Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
Elegy to Cynthia
By Propertius (c. 50–c. 16 B.C.)
(Translated by Sir Charles Elton)

NOT such Corinthian Lais’ sighting train,
Before whose gates all prostrate Greece had lain;
Not such a crowd Menander’s Thais drew,
Whose charms th’ Athenian people joy’d to woo;
Nor she, who could the Theban towers rebuild,        5
When hosts of suitors had their coffers filled.
Nay—by false kinsmen are thy lips carest;
By sanction’d simulated kisses prest.
The forms of youths and beauteous gods, that rise
Around thy pictured roof, offend mine eyes;        10
The tender lisping babe, by thee carest
Within its cradle, wounds my jealous breast.
I fear thy mother’s kiss, thy sister dread;
Suspect the virgin partner of her bed:
All wakes my spleen, a very coward grown:        15
Forgive the fears that spring from thee alone.
Wretched in jealous terror, to my eyes
Beneath each female robe a lover lies.
Blest was Admetus’ spouse, and blest the dame
Who shared Ulysses’ couch in modest fame:        20
Oh! ever happy shall the fair-one prove,
Who by her husband’s threshold bounds her love.
Ah! why should Modesty’s pure fane ascend?
Why at her shrine the blushing maiden bend?
If, when she weds, her passions spurn control;        25
If the bold matron sates her wishful soul?
The hand, that first in naked colours traced
Groups of loose loves, on walls that once were chaste:
And full exposed, broad burning on the light,
The shapes and postures that abash the sight;        30
Made artless minds in crime’s refinements wise,
And flash’d enlightening vice on virgin eyes.
Woe to the wretch! who thus insidious wove
Mute rapture’s veil o’er wrath and tears of love!
Not thus the roofs were deck’d in olden time,        35
Nor the stain’d walls were painted with a crime:
Then, for some cause, the desert fanes of Rome
Wave with rank grass, while spiders veil the dome.
What guards, O Cynthia! shall thy path confine?
What threshold bound that wilful foot of thine?        40
Weak is constraint, if women loth obey,
And she is safe, who, blushing, fears to stray.

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