To Myrtilla, 1773

Oh! Thou to whom my weary’d Heart complains!

Whose lenient smile has soften’d all my pains,

Whose kind Compassion yields a sweet relief,

Suspends my tears and lightens every grief,

Whose Presence brightens every varying scene

And makes all nature smile like Thee serene:

Once more indulge my Heart the pleasing pain

To tune to Thee my sadly plaintive Strain.

Long has this Bosom mourn’d opprest with woes,

Long my Heart bled a Stranger to repose,

Pale Sorrow on my Grief-worn Spirits prey

And cloud the bloom of Life’s unfolding Day.

Ah! where is fled that Glow of sweet Delight,

When Nature’s Charms first drew my raptur’d sight,

When Fancy saw ten thousand beauties rise

And forms aerial swam before my Eyes?

Ah now no more can Nature’s Charms impart

Joy to my Eye and Rapture to my Heart;

The scenes of visionary Transport fly

And real Woes awake the deepfelt sigh,

Expiring Fancy droops her languid Head

And all the sprightliness of Youth is fled.

Yet flattering Hope would whisper when fair Spring

Again shall bid the feather’d Warblers sing,

Shed her kind Influence o’er these sylvan Bow’rs

And wake to Life the sleeping Herbs and flow’rs;

Her pleasing pow’r shall rouse this pensive Mind

To taste again of pleasures all refin’d.

Fond flattering thought – can blooming Spring impart

Health to my Friend or comfort to my Heart?

Can all her balms one needful succour lend

As hopeless o’er the Bed of pain I bend?

Aid me to view expectant and serene

The dire approaches of that dreadful scene,

When Death shall speed his long impending dart,

And rend my Theodosia from my Heart?

Can all the beauteous scenes which Spring supplies

Calm my fond Anguish, check my hopeless sighs,

My dearest Celia to my Arms restore

Or bid me cease her Memory to deplore?

Ah! no, in vain may changeful Seasons roll,

A nobler aid must calm the troubled Soul.

’Tis thine Oh Resignation! Heavenly Guest,

To soothe the Sorrows of the human Breast,

Bid anguish smile and calm the swelling Sigh

And wipe the tear from pale Affliction’s Eye,

While Hope directs her view to Realms of Day

And sweet Contentment smooths the rugged Way.

Oh! My Myrtilla, teach my woe worn Mind

These Heaven-descended Visitants to find.

Teach me that happy calm thy Bosom knows

That views with equal Eye Life’s Joys and Woes,

Blest with the tender’st feelings of the Mind,

Yet with those keen Sensations all Resign’d.

Oh! could we view with Reason’s faithful beam

(Nor let the mists of Passion cloud the scene)

How equally kind Heaven its Gifts bestows

And wisely blends our Pleasures and our woes.

Then would these truths with fairest Lustre rise,

That Sorrow is an Angel in disguise,

That oft those forms to Fancy’s Eyes so gay,

Smile but to Ruin, flatter to betray.

Heaven gives our Dearest Comforts their alloy,

And with our keenest Sufferings mingles Joy.

Thus while I weep the Affliction of my Friends,

Kind Heaven to me a Parent’s Life extends;

On Him may Health her balmy Influence shed

And show’r her Blessings on his Hond Head.

Oh still may Heaven that valued Boon bestow

That dearest Comfort I can taste below.

Were we of perfect Happiness possess’d

Should we not take our Journey for our rest?

Supinely dream of Safety here below

And slight that bliss Heaven can alone bestow?

Oh Thou supreme, all potent and all wise!

Whose smile sustains the spacious Earth and Skies,

Teach, Teach my erring feet the living Way

That leads to Realms of everlasting Day.

Teach me above these fleeting scenes to rise

Nor longer chase the pleasures I despise;

To taste Life’s Comforts with a grateful Heart

Yet seek a bliss beyond what these impart;

To enjoy those Gifts thy bounteous Hand bestows

And trace the Source from whence each blessing flows.

Then welcome smiling Peace or frowning Care,

For each will then a pleasing aspect wear;

Ev’n Friendship, dearest noblest Gift below,

Source of my Joy and solace of my Woe,

Heighten’d by this its pleasures higher rise

Nor terminate beneath its kindred Skies.

Oh! my Myrtilla! Name with rapture fraught,

Thou Dear Partaker of each inmost thought!

With friendly aim direct my erring Mind

To soar with Thee to pleasures all refin’d.

Ah! could I hope when Life’s vain scenes decay

And Stars and Suns and Skies shall fade away

To meet where parting shall no more annoy

In Realms of uncreated Light and Joy;

Ah! then while yet Life’s glimmering Taper burns

E’er Death’s dark Shade this pallid form inurns,

Let me attend a Saviour’s heavenly Call,

With deep Contrition at his footstool fall.

Mercy will hear the penitential Pray’r

And smile away the horrors of Despair.

All powerful Grace this rebel Heart controul

How futile else each purpose of my Soul!

Else will the firm resolve which Reason frames

Be only empty words and idle Dreams,

Life’s flattering snares unable to withstand,

Effac’d as an Inscription on the sand.

Oh ever Friendly! and Oh ever Kind!

Forgive these fond Effusions of my Mind,

A Mind in which thy dear Idea reigns,

Prompts my weak Lays and animates my strains.

And still as thro’ Life’s mazy paths I bend,

Spare gracious Heaven! Oh spare My Much Lov’d FRIEND!

That pleasing Boon shall smooth Life’s rugged Way,

Heighten each pleasure, and each pain allay.

Text: MS, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, STE 5/5/iv; a second version, signed ‘Sylvia 1773’, follows this poem in 5/5/iv, with some variants; other versions appear in STE 5/6 and Attwater Papers, acc. 76, II.A.1. A fragment of the poem (ll. 29-40) appears in 5/1 titled ‘Written in the Spring’ (transcribed by Mary Steele Tomkins). That same fragment appears in Mary Steele’s hand in 5/5/viii without the title. See also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 3, pp. 94-97.