Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Enthusiast: An ode / William Whitehead

The Enthusiast: An ode

Once, I remember well the day,
’Twas ere the blooming sweets of May
      Had lost their freshest hues,
When every flower on every hill,
In every vale, had drunk its fill
      Of sunshine and of dews.

’Twas that sweet season’s loveliest prime
When Spring gives up the reins of time
      To Summer’s glowing hand,
And doubting mortals hardly know  
By whose command the breezes blow
      Which fan the smiling land.

’Twas then beside a green-wood shade
Which cloth’d a lawn’s aspiring head
       I urg’d my devious way,  
With loitering steps, regardless where,
So soft, so genial was the air,
       So wond’rous bright the day.

And now my eyes with transport rove
O’er all the blue expansive grove,
       Unbroken by a cloud!
And now beneath delighted pass,
Where, winding through the deep-green grass,
       A full-brimm’d river flow’d.

I stop, I gaze; in accents rude
To thee, serenest Solitude,
       Burst forth th’ unbidden lay:
Begone, vile world; the learn’d, the wise,
The great, the busy, I despise,
       And pity e’en the gay.      

These, these are joys alone, I cry,
’Tis here, divine Philosophy,
       Thou deign’st to fix thy throne!
Here, contemplation points the road
Thro’ Nature’s charms to Nature’s God!
       These, these, are joys alone!

Adieu, ye vain, low-thoughted cares,
Ye human hopes, and human fears,
       Ye pleasures, and ye pains!—
While thus I spake, o’er all the soul
A philosophic calmness stole,
       A Stoic stillness reigns.

The tyrant passions all subside,
Fear, anger, pity, shame, and pride,
       No more my bosom move.      
Yet still I felt, or seem’d to feel
A kind of visionary zeal
      Of universal love.

When lo! a voice! a voice I hear!
’Twas Reason whisper’d in my ear
      These monitory strains:
What mean’st thou, man? would’st thou unbind
The ties which constitute thy kind,
      The pleasures and the pains?

The same Almighty Power unseen,      
Who spreads the gay or solemn scene
      To Contemplation’s eye:
Fix’d every movement of the soul,
Taught every wish its destined goal,
      And quicken’d every joy.      

He bids the tyrant passions rage,
He bids them war eternal wage,
      And combat each his foe:
Till from dissensions concord rise,
And beauties from deformities,      
      And happiness from woe.

Art thou not man? and dar’st thou find
A bliss which leans not to mankind?
      Presumptuous thought and vein!
Each bliss unshar’d is unenjoy’d,  
Each power is weak, unless employ’d
      Some social good to gain.

Some light, and shade, and warmth, and air,
With those exalted joys compare
      Which active virtue feels.    
When on she drags, as lawful prize,
Contempt, and Indolence, and Vice,
      At her triumphant wheels.

As rest to labour still succeeds,
To man, while Virtue’s glorious deeds  
      Employ his toilsome day,
This fair variety of things
Are merely life’s refreshing springs
      To soothe him on his way.

Enthusiast, go, unstring the lyre;  
In vain thou sing’st if none admire,
      How sweet soe’er the strain;
And is not thy o’erflowing mind,
Unless thou mixest with thy kind,
      Benevolent in vain?      

Enthusiast, go, try every sense;
If not thy bliss, thy excellence
     Thou yet hast learn’d to scan;
At least thy wants, thy weakness know,
And see them all uniting show,  
     That man was made for man.

William Whitehead (1715-1785)

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

William Whitehead biography

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