ELGIAC ODE by Anna Seward
A little while I leave with anxious heart,
Source of my filial cares, thee FULL OF DAYS;
Lur’d by a promise from harmonic art
To breathe her Handel’s rich, immortal lays.
Pensive I trace the Derwent’s amber wave2,
Winding through sylvan banks; and view it lave
The soft luxuriant valleys, high o’er-peer’d
By hills and rocks in solemn grandeur reer’d.
“Not two short miles from thou, can I refrain
Thy haunts my native Eyam, long unseen.
Thou and thy loved inhabitants again
Shall meet my transient gaze. Thy rocky screen –
Thy airy cliffs I mount and seek thy shade –
Thy roofs that brow the steep romantic glade –
But while on me the eye of Friendship glow,
Swell my pain’d sighs, my tears spontaneous flow.
“In scenes paternal not beheld through years,
Nor seen till now but by my Father’s side;
Well might the tender tributary tears,
From the keen pang of duteous fondness glide;
Its Pastor to this human flock no more,
Shall the long flight of future days restore;
Distant he droops – and that once gladdening eye,
Now languid gleams e’en when his friends are nigh.
“Through this known walk where weedy gravel lies,
Rough and unsightly; – by the long course grass
Of the once smooth and verdant green with sighs
To the deserted rectory I pass.
The naked gloomy chambers where I found
Childhood’s first bliss, my slow steps wander round;
How chang’d since once the lightsome walls beneath,
The social joys did their warm comforts breathe.
“Yet ere I go – who may return no more,
That sacred dome mid yonder shadowy trees,
Let me revisit: – ancient, mossy door;
Thou greatest hoarse: – my vital spirits freeze
Passing the vacant pulpit, to the space
Where humble rails the decent altar grace,
And where my infant sisters’ ashes sleep,3
Whose loss I left the childish sports to weep.
“Now the low beams; with paper garlands hung4
In memory of some village youth or maid;
Draw the soft tear from thrill’d remembrance sprung
How oft my childhood marked that tribute paid:
The gloves suspended by the garlands side,
White as its snowy flowers, with ribbons tied;
Dear village! long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of the early dead.
“But O! thou blank and silent pulpit, thou
That with a father’s precept just and bland.
Didst win my ear as Reason’s strengthening glow,
Shewed their full value now thou seem’st to stand
Before these eyes, suffus’d with gushing tears,
Thou dearest relic of departed years;
Of eloquence paternal, nervous, clear,
Dim remonition thou, and bitter is my tear.
This highly celebrated lady died at Bishop’s Place, in A.D. 1809, and in the sixty-second year of her age. Her remains repose at Lichfield.
1. “Miss Anna Seward, the well known poetess, was born at Eyam, in the year A.D. 1747. In the literary world she is still distinguished, not only for her poetical powers; but for her biographical and epistolary talents. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Seward, Rector of Eyam, prebendary of Salisbury, and canon residentiary of Lichfield, was a man of considerable learning and taste. In 1750, he published an edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher; he was also the author of an ingenious tract on the conformity of Paganism and Popery; and in the second volume of Dodsley’s Collection he published a few little, elegant poems. Is it not natural to suppose, then, that his far famed daughter first tasted of the divine fountain of poesy from the cup of his own presenting? At the age of three, before she could read, he had taught her to lisp the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton; and in her ninth year she could repeat from memory, with varied and correct accent, the three first books of Paradise Lost. In her seventh year, she left Eyam; and a few years after she removed with her father from Lichfield to Bishop’s-place, where she resided until her death. She had several sisters and one brother, but all died in their infancy, excepting the second daughter, who lived till the age of nineteen. Miss Seward’s intellectual precosity was zealously cherished by her admiring father; but as she advanced into womanhood, he withdrew that animating welcome which he had given to the first efforts of her muse. For awhile her productions were confined to the perusal of her intimate friends; but on her becoming acquainted with Lady Miller, of Bath Easton, she was induced to write for the poetic institution of that villa, and to become a candidate for its myrtle wreath: this she repeatedly obtained: and thus, Miss Seward, first entered into the temple of undying fame.
It is unnecessary to enumerate her works – they are well and deservedly known. The “Elegy to Major Andre”, the “Death of Captain Cook”, the poetical novel “Louisa”, the “Epic Ode on the return of General Elliott from Gibraltar”, are amongst the best of her productions. In private life she was much esteemed; and as an author, totally free from that contemptible envy which too frequently detracts from contemporary merit. Of her enduring attachment to Eyam, the place of her birth, she often and warmly dilated; and an annual visit to her birth-place, was the invariable testimony of her enthusiastic affection. On her journey through Derbyshire, to a musical festival at Sheffield, in the summer of 1788, she visited Eyam, and wrote the following ode, which has never before appeared in print. The original manuscript was in the hands of T. Birds, Esq., Eyam, who, before his death, kindly permitted a friend to make a transcript from which this copy has been taken.” [The History and Antiquities of Eyam By William Wood (1842), online at http://places.wishful-thinking.org.uk/DBY/Eyam/History/Minstrels.html]
2. Amber wave. From the peculiar nature of the clay on the mountains, from which it descends, the River Derwent has a yellow tint, that well becomes the dark foliage on its banks, and the perpetual foam produced by a narrow, and rocky channel.
3. Two of the author’s little sisters lie buried in the Chancel of Eyam Church; but no stone or inscription marks the place where they sleep.
4. The ancient custom of hanging a garland of white roses, made of writing-paper, and a pair of white gloves, over the pew of the unmarried Villagers, who die in the flower of their age, is observed to this day, in the Village of EYAM, and in most other Villages, and little Towns in the Peak.