Erasmus Darwin

The Botanic Garden (Part VII)

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THE LOVES OF THE PLANTS.

CANTO III.

And now the Goddess founds her silver shell,
And shakes with deeper tones the inchanted dell;
Pale, round her grassy throne, bedew'd with tears,
Flit the thin forms of Sorrows, and of Fears;
Soft Sighs responsive whisper to the chords,
And Indignations half-unsheath their swords.
"Thrice round the grave CIRCÆA prints her tread,
And chaunts the numbers, which disturb the dead;
Shakes o'er the holy earth her sable plume,
Waves her dread wand, and strikes the echoing tomb!
--Pale shoot the stars across the troubled night,
The timorous moon withholds her conscious light;
Shrill scream the famish'd bats, and shivering owls,
And loud and long the dog of midnight howls!--
--Then yawns the bursting ground!--two imps obscene
Rise on broad wings, and hail the baleful queen;
Each with dire grin salutes the potent wand,
And leads the sorceress with his sooty hand;
Onward they glide, where sheds the sickly yew
O'er many a mouldering bone its nightly dew;
The ponderous portals of the church unbar,--
Hoarse on their hinge the ponderous portals jar;
As through the colour'd glass the moon-beam falls,
Huge shapeless spectres quiver on the walls;
Low murmurs creep along the hollow ground,
And to each step the pealing ailes resound;
By glimmering lamps, protecting saints among,
The shrines all tremble as they pass along,
O'er the still choir with hideous laugh they move,
(Fiends yell below, and angels weep above!)
Their impious march to God's high altar bend,
With feet impure the sacred steps ascend;
With wine unbless'd the holy chalice stain,
Assume the mitre, and the cope profane;
To heaven their eyes in mock devotion throw,
And to the cross with horrid mummery bow;
Adjure by mimic rites the powers above,
And plite alternate their Satanic love.
Avaunt, ye Vulgar! from her sacred groves
With maniac step the Pythian LAURA moves;
Full of the God her labouring bosom sighs,
Foam on her lips, and fury in her eyes,
Strong writhe her limbs, her wild dishevell'd hair
Starts from her laurel-wreath, and swims in air.--
While twenty Priests the gorgeous shrine surround
Cinctur'd with ephods, and with garlands crown'd,
Contending hosts and trembling nations wait
The firm immutable behests of Fate;
--She speaks in thunder from her golden throne
With words unwill'd, and wisdom not her own.
So on his NIGHTMARE through the evening fog
Flits the squab Fiend o'er fen, and lake, and bog;
Seeks some love-wilder'd Maid with sleep oppress'd,
Alights, and grinning fits upon her breast.
--Such as of late amid the murky sky
Was mark'd by FUSELI'S poetic eye;
Whose daring tints, with SHAKESPEAR'S happiest grace,
Gave to the airy phantom form and place.--
Back o'er her pillow sinks her blushing head,
Her snow-white limbs hang helpless from the bed;
While with quick sighs, and suffocative breath,
Her interrupted heart-pulse swims in death.
--Then shrieks of captured towns, and widows' tears,
Pale lovers stretch'd upon their blood-stain'd biers,
The headlong precipice that thwarts her flight,
The trackless desert, the cold starless night,
And stern-eye'd Murder with his knife behind,
In dread succession agonize her mind.
O'er her fair limbs convulsive tremors fleet,
Start in her hands, and struggle in her feet;
In vain to scream with quivering lips she tries,
And strains in palsy'd lids her tremulous eyes;
In vain she wills to run, fly, swim, walk, creep;
The WILL presides not in the bower of SLEEP.
--On her fair bosom sits the Demon-Ape
Erect, and balances his bloated shape;
Rolls in their marble orbs his Gorgon-eyes,
And drinks with leathern ears her tender cries.
Arm'd with her ivory beak, and talon-hands,
Descending FICA dives into the sands;
Chamber'd in earth with cold oblivion lies;
Nor heeds, ye Suitor-train, your amorous sighs;
Erewhile with renovated beauty blooms,
Mounts into air, and moves her leafy plumes.
--Where HAMPS and MANIFOLD, their cliffs among,
Each in his flinty channel winds along;
With lucid lines the dusky Moor divides,
Hurrying to intermix their sister tides.
Where still their silver-bosom'd Nymphs abhor,
The blood-smear'd mansion of gigantic THOR,--
--Erst, fires volcanic in the marble womb
Of cloud-wrapp'd WETTON raised the massy dome;
Rocks rear'd on rocks in huge disjointed piles
Form the tall turrets, and the lengthen'd ailes;
Broad ponderous piers sustain the roof, and wide
Branch the vast rain-bow ribs from side to side.
While from above descends in milky streams
One scanty pencil of illusive beams,
Suspended crags and gaping gulphs illumes,
And gilds the horrors of the deepen'd glooms.
--Here oft the Naiads, as they chanced to play
Near the dread Fane on THOR'S returning day,
Saw from red altars streams of guiltless blood
Stain their green reed-beds, and pollute their flood;
Heard dying babes in wicker prisons wail,
And shrieks of matrons thrill the affrighted Gale;
While from dark caves infernal Echoes mock,
