Mother of musings, Contemplation sage,
Whose grotto stands upon the topmost rock
Of Teneriffe; ‘mid the tempestuous night,
On which, in calmest meditation held,
Thou hear’st with howling winds the beating rain
And drifting hail descend; or if the skies
Unclouded shine, and through the blue serene
Pale Cynthia rolls her silver-axled car,
Whence gazing steadfast on the spangled vault
Raptured thou sitt’st, while murmurs indistinct
Of distant billows soothe thy pensive ear
With hoarse and hollow sounds; secure, self-blest,
There oft thou listen´st to the wild uproar
Of fleets encount´ring, that in whispers low
Ascends the rocky summit, where thou dwell´st
Remote from man, conversing with the spheres!
O, lead me, queen sublime, to solemn glooms
Congenial with my soul; to cheerless shades,
To ruin´d seats, to twilight cells and bowers,
Where thoughtful Melancholy loves to muse
Her favorite midnight haunts. The laughing scenes
Of purple Spring, where all the wanton train
Of Smiles and Graces seem to lead the dance
In sportive round, while from their hands they shower
Ambrosial blooms and flowers, no longer charm;
Tempe, no more I court thy balmy breeze,
Adieu green vales! Ye broider´d meads, adieu!
Beneath yon ruin’d abbey’s moss-grown piles
Oft let me sit, at twilight hour of eve,
Where through some western window the pale moon
Pours her long-levell’d rule of streaming light;
While sullen sacred silence reigns around,
Save the lone screech-owl’s note, who builds his bower
Amid the mould’ring caverns dark and damp,
Or the calm breeze, that rustles in the leaves
Of flaunting ivy, that with mantle green
Invests some wasted tower. Or let me tread
Its neighb’ring walk of pines, where mus’d of old
The cloister’d brothers : thro’ the gloomy void
That far extends beneath their ample arch
As on I pace, religious horror wraps
My soul in dread repose. But when the world
Is clad in Midnight’s raven-colour’d robe,
‘Mid hollow charnel let me watch the flame
Of taper dim, shedding a livid glare
O’er the wan heaps; while airy voices talk
Along the glimm’ring walls; or ghostly shape
At distance seen, invites with beck’ning hand
My lonesome steps, thro’ the far-winding vaults.
Nor undelightful is the solemn noon
Of night, when haply wakeful from my couch
I start: lo, all is motionless around!
Roars not the rushing wind; the sons of men
And every beast in mute oblivion lie;
All nature’s hush’d in silence and in sleep.
O then how fearful is it to reflect,
That thro’ the still globe’s awful solitude,
No being wakes but me! till stealing sleep
My drooping temples bathes in opiate dews.
Nor then let dreams, of wanton folly born
My senses lead thro’ flow’ry paths of joy;
But let the sacred Genius of the night
Such mystic visions send, as Spenser saw,
When thro’ bewild’ring Fancy’s magic maze,
To the fell house of Busyrane, he led
Th’ unshaken Britomart; or Milton knew,
When in abstracted thought he first conceiv’d
All heav’n in tumult, and the Seraphim
Come tow’ring, arm’d in adamant and gold.
Let others love soft Summer’s evening smiles,
As listening to the distant waterfall,
They mark the blushes of the streaky west’;
I choose the pale December’s foggy glooms.
Then, when the sullen shades of evening close,
Where through the room a blindly- glimmering gleam
They dying embers scatter, far remote
From Mirth’s mad shouts, that through th’ illumined roof
Resound with festive echo, let me sit,
Blest with the lowly cricket’s drowsy dirge.
Then let my thought contemplative explore
This fleeting state of things, the vain delights,
The fruitless toils, that still our search elude,
As through the wilderness of life we rove.
This sober hour of silence will unmask
False Folly’s smile , that like the dazzling spells
Of wily Comus cheat th’ unweeting eye
With blear illusion, and persuade to drink
That charmed cup, which Reason’s mintage fair
Unmoulds, and stamps the monster on the man.
