1730
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

La Pensif.

Poems on Several Occasions. By Mr. George Woodward.

George Woodward


An imitation of Milton's Il Penseroso, at this time just coming into favor as an object of imitation. It seems to have been particularly popular at Oxford where George Woodward was a student in the 1720s. Woodward was of Magdalen College and therefore would have known the elder Warton, whose sons would do so much to bring Milton's minor verse to general attention in the 1740s. While much is paraphrase, this early imitation avoids anything like allegory, treating its source as though it were a conventional retirement ode: "Nor may I want my sole Delight, | To spend the solemn Noon of Night, | A Study furnish'd well, to pore | The Books of ancient Sages o'er, | Unruly Passions to controul, | And form from Them a Virtuous Soul" p. 95.

In an interesting departure from Milton, Woodward substitutes for the concluding resolve an epitaph for himself: "He liv'd, as knowing he must die, | Had no mean Thoughts, nor yet too high; | A faithful Friend; of no great reading, | But just enough to know good Breeding; | Not servile to the Great Man's Nod, | Obey'd his King, and Fear'd his God" pp. 96-97. He seems to have taken this to heart, for the epitaph expresses almost all that we know of a poet who either died young or retired into the rural obscurity recommended in "La Pensif."



Come Thou, fair Nymph, that dost dwell
In the humble, rural Cell,
Come, and with thee bring along
The Goddess of Poetick Song:
Lay me down in pleasing Dreams,
By the gently-rowling Streams;
Bring me to the rosy Bowers
Where the silken, op'ning Flowers
Waft their Odours thro' the Grove,
The soft Elysian Joys to prove:
Now what Pleasures have I found!
See! what Prospects rise around!
Tow'rs and Battlements appear,
Glitt'ring Spires, and Domes from far;
Now my Eye the Structure sees
Deep within the tufted Trees;
Now it views the wand'ring Rills
Shining bright betwixt the Hills:
O! the charming, pleasing Sight,
Ev'ry thing brings sweet Delight.

Oft' I lay my weary Head
On a Hillock's mossy Bed,
All the while the forrest rings,
Whilst the mellow Black-Bird sings,
Or the speckle-breasted Thrush
Warbling from the neighbouring Bush,
Whilst the plaintive Turtle coos,
From the lofty Elm, his Woes.
Or the Nightingales complain
In a sadly-pleasing Strain.
Fast by, the gentle-purling Springs,
With their sliding murmurings,
As along the Meads they creep,
Bring the downy-feather'd Sleep.
Then the whisp'ring Woods are still,
And Meditation takes her fill.

Sweet's the Evening's pure Delight,
Sweet's the Mountain's tow'ring Height;
Ruins glitter from the steep
Nodding o'er the wavy Deep:
Delightful seems the ancient Tower,
Airy Steeple, distant Bower;
Tufted Trees high-rais'd in Air
Please the trav'ling Eye from far.
Hark! the musky Zephyrs sing,
Throwing odours from their Wing:
Hark! the pretty Turtles cooing,
As far within they sit a-wooing;
Soft Complaints, and murm'ring Love
Resound thro' all the vocal Grove.
See! the Vallies smooth, and low,
Rivers winding to and fro;
Less'ning Rocks, and Country-Farms
Embrac'd within the Wood's green Arms:
Prospects ever-new arise,
And bring fresh Pleasure to the Eyes.
Ev'ry Breeze my Senses greets.
With wafted Odours, balmy Sweets.
See! the fragrant, damask'd Rose,
How on yonder Bush it glows!
What a pure, delicious Scent
Breaths from ev'ry Sylvan Plant!
All things please, of various Hue,
The yellow Dill, and Vi'let blew,
See! yon Bower, how it wanders
Round and round in green Maeanders;
Shades on Shades for ever bending,
Pleasant Mazes never ending.

When the Queen of Night appears
Lacquey'd by a thousand Stars;
Let me to the mossy Cells,
Where heav'nly Contemplation dwells,
With Eyes up-lifted to the Sky,
Aiming to'ards Divinity.
There I'll drink with open Ears
The Musick of the rowling Spheres;
Observe pale Cynthia's silver Light,
And ev'ry Star, that gilds the Night,
Heaven looks with all her Eyes,
As the Deluge floats the Skies.
Now the Light's at distance seen
Thro' the verdant, checquer'd Scene;
Here a Ray darts thro' the Wood,
There it trembles on the Flood.
Lo! the radiant, glimm'ring Throng
Majestically swim along.
But when the Sun drives on his Road,
Flaming from his bright Abode,
How they wink with fainting Fire!
How unwilling to retire!
Emblem of the dying Man!
Glad to stretch his narrow Span,
Struggling with his latest Breath,
'Till down at once he sinks to Death.

