Hymn To The Naiads

Mark Akenside

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ARGUMENT. The Nymphs, who preside over springs and rivulets, are addressed at day-break, in honor of their several functions, and of the relations which they bear to the natural and to the moral world. Their origin is deduced from the first allegorical deities, or powers of nature; according to the doctrine of the old mythological poets, concerning the generation of the gods and the rise of things. They are then successively considered, as giving motion to the air and exciting summer-breezes; as nourishing and beautifying the vegetable creation; as contributing to the fullness of navigable rivers, and consequently to the maintenance of commerce; and by that means, to the maritime part of military power. Next is represented their favourable influence upon health, when assisted by rural exercise: which introduces their connection with the art of physic, and the happy effects of mineral medicinal springs. Lastly, they are celebrated for the friendship which the Muses bear them, and for the true inspiration which temperance only can receive: in opposition to the enthusiasm of the more licentious poets.


O'er yonder eastern hill the twilight pale
Walks forth from darkness; and the God of day,
With bright Astræa seated by his side,
Waits yet to leave the ocean. Tarry, Nymphs,
Ye Nymphs, ye blue-ey'd progeny of Thames,
Who now the mazes of this rugged heath
Trace with your fleeting steps; who all night long
Repeat, amid the cool and tranquil air,
Your lonely murmurs, tarry: and receive
My offer'd lay. To pay you homage due,
I leave the gates of sleep; nor shall my lyre
Too far into the splendid hours of morn
Ingage your audience: my observant hand
Shall close the strain ere any sultry beam
Approach you. To your subterranean haunts
Ye then may timely steal; to pace with care
The humid sands; to loosen from the soil
The bubbling sources; to direct the rills
To meet in wider channels; or beneath
Some grotto's dripping arch, at height of noon
To slumber, shelter'd from the burning heaven.

Where shall my song begin, ye Nymphs? or end?
Wide is your praise and copious—First of things,
First of the lonely powers, ere Time arose,
Were Love and Chaos. Love, the sire of Fate;
Elder than Chaos. Born of Fate was Time,
Who many sons and many comely births
Devour'd, relentless father: 'till the child
Of Rhea drove him from the upper sky,
And quell'd his deadly might. Then social reign'd
The kindred powers, Tethys, and reverend Ops,
And spotless Vesta; while supreme of sway
Remain'd the cloud-compeller. From the couch
Of Tethys sprang the sedgy-crowned race,
Who from a thousand urns, o'er every clime,
Send tribute to their parent; and from them
Are ye, o Naiads: Arethusa fair,
And tuneful Aganippe; that sweet name,
Bandusia; that soft family which dwelt
With Syrian Daphne; and the honour'd tribes
Belov'd of Pæon. Listen to my strain,
Daughters of Tethys: listen to your praise.

You, Nymphs, the winged offspring, which of old
Aurora to divine Astræus bore,
Owns; and your aid beseecheth. When the might
Of Hyperíon, from his noontide throne,
Unbends their languid pinions, aid from you
They ask: Favonius and the mild South-west
From you relief implore. Your sallying streams
Fresh vigour to their weary wings impart.
Again they fly, disporting; from the mead
Half ripen'd and the tender blades of corn,
To sweep the noxious mildew; or dispel
Contagious steams, which oft the parched earth
Breathes on her fainting sons. From noon to eve,
Along the river and the paved brook,
Ascend the cheerful breezes: hail'd of bards
Who, fast by learned Cam, the Æolian lyre
Sollicit; nor unwelcome to the youth
Who on the heights of Tibur, all inclin'd
O'er rushing Anio, with a pious hand
The reverend scene delineates, broken fanes,
Or tombs, or pillar'd aqueducts, the pomp
Of ancient Time; and haply, while he scans
The ruins, with a silent tear revolves
The fame and fortune of imperious Rome.

You too, o Nymphs, and your unenvious aid
The rural powers confess; and still prepare
For you their choicest treasures. Pan commands,
Oft as the Delian king with Sirius holds
The central heavens, the father of the grove
Commands his Dryads over your abodes
To spread their deepest umbrage. well the god
Remembereth how indulgent ye supplied
Your genial dews to nurse them in their prime.

