Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Cinyras and Myrrha,
Out of the Tenth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
          There 1 needs no connection of this Story with the Former: for the Beginning of This immediately follows the End of the Last: The Reader is only to take notice, that Orpheus, who relates both, was by Birth a Thracian; and his Country far distant from Cyprus, where Myrrha was born, and from Arabia, whither she fled. You will see the Reason of this Note, soon after the first Lines of this Fable.

NOR him alone produc’d the fruitful Queen;
But Cinyras, who like his Sire had been
A happy Prince, had he not been a Sire.
Daughters and Fathers from my Song retire;
I sing of Horrour; and could I prevail,        5
You shou’d not hear, or not believe my Tale.
Yet if the Pleasure of my Song be such,
That you will hear, and credit me too much,
Attentive listen to the last Event,
And with the Sin believe the Punishment:        10
Since Nature cou’d behold so dire a Crime,
I gratulate at least my Native Clime,
That such a Land, which such a Monster bore,
So far is distant from our Thracian Shore.
Let Araby extol her happy Coast,        15
Her Cinamon and sweet Amomum boast,
Her fragrant Flow’rs, her Trees with precious Tears,
Her second Harvests, and her double Years;
How can the Land be call’d so bless’d that Myrrha bears?
Not all her od’rous Tears can cleanse her Crime,        20
Her Plant alone deforms the happy Clime.
Cupid denies to have inflam’d thy Heart,
Disowns thy Love, and vindicates his Dart
Some Fury gave thee those infernal Pains,
And shot her venom’d Vipers in thy Veins        25
To hate thy Sire, had merited a Curse;
But such an impious Love deserv’d a worse.
The Neighb’ring Monarchs, by thy Beauty led,
Contend in Crowds, ambitious of thy Bed:
The World is at thy Choice, except but one,        30
Except but him thou canst not chuse alone.
She knew it too, the miserable Maid,
E’er impious Love her better Thoughts betray’d,
And thus within her secret Soul she said:
Ah Myrrha! whither wou’d thy Wishes tend?        35
Ye Gods, ye sacred Laws, my Soul defend
From such a Crime, as all Mankind detest,
And never lodg’d before in Humane Breast!
But is it Sin? Or makes my Mind alone
Th’ imagin’d Sin? For Nature makes it none.        40
What Tyrant then these envious Laws began,
Made not for any other Beast, but Man!
The Father-Bull his Daughter may bestride,
The Horse may make his Mother-Mare a Bride;
What Piety forbids the lusty Ram,        45
Or more salacious Goat, to rut their Dam?
The Hen is free to wed her Chick she bore,
And make a Husband, whom she hatch’d before.
All Creatures else are of a happier Kind,
Whom nor ill-natur’d Laws from Pleasure bind,        50
Nor Thoughts of Sin disturb their Peace of Mind.
But Man, a Slave of his own making lives:
The Fool denies himself what Nature gives:
Too busie Senates, with an over-care
To make us better than our Kind can bear,        55
Have dash’d a Spice of Envy in the Laws,
And straining up too high, have spoil’d the Cause.
Yet some wise Nations break their cruel Chains,
And own no Laws, but those which Love ordains:
Where happy Daughters with their Sires are join’d,        60
And Piety is doubly paid in Kind.
O that I had been born in such a Clime,
Not here, where ’tis the Country makes the Crime!
But whither wou’d my impious Fancy stray?
Hence Hopes, and ye forbidden Thoughts away!        65
His Worth deserves to kindle my Desires,
But with the Love, that Daughters bear to Sires.
Then had not Cinyras my Father been,
What hinder’d Myrrha’s Hopes to be his Queen?
But the Perverseness of my Fate is such,        70
That he’s not mine, because he’s mine too much:
Our Kindred-Blood debars a better Tie;
He might be nearer, were he not so nigh.
