REV. JOHN LANGHORNE
The Tears of Music. A Poem, to the Memory of Mr. Handel
SPIRITS of Music, and ye Powers of Song,
That wak’d to painful Melody the Lyre
Of young JESSIDES, when, on GILBOA’s Mount,
He wept o’er bleeding Friendship; ye that mourn’d,
While Freedom drooping o’er EUPHRATES’ Stream 5
Her pensive Harp on the pale Osier hung,
Begin once more the Sorrow-soothing Lay.
Ah! where shall now the Muse fit Numbers find?
What Accents pure to greet thy tuneful Shade?
Sweet Harmonist! ’Twas thine, the tender Fall 10
Of Pity’s plaintive Lay; for thee the Stream
Of silver-winding Music sweeter play’d,
And purer flow’d for Thee, ―all silent now
Those Airs that, breathing o’er the Breast of THAMES,
Led amorous ECHO down the long, long Vale, 15
Delighted; studious from thy sweeter Strain
To melodize her own; when the sad Hour
She mourns in Anguish o’er the golden Breast
Of young NARCISSUS. From their Amber Urns,
Parting their green Locks streaming in the Sun, 20
The NAIADS rose and smil’d: Nor since the Day,
When first by Music, and by Freedom led
From Grecian ACIDALE; nor since the Day,
When last from ARNO’s weeping Fount they came,
To smooth the Ringlets of SABRINA’s Hair, 25
Heard They like Minstrelsy—Fountains and Shades
Of TWIT’NAM, and of WINDSOR fam’d in Song!
Ye Mounts of CLERMONT, and ye Bowers of HAM!
That heard the fine Strain vibrate thro’ your Groves,
Ah! where were then your long-lov’d Muses fled, 30
When HANDEL breath’d no more?—and Thou, sweet Queen,
That nightly wrapt thy MILTON’s hallow’d Ear
In the soft Ecstasies of LYDIAN Airs,
And since attun’d to HANDEL’s high-wound Lyre
The Lay by Thee suggested; could’st not Thou 35
Soothe with thy sweet Song the grim Fury’s Breast?
Ah! no: from Thee too, heav’d the helpless Sigh,
Thy fair Eyes floating in a mournful Tear,
When MILTON died, and HANDEL breath’d no more.
COLD-HEARTED Death! his wanly-glaring Eye 40
Nor Virtue’s Smile attracts, nor Fame’s loud Trump
Can pierce his Iron Ear, for ever barr’d
To gentle Sounds: the golden Voice of Song,
That charms the gloomy Partner of his Birth,
That soothes Despair and Pain, He hears no more, 45
Than rude Winds, blust’ring from the CAMBRIAN Cliffs,
The Traveller’s feeble Lay. To court fair Fame,
To toil with slow Steps up the Star-crown’d Hill,
Where Science, leaning on her sculptur’d Urn,
Looks conscious on the secret-working Hand 50
Of Nature; on the Wings of Genius borne,
To soar above the beaten Walks of Life,
Is, like the Paintings of an Evening Cloud,
Th’ Amusement of an Hour. Night, gloomy Night
Spreads her black Wings, and all the Vision dies. 55
ERE long, the Heart, that heaves this Sigh to Thee,
Shall beat no more! ere long, on this fond Lay
Which mourns at HANDEL’s Tomb, insulting Time
Shall strew his cankering Rust. Thy Strain, perchance,
Thy sacred Strain shall the hoar Warrior spare; 60
For Sounds like thine, at Nature’s early Birth,
Arous’d Him slumbering on the dead Profound
Of dusky Chaos; by the golden Harps
Of choral Angels summon’d to his Race:
And Sounds like thine, when Nature is no more, 65
Shall call him weary from the lengthen’d Toils
Of twice Ten Thousand Years.—O would his Hand
Yet spare some Portion of this vital Flame,
The trembling Muse that now faint Effort makes
On young and artless Wing, should bear thy Praise 70
Sublime, above the mortal Bounds of Earth,
With heavenly Fires relume her feeble Ray,
And learn of Seraphs how to sing to Thee.
I FEEL, I feel the sacred Impulse—hark!
Wak’d from according Lyres the sweet Strains flow 75
In Symphony divine; from Air to Air
The trembling Numbers fly: swift bursts away
The Flow of Joy; now swells the Flight of Praise.
Springs the shrill Trump aloft; the toiling Chords
Melodious labour thro’ the flying Maze; 80
And the deep Base his strong Sounds rolls away,
Majestically sweet—Yet, HANDEL, raise,
Yet wake to higher Strains thy sacred Lyre:
The Name of Ages, the Supreme of Things,
The great MESSIAH asks it; He whose Hand 85
Led into Form yon everlasting Orbs,
The Harmony of Nature—He whose Hand
Stretch’d o’er the wilds of Space this beauteous Ball,
Whose Spirit breathes thro’ all his smiling Works
Music and Love—yet HANDEL raise the Strain. 90
Hark! what angelic Sounds, what Voice divine
Breathes thro’ the ravisht Air! My rapt Ear feels
The Harmony of Heaven. Hail sacred Choir!
Immortal Spirits, hail! If haply those
That erst in favour’d PALESTINE proclaim’d 95
Glory and Peace: her Angel-haunted Groves,
Her piny Mountain, and her golden Vales
Re-echo’d Peace—But, Oh! Suspend the Strain—
The swelling Joy’s too much for mortal Bounds!
