Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Ceyx and Alcyone,
Out of the Eleventh Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Connexion of This Fable with the Former
  Ceyx, 1 the Son of Lucifer, (the Morning Star) and King of Trachin in Thessaly, was married to Alcyone, Daughter to Æolus, God of the Winds. Both the Husband and the Wife lov’d each other with an entire Affection. Dædalion, the Elder Brother of Ceyx (whom he succeeded) having been turn’d into a Falcon by Apollo, and Chione, Dædalion’s Daughter, slain by Diana, Ceyx prepares a Ship to sail to Claros, there to consult the Oracle of Apollo, and (as Ovid seems to intimate) to enquire how the Anger of the Gods might be atton’d.

THESE Prodigies affect the pious Prince,
But more perplex’d with those that happen’d since,
He purposes to seek the Clarian God,
Avoiding Delphos, his more fam’d Abode;
Since Phlegyan Robbers made unsafe the Road.        5
Yet cou’d not he from her he lov’d so well,
The fatal Voyage, he resolv’d, conceal:
But when she saw her Lord prepar’d to part,
A deadly Cold ran shiv’ring to her Heart:
Her faded Cheeks are chang’d to Boxen Hue,        10
And in her Eyes the Tears are ever new:
She thrice assay’d to Speak; her Accents hung,
And faltring dy’d unfinish’d on her Tongue,
Or vanish’d into Sighs: With long delay
Her Voice return’d; and found the wonted way.        15
  Tell me, my Lord, she said, what Fault unknown
Thy once belov’d Alcyone has done?
Whether, ah whether 2 is thy Kindness gone!
Can Ceyx then sustain to leave his Wife,
And unconcern’d forsake the Sweets of Life?        20
What can thy Mind to this long Journey move,
Or need’st thou absence to renew thy Love?
Yet, if thou go’st by Land, tho’ Grief possess
My Soul ev’n then, my Fears will be the less.
But ah! be warn’d to shun the Watry Way,        25
The Face is frightful of the stormy Sea.
For late I saw a-drift disjointed Planks,
And empty Tombs erected on the Banks.
Nor let false Hopes to trust betray thy Mind,
Because my Sire in Caves constrains the Wind,        30
Can with a Breath their clam’rous Rage appease,
They fear his Whistle, and forsake the Seas;
Not so, for, once indulg’d, they sweep the Main,
Deaf to the Call, or, hearing hear in vain;
But bent on Mischief bear the Waves before,        35
And not content with Seas insult the Shoar,
When Ocean, Air, and Earth, at once ingage,
And rooted Forrests fly before their Rage:
At once the clashing Clouds to Battle move,
And Lightnings run across the Fields above:        40
I know them well, and mark’d their rude Comport,
While yet a Child, within my Father’s Court:
In times of Tempest they command alone,
And he but sits precarious on the Throne:
The more I know, the more my Fears augment,        45
And Fears are oft prophetick of th’ Event.
But if not Fears, or Reasons will prevail,
If Fate has fix’d thee obstinate to sail,
Go not without thy Wife, but let me bear
My part of Danger with an equal share,        50
And present, what I suffer only fear: 3
Then o’er the bounding Billows shall we fly,
Secure to live together, or to die.
  These Reasons mov’d her starlike Husband’s Heart,
But still he held his Purpose to depart:        55
For as he lov’d her equal to his Life,
He wou’d not to the Seas expose his Wife;
Nor cou’d be wrought his Voyage to refrain,
But sought by Arguments to sooth her Pain;
Nor these avail’d; at length he lights on one,        60
With which, so difficult a Cause he won:
My Love, so short an absence cease to fear,
For, by my Father’s holy Flame, I swear,
Before two Moons their Orb with Light adorn,
If Heav’n allow me Life, I will return.        65
  This Promise of so short a stay prevails:
He soon equips the Ship, supplies the Sails,
And gives the Word to launch; she trembling views
This pomp of Death, and parting Tears renews:
Last, with a Kiss, she took a long farewel,        70
Sigh’d, with a sad Presage, and swooning fell.
While Ceyx seeks Delays, the lusty Crew,
Rais’d on their Banks, their Oars in order drew
To their broad Breasts, the Ship with fury flew.