Pales, the pasture's queen, where'er ye stray,
Pursues your steps, delighted; and the path
With living verdure clothes. Around your haunts
The laughing Chloris, with profusest hand,
Throws wide her blooms, her odors. Still with you
Pomona seeks to dwell: and o'er the lawns,
And o'er the vale of Richmond, where with Thames
Ye love to wander, Amalthea pours
Well-pleas'd the wealth of that Ammonian horn,
Her dower; unmindful of the fragrant isles
Nysæan or Atlantic. Nor can'st thou,
(Albeit oft, ungrateful, thou dost mock
The beverage of the sober Naiad's urn,
O Bromius, o Lenæan) nor can'st thou
Disown the powers whose bounty, ill repaid,
With nectar feeds thy tendrils. Yet from me,
Yet, blameless Nymphs, from my delighted lyre,
Accept the rites your bounty well may claim;
Nor heed the scoffings of the Edonian band.
For better praise awaits you. Thames, your sire,
As down the verdant slope your duteous rills
Descend, the tribute stately Thames receives,
Delighted; and your piety applauds;
And bids his copious tide roll on secure,
For faithful are his daughters; and with words
Auspicious gratulates the bark which, now
His banks forsaking, her adventurous wings
Yields to the breeze, with Albion's happy gifts
Extremest isles to bless. And oft at morn,
When Hermes, from Olympus bent o'er earth
To bear the words of Jove, on yonder hill
Stoops lightly-sailing; oft intent your springs
He views: and waving o'er some new-born stream
His blest pacific wand, “And yet,” he cries,
“Yet,” cries the son of Maia, “though recluse
“And silent be your stores, from you, fair Nymphs,
“Flows wealth and kind society to men.
“By you my function and my honor'd name
“Do i possess; while o'er the Bœtic vale,
“Or through the towers of Memphis, or the palms
“By sacred Ganges water'd, i conduct
“The English merchant: with the buxom fleece
“Of fertile Ariconium while i clothe
“Sarmatian kings; or to the household gods
“Of Syria, from the bleak Cornubian shore,
“Dispense the mineral treasure which of old
“Sidonian pilots sought, when this fair land
“Was yet unconscious of those generous arts
“Which wise Phœnicia from their native clime
“Transplanted to a more indulgent heaven.”

Such are the words of Hermes: such the praise,
O Naiads, which from tongues cœlestial waits
Your bounteous deeds. From bounty issueth power:
And those who, sedulous in prudent works,
Relieve the wants of nature, Jove repays
With noble wealth, and his own seat on earth,
Fit judgements to pronounce, and curb the might
Of wicked men. Your kind unfailing urns
Not vainly to the hospitable arts
Of Hermes yield their store. For, o ye Nymphs,
Hath he not won the unconquerable queen
Of arms to court your friendship? You she owns
The fair associates who extend her sway
Wide o'er the mighty deep; and grateful things
Of you she uttereth, oft as from the shore
Of Thames, or Medway's vale, or the green banks
Of Vecta, she her thundering navy leads
To Calpe's foaming channel, or the rough
Cantabrian surge; her auspices divine
Imparting to the senate and the prince
Of Albion, to dismay barbaric kings,
The Iberian, or the Celt. The pride of kings
Was ever scorn'd by Pallas: and of old
Rejoic'd the virgin, from the brazen prow
Of Athens o'er Ægina's gloomy surge,
To drive her clouds and storms; o'erwhelming all
The Persian's promis'd glory, when the realms
Of Indus and the soft Ionian clime,
When Libya's torrid champain and the rocks
Of cold Imaüs join'd their servile bands,
To sweep the sons of liberty from earth.
In vain: Minerva on the bounding prow
Of Athens stood, and with the thunder's voice
Denounc'd her terrors on their impious heads,
And shook her burning ægis. Xerxes saw:
From Heracléum, on the mountain's height
Thron'd in his golden car, he knew the sign
Cœlestial; felt unrighteous hope forsake
His faultering heart, and turn'd his face with shame.
Hail, ye who share the stern Minerva's power;
Who arm the hand of liberty for war:
And give to the renown'd Britannic name
To awe contending monarchs: yet benign,
Yet mild of nature: to the works of peace
More prone, and lenient of the many ills
Which wait on human life. Your gentle aid
Hygeia well can witness; she who saves,
From poisonous cates and cups of pleasing bane,
The wretch devoted to the intangling snares
Of Bacchus and of Comus. Him she leads
To Cynthia's lonely haunts. To spread the toils,
To beat the coverts, with the jovial horn
At dawn of day to summon the loud hounds,
She calls the lingering sluggard from his dreams:
And where his breast may drink the mountain breeze,
And where the fervor of the sunny vale
May beat upon his brow, through devious paths
Beckons his rapid courser. Nor when ease,
Cool ease and welcome slumbers have becalm'd
His eager bosom, does the queen of health
Her pleasing care withhold. His decent board
She guards, presiding; and the frugal powers
With joy sedate leads in: and while the brown
Ennæan dame with Pan presents her stores;
While changing still, and comely in the change,
Vertumnus and the Hours before him spread
The garden's banquet; you to crown his feast,
To crown his feast, o Naiads, you the fair
Hygeia calls: and from your shelving seats,
And groves of poplar, plenteous cups ye bring,
To slake his veins: 'till soon a purer tide
Flows down those loaded channels; washeth off
The dregs of luxury, the lurking seeds
Of crude disease; and through the abodes of life
Sends vigour, sends repose. Hail, Naiads: hail,
Who give, to labour, health; to stooping age,
The joys which youth had squander'd. Oft your urns
Will i invoke; and frequent in your praise,
Abash the frantic Thyrsus with my song.