Eager we taste, but in the luscious draught
Forget the poisonous dregs that lurk beneath.
Few know that elegance of soul refin’d,
Whose soft sensation feels a quicker joy
From Melancholy’s scenes, than the dull pride
Of tasteless splendour and magnificence
Can e’er afford. Thus Eloise, whose mind
Had languish’d to the pangs of melting love,
More genuine transport found, as on some tomb
Reclin’d, she watch’d the tapers of the dead;
Or thro’ the pillar’d aisles, amid pale shrines
Of imag’d saints, and intermingled graves,
Mus’d a veil’d votaress; than Flavia feels,
As thro’ the mazes of the festive ball,
Proud of her conquering charms, and beauty’s blaze,
She floats amid the silken sons of dress,
And shines the fairest of th’ assembled fair.
When azure noontide cheers the daedal globe,
And the blest regent of the golden day
Rejoices in his bright meridian tower,
How oft my wishes ask the night’s return,
That best befriends the melancholy mind!
Hail, sacred Night! thou too shalt share my song!
Sister of ebon-scepter´d Hecate, hail!
Whether in congregated clouds thou wrapp’st
Thy viewless chariot, or with silver crown
Thy beaming head encirclest, ever hail!
What though beneath thy gloom the sorceress train,
Far in obscured haunt of Lapland moors,
With rhymes uncouth the bloody caldron bless;
Though Murder wan beneath thy shrouding shade
Summons her slow-eyed votaries to devise
Of secret slaughter, while by one blue lamp
In hideous conference sits the listening band,
And start at each low wind, or wakeful sound;
What though thy stay the pilgrim curseth oft,
As all-benighted in Arabian wastes
He hears the wilderness around him howl
With roaming monsters, while on his hoar head
The black-descending tempest ceaseless beats;
Yet more delightful to my pensive mind
Is thy return, than blooming morn’s approach,
E’en then, in youthful pride of opening May,
When from the portals of the saffron east
She sheds fresh roses, and ambrosial dews.
Yet not ungrateful is the morn’s approach,
When dropping wet she comes, and clad in clouds,
While through the damp air scowls the lowering south,
Blackening the landscape’s face, that grove and hill
In formless vapours undistinguish’d swim:
Th’ afflicted of the sadden’d groves
Hail not the sullen gloom; the waving elms
That, hoar through time, and ranged in thick array,
Enclose with stately row some rural hall,
Are mute, nor echo with the clamours hoarse
Of rooks rejoicing on their airy; boughs
While to the shed the dripping poultry crowd,
A mournful train: secure the village hind
Hangs o’er the crackling blaze, nor tempts the storm;
Fix’d in unfinish’d furrow furrow rests the plough:
Rings not the high wood with enliven’d shouts
Of early hunter: all is silence drear;
And deeptest saness wraps the face of things.
Thro’ Pope’s soft song tho’ all the Graces breathe,
And happiest art adorn his Attic page;
Yet does my mind with sweeter transport glow,
As at the root of mossy trunk reclin’d,
In magic Spenser’s wildly-warbled song
I see deserted Una wander wide
Thro’ wasteful solitudes, and lurid heaths,
Weary, forlorn; than when the fated fair
Upon the bosom bright of silver Thames
Launches in all the lustre of brocade,
Amid the splendours of the laughing Sun.
The gay description palls upon the sense,
And coldly strikes the mind with feeble bliss.
Ye youths of Albion’s beauty-blooming isle,
Whose brows have worn the wreath of luckless love,
Is there a pleasure like the pensive mood,
Whose magic wont to soothe your soften’d souls?
