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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Ode to Melancholy

By Thomas Hood (1799–1845)

COME, let us set our careful breasts,

Like Philomel, against the inward thorn,

To aggravate the inward grief

That makes her accents so forlorn;

The world has many cruel points

Whereby our bosoms have been torn,

And there are dainty themes of grief,

In sadness to outlast the morn:

True honor’s dearth, affection’s death,

Neglectful pride, and cankering scorn,

With all the piteous tales that tears

Have watered since the world was born.

The world!—it is a wilderness,

Where tears are hung on every tree;

For thus my gloomy phantasy

Makes all things weep with me.

Come, let us sit and watch the sky,

And fancy clouds where no clouds be;

Grief is enough to blot the eye,

And make heaven black with misery.

Why should birds sing such merry notes,

Unless they were more blest than we?

No sorrow ever chokes their throats—

Except sweet nightingale; for she

Was born to pain our hearts the more,

With her sad melody.

Why shines the sun, except that he

Makes gloomy nooks for Grief to hide,

And pensive shades for Melancholy,

When all the earth is bright beside?

Let clay wear smiles, and green grass wave:

Mirth shall not win us back again,

Whilst man is made of his own grave,

And fairest clouds but gilded rain!

I saw my mother in her shroud;

Her cheek was cold and very pale:

And ever since I’ve looked on all

As creatures doomed to fail!

Why do buds ope, except to die?

Aye, let us watch the roses wither,

And think of our loves’ cheeks;

And oh, how quickly time doth fly

To bring death’s winter hither!

Minutes, hours, days, and weeks,

Months, years, and ages, shrink to naught—

An age is but a thought!

Aye, let us think of him awhile

That, with a coffin for a boat,

Rows daily o’er the Stygian moat;

And for our table choose a tomb.

There’s dark enough in any skull

To charge with black a raven plume;

And for the saddest funeral thoughts

A winding-sheet hath ample room,

Where Death, with his keen-pointed style,

Hath writ the common doom.

How wide the yew-tree spreads its gloom,

And o’er the dead lets fall its dew,

As if in tears it wept for them—

The many human families

That sleep around its stem!

How cold the dead have made these stones,

With natural drops kept ever wet!

Lo! here the best, the worst, the world

Doth now remember or forget,

Are in one common ruin hurled;

And love and hate are calmly met,—

The loveliest eyes that ever shone,

The fairest hands, and locks of jet.

Is ’t not enough to vex our souls

And fill our eyes, that we have set

Our love upon a rose’s leaf,

Our hearts upon a violet?

Blue eyes, red cheeks, are frailer yet;

And sometimes, at their swift decay

Beforehand we must fret.

The roses bud and bloom again;

But love may haunt the grave of love,

And watch the mold, in vain.

Oh clasp me, sweet, whilst thou art mine,

And do not take my tears amiss;

For tears must flow to wash away

A thought that shows so stern as this:

Forgive if somewhile I forget,

In woe to come, the present bliss.

As frighted Proserpine let fall

Her flowers at the sight of Dis,

Even so the dark and bright will kiss,

The sunniest things throw sternest shade;

And there is even a happiness

That makes the heart afraid.

Now let us with a spell invoke

The full-orbed moon to grieve our eyes;

Not bright, not bright—but, with a cloud

Lapped all about her, let her rise

All pale and dim, as if from rest

The ghost of the late buried sun

Had crept into the skies.

The moon! she is the source of sighs,

The very face to make us sad,

If but to think in other times

The same calm, quiet look she had,

As if the world held nothing base,

Of vile and mean, of fierce and bad—

The same fair light that shone in streams,

The fairy lamp that charmed the lad;

For so it is, with spent delights

She taunts men’s brains, and makes them mad.

All things are touched with melancholy,

Born of the secret soul’s mistrust

To feel her fair ethereal wings

Weighed down with vile, degraded dust.

Even the bright extremes of joy

Bring on conclusions of disgust—

Like the sweet blossoms of the May,

Whose fragrance ends in must.

Oh give her, then, her tribute just,

Her sighs and tears, and musings holy!

There is no music in the life

That sounds with idiot laughter solely;

There’s not a string attuned to mirth,

But has its chord in melancholy.