’Tis Transport even to Pain. Oh, lead me then, 100
Convey me to the sad, the mournful Scene,
Where trembling Nature saw her GOD expire.
Flow, stupid Tears! and veil the conscious Eye
That yet presumes to gaze—
Flow, stupid Tears! in vain—ye too confess 105
That HE alone unequal’d Sorrow bore.
BUT, hark! what pleasing Sounds invite mine Ear,
So venerably sweet? ‘Tis SION’s Lute.
Behold her Hero! from his valiant Brow
Looks JUDAH’s Lyon, on his Thigh the Sword 110
Of vanquished APOLLONIUS—The shrill Trump
Thro’ BETHORON proclaims th’ approaching Fight.
I see the brave Youth lead his little Band,
With Toil and Hunger faint; yet from his Arm
The rapid SYRIAN flies. Thus HENRY once, 115
The British HENRY, with his way-worn Troop,
Subdued the Pride of France—now louder blows
The martial Clangor, lo NICANOR’s Host!
With threat’ning Turrets crown’d, slowly advance
The ponderous Elephants.— 120
The blazing Sun, from many a golden Shield
Reflected, gleams afar. Judean Chief!
How shall thy Force, thy little Force sustain
The dreadful Shock!
The Hero comes— ’Tis boundless Mirth and Song 125
And Dance and Triumph, every laboring String,
And Voice, and breathing Shell in Concert strain
To swell the Raptures of tumultuous Joy.
O Master of the Passions and the Soul,
Seraphic HANDEL! how shall Words describe 130
Thy Music’s countless Graces, nameless Powers!
When He of GAZA, blind, and sunk in Chains,
On female Treachery looks greatly down,
How the breast burns indignant! In thy strain,
When sweet-voic’d Piety resigns to Heaven, 135
Glows not each Bosom with the Flame of Virtue?
O’ER JEPTHA’s votive Maid when the soft Lute
Sounds the slow Symphony of Funeral Grief,
What youthful Breast but melts with tender Pity!
What Parent bleeds not with a Parents woe! 140
O, longer than this worthless Lay can live!
While Fame and Music sooth the human Ear;
Be this thy Praise: to lead the polish’d Mind
To Virtue’s noblest Heights; to light the Flame
Of British Freedom, rouse the generous Thought, 145
Refine the Passions, and exalt the Soul
To love, to Heaven, to Harmony and Thee.
Title George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), Baroque composer; he died in London, England.
3 GILBOA’s Mount Mountain in Northern Israel. In “The Book of Samuel” of the Bible, Mount Gilboa is the location where the Philistines killed Saul and his son Jonathon. Handel composed Saul, an English Libretto, in 1738 (Charles Cudworth, Handel , p. 28.).
5 EUPHRATES This river appears in Handel’s Opera Belshazzar (opera.stanford.edu).
6 Osier “A small Eurasian willow” (OED).
14 Those Airs…THAMES The Water-Music (Author’s note). “Handel’s matchless delicacy as an orchestrator…makes him alert to the beauties of varied sonority and echo effects in the resonant clarity of a summer evening on the river [Thames]” (Jonathan Keates, Handel: The Man and his Music , p. 77).
15-19 ECHO…NARCISSUS From Ovid’s Metamorphosis.
21 NAIADS Water nymphs.
22 Grecian ACIDALE A fountain in Greece, referred to in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (AC Hamilton, The Spenser Encyclopedia , p. 4.).
24-25 ARNO’s weeping Fount…SABRINA’s Hair An allusion to John Milton’s Comus. Arno is a river, and Sabrina, a nymph. In 1737, Handel “reworked Milton’s Comus for an opera, Sabrina” (Paul Henry Lang, George Frideric Handel , p. 317).
27 TWIT’NAM…WINDSOR Alexander Pope’s house and his poem “Windsor Forest.”
28 CLERMONT A mansion built in the eighteenth century in Surrey, England.
28 HAM A suburb of London, on the banks of the Thames.
33 LYDIAN A musical scale.
34 And since attun’d… “L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, set to Music by Mr. HANDEL [Author’s note].
36 sweet Song… “See MILTON’s Lycidas” [Author’s note].
41 Trump “Trumpet” (OED).
46 CAMBRIAN Welsh.
73 Relume “To relight, rekindle” (OED).
85 MESSIAH Handel’s English oratorio, composed in 1741.
108 Sion’s Zion.
109 her Hero “Judas Maccabeus” [Author’s note]. Handel composed an oratorio by the same name in 1746 (Keates, p. 160).
110-112 JUDAH’s…BETHORAN “The governor of Samaria, Apollonius, now assembled a large number of Gentiles into an army…to attack the people of Israel. When Judah learned of Apollonius’s movements, he went out to meet this army and defeated them, killing Apollonius…Among the spoils, Judah found Apollonius’s own sword, which he took and used in battle for the rest of his life” (The Inclusive Bible , p. 571.) This battle took place in Bethoran.
115 HENRY Henry V (1386-1422), King of England from 1413-1422, famously defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
118 NICANOR A governor of Judea.
125 The Hero comes… “Chorus of Youths, in Judas Maccabeus” [Author’s note].
132 When He of Gaza… “See the Oratorio of Samson” [Author’s note].
137 JEPTHA From Bible Judges 11. Handel composed his last oratorio, Jephtha, in 1751 (Cudworth, p. 49).
Source: The Tears of Music. A Poem, to the Memory of Mr. Handel. With an Ode to the River Eden (London, 1760). [Sutro Library of the California State University Library, San Francisco]
Edited by Gerald Barr