A Nocturnal Reverie.
No MS; 1713 Misc, 292-4.*
[Page 292] In such a Night, when every louder Wind
Is to its distant Cavern safe confin'd;
And only gentle Zephyr fans his Wings,
And lonely Philomel, still waking, sings;
Or from some Tree, fam'd for the Owl's delight,
She, hollowing clear, directs the Wand'rer right:
In such a Night, when passing Clouds give place,
Or thinly vail the Heav'ns mysterious Face;
When in some River, overhung with Green,
The waving Moon and trembling Leaves are seen;
When freshen'd Grass now bears it self upright,
And makes cool Banks to pleasing Rest invite,
Whence springs the Woodbind, and the BrambleRose,
And where the sleepy Cowslip shelter'd grows;
Whilst now a paler Hue the Foxglove takes,
Yet checquers still with Red the dusky brakes:
When scattered Glow-worms, but in Twilight fine,
Shew trivial Beauties watch their Hour to shine;
Whilst Salisb'ry stands the Test of every Light,
In perfect Charms, and perfect Virtue bright:
When Odours, which declin'd repelling Day,
Thro' temp'rate Air uninterrupted stray;
When darken'd Groves their softest Shadows wear,
And falling Waters we distinctly hear;
When thro' the Gloom more venerable shows
Some ancient Fabrick, awful in Repose,
While Sunburnt Hills their swarthy Looks conceal,
And swelling Haycocks thicken up the Vale:
When the loos'd Horse now, as his Pasture leads,
Comes slowly grazing thro' th' adjoining Meads,
Whose stealing Pace and lengthen'd Shade we fear,
Till torn up Forage in his Teeth we hear:
When nibbling Sheep at large pursue their Food,
And unmolested Kine rechew the Cud;
When Curlews cry beneath the Village-walls,
And to her straggling Brood the Partridge calls;
Their shortliv'd Jubilee the Creatures keep,
Which but endures, whilst Tyrant-Man do's sleep;
[Page 294] When a sedate Content the Spirit feels,
And no fierce Light disturbs, whilst it reveals;
But silent Musings urge the Mind to seek
Something, too high for Syllables to speak;
Till the free Soul, to a compos'dness charm'd,
Finding the Elements of Rage disarm'd,
O'er all below a solemn Quiet grown,
Joys in th' inferiour World and thinks it like her Own:
In such a Night let Me abroad remain,
Till Morning breaks, and All's confus'd again;
Our Cares, our Toils, our Clamours are renew'd,
Or Pleasures, seldom reach'd, again pursu'd.
Rpt of 1713: 1903 Reynolds, 268-70; rpts of 1903 Reynolds: 1928 Murray, 84-5 (omits lines 19-20); 1930 Fausset, 116- 7; 1979 Rogers AF, 156-7; 1987 Thompson, 70-2.
Rpt of 1713: 1793/4, Ritson .
Rpts of 1713: 1825 Dyce, 137-9; 1853 Rowton 103-4; 1855 Hale, 554; 1861 Williams, 148-9; 1880 Ward, 31-2.
Rpt of 1713/1903: 1905 Tutin, 14-6; 1905 Wordsworth (compiled 1819), 9-11 (omits lines 17-19); 1918 Bernbaum (via 1880 Ward), 75- 6; 1926 Nichol Smith (via 1819 Wordsworth), 45-6; 1927 Squire, 200- 1; 1932 Crane, 540-1; 1939 Bredvold, 155-6; 1956 Haywood, 196-7; 1965 Sutherland, 32-4; 1967 Peake, 39-40; 1968 Swedenberg, 302-4; 1969 Tillotson, 795-6; 1972 Stanford (via 1928 Murray, both omit lines 19-20), 77-8; 1973 Davison, 213-4; 1973 Goulianos, 83-5; 1974 Davie, 40-1; 1974 Bernikow, 81-3; 1975 Kaplan, 72; 1978 Cosman, 143- 4; 1979 Rogers Six women, 22-3; 1984 Lonsdale, 106-7; 1985 Gilbert/Gubar, 111-2; 1987 Rosenthal, 362-3; 1989 Spender/Todd, 157- 8; 1990 Fullard, 237-8; 1990 Wain, 443-4; 1990 Lonsdale, 22-3; 1991 Uphaus/Foster, 179-80; 1993 Abrams, 1993-4.
This has been Finch's most admired and frequently reprinted poem since the 19th century. It is beautiful and combines several of her most successful veins (descriptive, meditative, Miltonic, the motif of retreat). It's thought that this poem was originally written to or for Anne Tufton Cecil, Countess of Salisbury (see The white mouses petition". Salisbury is an also ideal presence against which society is measured; she "stands the Test of every Light" (including that of the natural world).
As Countess of Salisbury, Ann Tufton Cecil improved the West Gardens around Hatfield House; it was she was planted the great copper beeches that shadow the West Gardens on the South Side; she married James Cecil, 5th Earl of Salisbury around 1709; perhaps Finch visited her at Hatfield House sometime in 1710, dating this poem between 1710 and 1713.
Page Last Updated 8 January 2003