Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Dejection: an Ode



Not Coleridge's famous Ode, but an earlier poem with that title by ‘the Reverend J. Black’, published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1786 (2:793: it's called, simply, ‘Ode’ in the main text, as you can see above: but it's identified as ‘Dejection: an Ode’ on both the contents page of the magazine and in the index for 1786). I'm wondering if Coleridge ever came across it, either in its original magazine form, or in any of its (several) reprintings. There are some rough similarities between his poem and it:
How fiercely drives the rattling hail!
How loudly blows the blustering wind!
Now deep and distant sounds the gale,
And with its murmurs soothes the mind:
Anon, a whistling sound prevails—
By fits, irregular, it roars—
With boisterous force the house assails,
While with harsh, dreary noise, resound the jarring doors.

Yet why, my Maia, why that tear?
Why hangs that gloom upon thy mind?
The storm may rage abroad, but here,
My love, it can no entrance find.
You think, perchance, of those at sea,
Or the poor houseless wretch on shore;
For soft compassion dwells with thee,
And others' griefs oft wound thy tender breast full sore.

Or spring thy sorrows from within,
From sources deeper and more near?
Not from the storm's external din,
But from thine own foreboding fear?
Dreads thou lest we should ever feel
Want's chilling blasts and freezing power?
Say, can mankind their bosoms steel
'Gainst those who shivering stand beneath affliction's shower?

What tho our pittance be but small,
And helpless babe look up for bread,
The Providence, that cares for all,
A table for us still will spread.
Should we become Disease's prey,
And in our veins fierce Fever rage,
On Sickness' pillow Hope will lay
Some cordial drops that may these cruel ills assuage.

In Summer oft the tender flower
Hangs its fair head, surcharg'd with rain;
But soon the sun's enlivening power
Unfolds its beauties all again:
And e'en the showers that weigh it down
Fresh vigour to the stem bestow.——
Thus then, if heaven or smile or frown,
Some good to man may spring, alike from joy or woe.
Not a very good poem, evidently. But, like Coleridge's later and much more powerful work, it is an Ode about mental dejection that opens with a storm (in STC: ‘rain and squally blast’; ‘swelling gust’, ‘and the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!’), that addresses a lady—‘Maia’ rather than Sara—and that ends by commending her to Joy. Coleridge even includes a suffering babe (‘a little child ... now moans low in bitter grief and fear/And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear’) as does Black, whose ‘helpless babe look[s] up for bread’. It's not much, but it may be something.