THENCE, in his saffron robe, for distant Thrace, Hymen departs, thro’ air’s unmeasur’d space; By Orpheus call’d, the nuptial Pow’r attends, But with ill-omen’d augury descends; Nor chearful look’d the God, nor prosp’rous spoke, Nor blaz’d his torch, but wept in hissing smoke. In vain they whirl it round, in vain they shake, No rapid motion can its flames awake.
The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice
With dread these inauspicious signs were view’d, And soon a more disastrous end ensu’d; For as the bride, amid the Naiad train, Ran joyful, sporting o’er the flow’ry plain, A venom’d viper bit her as she pass’d; Instant she fell, and sudden breath’d her last.
When long his loss the Thracian had deplor’d, Not by superior Pow’rs to be restor’d; Inflam’d by love, and urg’d by deep despair, He leaves the realms of light, and upper air; Daring to tread the dark Tenarian road, And tempt the shades in their obscure abode; Thro’ gliding spectres of th’ interr’d to go, And phantom people of the world below: Persephone he seeks, and him who reigns O’er ghosts, and Hell’s uncomfortable plains. Arriv’d, he, tuning to his voice his strings, Thus to the king and queen of shadows sings.
Ye Pow’rs, who under Earth your realms extend, To whom all mortals must one day descend; If here ’tis granted sacred truth to tell: I come not curious to explore your Hell; Nor come to boast (by vain ambition fir’d) How Cerberus at my approach retir’d. My wife alone I seek; for her lov’d sake These terrors I support, this journey take. She, luckless wandring, or by fate mis-led, Chanc’d on a lurking viper’s crest to tread; The vengeful beast, enflam’d with fury, starts, And thro’ her heel his deathful venom darts. Thus was she snatch’d untimely to her tomb; Her growing years cut short, and springing bloom. Long I my loss endeavour’d to sustain, And strongly strove, but strove, alas, in vain: At length I yielded, won by mighty love; Well known is that omnipotence above! But here, I doubt, his unfelt influence fails; And yet a hope within my heart prevails. That here, ev’n here, he has been known of old; At least if truth be by tradition told; If fame of former rapes belief may find, You both by love, and love alone, were join’d. Now, by the horrors which these realms surround; By the vast chaos of these depths profound; By the sad silence which eternal reigns O’er all the waste of these wide-stretching plains; Let me again Eurydice receive, Let Fate her quick-spun thread of life re-weave. All our possessions are but loans from you, And soon, or late, you must be paid your due; Hither we haste to human-kind’s last seat, Your endless empire, and our sure retreat. She too, when ripen’d years she shall attain, Must, of avoidless right, be yours again: I but the transient use of that require, Which soon, too soon, I must resign entire. But if the destinies refuse my vow, And no remission of her doom allow; Know, I’m determin’d to return no more; So both retain, or both to life restore.
Thus, while the bard melodiously complains, And to his lyre accords his vocal strains, The very bloodless shades attention keep, And silent, seem compassionate to weep; Ev’n Tantalus his flood unthirsty views, Nor flies the stream, nor he the stream pursues; Ixion’s wond’ring wheel its whirl suspends, And the voracious vulture, charm’d, attends; No more the Belides their toil bemoan, And Sisiphus reclin’d, sits list’ning on his stone.
Then first (’tis said) by sacred verse subdu’d, The Furies felt their cheeks with tears bedew’d: Nor could the rigid king, or queen of Hell, Th’ impulse of pity in their hearts repell.
Now, from a troop of shades that last arriv’d, Eurydice was call’d, and stood reviv’d: Slow she advanc’d, and halting seem to feel The fatal wound, yet painful in her heel. Thus he obtains the suit so much desir’d, On strict observance of the terms requir’d: For if, before he reach the realms of air, He backward cast his eyes to view the fair, The forfeit grant, that instant, void is made, And she for ever left a lifeless shade.
Now thro’ the noiseless throng their way they bend, And both with pain the rugged road ascend; Dark was the path, and difficult, and steep, And thick with vapours from the smoaky deep. They well-nigh now had pass’d the bounds of night, And just approach’d the margin of the light, When he, mistrusting lest her steps might stray, And gladsome of the glympse of dawning day, His longing eyes, impatient, backward cast To catch a lover’s look, but look’d his last; For, instant dying, she again descends, While he to empty air his arms extends. Again she dy’d, nor yet her lord reprov’d; What could she say, but that too well he lov’d? One last farewell she spoke, which scarce he heard; So soon she drop’d, so sudden disappear’d.
All stunn’d he stood, when thus his wife he view’d By second Fate, and double death subdu’d: Not more amazement by that wretch was shown, Whom Cerberus beholding, turn’d to stone; Nor Olenus cou’d more astonish’d look, When on himself Lethaea’s fault he took, His beauteous wife, who too secure had dar’d Her face to vye with Goddesses compar’d: Once join’d by love, they stand united still, Turn’d to contiguous rocks on Ida’s hill.
Now to repass the Styx in vain he tries, Charon averse, his pressing suit denies. Sev’n days entire, along th’ infernal shores, Disconsolate, the bard Eurydice deplores; Defil’d with filth his robe, with tears his cheeks, No sustenance but grief, and cares, he seeks: Of rigid Fate incessant he complains, And Hell’s inexorable Gods arraigns. This ended, to high Rhodope he hastes, And Haemus’ mountain, bleak with northern blasts.
And now his yearly race the circling sun Had thrice compleat thro’ wat’ry Pisces run, Since Orpheus fled the face of womankind, And all soft union with the sex declin’d. Whether his ill success this change had bred, Or binding vows made to his former bed; Whate’er the cause, in vain the nymphs contest, With rival eyes to warm his frozen breast: For ev’ry nymph with love his lays inspir’d, But ev’ry nymph repuls’d, with grief retir’d.
