Erasmus Darwin

The Botanic Garden (Part VIII)

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THE LOVES OF THE PLANTS

CANTO IV.

Now the broad Sun his golden orb unshrouds,
Flames in the west, and paints the parted clouds;
O'er heaven's wide arch refracted lustres flow,
And bend in air the many-colour'd bow.--
--The tuneful Goddess on the glowing sky
Fix'd in mute extacy her glistening eye;
And then her lute to sweeter tones she strung,
And swell'd with softer chords the Paphian song.
Long ailes of Oaks return'd the silver sound,
And amorous Echoes talk'd along the ground;
Pleas'd Lichfield listen'd from her sacred bowers,
Bow'd her tall groves, and shook her stately towers.
"Nymph! not for thee the radiant day returns,
Nymph! not for thee the golden solstice burns,
Refulgent CEREA!--at the dusky hour
She seeks with pensive step the mountain-bower,
Bright as the blush of rising morn, and warms
The dull cold eye of Midnight with her charms.
There to the skies she lifts her pencill'd brows,
Opes her fair lips, and breathes her virgin vows;
Eyes the white zenyth; counts the suns, that roll
Their distant fires, and blaze around the Pole;
Or marks where Jove directs his glittering car
O'er Heaven's blue vault,--Herself a brighter star.
--There as soft Zephyrs sweep with pausing airs
Thy snowy neck, and part thy shadowy hairs,
Sweet Maid of Night! to Cynthia's sober beams
Glows thy warm cheek, thy polish'd bosom gleams.
In crowds around thee gaze the admiring swains,
And guard in silence the enchanted plains;
Drop the still tear, or breathe the impassion'd sigh,
And drink inebriate rapture from thine eye.
Thus, when old Needwood's hoary scenes the Night
Paints with blue shadow, and with milky light;
Where MUNDY pour'd, the listening nymphs among,
Loud to the echoing vales his parting song;
With measured step the Fairy Sovereign treads,
Shakes her high plume, and glitters o'er the meads;
Round each green holly leads her sportive train,
And little footsteps mark the circled plain;
Each haunted rill with silver voices rings,
And Night's sweet bird in livelier accents sings.
Ere the bright star, which leads the morning sky,
Hangs o'er the blushing east his diamond eye,
The chaste TROPAEO leaves her secret bed;
A saint-like glory trembles round her head;
Eight watchful swains along the lawns of night
With amorous steps pursue the virgin light;
O'er her fair form the electric lustre plays,
And cold she moves amid the lambent blaze.
So shines the glow-fly, when the sun retires,
And gems the night-air with phosphoric fires;
Thus o'er the marsh aërial lights betray,
And charm the unwary wanderer from his way.
So when thy King, Assyria, fierce and proud,
Three human victims to his idol vow'd;
Rear'd a vast pyre before the golden shrine
Of sulphurous coal, and pitch-exsuding pine;--
--Loud roar the flames, the iron nostrils breathe,
And the huge bellows pant and heave beneath;
Bright and more bright the blazing deluge flows,
And white with seven-fold heat the furnace glows.
And now the Monarch fix'd with dread surprize
Deep in the burning vault his dazzled eyes.
"Lo! Three unbound amid the frightful glare,
Unscorch'd their sandals, and unsing'd their hair!
And now a fourth with seraph-beauty bright
Descends, accosts them, and outshines the light!
Fierce flames innocuous, as they step, retire!
And slow they move amid a world of fire!"
He spoke,--to Heaven his arms repentant spread,
And kneeling bow'd his gem-incircled head.
Two Sister-Nymphs, the fair AVENAS, lead
Their fleecy squadrons on the lawns of Tweed;
Pass with light step his wave-worn banks along,
And wake his Echoes with their silver tongue;
Or touch the reed, as gentle Love inspires,
In notes accordant to their chaste desires.

I.

"Sweet ECHO! sleeps thy vocal shell,
"Where this high arch o'erhangs the dell;
"While Tweed with sun-reflecting streams
"Chequers thy rocks with dancing beams?--


II.

"Here may no clamours harsh intrude,
No brawling hound or clarion rude;
Here no fell beast of midnight prowl,
And teach thy tortured cliffs to howl!

III.

"Be thine to pour these vales along
Some artless Shepherd's evening song;
While Night's sweet bird, from yon high spray
Responsive, listens to his lay.

IV.

"And if, like me, some love-lorn maid
"Should sing her sorrows to thy shade,
"Oh, sooth her breast, ye rocks around!
"With softest sympathy of sound."