  The Queen recover’d rears her humid Eyes,        75
And first her Husband on the Poop espies
Shaking his Hand at distance on the Main;
She took the Sign; and shook her Hand again.
Still as the Ground recedes, contracts 4 her View
With sharpen’d Sight, till she no longer knew        80
The much-lov’d Face; that Comfort lost supplies
With less, and with the Galley feeds her Eyes;
The Galley born from view by rising Gales,
She follow’d with her Sight the flying Sails:
When ev’n the flying Sails were seen no more,        85
Forsaken of all Sight, she left the Shoar.
  Then on her Bridal-Bed her Body throws,
And sought in Sleep her weary’d Eyes to close.
Her Husband’s Pillow, and the Widow’d part
Which once he press’d, renew’d the former Smart.        90
  And now a Breeze from Shoar began to blow,
The Sailors ship their Oars, and cease to row;
Then hoist their Yards a-trip, and all their Sails
Let fall, to court the Wind, and catch the Gales:
By this the Vessel half her Course had run,        95
And as much rested till the rising Sun;
Both Shores were lost to Sight, when at the close
Of Day, a stiffer Gale at East arose:
The Sea grew White, the rowling Waves from far
Like Heralds first denounce the Watry War.        100
  This seen, the Master soon began to cry,
Strike, strike the Top-sail; let the Main-sheet fly,
And furl your Sails: The Winds repel the sound
And in the Speaker’s Mouth the Speech is drown’d.
Yet of their own accord, as Danger taught,        105
Each in his way, officiously they wrought;
Some stow their Oars, or stop the leaky Sides,
Another bolder yet the Yard bestrides,
And folds the Sails; a fourth with Labour, laves
Th’ intruding Seas, and Waves ejects on Waves.        110
  In this Confusion while their Work they ply,
The Winds augment the Winter of the Sky,
And wage intestine Wars; the suff’ring Seas
Are toss’d, and mingled as their Tyrants please.
The Master wou’d command, but in despair        115
Of Safety, stands amaz’d with stupid Care,
Nor what to bid, or what forbid he knows,
Th’ ungovern’d Tempest to such Fury grows:
Vain is his Force, and vainer is his Skill;
With such a Concourse comes the Flood of Ill:        120
The Cries of Men are mix’d with rattling Shrowds;
Seas dash on Seas, and Clouds encounter Clouds:
At once from East to West, from Pole to Pole,
The forky Lightnings flash, the roaring Thunders roul.
  Now Waves on Waves ascending scale the Skies,        125
And in the Fires above, the Water fries:
When yellow Sands are sifted from below,
The glitt’ring Billows give a golden Show:
And when the fouler bottom spews the Black,
The Stygian Dye the tainted Waters take:        130
Then frothy White appear the flatted Seas,
And change their Colour, changing their Disease.
Like various Fits the Trachin Vessel finds,
And now sublime, she rides upon the Winds;
As from a lofty Summet looks from high,        135
And from the Clouds beholds the neather Sky;
Now from the depth of Hell they lift their Sight,
And at a distance see superiour Light:
The lashing Billows make a loud report,
And beat her Sides, as batt’ring Rams, a Fort:        140
Or as a Lyon, bounding in his way,
With Force augmented bears against his Prey,
Sidelong to seize; or unappal’d with Fear
Springs on the Toils, and rushes on the Spear:
So Seas impell’d by Winds with added Pow’r        145
Assault the Sides, and o’er the Hatches tow’r.
  The Planks (their pitchy Cov’ring 5 wash’d away)
Now yield; and now a yawning Breach display:
The roaring Waters with a hostile Tide
Rush through the Ruins of her gaping Side.        150
Mean time in Sheets of Rain the Sky descends,
And Ocean swell’d with Waters upwards tends,
One rising, falling one, the Heav’ns, and Sea
Meet at their Confines, in the middle Way:
The Sails are drunk with Show’rs, and drop with Rain,        155
Sweet Waters mingle with the briny Main.
No Star appears to lend his friendly Light:
Darkness and Tempest make a double Night.
