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For he ne'er could be true, she averred,
Who could rob a poor bird of his young;
Such tenderness fall from her tongue.
How that pity was due to a dove,
And she called it the sister of Love;
So much I her accents adore,
Methinks I should love her the more.
Unmoved when her Corydon sighs ?
These plains and this valley despise ?
Soft scenes of contentment and ease,
If aught in her absence could please.”
OTHER EIGHTEENTH CENTURY POETS,
TEAR Shenstone in age was THOMAS GRAY, who has made himself immortal by one poem,
and that one of the best in our language, - the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. He has written several odes, one
1716-1771 to Adversity, another On a Distant Prospect of Eton College, both far above the average in merit. But the Elegy overshadows all else he has done, and is dear to all lovers of good poetry. Its merit was recognized, too, from the time it first appeared, — which is a little unusual. It nearly always happens that really great works are not known to be great till time has sat in judgment upon them; it takes distance to show men how great they really are.
Gray seems to have been like the youth described in his Elegy, contemplative, sad, a man of fastidious tastes, and not quite at home in a rough world. His early life had been clouded by unhappiness; and when childhood, the background of life, is obscured by sadness, the after-life often takes on a tinge of gloom. The Elegy is doubtless a poem that you already know by heart. Not so familiar, perhaps, are two other fine odes of his, The Bard and The Progress of Poetry. These are, however, much more artificial than the Elegy, which owes its power to the fact that it touches so many responsive chords in the human heart. Another little poem, one of his shortest odes, To Spring, has something of this same sympathetic quality, and also has those touches descriptive of scenes and sounds in nature, which are such marked beauties of the Elegy. For instance, the description of the insect youth upon the wing is a dainty bit of word-painting ; while “through the peopled air the busy murmur glows,” almost equals the lines, “ The beetle wheels his droning flight, While drowsy tinklings lull the distant fold,” in the Elegy. But we will read the Ode on the Spring :
“Still is the toiling hand of Care;
The panting herds repose :
The busy murmur glows !
Some lightly o'er the current skim,
Some show their gayly-gilded trim,
“ To Contemplation's sober eye
Such is the race of man :
Shall end where they began.
Brushed by the hand of rough Mischance,
Or chilled by Age, their airy dance
WILLIAM COLLINS had one of those natures that so often form a poet: he had a head full of fancies, but
1720-1756 an organization too delicate to bear the hard uses of the world. While in college he wrote a series of Oriental Eclogues, which he laughed at himself in later years, saying they might just as appropriately have been called “ Irish Eclogues.” After this he wrote and published his Odes, which fell dead from the press. The unhappy poet, disregarded and poor, never recovered from this disappointment. He led a gloomy, morbid life for several years, often in debt, and sometimes in dissipation. Samuel Johnson (the great Dr. Johnson) tells us that once when he
went to see the poet, a bailiff was lurking outside his lodgings, ready to arrest him for debt. Yet Collins was a man as profound in learning as he was rich in fancy. Thus the world often uses the men best able to serve it. In the midst of his distress an uncle left him a legacy of two thousand pounds. But it was too late. He showed his bitterness by buying the edition of his Odes which had been published, and putting it into the flames. Not long after, he became insane, so that he was obliged to be shut up in a madhouse. Death came mercifully when he was thirty-six years old, — ten years after he had published his volume of poetry.
His Odes are on divers subjects, - Pity, Fear, Liberty, Simplicity, etc. The one best known is the Ode to the Passions, which is in almost every poetical collection; that which I like best is on Evening, and I quote it for you. It is a very delicate and tender poem, like the hues of a soft sunset. In those days of artificial poetry there are few poems that can compare with this for natural
grace ; and some of the lines, as where he speaks of Evening with dewy fingers drawing “the gradual, dusky veil,” remind one of Milton's early poems :
ODE TO EVENING.
If aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song,
Like thy own brawling springs,
Thy springs and dying gales,
With brede ethereal wove,
O’erhang his wavy bed
Or where the beetle winds
His small but sullen horn,
Now teach me, maid composed,
Whose numbers, stealing through thy darkening vale,
As, musing slow, I hail
For when thy folding star, arising, shows
The fragrant Hours, and elves
And many a nymph who wreathes her brows with sedge,
The pensive Pleasures sweet,
Prepare thy shadowy car.
Whose walls more awful nod,
By thy religious gleams.
That from the mountain's side
And hamlets brown, and dim-discovered spires,
Thy dewy fingers draw
While Spring shall pour his showers, as oft he wont,
While Summer loves to sport
While sallow Autumn fills thy lap with leaves;
Affrights thy shrinking train,
And rudely rends thy robes :
Thy gentlest influence own,
The Pleasures of the Imagination, by DR. MARK AKENSIDE, and The Minstrel, by DR. JAMES BEATTIE,
1721-1770 deserve at least a passing mention. The Pleasures of the Imagination is a blank-verse poem from which we