Amyntas, A Tale of the Woods/Act I




And would'st thou then indeed, dear Sylvia,
Pass this young age of thine
Far from the joys of love and would'st thou never
Hear the sweet name of mother; nor behold
Thy little children playing round about thee
Delightfully? Ah think,
Think, I beseech thee, do,
Simpleton that thou art.

Let others follow the delights of love,
If love indeed has any. To my taste
This life is best. I have enough to care for
In my dear bow and arrows. My delight
Is following the chace; and when 'tis saucy,
Bringing it down; and so, as long as arrows
Fail not my quiver, nor wild deer the woods,
I fear no want of sport.

Insipid sport
Truly, and most insipid way of life!
If it is pleasant to thee, it is only
From ignorance of the other. The first people,
Who lived in the world's infancy, regarded
With like good sense, their water and their acorns
As exquisite meat and drink; but now-a-days
Water and acorns are but food for beasts;
And grain and the sweet grape sustain humanity.
Ah! hadst thou once, but once,
Tasted a thousandth part of the delight
Which a heart tastes that loves and is beloved,
Thou wouldst repent, and sigh, and say directly,
‘Tis all but loss of time
That passes not in loving.
O seasons fled and gone,
How many widowed nights,
And solitary days
Which might have been wrapt round with this sweet life,
Have I consumed in vain!
A life, the more habituate, the more sweet!
Think, think, I pray thee do,
Simpleton as thou art.
A late repentance is at least no pleasure.

When I shall come to thee with penitent sighs,
And say the words which thou hast fancied for me,
And rounded off so sweetly, then, why then,
The running river shall turn home again,
And wolves escape from lambs, and hounds from hares,
And bears shall love the sea, dolphins the hills.

I know too well this girlish waywardness.
Such as thou art, I was; so did I bear
My fortune and my careless countenance;
And so were my fair locks; and so vermilion
Even was my mouth; and so the white and red
Was mingled in my ripe and delicate cheeks.
'Twas then my highest joy (a foolish joy,
Now I think of it) to go spreading nets,
And setting snares for birds, and sharpening darts,
And tracking to their haunts wild animals;
And if I saw a lover look at me,
I dropt my little wild and rustic eyes,
Half blushes and half scorn. His kindliness
Found no kind thoughts in me; and all that made me
Pleasing to other eyes, displeased myself;
As if it was my crime, my shame, my scorn,
To be thus looked at, and thus loved, and longed for.
But what can time not do? And what not do
A faithful lover, and importunate,
Forever serving, meriting, entreating?
I yielded, I confess; and all that conquered me,
What was it? patience, and humility,
And sighs, and soft laments, and asking pardon.
Darkness, and one short night, then shewed me more,
Than the long lustre of a thousand days.
How did I then reproach my blind simplicity,
And breathe, and say,—Here, Cynthia, take thy horn;
Here, take thy bow; for I renounce at once
Thy way of life, and all that it pursues.—
And thus I still look forward to the day,
When thy Amyntas shall domesticate
Thy wildness for thee, and put flesh and blood
Into this steel and stony heart of thine.
Is he not handsome? does he love thee not?
Is he not loved by others? does he alter so
For love of them, and not for thy disdain?
Or is his fault an humbler origin?
Thou, it is true, art daughter to Cydippe,
Whose father was the god of this great river;
Yet he is son of old Sylvanus too,
Whose father was the shepherds’ god, great Pan.
There’s Amaryllis:—if thou has at any time
Beheld thee in some fountain’s glassy mirror,
She is as fair as thou: and yet he flies
All her delicious arts, to follow thee
And thy poor scorn. Suppose (and yet heaven grant
The supposition never may come true)
That wearied out with thee, he should repose
His joys in her who sees so much in him:
How would thy heart feel then? or with what eyes
See him become another's? happy in
Another's arms, and laughing thee to scorn?

Pray let Amyntas with himself and his loves
Do what he pleases. It concerns not me.
He is not mine; let him be whose he chuses.
Mine he can not be, if I like him not;
And if he were mine, I would not be his.

Whence springs all this disliking?

From his love.

A blessed father of a child so cruel!
But come, come; when were tygers ever born
Of the kind lamb, or crows of lady swans?
Thou dost deceive me, or thyself.

I hate
His love, because it hates my honesty.
I loved him well enough, as long as he
Wished nothing but what I wished.

Thou didst wish
Thine evil. All that he desired of thee
Was for thee too.

Daphne, be still, I pray;
Or speak of something else, if thou would'st have
An answer.