Oft' may I at early Dawn
Walk the russet-mantled Lawn,
Or the painted Mead, bedight
With Daisies, pleasing to the Sight;
Where the Flocks and Herds do stray,
Bleating, nibbling all the Day.
When the Lark has just begun
With Carols to salute the Sun,
Whilst the Sylvan Syrens sing,
Making all the Valleys ring,
From the Hawthorn's bloomy Sprays,
Warbling out their Maker's Praise,
Whilst the nimble, active Fawn
Skips and jumps adown the Lawn.
How delightful all Things look!
The dripping Rock, and shallow Brook,
Daisies pide, and Vi'lets blew,
The King-Cup, brim'd with pearly Dew.
Hard by the Plough-man's simple Song
Chears the tinkling Team along;
Whilst Cicely with her cleanly Pale
Trips it o'er the flow'ry Dale,
To milk her Kine, who ready stand,
And wait her gently-stroking Hand.
Lo! the happy Shepherd laid
All beneath the Hedge's Shade,
Or sideling on the Mountain's steep,
Pipeing to his harmless Sheep,
Whilst his jolly, Country-Strains
Chear the Woods, and fill the Plains.
Horses neighing to their Brothers;
Lambs a-bleating for their Mothers,
Lowing Herds, devoid of Sorrow,
Calling each to each good-morrow,
Streams, that o'er the pebbles rowl,
All conspire to tune the Soul,
With a vernal, rural Blessing,
With a Joy, beyond expressing.

When the Sun is mounted high
In middle Tower of the Skie,
And begins to dart his Beams
On the burning Plains, and Streams;
May some Wood-Nymph me convey
From the sultry Heat of Day,
Thro' the Lawns, and tho' the Meads,
Wheresoe'er her Fancy leads.
To the high-embow'ring Shades,
Twilight Groves, and cooling Glades,
Where Human Step was never seen
Tracing o'er the smooth-fac'd Green.
Or on some Romantick Mountain,
By the side of some clear Fountain,
Whose gelid Grotts, and prattling Streams
May bless me with extatick Dreams,
As they softly-trickling flow
From the Hoary Mountain's Brow.
Rapt in Thought I'd lay along,
And listen to the sylvan Song,
Whilst busy Man rowls up and down
In the Beams of scorching Noon;
So fares it with those Virtuous Few,
Who calm and pure, their Minds subdue,
And live their Days in Paradise,
Whilst all the World's inflam'd with Vice.

Oh! would but Heaven let me have
The only, little Boon, I crave—
A still Retirement by the Woods
Where fast by run the murm'ring Floods,
A Friend, an hour or so to pass
In merry Chat, and sober Glass;
Nor may I want my sole Delight,
To spend the solemn Noon of Night,
A Study furnish'd well, to pore
The Books of ancient Sages o'er,
Unruly Passions to controul,
And form from Them a Virtuous Soul.
Here Quiet, heav'nly Goddess! dwells,
Deep within these humble Cells;
Far from busy Mortal's Sight,
The Meadows are her sole Delight,
O'er the Grass she gently treads,
O'er the Fields, and painted Meads:
Here retir'd from Noise and Strife,
I'd strive to live the heav'nly Life;
Here I'd think on all the Great,
Plac'd on the Pinnacles of State,
Inhabiting the House of Care,
And think to find true Quiet there;
In vain they search, they'll never find,
She never loves the hurry'd Mind,
But far retir'd from vulgar Eyes,
Holds high Converse with the Skies.

Come, Ye Wise! and dwell with Me,
We'll enjoy true Liberty:
Thro' these Woods we'll careless stray,
Whilst the Blackbird tunes his Lay;
Or the lonely Nightingale
Warbles down in yonder Vale.
Here we'll live, and range at Will,
'Till Contemplation has her Fill:
And when my Thread of Life is spun,
Be This inscrib'd upon my Stone.

He liv'd, as knowing he must die,
Had no mean Thoughts, nor yet too high;
A faithful Friend; of no great reading,
But just enough to know good Breeding;
Not servile to the Great Man's Nod,
Obey'd his King, and Fear'd his God.

[pp. 86-97]