Elizabeth Ryves: Irish Woman Poet

Elizabeth Ryves (1750-1797) was the daughter of an army officer and when he died she was done out of her inheritance. She moved to London in 1775 to try to recover her fortune and to make her living as a writer. She published plays, novels and journalism as well as poetry and was one of the first English translators of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. ‘Two Elegies’ come from her 1777 book Poems on Several Occasions.


In the two following Elegies, Christina Queen of Sweden is represented bewailing the tyranny of Custom, and the restraint she was under with respect to Marriage; and at length determining to sacrifice her interest to love, by abdicating a crown which she was not permitted to share with her lover.


Thou tyrant Custom! whose relentless laws
Nature and Justice still oppose in vain;
Will no kind angel plead my injur’d cause?
Will no avenging arm destroy thy chain?
Must Love (that gentle Pow’r, whose soft’ning smiles
The savage fierceness of Revenge can tame,
Or soothe Ambition with persuasive wiles,
And lure him back from the pursuits of fame);
Must he, low bending to thy stern command,
The rosy garland and the bow resign;
In courts a mean neglected captive stand,
And by thy laws his juster sway confine?
No, abject shade! let thy imagin’d hand
O’er coward minds the iron sceptre wield;
A soul superior spurns thy base command,
And bids thy rules to Reason’s dictates yield.
From regal pomp and regal cares retir’d,
I’ll lose the sov’reign in a softer name;
By fools condemn’d, but by the brave admir’d,
And crown’d at once with happiness and fame.


Not great Gustavus his exalted throne,
His fair dominions, or his wealth, I prize;
To bear the toils of royalty alone,
Or see some monarch by my favour rise.
Tho’ Fortune smiles on my auspicious reign,
Since Fate forbids that thou should’st share the dow’r,
For thee the pomp of empire I’ll disdain,
And all the high-plum’d pageantry of pow’r.
A soul like mine cou’d well such trappings spare:
But say, wilt thou renounce Ambition’s aim
For me? the withering breath of Censure dare,
And spurn the civic wreath, the hero’s proud acclaim?
Wilt thou, like me, for some sequester’d shade,
Some village cot, these stately domes resign,
Where Wealth, where Fame, where Pride must ne’er invade,
But all be sacrific’d at Friendship’s shrine?
Love shuns the troubled haunts of pomp and noise;
Close in a myrtle grove his temple stands;
There he diffuses all his purest joys,
And binds uniting hearts in flow’ry bands.
But Cupid scorns to hold divided sway,
Nor with Ambition deigns to share a throne;
Who owns his sceptre must his will obey,
And bend to him, despotic Pow’r! alone.
If then Alexis loves, he’ll lead the way
Thro’ Russian deserts or th’ Atlantic wave,
Rather than here ’midst tasteless splendor stay,
The dupe of Folly, and vain Fortune’s slave.


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