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In Association with Art.comOde to Spring
by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

  For best results, read in a field of spring flowers. Or if like me. you live in a less than temperate climate, crawl under a blanket and pretend.
This article sponsored by:

 

Poemcrazy : Freeing Your Life With Words
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ODE TO SPRING and other poems by
Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825)

Sweet daughter of a rough and stormy sire,
Hoar Winter's blooming child; delightful Spring!
Whose unshorn locks with leaves
And swelling buds are crowned;
From the green islands of eternal youth,--
Crowned with fresh blooms and ever springing shade,--
Turn, hither turn thy step,
O thou, whose powerful voice
More sweet than softest touch of Doric reed,
Or Lydian flute, can soothe the madding winds,--
And through the stormy deep
Breathe thine own tender calm.
Thee, best beloved! the virgin train await
With songs and festal rites, and joy to rove
Thy blooming wilds among,
And vales and dewy lawns,
With untired feet; and cull thy earliest sweets
To weave fresh garlands for the glowing brow
Of him, the favoured youth
That prompts their whispered sigh.
Unlock thy copious stores.--those tender showers
That drop their sweetness on the infant buds;
And silent dews that swell
The milky ear's green stem,
And feed the flowering osier's early shoots;
And call those winds which through the whispering boughs
With warm and pleasant breath
Salute the blowing flowers.
Now let me sit beneath the whitening thorn,
And mark thy spreading tints steal o'er the dale;
And watch with patient eye
Thy fair unfolding charms.
O nymph, approach! while yet the temperate sun
With bashful forehead through the cool moist air
Throws his young maiden beams,
And with chaste kisses wooes
The earth's fair bosom; while the streaming veil
Of lucid clouds with kind and frequent shade
Protects thy modest blooms
From his severer blaze.
Sweet is thy reign, but short:--The red dog-star
Shall scorch thy tresses, and the mower's scythe
Thy greens, thy flowerets all,
Remorseless shall destroy.
Reluctant shall I bid thee then farewell:
For O, not all that Autumn's lap contains,
Nor Summer's ruddiest fruits,
Can aught for thee atone,
Fair Spring! whose simplest promise more delights
Than all their largest wealth, and through the heart
Each joy and new-born hope
With softest influence breathes.

VERSES WRITTEN IN AN ALCOVE.

Jam Cytherea choros ducit Venus, imminente Luna. HORAT.
Now the moonbeam's trembling lustre
Silvers o'er the dewy green,
And in soft and shadowy colours
Sweetly paints the chequered scene.
Here between the opening branches
Streams a flood of softened light;
There the thick and twisted foliage
Spreads the browner gloom of night.
This is sure the haunt of fairies,
In yon cool alcove they play;
Care can never cross the threshold,--
Care was only made for day.
Far from hence be noisy Clamour,
Sick Disgust and anxious Fear;
Pining Grief and wasting Anguish
Never keep their vigils here.
Tell no tales of sheeted spectres
Rising from the quiet tomb;
Fairer forms this cell shall visit,
Brighter visions gild the gloom.
Choral songs and sprightly voices
Echo from her cell shall call;
Sweeter, sweeter than the murmur
Of the distant waterfall.
Every ruder gust of passion
Lulled with music dies away,
Till within the charmed bosom
None but soft affections play:
Soft as when the evening breezes
Gently stir the poplar grove;
Brighter than the smile of Summer,
Sweeter than the breath of Love.
Thee the' enchanted Muse shall follow,
Lissy! to the rustic cell;
And each careless note repeating,
Tune them to her charming shell.
Not the Muse who wreathed with laurel
Solemn stalks with tragic gait,
And in clear and lofty vision
Sees the future births of fate;
Not the maid who crowned with cypress
Sweeps along in sceptred pall,
And in sad and solemn accents
Mourns the crested hero's fall;--
But that other smiling sister,
With the blue and laughing eye,
Singing, in a lighter measure,
Strains of woodland harmony:
All unknown to fame and glory,
Easy, blithe and debonair,
Crowned with flowers, her careless tresses
Loosely floating on the air.
Then when next the star of evening
Softly sheds the silent dew,
Let me in this rustic temple,
Lissy! meet the Muse and you.