From ozier bowers the brooding Halcyons peep,
The Swans pursuing cleave the glassy deep,
On hovering wings the wondering Reed-larks play,
And silent Bitterns listen to the lay.--
Three shepherd-swains beneath the beechen shades
Twine rival garlands for the tuneful maids;
On each smooth bark the mystic love-knot frame,
Or on white sands inscribe the favour'd name.
From Time's remotest dawn where China brings
In proud succession all her Patriot-Kings;
O'er desert-sands, deep gulfs, and hills sublime,
Extends her massy wall from clime to clime;
With bells and dragons crests her Pagod-bowers,
Her silken palaces, and porcelain towers;
With long canals a thousand nations laves;
Plants all her wilds, and peoples all her waves;
Slow treads fair CANNABIS the breezy strand,
The distaff streams dishevell'd in her hand;
Now to the left her ivory neck inclines,
And leads in Paphian curves its azure lines;
Dark waves the fringed lid, the warm cheek glows,
And the fair ear the parting locks disclose;
Now to the right with airy sweep she bends,
Quick join the threads, the dancing spole depends.
--Five Swains attracted guard the Nymph, by turns
Her grace inchants them, and her beauty burns;
To each She bows with sweet assuasive smile,
Hears his soft vows, and turns her spole the while.
So when with light and shade, concordant strife!
Stern CLOTHO weaves the chequer'd thread of life;
Hour after hour the growing line extends,
The cradle and the coffin bound its ends;
Soft cords of silk the whirling spoles reveal,
If smiling Fortune turn the giddy wheel;
But if sweet Love with baby-fingers twines,
And wets with dewy lips the lengthening lines,
Skein after skein celestial tints unfold,
And all the silken tissue shines with gold.
Warm with sweet blushes bright GALANTHA glows,
And prints with frolic step the melting snows;
O'er silent floods, white hills, and glittering meads
Six rival swains the playful beauty leads,
Chides with her dulcet voice the tardy Spring,
Bids slumbering Zephyr stretch his folded wing,
Wakes the hoarse Cuckoo in his gloomy cave,
And calls the wondering Dormouse from his grave,
Bids the mute Redbreast cheer the budding grove,
And plaintive Ringdove tune her notes to love.
Spring! with thy own sweet smile, and tuneful tongue,
Delighted BELLIS calls her infant throng.
Each on his reed astride, the Cherub-train
Watch her kind looks, and circle o'er the plain;
Now with young wonder touch the siding snail,
Admire his eye-tipp'd horns, and painted mail;
Chase with quick step, and eager arms outspread,
The pausing Butterfly from mead to mead;
Or twine green oziers with the fragrant gale,
The azure harebel, and the primrose pale,
Join hand in hand, and in procession gay
Adorn with votive wreaths the shrine of May.
--So moves the Goddess to the Idalian groves,
And leads her gold-hair'd family of Loves.
These, from the flaming furnace, strong and bold
Pour the red steel into the sandy mould;
On tinkling anvils (with Vulcanian art),
Turn with hot tongs, and forge the dreadful dart;
The barbed head on whirling jaspers grind,
And dip the point in poison for the mind;
Each polish'd shaft with snow-white plumage wing,
Or strain the bow reluctant to its string.
Those on light pinion twine with busy hands,
Or stretch from bough to bough the flowery bands;
Scare the dark beetle, as he wheels on high,
Or catch in silken nets the gilded fly;
Call the young Zephyrs to their fragrant bowers,
And stay with kisses sweet the Vernal Hours.
Where, as proud Maffon rises rude and bleak,
And with mishapen turrets crests the Peak,
Old Matlock gapes with marble jaws, beneath,
And o'er fear'd Derwent bends his flinty teeth;
Deep in wide caves below the dangerous soil
Blue sulphurs flame, imprison'd waters boil.
Impetuous steams in spiral colums rise
Through rifted rocks, impatient for the skies;
Or o'er bright seas of bubbling lavas blow,
As heave and toss the billowy fires below;
Condensed on high, in wandering rills they glide
From Maffon's dome, and burst his sparry side;
Round his grey towers, and down his fringed walls,
From cliff to cliff, the liquid treasure falls;
In beds of stalactite, bright ores among,
O'er corals, shells, and crystals, winds along;
Crusts the green mosses, and the tangled wood,
And sparkling plunges to its parent flood.
--O'er the warm wave a smiling youth presides,
Attunes its murmurs, its meanders guides,
(The blooming FUCUS), in her sparry coves
To amorous Echo sings his secret loves,
Bathes his fair forehead in the misty stream,