Oh pray mark her airs! Pray mark
The scornful little lass! Give me, however,
One answer more. Suppose another loved thee,
Would'st thou receive his love in the same way?

In the same way would I receive all love,
That came to undermine my honesty;
For what thou callest lover, I call enemy.

And callest thou the sheep then
The enemy of his female?
The bull of the fair heifer?
Or of his dove the turtle?
And callest thou sweet spring-time
The time of rage and enmity,
Which breathing now and smiling
Reminds the whole creation,
The animal, the human,
Of loving! Dost thou see not
How all things are enamoured
Of this enamourer, rich with joy and health?
Observe that turtle dove,
How toying with his dulcet murmuring
He kisses his companion. Hear that nightingale,
Who goes from bough to bough,
Singing with his loud heart, I love! I love!
The adder, though thou know'st it not, forgets
Her poison, and goes eagerly to her love;
Headlong the tygers go;
The lion's great heart loves; and thou alone,
Wilder than all the wild,
Deniest the boy a lodging in thy breast.
But why speak I of tygers, snakes, and lions,
Who have their share of mind? The very trees
Are loving. See with what affection there,
And in how many a clinging turn and twine,
The vine holds fast its husband. Fir loves fir,
The pine the pine; and ash, and willow, and beech,
Each toward the other, yearns, and sighs, and trembles.
That oak tree which appears
So rustic and so rough,
Even that has something warm in its sound heart;
And hadst thou but a spirit and sense of love,
Thou hadst found out a meaning for its whispers.
Now tell me, wouldst thou be
Less than the very plants, and have no love?
Think better, oh think better,
Simpleton that thou art.

Well, when I hear the sighings of the plants,
I’ll be content to fall in love myself.

Thou mockest my kind council, and mak'st game
Of all I say to thee,—O deaf to love,
As thou art blind. But go:—the time will come,
When thou wilt grieve thou didst not mind my words.
Then wilt thou shun the fountains, where so oft
Thou makest thee a glass, perhaps a proud one;
Then wilt thou shun the fountains, for mere dread
Of seeing thyself grown wrinkled and featureless.
This will most surely be; but not this only;
For though a great, ‘tis but a common evil.
I’ll tell thee what Elpino, t’other day,
The wise Elpino, told the fair Lycoris;
Her, whose two eyes can do as much with him,
As his sweet singing ought to do with her;
If ought were good in love. He told it her
In hearing both of Battus and of Thyrsis,
Great masters they of love;—they were conversing
Within Aurora’s cavern, over which
'Tis written, "Far be ye, profane ones, far."
He told her,—and 'twas told to him, he said,
By that great name that sung of Arms and Loves,
And who bequeathed him, dying, his own pipe,
That underneath there, in the infernal depth,
Is a black den, which breathes out noisome smoke
From the sad furnaces of Acheron;
And there, in everlasting punishment,
With moaning, and tormenting hold of darkness,
Are kept ungrateful and denying women.
There then expect a proper dwelling place
For thy fierce hardness.
It will be just and well, that the harsh smoke
Shall wring the stubborn tears out of those eyes,
Since never pity yet could draw them down.—
Follow thy ways, go follow,
Obstinate that thou art.

But what pray did Lycoris? and what answer
Made she to this?

Thou car'st not what thou dost,
And yet would'st fain be told what others do.
She answered with her eyes.

Why how could one
Answer without?

They turned with a sweet smile,
And answered thus:—Our heart, and we, are thine;
More thou should'st not desire; nor may there be
More given. And surely this is all-sufficient
For a chaste lover, if he holds those eyes
To be sincere as beautiful, and gives them
Perfect belief.

And why not so believe them?

Knowest thou not what Thyrsis went about
Writing, the time he wandered in the forests
Out of his wits, and moved the nymphs and shepherds
To mirth and pity at once? No things wrote he
Worthy of laughter, whatsoe’er his deeds.
He wrote it on a thousand barks, to grow
Verses and barks together; and one I read:
False faithless lights, ye mirrors of her heart,
Well do I recognise the tricks ye play!
But to what profit, seeing I cannot fly?

I waste the time here, talking. I forget,
That I must join the accustomed chase to-day
Among the olive trees. Now pray wait for me,
Just while I bathe in our old fountain here,
And rid me of the dust I gathered yesterday
In following that swift fawn, which nevertheless
I overtook and killed.

I’ll wait for thee;
Perhaps will join thee in the bath; but first
I must go home. The hour is not so late
As it appears. So wait for me at home
Thyself, and I’ll come speedily. And pray
Bethink thee, the mean-time, of what imports thee
Much more than fawns or fountains. If thou knows't it not,
Know thy own ignorance, and trust the wise.



