Absence, a Pastoral. Addressed to Stella.

Poetical Essays. By a young Gentleman of Hertford College, Oxford.


A pastoral ballad in 28 double-quatrains stanzas divided into the conventional four parts. The first part describes Damon's state of youthful innocence in a blooming landscape where "No passion my peace did controul, | No desire had yet learnt to stray." The second part describes why the landscape no longer has the power to please: "'Twas Stella that brighten'd the ville, | Her presence gave joy to the swain; | For she was the charm of the hill, | And she was the sweets of the plain." In the third part the poet describes taking leave of Stella, and his attempts to recover his former joys through the power of memory: "How often to Paradise stray, | And taste of its primaeval sweets!" (A note identifies "Paradise" as "The Seat of — Shepherd, Esq. near Painswick.") In the concluding part the poet swears constancy as the theme shifts from memory to anticipation: "Th' horizon now brightening I see, | And Hope stooping down from above."

In contrast to Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad "Absence, a Pastoral" is singularly lacking in narrative events; rather, the poet strives to convey his emotional sensibility through descriptions of landscape. There are no explicit references to Oxford, attending which presumably was the occasion of Damon's separation from Stella, to whom several poems in the volume are addressed.

Town and Country Magazine: "Though these essays are evidently the compositions of a young writer, they exhibit many 'traces' of genius and imagination" 22 (April 1790) 176.

G. G.: "We should have supposed this young gentleman, a boy, had he not assured us himself, 'That love gently knocks at his heart, | And whispers — that he is a man!'... His tutor should watch him narrowly, and his bed-maker should every night take care to secure his garters" Analytical Review 6 (February 1790) 194.

Thomas Ogle: "We see no reason why these trifles should have been published, but we could give many which should have caused them to be withheld. As a palliative for their puerilities, the author offers the consideration of his youth; and this, to his private tutor, might have been a sufficient apology; but it is not a sufficient excuse to the public" Monthly Review NS 3 (September 1790) 93-94.

From one who of late was so blest,
Ah! what means this heart-throbbing sigh?
Whence comes this strange throb in my breast,
Why trickles the tear from mine eye?
When Spring laughing jocund and gay,
Bids Happiness dance o'er the glade,
What is't that her smiles steals away,
And throws o'er her beauties a shade?

Why thus does the soul-melting smart
Rebel still, do all that I can?
Love gently knocks at my heart,
And whispers — that I am a man.
Should any of yon rural train
My plaints down the vale chance to hear,
And ask what's the cause of my pain,
Ah! tell them — no Stella is here.

My days of delight are no more,
Blest moments, ah! where are ye flown?
How soon your dear pleasures are o'er!
And must they again ne'er be known?
The morn that so fair to the view
Had painted the orient bright,
From my gazes abruptly withdrew,
And buried its glories in night.

Free as yon bird on the spray,
Which the woodland with harmony fills;
As yon sprightly kid was I gay,
That bounding flies over the hills.
Whilst simplicity led my young hours,
I thought that no nymphs or fond swains,
Were brighter or blither than ours,
Or pip'd on more pastoral plains.

Yon streams that meandring glide,
And their margins incessantly lave,
'Mid osiers that dance o'er the tide,
And sport with the circling wave;
Where the wintry storm on yon brow
Hath long been defy'd by the thorn;
Where the woodbine still flaunts o'er the bough,
And scatters the pearls of the morn:

Where once I so happily stray'd,
And youth's thoughtless hours beguil'd;
And oft on my reed artless play'd
The visions of Fancy's gay child.
How dear were these scenes to my soul,
Whilst innocence gladden'd the day!
No passion my peace did controul,
No desire had yet learnt to stray.

Since I've met with the smiles of my dear,
My flock unregarded wide strays;
Not a note of my pipe do they hear
Whilst Damon unweetingly plays.
The thistle now rivals the rose,
Unpruned shoots up the wild vine,
And 'mid the tall elm's leafy boughs,
Its tendrils wantonly twine.

What sorrows oppress'd my fond heart,
When I sigh'd forth the hapless farewell;
How reluctant I was to depart,
O Stella! these valleys can tell.
Ah! why did I foolishly roam
From those scenes of contentment and ease?
Or again from my charmer fly home,
Which no longer has power to please?

These landscapes whose beauties so gay
Enliven'd the long-gazing eye;
The flowers which drank the gold ray,
Are lost, or else languishing die.
In vain the tide gurgles along,
Which murm'ring lulls as it flows;
In vain the dove cooes her hoarse song,
Inviting the breast to repose.

Now the charms of the morn's blushing ray
Serve only fresh pains to disclose;
And grief views the soft setting day
Impurpling the bloom of the rose.
Since of Absence I'm doom'd to complain,
How oft am I heard to deplore—
Ah! fled are the sweets of the plain,
All pastoral charms are no more!