And with sweet breath perfumes the rising steam.
--So, erst, an Angel o'er Bethesda's springs,
Each morn descending, shook his dewy wings;
And as his bright translucent form He laves,
Salubrious powers enrich the troubled waves.
Amphibious Nymph, from Nile's prolific bed
Emerging TRAPA lifts her pearly head;
Fair glows her virgin cheek and modest breast,
A panoply of scales deforms the rest;
Her quivering fins and panting gills she hides
But spreads her silver arms upon the tides;
Slow as she sails, her ivory neck she laves,
And shakes her golden tresses o'er the waves.
Charm'd round the Nymph, in circling gambols glide
Four Nereid-forms, or shoot along the tide;
Now all as one they rise with frolic spring,
And beat the wondering air on humid wing;
Now all descending plunge beneath the main,
And lash the foam with undulating train;
Above, below, they wheel, retreat, advance,
In air and ocean weave the mazy dance;
Bow their quick heads, and point their diamond eyes,
And twinkle to the sun with ever-changing dyes.
Where Andes, crested with volcanic beams,
Sheds a long line of light on Plata's streams;
Opes all his springs, unlocks his golden caves,
And feeds and freights the immeasurable waves;
Delighted OCYMA at twilight hours
Calls her light car, and leaves the sultry bowers;--
Love's rising ray, and Youth's seductive dye,
Bloom'd on her cheek, and brighten'd in her eye;
Chaste, pure, and white, a zone of silver graced
Her tender breast, as white, as pure, as chaste;---
By four fond swains in playful circles drawn,
On glowing wheels she tracks the moon-bright lawn,
Mounts the rude cliff, unveils her blushing charms,
And calls the panting zephyrs to her arms.
Emerged from ocean springs the vaporous air,
Bathes her light limbs, uncurls her amber hair,
Incrusts her beamy form with films saline,
And Beauty blazes through the crystal shrine.--
So with pellucid studs the ice-flower gems
Her rimy foliage, and her candied stems.
So from his glassy horns, and pearly eyes,
The diamond-beetle darts a thousand dyes;
Mounts with enamel'd wings the vesper gale,
And wheeling shines in adamantine mail.
Thus when loud thunders o'er Gomorrah burst,
And heaving earthquakes shook his realms accurst,
An Angel-guest led forth the trembling Fair
With shadowy hand, and warn'd the guiltless pair;
"Haste from these lands of sin, ye Righteous! fly,
Speed the quick step, nor turn the lingering eye!"--
--Such the command, as fabling Bards indite,
When Orpheus charm'd the grisly King of Night;
Sooth'd the pale phantoms with his plaintive lay,
And led the fair Assurgent into day.--
Wide yawn'd the earth, the fiery tempest flash'd,
And towns and towers in one vast ruin crash'd;--
Onward they move,---loud horror roars behind,
And shrieks of Anguish bellow in the wind.
With many a sob, amid a thousand fears,
The beauteous wanderer pours her gushing tears;
Each soft connection rends her troubled breast,
--She turns, unconscious of the stern behest!--
"I faint!--I fall!--ah, me!--sensations chill
Shoot through my bones, my shuddering bosom thrill!
I freeze! I freeze! just Heaven regards my fault,
Numbs my cold limbs, and hardens into salt!--
Not yet, not yet, your dying Love resign!--
This last, last kiss receive!--no longer thine!"--
She said, and ceased,--her stiffen'd form He press'd,
And strain'd the briny column to his breast;
Printed with quivering lips the lifeless snow,
And wept, and gazed the monument of woe.--
So when Aeneas through the flames of Troy
Bore his pale fire, and led his lovely boy;
With loitering step the fair Creusa stay'd,
And Death involved her in eternal shade.--
Oft the lone Pilgrim that his road forsakes,
Marks the wide ruins, and the sulphur'd lakes;
On mouldering piles amid asphaltic mud
Hears the hoarse bittern, where Gomorrah stood;
Recalls the unhappy Pair with lifted eye,
Leans on the crystal tomb, and breathes the silent sigh..
With net-wove sash and glittering gorget dress'd,
And scarlet robe lapell'd upon her breast,
Stern ARA frowns, the measured march assumes,
Trails her long lance, and nods her shadowy plumes;
While Love's soft beams illume her treacherous eyes,
And Beauty lightens through the thin disguise.
So erst, when HERCULES, untamed by toil,
Own'd the soft power of DEJANIRA'S smile;--
His lion-spoils the laughing Fair demands,
And gives the distaff to his awkward hands;
O'er her white neck the bristly mane she throws,
And binds the gaping whiskers on her brows;
Plaits round her slender waist the shaggy vest,
And clasps the velvet paws across her breast.
