Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Ovid’s Epistles: Helen to Paris
  Helen, having receiv’d the foregoing Epistle from Paris, returns the following Answer: Wherein she seems at first to chide him for his Presumption in Writing as he had done, which could only proceed from his low Opinion of her Vertue: then owns herself to be sensible of the Passion, which he had express’d for her, tho’ she much suspect his Constancy; and at last discovers her Inclinations to be favourable to him. The whole Letter showing the extream artifice of Woman-kind.

WHEN loose Epistles violate Chast Eyes,
She half Consents, who silently denies:
How dares a Stranger with Designs so vain,
Marriage and Hospitable Rights Prophane?
Was it for this, your Fleet did shelter find        5
From swelling Seas, and ev’ry faithless Wind?
(For tho a distant Country brought you forth,
Your usage here was equal to your Worth.)
Does this deserve to be rewarded so?
Did you come here a Stranger or a Foe?        10
Your partial Judgment may perhaps complain,
And think me barbarous for my just disdain;
Ill-bred then let me be, but not unchast,
Nor my clear Fame with any Spot defac’d.
Tho in my face there’s no affected Frown,        15
Nor in my Carriage a feign’d Niceness shown,
I keep my Honor still without a Stain,
Nor has my Love made any Coxcomb vain.
Your Boldness I with admiration see;
What Hope had you to gain a Queen like me?        20
Because a Hero forc’d me once away
Am I thought fit to be a second Prey?
Had I been won, I had deserv’d your Blame,
But sure my part was nothing but the Shame.
Yet the base Theft to him no Fruit did bear,        25
I ’scap’d unhurt by any thing but Fear.
Rude force might some unwilling Kisses gain,
But that was all he ever could obtain.
You on such terms would nere have let me go;
Were he like you, we had not parted so.        30
Untouch’d the Youth restor’d me to my Friends,
And modest Usage made me some amends.
’Tis vertue to repent a vicious Deed,
Did he repent, that Paris might succeed?
Sure ’tis some Fate that sets me above Wrongs,        35
Yet still exposes me to busie Tongues.
I’le not complain; for who’s displeas’d with Love,
If it sincere, discreet, and constant prove?
But that I fear; not that I think you base,
Or doubt the blooming Beauties of my Face;        40
But all your Sex is subject to deceive,
And ours alas, too willing to believe.
Yet others yield; and Love o’recomes the best:
But why should I not shine above the rest?
Fair Leda’s Story seems at first to be        45
A fit example ready found for me.
But she was Cousen’d by a borrow’d shape,
And under harmless Feathers felt a Rape:
If I should yield, what reason could I use?
By what mistake the Loving Crime excuse?        50
Her fault was in her pow’rfull Lover lost;
But of what Jupiter have I to boast?
Tho you to Heroes and to Kings succeed,
Our Famous Race does no addition need;
And great Alliances but useless prove        55
To one that comes her self from mighty Jove.
Go then, and boast in some less haughty place
Your Phrygian blood, and Priam’s ancient Race;
Which I wou’d shew I valu’d, if I durst;
You are the fifth from Jove, but I the first.        60
The Crown of Troy is pow’rful I confess;
But I have reason to think ours no less.
Your Letter fill’d with promises of all,
That Men can good, and Women pleasant call,
Gives expectation such an ample field,        65
As wou’d move Goddesses themselves to yield.
But if I e’re offend great Juno’s Laws,
Your self shall be the dear, the only cause:
Either my Honour I’ll to death maintain,
Or follow you, without mean thoughts of gain.        70
Not that so fair a Present I despise;
We like the Gift, when we the giver prize.
But ’tis your Love moves me, which made you take
Such pains, and run such hazards for my sake;
I have perceiv’d (though I dissembled too)        75
A thousand things that Love has made you do.
Your eager Eyes would almost dazle mine,
In which (wild man) your wanton thoughts wou’d shine.