Eyes and their Objects never must unite,
Some Distance is requir’d to help the Sight:        75
Fain wou’d I travel to some Foreign Shore,
Never to see my Native Country more,
So might I to my self my self restore;
So might my Mind these impious Thoughts remove,
And ceasing to behold, might cease to love.        80
But stay I must, to feed my famish’d Sight,
To talk, to kiss; and more, if more I might:
More, impious Maid! What more canst thou design,
To make a monstrous Mixture in thy Line,
And break all Statutes Humane and Divine?        85
Canst thou be call’d (to save thy wretched Life)
Thy Mother’s Rival, and thy Father’s Wife?
Confound so many sacred Names in one,
Thy Brother’s Mother, Sister to thy Son!
And fear’st thou not to see th’ Infernal Bands,        90
Their Heads with Snakes, with Torches arm’d their Hands,
Full at thy Face th’ avenging Brands to bear,
And shake the Serpents from their hissing Hair?
But thou in time th’ increasing Ill controul,
Nor first debauch the Body by the Soul;        95
Secure the sacred Quiet of thy Mind,
And keep the Sanctions Nature has design’d.
Suppose I shou’d attempt, th’ Attempt were vain;
No Thoughts like mine his sinless Soul profane:
Observant of the Right; and O, that he        100
Cou’d cure my Madness, or be mad like me!
  Thus she: But Cinyras, who daily sees
A Crowd of Noble Suitors at his Knees,
Among so many, knew not whom to chuse,
Irresolute to grant, or to refuse.        105
But having told their Names, enquir’d of her,
Who pleas’d her best, and whom she would prefer?
The blushing Maid stood silent with Surprize,
And on her Father fix’d her ardent Eyes,
And looking sigh’d; and as she sigh’d, began        110
Round Tears to shed, that scalded as they ran.
The tender Sire, who saw her blush, and cry,
Ascrib’d it all to Maiden-modesty;
And dry’d the falling Drops, and yet more kind,
He strok’d her Cheeks, and holy Kisses join’d:        115
She felt a secret Venom fire her Blood,
And found more Pleasure than a Daughter shou’d;
And, ask’d again, what Lover of the Crew
She lik’d the best; she answer’d, One like you.
Mistaking what she meant, her pious Will        120
He prais’d, and bad her so continue still:
The Word of Pious heard, she blush’d with shame
Of secret Guilt, and cou’d not bear the Name.
  ’Twas now the mid of Night, when Slumbers close
Our Eyes, and sooth our Cares with soft Repose;        125
But no Repose cou’d wretched Myrrha find,
Her Body rouling, as she rould her Mind:
Mad with Desire, she ruminates her Sin,
And wishes all her Wishes o’er again:
Now she despairs, and now resolves to try;        130
Wou’d not, and wou’d again, she knows not why;
Stops and returns, makes and retracts the Vow;
Fain wou’d begin, but understands not how:
As when a Pine is hew’d upon the Plains,
And the last mortal Stroke alone remains,        135
Lab’ring in Pangs of Death, and threatning all,
This way, and that she nods, consid’ring where to fall:
So Myrrha’s Mind, impell’d on either Side,
Takes ev’ry Bent, but cannot long abide:
Irresolute on which she shou’d relie,        140
At last unfix’d in all, is only fix’d to die;
On that sad Thought she rests; resolv’d on Death,
She rises, and prepares to choak her Breath:
Then while about the Beam her Zone she ties,
Dear Cinyras, farewell, she softly cries;        145
For thee I die, and only wish to be
Not hated, when thou know’st I die for thee:
Pardon the Crime, in pity to the Cause:
This said, about her Neck the Noose she draws.
The Nurse, who lay without, her faithful Guard,        150
Though not the Words, the Murmurs overheard,
And Sighs, and hollow Sounds: Surpriz’d with Fright,
She starts, and leaves her Bed, and springs a Light;
Unlocks the Door, and entring out of Breath,
The Dying saw, and Instruments of Death;        155
She shrieks, she cuts the Zone, with trembling haste,
And in her Arms her fainting Charge embrac’d:
Next, (for she now had leisure for her Tears)
She weeping ask’d, in these her blooming Years,
What unforeseen Misfortune caus’d her Care,        160
To loath her Life, and languish in Despair!