Next with soft hands the knotted club she rears,
Heaves up from earth, and on her shoulder bears.
Onward with loftier step the Beauty treads,
And trails the brinded ermine o'er the meads;
Wolves, bears, and bards, forsake the affrighted groves,
And grinning Satyrs tremble, as she moves.
CARYO'S sweet smile DIANTHUS proud admires,
And gazing burns with unallow'd desires;
With sighs and sorrows her compassion moves,
And wins the damsel to illicit loves.
The Monster-offspring heirs the father's pride,
Mask'd in the damask beauties of the bride.
So, when the Nightingale in eastern bowers
On quivering pinion woos the Queen of flowers;
Inhales her fragrance, as he hangs in air,
And melts with melody the blushing fair;
Half-rose, half-bird, a beauteous Monster springs,
Waves his thin leaves, and claps his glossy wings;
Long horrent thorns his mossy legs surround,
And tendril-talons root him to the ground;
Green films of rind his wrinkled neck o'espread,
And crimson petals crest his curled head;
Soft-warbling beaks in each bright blossom move,
And vocal Rosebuds thrill the enchanted grove!--
Admiring Evening stays her beamy star,
And still Night listens from his ebon ear;
While on white wings descending Houries throng,
And drink the floods of odour and of song.
When from his golden urn the Solstice pours
O'er Afric's sable sons the sultry hours;
When not a gale flits o'er her tawny hills,
Save where the dry Harmattan breathes and kills;
--Fair CHUNDA smiles amid the burning waste,
Her brow unturban'd, and her zone unbrac'd;
Ten brother-youths with light umbrella's shade,
Or fan with busy hands the panting maid;
Loose wave her locks, disclosing, as they break,
The rising bosom and averted cheek;
Clasp'd round her ivory neck with studs of gold
Flows her thin vest in many a gauzy fold;
O'er her light limbs the dim transparence plays,
And the fair form, it seems to hide, betrays.
Where leads the northern Star his lucid train
High o'er the snow-clad earth, and icy main,
With milky light the white horizon streams,
And to the moon each sparkling mountain gleams.--
Slow o'er the printed snows with silent walk
Huge shaggy forms across the twilight stalk;
And ever and anon with hideous sound
Burst the thick ribs of ice, and thunder round.--
There, as old Winter slaps his hoary wing,
And lingering leaves his empire to the Spring,
Pierced with quick shafts of silver-shooting light
Fly in dark troops the dazzled imps of night--
"Awake, my Love!" enamour'd MUSCHUS cries,
"Stretch thy fair limbs, resulgent Maid! arise;
Ope thy sweet eye-lids to the rising ray,
And hail with ruby lips returning day.
Down the white hills dissolving torrents pour,
Green springs the turf, and purple blows the flower;
His torpid wing the Rail exulting tries,
Mounts the soft gale, and wantons in the skies;
Rise, let us mark how bloom the awaken'd groves,
And 'mid the banks of roses hide our loves."
Night's tinsel beams on smooth Lock-lomond dance,
Impatient ÆGA views the bright expanse;--
In vain her eyes the parting floods explore,
Wave after wave rolls freightless to the shore.
--Now dim amid the distant foam she spies
A rising speck,--"'tis he! 'tis he!" She cries;
As with firm arms he beats the streams aside,
And cleaves with rising chest the tossing tide,
With bended knee she prints the humid sands,
Up-turns her glistening eyes, and spreads her hands;
--"'Tis he, 'tis he!--My Lord, my life, my love!--
Slumber, ye winds; ye billows, cease to move!
beneath his arms your buoyant plumage spread,
Ye Swans! ye Halcyons! hover round his head!"--
--With eager step the boiling surf she braves,
And meets her refluent lover in the waves;
Loose o'er the flood her azure mantle swims,
And the clear stream betrays her snowy limbs.
So on her sea-girt tower fair HERO stood
At parting day, and mark'd the dashing flood;
While high in air, the glimmering rocks above,
Shone the bright lamp, the pilot-star of Love.
--With robe outspread the wavering flame behind
She kneels, and guards it from the shifting wind;
Breathes to her Goddess all her vows, and guides
Her bold LEANDER o'er the dusky tides;
Wrings his wet hair, his briny bosom warms,
And clasps her panting lover in her arms.
Deep, in wide caverns and their shadowy ailes,
Daughter of Earth, the chaste TRUFFELIA smiles;
On silvery beds, of soft asbestus wove,
Meets her Gnome-husband, and avows her love.
--High o'er her couch impending diamonds blaze,
And branching gold the crystal roof inlays;
With verdant light the modest emeralds glow,
