This is the first of three odes of unknown date which are not printed elsewhere and which appear to be autobiographical in nature (see also d2_MelA_015 and d2_MelA_016). In lines 1-16 the narrator (or Melville) reflects on his insomnia, and gives thanks for the art of poetry as the divinely-granted means by which he escapes the temptations of lust and unsettled emotions. However, as he notes in lines 12 to 32, poetry also allows him to make versified offerings to Christ, and by doing so to better meditate on following his example on earth and the anticipation of his imminent return in the Last Judgment. The last two verses of the poem (lines 33-40) offer a concluding entreaty to Christ to give the narrator comfort through the long blackness of the night. Metre: sapphic stanzas.
1Cum leves somni induciae profunda
nocte rumpuntur tenues, nec atrae
dormiunt curae, et laqueos tetendit 1
5ne vagum cor velificans sub aestu
fluctuet venti in scopulos procella,
anchoram ad sacram trepidus vagantem
17In sacris ergo sapientiae aris
ignibus castis adolens penates, 6
et voluptatum illecebras, et acres
21Turbidos motus animi rebellis
rite compono radiis serenae
lucis, ad nutum sophiae verendum
25In boni vultu vario, suique
semper ad normam simili, sequacem
fingo sic vultum mihi, et hoc quod hujus
degitur aevi. 7
29Deque promisso melioris aevi
inclytum expecto jubar, et perennis
arbitrum lucis, supero et fruendum
in lumine lumen. 8
33Lucis o fons, o pelagus salutis,
gratiae vena saliente fundens
[p106] nectar aeternum, ambrosiamque pleno
37da tuo mi nunc comiti per atrae
noctis anfractus scelerumque fraudes, 9
te frui in caelum duce, te via, te
40lumine et aura.
To the Muses
1When the light and fragile truce of sleep is broken in the deep night, and black anxieties do not sleep, and the ever-watchful trapper a has stretched out his snares:
5 to stop my wavering heart as it sails on this stormy sea from being tossed onto the rocks by a windy tempest, I hastily secure my errant boat to the holy anchor.
9Ah poetry, my welcome escape! Ah poetry, my dear place of retreat! A refuge into which my frantic mind withdraws and frantically becomes wrapped in itself.
13In this way Divine Providence feels pity for us: just as it does not shame the father of the gods, and the king of men, having abandoned heaven, to visit the base earth.
17When with chaste fires on the holy altars of wisdom I make an offering to the household gods, b thus I sacrifice both the lures of lust, and bitter madness.
21I duly settle the disordered emotions of my rebellious mind with the rays of the serene light, turning my eyes in order to worship the countenance of wisdom.
25From the changeable face of the good man, and always to the standard of his likeness, I fashion such a face for myself, and with this face this mortal life is spent.
29And because of his promise of a better age I await the celebrated dawn, and the judge of eternal light, and the light which we must enjoy in the light above.
33O source of light, o sea of salvation, a gushing vein pouring forth [p106] the eternal nectar of grace, and ambrosia perpetually in a full torrent,
37 now allow me, your companion, to take succour from you through the coils of black night and the lies of wickedness, as my leader into heaven, as the way, as my light and air.
1: Augustine, Soliquia XVI.4: 'laqueos tetendit [Diabolus]...in somno et in vigilia'. Augustine is paraphrasing Psalms XC.2-3.
2: cf. Psalms XC.2. See note 1.
3: A positive reworking of Virgil, Aeneid X.681-2: '...sese...amens / induat et crudum...ensem'.
4: 'Pronaeam'="Pronoeam" (in Greek, 'pronoia', 'providence')
5: Melville uses a Vergilian version of this phrase from Ennius at 'Antichristus' (d2_MelA_054), l.226. The present line is much closer to Ennius' original, as reported by Varro, De Lingua Latina V.10: 'Divumque hominumque pater rex...'; and Cicero, De Natura Deorum I.2: '...patrem divumque hominumque...'
6: Virgil, Aeneid I.704
7: Lucretius, De Rerum Natura II.16
8: Vulgate, Psalms XXXIV/XXXV.10: 'in lumine tuo videbimus lumen'.
9: Cf. Buchanan, Psalms CI.11: 'fraudum scelerisque'. Buchanan follows Horace, Odes I.22.1. See Green, Poetic Paraphrase of the Psalms of David 595, note 11.
b: Penates: Roman spirits connected with the inner part of the house, appeased by throwing a part of the family meal on to the hearth.