Thomas Penrose (1743–1779)
1. Thomas Penrose enlisted as a soldier in the British capture of Nova Colonia,
South America, which had been seized by the Spanish. He was wounded in
an ill-fated naval battle of 1762 and never fully recovered. When he
returned to England he took orders and received the curacy of Newbury. Much
of Penrose’s poetry is concerned with Britain’s wars.
His main work is the collection Flights of Fancy
(1775), which contained the poem given below. It also included “The
Helmet”, which is a poem about the Civil War of the
mid-seventeenth century. Also in 1775, Penrose published
“Address to the Genius of Britain”, in which he deprecates the
struggle then about to commence between England and its American
colonies. His focus is often on principles, such as patriotism, which
guide national decisions and seal the fate of men.
2. The poem included here is the first original composition published in
English, i.e. a poem which was not based on a Norse source text. The
text has a military theme, which deals with the theme of patriotism.
It focus is the power of the poetic voice, which awakens docile warriors to
new courage. Its setting and theme are more than a little reminiscent
of the banquet scene in John Dryden’s much- revered poem Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music (1697),
which deals with the rewards of heroism and martial success, when
Alexander the Great is fired with zeal to war, leading to the burning
of Persepolis. Dryden’s theme of artistic composition compelling a
warrior’s fervour was perhaps seen as an apt analogy to the
skalds encouraging warriors to battle through their verses (this was
explained by Mallet and others) At least Dryden’s poem was later
referred to in one of the many translations of Ragnar Lodbrog’s
Death Song. 
3. Despite Penrose’s inaccuracies in describing the old Scandinavian
warriors’ armour, his experiment with a Norse setting was well
received. The editor of The General Biographical
Dictionary called it one of “the rare productions of modern
The Carousal of Odin (1775)
the honey’d bev’rage
Fill the sculls, 
Heard ye not the powerful call,
Thund’ring thro’ the vaulted hall?
“Fill the meath, and spread the board,
“Vassals of the griesly Lord.”—
The portal hinges grate,—they come—
The din of voices rocks the dome.
In stalk the various forms, and, drest
In various armour, various vest,
With helm and morion, 
Some quivering launces couch
, some biting maces
All march with haughty step, all proudly shake the crest.
The feast begins, the scull goes round,
Laughter shouts—the shouts resound.
She gust of war subsides—E’en now
The grim chief curls his cheek, and smooths his rugged brow.
“Shame to your placid front, ye men of death!”
Cries Hilda, with disorder’d
Hell echoes back her scoff of shame
To the inactive rev’ling Champion’s name.
“Call forth the song,” she scream’d;—the
The theme was glorious war, the dear delight
Of shining best in field, and daring most in fight;
“Joy to the soul,” the Harpers sung,
“When embattl’d ranks among,
The steel-clad Knight, in vigour’s bloom,
(Banners waving o’er his plume)
“Foremost rides, the flower and boast
“Of the bold determin’d host!”
With greedy ears the guests each note devour’d,
Each struck his beaver down, and grasp’d his faithful sword.
The fury mark’d th’ auspicious deed,
And bad the Scalds proceed.
“Joy to the soul I a joy divine I
“When conflicting armies join;
“When trumpets clang, and bugles sound;
“When strokes of death are dealt around;
“When the sword feasts, yet craves for more;
“And every gaunlet drips with gore.”—
The charm prevail’d, up rush’d the madden’d
Panting for carnage, as they fum’d along.
Fierce Odin’s self led forth the
To scatter havock wide o’er many a guilty land.
Source: Thomas Penrose, Flights of Fancy (London, 1775),
“Part of the Epicedium of Regner Lodbrog, Translated”,
in Poems, Chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and
Cornwall, ed. R. Polwhele, vol. 2 (Bath: R.
Cruttwell, 1792), 25–8. BACK
The General Biographical Dictionary, ed.
Alexander Chalmers, new ed., vol. 24 (London: J. Nichols, 1815),
This is a reference to the
misunderstood passage in stanza 25 of Ragnar Lodbrog’s
Death Song. BACK
A metal helmet. BACK
A light shield or buckler. BACK
A form of Heavy war