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Poems on Several Occasions.
“ Baccare frontem Cingite, ne vati noceat mala lingua futuro.
VIRGIL, Eclog. 7.
ON THE DEATH OF A FAIR INFANTI DYING OF A COUGH,
O fairest flower! no sooner blown but blasted,
Soft silken primrose fading timelessly,
Summer's chief honour, if thou hadst out-lasted
Bleak Winter's force that made thy blossom dry;
For he being amorous on that lovely dye
That did thy cheek envermeil, thought to kiss,
But killed, alas! and then bewailed his fatal bliss.
For since grim Aquilo, his charioteer,
By boisterous rape the Athenian damsela got,
He thought it touched his deity full near,
If likewise he some fair one wedded not,
Thereby to wipe away the infámous blot
Of long-uncoupled bed, and childless eld,
Which ’mongst the wanton gods a foul reproach was held.
So mounting up in icy-pearléd car,
Through middle empire of the freezing air
He wandered long, till thee he spied from far;
1 The daughter, and probably the first child, of the poet's sister.
Orithyia, daughter of Erectheus, king Athens, was drowned while crossing the Ilissus in a high wind : hence the fable that she was carried off by Boreas or Aquilo.
There ended was his quest, there ceased his care.
Down he descended from his snow-soft chair,
But all unwares with his cold-kind embrace
Unhoused thy virgin soul from her fair biding place.?
Yet art thou not inglorious in thy fate;
For so Apollo, with unweeting
Whilome did slay? his dearly-lovéd mate,
Young Hyacinth, born on Eurotas' strand,
Young Hyacinth, the pride of Spartan land;
But then transformed him to a purple flower :
Alack! that so to change thee Winter had no power.
Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
Or that thy corse corrupts in earth's dark womb,
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,
Hid from the world in a low-delvéd tomb;
Could Heaven for pity thee so strictly doom?
Oh, no! for something in thy face did shine
Above mortality, that showed thou wast divine.
Resolve me then, O soul most surely blest !
(If so it be that thou these plaints dost hear);
Tell me, bright spirit, where'er thou hoverest,
Whether above that high first-moving sphere,
Or in the Elysian fields (if such there were);
Oh, say me true, if thou wert mortal wight,
And why from us so quickly thou didst take thy flight?
Wert thou some star which from the ruined roof
Of shaked Olympus by mischance didst3 fall;
Which careful Jove in nature's true behoof
up, and in fit place did reinstal ?
Or did of late earth's sons besiege the wall
Of sheeny Heaven, and thou some goddess fled Amongst us here below to hide thy nectared 4 head?
Or wert thou that just maids who once before
Forsook the hated earth, oh, tell me sooth!
The legend of the Erl King will probably suggest itself to many readers as a parallel to this graceful fiction of Milton's. 2 While playing at quoits.
3 Rather, "did fall" 4 “Nectared” here seems equivalent to divine." 5 Astræa, the goddess of justice.
And cam’st again to visit us once more?
Or wert thou that sweet smiling youth ?!
Or that crowned matron sage, white-robéd Truth?
Or any other of that heavenly brood
Let down in cloudy throne to do the world some good ?
Or wert thou of the golden-wingéd host,
Who, having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth from thy prefixéd seat didst post,
And after short abode fly back with speed,
As if to show what creatures Heaven doth breed,
Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire,
To scorn the sordid world, and unto Heaven aspire ?
But oh! why didst thou not stay here below
To bless us with thy Heaven-loved innocence,
To slake his wrath whom sin hath made our foe,
To turn swift-rushing black perdition hence,
Or drive away the slaughtering pestilence,?
To stand 'twixt us and our deservéd smart?
But thou canst best perform that office where thou art.
Then thcu, the mother of so sweet a child,
Her false imagined loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb thy sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render him with patience what he lent;
This if thou do, he will an offspring give,
That till the world's last end shall make thy name to live
ANNO ÆTATIS XIX. [At a vacation exercise in the College, part Latin, part English.
