Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Lyric Poetry

By Mark Akenside


  Once more I join the Thespian choir,
  And taste the inspiring fount again:
  O parent of the Grecian lyre,
  Admit me to thy powerful strain—
  And lo, with ease my step invades
  The pathless vale and opening shades,
  Till now I spy her verdant seat;
  And now at large I drink the sound,
  While these her offspring, listening round.
  By turns her melody repeat.


  I see Anacreon smile and sing,
  His silver tresses breathe perfume:
  His cheek displays a second spring
  Of roses, taught by wine to bloom.
  Away, deceitful cares, away,
  And let me listen to his lay;
  Let me the wanton pomp enjoy,
  While in smooth dance the light-wing'd Hours
  Lead round his lyre its patron powers,
  Kind Laughter and Convivial Joy.


  Broke from the fetters of his native land,
  Devoting shame and vengeance to her lords,
  With louder impulse and a threatening hand
  The Lesbian patriot [1] smites the sounding chords:
      Ye wretches, ye perfidious train,
      Ye cursed of gods and free-born men,
        Ye murderers of the laws,
      Though now ye glory in your lust,
    Though now ye tread the feeble neck in dust,
  Yet Time and righteous Jove will judge your dreadful cause.


  But lo, to Sappho's melting airs
  Descends the radiant queen of love:
  She smiles, and asks what fonder cares
  Her suppliant's plaintive measures move:
  Why is my faithful maid distress'd?
  Who, Sappho, wounds thy tender breast?
  Say, flies he?—Soon he shall pursue:
  Shuns he thy gifts?—He soon shall give:
  Slights he thy sorrows?—He shall grieve,
  And soon to all thy wishes bow.


  But, O Melpomene, for whom
  Awakes thy golden shell again?
  What mortal breath shall e'er presume
  To echo that unbounded strain?
  Majestic in the frown of years,
  Behold, the man of Thebes [2] appears:
  For some there are, whose mighty frame
  The hand of Jove at birth endow'd
  With hopes that mock the gazing crowd;
  As eagles drink the noontide flame;


    While the dim raven beats her weary wings,
    And clamours far below.—Propitious Muse,
    While I so late unlock thy purer springs,
    And breathe whate'er thy ancient airs infuse,
      Wilt thou for Albion's sons around
      (Ne'er hadst thou audience more renown'd)
        Thy charming arts employ,
      As when the winds from shore to shore
    Through Greece thy lyre's persuasive language bore,
  Till towns, and isles, and seas return'd the vocal joy?


      Yet then did Pleasure's lawless throng,
      Oft rushing forth in loose attire,
      Thy virgin dance, thy graceful song
      Pollute with impious revels dire.
      O fair, O chaste, thy echoing shade
      May no foul discord here invade:
      Nor let thy strings one accent move,
      Except what earth's untroubled ear
      'Mid all her social tribes may hear,
      And heaven's unerring throne approve.


      Queen of the lyre, in thy retreat
      The fairest flowers of Pindus glow;
      The vine aspires to crown thy seat,
      And myrtles round thy laurel grow.
      Thy strings adapt their varied strain
      To every pleasure, every pain,
      Which mortal tribes were born to prove;
      And straight our passions rise or fall,
      As at the wind's imperious call
      The ocean swells, the billows move.


    When midnight listens o'er the slumbering earth,
    Let me, O Muse, thy solemn whispers hear:
    When morning sends her fragrant breezes forth,
    With airy murmurs touch my opening ear.
      And ever watchful at thy side,
      Let Wisdom's awful suffrage guide
        The tenor of thy lay:
      To her of old by Jove was given
    To judge the various deeds of earth and heaven;
  'Twas thine by gentle arts to win us to her sway.


      Oft as, to well-earn'd ease resign'd,
      I quit the maze where Science toils,
      Do thou refresh my yielding mind
      With all thy gay, delusive spoils.
      But, O indulgent, come not nigh
      The busy steps, the jealous eye
      Of wealthy care or gainful age;
      Whose barren souls thy joys disdain,
      And hold as foes to reason's reign
      Whome'er thy lovely works engage.


      When friendship and when letter'd mirth
      Haply partake my simple board,
      Then let thy blameless hand call forth
      The music of the Teian chord.
      Or if invoked at softer hours,
      Oh! seek with me the happy bowers
      That hear Olympia's gentle tongue;
      To beauty link'd with virtue's train,
      To love devoid of jealous pain,
      There let the Sapphic lute be strung.


    But when from envy and from death to claim
    A hero bleeding for his native land;
    When to throw incense on the vestal flame
    Of Liberty my genius gives command,
     Nor Theban voice nor Lesbian lyre
     From thee, O Muse, do I require;
       While my presaging mind,
     Conscious of powers she never knew,
   Astonish'd, grasps at things beyond her view,
  Nor by another's fate submits to be confined.

[Footnote 1: 'The Lesbian patriot:' Alcaeus.]

[Footnote 2: 'The man of Thebes:' Pindar.]

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