1800 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to Fancy.

The Sun (31 July 1821).

H-ll


A substantial Pindaric ode in ten alternating long and short stanzas signed "H—ll." This undated poem was printed in The Sun as part of their series of "Carmina Wiccamica" — student verse from Winchester College. It is one of the rare poems imitating William Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character, a particularly ambitious project for a very young poet. Perhaps the writer was a Winchester graduate rather than a Winchester student, though in either case he seems likely to have come to Collins through the medium of Joseph Warton.

The first half of the "Ode to Fancy" traces the power of Fancy over superstitious minds — "fur-clad native," "th' Egyptian crew," "Odin's chiefs" — with a degree of ethnic detail perhaps suggesting a date of composition in the 1790s, following the publication of Collins's Ode to Superstition (1786) and Frank Sayers's Dramatic Sketches of the Ancient Northern Mythology (1792). The shadows of superstition having been banished, the second half of the ode unfolds as a parallel list of inspired writers, beginning with Plato. In accordance with Pindaric convention, several names are suppressed; while Shakespeare is obvious enough, one wonders whether the writer paired with Plato might be Plotinus, Boethius, Milton or some more obscure adept: "Nor second He whose daring soul, | Rush'd thro' the self-created whole, | And wak'd an unknown lay; | He saw beneath his feet | The turbid waves of Folly beat, | And daringly serene look'd down from his high seat."

The sense of the last stanza seems a little strained but perhaps the poet follows Collins in saluting powers of inspiration that he hesitates to aspire to: "I'll mark thy blissful visions sail, | And fondly think them true; | For woe to him whose eyes | Thy airy schemes of glory try, | On him how dark, how drear, frowns dim Futurity!" Might these concluding lines refer to the sad fate that befell the author of the Ode on the Poetical Character?



Thou whose wildly darting eye
Can please Creation's utmost verge;
Whose rainbow pinions skim the sky,
Or sweep upon this rolling surge,
Spirit descend, I know thy power,
Thou can'st not soothe the tort'ring hour,
The aching heart heeds not thy wiles,
Yet Hope by thee more brightly drest,
In orient hues, in glitt'ring vest,
On youth more sweetly smiles;
And o'er the twilight scene at distance pours
A visionary glow, and hails the future hours.

Ere Science wak'd her awful lyre,
Ere Truth reveal'd
Her golden shield,
And bade thy aid her sons inspire;
'Mid the desart was thy throne,
Thy step was on the sounding shore,
There, all terrific and alone,
The fur clad native own'd thy power;
He heard thy voice in thunder speaking,
He heard thee in the tempest shrieking,
He saw thy form at midnight tread,
The solemn grove, while dimly seen
By fits across the chequer'd green,
The moon her lustre shed;
He thought each giant oak
In hollow whispers mutt'ring spoke,
And bow'd to every blast that o'er the mountain broke.

Hence each strange unhallow'd birth
Thy pale ey'd offspring, Terror, bred,
For fear made deities on earth,
And guiltless victims vainly bled:
Then first each shape unmeet to view,
Osirus and th' Egyptian crew,
And Moloch, smear'd with human blood,
Beheld their priests, with midnight spell,
Summon the shriev'ring souls from hell,
Beneath the glimmering wood;
Or with the timbrel's sound (so fables say)
And mystic dance uncouth arrest the planet's way.

When Odin's chiefs, with headlong might,
In glitt'ring rows,
With bended bows,
Spurr'd their impatient steeds to fight:
Louder as the death groans swell'd,
They thought (for FANCY fir'd their view)
That spirits in the tempest yell'd;
They thought with tresses wildly streaming,
Like meteors in the dark clouds gleaming,
The fatal sisters round them flew;
Thy voice, where 'mid the dun-heath's gloom
The grey stone marks the warrior's tomb,
The bard of Fingal knew;
He saw on every blast
That sighing swept the dreary waste,
The forms of other times, the deeds of ages past.

Visions hence! her banner bright
Lo Truth unfolds; with trembling screams
Each spectre pale, each elfin sprite
Hath veil'd him from her piercing beams;
That voice which taught th' archangel's lay,
And hail'd Creation's natal day,
Is heard again: FANCY, thy pow'r
The soul of Science shall inflame,
Inspire each greatly daring aim,
And teach her unfledg'd wings to soar;
For led by thee, to her alone 'tis giv'n
To grasp the noblest forms of earth, sea, air, and heav'n.

Enthron'd above this earthly sphere,
Beyond the space
Of time and place,
Spirit of Plato, bend and hear!
With immortal vigour fraught;
Thy soul disdain'd each form of thought,
And uncreated beauty's blaze;
'Till Virtue's radiant form descending
Each charm of grace and music blending,
Flash'd on the sight a living ray;
Nor second He whose daring soul,
Rush'd thro' the self-created whole,
And wak'd an unknown lay;
He saw beneath his feet
The turbid waves of Folly beat,
And daringly serene look'd down from his high seat.

Hark! again, what daring hand
Has struck thy loud resounding strings?
I see thee wave thy magic wand,
I see thee shake thy spangled wings,
For sweetly sounds that awful strain
That sings the bliss of grief and pain,
To rapture turns the bursting tear;
Oh Goddess, will thy pinions wave
Where Sorrow bends o'er Friendship's grave,
Or Love's untimely bier;
Say, if indeed thy flowers shall deck the urn,
Or bloom thy wreaths for those whom nature bids to mourn?

I ask not that with eagle flight,
Thy burning car
Through realms of air
Bear me above the solar height,
Where with thee thy Newton soar'd,
And mark'd the rolling planets' laws,
The golden founts of light explor'd,
And taught the great Eternal Cause.
How blest the few, 'bove human measure,
Who taste thy purest streams of pleasure,
Whose breasts with all thy ardour glow;
Yet dost thou not disdain the seat
Where smiling joy and friendship meet,
Where Pity's sorrows flow,
And while thy footstep roves
Through icy climes or Indian groves,
Thou hears't their wild notes chaunt their chiefs and sable loves.

By each stream and haunted dell,
By the tall mountain's hoary side,
Is heard thy soul inspiring shell,
There oft thy fleeting form is spy'd:
Still, Spirit, still with brightest beams
O may'st thou gild thy Poet's dreams;
As erst when Nature's darling child
Was laid in Avon's flowery vale,
With softest swell in every gale
He heard thy harpings wild;
And thou for him with fond maternal hand
Didst cull the fairest wreaths of blooming fairy land.

Goddess, though storms at distance lour,
Though scowling stand
Misfortune's band,
And watch to claim their destin'd hour;
In the liquid loom of air,
With all the rainbow's thousand dyes,
Thy visionary web prepare,
And bid the air-built fabric rise;
When o'er trembling torrents frowning,
With deeper shades the plain embrowning,
Dark waving pine trees shut the view;
As evening drops her dewy veil
I'll mark thy blissful visions sail,
And fondly think them true;
For woe to him whose eyes
Thy airy schemes of glory try,
On him how dark, how drear, frowns dim Futurity!

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