Blue sapphires glare, and rubies blush, below;
Light piers of lazuli the dome surround,
And pictured mochoes tesselate the ground;
In glittering threads along reflective walls
The warm rill murmuring twinkles, as it falls;
Now sink the Eolian strings, and now they swell,
And Echoes woo in every vaulted cell;
While on white wings delighted Cupids play,
Shake their bright lamps, and shed celestial day.
Closed in an azure fig by fairy spells,
Bosom'd in down, fair CAPRI-FICA dwells;--
So sleeps in silence the Curculio, shut
In the dark chambers of the cavern'd nut,
Erodes with ivory beak the vaulted shell,
And quits on filmy wings its narrow cell.
So the pleased Linnet in the moss-wove nest,
Waked into life beneath its parent's breast,
Chirps in the gaping shell, bursts forth erelong,
Shakes its new plumes, and tries its tender song.--
--And now the talisman she strikes, that charms
Her husband-Sylph,--and calls him to her arms.--
Quick, the light Gnat her airy Lord bestrides,
With cobweb reins the flying courser guides,
From crystal steeps of viewless ether springs,
Cleaves the soft air on still expanded wings;
Darts like a sunbeam o'er the boundless wave,
And seeks the beauty in her secret cave.
So with quick impulse through all nature's frame
Shoots the electric air its subtle flame.
So turns the impatient needle to the pole,
Tho' mountains rise between, and oceans roll.
Where round the Orcades white torrents roar,
Scooping with ceaseless rage the incumbent shore,
Wide o'er the deep a dusky cavern bends
Its marble arms, and high in air impends;
Basaltic piers the ponderous roof sustain,
And steep their massy sandals in the main;
Round the dim walls, and through the whispering ailes
Hoarse breathes the wind, the glittering water boils.
Here the charm'd BYSSUS with his blooming bride
Spreads his green sails, and braves the foaming tide;
The star of Venus gilds the twilight wave,
And lights her votaries to the secret cave;
Light Cupids flutter round the nuptial bed,
And each coy sea-maid hides her blushing head.
Where cool'd by rills, and curtain'd round by woods,
Slopes the green dell to meet the briny floods,
The sparkling noon-beams trembling on the tide,
The PROTEUS-LOVER woos his playful bride,
To win the fair he tries a thousand forms,
Basks on the sands, or gambols in the storms.
A Dolphin now, his scaly sides he laves,
And bears the sportive damsel on the waves;
She strikes the cymbal as he moves along,
And wondering Ocean listens to the song.
--And now a spotted Pard the lover stalks,
Plays round her steps, and guards her favour'd walks;
As with white teeth he prints her hand, caress'd,
And lays his velvet paw upon her breast,
O'er his round face her snowy fingers strain
The silken knots, and fit the ribbon-rein.
--And now a Swan, he spreads his plumy sails,
And proudly glides before the fanning gales;
Pleas'd on the flowery brink with graceful hand
She waves her floating lover to the land;
Bright shines his sinuous neck, with crimson beak
He prints fond kisses on her glowing cheek,
Spreads his broad wings, elates his ebon crest,
And clasps the beauty to his downy breast.
A hundred virgins join a hundred swains,
And fond ADONIS leads the sprightly trains;
Pair after pair, along his sacred groves
To Hymen's fane the bright procession moves;
Each smiling youth a myrtle garland shades,
And wreaths of roses veil the blushing maids;
Light joys on twinkling feet attend the throng,
Weave the gay dance, or raise the frolic song;
--Thick, as they pass, exulting Cupids fling
Promiscuous arrows from the sounding string;
On wings of gossamer soft Whispers fly,
And the sly Glance steals side-long from the eye.
--As round his shrine the gaudy circles bow,
And seal with muttering lips the faithless vow,
Licentious Hymen joins their mingled hands,
And loosely twines the meretricious bands.--
Thus where pleased VENUS, in the southern main,
Sheds all her smiles on Otaheite's plain,
Wide o'er the isle her silken net she draws,
And the Loves laugh at all, but Nature's laws."
Here ceased the Goddess,--o'er the silent strings
Applauding Zephyrs swept their fluttering wings;
Enraptur'd Sylphs arose in murmuring crowds
To air-wove canopies and pillowy clouds;
Each Gnome reluctant sought his earthy cell,
And each bright Floret clos'd her velvet bell.
Then, on soft tiptoe, NIGHT approaching near
Hung o'er the tuneless lyre his sable ear;
Gem'd with bright stars the still etherial plain,
And bad his Nightingales repeat the strain.

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