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THE PLEASURES OF RETIREMENT.
But doth converse with that eternal love!
Oh, how more sweet is bird's harmonious moan,
Than those smooth whisperings near a prince's throne,
Oh, how more sweet is zephyr's wholesome breath,
DIRGE OVER FIDELE'S TOMB.3
Soft maids and village hinds shall bring
No wailing ghost shall dare
And melting virgins own their love.
No withered witch shall here be seen,
(1) His own-by himself.
(2) To poison, &c.-Compared to poison.
(3) This exquisite poem seems to have been suggested by the funeral chant over the body of Imogen, under the assumed name of Fidele, in Shakspere's Cymbeline." Sir E. Brydges commends its "simplicity and pathos," its "highly poetical thought and tone." its "exquisite polish, without one superfluous, one prosaic word." He continues thus:-"The extreme transparency of the words and thoughts would induce a vulgar reader to consider them [such poems] trite, while they are the expression of a genius so refined as to be all essence of spirit."
The redbreast oft,' at evening hours,
Each lonely scene shall thee restore;
THOUGH many suns have risen and set
Earth, sea, thy presence feel-nor less,
With its soft smile the truth express,
The heavens have felt it too.
And eyes that cannot but be sad
Let fall a brightened tear.
(1) The redbreast, &c.-It is thought that Gray was indebted to this stanza for the lines in the "Elegy" (see p. 65) beginning
"There scattered oft," &c.
(2) Among the many beautiful poems of the same author, there is not perhaps a more finished composition than this-not one more noticeable for the "curiosa felicitas"-that "grace beyond the reach of art," which evinces the perfect mastery of the artist.
Since thy return, through days and weeks
And wayworn wanderers, poorly fed,
Who tripping lisps a merry song
But now, when every sharp-edged blast
His mother leaves him free to taste
Lo! streams that April could not check
By thee, thee only, could be sent
How delicate the leafy veil
Through which yon House of God
And lowly huts, near beaten ways,
In thy fresh wreaths, than they for praise
Season of fancy and of hope,
A blossom from thy crown to drop,
Nor add to it a flower!
(1) Gurgling, &c.-In one line of this couplet we may almost hear the "gurgling," and in the other almost feel the stillness, of the water.
(2) Curling, &c.-One of those "felicities" of phrase alluded to in the first
Keep, lovely May,' as if by touch
Of self-restraining art,
This modest charm of not too much,
Part seen, imagined part!
AGES elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
And charms the woodland scenes, and wilds unknown,
But seldom (as if fearful of expense)
(1) Keep lovely May, &c.-The most satisfactory test of superlative excellence, in point of composition, of such lines as this and the following, would be afforded by the attempt to improve them by the alteration, or addition of even a single word. The success of Horace himself in such an endeavour would have been extremely doubtful.
(2) Mantuan swan-Virgil, so called because he was born at Mantua, in Italy. A particular species of swans had the reputation among the ancients of singing very beautifully-hence poets were figuratively styled swans.
(3)" Colours dipt in heaven "—an expression borrowed from "Paradise Lost.”
A soul exalted above earth; a mind
'MORAL MAXIMS, EPIGRAMS, &c.
I. LIVE WHILE YOU LIVE 1
"LIVE while you live," the epicure would say,
II. LINES UNDER MILTON'S PORTRAIT.
THREE poets in three distant ages born,
THE wretch, condemned with life to part,
And every pang that rends the heart
Bids expectation2 rise.
(1) Dr. Johnson has pronounced this epigram the finest in the language.
(2) Expectation-is here employed in precisely the same sense as hope; for the distinction between them, see note 1, p. 203.