O tell how rapturous the joy, to melt
To Melody’s assuasive voice; to bend
Th’ uncertain step along the midnight mead,
And pour your sorrows to the pitying moon,
By many a slow trill from the bird of woe
Oft interrupted; in embowering woods
By darksome brook to muse, and there forget
The solemn dulness of the tedious world,
While Fancy grasps the visionary fair:
And now no more th’ abstracted ear attends
The water’s murmuring lapse, th’ entranced eye
Pierces no longer through th’ extended rows
Of thick-ranged trees; till haply from the depth
The woodman’s stroke, or distant tinkling team
Or heifers rustling through the brake, alarms
Th’ illuded sense, and mars the golden dream.
These are delights that absence drear has made
Familiar to my soul, e’er since the form
Of young Sapphira, beauteous as the Spring,
When from her violet-woven couch awaked
By frolic Zephyr’s hand, her tender cheek
Graceful she lifts, and blushing from her bower
Issues to clothe in gladsome-glistering green
The genial globe, first met my dazzled sight:
These are delights unknown to minds profane,
And which alone the pensive soul can taste.
The taper’d choir, at the late hour of prayer,
Oft let me tread, while to th’ according voice
The many-sounding organ peals on high
The clear slow-dittied chant, or varied hymn,
Till all my soul is bathed in ecstasies,
And lapp’d in Paradise. Or let me sit
Far in sequester’d aisles of the deep dome,
There lonesome listen to the sacred sounds,
Which, as they lengthen through the Gothic vaults,
In hollow murmurs reach my ravish’d ear.
Nor when the lamps expiring yield to night,
And solitude returns, would I forsake
The solemn mansion, but attentive mark
The due clock swinging slow with sweepy sway,
Measuring Time’s flight with momentary sound.
Nor let me fail to cultivate my mind
With the soft thrillings of the tragic Muse,
Divine Melpomene, sweet Pity’s nurse,
Queen of the stately step, and flowing pall.
Now let Monimia mourn streaming eyes
Her joys incestuous, and polluted love:
Now let soft Juliet in the gaping tomb
Print the last kiss on her true Romeo’s lips,
His lips yet reeking from the deadly draught:
Or Jaffier kneel for one forgiving look.
Nor seldom let the Moor on Desdemone
Pour the misguided threats of jealous rage.
By soft degrees the manly torrent steals
From my swollen eyes; and at a brother’s woe
My big heart melts in sympathizing tears.
What are the splendours of the gaudy court,
Its tinsel trappings, and its pageant pomps?
To me far happier seems the banish’d lord,
Amid Siberia’s unrejoicing wilds
Who pines all lonesome, in the chambers hoar
Of some high castle shut, whose windows dim
In distant ken discover trackless plains,
Where Winter ever whirls his icy car;
While still repeated objects of his view,
The gloomy battlements, and ivied spires,
That crown the solitary dome, arise;
While from the topmost turret the slow clock,
Far heard along th’ inhospitable wastes,
With sad-returning chime awakes new grief;
Ev’n he far happier seems than is the proud,
The potent Satrap, whom he left behind
`Mid Moscow’s golden palaces, to drown
In ease and luxury the laughing hours.
Illustrious objects strike the gazer’s mind
With feeble bliss, and but allure the sight,
Nor rose with impulse quick th’ unfeeling heart.
Thus seen by shepard from Hymettus’ brow,
What daedal landscapes smile! here palmy groves,
Resounding once with Plato’s voice, arise,
Amid whose umbrage green her silver head
Th’ unfading olive lifts; here vine-clad hills
Lay forth their purple store, and sunny vales
In prospect vast their level laps expand,
Amid whose beauties glistering Athens towers.
Though through the blissful scenes Ilissus roll
His sage-inspiring flood, whose winding marge
The thick-wove laurel shades; though roseate Morn
Pour all her splendors on th’ empurpled scene;
Yet fells the hoary hermit truer joys,
As from the cliff that o’er his cavern hangs
He views the piles of fallen Persepolis
In deep arrangement hide the darksome plain.