But flashing Fires disclose the Deep by turns,
And while the Light’nings blaze, the Water burns.        160
  Now all the Waves their scatter’d Force unite,
And as a Soldier, foremost in the Fight,
Makes way for others: And an Host alone,
Still presses on, and urging gains the Town;
So while th’ invading Billows come a-brest,        165
The Hero tenth advanc’d before the rest,
Sweeps all before him with impetuous Sway,
And from the Walls descends upon the Prey;
Part following enter, part remain without,
With Envy hear their Fellows conqu’ring Shout,        170
And mount on others Backs, in Hope to share
The City, thus become the Seat of War.
  An universal Cry resounds aloud,
The Sailors run in Heaps, a helpless Crowd;
Art fails, and Courage falls, no Succour near;        175
As many Waves, as many Deaths appear.
  One weeps, and yet despairs of late Relief;
One cannot weep, his Fears congeal his Grief,
But stupid, with dry Eyes expects his Fate.
One with loud Shrieks laments his lost Estate,        180
And calls those happy whom their Funerals wait.
This Wretch with Pray’rs and Vows the Gods implores,
And ev’n the Sky’s he cannot see, adores.
That other on his Friends his Thoughts bestows,
His careful Father, and his faithful Spouse.        185
The covetous Worlding in his anxious Mind
Thinks only on the Wealth he left behind.
  All Ceyx his Alcyone employs,
For her he grieves, yet in her absence joys:
His Wife he wishes, and wou’d still be near,        190
Not her with him, but wishes him with her:
Now with last Looks he seeks his Native Shoar,
Which Fate has destin’d him to see no more:
He sought, but in the dark tempestuous Night
He knew not whither to direct his Sight.        195
So whirl the Seas, such Darkness blinds the Sky,
That the black Night receives a deeper Dye.
  The giddy Ship ran round; the Tempest tore
Her Mast, and over-board the Rudder bore
One Billow mounts; and with a scornful Brow        200
Proud of her Conquest gain’d insults the Waves below;
Nor lighter falls, than if some Gyant tore
Pindus and Athos, with the Freight they bore,
And toss’d on Seas: press’d with the pondrous Blow
Down sinks the Ship within th’ Abyss below        205
Down with the Vessel sink into the Main
The many, never more to rise again.
Some few on scatter’d Planks with fruitless Care
Lay hold, and swim, but while they swim, despair.
  Ev’n he who late a Scepter did command        210
Now grasps a floating Fragment in his Hand,
And while he struggles on the stormy Main,
Invokes his Father, and his Wife’s, 6 in vain;
But yet his Consort is his greater Care;
Alcyone he names amidst his Pray’r,        215
Names as a Charm against the Waves, and Wind;
Most in his Mouth, and ever in his Mind:
Tir’d with his Toyl, all hopes of Safety past,
From Pray’rs to Wishes he descends at last:
That his dead Body, wafted to the Sands,        220
Might have its Burial from her Friendly Hands.
As oft as he can catch a gulp of Air,
And peep above the Seas, he names the Fair;
And ev’n when plung’d beneath, on her he raves,
Murm’ring Alcyone below the Waves:        225
At last a falling Billow stops his Breath,
Breaks o’er his Head, and whelms him underneath.
Bright Lucifer unlike himself appears
That Night, his heav’nly Form obscur’d with Tears,
And since he was forbid to leave the Skies,        230
He muffled with a Cloud his mournful Eyes.
  Mean time Alcyone (his Fate unknown)
Computes how many Nights he had been gone,
Observes the waning Moon with hourly View,
Numbers her Age, and wishes for a new;        235
Against the promis’d Time provides with care,
And hastens in the Woof the Robes he was to wear:
And for her Self employs another Loom,
New-dress’d to meet her Lord returning home,
Flatt’ring her Heart with Joys that never were to come:        240
She fum’d the Temples with an odrous Flame,
And oft before the sacred Altars came,
To pray for him, who was an empty Name.
All Pow’rs implor’d, but far above the rest
To Juno she her pious Vows address’d,        245
Her much-lov’d Lord from Perils to protect
And safe o’er Seas his Voyage to direct:
Then pray’d that she might still possess his Heart,
And no pretending Rival share a part;
This last Petition heard of all her Pray’r,        250
The rest dispers’d by Winds were lost in Air.
