Friday, July 30

Poem of the Week: A Nocturnal Reverie by Anne Finch | Poetry


A night dream

On a night like this, when every strong wind
He is safely confined in his distant cave;
And only the gentle Zephyr fan his wings,
And the lonely Philomel, still awake, sings;
Or from some tree, famous for the owl’s delight,
She, clearly cupping, directs the wand to the right:
On such a night, when passing clouds give way,
Or finely cover the mysterious face of the heavens;
When in some river, covered in green,
You see the moon waving and the leaves trembling;
When the fresh grass stands now,
And it makes cool benches invite pleasant rest,
From where the wood and the bush sprout,
And where the sheltered sleepy primrose grows;
While foxglove now takes on a paler hue,
Yet the ladies still with red dark braces
When fireflies are scattered, but in the beautiful twilight,
Show trivial beauties, watch your time to shine;
While Salisb’ry stands the test of all light,
In perfect charms and perfect brilliant virtue:
When the scents, that decline repel the day,
Through warm air without interruptions;
When the darkened groves wear away their softest shadows,
And the falling waters we hear clearly;
When through the gloom the most venerable spectacles
Some ancient, hideous fabric at rest,
While the sunburned hills hide their brown appearance,
And the hay cocks thicken the valley:
When the horse loose now, as it leads its pasture,
It comes slowly grazing through the adjoining meadows,
Whose furtive step and elongated shadow we fear,
Even the ripped fodder on their teeth we hear:
When the nibbling sheep chase their food,
And the undisturbed cows chewed the bolus again;
When the curlews cry under the town walls,
And the cries of the partridge to his lagging brood;
His ephemeral jubilee keep the creatures,
That endures while the tyrant sleeps;
When a calm content is felt the spirit,
And no violent light disturbs while revealing;
But silent reflections urge the mind to seek
Somewhat, too loud for the syllables to speak;
Until the soul frees a spellbound composure,
Finding the elements of rage unarmed,
Especially under a solemn grown silence,
He enjoys the lower world and thinks of it as his own:
On a night like this let me stay outside
Until dawn and everything is confused again;
Our worries, our efforts, our cries are renewed,
Or pleasures, rarely achieved, again pursued.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720) wrote A Nocturnal Reverie during an extended period of rural exile in Kent, following the deposition of King James II. The liberation that the poet finds in darkness is liberation from the brightness of public life and the light of day.

“On a night like this” quotes the conversation between Lorenzo and Jessica in Scene 1 from The Merchant of Venice. It brings with it an atmosphere of eroticism and heightened anticipation. The poem develops from and around this inspired little robbery. The phrase is repeated often enough to drive the flow of the description and its syntax. All the details that Finch so vividly describes are seen by moonlight, but the light is more inconsistent than in Shakespeare’s brilliant scene: this is a “night, when passing clouds give way, / Or cover with a veil of the mysterious face of heaven. ”

The soundscape evoked is especially rich and realistic. The nightingale, “Lonely Philomel”, has a conventional appearance, but the owl is more important. The verb “hollow” gives a good impression of the sound it makes without resorting to gothic. In fact, the call is a guide for the wandering poet. Curlews and partridge are also heard, while the animals enjoy a noisy nocturnal chewing. There is no sentimentality in these “notes of nature”: the observation is sharp but homely: “the horse now loose, as its pasture leads, / It comes slowly to graze the adjoining meadows, / Whose stealthy pace, and long shadow we fear , / Even the fodder torn in his teeth we hear it “.

Finch isn’t the only human out walking. Earlier, on lines 19 and 20, he stopped to pay his companion, the Countess of Salisbury, a short but elegantly converted compliment: “Salisb’ry stands the test of every light, / With perfect charm and perfect brilliant virtue.” The transition runs smoothly, contrasting the moral quality of her friend’s beauty with the temporary and “trivial” glow of fireflies.

As “the creatures” begin to prepare for the inroads of human activities in their “short-lived jubilee,” the mood seems to grow more restless and uncomfortable. The night has allowed the “free soul” to escape from “rage” to “composure”. But now the harmony is recognized as illusory. This soul “rejoices in the lower world and thinks of it as its own”, which implies that the natural and nocturnal world is not “like its own” daily existence. The thought is emphasized by the change from iambic pentameter to hexameter. It is a silent and effective line that allows a poetic rebalancing. Now the subordinate clause “on such a night” returns and finds its conclusion, which becomes the rather depressing conclusion of the poem: “On such a night, let me stay outside / until dawn and everything is confused again; / Our worries, our efforts, our cries are renewed, / Or the pleasures, rarely achieved, again pursued. “


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