Variety of Nature

1730   Today is the anniversary of the death of the English writer and poet Elijah Fenton. His tomb is ornamented with a pair of sleeping angels. Alexander Pope composed his epitaph. The first two lines are inspired by the poet Richard Crashaw.
At Easthamstead, Berks, 1729

THIS modest stone, what few vain marbles can, 
May truly say, Here lies an Honest Man; 
A Poet blessed beyond the Poet's fate, 
Whom Heav'n kept sacred from the proud and great; 
Foe to loud Praise, and friend to learned Ease, 5
Content with Science in the vale of peace. 
Calmly he looked on either life, and here 
Saw nothing to regret, or there to fear; 
From Nature's temperate feast rose satisfied, 
Thank'd Heav'n that he had lived, and that he died.

 
Elijah Fenton is remembered for working with Alexander Pope and William Broome to translate the Greek epic poem The Odyssey. Pope had specifically asked Elijah for his help with the major undertaking.
Elijah is credited with many wonderful verses:
Wedded love is founded on esteem.
 

Beware of flattery, 'tis a weed
Which oft offends the very idol--vice,
Whose shrine it would perfume.

 

O blissful poverty!
Nature, too partial to thy lot, assigns
Health, freedom, innocence, and downy peace.

 
In a book about Elijah Fenton, it says,
“It is late justice, to Fenton, to point out how often the footsteps of the greater poet may be tracked to his garden plots; how the tones, and something more, of his verses, are echoed in strains which give them their best chance of immortality. Pope was accustomed to say that Fenton's “Ode to Spring” addressed to Lord John Gower, was the best Ode in the English language since Dryden’s Cecilia.”
 

O'er winter's long inclement sway,
At length the lusty Spring prevails;
And swift to meet the smiling May,
Is wafted by the Western gales.
Around him dance the rosy Hours,
And damasking the ground with flowers,
With ambient sweets perfume the morn;
With shadowy verdure flourished high,
A sudden youth the groves enjoy,
Where Philomel laments forlorn.
— Elijah Fenton, Ode to Spring

 

Nature permits for various gifts to fall
On various climes, nor smiles alike on all.
The Latian eternal verdure wear,
And flowers spontaneous crown the smiling year;
But who manures a wild Norwegian Hill
To raise the Jasmine or the coy Jonquil?
Who finds the peach among the savage sloes
Or in black Scythia sees the blushing Rose?
Here golden grain waves over the teeming fields
And they're the vine her racy purple yields;
Rich on the cliff the British Oak ascends
Proud to survey the seas her power defends;
Her sovereign title to the flag she proves
Scornful of softer India's spicy Groves. 
— Elijah Fenton, Variety of Nature

 


This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Elijah Fenton
Elijah Fenton