  But she, the Goddess of the Nuptial-Bed,
Tir’d with her vain Devotions for the Dead,
Resolv’d the tainted Hand should be repell’d,
Which Incense offer’d, and her Altar held:        255
Then Iris thus bespoke: Thou faithful Maid,
By whom thy 7 Queen’s Commands are well convey’d,
Haste to the House of Sleep, and bid the God
Who rules the Night by Visions with a Nod,
Prepare a Dream, in Figure and in Form        260
Resembling him who perish’d in the Storm:
This form before Alcyone present,
To make her certain of the sad Event.
  Indu’d with Robes of various Hew she flies,
And flying draws an Arch, (a segment of the Skies:)        265
Then leaves her bending Bow, and from the Steep
Descends to search the silent House of Sleep.
  Near the Cymmerians, in his dark Abode
Deep in a Cavern, dwells the drowzy God;
Whose gloomy Mansion nor the rising Sun        270
Nor setting, visits, nor the lightsome Noon:
But lazy Vapors round the Region fly,
Perpetual Twilight, and a doubtful Sky;
No crowing Cock does there his Wings display,
Nor with his horny Bill provoke the Day:        275
Nor watchful Dogs, nor the more wakeful Geese,
Disturb with nightly Noise the sacred Peace:
Nor Beast of Nature, nor the Tame are nigh,
Nor Trees with Tempests rock’d, nor human Cry;
But safe Repose without an Air of Breath        280
Dwells here, and a dumb Quiet next to Death.
  An Arm of Lethe with a gentle Flow
Arising upwards from the Rock below,
The Palace moats, and o’er the Pebbles creeps,
And with soft Murmers calls the coming Sleeps;        285
Around its Entry nodding Poppies grow,
And all cool Simples that sweet Rest bestow;
Night from the Plants their sleepy Virtue drains,
And passing, sheds it on the silent Plains:
No Door there was th’ unguarded House to keep,        290
On creaking Hinges turn’d, to break his Sleep.
  But in the gloomy Court was rais’d a Bed,
Stuff’d with black Plumes, and on an Ebonsted:
Black was the Cov’ring too, where lay the God
And slept supine, his Limbs display’d abroad:        295
About his Head fantastick Visions fly,
Which various Images of Things supply,
And mock their Forms, the Leaves on Trees not more,
Nor bearded Ears in Fields, nor Sands upon the Shore.
  The Virgin entring bright indulg’d the Day        300
To the brown Cave, and brush’d the Dreams away:
The God disturb’d with this new Glare of Light
Cast sudden on his Face, unseal’d his Sight,
And rais’d his tardy Head, which sunk agen,
And sinking on his Bosom knock’d his Chin:        305
At length shook off himself; and ask’d the Dame,
(And asking yawn’d) for what intent she came?
  To whom the Goddess thus: O sacred Rest,
Sweet pleasing Sleep, of all the Pow’rs the best!
O Peace of Mind, repairer of Decay,        310
Whose Balms renew the Limbs to Labours of the Day,
Care shuns thy soft approach, and sullen flies away!
Adorn a Dream, expressing human Form,
The Shape of him who suffer’d in the Storm,
And send it flitting to the Trachin Court,        315
The Wreck of wretched Ceyx to report:
Before his Queen bid the pale Spectre stand,
Who begs a vain Relief at Juno’s Hand.
She said, and scarce awake her Eyes cou’d keep,
Unable to support the Fumes of Sleep:        320
But fled returning by the way she went,
And swerv’d along her Bow with swift ascent.
  The God uneasy till he slept again
Resolv’d at once to rid himself of Pain;
And tho’ against his Custom, call’d aloud,        325
Exciting Morpheus from the sleepy Crowd:
Morpheus of all his numerous Train express’d
The Shape of Man, and imitated best;
The Walk, the Words, the Gesture cou’d supply,
The Habit mimick, and the Mien bely;        330
Plays well, but all his Action is confin’d;
Extending not beyond our human kind.
Another Birds, and Beasts, and Dragons apes,
And dreadful Images, and Monster shapes:
This Demon, Icelos, in Heav’ns high Hall        335
The Gods have nam’d; but men Phobetor call:
A third is Phantasus, whose Actions roul
On meaner Thoughts, and Things devoid of Soul;
Earth, Fruits and Flow’rs, he represents in Dreams,
And solid Rocks unmov’d, and running Streams:        340
These three to Kings, and Chiefs their Scenes display,
The rest before th’ ignoble Commons play:
Of these the chosen Morpheus is dispatch’d,
Which done, the lazy Monarch overwatch’d,
Down from his propping Elbow drops his Head,        345
Dissolv’d in Sleep, and shrinks within his Bed.