In my lamentings I have found
A very pity in the pebbly waters;
And I have found the trees
Return them a kind voice;
But never have I found,
Nor ever hope to find,
Compassion in this hard and beautiful—
What shall I call her? Woman or wild animal?
But she herself denies the name of woman,
In thus denying pity
To one, whom nought else under heaven denies it.

The grass is the lamb's food, the lamb the wolf's;
But cruel love delights to feed on tears,
And seems to satiate never.

Alas! Alas!
Love has drained all my tears; it is my blood
Which he must thirst for now. I hope and trust,
He and this impious one will have it shortly.

Amyntas! dear Amyntas! talk not so:
'Tis idle. Take good heart. This cruel one
May treat thee ill; but thou can'st find another.

Ah me, another! I have lost myself.
How can I find me joy, myself being gone?

Do not despair. Thou'lt win her heart at last.
Patience and time enabled man to put
His rein on lions and Hyrcanian tygers.

The miserable cannot bear to wait
Long time for death.

The time will not be long.
Woman is soon offended, soon appeased,
Being a thing by nature moveable
More than the boughs by the wind, or than the tops
Of quivering corn. But prythee, dear Amyntas,
Let me more inwardly into the heart
Of this your troubled love. Thou hast assured me
Many a time, that thou did'st love me well,
And yet I know not where thy yearnings lie.
A faithful friendship, and the common study
Of the sweet muses, make me not unworthy
Of knowing what thou may'st conceal from others.

Thyrsis, I am content to let thee hear
What the woods know and what the mountains know,
And what the rivers know, and man knows not.
For to my death I feel myself so nigh,
'Tis fit I leave behind me one to tell
The reason why death took me. He can write it
Upon a beech tree near where they will bury me;
And when that hard one passes by the place,
She shall rejoice to trample my poor clay
With her proud foot, and say within herself,
"This is indeed a triumph!" and rejoice
To think how all, whom chance conducts that way,
Native or stranger, shall behold her victory.
And there may come a day, (alas! it is
Too great to hope) but there may come a day,
When moved with tardy pity, she may weep
For one, when dead, whom when alive, she killed;
And say, "Ah, would that he were here, and mine!"
Now mark me.
Pray speak on. I listen eagerly,
Perhaps to better purpose than thou thinkest.

While yet a boy, scarce tall enough to gather
The lowest hanging fruit, I became intimate
With the most lovely and beloved girl,
That ever gave to the winds her locks of gold.
Thou know'st, the daughter of Cydippe and
Montano, that has such a store of herds,
Sylvia, the forest's honour, the soul's firer?
Of her I speak. Alas! I lived one time,
So fastened to her side, that never turtle
Was closer to his mate, nor ever will be.
Our homes were close together, closer still
Our hearts; our age conformable, our thoughts
Still more conformed. With her I tended nets
For birds and fish; with her followed the stag,
And the fleet hind; our joy and our success
Were common: but in making prey of animals
I fell, I know not how, myself a prey.
There grew by little and little in my heart,
I know not from what root,
But just as the grass grows that sows itself,
An unknown something, which continually
Made me feel anxious to be with her; and then
I drank strange sweetness from her eyes, which left
A taste, I know not how, of bitterness.
Often I sighed, nor knew the reason why;
And thus before I knew what loving was,
Was I a lover. Well enough I knew
At last; and I will tell thee how; pray mark me.

I mark thee well.

