The Hours; or, The Life of Man. A Pastoral, in Four Parts.

Diary, or Woodfall's Register (9 November 1789).

George Murgatroyd Woodward

A pastoral ballad on the theme of mutability in twenty-four anapestic quatrains signed "G. M. Woodward": "Proceed, blooming shepherd; you haste to your prime, | In the Noon of thy life, shining Cupid embrace, | For the boy's airy wings shall be clipp'd by old Time, | And his scythe will each youthful sensation erase." As Pope had condensed the Shepheardes Calender from twelve eclogues to four, Woodward compresses Pope's couplets into neatly turned stanzas that give an original turn to some very traditional georgic imagery. Woodward was better known as a caricaturist than a poet, and seems to approach his theme with a painter's eye.

The georgic manner in pastoral eclogue had been popularized by William Perfect. In addition to Pope's Pastorals, and Perfect's cycle of pastoral ballads on the months, one might compare, in Spenserians stanzas, "The Seasons, in imitation of Spenser" (1751). The "ages of man" theme derives from Jaques's soliloquy in As You Like it, though Woodward seems to make a point of not alluding to that source.

Ye Dryads, who haunt the clear stream and the grove,
For you shall my reed breathe the pastoral lay,
Whether courting the Muse, in the raptures of love,
Or guarding my flock in the heat of the day.

Aurora advances, — pale Cynthia retires,
Her crescent's extinguish'd, the dawn is increas'd;
Lo, Phoebus, slow rising, rekindles his fires,
And Light with her glories emblazons the East.

The thistle-down sails on the lap of the breeze;
Tranquility reigns o'er the opening mourn;
The cattle extended lay musing at ease;
And the black-bird's wild carols are heard from the thorn.

Lov'd daisy, why bow thy sweet head to the gale?
Though wet with the night-dew, thy beauties yet live;
Again shall thy modesty spread o'er the vale,
And the sun's bright refulgence thy colours revive.

It is thus with mankind; — In his earliest state,
In her arms the fond mother her infant entwines,
While the child, wrapt in sickness, and smiling at fate,
All wet with her tears, on her bosom reclines.

But transient affliction to joy soon gives place,
When the sunshine of health shed her influence round;
Again blooming innocence dimples his face,
And angels benignant the cradle surround.

To the shade, spreading oak, with my flock I'll repair,
My refuge at Noon from the sun's soothing beams:
The butterfly waves his rich colours in air,
And the hay, newly mown, with sweet fragrance teems.

Now sad, down the valley, indignant and slow,
The bull faint and panting pursues the lone way,
The stream's glassy surface is scarce seen to flow,
And the rose in full elegance bursts on the day.

And, hark! — from the inmost recess of the grove
I heard Edwin's voice; 'tis his sorrowful strain,
His notes I well know: — they are soften'd by love,
And mournful for Hebe, thus sadly complain:

"Fly swiftly, ye moments, bring on the grey eve,
For day without Hebe is joyless to me;
In her converse, so pleasing, I raptures receive,
When by moon-light we meet 'neath the sycamore tree.

"With gratitude's tear I'll her kindness repay;
'Twas here, in this grove, I first told her I lov'd;
And ever remember'd be that happy day,
The day on which Hebe my passion approv'd!"

Proceed, blooming shepherd; you haste to your prime,
In the Noon of thy life, shining Cupid embrace,
For the boy's airy wings shall be clipp'd by old Time,
And his scythe will each youthful sensation erase.

The rays of bright Phoebus inverted display'd,
Emit his last beam on the brow of the hill,
The lowing of cattle is heard from the glade,
And ceas'd are the labours erst heard at the mill.

O'er the breath of the pasture the beetle swift sails,
And humming proclaims the mild evening at hand;
The leaves are all ruffled by murmuring gales,
And zephyrs rich scented their odours expand.

Now light o'er the mountains mild Luna appears,
Slow rising in majesty, still and serene,
She mounts on the clouds; — all nature she cheers,
And rivers bespangled reflect the bright scene.

Thus rises in wisdom the science-taught Youth,
By virtue directed he clears error's mist;
To him are laid open the pages of truth,
'Though envy and prejudice vainly resist.

When arrived at his zenith, he shines on the world,
Till Death blights his laurels, and lost is his name;
But glories hereafter to men are unfurl'd,
Surpassing the transient possession of Fame.

Then consider that Manhood draws near to thy end,
Nor shrink at the hasty approaches of Night;
Thou shalt mount on the clouds which to Heaven ascend,
And explore undisturb'd the high regions of light.

The owl from the tower at midnight descends,
The bat, cloath'd in darkness, his prey swift pursues;
Sweet sleep's balmy treasure o'er nations extends,
On grief-furrow'd eyelids her blessings she strews.

The watch-dog, incessant, the welkin alarms,
The raven's loud screams pierce the concave of night;
While Fancy shews Hecate preparing her charms
By the vapour's blue flame, or the glow-worm's pale light.

Now loud rolls the thunder, red lightning is seen,
And horror o'er nature indignantly reigns,
But Morning again shall enliven the scene,
And Sol with his presence shall gladden the plains.

So Man, as the Hours, swift glides to his end;
His Morning of Infancy hastens to Noon;
How vain their pursuit, who for honours contend,
When the bud of perfection is blasted so soon!

What avails the wish'd bays, which erst pleasing before,
That was wont o'er the brows of his Manhood to wave:
From Age he must sink to the earth whence he sprung,
And the Muse be forgot in the Night of the grave.

But death's fatal arrows in Darkness shall rust;
For soon shall the system of Nature decay;
The Globe, and its temples, shall moulder to dust,
And Night shall be lost in the glorious Day.