The Latin speeches ended, the English thus began.]
Hail, native language! that by sinews weak
Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak,
1 Two syllables are wanting to complete this line. It is probable that “ Mercy" is the youth implied, and that we should read,
“Or wert thou Mercy, that,” &c. Jortin proposes “Hebe.”
2 About the time when this poem was written (i. e. 1625) a great plague raged in London. Milton was at this time only in his 17th year.
And mad'st imperfect words with childish trips,
Half unpronounced, slide through my infant lips,
Driving dumb silence from the portal door,
Where he had mutely sat two years before :
Here I salute thee, and thy pardon ask,
That now I use thee in my latter task:
Small loss it is that thence can come unto thee,
I know my tongue but little grace can do thee:
Thou need'st not be ambitious to be first,
Believe me I have thither packed the worst;
And, if it happen as I did forecast,
The daintiest dishes shall be served up last.
I pray thee then deny me not thy aid
For this same small neglect that I have made;
But haste thee straight to do me once a pleasure,
And from thy wardrobe bring thy chiefest treasure,
Not those new-fangled toys and trimming slight
Which takes our late fantastics with delight,
But cull those richest robes and gay'st attire
Which deepest spirits and choicest wits desire:
I have some naked thoughts that rove about,
And loudly knock to have their passage out;
And, weary of their place, do only stay
Till thou hast decked them in thy best array,
That so they may, without suspect or fears,
Fly swiftly to this fair assembly's ears;
Yet I had rather, if I were to choose,
Thy service in some graver subject use,
Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
Before thou clothe my fancy in fit sound:
Such where the deep transported mind may soar
Above the wheeling poles, and at Heaven's door
Look in, and see each blissful deity
How he before the thunderous throne doth lie,
Listening to what unshorno Apollo sings
To the touch of golden wires, while Hebe brings
Immortal nectar to her kingly sire;
1 It appears, by this address of Milton's to his native language, that even in these green years he had the ambition to think of writing an epic poem; and it is worth the curious reader's attention to observe how much the Paradise Lost corresponds in its circumstances to the prophetic wish he now formed.—Thyer.
2 An epithet peculiar to Apollo among the poets. Cf. Pindar, Pyth iii. 26, Hor. Od. i. 21, 2.
Then passing through the scenes of watchful fire,
And misty regions of wide air next under,
And hills of snow and lofts of piléd thunder,
May tell at length how green-eyed Neptune raves,
In Heaven's defiance mustering all his waves;
Then sing of secret things that came to pass
When beldame Nature in her cradle was;
And last of kings and queens and heroes old,
Such as the wise Demodocus' once told
In solemn songs at king Alcinous' feast
While sad Ulysses' soul and all the rest
Are held with his melodious harmony
In willing chains and sweet captivity.
But fie, my wandering muse, how thou dost stray!
Expectance calls thee now another way;
Thou know'st it must be now thy only bent
To keep in compass of thy predicament:
Then quick about thy purposed business come,
That to the next I may resign my room.
[Then Ens is represented as father of the Predicaments, his ten
sons, whereof the eldest stood for Substance with his canons,
which Ens, thus speaking, explains.] Good luck befriend thee, son; for at thy birth The fairy ladies danced upon the hearth ; Thy drowsy nurse hath sworn she did them spy Come tripping to the room where thou didst lie, And, sweetly singing round about thy bed, Strew all their blessings on thy sleeping head. She heard them give thee this, that thou shouldst still From eyes of mortals walk invisible: Yet there is something that doth force my fear, For once it was my dismal hap to hear A sibyl old, bow-bent with crooked age, That far events full wisely could presage, And in time's long and dark prospective glass Foresaw what future days should bring to pass : Your son, said she (nor can you it prevent), Shall subject be to many an accident. 1 Alluding to the eighth book of the Odyssey. 2 Or categories. If the reader does not understand metaphysics, he will not be much the wiser for any explanation I could give him within the space of a note.