For not estrang'd from your benignant arts
Is he, the god, to whose mysterious shrine
My youth was sacred, and my votive cares
Belong; the learned Pæon. Oft when all
His cordial treasures he hath search'd in vain;
When herbs, and potent trees, and drops of balm
Rich with the genial influence of the sun,
(To rouse dark fancy from her plantive dreams,
To brace the nerveless arm, with food to win
Sick appetite, or hush the unquiet breast
Which pines with silent passion) he in vain
Hath prov'd; to your deep mansions he descends.
Your gates of humid rock, your dim arcades,
He entereth; where impurpled veins of ore
Gleam on the roof; where through the rigid mine
Your trickling rills insinuate. There the god
From your indulgent hands the streaming bowl
Wafts to his pale-ey'd suppliants; wafts the seeds
Metallic and the elemental salts
Wash'd from the pregnant glebe. They drink: and soon
Flies pain; flies inauspicious care: and soon
The social haunt or unfrequented shade
Hears Io, Io Pæan; as of old,
When Python fell. And, o propitious Nymphs,
Oft as for hapless mortals i implore
Your salutary springs, through every urn
Oh shed your healing treasures. With the first
And finest breath, which from the genial strife
Of mineral fermentation springs, like light
O'er the fresh morning's vapours, lustrate then
The fountain, and inform the rising wave.

My lyre shall pay your bounty. Scorn not ye
That humble tribute. Though a mortal hand
Excite the strings to utterance, yet for themes
Not unregarded of cœlestial powers,
I frame their language; and the Muses deign
To guide the pious tenor of my lay.
The Muses (sacred be their gifts divine)
In early days did to my wondering sense
Their secrets oft reveal: oft my rais'd ear
In slumber felt their music: oft at noon
Or hour of sunset, by some lonely stream,
In field or shady grove, they taught me words
Of power from death and envy to preserve
The good man's name. whence yet with grateful mind,
And offerings unprofan'd by ruder eye,
My vows i send, my homage, to the seats
Of rocky Cirrha, where with you they dwell:
Where you their chaste companions they admit
Through all the hallow'd scene: where oft intent,
And leaning o'er Castalia's mossy verge,
They mark the cadence of your confluent urns,
How tuneful, yielding gratefullest repose
To their consorted measure: 'till again,
With emulation all the sounding choir,
And bright Apollo, leader of the song,
Their voices through the liquid air exalt,
And sweep their lofty strings: those powerful strings
That charm the mind of gods that fill the courts
Of wide Olympus with oblivion sweet
Of evils, with immortal rest from cares;
Assuage the terrors of the throne of Jove;
And quench the formidable thunderbolt
Of unrelenting fire. With slacken'd wings,
While now the solemn concert breathes around,
Incumbent o'er the sceptre of his lord
Sleeps the stern eagle; by the number'd notes,
Possess'd; and satiate with the melting tone:
Sovereign of birds. The furious god of war,
His darts forgetting, and the winged wheels
That bear him vengeful o'er the embattled plain,
Relents, and sooths his own fierce heart to ease,
Most welcome ease. The sire of gods and men,
In that great moment of divine delight,
Looks down on all that live; and whatsoe'er
He loves not, o'er the peopled earth and o'er
The interminated ocean, he beholds
Curs'd with abhorrence by his doom severe,
And troubled at the sound. Ye, Naiads, ye
With ravish'd ears the melody attend
Worthy of sacred silence. But the slaves
Of Bacchus with tempestuous clamours strive
To drown the heavenly strains; of highest Jove,
Irreverent; and by mad presumption fir'd
Their own discordant raptures to advance
With hostile emulation. Down they rush
From Nysa's vine-impurpled cliff, the dames
Of Thrace, the Satyrs, and the unruly Fauns,
With old Silenus, reeling through the crowd
Which gambols round him, in convulsions wild
Tossing their limbs, and brandishing in air
The ivy-mantled thyrsus, or the torch
Through black smoke flaming, to the Phrygian pipe's
Shrill voice, and to the clashing cymbals, mix'd
With shrieks and frantic uproar. May the gods
From every unpolluted ear avert
Their orgies! If within the seats of men,
Within the walls, the gates, where Pallas holds
The guardian key, if haply there be found
Who loves to mingle with the revel-band
And hearken to their accents; who aspires
From such instructers to inform his breast
With verse; let him, fit votarist, implore
Their inspiration. He perchance the gifts
Of young Lyæus, and the dread exploits,
May sing in aptest numbers: he the fate
Of sober Pentheus, he the Paphian rites,
And naked Mars with Cytherea chain'd,
And strong Alcides in the spinster's robes,
May celebrate, applauded. But with you,
O Naiads, far from that unhallow'd rout,
Must dwell the man whoe'er to praised themes
Invokes the immortal Muse. the immortal Muse
To your calm habitations, to the cave
Corycian or the Delphic mount, will guide
His footsteps; and with your unsullied streams
His lips will bathe: whether the eternal lore
Of Themis, or the majesty of Jove,
To mortals he reveal; or teach his lyre
The unenvied guerdon of the patriot's toils,
In those unfading islands of the bless'd,
Where sacred bards abide. Hail, honor'd Nymphs;
Thrice hail. for You the Cyrenac shell
Behold, I touch, revering. To my songs
Be present ye with favorable feet,
And all profaner audience far remove.

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