Elegy VI. Anno Aetates Undevigesimo.

A poem by William Cowper

As yet a stranger to the gentle fires
That Amathusia's smiling Queen[2] inspires,
Not seldom I derided Cupid's darts,
And scorn'd his claim to rule all human hearts.
Go, child, I said, transfix the tim'rous dove,
An easy conquest suits an infant Love;
Enslave the sparrow, for such prize shall be
Sufficient triumph to a Chief like thee;
Why aim thy idle arms at human kind?
Thy shafts prevail not 'gainst the noble mind.
The Cyprian[3] heard, and, kindling into ire,
(None kindles sooner) burn'd with double fire.
It was the Spring, and newly risen day
Peep'd o'er the hamlets on the First of May;
My eyes too tender for the blaze of light,
Still sought the shelter of retiring night,
When Love approach'd, in painted plumes arrayed;
Th'insidious god his rattling darts betray'd,
Nor less his infant features, and the sly
Sweet intimations of his threat'ning eye.
Such the Sigeian boy[4] is seen above,
Filling the goblet for imperial Jove;
Such he, on whom the nymphs bestow'd their charms,
Hylas,[5] who perish'd in a Naiad's arms.
Angry he seem'd, yet graceful in his ire,
And added threats, not destitute of fire.
"My power," he said, "by others pain alone,
'Twere best to learn; now learn it by thy own!
With those, who feel my power, that pow'r attest!
And in thy anguish be my sway confest!
I vanquish'd Phoebus, though returning vain
From his new triumph o'er the Python slain,
And, when he thinks on Daphne,[6] even He
Will yield the prize of archery to me.
A dart less true the Parthian horseman[7] sped,
Behind him kill'd, and conquer'd as he fled,
Less true th'expert Cydonian, and less true
The youth, whose shaft his latent Procris slew.[8]
Vanquish'd by me see huge Orion bend,
By me Alcides,[9] and Alcides's friend.[10]
At me should Jove himself a bolt design,
His bosom first should bleed transfix'd by mine.
But all thy doubts this shaft will best explain,
Nor shall it teach thee with a trivial pain,
Thy Muse, vain youth! shall not thy peace ensure,
Nor Phoebus' serpent yield thy wound a cure.[11]
He spoke, and, waving a bright shaft in air,
Sought the warm bosom of the Cyprian fair.
That thus a child should bluster in my ear
Provok'd my laughter more than mov'd my fear.
I shun'd not, therefore, public haunts, but stray'd
Careless in city, or suburban shade,
And passing and repassing nymphs that mov'd
With grace divine, beheld where'er I rov'd.
Bright shone the vernal day, with double blaze,
As beauty gave new force to Phoebus' rays.
By no grave scruples check'd I freely eyed
The dang'rous show, rash youth my only guide,
And many a look of many a Fair unknown
Met full, unable to control my own.
But one I mark'd (then peace forsook my breast)
One--Oh how far superior to the rest!
What lovely features! Such the Cyprian Queen
Herself might wish, and Juno wish her mien.
The very nymph was she, whom when I dar'd
His arrows, Love had even then prepar'd.
Nor was himself remote, nor unsupplied
With torch well-trimm'd and quiver at his side;
Now to her lips he clung, her eye-lids now,
Then settled on her cheeks or on her brow.
And with a thousand wounds from ev'ry part
Pierced and transpierced my undefended heart.
A fever, new to me, of fierce desire
Now seiz'd my soul, and I was all on fire,
But she, the while, whom only I adore,
Was gone, and vanish'd to appear no more.
In silent sadness I pursue my way,
I pause, I turn, proceed, yet wish to stay,
And while I follow her in thought, bemoan
With tears my soul's delight so quickly flown.
When Jove had hurl'd him to the Lemnian coast[12]
So Vulcan sorrow'd for Olympus lost,
And so Oeclides, sinking into night,
From the deep gulph look'd up to distant light.[13]
Wretch that I am, what hopes for me remain
Who cannot cease to love, yet love in vain?
Oh could I once, once more, behold the Fair,
Speak to her, tell her of the pangs I bear,
Perhaps she is not adamant, would show
Perhaps some pity at my tale of woe.
Oh inauspicious flame--'tis mine to prove
A matchless instance of disastrous love.
Ah spare me, gentle Pow'r!--If such thou be
Let not thy deeds, and nature disagree.
Now I revere thy fires, thy bow, thy darts:
Now own thee sov'reign of all human hearts.
Spare me, and I will worship at no shrine
With vow and sacrifice, save only thine.
Remove! no--grant me still this raging woe!
Sweet is the wretchedness, that lovers know:
But pierce hereafter (should I chance to see
One destined mine) at once both her and me.
___________________________________________________________[14]

Such were the trophies, that in earlier days,
By vanity seduced I toil'd to raise,
Studious yet indolent, and urg'd by youth,
That worst of teachers, from the ways of Truth;
Till learning taught me, in his shady bow'r,
To quit love's servile yoke, and spurn his pow'r.
Then, on a sudden, the fierce flame supprest,
A frost continual settled on my breast,
Whence Cupid fears his flames extinct to see,
And Venus dreads a Diomede[15] in me.

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