A hill there was, and on that hill a mead, With verdure thick, but destitute of shade. Where, now, the Muse’s son no sooner sings, No sooner strikes his sweet resounding strings. But distant groves the flying sounds receive, And list’ning trees their rooted stations leave; Themselves transplanting, all around they grow, And various shades their various kinds bestow. Here, tall Chaonian oaks their branches spread, While weeping poplars there erect their head. The foodful Esculus here shoots his leaves, That turf soft lime-tree, this, fat beach receives; Here, brittle hazels, lawrels here advance, And there tough ash to form the heroe’s lance; Here silver firs with knotless trunks ascend, There, scarlet oaks beneath their acorns bend. That spot admits the hospitable plane, On this, the maple grows with clouded grain; Here, watry willows are with Lotus seen; There, tamarisk, and box for ever green. With double hue here mirtles grace the ground, And laurestines, with purple berries crown’d. With pliant feet, now, ivies this way wind, Vines yonder rise, and elms with vines entwin’d. Wild Ornus now, the pitch-tree next takes root, And Arbutus adorn’d with blushing fruit. Then easy-bending palms, the victor’s prize, And pines erect with bristly tops arise. For Rhea grateful still the pine remains, For Atys still some favour she retains; He once in human shape her breast had warm’d, And now is cherish’d, to a tree transform’d.
The Fable of Cyparissus
Amid the throng of this promiscuous wood, With pointed top, the taper cypress stood; A tree, which once a youth, and heav’nly fair, Was of that deity the darling care, Whose hand adapts, with equal skill, the strings To bows with which he kills, and harps to which he sings.
For heretofore, a mighty stag was bred, Which on the fertile fields of Caea fed; In shape and size he all his kind excell’d, And to Carthaean nymphs was sacred held. His beamy head, with branches high display’d, Afforded to itself an ample shade; His horns were gilt, and his smooth neck was grac’d With silver collars thick with gems enchas’d: A silver boss upon his forehead hung, And brazen pendants in his ear-rings rung. Frequenting houses, he familiar grew, And learnt by custom, Nature to subdue; ’Till by degrees, of fear, and wildness, broke, Ev’n stranger hands his proffer’d neck might stroak.
Much was the beast by Caea’s youth caress’d, But thou, sweet Cyparissus, lov’dst him best: By thee, to pastures fresh, he oft was led, By thee oft water’d at the fountain’s head: His horns with garlands, now, by thee were ty’d, And, now, thou on his back wou’dst wanton ride; Now here, now there wou’dst bound along the plains, Ruling his tender mouth with purple reins.
’Twas when the summer sun, at noon of day, Thro’ glowing Cancer shot his burning ray, ’Twas then, the fav’rite stag, in cool retreat, Had sought a shelter from the scorching heat; Along the grass his weary limbs he laid, Inhaling freshness from the breezy shade: When Cyparissus with his pointed dart, Unknowing, pierc’d him to the panting heart. But when the youth, surpriz’d, his error found, And saw him dying of the cruel wound, Himself he would have slain thro’ desp’rate grief: What said not Phoebus, that might yield relief! To cease his mourning, he the boy desir’d, Or mourn no more than such a loss requir’d. But he, incessant griev’d: at length address’d To the superior Pow’rs a last request; Praying, in expiation of his crime, Thenceforth to mourn to all succeeding time.
And now, of blood exhausted he appears, Drain’d by a torrent of continual tears; The fleshy colour in his body fades, And a green tincture all his limbs invades; From his fair head, where curling locks late hung, A horrid bush with bristled branches sprung, Which stiffning by degrees, its stem extends, ’Till to the starry skies the spire ascends.
Apollo sad look’d on, and sighing, cry’d, Then, be for ever, what thy pray’r imply’d: Bemoan’d by me, in others grief excite; And still preside at ev’ry fun’ral rite.
Thus the sweet artist in a wondrous shade Of verdant trees, which harmony had made, Encircled sate, with his own triumphs crown’d, Of listning birds, and savages around. Again the trembling strings he dext’rous tries, Again from discord makes soft musick rise. Then tunes his voice: O Muse, from whom I sprung, Jove be my theme, and thou inspire my song. To Jove my grateful voice I oft have rais’d, Oft his almighty pow’r with pleasure prais’d. I sung the giants in a solemn strain, Blasted, and thunder-struck on Phlegra’s plain. Now be my lyre in softer accents mov’d, To sing of blooming boys by Gods belov’d; And to relate what virgins, void of shame, Have suffer’d vengeance for a lawless flame.
The King of Gods once felt the burning joy, And sigh’d for lovely Ganimede of Troy: Long was he puzzled to assume a shape Most fit, and expeditious for the rape; A bird’s was proper, yet he scorns to wear Any but that which might his thunder bear. Down with his masquerading wings he flies, And bears the little Trojan to the skies; Where now, in robes of heav’nly purple drest, He serves the nectar at th’ Almighty’s feast, To slighted Juno an unwelcome guest.
Hyacinthus transform’d into a Flower
Phoebus for thee too, Hyacinth, design’d A place among the Gods, had Fate been kind: Yet this he gave; as oft as wintry rains Are past, and vernal breezes sooth the plains, From the green turf a purple flow’r you rise, And with your fragrant breath perfume the skies.
You when alive were Phoebus’ darling boy; In you he plac’d his Heav’n, and fix’d his joy: Their God the Delphic priests consult in vain; Eurotas now he loves, and Sparta’s plain: His hands the use of bow and harp forget, And hold the dogs, or bear the corded net; O’er hanging cliffs swift he pursues the game; Each hour his pleasure, each augments his flame.
The mid-day sun now shone with equal light Between the past, and the succeeding night; They strip, then, smooth’d with suppling oyl, essay To pitch the rounded quoit, their wonted play: A well-pois’d disk first hasty Phoebus threw, It cleft the air, and whistled as it flew; It reach’d the mark, a most surprizing length; Which spoke an equal share of art, and strength. Scarce was it fall’n, when with too eager hand Young Hyacinth ran to snatch it from the sand; But the curst orb, which met a stony soil, Flew in his face with violent recoil. Both faint, both pale, and breathless now appear, The boy with pain, the am’rous God with fear. He ran, and rais’d him bleeding from the ground, Chafes his cold limbs, and wipes the fatal wound: Then herbs of noblest juice in vain applies; The wound is mortal, and his skill defies.
As in a water’d garden’s blooming walk, When some rude hand has bruis’d its tender stalk, A fading lilly droops its languid head, And bends to earth, its life, and beauty fled: So Hyacinth, with head reclin’d, decays, And, sickning, now no more his charms displays.
