1808
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Forgetfulness.

The Associate Minstrels.

Josiah Conder


A sprawling irregular allegorical ode signed "C. February 1808." Josiah Conder addresses Forgetfulness, no friend to poets: "Thy harp unstrung, in silence hung, | The lumber-room of Time awaits, | Where mingled tost, for ever lost, | Moulder in unlamented fates, | The cast-off favourites of Fame" p. 180. The awful powers of the goddess are described, and those to whom Forgetfulness is a boon. The concluding stanza addresses a higher power still: "There's ONE whose eye Oblivion can't evade, | No lustre dazzle, and no darkness shade: | The shifting ages, from creation's morn, | Th' eternal past, th' eternity unborn— | (He knows no pause, no interval between) | All are to him one ever-present scene" p. 184.

Raymond Dexter Havens includes this poem in his bibliography of Milton imitations, perhaps because of the allusion to Orpheus in the second stanza. In addition to Conder, the "associate minstrels" were Jane and Ann Taylor, and Eliza Thomas (whom Conder later married). The volume was published by the poet's father, the bookseller Thomas Conder.

British Critic: "Who, or how many, these associates may be, we know not, but it gave a favourable impression of their poetical connections when we saw their volume dedicated to James Montgomery; who they style their 'friend.' Observing various signatures, we presume the contributors are several, but this is of little importance; the chief point is, that the poems are good, which may be said of them, perhaps, without a single exception" 37 (April 1811) 404.



O thou! from whose appalling frown
Nature, trembling, shuddering, flies;
Whose sway the great, the good, the wise,
Must undistinguished own:
Behold! I bow before thy shrine,
Tuning to thee my artless lays;
And ere, Forgetfulness, thy gloom
Enwraps my shade, conceals my tomb,
And ere my song be wholly thine,
I would attempt thy praise.

O for the lyre, whose magic spell
Could move the dark-brow'd king of hell!
Then might I hope its tuneful art
Would touch, relentless power! thy heart:
That thou, in pity to my prayer,
Moved by the music of my song,
Wouldst yet awhile my memory spare,
My fame a little while prolong.

Alas! how vain the fond desire!
The world, engrossed with other themes,
With Pleasure's songs, Ambition's schemes,
With Folly's tales, or Fancy's dreams,
Say, can it hear thy lyre?
Ah, no! for soon, fond Friendship dead,
And Hope, the beauteous flatterer, fled,
The Muse will, vainly sighing, roam
To seek a patron or a home,
Till she on cold Oblivion's breast
At last, unnoticed, sinks to rest.

Thy harp unstrung, in silence hung,
The lumber-room of Time awaits,
Where mingled tost, for ever lost,
Moulder in unlamented fates,
The cast-off favourites of Fame;
The vanities that once had name;
The worn-out themes of former praise;
The long-lost deeds of elder days;
And many a rose-bud, many a gem,
And once-resplendent diadem,
Ambition's laurels, Virtue's tears,
"And all the refuse of six thousand years."

Say, in what silent plain,
Or desolated fane,
Hast thou thy favourite temple, awful Queen?
Or when fierce tempests sweep
Along the blackening deep,
Dost thou in silence love to view the sense?
To watch the shattered bark, where at the helm
Sits mute Despair — the seaman's last endeavour?
To see the conquering waves the wreck o'erwhelm?
For lo! she sinks — and they are thine for ever!

Hide, vain Ambition, hide!
Oblivion mocks thine efforts, base-born Pride!
Go now, in fruitless labour pile
Pyramid on pyramid,
Exceed what Babel's builders did,
And fondly hope the while,
That there, in silent state secure,
Thy fame exalted shall endure;
That ne'er Oblivion's waters then
Shall level thee with common men:
Forgetfulness shall smile,
Deride thy heart, proud creature of a day!
And call to Ruin to behold her prey.

Yet some there are, who at thine altars bend,
Who bless thine influence and implore thine aid—
Sister of Sleep, thou art pale Sorrow's friend,
And coward Guilt seeks shelter in thy shade.
When Man had sinned, when Memory's radiant light
Shone but on woe, and Hope alone could bless,
On thee he called, t' entomb in endless night
The murdered hours of former happiness.
Oft when, almost despairing, sceptic Grief
Thy being doubts, and wooes the tardy grave,
Thou art, unseen, preparing sure relief,
And hasting, those who thank thee not, to save.

When sorrows cloud our setting sun,
Ere yet the race of life is run,
How sweet, Forgetfulness, we find
Thy soothing twilight to the mind!
When, mildly beaming o'er the scenes,
The past affords a light serene;
When, viewed in Memory's temper'd light,
E'en thorns with glittering tears look bright;
And e'en the rugged mountain, too,
Looks lovely as it fades from view;
While Hope, life's evening star, on high,
Scatters its radiance o'er the sky.

But when upon the tomb shall shine
The dawning beams of endless day;
When Earth and Ocean shall resign
Their dead, and thou, O Grave, thy prey;—
The mists of Time shall roll away:
While the last trumpet's awful blast
Through all thy caves, in thunders deep,
Shall loud proclaim thine empire past,
And burst the iron bands of Sleep;
Shake on her ancient throne primeval Night;—
And what dark secrets then shall be dragged forth to light!

———*———*———*———*———

There's ONE whose eye Oblivion can't evade,
No lustre dazzle, and no darkness shade:
The shifting ages, from creation's morn,
Th' eternal past, th' eternity unborn—
(He knows no pause, no interval between)
All are to him one ever-present scene.
HE, for the HIM the hearts of all are known,
Counts every sigh, and treasures every groan;
Vice not unmarked erects her haughty mien,
Nor can a blush of Virtue fade unseen.

[pp. 179-84]