THE MOUSE'S PETITION.*

O hear a pensive prisoner's prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the wretch's cries!
For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at the' approaching morn,
Which brings impending fate.
If e'er thy breast with freedom glowed,
And spurned a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain!
O do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth!
Nor triumph that thy wiles betrayed
A prize so little worth.
The scattered gleanings of a feast
My frugal meals supply;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,--
The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let Nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of Heaven.
The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.
If mind,--as ancient sages taught,--
A never dying flame,
Still shifts through matter's varying forms,
In every form the same;
Beware, lest in the worm you crush,
A brother's soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.
Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast
That little all to spare.
So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crowned;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.
So when destruction lurks unseen,
Which men, like mice, may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

* Found in the trap where he had been confined all night by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments with different kinds of air.

VERSES ON MRS. ROWE.

Such were the notes our chaster Sappho sung,
And every Muse dropped honey on her tongue.
Blest shade! how pure a breath of praise was thine,
Whose spotless life was faultless as thy line;
In whom each worth and every grace conspire,--
The Christian's meekness, and the poet's fire.
Learn'd without pride, a woman without art;
The sweetest manners, and the gentlest heart.
Smooth like her verse her passions learned to move,
And her whole soul was harmony and love.
Virtue that breast without a conflict gained,
And easy, like a native monarch, reigned.
On earth still favoured as by Heaven approved,
The world applauded, and Alexis loved.
With love, with health, with fame and friendship blest,
And of a cheerful heart the constant feast,
What more of bliss sincere could earth bestow?
What purer heaven could angels taste below?
But bliss from earth's vain scenes too quickly flies;
The golden cord is broke;--Alexis dies!
Now in the leafy shade and widowed grove
Sad Philomela mourns her absent love;
Now deep retired in Frome's enchanting vale,
She pours her tuneful sorrows on the gale;
Without one fond reserve the world disclaims,
And gives up all her soul to heavenly flames.
Yet in no useless gloom she wore her days;
She loved the work, and only shunned the praise:
Her pious hand the poor, the mourner blest;
Her image lived in every kindred breast.
Thynn, Carteret, Blackmore, Orrery approved,
And Prior praised, and noble Hertford loved;
Seraphic Kenn, and tuneful Watts were thine,
And virtue's noblest champions filled the line.
Blest in thy friendships! in thy death, too, blest!
Received without a pang to endless rest.
Heaven called the saint matured by length of days,
And her pure spirit was exhaled in praise.
Bright pattern of thy sex, be thou my Muse;
Thy gentle sweetness through my soul diffuse:
Let me thy palm, though not thy laurel share,
And copy thee in charity and prayer:--
Though for the bard my lines are far too faint,
Yet in my life let me transcribe the saint.

A SUMMER EVENING'S MEDITATION.