O thou art gone, my boy, Apollo cry’d, Defrauded of thy youth in all its pride! Thou, once my joy, art all my sorrow now; And to my guilty hand my grief I owe. Yet from my self I might the fault remove, Unless to sport, and play, a fault should prove, Unless it too were call’d a fault to love. Oh cou’d I for thee, or but with thee, dye! But cruel Fates to me that pow’r deny. Yet on my tongue thou shalt for ever dwell; Thy name my lyre shall sound, my verse shall tell; And to a flow’r transform’d, unheard-of yet, Stamp’d on thy leaves my cries thou shalt repeat. The time shall come, prophetick I foreknow, When, joyn’d to thee, a mighty chief shall grow, And with my plaints his name thy leaf shall show.
While Phoebus thus the laws of Fate reveal’d, Behold, the blood which stain’d the verdant field, Is blood no longer; but a flow’r full blown, Far brighter than the Tyrian scarlet shone. A lilly’s form it took; its purple hue Was all that made a diff’rence to the view, Nor stop’d he here; the God upon its leaves The sad expression of his sorrow weaves; And to this hour the mournful purple wears Ai, Ai, inscrib’d in funeral characters. Nor are the Spartans, who so much are fam’d For virtue, of their Hyacinth asham’d; But still with pompous woe, and solemn state, The Hyacinthian feasts they yearly celebrate
The Transformations of the Cerastae and Propoetides
Enquire of Amathus, whose wealthy ground With veins of every metal does abound, If she to her Propoetides wou’d show, The honour Sparta does to him allow? Nor more, she’d say, such wretches wou’d we grace, Than those whose crooked horns deform’d their face, From thence Cerastae call’d, an impious race: Before whose gates a rev’rend altar stood, To Jove inscrib’d, the hospitable God: This had some stranger seen with gore besmear’d, The blood of lambs, and bulls it had appear’d: Their slaughter’d guests it was; nor flock nor herd.
Venus these barb’rous sacrifices view’d With just abhorrence, and with wrath pursu’d: At first, to punish such nefarious crimes, Their towns she meant to leave, her once-lov’d climes: But why, said she, for their offence shou’d I My dear delightful plains, and cities fly? No, let the impious people, who have sinn’d, A punishment in death, or exile, find: If death, or exile too severe be thought, Let them in some vile shape bemoan their fault. While next her mind a proper form employs, Admonish’d by their horns, she fix’d her choice. Their former crest remains upon their heads, And their strong limbs an ox’s shape invades.
The blasphemous Propoetides deny’d Worship of Venus, and her pow’r defy’d: But soon that pow’r they felt, the first that sold Their lewd embraces to the world for gold. Unknowing how to blush, and shameless grown, A small transition changes them to stone.
The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue
Pygmalion loathing their lascivious life, Abhorr’d all womankind, but most a wife: So single chose to live, and shunn’d to wed, Well pleas’d to want a consort of his bed. Yet fearing idleness, the nurse of ill, In sculpture exercis’d his happy skill; And carv’d in iv’ry such a maid, so fair, As Nature could not with his art compare, Were she to work; but in her own defence Must take her pattern here, and copy hence. Pleas’d with his idol, he commends, admires, Adores; and last, the thing ador’d, desires. A very virgin in her face was seen, And had she mov’d, a living maid had been: One wou’d have thought she cou’d have stirr’d, but strove With modesty, and was asham’d to move. Art hid with art, so well perform’d the cheat, It caught the carver with his own deceit: He knows ’tis madness, yet he must adore, And still the more he knows it, loves the more: The flesh, or what so seems, he touches oft, Which feels so smooth, that he believes it soft. Fir’d with this thought, at once he strain’d the breast, And on the lips a burning kiss impress’d. ’Tis true, the harden’d breast resists the gripe, And the cold lips return a kiss unripe: But when, retiring back, he look’d again, To think it iv’ry, was a thought too mean: So wou’d believe she kiss’d, and courting more, Again embrac’d her naked body o’er; And straining hard the statue, was afraid His hands had made a dint, and hurt his maid: Explor’d her limb by limb, and fear’d to find So rude a gripe had left a livid mark behind: With flatt’ry now he seeks her mind to move, And now with gifts (the pow’rful bribes of love), He furnishes her closet first; and fills The crowded shelves with rarities of shells; Adds orient pearls, which from the conchs he drew, And all the sparkling stones of various hue: And parrots, imitating human tongue, And singing-birds in silver cages hung: And ev’ry fragrant flow’r, and od’rous green, Were sorted well, with lumps of amber laid between: Rich fashionable robes her person deck, Pendants her ears, and pearls adorn her neck: Her taper’d fingers too with rings are grac’d, And an embroider’d zone surrounds her slender waste. Thus like a queen array’d, so richly dress’d, Beauteous she shew’d, but naked shew’d the best. Then, from the floor, he rais’d a royal bed, With cov’rings of Sydonian purple spread: The solemn rites perform’d, he calls her bride, With blandishments invites her to his side; And as she were with vital sense possess’d, Her head did on a plumy pillow rest.
The feast of Venus came, a solemn day, To which the Cypriots due devotion pay; With gilded horns the milk-white heifers led, Slaughter’d before the sacred altars, bled.
Pygmalion off’ring, first approach’d the shrine, And then with pray’rs implor’d the Pow’rs divine: Almighty Gods, if all we mortals want, If all we can require, be yours to grant; Make this fair statue mine, he wou’d have said, But chang’d his words for shame; and only pray’d, Give me the likeness of my iv’ry maid.
The golden Goddess, present at the pray’r, Well knew he meant th’ inanimated fair, And gave the sign of granting his desire; For thrice in chearful flames ascends the fire. The youth, returning to his mistress, hies, And impudent in hope, with ardent eyes, And beating breast, by the dear statue lies. He kisses her white lips, renews the bliss, And looks, and thinks they redden at the kiss; He thought them warm before: nor longer stays, But next his hand on her hard bosom lays: Hard as it was, beginning to relent, It seem’d, the breast beneath his fingers bent; He felt again, his fingers made a print; ’Twas flesh, but flesh so firm, it rose against the dint: The pleasing task he fails not to renew; Soft, and more soft at ev’ry touch it grew; Like pliant wax, when chasing hands reduce The former mass to form, and frame for use. He would believe, but yet is still in pain, And tries his argument of sense again, Presses the pulse, and feels the leaping vein. Convinc’d, o’erjoy’d, his studied thanks, and praise, To her, who made the miracle, he pays: Then lips to lips he join’d; now freed from fear, He found the savour of the kiss sincere: At this the waken’d image op’d her eyes, And view’d at once the light, and lover with surprize. The Goddess, present at the match she made, So bless’d the bed, such fruitfulness convey’d, That ere ten months had sharpen’d either horn, To crown their bliss, a lovely boy was born; Paphos his name, who grown to manhood, wall’d The city Paphos, from the founder call’d.