One day, Sylvia and Phillis
Were sitting underneath a shady beech,
I with them; when a little ingenious bee,
Gathering his honey in those flowery fields,
Lit on the cheeks of Phillis, cheeks as red
As the red rose; and bit, and bit again
With so much eagerness, that it appeared
The likeness did beguile him. Phillis, at this,
Impatient of the smart, sent up a cry;
"Hush! Hush!" said my sweet Sylvia, "do not grieve;
I have a few words of enchantment, Phillis,
Will ease thee of this little suffering.
The sage Artesia told them me, and had
That little ivory horn of mine in payment,
Fretted with gold." So saying, she applied
To the hurt cheek, the lips of her divine
And most delicious mouth, and with sweet humming
Murmured some verses that I knew not of.
Oh admirable effect! a little while,
And all the pain was gone; either by virtue
Of those enchanted words, or as I thought,
By virtue of those lips of dew,
That heal whate'er they turn them to.
I, who till then had never had a wish
Beyond the sunny sweetness of her eyes,
Or her dear dulcet words, more dulcet far
Than the soft murmur of a humming stream
Crooking its way among the pebble-stones,
Or summer airs that babble in the leaves,
Felt a new wish move in me to apply
This mouth of mine to hers; and so becoming
Crafty and plotting, (an unusual art
With me, but it was love's intelligence)
I did bethink me of a gentle stratagem
To work out my new wit. I made pretence,
As if the bee had bitten my under lip;
And fell to lamentations of such sort,
That the sweet medicine which I dared not ask
With word of mouth, I asked for with my looks.
The simple Sylvia then,
Compassioning my pain,
Offered to give her help
To that pretended wound;
And oh! the real and the mortal wound,
Which pierced into my being,
When her lips came on mine.
Never did bee from flower
Suck sugar so divine,
As was the honey that I gathered then
From those twin roses fresh.
I could have bathed in them my burning kisses,
But fear and shame withheld
That too audacious fire,
And made them gently hang.
But while into my bosom's core, the sweetness,
Mixed with a secret poison, did go down,
It pierced me so with pleasure, that still feigning
The pain of the bee's weapon, I contrived
That more than once the enchantment was repeated.
From that time forth, desire
And irrepressible pain so grew within me,
That not being able to contain it more,
I was compelled to speak; and so, one day,
While in a circle a whole set of us,
Shepherds and nymphs, sat playing at the game,
In which they tell in one another's ears
Their secret each, "Sylvia," said I in her's,
"I burn for thee; and if thou help me not,
I feel I cannot live." As I said this,
She dropt her lovely looks, and out of them
There came a sudden and unusual flush,
Portending shame and anger: not an answer
Did she vouchsafe me, but by a dead silence,
Broken at last by threats more terrible.
She parted then, and would not hear me more,
Nor see me. And now three times the naked reaper
Has clipped the spiky harvest, and as often
The winter shaken down from the fair woods
Their tresses green, since I have tried in vain
Every thing to appease her, except death.
Nothing remains indeed but that I die!
And I shall die with pleasure, being certain,
That it will either please her, or be pitied;
And I scarce know, which of the two to hope for.
Pity perhaps would more remunerate
My faith, more recompence my death; but still
I must not hope for aught that would disturb
The sweet and quiet shining of her eyes,
And trouble that fair bosom, built of bliss.

And dost thou think it possible she could hear
Such words as these, and love thee not some day?

I know not, and believe not. She avoids me,
As asps avoid enchantment.

Trust me now,
It gives me heart to try, and make her hear thee.

She will not grant thy wish, nor if she does,
Will she grant any thing to me for speaking.

Why such extreme despair?

I have good reason.
Wise Mopsus prophecied my unlucky chance;
Mopsus, who knows the language of the birds,
And what the herbs can do, and what the fountains.

What Mopsus dost thou speak of? Of that Mopsus,
Who with a tongue of honey, and a grin
Of friendship on his lips, is hollow at heart,
And holds a dagger underneath his cloak?
Now be thou of good heart. These evil omens,
Which with that solemn brow of his he sells the unwary,
Will never come to pass; and to convince thee,
I tell thee that I know it. The very evil
He has predicted, gives me joyful hope
Of seeing thy love happy.

If thou knowest
Aught that might comfort me, I pray thee speak.

