1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy on the Ruins of Kenilworth Castle.

Poems on Several Occasions. By Mrs. Darwall (formerly Miss Whateley) in Two Volumes.

Mary Darwall


Nineteen quatrains in the manner of Gray's Elegy, part of the series moralizing gothic ruins. In her imagination the poet contrasts the pageantry of Queen Elizabeth's time with the scene at Kenilworth as it now appears: "Where (Britain's glory) the bright virgin queen, | With bevies of the courtly fair ones, stray'd, | Like Dian's buskin'd nymphs, in forests green, | To chace the tim'rous roe thro' grove and glade;— | Now the rough plough-share marks its crooked way, | Or sun-burnt hinds, with ruthless hands, despoil | The flow'ry meads of all their rich array" p. 4-5. The conclusion of the poem takes up the theme of superstition common to the ruin elegies, contrasting the perceptions of a village maid to those of "reason's eye." The topic of this elegy had been treated by Richard Hurd in Moral and Political Dialogues (1759) and would later become the subject of one of Walter Scott's most famous novels (1821).

The appearance of these volumes marked Mary Darwell's return to publication after an interval of three decades. They received considerably less attention than her former volume, probably because volumes of sentimental poetry by women writers had become much more common. The poet had also been long removed from the public eye; her volume was a provincial publication printed at Walsall near Birmingham.

Critical Review: "The author of these volumes has formerly attracted in some degree the notice of the public under the name of Whateley. The present productions consist of short miscellaneous poems, chiefly in the walk of song and pastoral; and a list of subscribers prefixed to the work seems to preclude the severity of criticism" NS 14 (July 1795) 344.



When Phoebus to old Ocean's oozy bed
Descending, veil'd his glories from the sight;—
When solemn eve her dewy mantle spread,
And Cynthia rose, pale regent of the night;—

Revolving in my mind the changeful state
Of sublunary grandeur, pomp and shew;
How time, inexorable, marks the date
Of all that's gay, or great, or good below;

Chance led me, as I meditating rov'd,
Where KENILWORTH its gothic glories rear'd,
Which CLINTON built, which great ELIZA lov'd,
ELIZA, to th' historic Muse endear'd.

Stupendous walls! to ruin's rage consign'd,
Mould'ring, submissive to the arm of fate;
Thro' your lone arches let me entrance find,
And, silent, ponder on your pristine state,

Where the athletic porter frown'd severe,
And scowl'd defiance o'er th' embattled plain,
No sound, save echo's dying voice, we hear,
Nor form perceive, save fancy's airy train.

Here the gay herald erst proclaim'd the prize,
And summon'd to the field each noble youth,
That wish'd to win the author of his sighs,
The beauteous dame he lov'd with zeal and truth.

A glance from her bright eye, or ribband wove
In mystic knots of love, cou'd well repay
Each danger he in well-fought fields cou'd prove,
And crown with ecstacy the hard-wond day.

When the gay circus glow'd with beauty's beam,
And ev'ry knight beheld his sov'reign's face,
Who cou'd be daunted at the faulcion's gleam,
Or shun his fierce opponent's dire embrace?

No more these dreadful, pompous sports prevail!
Love, pleas'd, accepts a milder sacrifice,—
The time-try'd faith, the gently-soothing tale
Now from the coldest heart obtain the prize.

Where (Britain's glory) the bright virgin queen,
With bevies of the courtly fair ones, stray'd,
Like Dian's buskin'd nymphs, in forests green,
To chace the tim'rous roe thro' grove and glade;—

Now the rough plough-share marks its crooked way,
Or sun-burnt hinds, with ruthless hands, despoil
The flow'ry meads of all their rich array,
And rudely glory in their rustic toil.

Where the broad stream in sportive eddies play'd,
And at due distance kept the hostile throng;
Now the green slope, with blooming flow'rs array'd,
Invites the rural train to dance and song.

O'er the rude walls the mantling ivy twines,
And waves luxuriant round the nodding tow'rs;
Here skims the bat, the boding screech-owl pines,
And the hoarse raven wakes the midnight hours.

Imagination crowds the vacant scene
With glimm'ring ghosts, that haunt the dreary shade;
The mournful maid, — the warrior's dreadful mein,
Flitting by moon-light thro' the darkling glade.

If chance the village maid shou'd vent'rous stray
Near these lone piles by vesper's silver light,
What sounds does fancy to her ear convey!
What forms present to her deluded sight!

If the sad bird of night pours forth her moan,
Or waving shadows dance before the wind,—
She hears some restless spirit's hollow groan,
And nameless terrors seize her timid mind.

Soon thro' the hamlet spreads the wond'rous tale,
Enlarg'd by superstition as it flies:
Each rustic hearer stands aghast and pale,
The taper twinkles and the cricket cries.

But reasons eye in other light surveys
This mould'ring monument of earthly state,
Which, to the soul this warning truth conveys,—
"Aspire to glories of a longer date."

For when oblivion shrouds the high-arch'd dome,
And grandeur yields to time's all-conqu'ring sway,
The deathless soul shall find his destin'd home,—
The cloudless regions of eternal day.

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