Ode to Wisdom by a Lady (L54)


     The solitary bird of night
     Thro' thick shades now wings his flight,
        And quits his time-shook tow'r;
     Where, shelter'd from the blaze of day,
     In philosophic gloom he lay,
        Beneath his ivy bow'r.

     With joy I hear the solemn sound,
     Which midnight echoes waft around,
        And sighing gales repeat.
     Fav'rite of Pallas! I attend,
     And, faithful to thy summons, bend
        At Wisdom's awful seat.

     She loves the cool, the silent eve,
     Where no false shows of life deceive,
        Beneath the lunar ray.
     Here folly drops each vain disguise;
     Nor sport her gaily colour'd dyes,
        As in the beam of day.

     O Pallas! queen of ev'ry art,
     That glads the sense, and mends the heart,
        Blest source of purer joys!
     In ev'ry form of beauty bright,
     That captivates the mental sight
        With pleasure and surprise;

     To thy unspotted shrine I bow:
     Attend thy modest suppliant's vow,
        That breathes no wild desires;
     But, taught by thy unerring rules,
     To shun the fruitless wish of fools,
        To nobler views aspires.

     Not Fortune's gem, Ambition's plume,
     Nor Cytherea's fading bloom,
        Be objects of my prayer:
     Let av'rice, vanity, and pride,
     Those envy'd glitt'ring toys divide,
        The dull rewards of care.

     To me thy better gifts impart,
     Each moral beauty of the heart,
        By studious thought refin'd;
     For wealth, the smile of glad content;
     For pow'r, its amplest, best extent,
        An empire o'er my mind.

     When Fortune drops her gay parade.
     When Pleasure's transient roses fade,
        And wither in the tomb,
     Unchang'd is thy immortal prize;
     Thy ever-verdant laurels rise
        In undecaying bloom.

     By thee protected, I defy
     The coxcomb's sneer, the stupid lie
        Of ignorance and spite:
     Alike contemn the leaden fool,
     And all the pointed ridicule
        Of undiscerning wit.

     From envy, hurry, noise, and strife,
     The dull impertinence of life,
        In thy retreat I rest:
     Pursue thee to the peaceful groves,
     Where Plato's sacred spirit roves,
        In all thy beauties drest.

     He bad Ilyssus' tuneful stream
     Convey thy philosophic theme
        Of perfect, fair, and good:
     Attentive Athens caught the sound,
     And all her list'ning sons around
        In awful silence stood.

     Reclaim'd her wild licentious youth,
     Confess'd the potent voice of Truth,
        And felt its just controul.
     The Passions ceas'd their loud alarms,
     And Virtue's soft persuasive charms
        O'er all their senses stole.

     Thy breath inspires the Poet's song
     The Patriot's free, unbiass'd tongue,
        The Hero's gen'rous strife;
     Thine are retirement's silent joys,
     And all the sweet engaging ties
        Of still, domestic life.

     No more to fabled names confin'd;
     To Thee supreme, all perfect mind,
        My thought direct their flight.
     Wisdom's thy gift, and all her force
     From thee deriv'd, Eternal source
        Of Intellectual Light!

     O send her sure, her steady ray,
     To regulate my doubtful way,
        Thro' life's perplexing road:
     The mists of error to controul,
     And thro' its gloom direct my soul
        To happiness and good.

     Beneath her clear discerning eye
     The visionary shadows fly
        Of Folly's painted show.
     She sees thro' ev'ry fair disguise,
     That all but Virtue's solid joys,
        Is vanity and woe.

4 thoughts on “Ode to Wisdom by a Lady (L54)

  1. Keri Mathis

    This interruption in the letters was quite strange to me, as well; however, I really like that Richardson is showing some generic versatility with this musical interlude. I also find that this “genre-bending” highlights the importance of Clarissa’s reflection on her own sex. As we have already noted, gender is of extreme importance throughout the novel, and this ode highlights that importance even more, helping Clarissa come to terms with her own oppression at home. I also think that is particularly interesting that right before introducing the ode and her revisions of the last three stanzas to Miss Howe, Clarissa shows her desperation in trying to find a way out of her current situation at home. She exclaims:Yet, my sex, my youth, considered, how full of danger is this last measure! [embarking to Leghorn in search of her cousin Morden] – And may not my cousin be set out for England, while I am getting thither—What can I do?—Tell me, tell me, my dearest Miss Howe, [for I dare not trust myself,] tell me, what I can do.” She then explains the ode, her inspiration in revising it, and the fact that it “does honour to [her] sex.” Again, the importance here seems to be that Clarissa is reflecting on her sex and her options at this point in the novel, and given her failure in procuring plans that her family approves, she uses this ode as a way of guiding her to make the right decision. On this point, the last stanza of the ode is what, I think, makes including this ode in this particular context make sense: “Beneath her clear discerning eye / The visionary shadows fly / Of Folly’s painted show. She sees thro’ ev’ry fair disguise, / That all but Virtue’s solid joys, / Is vanity and woe.” This final stanza reflects Clarissa’s attempts to very calmly respond to her situation and see with a “clear discerning eye” what route she should choose. In short, Clarissa’s inclusion of the ode and her reflection of its contents, offer her a brief escape from the desperation she feels. She finds a peace within herself and states in the beginning of her next letter to Miss Howe that she now has “a calmer moment. Envy, ambition, high and selfish resentment, and all the violent passions, are now, most probably, asleep around me…” In this way, it seems the ode is actually of critical importance in Clarissa’s learning to deal with the strife and oppression she endures at home and helps her write her way into a new identity capable of handling difficult situations while maintaining her sanity and a relatively strong sense of self.

  2. Debra

    I really like Keri's response, and it made me go back and read the ode more carefully. Truthfully, first time around, I could hardly get through it. I do think it is a sign of the "kit-like" qualities of the text. There were, apparently, several instances of publishing Clarissa's non-letter writings. There is an interesting essay about this by Tom Keymer (a major Richardson scholar). I will get scanned and put it up on BB if anyone wants to think about this. The textual history of Clarissa and its various parts is complicated but, I think, quite relevant to our project.

  3. Meghan Hancock

    I agree with Debra that this section of the novel seemed very "kit-like" in the way it deviated from the expected format of the text (the letter) and inserted a different medium (that of the poem) to show the reader another way Clarissa copes with the predicament with her family, as Keri suggested. I was trying, the last time our class met, to think of what the term "kit" reminded me of when we were talking about how the novel has been described in the past. I did some archival work at a rare books room in Boston a few years ago, and one of our major exhibits was on scrapbooks that were made by women from prominent families in the 19th century in New England. The scrapbooks were full of these kinds of moves–going back and forth between their own poetry, pasted articles from newspapers and advertisements, and photographs of their families, etc. Though they seemed separate, all of the pieces seemed to tell a story. I think this might be a helpful metaphor to think about Clarissa as well. How much is the novel a kind of "scrapbook" of Clarissa's experiences? How does Clarissa (like in this section with the poem) use different types of texts both to cope with and to tell her story?

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