Ode to the Departing Year

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’Iou ’iou, w w kaka.
Gp’ au me deinòV ’orqomanteiaV pónoV
Strobei, tarasswn froimioiV dusfroimioiV.

  • * * * * * *

Tò mellon ’hzei. Kai su m’ ’en tacei parwn
’Agan alhqómantin oikteiraV ’ereiV.
Aeschyl. Agam. 1173-75; 1199-1200.


The Ode commences with an address to the Divine Providence that regulates into one vast harmony all the events of time, however calamitous some of them may appear to mortals. The second Strophe calls on men to suspend their private joys and sorrows, and devote them for a while to the cause of human nature in general. The first Epode speaks of the Empress of Russia, who died of an apoplexy on the 17th of November 1796; having just concluded a subsidiary treaty with the Kings combined against France. The first and second Antistrophe describe the Image of the Departing Year, etc., as in a vision. The second Epode prophesies, in anguish of spirit, the downfall of this country.

Spirit who sweepest the wild Harp of Time!
It is most hard, with an untroubled ear
Thy dark inwoven harmonies to hear!
Yet, mine eye fix’d on Heaven’s unchanging clime
Long had I listen’d, free from mortal fear,
With inward stillness, and a bowéd mind;
When lo! its folds far waving on the wind,
I saw the train of the Departing Year!
Starting from my silent sadness
Then with no unholy madness,
Ere yet the enter’d cloud foreclos’d my sight,
I rais’d the impetuous song, and solemnis’d his flight.

Hither, from the recent tomb,
From the prison’s direr gloom,
From Distemper’s midnight anguish;
And thence, where Poverty doth waste and languish;
Or where, his two bright torches blending,
Love illumines Manhood’s maze;
Or where o’er cradled infants bending,
Hope has fix’d her wishful gaze;
Hither, in perplexéd dance,
Ye Woes! ye young-eyed Joys! advance!
By Time’s wild harp, and by the hand
Whose indefatigable sweep
Raises its fateful strings from sleep,
I bid you haste, a mix’d tumultuous band!
From every private bower,
And each domestic hearth,
Haste for one solemn hour;
And with a loud and yet a louder voice,
O’er Nature struggling in portentous birth,
Weep and rejoice!
Still echoes the dread Name that o’er the earth
Let slip the storm, and woke the brood of Hell:
And now advance in saintly Jubilee
Justice and Truth! They too have heard thy spell,
They too obey thy name, divinest Liberty!

I mark’d Ambition in his war-array!
I heard the mailéd Monarch’s troublous cry —
‘‘Ah! wherefore does the Northern Conqueress stay!
Groans not her chariot on its onward way?’’
Fly, mailéd Monarch, fly!
Stunn’d by Death’s twice mortal mace,
No more on Murder’s lurid face
The insatiate Hag shall gloat with drunken eye!
Manes of the unnumber’d slain!
Ye that gasp’d on Warsaw’s plain!
Ye that erst at Ismail’s tower,
When human ruin choked the streams,
Fell in Conquest’s glutted hour,
Mid women’s shrieks and infants’ screams!
Spirits of the uncoffin’d slain,
Sudden blasts of triumph swelling,
Oft, at night, in misty train,
Rush around her narrow dwelling!
The exterminating Fiend is fled —
(Foul her life, and dark her doom)
Mighty armies of the dead
Dance, like death-fires, round her tomb!
Then with prophetic song relate,
Each some Tyrant-Murderer’s fate!

Departing Year! ’twas on no earthly shore
My soul beheld thy Vision! Where alone,
Voiceless and stern, before the cloudy throne,
Aye Memory sits: thy robe inscrib’d with gore,
With many an unimaginable groan
Thou storied’st thy sad hours! Silence ensued,
Deep silence o’er the ethereal multitude,
Whose locks with wreaths, whose wreaths with glories shone.
Then, his eye wild ardours glancing,
From the choiréd gods advancing,
The Spirit of the Earth made reverence meet,
And stood up, beautiful, before the cloudy seat.

Throughout the blissful throng,
Hush’d were harp and song:
Till wheeling round the throne the Lampads seven,
(The mystic Words of Heaven)
Permissive signal make:
The fervent Spirit bow’d, then spread his wings and spake!
"Thou in stormy blackness throning
Love and uncreated Light,
By the Earth’s unsolaced groaning,
Seize thy terrors, Arm of might!
By Peace with proffer’d insult scared,
Masked Hate and envying Scorn!
By years of Havoc yet unborn!
And Hunger’s bosom to the frost-winds bared!
But chief by Afric’s wrongs,
Strange, horrible, and foul!
By what deep guilt belongs
To the deaf Synod, ‘full of gifts and lies!’
By Wealth’s insensate laugh! by Torture’s howl!
Avenger, rise!
For ever shall the thankless Island scowl,
Her quiver full, and with unbroken bow?
Speak! from thy storm-black Heaven O speak aloud!
And on the darkling foe
Open thine eye of fire from some uncertain cloud!
O dart the flash! O rise and deal the blow!
The Past to thee, to thee the Future cries!
Hark! how wide Nature joins her groans below!
Rise, God of Nature! rise."

The voice had ceas’d, the Vision fled;
Yet still I gasp’d and reel’d with dread.
And ever, when the dream of night
Renews the phantom to my sight,
Cold sweat-drops gather on my limbs;
My ears throb hot; my eye-balls start;
My brain with horrid tumult swims;
Wild is the tempest of my heart;
And my thick and struggling breath
Imitates the toil of death!
No stranger agony confounds
The Soldier on the war-field spread,
When all foredone with toil and wounds,
Death-like he dozes among heaps of dead!
(The strife is o’er, the day-light fled,
And the night-wind clamours hoarse!
See! the starting wretch’s head
Lies pillow’d on a brother’s corse!)

Not yet enslaved, not wholly vile,
O Albion! O my mother Isle!
Thy valleys, fair as Eden’s bowers
Glitter green with sunny showers;
Thy grassy uplands’ gentle swells
Echo to the bleat of flocks;
(Those grassy hills, those glittering dells
Proudly ramparted with rocks)
And Ocean mid his uproar wild
Speaks safety to his Island-child!
Hence for many a fearless age
Has social Quiet lov’d thy shore;
Nor ever proud Invader’s rage
Or sack’d thy towers, or stain’d thy fields with gore.

Abandon’d of Heaven! mad Avarice thy guide,
At cowardly distance, yet kindling with pride —
Mid thy herds and thy corn-fields secure thou hast stood,
And join’d the wild yelling of Famine and Blood!
The nations curse thee! They with eager wondering
Shall hear Destruction, like a vulture, scream!
Strange-eyed Destruction! who with many a dream
Of central fires through nether seas up-thundering
Soothes her fierce solitude; yet as she lies
By livid fount, or red volcanic stream,
If ever to her lidless dragon-eyes,
O Albion! thy predestin’d ruins rise,
The fiend-hag on her perilous couch doth leap,
Muttering distemper’d triumph in her charméd sleep.

Away, my soul, away!
In vain, in vain the Birds of warning sing —
And hark! I hear the famish’d brood of prey
Flap their lank pennons on the groaning wind!
Away, my soul, away!
I unpartaking of the evil thing,
With daily prayer and daily toil
Soliciting for food my scanty soil,
Have wail’d my country with a loud Lament.
Now I recentre my immortal mind
In the deep Sabbath of meek self-content;
Cleans’d from the vaporous passions that bedim
God’s Image, sister of the Seraphim.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.