  Darkling 8 the Demon glides for Flight prepar’d,
So soft that scarce his fanning Wings are heard.
To Trachin, swift as Thought, the flitting Shade
Through Air his momentary Journey made:        350
Then lays aside the steerage of his Wings,
Forsakes his proper Form, assumes the King’s;
And pale as Death despoil’d of his Array
Into the Queen’s Apartment takes his way,
And stands before the Bed at dawn of Day:        355
Unmov’d his Eyes, and wet his Beard appears;
And shedding vain, but seeming real Tears;
The briny Water dropping from his Hairs;
Then staring on her, with a ghastly Look
And hollow Voice, he thus the Queen bespoke.        360
  Know’st thou not me? Not yet unhappy Wife?
Or are my Features perish’d with my Life?
Look once again, and for thy Husband lost,
Lo all that’s left of him, thy Husband’s Ghost!
Thy Vows for my return were all in vain;        365
The stormy South o’ertook us in the Main;
And never shalt thou see thy living 9 Lord again.
Bear witness Heav’n I call’d on thee in Death,
And while I call’d, a Billow stop’d my Breath:
Think not that flying Fame reports my Fate;        370
I present, I appear, and my own Wreck relate.
Rise wretched Widow, rise, nor undeplor’d
Permit my Ghost to pass the Stygian Ford:
But rise, prepar’d, in Black, to mourn thy perish’d Lord.
  Thus said the Player-God; and adding Art        375
Of Voice and Gesture, so perform’d his part,
She thought (so like her Love the Shade appears)
That Ceyx spake the Words, and Ceyx shed the Tears.
She groan’d, her inward Soul with Grief opprest,
She sigh’d, she wept; and sleeping beat her Breast:        380
Then stretch’d her Arms t’ embrace his Body bare,
Her clasping Arms inclose but empty Air:
At this not yet awake, she cry’d, O stay,
One is our Fate, and common is our way!
So dreadful was the Dream, so loud she spoke,        385
That starting sudden up, the Slumber broke:
Then cast her Eyes around in hope to view
Her vanish’d Lord, and find the Vision true:
For now the Maids, who waited her Commands,
Ran in with lighted Tapers in their Hands.        390
Tir’d with the Search, not finding what she seeks,
With cruel Blows she pounds her blubber’d Cheeks;
Then from her beaten Breast the Linnen tare,
And cut the golden Caull that bound her Hair.
Her Nurse demands the Cause; 10 with louder Cries        395
She prosecutes her Griefs, and thus replies.
  No more Alcyone; she suffer’d Death
With her lov’d Lord, when Ceyx lost his Breath:
No Flatt’ry, no false Comfort, give me none,
My Shipwreck’d Ceyx is for ever gone;        400
I saw, I saw him manifest in view,
His Voice, his Figure, and his Gestures knew:
His Lustre lost, and ev’ry living Grace,
Yet I retain’d the Features of his Face;
Though with pale Cheeks, wet Beard, and dropping Hair,        405
None but my Ceyx cou’d appear so fair:
I would have strain’d him with a strict Embrace,
But through my arms he slip’d, and vanish’d from the Place:
There, ev’n just there, he stood; and as she spoke
Where last the Spectre was, she cast her Look:        410
Fain wou’d she hope, and gaz’d upon the Ground
If any printed Footsteps might be found.
  Then sigh’d and said: This I too well foreknew,
And my prophetick Fear presag’d too true:
’Twas what I beg’d, when with a bleeding Heart        415
I took my leave, and suffer’d Thee to part,
Or I to go along, or Thou to stay,
Never, ah never to divide our way!
Happier for me, that all our Hours assign’d
Together we had liv’d; e’en not in Death disjoin’d!        420
So had my Ceyx still been living here,
Or with my Ceyx I had perish’d there:
Now I die absent, in the vast profound;
And Me without my Self the Seas have drown’d:
The Storms were not so cruel; should I strive        425
To lengthen Life, and such a Grief survive;
But neither will I strive, nor wretched Thee
In Death forsake, but keep thee Company.
