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 in Defence of Inconstancy
By Propertius (c. 50–c. 16 B.C.)
(Translated by Sir Charles Elton)

“FRAMEST thou excuse, who art a tale to all?
Whose Cynthia long is read at every stall?”
These words might damp a deaf man’s brow, and move
A candid blush for mean and nameless love.
Bat did my Cynthia breathe a melting sigh,        5
I were not called the head of levity:
Nor broad town-scandal should traduce my fame:
Then would I speak, though branded thus by name.
Wonder not thou that meaner nymphs invite:
They less defame me: are the causes light?        10
She’ll now a fan of peacock’s plumes demand;
And now a crystal ball to cool her hand:
Tease me to death for ivory dice, and pray
For glittering baubles of the sacred way.
Ah! let me die if I regard the cost:        15
A jilting fair one’s mockery stings me most.
Was this the favour to transport my heart?
Thou feel’st no blush, thus charming as thou art:
Scarce two short nights in tender joys are sped,
And I am called intruder on thy bed.        20
Yet wouldst thou praise my person; read my lay:
Has this thy love then flown so swift away?
The race of genius may my rival run:
But let him learn from me to love but one.
What! he forsooth will Lerna’s snake enfold;        25
Snatch from th’ Hesperian dragon fruits of gold;
Drain poisonous juice; or shipwreck’d gulp the sea;
And from no miseries shrink, for sake of thee?
Ah! would, my life! these tasks were proved in me!
Then should we find this gallant, now so proud,        30
Skulk his mean head among the coward crowd.
Let the vain braggart vaunt his puffed success;
One short year shall divorce your tenderness.
No Sibyl’s years, Herculean toils, avail,
Nor that last gloomy day to make my fondness fail.        35
Yes—thou shalt cull my bones, which tears bedew:
“Propertius! these were thine: ah tried and true!
Ah me! most true! though not through noble veins
Flow’d thy rich blood, nor ample thy domains.”
Yes—I will all endure: all wrongs are slight:        40
A beauteous woman makes the burden light.
Many for thee, I well believe, have sighed;
But few of men in constancy are tried.
Brief time for Ariadne Theseus burned:
Demophoön from his Phillis ingrate turned:        45
In Jason’s bark the sea Medea braved,
Yet, lone abandon’d, cursed the man she saved:
Hard too the woman’s heart, whose feign’d desire
For many lovers fans the ready fire.
Not to the suitors, vain of noble race,        50
Not to the wealthy, yield thy bribed embrace:
Of these scarce one would shed a tear for thee,
Or near thy urn be found, as I shall be.
Yet rather thou for me, grant, heaven! the prayer,
Smite on thy naked breast, and strew thy streaming hair.        55

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