Thomas Chatterton

(1752 - 1770 / Bristol / England)

February


Begin, my muse, the imitative lay,
Aonian doxies sound the thrumming string;
Attempt no number of the plaintive Gay,
Let me like midnight cats, or Collins sing.
If in the trammels of the doleful line
The bounding hail, or drilling rain descend;
Come, brooding Melancholy, pow'r divine,
And ev'ry unform'd mass of words amend.

Now the rough goat withdraws his curling horns,
And the cold wat'rer twirls his circling mop:
Swift sudden anguish darts thro' alt'ring corns,
And the spruce mercer trembles in his shop.

Now infant authors, madd'ning for renown,
Extend the plume, and him about the stage,
Procure a benefit, amuse the town,
And proudly glitter in a title page.

Now, wrapt in ninefold fur, his squeamish grace
Defies the fury of the howling storm;
And whilst the tempest whistles round his face,
Exults to find his mantled carcase warm.

Now rumbling coaches furious drive along,
Full of the majesty of city dames,
Whose jewels sparkling in the gaudy throng,
Raise strange emotions and invidious flames.

Now Merit, happy in the calm of place,
To mortals as a highlander appears,
And conscious of the excellence of lace,
With spreading frogs and gleaming spangles glares.

Whilst Envy, on a tripod seated nigh,
In form a shoe-boy, daubs the valu'd fruit,
And darting lightnings from his vengeful eye,
Raves about Wilkes, and politics, and Bute.

Now Barry, taller than a grenadier,
Dwindles into a stripling of eighteen;
Or sabled in Othello breaks the ear,
Exerts his voice, and totters to the scene.

Now Foote, a looking-glass for all mankind,
Applies his wax to personal defects;
But leaves untouch'd the image of the mind,
His art no mental quality reflects.

Now Drury's potent kind extorts applause,
And pit, box, gallery, echo, "how divine!"
Whilst vers'd in all the drama's mystic laws,
His graceful action saves the wooden line.

Now-- but what further can the muses sing?
Now dropping particles of water fall;
Now vapours riding on the north wind's wing,
With transitory darkness shadow all.

Alas! how joyless the descriptive theme,
When sorrow on the writer's quiet preys
And like a mouse in Cheshire cheese supreme,
Devours the substance of the less'ning bays.

Come, February, lend thy darkest sky.
There teach the winter'd muse with clouds to soar;
Come, February, lift the number high;
Let the sharp strain like wind thro' alleys roar.

Ye channels, wand'ring thro' the spacious street,
In hollow murmurs roll the dirt along,
With inundations wet the sabled feet,
Whilst gouts responsive, join th'elegiac song.

Ye damsels fair, whose silver voices shrill,
Sound thro' meand'ring folds of Echo's horn;
Let the sweet cry of liberty be still,
No more let smoking cakes awake the morn.

O, Winter! Put away the snowy pride;
O, Spring! Neglect the cowslip and the bell;
O, Summer! Throw thy pears and plums aside;
O, Autumn! Bid the grape with poison swell.

The pension'd muse of Johnson is no more!
Drown'd in a butt of wine his genius lies;
Earth! Ocean! Heav'n! The wond'rous loss deplore,
The dregs of nature with her glory dies.

What iron Stoic can suppress the tear;
What sour reviewer read with vacant eye!
What bard but decks his literary bier!
Alas! I cannot sing-- I howl-- I cry--

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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