Elegy I: The Poet deliberates with himself whether he should continue writing elegies, or attempt tragedy.Unhurt by steel, arose an ancient wood,
A mansion fit for some retiring god;
With craggy stones a secret grot was hung,
And in the midst a sacred fountain sprung;
The courting birds repeating songs of love,
With soft complainings sweetly fill'd the grove:
Here wand'ring thoughtful, and intent to choose
Some theme unsung, to please the busy muse;
Fair elegy came on with gentle pace,
Unforc'd her air and easy was her grace.
Her flaxen hair, in curious tresses wreath'd,
Ambrosial sweets and heav'nly odours breath'd;
A simple dress the careless charmer bore,
And loving looks, and smiles unartful wore.
Next came the goddess of the tragic scene,
With stately tread, and proud majestic mien
Her front severe, with hanging curls was drown'd,
Her length of robe was full, and swept the ground:
Her hand held out, a regal sceptre grac'd,
And Lydian buskins half her legs embrac'd.
She first; "Must love for ever tune thy voice,
Fond idle bard, and trifling in thy choice
Thy wanton songs employ the drunkard's tongue,
In ev'ry street thy ribald lays are sung;
The finger marks thee in thy passing by,
'Behold, where goes the slave of love,' they cry.
Thy lewd exploits, thou profligate, are grown
The public theme, and talk of all the town;
Whilst unconcern'd, and lost to sense of shame,
Thou still runn'st on nor mind'st thy ruin'd fame.
Enough thou'st told the plaints of fond desire,
Now let a nobler inspiration fire;
Thy matter cramps thy genius, learn to find
A manly subject, and exert thy mind.
In songs for girls, fond toys, and idle play,
Thy muse has wanton'd all her hours away.
But youth at length has fill'd its measure up;
My friend, 'tis time to taste of t'other cup.
Now in my service let thy force be shown,
Assert my honour, and retrieve thy own;
Thy sprightly fancy, and inventive wit,
The lofty style of tragic scenes will fit."
She said; and proudly rising in her gait,
Thrice shook her tresses, and display'd her state.
With open look (nor was my sight beguil'd)
And joyous eyes her rival sweetly smil'd;
Sustain'd her hand a myrtle branch upright?
Or did my fancy form the charming sight?
"Still so severe, 0, tragedy ! (she cried);
And canst thou ne'er forego thy sullen pride?
I not compare my lowly lays to thine;
Too weak materials for the vast design.
The style unlabour'd, negligent the dress,
My verse is humbler, and my matter less.
Gay, wanton, soft, my business is to move,
With melting strains, the playful god of love.
Bereft of me, fair Venus wants her charms,
I help the goddess, and prepare her arms.
My luring art, and soothing lays prevail,
Where lofty port, and tragic buskins fail.
I more deserve, by making that my care,
Thy rigid pride allows not thee to bear:
By me, Corinna first was taught to try
Tobreak from prison, and deceive the spy;
I first induc'd the fearful fair to slide
With tremb'ling caution from her husband's side;
When to thy arms, all loose, and disarray'd,
Prepar'd for pleasure, flew the melting maid.
Fix'd on her door, how oft I've hung on high,
Expos'd, and patient of each gazing eye !
How oft, in secret, while the keeper stay'd,
Within her woman's panting bosom laid !
Once sent a birthday gift, the cruel dame
In pieces tore, and gave me to the flame.
I taught thee first to cultivate thy mind;
Thy fancy brightened, and thy wit refin'd;
Thou to my care those merits must allow,
For which my rival would seduce thee now;"
They spoke. I answer'd, "Let me both conjure
To spare a mind with terrors unsecure;
Nor to my charge, when once pronounc'd, be laid
As crimes, the words my trembling tongue has said.
To gain me glory, thy decrees ordain
The regal sceptre and the tragic strain;
With painful labour need I toil for fame,
When easier tasks already raise my name?
Thou mak'st my love immortal; thee I choose:
Be thou my queen, and still command my muse.
Majestic pow'r, forgive my simple choice,
Thy gentle rival has obtain'd my voice.
Short is the time in which her palm is won;
Ere thine is gain'd, the poet's life is done."
I lowly said: she gracious gave assent,
And diff'rent ways the parting rivals went.
Ye gentle loves, complete the work assign'd,
A greater labour seems to press behind.