1763
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Morning Elegy.

Lloyd's Evening Post (14 September 1763) 257.

Abraham Portal


A Miltonic descriptive ode in twenty-two quatrains signed "A. Portal." This poem was composed as a counterpart to Portal's "Evening Elegy" printed in Lloyd's Evening Post in June 1762. The mode is different however, as Portal imitates Milton's L'Allegro rather than Gray's Elegy: "With silver hair, bright flowing in the East, | And ruby tinctur'd mantle lightly spread; | With pearl bestudded girdle bounds her vest, | Aurora rises from her coral bed." "A Morning Elegy" concludes, like Milton's poem, with a resolve: "And be the Business of each rising Day | To check my Wants, my Passions, and my Pride." The manner and devotional turn taken by this ode suggest that it was inspired by James Hervey's epithet-laden prose in Meditations and Contemplations (1748).

The quatrain seems to have been a favorite stanza for times-of-day poems, familiar examples being Charles Coton's "Quatrains" (1689) and, more recent, John Cunningham's frequently-reprinted "Day, a Pastoral" (1761). The Miltonic diction of Portal's poem bears an obvious relationship to the blank-verse descriptive odes in quatrains imitating William Collins's Ode to Evening, especially to William Blake's "To Spring" in Poetical Sketches (1783) — Blake compressing the whole of Portal's range of material into the mere span of four quatrains. Portal was a London silversmith by trade; his gorgeous diction anticipates the mode later associated with Hunt and Keats and described as "Cockney pastoral."



Hail, bright-eyed Harbinger of sacred light!
Nature, refresh'd, beholds thy cheering ray;
At thy approach the gloomy shades of Night,
And all its dreary horrors, pass away.

Yet not to him, within whose manly breast
Reason with olive twined sceptre sways,
Is there in Darkness aught that can molest;
But Nights serene succeed to virtuous Days.

Unlike that Lucifer, whose baleful reign
Excites to ev'ry deed of foulest dye,
Rapine and Lust, and all the savage train,
Retire, abash'd, before thy holy eye.

With silver hair, bright flowing in the East,
And ruby tinctur'd mantle lightly spread;
With pearl bestudded girdle bounds her vest,
Aurora rises from her coral bed.

I feel her sweet breath in the balmy gale,
Purging from noxious fumes the humid Air,
Shedding fresh odours on the flow'ry vale,
And genuine roses on the village fair.

I see the dappled fleece, her fav'rite woof,
And golden-fringed clouds adorn the sky,
Skimming with light wing o'er its azure roof,
And soft'ning ev'ry object to the eye.

Whilst yet the Mind retains her tranquil ease,
From Day's perplexing cares and passions free;
Whilst Nature's charms are best array'd to please,
And Health and Pleasure join in Amity;

Oft let me rove beneath thy gentle beam,
Ere sultry Phoebus mounts his burning throne,
And to the soaring sky-lark's grateful theme,
In numbers less melodious join my own.

And as I range th' ambrosial fields along,
Or climb the verdant hills unshaded height,
Pause on those blessings that inspire my song,
And gather thence Instruction and Delight.

Springs not a blade upon the spacious plain,
Bends not a flow'r beneath the crystal tear,
Chirps not an insect of the turf in vain;
But Contemplation Wisdom's voice can hear.

See! yonder feather'd parent, flitting low,
Sudden she darts upon her humble food;
Yet, nobly scorning hunger, bears it through
The yielding air to serve her callow brood.

Sweet Moralist! to reason-vaunting man
Thy gen'rous lesson teach; oft, in thy place,
Neglecting Nature's all-instructive plan,
He feeds his follies, and neglects his race.

What sudden burst of Oriental rays
Disturbs the peaceful musings of my breast;
Involves the ample firmament in blaze,
And shots its glories to the distant West?

How bright the scene! magnificent and large
The orb of Light reveals his glorious face,
Rejoicing in his high Creator's charge,
To spread his bounties through the realms of Space.

Fitted, to mortal eye, thy splendors mild
More great appear than at meridian height;
So shone the holy Virgin's heav'nly Child,
Disclosing grace divine to human sight.

Advancing now, the adolescent Day
Laughs in the fulness of unclouded Joy,
Fresh springing flowers strew his radiant way,
The woodland Harmonists their notes employ:

From hill to dale, from grove to verd'rous spring,
Sweet sounds responsive fill the ambient air,
Sweet sounds responsive make the valleys ring,
And banish thence the family of Care:

Nor cheerless is the herd's majestic low;
Loud calling for the Milk maids easing hand,
Or, whilte stocks bleating on the mountain's brow,
Or Plowman's whistling o'er his furrow'd land.

Ye blest inhabitants of fields and shades,
Elysium soft of undisturb'd Repose!
No artificial want your breast invades,
No painful foretaste of succeeding woes;

By simple instinct led, to you unknown
The tender throb of exquisite Desire,
The wealth of Av'rice and Ambition's throne,
No raging wish, no Discontent inspire;

To you sufficing, that the genial beam
Of Day's enliv'ning Planet wakes to Joy,
Satiate ye quaff the pure untainted stream,
And feast on dainties that can never cloy.

Oh! to my heart your sacred love convey,
Let Nature be my Wealth, my Joy, my Guide,
And be the Business of each rising Day
To check my Wants, my Passions, and my Pride.

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