The Death of Damon.

A poem by John Milton


The Argument.

Thyrsis and Damon, shepherds and neighbours, had always pursued the same studies, and had, from their earliest days, been united in the closest friendship. Thyrsis, while traveling for improvement, received intelligence of the death of Damon, and, after a time, returning and finding it true, deplores himself and his solitary condition, in this poem.
By Damon is to be understood Charles Diodati, connected with the Italian city of Lucca by his Father's side, in other respects an Englishman; a youth of uncommon genius, erudition, and virtue.

Ye Nymphs of Himera1 (for ye have shed
Erewhile for Daphnis2 and for Hylas dead,
And over Bion's long-lamented bier,
The fruitless meed of many a sacred tear)
Now, through the villas laved by Thames rehearse
The woes of Thyrsis in Sicilian verse,
What sighs he heav'd, and how with groans profound
He made the woods and hollow rocks resound
Young Damon dead; nor even ceased to pour
His lonely sorrows at the midnight hour.
The green wheat twice had nodded in the ear,
And golden harvest twice enrich'd the year,
Since Damon's lips had gasp'd for vital air
The last, last time, nor Thyrsis yet was there;
For he, enamour'd of the Muse, remain'd
In Tuscan Fiorenza long detain'd,
But, stored at length with all he wish'd to learn,
For his flock's sake now hasted to return,
And when the shepherd had resumed his seat
At the elm's root within his old retreat,
Then 'twas his lot, then, all his loss to know,
And, from his burthen'd heart, he vented thus his woe.
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Alas! what Deities shall I suppose
In heav'n or earth concern'd for human woes,
Since, Oh my Damon! their severe decree
So soon condemns me to regret of Thee!
Depart'st thou thus, thy virtues unrepaid
With fame and honour, like a vulgar shade?
Let him forbid it, whose bright rod controls,
And sep'rates sordid from illustrious souls,
Drive far the rabble, and to Thee assign
A happier lot with spirits worthy thine!
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Whate'er befall, unless by cruel chance
The wolf first give me a forbidding glance,
Thou shalt not moulder undeplor'd, but long
Thy praise shall dwell on ev'ry shepherd's tongue;
To Daphnis first they shall delight to pay,
And, after Him, to thee the votive lay,
While Pales3 shall the flocks and pastures love,
Or Faunus to frequent the field or grove,
At least if antient piety and truth
With all the learned labours of thy youth
May serve thee aught, or to have left behind
A sorrowing friend, and of the tuneful kind.
Go, seek your home, my lambs, my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Yes, Damon! such thy sure reward shall be,
But ah, what doom awaits unhappy me?
Who, now, my pains and perils shall divide,
As thou wast wont, for ever at my side,
Both when the rugged frost annoy'd our feet,
And when the herbage all was parch'd with heat,
Whether the grim wolf's ravage to prevent
Or the huge lion's, arm'd with darts we went?
Whose converse, now, shall calm my stormy day,
With charming song who, now, beguile my way?
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
In whom shall I confide? Whose counsel find
A balmy med'cine for my troubled mind?
Or whose discourse with innocent delight
Shall fill me now, and cheat the wint'ry night,
While hisses on my hearth the pulpy pear,
And black'ning chesnuts start and crackle there,
While storms abroad the dreary meadows whelm,
And the wind thunders thro' the neighb'ring elm?
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Or who, when summer suns their summit reach,
And Pan sleeps hidden by the shelt'ring beech,
When shepherds disappear, Nymphs seek the sedge,
And the stretch'd rustic snores beneath the hedge,
Who then shall render me thy pleasant vein
Of Attic wit, thy jests, thy smiles again?
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Where glens and vales are thickest overgrown
With tangled boughs, I wander now alone
Till night descend, while blust'ring wind and show'r
Beat on my temples through the shatter'd bow'r.
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Alas, what rampant weeds now shame my fields,
And what a mildew'd crop the furrow yields!
My rambling vines unwedded to the trees
Bear shrivel'd grapes, my myrtles fail to please,
Nor please me more my flocks; they, slighted, turn
Their unavailing looks on me, and mourn.
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Aegon invites me to the hazel grove,
Amyntas, on the river's bank to rove,