'Twas Stella that brighten'd the ville,
Her presence gave joy to the swain;
For she was the charm of the hill,
And she was the sweets of the plain.
The bloom that impregnates the air,
The streamlet that warbling flows;
The grotto, kind soother of care,
The rock where the jessamine blows,

And wood, that waves over the dale,
Their beauties deriv'd form the maid;
'Twas her voice that gave life to the gale,
And charms to the song of the shade.
Her voice was the music of love,
With rapture it floated around;
When the language of hope fill'd the grove,
All heav'n then dwelt in the sound.

Her graces, her manner and air
Reflect the soft rays of her mind;
She's friendly, she's gentle, she's fair,
(Tormenting reflection!) — was kind.
As virtue she's modestly shy,
Yet cloath'd in the vestment of ease;
Whilst sympathy sheds from her eye
A sweetness that ever must please.

Who dwell on the charms of her mind,
The source of true sentiment prove;
Whilst wit the most bright and refin'd
Attunes admiration to love.
Blest maid! of such beauties possest,
Without e'er a mixture of guile;
Good-nature's enthron'd in her breast,
And beams in each heart-winning smile.

More sweet to thy rustical friend
Than the child of the new-smiling skies,
When show'rs of roses descend
And clouds of glad incense arise.
What happiness shone in my breast
When I tasted the sweets of her heart!
Ah! little I dreamt, thus at rest,
I so soon should be forc'd to depart.

What language then flow'd from her eyes!
That shone like the fountain of day,
When from earth's foodful altars arise
Glad thanks to the genial ray.
When Titan resigns his gay reign
To the nymph of the bright silver bow;
Dull night throws her veil o'er the plain
With the glist'ning emblems of woe.

Thus, soon as those suns were declin'd
Whose beams had caus'd rapture to roll;
Grief spread his broad shades o'er my mind
And steep'd them in dews of my soul.
Here lost to the world let me stray
Since I've bid my dear Stella adieu;
In Solitude, waste the long day,
And dwell o'er past pleasures anew.

Whilst Sorrow his pale cheek reclines
O'er Absence's withering tomb,
And round it Mnemosyne twines
Affection's now sick'ning bloom.
Here oft will I pour the young sigh
That struggling swells in my breast,
And bid the soft pearls of mine eye
Disdain to be longer supprest.

When the blushes of light paint the dawn,
And health rides the wings of the gale;
While flocks wander over the lawn,
And with labour reechoes the vale.
When eve with sweet Modesty's hand
Shall weave her soft mantle of grey,
Whilst walks o'er Hybernia's strand
The loitering rear of the day:

To gaze on yon sky-kissing hills
I hither will constantly rove,
And waken (which memory thrills)
The languishing fires of love.
Could I, like the glance of mine eye,
Yon mountains immediately climb;
Or like my fond thoughts could I fly,
And at pleasure annihilate time:

How oft would I there wing my way,
Where each bliss that is heav'nly meets!
How often to Paradise stray,
And taste of its primaeval sweets!
How oft would I gaze on her face,
And feast on her live-giving smile;
And lost in the warmth of embrace
The down-footed hours beguile.

Perhaps to th' accustom'd tree
She walks the wide prospect to view;
Perhaps she there thinks upon me—
Ah, were my surmises but true!
Could my passion a hope e'er have felt
With a mutual flame to be crown'd,
'Twould soothe my poor bosom, and melt
The balsam of peace in the wound.

Ah! why comes the withering blast
From rude frowning Winter's cold coast,
The smiles of bright Nature to waste,
And ravish of Spring the gay boast!
The cankering tooth of the storm
Less blights the young hopes of the plain,
Than love without hope does deform
The youthful soft germ of the swain.

Tho' hopeless I languish for thee,
Methinks there's a sweet in the pain:
Ah no! — I wish not to be free—
Still, still let me bear the dear chain.
Here the pensive-ey'd pow'r o'er my breast
A feeling far finer now throws
Than the joys of the stoical feast,
Or transports wild mirth e'er bestows.

Th' affection for Stella I bear,
Can only to heaven belong;
'Twas Nature that planted it here—
Was Nature — was Nature e'er wrong?
'Twas at the sad tale of her woes
I was taught these emotions to prove;
'Twas pity, 'twas sympathy rose
And melted my bosom to love.

'Twas not a mere glance of their eye,
That transiently views and admires;
Whose flame when new objects they spy
Without pain or reflection expires.
Not beauty such pow'r could impart,
Or charms that externally shine;
'Twas a proof of thy worth won my heart,
And made it eternally thine.

The dearest, fond wish of my breast
From aught that is selfish is pure;
Pants only to see my fair blest,
And to render that bliss still secure.
Ye spirits! who drop the soft tear
When virtue or truth e'er complain,
With pity attend and declare—
Should lovers like me love in vain?

No, Heaven forbids it to be,
For Heaven a friend is to love;
Th' horizon now brightening I see,
And Hope stooping down from above.
O! tell me, thou soul-soothing power!
Shall Stella my peace yet restore?
Shall I visit her flocks and her bower?
Say — shall I be happy once more?

[pp. 18-32]