Saturday, December 19, 2020

O Hours! More Worth than Gold

December Morning, 1782.
by Anna Seward

I love to rise ere gleams the tardy light,
Winter's pale dawn; and as warm fires illume
And cheerful tapers shine around the room,
Through misty windows bend thy musing sight,
Where round the dusky lawn, the mansions white,
With shutters clos'd, peer faintly through the gloom,
That slow recedes; while yon grey spires assume,
Rising from their dark pile, an added height
By indistinctness given. Then to decree
The grateful thoughts to God, ere they unfold
To Friendship or the Muse, or seek with glee
Wisdom's rich page: O hours! more worth than gold,
By whose blest use we lengthen life, and free
From drear decays of age, outlive the old!

Anna Seward, known in her own day as The Swan of Lichfield, is the greatest English poet writing in Romantic style whom almost nobody remembers. The above sonnet can be found in a 1795 letter from Seward to a Mrs. Ponsonby. (Although the title I've given it here is not from there but is that given in Frederic Rowton's 1854 anthology, The Female Poets of Great Britain.) The letter is worth reading on its own; it gives Seward's own conception of the sonnet, which she does through a ruthless but amusing take-down of an article on the sonnet in Chambers' Encyclopedia.