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And then at last our bliss
But now begins; for, from this happy day,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway;
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament y;
The parting Genius is with sighing sent :
In consecrated earth,
Swindges the scaly horrour of his folded tail. This strong image is copied from the descriptions of serpents and dragons in the old romances and Ariosto. There is a fine picture by Guido, representing Michael the archangel treading on Satan, who has such a tail as is here described.—Jos. WARTON.
w The oracles, &c. Attention is irresistibly awakened and engaged by the air of solemnity and enthusiasm that reigns in this stanza and some that follow. Such is the power of true poetry, that one is almost inclined to believe the superstitions real.—Jos. WARTON.
This is a noble note of Jos. Warton, who, though he had not the detached, abstruse, and curious knowledge, and deep research of his brother, had, perhaps, more sensibility of taste. Here is just enough of that dim imagery, and those mysterious epithets, to set the imagination into that magical stir, which it is the essence of true poetry to cause.
* The lonely mountains o'er, &c. Dr. Newton observes, that this allusion to the notion of the cessation of oracles at the coming of Christ, was allowable enough in a young poet. Surely, nothing could have been more allowable in an old poet. And how poetically is it extended to the pagan divinities, and the oriental idolatries !—T. Warton.
y A voice of weeping heard and loud lament. This is scriptural. Matt. ii. 18: “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping,” &c.—T. WARTON.
· The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn. An exquisite Alexandrine, both for the imagery and the music of the metre.
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint :
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint ;
Peor and Baälim
With that twice-batter'd god of Palestine ;
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine :
His burning idol all of blackest hue :
In dismal dance about the furnace blue e :
Nor is Osiris seen
a The chill marble seems to sweat. Among the prodigia at the death of Julius Cæsar, Virgil notices, “ moestum illacrymat templis ebur, æraque sudant.” Georg. i. 480.-DUNSTER.
b While each peculiar Power forgoes his wonted seat. Virgil, “Æn.” ï. 351.
Excessere omnes, adytis arisque relictis,
© Heaven's queen and mother both.
d And sullen Moloch, fled, &c. This imagery, but with less effect, was afterwards transferred into the “Par. Lost," b. i. 392 ; where these dreadful circumstances, of themselves sufficiently striking to the imagination, are only related : in our Ode, they are endued with life and action, they are put in motion before our eyes, and made subservient to a new purpose of the poet by the superinduction of a poetical fiction, to which they give occasion. Milton, like a true poet, in describing the Syrian superstitions, selects such as were most susceptible of poetical enlargement; and which, from the wildness of their ceremonies, were most interesting to the fancy.-T. WARTON.
e In dismal dance about the furnace blue. So in “Macbeth,” as Mr. Steevens has observed to me:
And round about the caldron sing.-T. WARTON.
f And the dog Anubis. Virgil, “Æn." viii. 698.
Omnigenumque Deum monstra, et latrator Anubis.-TODD.
Trampling the unshower'd grass & with lowings loud :
Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud :
He feels from Juda's land
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn:
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine :
So, when the sun in bed,
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave h,
Each fetter'd ghost slips to his grave;
Time is, our tedious song should here have ending :
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending k:
8 Trampling the unshower'd grass. There being no rain in Egypt, but the country made fruitful with the overflowings of the Nile.-RICHARDSON.
h Pillows his chin upon an orient wave. The words “pillows” and “chin ” throw an air of burlesque and familiarity over a comparison most exquisitely conceived and adapted.—T. WARTON.
| The flocking shadows pale, &c.
And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger;
Already to their wormy beds are gone.-T. WARTON.
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze. It is a very poetical mode of expressing the departure of the fairies at the approach of morning, to say that they “fly after the steeds of Night.”—T. WARTON.
k With handmaid lamp attending. Alluding, perhaps, to the parable of the ten virgins, in the Gospel.-DUNSTER.
And all about the courtly stable
1 Bright-harness'd angels. Bright-armed. So, in Exod. xiii. 18: “The children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.”—NEWTON.
A great critic, in speaking of Milton's smaller poems, passes over this Ode in silence, and observes, “All that short compositions can commonly attain is neatness and elegance.” But Odes are short compositions, and they can often attain sublimity, which is even a characteristic of that species of poetry. We have the proof before us. He adds, “Milton never learned the art of doing little things with grace.” If by "little things” we are to understand short poems, Milton had the art of giving them another sort of excellence. T. WARTON.
Here Warton does justice to this sublime Hymn. In this piece are all the constituents of poetry, including high and solemn invention : the imagery is also poetical; the metrical combination of the words rises like the gathering force of a flood, or rather of the careering winds. Milton had already learned to amalgamate his ideal riches, and cast them in a mould of his own.
This Ode, or rather Elegy, is unaccountably inferior to the preceding Hymn, and
unworthy of Milton : indeed, the poet, by leaving it unfinished, and by his note at the end, seems himself to have thought so: one wonders, therefore, that, with such an impression on his own part, he printed it. The language is of an humbler cast, and more like the common poets of his day.
EREWHILE of musick, and ethereal mirtha,
In wintry solstice, like the shorten'd light,
* Erewhile of musick, and ethereal mirth. Hence we may conjecture that this Ode was probably composed soon after that on the Nativity : and this perhaps was a college exercise at Easter, as the last was at Christmas.-T. WARTON.
• My Muse with angels did divide to sing. See Spenser, “Faer. Qu.” III. i. 40 :
And all the while sweet musicke did divide
Her looser notes with Lydian harmony.
c But headlong joy is ever on the wing An elegant and expressive line.-T. WARTON.
Most perfect Herod, tried in heaviest plight
He, sovran Priest, stooping his regal head,
Yet more; the stroke of death he must abide ;
These latest scenes confine my roving verse;
Me softer airs befit, and softer strings
Befriend me, Night, best patroness of grief ;
The leaves should all be black whereon I write;
See, see the chariot, and those rushing wheels,
There doth my soul in holy vision sit,
Mine eye hath found that sad sepulchral rock
would I score
d Most perfect Hero. From Heb. ii. 10. "The Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”—TODD.
• Loud o'er the rest Cremona's trump. Our poet seems here to be of opinion, that Vida's “Christiad" was the finest Latin poem on a religious subject.-Jos. WARTON.
f The leaves should all be black whereon I write,
And letters, &c. Conceits were now confined not to words only. Mr. Steevens has a volume of Elegies in which the paper is black, and the letters white; that is, in all the title-pages : every intermediate leaf is also black. What a sudden change from this childish idea, to the noble apostrophe, the sublime rapture and imagination, of the next stanza !--T. Warton.