Elizabeth Carter, “Ode to Melancholy”

ELIZABETH CARTER

“Ode to Melancholy”

Alas Darkness my sole light, gloom
O fairer to me than any sunshine
Take me take me to dwell with you
Take me                           Sophocles.

 

Come Melancholy! silent Pow’r,
Companion of my lonely Hour,
To sober Thought confin’d:
Thou sweetly-sad ideal Guest,
In all thy soothing Charms confest,                                                                                 5
Indulge my pensive Mind.

No longer wildly hurried thro’
The Tides of Mirth, that ebb and flow,
In Folly’s noisy Stream:
I from the busy Croud retire,                                                                                            10
To court the Objects that inspire
Thy philosophic Dream.

Thro’ yon dark Grove of mournful Yews
With solitary Steps I muse,
By thy Direction led:                                                                                                   15
Here, cold to Pleasure’s tempting Forms,
Consociate with my Sister-worms,
And mingle with the Dead.

Ye Midnight Horrors! Awful Gloom!
Ye silent Regions of the Tomb,                                                                                          20
My future peaceful Bed:
Here shall my weary Eyes be clos’d,
And ev’ry Sorrow lie repos’d
In Death’s refreshing Shade.

Ye pale Inhabitants of Night,                                                                                              25
Before my intellectual Sight
In solemn Pomp ascend:
O tell how trifling now appears
The Train of idle Hopes and Fears
That varying Life attend.                                                                                              30

Ye faithless Idols of our Sense,
Here own how vain your fond Pretence,
Ye empty Names of Joy!
Your transient Forms like Shadows pass,
Frail Offspring of the magic Glass,                                                                                      35
Before the mental Eye.

The dazzling Colours, falsely bright,
Attract the gazing vulgar Sight
With superficial State:
Thro’ Reason’s clearer Optics view’d,                                                                                  40
How stript of all its Pomp, how rude
Appears the painted Cheat.

Can wild Ambition’s Tyrant Pow’r,
Or ill-got Wealth’s superfluous Store,
The Dread of Death controul?                                                                                      45
Can Pleasure’s more bewitching Charms
Avert, or sooth the dire Alarms
That shake the parting Soul?

Religion! Ere the Hand of Fate
Shall make Reflexion plead too late,                                                                                    50
My erring Senses teach,
Admist the flatt’ring Hopes of Youth,
To meditate the solemn Truth,
These awful Relics preach.

Thy penetrating Beams disperse                                                                                          55
The Mist of Error, whence our Fears
Derive their fatal Spring:
‘Tis thine the trembling Heart to warm,
And soften to an Angel Form
The pale terrific King.                                                                                                        60

When sunk by Guilt in sad Despair,
Repentance breathes her humble Pray’r,
And owns thy Threat’nings just:
Thy Voice the shudd’ring Suppliant chears,
With Mercy calms her tort’ring Fears,                                                                                    65
And lifts her from the Dust.

Sublim’d by thee, the Soul aspires
Beyond the Range of low Desires,
In nobler Views elate:
Unmov’d her destin’d Change surveys,                                                                                  70
And, arm’d by Faith, intrepid pays
The universal Debt.

In Death’s soft Slumber lull’d to Rest,
She sleeps, by smiling Visions blest,
That gently whisper Peace:                                                                                                75
‘Till the last Morn’s fair op’ning Ray
Unfolds the bright eternal Day
Of active Life and Bliss.

NOTES:

Epigraph These lines are from Sophocles’s play Ajax, ll. 394-97; translation mine.

3 sober “Serious; solemn; grave” (Johnson).

5 Charms “Enchantments” (OED).

8 Mirth “A diversion or entertainment” (OED).

9 Folly’s “Act of negligence or passion” (Johnson).

14 Yews “The tree of the dead. (…) The yew tree was sacred to Hecate, the Greek goddess associated with witchcraft, death, and necromancy; it was said to purify the dead as they entered Hades” (The Paris Review).

21 Bed “The grave” (OED).

27 Pomp “procession or sequence of things” (OED).

35 Glass Looking-glass.

41 Pomp “Splendor” (Johnson).

67 Sublim’d “To raise to an elevated sphere or exalted state” (OED).

72 universal Debt Original sin.

SOURCE: Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1776), pp. 79-83. [Google Books]

 Edited by Katarina Wagner


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