Most willingly. When first my fortune brought me
Into these woods, I knew him; and I thought him
Then, what thou thinkst him now. One day meanwhile,
Having necessity as well as wish
To go where the great city, queen-like, holds
The banks of the river, I told him my journey.
This was his answer: "Thou art going then
To the great spot, where keen and crafty citizens,
And courtiers in their malice, laugh at us,
Cutting vile jokes on our simplicity.
Therefore, my son, take my advice. Avoid
The places where thou seest much drapery,
Coloured and gold; and plumes, and heraldries,
And such new-fanglements. But above all,
Take care how evil chance, or youthful wandering
Bring thee upon the house of Idle Babbling."
"What place is that?" said I, and he resumed;
"Enchantresses dwell there, who make one see
Things as they are not, aye, and hear them too.
That which shall seem pure diamond and fine gold,
Is glass and brass; and coffers that look silver,
Heavy with wealth, are baskets full of bladders.
The very walls there are so strangely made,
They answer those who talk; and not in syllables,
Or bits of words, like Echo in our woods,
But go the whole talk over, word for word,
With something else beside, that no one said.
The tressels, tables, bedsteads, curtains, lockers,
Chairs, and whatever furniture there is
In room or bed-room, all have tongues and speech,
And are for ever tattling. Idle babblings
Are always going about in shape of children:
And should a dumb man enter in that place,
The dumb would babble in his own despite.
And yet this evil is the least of all
That might assail thee. Thou mightest be arrested
In fearful transformation to a willow,
A beast, fire, water,—fire for ever sighing,
Water for ever weeping." Here he ceased:
And I, with all this fine foreknowledge, went
To the great city, and by heaven's kind will,
Came where they live so happily. The first sound
I heard was a delightful harmony,
Which issued forth, of voices loud and sweet:
Syrens, and swans, and nymphs, a heavenly noise
Of heavenly things; which gave me such delight,
That all admiring, and amazed, and joyed,
I stopped awhile quite motionless; there stood
Within the entrance as if keeping guard
Of those fine things, one, of a noble presence,
And stout withal, of whom I was in doubt
Whether to think him better knight or leader.
He with a look at once benign and grave,
In royal guise invited me within,
He, great and in esteem; me, lorn and lowly.
Oh the sensations, and the sights, which then
Came on me! Goddesses I saw, and nymphs
Graceful and beautiful, and harpers fine
As Linus, or as Orpheus; and more others
All without veil or cloud, bright as the virgin
Aurora, when she glads immortal eyes,
And sews her beams and dew drops, silver and gold.
And fertilizing there, I saw act round
Apollo and the Nine; and with the Nine
Elpino sat; and at that moment, I
Felt myself greater, gifted newly, and full
Of sudden deity; and I sung of wars
And chiefs, and trampled the rude pastoral song.
And though as it pleased others, afterwards
I came home to these woods, I yet retained
Something of that great spirit, nor did my pipe
Speak with its old humility; but loud
And loftier-toned filled the wide-echoing woods,
The rival of the trumpet. Mopsus heard;
And eying me with a malignant stare,
Smote fascination on me; whence I grew
Hoarse in my song, and for long time was mute.
The shepherds thought that I had seen a wolf;
And so I had; but then the wolf was he.
I tell thee this, to shew how little worthy
He is of thy belief. And now pray hope.
The more, because he would have kept thee hopeless.

What thou hast told me, comforts me to hear:
To thee then I commit the only care
For which I live.

I will take care of it.
Do thou be here again in half an hour.

O lovely age of gold!
Not that the rivers rolled
With milk, or that the woods dropped honey dew;
Not that the ready ground
Produced without a wound,
Or the mild serpent had no tooth that slew;
Not that a cloudless blue
For ever was in sight,
Or that the heaven which burns,
And now is cold by turns,
Looked out in glad and everlasting light;
No, nor that ev'n the insolent ships from far
Brought war to no new lands, nor riches worse than war:
But solely that that vain
And breath-invented pain,
That idol of mistakes, that worshipped cheat,
That Honour,—since so called
By vulgar minds appalled,
Played not the tyrant with our nature yet.
It had not come to fret
The sweet and happy fold
Of gentle human-kind;
Nor did its hard law bind
Souls nursed in freedom; but that law of gold,
That glad and golden law, all free, all fitted,
Which Nature's own hand wrote,—What pleases, is permitted.

Then among streams and flowers
The little winged Powers
Went singing carols without torch or bow:
The nymphs and shepherds sat
Mingling with innocent chat
Sports and low whispers; and with whispers low
Kisses that would not go.
The maiden, budding o'er,
Kept not her bloom uneyed,
Which now a veil must hide,
Nor the crisp apples which her bosom bore:
And oftentimes, in river or in lake,
The lover and his love their merry bath would take.

'Twas thou, thou, Honour, first
That didst deny our thirst
Its drink, and on the fount thy covering set:
Thou bad'st kind eyes withdraw
Into constrained awe,
And keep the secret for their tears to wet:
Thou gatheredst in a net
The tresses from the air,
And mad'st the sports and plays
Turn all to sullen ways,
And put'st on speech a rein, in steps a care.
Thy work it is,—thou shade that wilt not move,—
That what was once the gift, is now the theft of Love.

Our sorrows and our pains,
These are thy noble gains!
But oh, thou Love's and Nature's masterer,
Thou conq'ror of the crowned,
What dost thou on this ground,
Too small a circle for thy mighty sphere?
Go and make slumber dear
To the renowned and high:
We here, a lowly race,
Can live without thy grace,
After the use of mild antiquity.
Go; let us love: since years
No trace allow, and life soon disappears.
Go; let us love: the daylight dies, is born;
But unto us the light
Dies once for all; and sleep brings on eternal night.