Sometimes you’d sigh, sometimes disorder’d stand,
And with unusual Ardor, press my hand;        80
Contrive just after me to take the Glass,
Nor wou’d you let the least Occasion pass:
Which oft I fear’d, I did not mind alone,
And blushing sate for things which you have done:
Then murmur’d to my self, he’ll for my sake        85
Do any thing; I hope ’twas no mistake.
Oft have I read within this pleasing Grove,
Under my Name, those Charming words, I Love.
I frowning seem’d not to believe your Flame,
But now, alas, am come to write the same.        90
If I were capable to do amiss,
I could not but be sensible of this.
For oh! your Face has such peculiar Charms,
That who can hold from flying to your Arms!
But what I ne’re can have without Offence,        95
May some blest Maid possess with innocence.
Pleasure may tempt, but Vertue more should move;
O Learn of me to want the thing you Love.
What you Desire is sought by all Mankind:
As you have Eyes, so others are not blind.        100
Like you they see, like you my Charms adore:
They wish not less, but you dare venture more.
Oh! had you then upon our Coasts been brought,
My Virgin Love when thousand Rivals sought,
You had I seen, you should have had my Voice;        105
Nor could my Husband justly blame my Choice.
For both our hopes, alas you come too late!
Another now is Master of my Fate.
More to my wish I cou’d have liv’d with you,
And yet my present Lot can undergo.        110
Cease to solicit a weak Woman’s Will,
And urge not her you Love, to so much ill.
But let me live contented as I may,
And make not my unspotted Fame your prey.
Some Right you claim, since naked to your Eyes        115
Three Goddesses disputed Beauties prize:
One offer’d Valour, t’other Crowns; but she
Obtain’d her Cause, who smiling promis’d me.
But first I am not of Belief so light,
To think such Nymphs wou’d shew you such a sight:        120
Yet granting this, the other part is feign’d;
A Bribe so mean your Sentence had not gain’d.
With partial eyes I shou’d my self regard,
To think that Venus made me her reward:
I humbly am content with human Praise;        125
A Goddess’s Applause would Envy raise:
But be it as you say; for, ’tis confest,
The Men, who flatter highest, please us best.
That I suspect it, ought not to displease;
For Miracles are not believ’d with Ease.        130
One joy I have, that I had Venus voice;
A greater yet, that you confirm’d her Choice;
That proffer’d Laurels, promis’d Sov’raignty,
Juno and Pallas, you contemn’d for me.
Am I your Empire then, and your renown?        135
What heart of Rock, but must by this be won?
And yet bear witness, O you Pow’rs above,
How rude I am in all the Arts of Love!
My hand is yet untaught to write to Men:
This is th’ Essay of my unpractis’d Pen:        140
Happy those Nymphs whom use has perfect made;
I think all Crime, and tremble at a Shade.
Ev’n while I write, my fearful conscious Eyes
Look often back, misdoubting a surprize.
For now the Rumour spreads among the Croud,        145
At Court in whispers, but in Town aloud.
Dissemble you, what e’re you hear ’em say:
To leave off Loving were your better way;
Yet if you will dissemble it, you may.
Love secretly: the absence of my Lord        150
More Freedom gives, but does not all afford:
Long is his Journey, long will be his stay;
Call’d by affairs of Consequence away.
To go or not when unresolv’d he stood,
I bid him make what swift return he cou’d:        155
Then Kissing me, he said I recommend
All to thy Care, but most my Trojan Friend.
I smil’d at what he innocently said,
And only answer’d, you shall be obey’d.
Propitious Winds have borne him far from hence,        160
But let not this secure your Confidence.
Absent he is, yet absent he Commands:
You know the Proverb, Princes have long hands.
My Fame’s my Burden: for the more I’m prais’d,
A juster Ground of jealousie is rais’d.        165
Were I less fair, I might have been more blest:
Great Beauty through great Danger is possest,
To leave me here his Venture was not hard,
Because he thought my vertue was my Guard.
He fear’d my Face, but trusted to my Life,        170
The Beauty doubted, but believ’d the Wife.
You bid me use th’ Occasion while I can,
Put in our Hands by the good easie Man.