And young Alphesiboeus to a seat
Where branching elms exclude the midday heat
"Here fountains spring-here mossy hillocks rise "
"Here Zephyr whispers and the stream replies "
Thus each persuades, but deaf to ev'ry call
I gain the thickets, and escape them all.
Go, seek your home, my lambs; my thoughts are due
To other cares than those of feeding you.
Then Mopsus said (the same who reads so well
The voice of birds, and what the stars foretell,
For He by chance had noticed my return)
What means thy sullen mood, this deep concern?
Ah Thyrsis! thou art either crazed with love,
Or some sinister influence from above,
Dull Saturn's influence oft the shepherd rue,
His leaden shaft oblique has pierced thee through.
Go, go, my lambs, unpastur'd as ye are,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
The Nymphs amazed my melancholy see,
And, Thyrsis! cry what will become of thee?
What would'st thou, Thyrsis? such should not appear
The brow of youth, stern, gloomy, and severe,
Brisk youth should laugh and love ah shun the fate
Of those twice wretched mopes who love too late!
Go, go, my lambs, unpastur'd as ye are,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
Aegle with Hyas came, to sooth my pain,
And Baucis' daughter, Dryope the vain,4
Fair Dryope, for voice and finger neat
Known far and near, and for her self-conceit,
Came Chloris too, whose cottage on the lands
That skirt the Idumanian current stands;
But all in vain they came, and but to see
Kind words and comfortable lost on me.
Go, go, my lambs, unpastur'd as ye are,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
Ah blest indiff'rence of the playful herd,
None by his fellow chosen or preferr'd!
No bonds of amity the flocks enthrall,
But each associates and is pleased with all;
So graze the dappled deer in num'rous droves,
And all his kind alike the zebra loves'
The same law governs where the billows roar
And Proteus' shoals o'erspread the desert shore;
The sparrow, meanest of the feather'd race,
His fit companion finds in ev'ry place,
With whom he picks the grain that suits him best,
Flits here and there, and late returns to rest,
And whom if chance the falcon make his prey,
Or Hedger with his well-aim'd arrow slay,
For no such loss the gay survivor grieves'
New love he seeks, and new delight receives.
We only, an obdurate kind, rejoice,
Scorning all others, in a single choice,
We scarce in thousands meet one kindred mind,
And if the long-sought good at last we find,
When least we fear it, Death our treasure steals,
And gives our heart a wound that nothing heals.
Go, go, my lambs, unpastur'd as ye are,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
Ah, what delusion lured me from my flocks,
To traverse Alpine snows, and rugged rocks!
What need so great had I to visit Rome
Now sunk in ruins, and herself a tomb?
Or, had she flourish'd still as when, of old
For her sake Tityrus forsook his fold,
What need so great had I t'incur a pause
Of thy sweet intercourse for such a cause,
For such a cause to place the roaring sea,
Rocks, mountains, woods, between my friend and me?
Else, I had grasp'd thy feeble hand, composed
Thy decent limbs, thy drooping eye-lids closed,
And, at the last, had said Farewell Ascend
Nor even in the skies forget thy friend.
Go, go, my lambs, untended homeward fare,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
Although well-pleas'd, ye tuneful Tuscan swains!
My mind the mem'ry of your worth retains,
Yet not your worth can teach me less to mourn
My Damon lost He too was Tuscan born,
Born in your Lucca, city of renown,
And Wit possess'd and Genius like your own.
Oh how elate was I, when, stretch'd beside
The murm'ring course of Arno's breezy tide,
Beneath the poplar-grove I pass'd my hours,
Now cropping myrtles, and now vernal flow'rs,
And hearing, as I lay at ease along,
Your swains contending for the prize of song!
I also dared attempt (and, as it seems
Not much displeas'd attempting) various themes,
For even I can presents boast from you,
The shepherd's pipe and osier basket too,
And Dati and Francini both have made
My name familiar to the beechen shade,
And they are learn'd, and each in ev'ry place
Renown'd for song, and both of Lydian Race.
Go, go, my lambs, untended homeward fare,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
While bright the dewy grass with moon-beams shone,
And I stood hurdling in my kids alone,
How often have I said (but thou had'st found
Ere then thy dark cold lodgment under-ground)
Now Damon sings, or springes sets for hares,
Or wicker-work for various use prepares!