The Story of of Cinyras and Myrrha
Nor him alone produc’d the fruitful queen; But Cinyras, who like his sire had been A happy prince, had he not been a sire. Daughters, and fathers, from my song retire; I sing of horror; and could I prevail, You shou’d not hear, or not believe my tale. Yet if the pleasure of my song be such, That you will hear, and credit me too much, Attentive listen to the last event, And, with the sin, believe the punishment: Since Nature cou’d behold so dire a crime, I gratulate at least my native clime, That such a land, which such a monster bore, So far is distant from our Thracian shore. Let Araby extol her happy coast, Her cinamon, and sweet Amomum boast, Her fragrant flow’rs, her trees with precious tears, Her second harvests, and her double years; How can the land be call’d so bless’d, that Myrrha bears? Nor all her od’rous tears can cleanse her crime; Her Plant alone deforms the happy clime: Cupid denies to have inflam’d thy heart, Disowns thy love, and vindicates his dart: Some Fury gave thee those infernal pains, And shot her venom’d vipers in thy veins. To hate thy sire, had merited a curse; But such an impious love deserv’d a worse. The neighb’ring monarchs, by thy beauty led, Contend in crowds, ambitious of thy bed: The world is at thy choice; except but one, Except but him, thou canst not chuse, alone. She knew it too, the miserable maid, Ere impious love her better thoughts betray’d, And thus within her secret soul she said: Ah Myrrha! whither wou’d thy wishes tend? Ye Gods, ye sacred laws, my soul defend From such a crime as all mankind detest, And never lodg’d before in human breast! But is it sin? Or makes my mind alone Th’ imagin’d sin? For Nature makes it none. What tyrant then these envious laws began, Made not for any other beast, but Man! The father-bull his daughter may bestride, The horse may make his mother-mare a bride; What piety forbids the lusty ram, Or more salacious goat, to rut their dam? The hen is free to wed the chick she bore, And make a husband, whom she hatch’d before. All creatures else are of a happier kind, Whom nor ill-natur’d laws from pleasure bind, Nor thoughts of sin disturb their peace of mind. But Man a slave of his own making lives; The fool denies himself what Nature gives: Too-busie senates, with an over-care, To make us better than our kind can bear, Have dash’d a spice of envy in the laws, And straining up too high, have spoil’d the cause. Yet some wise nations break their cruel chains, And own no laws, but those which love ordains; Where happy daughters with their sires are join’d, And piety is doubly paid in kind. O that I had been born in such a clime, Not here, where ’tis the country makes the crime! But whither wou’d my impious fancy stray? Hence hopes, and ye forbidden thoughts away! His worth deserves to kindle my desires, But with the love, that daughters bear to sires. Then had not Cinyras my father been, What hinder’d Myrrha’s hopes to be his queen? But the perverseness of my fate is such, That he’s not mine, because he’s mine too much: Our kindred-blood debars a better tie; He might be nearer, were he not so nigh. Eyes, and their objects, never must unite; Some distance is requir’d to help the sight: Fain wou’d I travel to some foreign shore, Never to see my native country more, So might I to my self my self restore; So might my mind these impious thoughts remove, And ceasing to behold, might cease to love. But stay I must, to feed my famish’d sight, To talk, to kiss, and more, if more I might: More, impious maid! What more canst thou design? To make a monstrous mixture in thy line, And break all statutes human and divine! Can’st thou be call’d (to save thy wretched life) Thy mother’s rival, and thy father’s wife? Confound so many sacred names in one, Thy brother’s mother! Sister to thy son! And fear’st thou not to see th’ infernal bands, Their heads with snakes; with torches arm’d their hands Full at thy face th’ avenging brands to bear, And shake the serpents from their hissing hair; But thou in time th’ increasing ill controul, Nor first debauch the body by the soul; Secure the sacred quiet of thy mind, And keep the sanctions Nature has design’d. Suppose I shou’d attempt, th’ attempt were vain, No thoughts like mine, his sinless soul profane; Observant of the right: and o that he Cou’d cure my madness, or be mad like me! Thus she: but Cinyras, who daily sees A crowd of noble suitors at his knees, Among so many, knew not whom to chuse, Irresolute to grant, or to refuse. But having told their names, enquir’d of her Who pleas’d her best, and whom she would prefer. The blushing maid stood silent with surprize, And on her father fix’d her ardent eyes, And looking sigh’d, and as she sigh’d, began Round tears to shed, that scalded as they ran. The tender sire, who saw her blush, and cry, Ascrib’d it all to maiden modesty, And dry’d the falling drops, and yet more kind, He stroak’d her cheeks, and holy kisses join’d. She felt a secret venom fire her blood, And found more pleasure, than a daughter shou’d; And, ask’d again what lover of the crew She lik’d the best, she answer’d, One like you. Mistaking what she meant, her pious will He prais’d, and bid her so continue still: The word of pious heard, she blush’d with shame Of secret guilt, and cou’d not bear the name.