The Maid, with down-cast Eyes, and mute with Grief,
For Death unfinish’d, and ill-tim’d Relief,
Stood sullen to her Suit: The Beldame press’d
The more to know, and bar’d her wither’d Breast;        165
Adjur’d her, by the kindly Food she drew
From those dry Founts, her secret Ill to shew.
Sad Myrrha sigh’d, and turn’d her Eyes aside:
The Nurse still urg’d, and wou’d not be deny’d:
Nor only promis’d Secresie; but pray’d        170
She might have leave to give her offer’d Aid.
Good-will, she said, my want of Strength supplies,
And Diligence shall give, what Age denies:
If strong Desires thy Mind to Fury move,
With Charms and Med’cines I can cure thy Love:        175
If Envious eyes their hurtful Rays have cast,
More pow’rful Verse shall free thee from the Blast:
If Heav’d offended sends thee this Disease,
Offended Heav’n with Pray’rs we can appease.
What then remains, that can these Cares procure?        180
Thy House is flourishing, thy Fortune sure:
Thy careful Mother yet in Health survives,
And, to thy Comfort, thy kind Father lives.
The Virgin started at her Father’s Name,
And sigh’d profoundly, conscious of the Shame:        185
Nor yet the Nurse her impious Love divin’d;
But yet surmis’d, that Love disturb’d her Mind:
Thus thinking, she pursu’d her Point, and laid
And lull’d within her Lap the mourning Maid;
Then softly sooth’d her thus, I guess your Grief:        190
You love, my Child; your Love shall find Relief.
My long-experienc’d Age shall be your Guide;
Rely on that, and lay Distrust aside:
No Breath of Air shall on the Secret blow,
Nor shall (what most you fear) your Father know.        195
Struck once again, as with a Thunder-clap,
The guilty Virgin bounded from her Lap,
And threw her Body prostrate on the Bed,
And, to conceal her Blushes, hid her Head:
There silent lay, and warn’d her with her Hand        200
To go: But she receiv’d not the Command;
Remaining still importunate to know:
Then Myrrha thus; Or ask no more, or go:
I prethee go, or staying spare my Shame;
What thou wou’dst hear, is impious ev’n to name.        205
At this, on high the Beldame holds her Hands,
And trembling, both with Age and Terrour, stands;
Adjures, and falling at her Feet intreats,
Sooths her with Blandishments, and frights with Threats,
To tell the Crime intended, or disclose        210
What Part of it she knew, if she no farther knows:
And last, if conscious to her Counsel made,
Confirms anew the Promise of her Aid.
Now Myrrha rais’d her Head; but soon oppress’d
With Shame, reclin’d it on her Nurses Breast;        215
Bath’d it with Tears, and strove to have confess’d:
Twice she began and stopp’d; again she try’d;
The falt’ring Tongue its Office still deny’d:
At last her Veil before her Face she spread,
And drew a long preluding Sigh, and said,        220
O happy mother, in thy Marriage-bed!
Then groan’d and ceas’d; the good Old Woman shook,
Stiff were her Eyes, and ghastly was her Look:
Her hoary Hair upright with Horrour stood,
Made (to her Grief) more knowing than she wou’d:        225
Much she reproach’d and many Things she said,
To cure the Madness of th’ unhappy Maid:
In vain: For Myrrha stood convict of Ill;
Her Reason vanquish’d, but unchang’d her Will:
Perverse of Mind, unable to reply,        230
She stood resolv’d or to possess, or die.
At length the Fondness of a Nurse prevail’d
Against her better Sense, and Vertue fail’d:
Enjoy, my Child, since such is thy Desire,
Thy Love, she said; she durst not say, thy Sire.        235
Live, though unhappy, live on any Terms:
Then with a second Oath her Faith confirms.