I wou’d, and yet I doubt, ’twixt Love and Fear;
One draws me from you, and one brings me near.        175
Our Flames are mutual; and my Husband’s gone:
The Nights are long; I fear to lie alone.
One House contains us, and weak Walls divide,
And you’re too pressing to be long denied:
Let me not live, but every thing conspires        180
To joyn our Loves, and yet my Fear retires.
You court with Words, when you should force imploy:
A Rape is requisite to shamefac’d Joy.
Indulgent to the Wrongs which we receive,
Our Sex can suffer what we dare not give.        185
What have I said! for both of us ’twere best,
Our kindling fires if each of us supprest.
The Faith of Strangers is too prone to change,
And, like themselves, their wandring Passions range.
Hipsypyle, and the fond Minoian Maid,        190
Were both by trusting of their Ghests betray’d.
How can I doubt that other men deceive,
When you yourself did fair Oenone leave?
But lest I shou’d upbraid your Treachery,
You make a Merit of that Crime to me.        195
Yet grant you were to faithful Love inclin’d,
Your weary Trojans wait but for a Wind.
Should you prevail; while I assign the Night,
Your Sails are hoysted, and you take your Flight:
Some bawling Mariner our Love destroys,        200
And breaks asunder our unfinish’d Joys.
But I with you may leave the Spartan Port,
To view the Trojan Wealth, and Priam’s Court:
Shown while I see, I shall expose my Fame,
And fill a foreign Country with my Shame.        205
In Asia what reception shall I find?
And what Dishonour leave in Greece behind?
What will your Brothers, Priam, Hecuba,
And what will all your modest Matrons say?
Ev’n you, when on this Action you reflect,        210
My future Conduct justly may suspect;
And what e’re Stranger lands upon your Coast,
Conclude me, by your own Example, lost.
I from your rage a Strumpet’s Name shall hear,
While you forget what part in it you bear.        215
You, my Crimes Author, will my Crime upbraid:
Deep under ground, Oh let me first be laid!
You boast the Pomp and Plenty of your Land,
And promise all shall be at my Command:
Your Trojan Wealth, believe me, I despise;        220
My own poor Native Land has dearer ties.
Shou’d I be injur’d on your Phrygian Shore,
What help of Kindred cou’d I there implore?
Medea was by Jasons flatt’ry won:
I may, like her, believe, and be undon.        225
Plain honest Hearts, like mine, suspect no Cheat,
And Love contributes to its own Deceit.
The Ships, about whose sides loud Tempests roar,
With gentle Winds were wafted from the Shore.
Your teeming Mother dreamt a flaming Brand,        230
Sprung from her Womb, consum’d the Trojan Land.
To second this, old Prophecies conspire.
That Ilium shall be burnt with Grecian fire.
Both give me fear; nor is it much allai’d,
That Venus is oblig’d our Loves to aid.        235
For they who lost their Cause, Revenge will take;
And for one friend two Enemies you make.
Nor can I doubt, but shou’d I follow you,
The Sword wou’d soon our fatal Crime pursue:
A wrong so great my Husband’s Rage wou’d rouze,        240
And my Relations wou’d his Cause espouse.
You boast your Strength and Courage; but alas!
Your Words receive small credit from your Face.
Let Heroes in the Dusty Field delight,
Those Limbs were fashion’d for another Fight.        245
Bid Hector sally from the Walls of Troy;
A sweeter Quarrel shou’d your Arms employ.
Yet Fears like these, shou’d not my Mind perplex,
Were I as wise as many of my Sex.
But time and you may bolder Thoughts inspire;        250
And I perhaps may yield to your Desire.
You last demand a private Conference,
These are your Words, but I can ghess your Sense.
Your unripe Hopes their Harvest must attend:
Be Rul’d by me, and Time may be your Friend.        255
This is enough to let you understand;
For now my Pen has tir’d my tender Hand:
My Woman Knows the Secret of my Heart,
And may hereafter better News impart.

[Helen to Paris is by Dryden and the Earl of Mulgrave.]

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