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Begin then, sisters, of the sacred well,1
That from heneath the seat of Jove doth spring;
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse,
So may some gentle muse
With lucky words favour my destined urn,
And, as he2 passes, turn
And hid fair peace he to my sable shroud:
For we were nursed upon the self-same bill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rilL.
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove afield, and both together heard
What time the gray fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose, at evening, bright,
Toward Heaven's descent had sloped his westering8 wheel
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute,
Tempered to the oaten flute;
Bough satyrs danced, and fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long,
And old Damaetas4 loved to hear our song.
But oh, the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone, and never must return!
Thee, shepherd, thee the woods, and desert caves
With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown,
And all their echoes mourn.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
and personal allegory, and requires the same sacrifice of reasoning criticism, as the Lycidas itself. In the age of Milton, the poetical world had been accustomed by the Italian and Spanish writers to a more abundant use of allegory than has been pleasing to their posterity; but Lycidas is not so much in the nature of an allegory as of a masque; the characters pass before our eyes in imagination, as on the stage; they are chiefly mythological, but not creations of the poet. Our sympathy with the fate of Lycidas may not be much stronger than for the desertion of Gallus by his mistress; but many poems will yield an exquisite pleasure to the imagination that produce no emotion in the heart; or none at least, except through associations independent of the subject."—Hallam.
2 So the muse is made masculine in Samson Agonistes, ver. 978.
3 Drawing towards the west.
4 He probably means Br. William Chappel, who had been tutor to llifsm both, and afterwards became Bishop of Cork and Boss.
Shall now no more be seen,
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
As killing as the canker to the rose,
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze.
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the white-thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherds' ear.
Where were ye, nymphs, when the remorseless deep Closed o'er the head of your loved Lycidas? For neither were ye playing on the steep, Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie;
Nor yet where Deva2 spreads her wizard stream:
Ay me! I fondly dream
Had ye been there, for what could that have done?
What could the muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The mut* herself for her enchanting son,
Whom universal nature did lament,
When by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?
Alas! what boots it with incessant care
To tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless muse?
Were it not better done as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days,
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. "But not the praise,"
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears;
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heaven expect thy meed."
1 The Isle of Anglesea.
• The River Dee. The word Deva is supposed to mean divine.
O fountain Arethuse,1 and thou honoured flood,
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds,
That strain I heard was of a higher mood:
But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the herald of the sea
That came in Neptune's plea;
He asked the waves, and asked the felon winds,
What hard mishap had doomed this gentle swain?
And questioned every gust of rugged wings,
That Wows from off each beaked promontory:
They knew not of his story,
And sage Hippotades2 their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon strayed,
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters played.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark
Built in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
Next Camus,3 reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge,
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.4
"Ah! who hath reft," quoth he, "my dearest pledge?"
Last came, and last did go,
The pilot of the Galilean lake,5
1 Now Phoebus, whose strain was of a higher mood, has done speaking, he invokes the fountain Arethuse of Sicily, the country of Theocritus, and Mincius, the river of Mantua, Virgil's country, in compliment to those poets.
2 ^Eolus, the son of Hippotas.
3 The Cam, the river of Cambridge.
4 Meaning the hyacinth, the leaves of which were supposed to be marked with the mournful letters At, At. Cf. Ovid, Met. x. 210 sqq.
'" The introduction of St. Peter after the fabulous deities of the sea, has appeared an incongruity deserving of censure to some admirers of this poem. It would be very reluctantly that we could abandon to this criticism the most splendid passage it presents. But the censure rests, as I think, on too narrow a principle. In narrative or dramatic poetry, where something like illusion or momentary belief is to be produced, the mind requires an objective possibility, a capacity of real existence, not only in all the separate portions of the imagined story, but in their coherency and relation to a common whole. Whatever is obviously incongruous, whatever shocks our previous knowledge of possibility, destroys, to a certain extent, that acquiescence in the fiction which it is the true business of the fiction to produce. But the case is not the same in such poems as Lycidas. They pretend to no credibility, they aim at no illusion, they are read
Two massy keys he bore, of metals twain
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain),
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:
"How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearer's feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest;
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learned aught else the least
That to the faithful herdsman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel1 pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swollen with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
Return, Alpheus, the dread voice is past,
That shrunk thy streams; return Sicilian muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues
Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honeyed showers,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
with the willing abandonment of the imagination to a waking dream,
and require only that general possibility, that combination of images,
which common experience does not reject as incompatible, without
which the fancy of the poet would be only like that of the lunatic.
And it had been so usual to blend sacred with mythological person-
ages in allegory, that no one, probably, in Milton's age, would have
>-een struck by the objection."—Hullam.
1 Probably equivalent to the Latin " stridens," creaking, piercing.
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffodillies fill their cups with tears,
To strow the laureate heaioo where Lycid lies.
For so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou, perhaps, under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows denied,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus1 old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's2 hold;
Look homeward, angel now, and melt with ruth:3
And, O ye dolphins,4 waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his droop-ng head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of him that walked the waves,
Where other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
1 Probably Bellerus, one of the Cornish giants, fabulously supposed to dwell at the Land's End.
2 A watch-tower and lighthouse formerly stood on the promontory called the Land's End, and looked, as Orosius says, towards another high tower at Brigantia in Gallicia, and consequently towards Bayana's Hold.—Newton.
* A dolphin is said to have carried the body of Palaemon to the shore of Corinth, where he was denied.