  The Solemn Feast of Ceres now was near,
When long white Linen Stoles the Matrons wear;
Rank’d in Procession walk the pious Train,        240
Off’ring First-fruits, and Spikes of yellow Grain:
For nine long Nights the Nuptial-bed they shun,
And, sanctifying Harvest, lie alone.
  Mix’d with the Crowd, the Queen forsook her Lord,
And Ceres Pow’r with secret Rites ador’d:        245
The Royal Couch now vacant for a time,
The crafty Crone, officious in her Crime,
The curst Occasion took: The King she found
Easie with Wine, and deep in Pleasures 2 drown’d,
Prepar’d for Love: The Beldame blew the Flame,        250
Confess’d the Passion, but conceal’d the Name.
Her Form she prais’d; the Monarch ask’d her Years,
And she reply’d, The same thy Myrrha bears.
Wine and commended Beauty fir’d his Thought;
Impatient, he commands her to be brought.        255
Pleas’d with her Charge perform’d, she hies her home,
And gratulates the Nymph, the Task was overcome.
Myrrha was joy’d the welcom News to hear;
But clogg’d with Guilt, the Joy was unsincere: 3
So various, so discordant is the Mind,        260
That in our Will, a diff’rent Will we find.
Ill she presag’d, and yet pursu’d her Lust;
For guilty Pleasures give a double Gust.
’Twas Depth of Night: Arctophylax had driv’n
His lazy Wain half round the Northern Heav’n,        265
When Myrrha hasten’d to the Crime desir’d;
The Moon beheld her first, and first retir’d:
The Stars amaz’d, ran backward from the Sight,
And (shrunk within their Sockets) lost their Light.
Icarius first withdraws his holy Flame:        270
The Virgin Sign, in Heav’n the second Name,
Slides down the Belt, and from her Station flies,
And Night with Sable Clouds involves the Skies.
Bold Myrrha still pursues her black Intent:
She stumbl’d thrice (an Omen of th’Event);        275
Thrice shriek’d the Fun’ral Owl, yet on she went,
Secure of Shame, because secure of Sight;
Ev’n bashful Sins are impudent by Night.
Link’d Hand in Hand, th’ Accomplice and the Dame,
Their Way exploring, to the Chamber came:        280
The Door was ope, they blindly grope their Way,
Where dark in Bed th’ expecting Monarch lay:
Thus far her Courage held, but here forsakes;
Her faint Knees knock at ev’ry Step she makes.
The nearer to her Crime, the more within        285
She feels Remorse, and Horrour of her Sin;
Repents too late her criminal Desire,
And wishes, that unknown she cou’d retire.
Her, lingring thus, the Nurse (who fear’d Delay
The fatal Secret might at length betray)        290
Pull’d forward, to compleat the Work begun,
And said to Cinyras, Receive thy own:
Thus saying, she deliver’d Kind to Kind,
Accurs’d, and their devoted Bodies join’d.
The Sire, unknowing of the Crime, admits        295
His Bowels, and profanes the hallow’d Sheets.
He found she trembl’d, but believ’d she strove,
With Maiden-Modesty, against her Love,
And sought with flatt’ring Words vain Fancies to remove.
Perhaps he said, My Daughter, cease thy Fears,        300
(Because the Title suited with her Years;)
And, Father, she might whisper him agen,
That Names might not be wanting to the Sin.
Full of her Sire, she left th’ incestuous Bed,
And carry’d in her Womb the Crime she bred:        305
Another, and another Night she came;
For frequent Sin had left no Sense of Shame:
Till Cinyras desir’d to see her Face,
Whose Body he had held in close Embrace,
And brought a Taper; the Revealer, Light,        310
Expos’d both Crime, and Criminal to Sight:
Grief, Rage, Amazement, cou’d no Speech afford,
But from the Sheath he drew th’ avenging Sword;
The Guilty fled: The Benefit of Night,
That favour’d first the Sin, secur’d the Flight.        315
Long wandring through the spacious Fields, she bent
Her Voyage to th’ Arabian Continent;
Then pass’d the Region which Panchæa join’d,
And flying, left the Palmy Plains behind.