’Twas now the mid of night, when slumbers close Our eyes, and sooth our cares with soft repose; But no repose cou’d wretched Myrrha find, Her body rouling, as she roul’d her mind: Mad with desire, she ruminates her sin, And wishes all her wishes o’er again: Now she despairs, and now resolves to try; Wou’d not, and wou’d again, she knows not why; Stops, and returns; makes, and retracts the vow; Fain wou’d begin, but understands not how. As when a pine is hew’d upon the plains, And the last mortal stroke alone remains, Lab’ring in pangs of death, and threatning all, This way, and that she nods, consid’ring where to fall: So Myrrha’s mind, impell’d on either side, Takes ev’ry bent, but cannot long abide; Irresolute on which she shou’d relie, At last, unfix’d in all, is only fix’d to die. On that sad thought she rests, resolv’d on death, She rises, and prepares to choak her breath: Then while about the beam her zone she ties, Dear Cinyras farewell, she softly cries; For thee I die, and only wish to be Not hated, when thou know’st die I for thee: Pardon the crime, in pity to the cause: This said, about her neck the noose she draws. The nurse, who lay without, her faithful guard, Though not the words, the murmurs over-heard; And sighs, and hollow sounds: surpriz’d with fright, She starts, and leaves her bed, and springs a light; Unlocks the door, and entring out of breath, The dying saw, and instruments of death; She shrieks, she cuts the zone with trembling haste, And in her arms her fainting charge embrac’d: Next (for she now had leisure for her tears), She weeping ask’d, in these her blooming years, What unforeseen misfortune caus’d her care, To loath her life, and languish in despair! The maid, with down-cast eyes, and mute with grief For death unfinish’d, and ill-tim’d relief, Stood sullen to her suit: the beldame press’d The more to know, and bar’d her wither’d breast, Adjur’d her by the kindly food she drew From those dry founts, her secret ill to shew. Sad Myrrha sigh’d, and turn’d her eyes aside: The nurse still urg’d, and wou’d not be deny’d: Nor only promis’d secresie, but pray’d She might have leave to give her offer’d aid. Good-will, she said, my want of strength supplies, And diligence shall give what age denies: If strong desires thy mind to fury move, With charms and med’cines I can cure thy love: If envious eyes their hurtuful rays have cast, More pow’rful verse shall free thee from the blast: If Heav’n offended sends thee this disease, Offended Heav’n with pray’rs we can appease. What then remains, that can these cares procure? Thy house is flourishing, thy fortune sure: Thy careful mother yet in health survives, And, to thy comfort, thy kind father lives. The virgin started at her father’s name, And sigh’d profoundly, conscious of the shame Nor yet the nurse her impious love divin’d, But yet surmis’d that love disturb’d her mind: Thus thinking, she pursu’d her point, and laid, And lull’d within her lap the mourning maid; Then softly sooth’d her thus; I guess your grief: You love, my child; your love shall find relief. My long-experienc’d age shall be your guide; Rely on that, and lay distrust aside. No breath of air shall on the secret blow, Nor shall (what most you fear) your father know. Struck once again, as with a thunder-clap, The guilty virgin bounded from her lap, And threw her body prostrate on the bed. And, to conceal her blushes, hid her head; There silent lay, and warn’d her with her hand To go: but she receiv’d not the command; Remaining still importunate to know: Then Myrrha thus: Or ask no more, or go; I pr’ythee go, or staying spare my shame; What thou would’st hear, is impious ev’n to name. At this, on high the beldame holds her hands, And trembling both with age, and terror stands; Adjures, and falling at her feet intreats, Sooths her with blandishments, and frights with threats, To tell the crime intended, or disclose What part of it she knew, if she no farther knows. And last, if conscious to her counsel made, Confirms anew the promise of her aid. Now Myrrha rais’d her head; but soon oppress’d With shame, reclin’d it on her nurse’s breast; Bath’d it with tears, and strove to have confess’d: Twice she began, and stopp’d; again she try’d; The falt’ring tongue its office still deny’d. At last her veil before her face she spread, And drew a long preluding sigh, and said, O happy mother, in thy marriage-bed! Then groan’d, and ceas’d. The good old woman shook, Stiff were her eyes, and ghastly was her look: Her hoary hair upright with horror stood, Made (to her grief) more knowing than she wou’d. Much she reproach’d, and many things she said, To cure the madness of th’ unhappy maid, In vain: for Myrrha stood convict of ill; Her reason vanquish’d, but unchang’d her will: Perverse of mind, unable to reply; She stood resolv’d, or to possess, or die. At length the fondness of a nurse prevail’d Against her better sense, and virtue fail’d: Enjoy, my child, since such is thy desire, Thy love, she said; she durst not say, thy sire: Live, though unhappy, live on any terms; Then with a second oath her faith confirms.
The solemn feast of Ceres now was near, When long white linnen stoles the matrons wear; Rank’d in procession walk the pious train, Off’ring first-fruits, and spikes of yellow grain: For nine long nights the nuptial-bed they shun, And sanctifying harvest, lie alone.
Mix’d with the crowd, the queen forsook her lord, And Ceres’ pow’r with secret rites ador’d: The royal couch, now vacant for a time, The crafty crone, officious in her crime, The first occasion took: the king she found Easie with wine, and deep in pleasures drown’d, Prepar’d for love: the beldame blew the flame, Confess’d the passion, but conceal’d the name. Her form she prais’d; the monarch ask’d her years; And she reply’d, The same thy Myrrha bears. Wine, and commended beauty fir’d his thought; Impatient, he commands her to be brought. Pleas’d with her charge perform’d, she hies her home, And gratulates the nymph, the task was overcome. Myrrha was joy’d the welcome news to hear; But clog’d with guilt, the joy was unsincere: So various, so discordant is the mind, That in our will a diff’rent will we find. Ill she presag’d, and yet pursu’d her lust; For guilty pleasures give a double gust.
’Twas depth of night: Arctophylax had driv’n His lazy wain half round the northern Heav’n, When Myrrha hasten’d to the crime desir’d: The moon beheld her first, and first retir’d: The stars amaz’d, ran backward from the sight, And (shrunk within their sockets) lost their light. Icarius first withdraws his holy flame: The virgin sign, in Heav’n the second name, Slides down the belt, and from her station flies, And night with sable clouds involves the skies. Bold Myrrha still pursues her black intent; She stumbled thrice (an omen of th’ event); Thrice shriek’d the fun’ral owl, yet on she went, Secure of shame, because secure of sight; Ev’n bashful sins are impudent by night. Link’d hand in hand, th’ accomplice, and the dame, Their way exploring, to the chamber came: The door was ope; they blindly grope their way, Where dark in bed th’ expecting monarch lay. Thus far her courage held, but here forsakes; Her faint knees knock at ev’ry step she makes. The nearer to her crime, the more within She feels remorse, and horror of her sin; Repents too late her criminal desire, And wishes, that unknown she could retire. Her lingring thus, the nurse (who fear’d delay The fatal secret might at length betray) Pull’d forward, to compleat the work begun, And said to Cinyras, Receive thy own. Thus saying, she deliver’d kind to kind, Accurs’d, and their devoted bodies join’d. The sire, unknowing of the crime, admits His bowels, and prophanes the hallow’d sheets; He found she trembled, but believ’d she strove With maiden modesty against her love, And sought with flatt’ring words vain fancies to remove. Perhaps he said, My daughter, cease thy fears (Because the title suited with her years); And, Father, she might whisper him again, That names might not be wanting to the sin.
