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Hippomenes and Atalanta

Hippomenes alone with hope inspir'd,
Might well rejoice to find his wishes fir'd,
Since well assur'd of all his wish desired.
His passion was of life, and soul, and flame,
He dauntless to the fatal barriers came:
With joy his vanquished rivals he beheld,
Assur'd to win, when all besides had failed.
He saw the lovely nymph outfly the wind,
And leave her breathless suitors far behind;
Saw Atalanta swift as lightning pass,
Yet soft as Zephyrs, sweep along the grass.
He knew the law, whose cruelty decreed,
That ev'ry youth who lost the race should bleed.
Yet if, like them, he could not run so fast,
He saw her worth the dying for at last.
Her ev'ry charm his praise and wonder mov'd,
And still the more he praised, the more he lov'd,
Now had he viewed the last unhappy strife,
And seen the vanquished youth resign his life;
When with his love transported, from his place,
Lest any other first should claim the race,
Rising he runs, regardless of their fate,
And presses where the panting maiden sat,
With eyes all sparkling with his hope and love,
And such a look, as could not fail to move;
"Tell me (he cries) why, barb'rous beauty, why
Are you so pleased to see these wretches die ?
Why have you with my feeble rivals strove,
Betray'd to death by their too daring love?
With me a less unequal race begin,
With me exert your utmost speed to win;
By my defeat you will your conquest crown,
And in my fall establish your renown:
Then undisturb'd you may your conquests boast,
For none will dare to strive when I have lost."
Thus while the prince his bold defiance spoke,
She eyes him with a soft relenting look.
Already does his distant fate deplore,
Concern'd for him, though ne'er concern'd before.
Doubtful she stands, and knows not what to choose,
And cannot wish to win, nor yet to lose,
But murmurs to herself; " Ye powers divine,
How hard, alas! a destiny is mine!
Why must I longer such a law obey,
And daily throw so many lives away?
Why must I by their deaths my nuptials shun!
Or else by marrying be myself undone?
Why must I still my cruelty pursue?
Why must a prince, so charming, perish too?
Such is his youth, his beauty, valour such,
E'en to myself I seem not worth so much.
Fly, lovely stranger, 'ere 'tis yet too late.
Fly from thy too, ah! too, too certain fate.
I would not send thee hence, I would not give
Such a command; couldst thou but stay, and live.
Thou with some fairer maid wilt happier be:
The fairest maid might be in love with thee.
So many suitors have already bled,
Who rashly ventured for my nuptial bed,
I fear lest thou shouldst run like them in vain,
Shouldst lose like them, and, ah! like them be slain.
Yet why should he alone my pity move?
It is but pity sure; it is not love.
I wish, bold youth, thou wouldst the race decline,
Or rather wish thy speed could equal mine.
Would thou hadst never seen this fatal place,
Nor I, alas! thy too, too charming face.
Were I by rig'rous fate allow'd to wed,
Thou shouldst alone enjoy, and bless my bed.
Were it but left to my own partial choice,
Of all mankind thou shouldst obtain my voice."
Twas here she paus'd; when urg'd with long delay,
The trumpets sound to hasten them away.
Straight at the summons is the race begun,
And side by side for some short time they run.
While the spectators from the barriers cry,
"Fly, prosp'rous youth, with all thy vigour fly:
Make haste, make haste, thy utmost speed enforce,
Love gives the wings to win the noble course.
See how unwillingly the virgin flies,
Pursue, and save thy life, and seize the prize."
'Tis doubtful yet, whether the general voice
Made the glad youth or virgin most rejoice.
Oft, in the swiftest fury of the race,
The nymph would slacken her impetuous pace,
And halt, and gaze, and almost fasten on his face.
Then fleet away again, as swift as wind,
Not without sighs to leave him so behind.
By this he saw his strength would ne'er prevail,
But still he had a charm that could not fail.
From his loose robe a golden apple drawn,
With force he hurl'd along the flowery lawn.
Straight at the sight the virgin could not hold,
But starts aside to catch the shining gold.
He takes the wished occasion, passes by,
While all the field resounded shouts of joy.
This she recovers with redoubled haste,
Till he far off the second apple cast.
Again the nymph diverts her near pursuit,
And running back secures the tempting fruit:
But her strange speed recovers her again,
Again the foremost in the flowery plain.
Now near the goal he summons all his might,
And prays to Venus to direct him right,
With his last apple to retard her flight.
Though sure to lose if she the race declin'd,
For such a bribe the vict'ry she resigned.
Pleas'd that she'd lost, to the glad victor's arms
She gives the prize, and yields her dear-bought charms.
He by resistless gold the conquest gain'd,
In vain he ran, till that the race obtain'd.
Possess'd of that, he could not but subdue,
For gold, alas! would conquer Delia too.
Yet oh ! thou best belov'd, thou loveliest maid,
Be not by too much avarice betray'd.
Prize thyself high, no easy purchase prove,
Nor let a fool with fortune be thy love.
Like Atalanta's conqueror let him be,
Brave, generous, young. from every failing free,
And to complete him let him love like me.
What pains against my wretched self I take
E'en I myself my jealousies awake.
Such men there are, bless'd with such gifts divine,
Who if they knew thee, would be surely thine.

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