted HEAV'N consign'd thy brand
To the first Murd'rer's crimson hand.
Swift o'er the earth the Monster flew,
And round th' ensanguin'd Poisons threw,
By CONSCIENCE goaded-driven by FEAR,
Till the meek Cherub HOPE subdued his fell career.

Thy Reign is past, when erst the brave
Imbib'd contagion o'er the midnight lamp,
Close pent in loathsome cells, where poisons damp
Hung round the confines of a Living Grave;
Where no glimm'ring ray illum'd
The flinty walls, where pond'rous chains
Bound the wan Victim to the humid earth,
Where VALOUR, GENIUS, TASTE, and WORTH,
In pestilential caves entomb'd,
Sought thy cold arms, and smiling mock'd their pains.

THERE, — each procrastinated hour,
The woe-worn suff'rer gasping lay,
While by his side in proud array
Stalk'd the HUGE FIEND, DESPOTIC POW'R.
There REASON clos'd her radiant eye,
And fainting HOPE retir'd to die,
TRUTH shrunk appall'd,
In spells of icy Apathy inthrall'd;
Till FREEDOM spurn'd the ignominious chain,
And, roused from Superstition's night,
Exulting Nature claim'd her right,
And call'd dire Vengeance from her dark domain.

Now take thy solitary flight
Amid the turbid gales of night,
Where Spectres, starting from the tomb,
Glide along th' impervious gloom;
Or, stretch'd upon the sea-beat shore,
Let the wild winds, as they roar,
Rock Thee on thy Bed of Stone;
Or, in gelid caverns pent,
Listen to the sullen moan
Of subterraneous winds; — or glut thy sight
Where stupendous mountains, rent,
Hurl their vast fragments from their dizzy height.

At Thy approach the rifted Pine
Shall o'er the shatter'd Rock incline,
Whose trembling brow, with wild weeds drest,
Frowns on the tawny EAGLE'S nest;
THERE enjoy the 'witching hour,
And freeze in Frenzy's dire conceit,
Or seek the Screech-owl's lone retreat,
On the bleak rampart of some nodding Tow'r.
In some forest long and drear,
Tempt the fierce BANDITTI'S rage,
War with famish'd Tigers wage,
And bathe in blood, and mock the taunts of Fear.

When across the yawning deep
The Demons of the Tempest sweep,
Or deaf'ning Thunders bursting cast
Their red bolts on the shivering mast,
While fix'd below the sea-boy stands,
As threat'ning Death his soul dismays,
He lifts his supplicating hands,
And shrieks, and groans, and weeps, and prays,
Till, lost amid the floating fire,
The agonizing crew expire;
THEN let thy transports rend the air,
For madd'ning Anguish feeds the fiend Despair!

When o'er the couch of pale Disease
The MOTHER bends with tearful eye,
And trembles, lest her quiv'ring sigh
Should wake the darling of her breast—
Now, by the taper's feeble rays,
She steals a last, fond, eager gaze.
Ah, hapless parent! gaze no more,
Thy CHERUB soars among the Blest,
Life's crimson Fount begins to freeze,
His transitory scene is o'er—

She starts — she raves — her burning brain
Consumes, unconscious of its fires;
Dead to the Heart's convulsive Pain,
Bewilder'd Memory retires.
See! See! she grasps her flowing hair,
From her fixd eye the big drops roll,
Her proud Affliction mocks control,
And riots in DESPAIR—
SUCH are thy haunts, malignant Pow'r!
There all thy murd'rous poisons show'r;
But come not near my calm retreat,
Where Peace and holy FRIENDSHIP meet;
Where SCIENCE sheds a gentle ray,
And guiltless Mirth beguiles the day,
Where Bliss congenial to the MUSE
Shall round my Heart her sweets diffuse,
Where, from each restless Passion free,
I give my noiseless hours, bless'd POESY, to thee.

[1:117-22]