Full of her sire, she left th’ incestuous bed, And carry’d in her womb the crime she bred. Another, and another night she came; For frequent sin had left no sense of shame: ’Till Cinyras desir’d to see her face, Whose body he had held in close embrace, And brought a taper; the revealer, light, Expos’d both crime, and criminal to sight. Grief, rage, amazement, could no speech afford, But from the sheath he drew th’ avenging sword: The guilty fled: the benefit of night, That favour’d first the sin, secur’d the flight. Long wand’ring thro’ the spacious fields, she bent Her voyage to th’ Arabian continent; Then pass’d the region which Panchaea join’d, And flying, left the palmy plains behind. Nine times the moon had mew’d her horns; at length With travel weary, unsupply’d with strength, And with the burden of her womb oppress’d, Sabaean fields afford her needful rest: There, loathing life, and yet of death afraid, In anguish of her spirit, thus she pray’d: Ye Pow’rs, if any so propitious are T’ accept my penitence, and hear my pray’r; Your judgments, I confess, are justly sent; Great sins deserve as great a punishment: Yet since my life the living will profane, And since my death the happy dead will stain, A middle state your mercy may bestow, Betwixt the realms above, and those below: Some other form to wretched Myrrha give, Nor let her wholly die, nor wholly live.
The pray’rs of penitents are never vain; At least she did her last request obtain: For while she spoke, the ground began to rise, And gather’d round her feet, her legs, and thighs; Her toes in roots descend, and spreading wide, A firm foundation for the trunk provide: Her solid bones convert to solid wood, To pith her marrow, and to sap her blood: Her arms are boughs, her fingers change their kind, Her tender skin is harden’d into rind. And now the rising tree her womb invests, Now shooting upwards still, invades her breasts, And shades the neck; when weary with delay, She sunk her head within, and met it half the way. And tho’ with outward shape she lost her sense, With bitter tears she wept her last offence; And still she weeps, nor sheds her tears in vain; For still the precious drops her name retain. Mean-time the mis-begotten infant grows, And ripe for birth, distends with deadly throes The swelling rind, with unavailing strife, To leave the wooden womb, and pushes into life. The mother-tree, as if oppress’d with pain, Writhes here, and there, to break the bark, in vain; And, like a lab’ring woman, wou’d have pray’d, But wants a voice to call Lucina’s aid: The bending bole sends out a hollow sound, And trickling tears fall thicker on the ground. The mild Lucina came uncall’d, and stood Beside the struggling boughs, and heard the groaning wood; Then reach’d her midwife-hand to speed the throes, And spoke the pow’rful spells, that babes to birth disclose. The bark divides, the living load to free, And safe delivers the convulsive tree. The ready nymphs receive the crying child, And wash him in the tears the parent plant distill’d. They swath’d him with their scarfs; beneath him spread The ground with herbs; with roses rais’d his head. The lovely babe was born with ev’ry grace, Ev’n envy must have prais’d so fair a face: Such was his form, as painters when they show Their utmost art, on naked loves bestow: And that their arms no diff’rence might betray, Give him a bow, or his from Cupid take away. Time glides along with undiscover’d haste, The future but a length behind the past; So swift are years. The babe, whom just before His grandsire got, and whom his sister bore; The drop, the thing, which late the tree inclos’d, And late the yawning bark to life expos’d; A babe, a boy, a beauteous youth appears, And lovelier than himself at riper years. Now to the queen of love he gave desires, And, with her pains, reveng’d his mother’s fires.
The Story of Venus and Adonis
For Cytherea’s lips while Cupid prest, He with a heedless arrow raz’d her breast, The Goddess felt it, and with fury stung, The wanton mischief from her bosom flung: Yet thought at first the danger slight, but found The dart too faithful, and too deep the wound. Fir’d with a mortal beauty, she disdains To haunt th’ Idalian mount, or Phrygian plains. She seeks not Cnidos, nor her Paphian shrines, Nor Amathus, that teems with brazen mines: Ev’n Heav’n itself with all its sweets unsought, Adonis far a sweeter Heav’n is thought. On him she hangs, and fonds with ev’ry art, And never, never knows from him to part. She, whose soft limbs had only been display’d On rosie beds beneath the myrtle shade, Whose pleasing care was to improve each grace, And add more charms to an unrival’d face, Now buskin’d, like the virgin huntress, goes Thro’ woods, and pathless wilds, and mountain-snows With her own tuneful voice she joys to cheer The panting hounds, that chace the flying deer. She runs the labyrinth of fearful hares, But fearless beasts, and dang’rous prey forbears, Hunts not the grinning wolf, or foamy boar, And trembles at the lion’s hungry roar. Thee too, Adonis, with a lover’s care She warns, if warn’d thou wou’dst avoid the snare, To furious animals advance not nigh, Fly those that follow, follow those that fly; ’Tis chance alone must the survivors save, Whene’er brave spirits will attempt the brave. O! lovely youth! in harmless sports delight; Provoke not beasts, which, arm’d by Nature, fight. For me, if not thy self, vouchsafe to fear; Let not thy thirst of glory cost me dear. Boars know not bow to spare a blooming age; No sparkling eyes can sooth the lion’s rage. Not all thy charms a savage breast can move, Which have so deeply touch’d the queen of love. When bristled boars from beaten thickets spring, In grinded tusks a thunderbolt they bring. The daring hunters lions rouz’d devour, Vast is their fury, and as vast their pow’r: Curst be their tawny race! If thou would’st hear What kindled thus my hate, then lend an ear: The wond’rous tale I will to thee unfold, How the fell monsters rose from crimes of old. But by long toils I faint: see! wide-display’d, A grateful poplar courts us with a shade. The grassy turf, beneath, so verdant shows, We may secure delightfully repose. With her Adonis here be Venus blest; And swift at once the grass and him she prest. Then sweetly smiling, with a raptur’d mind, On his lov’d bosom she her head reclin’d, And thus began; but mindful still of bliss, Seal’d the soft accents with a softer kiss.