Nine times the Moon had mew’d her Horns; at length        320
With Travel weary, unsupply’d with Strength,
And with the Burden of her Womb oppress’d,
Sabæan Fields afford her needful Rest:
There, loathing Life, and yet of Death afraid.
In Anguish of her Spirit, thus she pray’d.        325
Ye Pow’rs, if any so propitious are
T’ accept my Penitence, and hear my Pray’r,
Your Judgments, I confess, are justly sent;
Great Sins deserve as great a Punishment:
Yet since my Life the Living will profane,        330
And since my Death the happy Dead will stain,
A middle State your Mercy may bestow,
Betwixt the Realms above, and those below:
Some other Form to wretched Myrrha give,
Nor let her wholly die, nor wholly live.        335
The Pray’rs of Penitents are never vain;
At least, she did her last Request obtain;
For while she spoke, the Ground began to rise,
And gather’d round her Feet, her Leggs, and Thighs;
Her Toes in Roots descend, and spreading wide,        340
A firm Foundation for the Trunk provide:
Her solid Bones convert to solid Wood,
To Pith her Marrow, and to Sap her Blood:
Her Arms are Boughs, her Fingers change their Kind,
Her tender Skin is harden’d into Rind.        345
And now the rising Tree her Womb invests,
Now, shooting upwards still, invades her Breasts,
And shades the Neck; when, 4 weary with Delay,
She sunk her Head within, and met it half the Way.
And though with outward Shape she lost her Sense,        350
With bitter Tears she wept her last Offence;
And still she weeps, nor sheds her Tears in vain;
For still the precious Drops her Name retain.
Meantime the mis-begotten Infant grows,
And, ripe for Birth, distends with deadly Throws        355
The swelling Rind, with unavailing Strife,
To leave the wooden Womb, and pushes into Life.
The Mother-Tree, as if oppress’d with Pain,
Writhes here and there, to break the Bark, in vain;
And, like a Lab’ring Woman, wou’d have pray’d,        360
But wants a Voice to call Lucina’s Aid:
The bending Bole sends out a hollow Sound,
And trickling Tears fall thicker on the Ground.
The mild Lucina came uncall’d, and stood
Beside the struggling Boughs, and heard the groaning Wood:        365
Then reach’d her Midwife-Hand, to speed the Throws,
And spoke the pow’rful Spells that Babes to Birth disclose.
The Bark divides, the living Load to free,
And safe delivers the Convulsive Tree.
The ready Nymphs receive the crying Child,        370
And wash him in the Tears the Parent-Plant distill’d.
They swath’d him with their Scarfs; beneath him spread
The Ground with Herbs; with Roses rais’d his Head.
The lovely Babe was born with ev’ry Grace:
Ev’n Envy must have prais’d so fair a Face:        375
Such was his Form, as Painters when they show
Their utmost Art, on naked Loves bestow:
And that their Arms no Diff’rence might betray,
Give him a Bow, or his from Cupid take away.
Time glides along, with undiscover’d haste,        380
The Future but a Length behind the past:
So swift are Years: The Babe, whom just before
His Grandsire got, and whom his Sister bore;
The Drop, the Thing which late the Tree inclos’d,
And late the yawning Bark to Life expos’d;        385
A Babe, a Boy, a beauteous Youth appears;
And lovelier than himself at riper Years.
Now to the Queen of Love he gave Desires,
And, with her Pains, reveng’d his Mother’s Fires.
Note 1. Text from the original edition of 1700. [back]
Note 2. Pleasures] Some editors wrongly give Pleasure. [back]
Note 3. unsincere] Some editors print insincere. [back]
Note 4. when] The English editors wrongly give and. [back]

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