How oft, indulging Fancy, have I plann'd
New scenes of pleasure, that I hop'd at hand,
Call'd thee abroad as I was wont, and cried
What hoa, my friend come, lay thy task aside
Haste, let us forth together, and beguile
The heat beneath yon whisp'ring shades awhile,
Or on the margin stray of Colne's5 clear flood,
Or where Cassivelan's grey turrets stood!
There thou shalt cull me simples, and shalt teach
Thy friend the name and healing pow'rs of each,
From the tall blue-bell to the dwarfish weed,
What the dry land and what the marshes breed,
For all their kinds alike to thee are known,
And the whole art of Galen6 is thy own.
Ah, perish Galen's art, and wither'd be
The useless herbs that gave not health to thee!
Twelve evenings since, as in poetic dream
I meditating sat some statelier theme,
The reeds no sooner touch'd my lip, though new
And unassay'd before, than wide they flew,
Bursting their waxen bands, nor could sustain
The deep-ton'd music of the solemn strain;
And I am vain perhaps, but will tell
How proud a theme I choose ye groves farewell!
Go, go, my lambs, untended homeward fare,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
Of Brutus, Dardan Chief, my song shall be,7
How with his barks he plough'd the British sea,
First from Rutupia's tow'ring headland seen,
And of his consort's reign, fair Imogen;
Of Brennus and Belinus, brothers bold,8
And of Arviragus, and how of old
Our hardy sires th'Armorican controll'd,
And the wife of Gorlois, who, surprised
By Uther in her husband's form disguised,
(Such was the force of Merlin's art) became
Pregnant with Arthur of heroic fame.9
These themes I now revolve and Oh if Fate
Proportion to these themes my lengthen'd date,
Adieu my shepherd's-reed yon pine-tree bough
Shall be thy future home, there dangle Thou
Forgotten and disus'd, unless ere long
Thou change thy Latin for a British song.
A British? even so the pow'rs of Man
Are bounded; little is the most he can,
And it shall well suffice me, and shall be
Fame and proud recompense enough for me,
If Usa10 golden-hair'd my verse may learn,
If Alain, bending o'er his chrystal urn,
Swift-whirling Abra, Trent's o'ershadow'd stream,
Thames, lovelier far than all in my esteem
Tamar's ore-tinctur'd flood, and, after these,
The wave-worn shores of utmost Orcades
Go, go, my lambs, untended homeward fare,
My thoughts are all now due to other care.
All this I kept in leaves of laurel-rind
Enfolded safe, and for thy view design'd,
This and a gift from Manso's hand beside,
(Manso, not least his native city's pride)
Two cups, that radiant as their giver shone,
Adorn'd by sculpture with a double zone.
The spring was graven there; here, slowly wind
The Red-Sea shores with groves of spices lined;
Her plumes of various hues amid the boughs
The sacred, solitary Phoenix shows,
And, watchful of the dawn, reverts her head
To see Aurora11 leave her wat'ry bed.
In other part, th'expansive vault above,
And there too, even there, the God of love;
With quiver arm'd he mounts, his torch displays
A vivid light, his gem-tip'd arrows blaze,
Around, his bright and fiery eyes he rolls,
Nor aims at vulgar minds or little souls
Nor deigns one look below, but aiming high
Sends every arrow to the lofty sky,
Hence, forms divine, and minds immortal learn
The pow'r of Cupid, and enamour'd burn.
Thou also Damon (neither need I fear
That hope delusive) thou art also there;
For whither should simplicity like thine
Retire, where else such spotless virtue shine?
Thou dwell'st not (thought profane) in shades below,
Nor tears suit thee cease then my tears to flow,
Away with grief on Damon ill-bestow'd,
Who, pure himself, has found a pure abode,
Has pass'd the show'ry arch, henceforth resides
With saints and heroes, and from flowing tides
Quaffs copious immortality and joy
With hallow'd lips. Oh! blest without alloy,
And now enrich'd with all that faith can claim,
Look down entreated by whatever name,
If Damon please thee most (that rural sound)
Shall oft with ecchoes fill the groves around)
Or if Diodatus, by which alone
In those ethereal mansions thou art known.
Thy blush was maiden, and thy youth the taste
Of wedded bliss knew never, pure and chaste,
The honours, therefore, by divine decree
The lot of virgin worth are giv'n to thee;
Thy brows encircled with a radiant band,
And the green palm-branch waving in thy hand
Thou immortal Nuptials shalt rejoice
And join with seraphs thy according voice,
Where rapture reigns, and the ecstatic lyre
Guides the blest orgies of the blazing quire.

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