Perhaps thou may’st have heard a virgin’s name, Who still in swiftness swiftest youths o’ercame. Wondrous! that female weakness should outdo A manly strength; the wonder yet is true. ’Twas doubtful, if her triumphs in the field Did to her form’s triumphant glories yield; Whether her face could with more ease decoy A crowd of lovers, or her feet destroy. For once Apollo she implor’d to show If courteous Fates a consort would allow: A consort brings thy ruin, he reply’d; O! learn to want the pleasures of a bride! Nor shalt thou want them to thy wretched cost, And Atalanta living shall be lost. With such a rueful Fate th’ affrighted maid Sought green recesses in the wood-land glade. Nor sighing suiters her resolves could move, She bad them show their speed, to show their love. He only, who could conquer in the race, Might hope the conquer’d virgin to embrace; While he, whose tardy feet had lagg’d behind, Was doom’d the sad reward of death to find. Tho’ great the prize, yet rigid the decree, But blind with beauty, who can rigour see? Ev’n on these laws the fair they rashly sought, And danger in excess of love forgot.
There sat Hippomenes, prepar’d to blame In lovers such extravagance of flame. And must, he said, the blessing of a wife Be dearly purchas’d by a risk of life? But when he saw the wonders of her face, And her limbs naked, springing to the race, Her limbs, as exquisitely turn’d, as mine, Or if a woman thou, might vie with thine, With lifted hands, he cry’d, forgive the tongue Which durst, ye youths, your well-tim’d courage wrong. I knew not that the nymph, for whom you strove, Deserv’d th’ unbounded transports of your love. He saw, admir’d, and thus her spotless frame He prais’d, and praising, kindled his own flame. A rival now to all the youths who run, Envious, he fears they should not be undone. But why (reflects he) idly thus is shown The fate of others, yet untry’d my own? The coward must not on love’s aid depend; The God was ever to the bold a friend. Mean-time the virgin flies, or seems to fly, Swift as a Scythian arrow cleaves the sky: Still more and more the youth her charms admires. The race itself t’ exalt her charms conspires. The golden pinions, which her feet adorn, In wanton flutt’rings by the winds are born. Down from her head, the long, fair tresses flow, And sport with lovely negligence below. The waving ribbands, which her buskins tie, Her snowy skin with waving purple die; As crimson veils in palaces display’d, To the white marble lend a blushing shade. Nor long he gaz’d, yet while he gaz’d, she gain’d The goal, and the victorious wreath obtain’d. The vanquish’d sigh, and, as the law decreed, Pay the dire forfeit, and prepare to bleed.
Then rose Hippomenes, not yet afraid, And fix’d his eyes full on the beauteous maid. Where is (he cry’d) the mighty conquest won, TO distance those, who want the nerves to run? Here prove superior strength, nor shall it be Thy loss of glory, if excell’d by me. High my descent, near Neptune I aspire, For Neptune was grand-parent to my sire. From that great God the fourth my self I trace, Nor sink my virtues yet beneath my race. Thou from Hippomenes, o’ercome, may’st claim An envy’d triumph, and a deathless fame.
While thus the youth the virgin pow’r defies, Silent she views him still with softer eyes. Thoughts in her breast a doubtful strife begin, If ’tis not happier now to lose, than win. What God, a foe to beauty, would destroy The promis’d ripeness of this blooming boy? With his life’s danger does he seek my bed? Scarce am I half so greatly worth, she said. Nor has his beauty mov’d my breast to love, And yet, I own, such beauty well might move: ’Tis not his charms, ’tis pity would engage My soul to spare the greenness of his age. What, that heroick conrage fires his breast, And shines thro’ brave disdain of Fate confest? What, that his patronage by close degrees Springs from th’ imperial ruler of the seas? Then add the love, which bids him undertake The race, and dare to perish for my sake. Of bloody nuptials, heedless youth, beware! Fly, timely fly from a too barb’rous fair. At pleasure chuse; thy love will be repaid By a less foolish, and more beauteous maid. But why this tenderness, before unknown? Why beats, and pants my breast for him alone? His eyes have seen his num’rous rivals yield; Let him too share the rigour of the field, Since, by their fates untaught, his own he courts, And thus with ruin insolently sports. Yet for what crime shall he his death receive? Is it a crime with me to wish to live? Shall his kind passion his destruction prove? Is this the fatal recompence of love? So fair a youth, destroy’d, would conquest shame, Aud nymphs eternally detest my fame. Still why should nymphs my guiltless fame upbraid? Did I the fond adventurer persuade? Alas! I wish thou would’st the course decline, Or that my swiftness was excell’d by thine. See! what a virgin’s bloom adorns the boy! Why wilt thou run, and why thy self destroy? Hippomenes! O that I ne’er had been By those bright eyes unfortunately seen! Ah! tempt not thus a swift, untimely Fate; Thy life is worthy of the longest date. Were I less wretched, did the galling chain Of rigid Gods not my free choice restrain, By thee alone I could with joy be led To taste the raptures of a nuptial bed.
Thus she disclos’d the woman’s secret heart, Young, innocent, and new to Cupid’s dart. Her thoughts, her words, her actions wildly rove, With love she burns, yet knows not that ’tis love.