Unbounded waste! the mouldering obelisk
Here, like a blasted oak, ascends the clouds;
Here Parian domes their vaulted halls disclose
Horrid with thorn, where lurks th’ unpitying thief,
Whence flits the twilight-loving bat at eve,
And the deaf adder wreaths her spotted train,
The dwellings once of elegance and art.
Here temples rise, amid whose hallow’d bounds
Spires the black pine, while through the naked street ,
Once haunt of tradeful merchants, springs the grass:
Here columns heap’d on prostrate columns, torn
From their firm base, increase the mouldering mass.
Far as the sight can pierce, appear the spoils
Of sunk magnificence! A blended scene
Of moles, fanes, arches, domes, and palaces,
Where, with his brother Horror, Ruin sits.
O come then, Melancholy, queen of thought!
O come with saintly look, and steadfast step,
From forth thy cave embower’d with mournful yew,
Where ever to the curfew’s solemn sound
Listening thou sitt’st, and with thy cypress bind
Thy votary’s hair, and seal him for thy son.
But never let Euphrosyne beguile
With toys of wanton mirth my fixed mind,
Nor in my path her primrose-garland cast.
Though ‘mid her train the dimpled Hebe bare
Her rosy bosom to th’ enamour’d view;
Though Venus, mother of the Smiles and Loves,
And Bacchus, ivy-crown’d, in citron bower
With her on nectar-streaming fruitage feast:
What though ’tis hers to calm the lowering skies,
And at her presence mild th’ embattled clouds
Disperse in air, and o’er the face of heaven
New day diffusive gleam at her approach;
Yet are these joys that Melancholy gives,
Than all her witless revels happier far;
These deep-felt joys, by Contemplation taught.
Then ever, beautious Contemplation, hail!
From thee began, auspicious maid, my song,
With thee shall end; for thou art fairer far
Than are the nymph of Cirrha´s mossy grot;
To loftier rapture thou canst wake the thought,
Than all the fabling Poets´; boasted powers.
Hail, queen divine! whom, as tradition tells,
Once in his evening walk a druid found,
Far in a hollow glade of Mona´s woods;
And piteous bore with hospitable hand
To the close shelter of his oaken bower.
There soon the sage admiring mark´d the dawn
Of solemn musing in your pensive thought;
For when a smiling babe, you loved to lie
Oft deeply listening to the rapid roar
Of wood-hung Menai, stream of druids old.
Thomas Warton’s “The Pleasures of Melancholy,” written in 1745, a year after Pope’s death, is a poem referred to more often than read.
In the last forty years it has been addressed infrequently, twice as a rough draft for Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy.” Dismissing preromanticism as the logic of the contradictions inherent in romanticism proper, I find that nowhere is the genesis of romanticism better studied than in Warton’s poem.
Drawing upon “Il Penseroso” (and implicitly “L’Allegro”) for its structure, “The Pleasures of Melancholy” constructs itself around the allegorical opposition between Day and Night, Mirth and Melancholy.
The noise of the city is opposed to the quiet of nature, vice to virtue, summer to winter, bright sunshine to fogs, gloom, and rain. The speaker’s preference for solitude and night, emblems for “virtue,” expresses itself further in his choice between fictional women, emblems for their authors. In this erotics of reading, Warton prefers Spenser’s Una, alone in the wilderness, to Pope’s Belinda, launched at noon on the silver Thames.
Warton’s poem is intensely interesting because it reveals the contradictions at the very heart of the ideological construction we recognize as romanticism. For the poem cannot sustain its own dichotomy between a sunny classicism that is attractive but superficial – Pope, Belinda, “Attic” art-and a melancholy Gothicism that offers deeper pleasures – Spenser’s Una, Milton’s Penseroso. The poem itself gives evidence that Pope, master of classic forms, is also the primary revivalist and transmitter of Gothic gloom.
Structured as it is by opposing Mirth to Melancholy, Day to Night, and Spenser-Milton to Pope, the logic of the poem breaks down in several places.