Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Ovid’s Epistles: Canace to Macareus
  Macareus and Canace, Son and Daughter to Æolus, God of the Winds, lov’d each other Incestuously: Canace was delivered of a Son, and committed him to her Nurse, to be secretly convey’d away. The Infant crying out, by that means was discovered to Æolus, who, inraged at the wickedness of his Children, commanded the Babe to be exposed to Wild Beasts on the Mountains: And withal, sent a Sword to Canace, with this Message, That her Crimes would instruct her how to use it. With this Sword she slew her self: But before she died, she writ the following Letter to her Brother Macareus, who had taken Sanctuary in the Temple of Apollo.

IF streaming Blood my fatal Letter stain,
Imagine, e’re you read, the Writer slain;
One hand the Sword, and one the Pen imploys,
And in my lap the ready Paper lyes.
Think in this posture thou behold’st me Write:        5
In this my cruel Father wou’d delight.
O were he present, that his Eyes and Hands
Might see and urge the Death which he commands!
Than all his 1 raging Winds more dreadful, he,
Unmov’d, without a Tear, my Wounds wou’d see.        10
Jove justly plac’d him on a stormy Throne,
His Peoples temper is so like his own.
The North and South, and each contending Blast,
Are underneath his wide Dominion cast:
Those he can rule; but his tempestuous Mind        15
Is, like his airy Kingdom, unconfin’d.
Ah! what avail my Kindred Gods above,
That in their number I can reckon Jove!
What help will all my heav’nly Friends afford,
When to my Breast I lift the pointed Sword?        20
That Hour, which joyn’d us, came before its time:
In Death we had been one without a Crime,
Why did thy Flames beyond a Brothers move?
Why lov’d I thee with more than Sisters love?
For I lov’d too; and, knowing not my Wound,        25
A secret pleasure in thy Kisses found:
My Cheeks no longer did their Colour boast,
My Food grew loathsom, and my Strength I lost:
Still e’re I spoke, a Sigh wou’d stop my Tongue;
Short were my Slumbers, and my Nights were long.        30
I knew not from my Love these Griefs did grow,
Yet was, alas, the thing I did not know.
My wily Nurse, by long Experience found,
And first discover’d to my Soul its Wound.
’Tis Love, said she; and then my downcast eyes,        35
And guilty Dumbness, witness’d my Surprize.
Forc’d at the last, my shameful Pain I tell:
And, oh, what follow’d, we both know too well!
‘When half denying, more than half content,
‘Embraces warm’d me to a full Consent,        40
‘Then with tumultuous Joyes my Heart did beat,
‘And Guilt, that made them anxious, made them great.’
But now my swelling Womb heav’d up my Breast,
And rising weight my sinking Limbs opprest.
What Herbs, what Plants, did not my Nurse produce,        45
To make Abortion by their pow’rful Juice?
What Med’cines try’d we not, to thee unknown?
Our first Crime common; this was mine alone.
But the strong Child, secure in his dark Cell,
With Natures vigour, did our Arts repell.        50
And now the pale-fac’d Empress of the Night
Nine times had fill’d her Orb with borrow’d light:
Not knowing ’twas my Labour, I complain
Of sudden Shootings, and of grinding Pain
My Throws came thicker, and my cryes increast,        55
Which with her hand the conscious Nurse supprest.
To that unhappy Fortune was I come,
Pain urg’d my Clamours, but Fear kept me dumb.
With inward strugling I restrain’d my Cries,
And drunk the Tears that trickled from my Eyes.        60
Death was in Sight, Lucina gave no Aid;
And ev’n my dying had my Guilt betray’d.
Thou cam’st; And in thy Count’nance sate Despair;
Rent were thy Garments all, and torn thy Hair:
Yet, feigning comfort, which thou cou’dst not give,        65
(Prest in thy Arms, and whispr’ing me to live:)
For both our sakes, (said’st thou) preserve thy Life:
Live, my dear Sister, and my dearer Wife.
Rais’d by that Name, with my last Pangs I strove:
Such pow’r have Words, when spoke by those we love.        70
The Babe, as if he heard what thou hadst sworn,
With hasty Joy sprung forward to be born.
What helps it to have weather’d out one Storm?
Fear of our Father does another form.
High in his Hall, rock’d in a Chair of State,        75
The King with his tempestuous Council sate.
Through this large Room our only passage lay,
By which we cou’d the new-born Babe convey.
Swath’d in her lap, the bold Nurse bore him out,
With Olive branches cover’d round about;        80
And, mutt’ring Pray’rs, as holy Rites she meant,
Through the divided Crowd unquestion’d went.
Just at the Door, th’ unhappy Infant cry’d:
The Grandsire heard him, and the theft he spy’d.
Swift as a Whirl-wind to the Nurse he flyes,        85
And deafs his stormy Subjects with his cries.
With one fierce Puff he blows the leaves away:
Expos’d the self-discovered Infant lay.
The noise reach’d me, and my presaging Mind
Too soon its own approaching Woes divin’d.        90
Not Ships at Sea with Winds are shaken more,
Nor Seas themselves, when angry Tempests roar,
Than I, when my loud Father’s Voice I hear:
The Bed beneath me trembled with my Fear.
He rush’d upon me, and divulg’d my Stain;        95
Scarce from my Murther cou’d his hands refrain.
I only answer’d him with silent Tears;
They flow’d: my Tongue was frozen up with Fears.
His little Grand-child he commands away,
To Mountain Wolves and every Bird of prey.        100
The Babe cry’d out, as if he understood,
And beg’d his Pardon with what Voice he cou’d.
By what Expressions can my Grief be shown?
(Yet you may guess my Anguish by your own)
To see my Bowels, and, what yet was worse,        105
Your Bowels too, condemn’d to such a Curse!
Out went the King; my Voice its Freedom found,
My Breasts I beat, my blubber’d Cheeks I wound.
And now appear’d the Messenger of death;
Sad were his Looks, and scarce he drew his Breath,        110
To say, Your Father sends you—(with that word
His trembling hands presented me a Sword:)
Your Father sends you this; and lets you know,
That your own Crimes the use of it will show.
Too well I know the sence those Words impart:        115
His Present shall be treasur’d in my heart.
Are these the Nuptial Gifts a Bride receives?
And this the fatal Dow’r a Father gives?
Thou God of Marriage, shun thy own Disgrace,
And take thy Torch from this detested place:        120
Instead of that, let Furies light their brands,
And fire my Pile with their infernal Hands.
With happier Fortune may my Sisters wed;
Warn’d by the dire Example of the dead.
For thee, poor Babe, what Crime cou’d they pretend?        125
How cou’d thy Infant Innocence offend?
A guilt there was; but, Oh, that Guilt was mine!
Thou suffer’st for a Sin that was not thine.
Thy Mothers Grief and Crime! but just enjoy’d,
Shown to my Sight, and born to be destroy’d!        130
Unhappy Off-spring of my teeming Womb!
Drag’d head-long from thy Cradle to thy Tomb!
Thy un-offending Life I could not save,
Nor weeping cou’d I follow to thy Grave!
Nor on thy Tomb could offer my shorn Hair;        135
Nor show the Grief which tender Mothers bear.
Yet long thou shalt not from my Arms be lost;
For soon I will o’retake thy Infant Ghost.
But thou, my Love, and now my Love’s Despair,
Perform his Funerals with paternal Care.        140
His scatter’d Limbs with my dead Body burn;
And once more joyn us in the pious Urn.
If on my wounded Breast thou drop’st a Tear,
Think for whose sake my Breast that Wound did bear;
And faithfully my last Desires fulfill,        145
As I perform my cruel Fathers Will.
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