Friday, January 9, 2015

The Captive Queen, an Elegiac Ode by Edmund Eyre

After the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, many British writers who turned to the pen to published odes, elegies, plays and other literary treatments of the royal family. These British works were published as early as 1793, after the death of the king. Edmund Eyre was one of these British writers who felt inspired by the events in France to take up his pen. Eyre's ode to Marie Antoinette, which I have transcribed below, was published in a collection in 1797.


The Captive Queen, an Elegiac Ode.
Scarce had the night her shadowy curtain spread,
To hide the blush of eve;
Than gloomy Silence cast a solemn dread,
And Nature seem'd to grieve:
But Cynthia soon o'er half the globe
Display'd her star-bespangled robe,
Emitting forth her silver-ray
To cheer the trav'ller's lonely way,
And guide him to the social cot,
Where all his sorrows are forgot--
Oblivious slumber, with Lathaean-pow'r
Snatches the lapse of time, and rules the mid-night hour.

Mute is the warbling concert of the air--
Save the sad minstrel of the night;
Whose trilling-notes, responsive to despair,
Vibrate on Echo's rapid flight!
And, hark, what breathing groans transpierce
the solemn scene!
Ah! 'tis the mourning sorrows of a Captive-Queen!

Borne on Fancy's eagle-height,
I see her pictur'd to the sight
Immur'd within a dungeon's bloom,
Invoking Heav'n to change the doom--
Her rosy-cheeks, of crimson-hue,
Now moisten'd by Affliction's dew,
Fading, have wither'd, by a wintry blight,
And, in despair, the roses red--have chang'd to white.

Her eyes, that with Promethean glow,
Warm'd the chill'd breast, congeal'd by woe,
Sink in their sockets, griev'd to see
Th' unpity'd tears of Misery:
Her voice, that once diffus'd around
The magic-harmony of sound,
Now faintly murmurs, like an Aeolian lyre,
Whose sounds charm most--just as the notes expire.

Ah, what avails the pomp of state,
The envy'd glories of the great,
Or, e'en Ambition's great-stride
When bold Rebellion rushes forth,
And like the pestilential North,
Nips all the blossoms of our pride.
Life is, alas! an evening breeze at best,
That blows still sun-set, and then sinks to rest.

What, is the cruel lot decreed,
And must the Royal-Mother bleed?
Ah, heard I not the fleeting groan,
Breathed in Sorrow's deepest tone?
Hark, 'tis the din of Discord's roar,
Her dart's besmear'd with clotted gore!
yet, fears, vaunt--wan Terror fly--
Death's but a passport to eternity!

Confin'd by treason, and the will of Fate,
A Royal captive, mock'd with idle state,
(Shame to the annals of historic-page,)
Expires a victim to republic rage!

The sigh that heav'd the parting knell--
The tear that bade a long farewell--
The Mother's pangs--the Children's cries,
No friend to grace her obsequies--
Shall cause the Muse's stream to flow
In all the energy of woe,
Whilst they record amidst a nation's sighs,
In Death's cold shade a murder'd Princess lies.

Be mute, my lyre--thy elegy refrain--
Megara rife, and breathe a bolder strain--
Avenging Nemesis, at whose decree,
Tyrants are taught to bend the stubborn knee,
Inrob'd with justice, send thy missile dart,
To drive rebellion from the canker'd heart;
Scourge those who brought a Monarch to the tomb,
And thunder in their ears Lycaon's doom.--
Inspire each breast with patriotic zeal
To guard the safety of the public weal;
Bid us avow Religion's holy cause,
Adorn out country, and protect her laws--
Such god-like cares all British hearts must own;
And ev'ry honest man support the Throne.

Eyre's elegies to Marie Antoinette and later, Louis XVI, were only somewhat well received in his day. They were described in one contemporary review as "not destitute of poetical imagery." Hardly a glowing review! But at least his odes were published: Eyre had a rather unfortunate history when it came to getting his 1794 play, first called The Maid of Normandy and later retitled The Death of the Queen of France, cleared past the British censors. But that's a topic for another day!

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