Her royal sire now with the murm’ring crowd Demands the race impatiently aloud. Hippomenes then with true fervour pray’d, My bold attempt let Venus kindly aid. By her sweet pow’r I felt this am’rous fire, Still may she succour, whom she did inspire. A soft, unenvious wind, with speedy care, Wafted to Heav’n the lover’s tender pray’r. Pity, I own, soon gain’d the wish’d consent, And all th’ assistance he implor’d I lent. The Cyprian lands, tho’ rich, in richness yield To that, surnam’d the Tamasenian field. That field of old was added to my shrine, And its choice products consecrated mine. A tree there stands, full glorious to behold, Gold are the leafs, the crackling branches gold. It chanc’d, three apples in my hand I bore, Which newly from the tree I sportive tore; Seen by the youth alone, to him I brought The fruit, and when, and how to use it, taught. The signal sounding by the king’s command, Both start at once, and sweep th’ imprinted sand. So swiftly mov’d their feet, they might with ease, Scarce moisten’d, skim along the glassy seas; Or with a wondrous levity be born O’er yellow harvests of unbending corn. Now fav’ring peals resound from ev’ry part, Spirit the youth, and fire his fainting heart. Hippomenes! (they cry’d) thy life preserve, Intensely labour, and stretch ev’ry nerve. Base fear alone can baffle thy design, Shoot boldly onward, and the goal is thine. ’Tis doubtful whether shouts, like these, convey’d More pleasures to the youth, or to the maid. When a long distance oft she could have gain’d, She check’d her swiftness, and her feet restrain’d: She sigh’d, and dwelt, and languish’d on his face, Then with unwilling speed pursu’d the race. O’er-spent with heat, his breath he faintly drew, Parch’d was his mouth, nor yet the goal in view, And the first apple on the plain he threw. The nymph stop’d sudden at th’ unusual sight, Struck with the fruit so beautifully bright. Aside she starts, the wonder to behold, And eager stoops to catch the rouling gold. Th’ observant youth past by, and scour’d along, While peals of joy rung from th’ applauding throng. Unkindly she corrects the short delay, And to redeem the time fleets swift away, Swift, as the lightning, or the northern wind, And far she leaves the panting youth behind. Again he strives the flying nymph to hold With the temptation of the second gold: The bright temptation fruitlessly was tost, So soon, alas! she won the distance lost. Now but a little interval of space Remain’d for the decision of the race. Fair author of the precious gift, he said, Be thou, O Goddess, author of my aid! Then of the shining fruit the last he drew, And with his full-collected vigour threw: The virgin still the longer to detain, Threw not directly, but a-cross the plain. She seem’d a-while perplex’d in dubious thought, If the far-distant apple should be sought: I lur’d her backward mind to seize the bait, And to the massie gold gave double weight. My favour to my votary was show’d, Her speed I lessen’d, and encreas’d her load. But lest, tho’ long, the rapid race be run, Before my longer, tedious tale is done, The youth the goal, and so the virgin won.
Might I, Adonis, now not hope to see His grateful thanks pour’d out for victory? His pious incense on my altars laid? But he nor grateful thanks, nor incense paid. Enrag’d I vow’d, that with the youth the fair, For his contempt, should my keen vengeance share; That future lovers might my pow’r revere, And, from their sad examples, learn to fear. The silent fanes, the sanctify’d abodes, Of Cybele, great mother of the Gods, Rais’d by Echion in a lonely wood, And full of brown, religious horror stood. By a long painful journey faint, they chose! Their weary limbs here secret to repose. But soon my pow’r inflam’d the lustful boy, Careless of rest he sought untimely joy. A hallow’d gloomy cave, with moss o’er-grown, The temple join’d, of native pumice-stone, Where antique images by priests were kept. And wooden deities securely slept. Thither the rash Hippomenes retires, And gives a loose to all his wild desires, And the chaste cell pollutes with wanton fires. The sacred statues trembled with surprize, The tow’ry Goddess, blushing, veil’d her eyes; And the lewd pair to Stygian sounds had sent, But unrevengeful seem’d that punishment, A heavier doom such black prophaneness draws, Their taper figures turn to crooked paws. No more their necks the smoothness can retain, Now cover’d sudden with a yellow mane. Arms change to legs: each finds the hard’ning breast Of rage unknown, and wond’rous strength possest. Their alter’d looks with fury grim appear, And on the ground their brushing tails they hear. They haunt the woods: their voices, which before Were musically sweet, now hoarsly roar. Hence lions, dreadful to the lab’ring swains, Are tam’d by Cybele, and curb’d with reins, And humbly draw her car along the plains. But thou, Adonis, my delightful care, Of these, and beasts, as fierce as these, beware! The savage, which not shuns thee, timely shun, For by rash prowess should’st thou be undone, A double ruin is contain’d in one. Thus cautious Venus school’d her fav’rite boy; But youthful heat all cautions will destroy. His sprightly soul beyond grave counsels flies, While with yok’d swans the Goddess cuts the skies. His faithful hounds, led by the tainted wind, Lodg’d in thick coverts chanc’d a boar to find. The callow hero show’d a manly heart, And pierc’d the savage with a side-long dart. The flying savage, wounded, turn’d again, Wrench’d out the gory dart, and foam’d with pain. The trembling boy by flight his safety sought, And now recall’d the lore, which Venus taught; But now too late to fly the boar he strove, Who in the groin his tusks impetuous drove, On the discolour’d grass Adonis lay, The monster trampling o’er his beauteous prey.
Fair Cytherea, Cyprus scarce in view, Heard from afar his groans, and own’d them true, And turn’d her snowy swans, and backward flew. But as she saw him gasp his latest breath, And quiv’ring agonize in pangs of death, Down with swift flight she plung’d, nor rage forbore, At once her garments, and her hair she tore. With cruel blows she beat her guiltless breast, The Fates upbraided, and her love confest. Nor shall they yet (she cry’d) the whole devour With uncontroul’d, inexorable pow’r: For thee, lost youth, my tears, and restless pain Shall in immortal monuments remain, With solemn pomp in annual rites return’d, Be thou for ever, my Adonis, mourn’d, Could Pluto’s queen with jealous fury storm, And Menthe to a fragrant herb transform? Yet dares not Venus with a change surprise, And in a flow’r bid her fall’n heroe rise? Then on the blood sweet nectar she bestows, The scented blood in little bubbles rose: Little as rainy drops, which flutt’ring fly, Born by the winds, along a low’ring sky. Short time ensu’d, ’till where the blood was shed, A flow’r began to rear its purple head: Such, as on Punick apples is reveal’d, Or in the filmy rind but half conceal’d. Still here the Fate of lovely forms we see, So sudden fades the sweet Anemonie. The feeble stems, to stormy blasts a prey, Their sickly beauties droop, and pine away. The winds forbid the flow’rs to flourish long, Which owe to winds their names in Grecian song.