'Tis past! The sultry tyrant of the south
Has spent his short-lived rage; more grateful hours
Move silent on; the skies no more repell
The dazzled sight, but with mild maiden beams
Of tempered lustre court the cherished eye
To wander o'er their sphere; where hung aloft
Dian's bright crescent, like a silver bow
New strung in heaven, lifts high its beamy horns
Impatient for the night, and seems to push
Her brother down the sky. Fair Venus shines
Even in the eye of the day; with sweetest beam
Propitious shines, and shakes a trembling flood
Of softened radiance from her dewy locks.
The shadows spread apace; while meekened Eve,
Her cheek yet warm with blushes, slow retires
Through the Hesperian gardens of the west,
And shuts the gates of day. 'T is now the hour
When Contemplation from her sunless haunts,
The cool damp grotto, or the lonely depth
Of unpierced woods, where wrapt in solid shade
She mused away the gaudy hours of noon,
And fed on thoughts unripened by the sun,
Moves forward; and with radiant finger points
To yon blue concave swelled by breath divine,
Where, one by one, the living eyes of heaven
Awake, quick kindling o'er the face of ether
One boundless blaze; ten thousand trembling fires,
And dancing lustres, where the unsteady eye,
Restless and dazzled, wanders unconfined
O'er all this field of glories; spacious field,
And worthy of the Master: he, whose hand
With hieroglyphics elder than the Nile
Inscribed the mystic tablet, hung on high
To public gaze, and said, "Adore, O man!
The finger of thy God." From what pure wells
Of milky light, what soft o'erflowing urn,
Are all these lamps so fill'd? these friendly lamps,
For ever streaming o'er the azure deep
To point our path, and light us to our home.
How soft they slide along their lucid spheres!
And silent as the foot of Time, fulfill
Their destined courses: Nature's self is hushed,
And, but a scattered leaf, which rustles through
The thick-wove foliage, not a sound is heard
To break the midnight air; though the raised ear,
Intensely listening, drinks in every breath.
How deep the silence, yet how loud the praise!
But are they silent all? or is there not
A tongue in every star, that talks with man,
And woos him to be wise? nor woos in vain:
This dead of midnight is the noon of thought,
And Wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars.
At this still hour the self-collected soul
Turns inward, and beholds a stranger there
Of high descent, and more than mortal rank;
An embryo God; a spark of fire divine,
Which must burn on for ages, when the sun,--
Frail transitory creature of a day!--
Has closed his golden eye, and wrapt in shades
Forgets his wonted journey through the east.
Ye citadels of light, and seats of Gods!
Perhaps my future home, from whence the soul,
Revolving periods past, may oft look back
With recollected tenderness on all
The various busy scenes she left below,
Its deep-laid projects and its strange events,
As on some fond and doting tale that soothed
Her infant hours--O be it lawful now
To tread the hallowed circle of your courts,
And with mute wonder and delighted awe
Approach your burning confines. Seized in thought,
On Fancy's wild and roving wing I sail,
From the green borders of the peopled Earth,
And the pale Moon, her duteous fair attendant;
From solitary Mars; from the vast orb
Of Jupiter, whose huge gigantic bulk
Dances in ether like the lightest leaf;
To the dim verge, the suburbs of the system,
Where cheerless Saturn 'midst his watery moons
Girt with a lucid zone, in gloomy pomp,
Sits like an exiled monarch: fearless thence
I launch into the trackless deeps of space,
Where, burning round, ten thousand suns appear,
Of elder beam, which ask no leave to shine
Of our terrestrial star, nor borrow light
From the proud regent of our scanty day;
Sons of the morning, first-born of creation,
And only less than Him who marks their track,
And guides their fiery wheels. Here must I stop,
Or is there aught beyond? What hand unseen
Impells me onward through the glowing orbs
Of habitable nature, far remote,
To the dread confines of eternal night,
To solitudes of vast unpeopled space,
The deserts of creation, wide and wild;
Where embryo systems and unkindled suns
Sleep in the womb of chaos? fancy droops,
And thought astonished stops her bold career.
But O thou mighty mind! whose powerful word
Said, thus let all things be, and thus they were,
Where shall I seek thy presence? how unblamed
Invoke thy dread perfection?
Have the broad eyelids of the morn beheld thee?
Or does the beamy shoulder of Orion
Support thy throne? O look with pity down
On erring, guilty man! not in thy names
Of terror clad; not with those thunders armed
That conscious Sinai felt, when fear appalled
The scattered tribes;--thou hast a gentler voice,
That whispers comfort to the swelling heart,
Abashed, yet longing to behold her Maker.
But now my soul, unused to stretch her powers
In flight so daring, drops her weary wing,
And seeks again the known accustomed spot,
Drest up with sun, and shade, and lawns, and streams,
A mansion-fair, and spacious for its guest,
And full replete with wonders. Let me here,
Content and grateful, wait the appointed time,
And ripen for the skies: the hour will come
When all these splendours bursting on my sight
Shall stand unveiled, and to my ravished sense
Unlock the glories of the world unknown.