Gentlest Air thou breath of Lovers
Title: A Sigh
Primary Texts: MS Folger, 254*; ?: another MS (Cameron)
Gentlest air thou breath of lovers
Vapour from a secret fire
Which by thee itself discovers
E're yet daring to aspire.
Softest note of whisper'd anguish
Harmony's refindest part
Striking whilst thou seem's to languish
Full upon the listeners' heart.
Safest messenger of passion
Stealing through a crowd of spies
Which constain the outward fashion
Close the lips and guard the eyes.
Shapeless sigh we ne're can show thee
Formed but to assault the ear
Yet e're to their cost they know thee
Ev'ry nymph may read thee here
(MS Folger, 'The Sigh', p. 254).
Secondary Eds: 1903 Reynolds prints Folger text, 138; rpts of 1903 Reynolds: 1928 Murray, 70; 1930 Fausset, 67; 1979 Rogers AF, 98; 1987 Thompson, 37.
Source: 1696 Dacier, Les Poesies d'Anacreon et de Sapho, her explication of Anacreon's 45th Ode, beginning, "Et le Dieu des armes soupirant] Cela me paroit fort delicat ...", p 240.
18C: 1703 Poems on Several Occasions, 87-8, together with "The Sigh Revers'd," a parody, 88-9; 1711 Manley, ; 1714 Steele, 45-6; 1724 The Hive II, 30 (with some changes in words as well as modernizing punctuation: "Safest" becomes "Softest"; "croud" turns into "cloud").
20C: Rpts of 1714/1903: 1932 Crane, 541-2; 1990 Lonsdale, 8.
Date: 1702-3 from the printing and parody of this poem in that year, "A F--t:" Gentlest Blast of all Concoction"; Mrs Manley calls it "a riddle," and if one knew when "a fashion for riddles" was at its height one could date its origin more clearly. It was not copied out into the earlier part of the Folger and not acknowledged in 1714 Steele perhaps because it had been mocked and Finch did not want anyone to be able to say for certain whose it was. It has a tone which links it to the elegiac and moral later phase of Finch's lyric poetry; like "Melinda on an insippid Beauty" and two of the three unacknowledged anacreontics in the 1714 Steele it is also partly inspired by Madame Dacier's book of Greek into French (see directly below, 1703- 6). I see as the most successful of Finch's anacreontics.
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