If not one common Sepulcher contains
Our Bodies, or one Urn, our last Remains,        430
Yet Ceyx and Alcyone shall join,
Their Names remember’d in one common Line.
  No farther Voice her mighty Grief affords,
For Sighs come rushing in betwixt her Words,
And stop’d her Tongue; but what her Tongue deny’d,        435
Soft Tears, and Groans, and dumb Complaints supply’d.
  ’Twas Morning; to the Port she takes her way,
And stands upon the Margin of the Sea:
That Place, that very Spot of Ground she sought,
Or thither by her Destiny was brought;        440
Where last he stood: And while she sadly said
’T was here he left me, lingring here delay’d
His parting Kiss; and there his Anchors weigh’d.
  Thus speaking, while her Thoughts past Actions trace,
And call to mind admonish’d by the Place,        445
Sharp at her utmost Ken she cast her Eyes,
And somewhat floating from afar descries;
It seem’d a Corps adrift, to distant Sight,
But at a distance who could judge aright?
It wafted nearer yet, and then she knew        450
That what before she but surmis’d, was true:
A Corps it was, but whose it was, unknown,
Yet mov’d, howe’er, she made the Case her own:
Took the bad Omen of a shipwreck’d Man,
As for a Stranger wept, and thus began.        455
  Poor Wretch, on stormy Seas to lose thy Life,
Unhappy thou, but more thy widdow’d Wife!
At this she paus’d; for now the flowing Tide
Had brought the Body nearer to the side:
The more she looks, the more her Fears increase        460
At nearer Sight; and she’s her self the less:
Now driv’n ashore, and at her Feet it lies,
She knows too much, in knowing whom she sees:
Her Husband’s Corps; at this she loudly shrieks,
’Tis he, ’tis he, she cries, and tears her Cheeks,        465
Her Hair, her Vest, and stooping to the Sands
About his Neck she cast her trembling Hands.
  And is it thus, O dearer than my Life,
Thus, thus return’st Thou to thy longing Wife!
She said, and to the neighb’ring Mole she strode,        470
(Rais’d there to break th’ Incursions of the Flood;) 11
Headlong from hence to plunge her self she springs,
But shoots along supported on her Wings;
A Bird new-made about the Banks she plies,
Not far from Shore; and short Excursions tries;        475
Nor seeks in Air her humble Flight to raise,
Content to skim the Surface of the Seas:
Her Bill, tho’ slender, sends a creaking Noise,
And imitates a lamentable Voice:
Now lighting where the bloodless Body lies,        480
She with a Funeral Note renews her Cries.
At all her stretch her little Wings she spread,
And with her feather’d Arms embrac’d the Dead:
Then flick’ring to his palid Lips, she strove
To print a Kiss, the last essay of Love:        485
Whether the vital Touch reviv’d the Dead,
Or that the moving Waters rais’d his Head
To meet the Kiss, the Vulgar doubt alone;
For sure a present Miracle was shown.
The Gods their Shapes to Winter-Birds translate,        490
But both obnoxious to their former Fate.
Their conjugal Affection still is ty’d,
And still the mournful Race is multiply’d;
They bill, they tread; Alcyone compress’d
Sev’n days sits brooding on her floating Nest:        495
A wintry Queen: Her Sire at length is kind,
Calms ev’ry Storm, and hushes ev’ry Wind:
Prepares his Empire for his Daughter’s Ease,
And for his hatching Nephews smooths the Seas.
Note 1. Text from the original edition of 1700. [back]
Note 2. Whether … whether] The editors print Whither … whither. [back]
Note 3. what I suffer only fear] Some editors alter to suffer what I only fear improving the sense. [back]
Note 4. contracts] The English editors wrongly give retracts and Saintsbury even annotates the false reading. [back]
Note 5. Cov’ring] The English editors give coverings. [back]
Note 6. Wife’s] Though the reference is clearly to Æolus the English editors give Wife. [back]
Note 7. thy] The English editors wrongly give the. [back]
Note 8. Darkling] Darkling 1700. The printer took it for a demon’s name. [back]
Note 9. living] The editors wrongly give loving. [back]
Note 10. Cause; with] Cause with 1700. [back]
Note 11. A new paragraph 1700. [back]

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