And Fiends triumphant shout from every rock!
---So still the Nymphs emerging lift in air
Their snow-white shoulders and their azure hair;
Sail with sweet grace the dimpling streams along,
Listening the Shepherd's or the Miner's song;
But, when afar they view the giant-cave,
On timorous fins they circle on the wave,
With streaming eyes and throbbing hearts recoil,
Plunge their fair forms, and dive beneath the soil.--
Closed round their heads reluctant eddies sink,
And wider rings successive dash the brink.--
Three thousand steps in sparry clefts they stray,
Or seek through sullen mines their gloomy way;
On beds of Lava sleep in coral cells,
Or sigh o'er jasper fish, and agate shells.
Till, where famed ILAM leads his boiling floods
Through flowery meadows and impending woods,
Pleased with light spring they leave the dreary night,
And 'mid circumfluent surges rise to light;
Shake their bright locks, the widening vale pursue,
Their sea-green mantles fringed with pearly dew;
In playful groups by towering THORP they move,
Bound o'er the foaming wears, and rush into the Dove.
With fierce distracted eye IMPATIENS stands,
Swells her pale cheeks, and brandishes her hands,
With rage and hate the astonish'd groves alarms,
And hurls her infants from her frantic arms.
--So when MEDÆA left her native soil
Unaw'd by danger, unsubdued by toil;
Her weeping sire and beckoning friends withstood,
And launch'd enamour'd on the boiling flood;
One ruddy boy her gentle lips caress'd,
And one fair girl was pillow'd on her breast;
While high in air the golden treasure burns,
And Love and Glory guide the prow by turns.
But, when Thessalia's inauspicious plain
Received the matron-heroine from the main;
While horns of triumph sound, and altars burn,
And shouting nations hail their Chief's return:
Aghaft, She saw new-deck'd the nuptial bed,
And proud CREUSA to the temple led;
Saw her in JASON'S mercenary arms
Deride her virtues, and insult her charms;
Saw her dear babes from fame and empire torn,
In foreign realms deserted and forlorn;
Her love rejected, and her vengeance braved,
By Him her beauties won, her virtues saved.--
With stern regard she eyed the traitor-king,
And felt, Ingratitude! thy keenest sting;
"Nor Heaven," She cried, "nor Earth, nor Hell can hold
"A Heart abandon'd to the thirst of Gold!"
Stamp'd with wild foot, and shook her horrent brow,
And call'd the furies from their dens below.
--Slow out of earth, before the festive crowds,
On wheels of fire, amid a night of clouds,
Drawn by fierce fiends arose a magic car,
Received the Queen, and hovering flamed in air.--
As with raised hands the suppliant traitors kneel
And fear the vengeance they deserve to feel,
Thrice with parch'd lips her guiltless babes she press'd,
And thrice she clasp'd them to her tortur'd breast;
Awhile with white uplifted eyes she stood,
Then plung'd her trembling poniards in their blood.
"Go, kiss your sire! go, share the bridal mirth!"
She cry'd, and hurl'd their quivering limbs on earth.
Rebellowing thunders rock the marble towers,
And red-tongued lightnings shoot their arrowy showers;
Earth yawns!--the crashing ruin sinks!--o'er all
Death with black hands extends his mighty Pall;
Their mingling gore the Fiends of Vengeance quaff,
And Hell receives them with convulsive laugh.
Round the vex'd isles where fierce tornados roar,
Or tropic breezes sooth the sultry shore;
What time the eve her gauze pellucid spreads
O'er the dim flowers, and veils the misty meads;
Slow, o'er the twilight sands or leafy walks,
With gloomy dignity DICTAMNA stalks;
In sulphurous eddies round the weird dame
Plays the light gas, or kindles into flame.
If rests the traveller his weary head,
Grim MANCINELLA haunts the mossy bed,
Brews her black hebenon, and, stealing near,
Pours the curst venom in his tortured ear.--
Wide o'er the mad'ning throng URTICA flings
Her barbed shafts, and darts her poison'd stings.
And fell LOBELIA'S suffocating breath
Loads the dank pinion of the gale with death.--
With fear and hate they blast the affrighted groves,
Yet own with tender care their kindred Loves!--
So, where PALMIRA 'mid her wasted plains,
Her shatter'd aqueducts, and prostrate sanes,
(As the bright orb of breezy midnight pours
Long threads of silver through her gaping towers,
O'er mouldering tombs, and tottering columns gleams,
And frosts her deserts with diffusive beams),
Sad o'er the mighty wreck in silence bends,
Lifts her wet eyes, her tremulous hands extends.--
If from lone cliffs a bursting rill expands
Its transient course, and sinks into the sands;
O'er the moist rock the fell Hyæna prowls,
The Leopard hisses, and the Panther growls;
On quivering wing the famish'd Vulture screams,
Dips his dry beak, and sweeps the gushing streams;
With foamy jaws, beneath, and sanguine tongue,
Laps the lean Wolf, and pants, and runs along;
Stern stalks the Lion, on the rustling brinks
Hears the dread Snake, and trembles as he drinks;
Quick darts the scaly Monster o'er the plain,
Fold after fold, his undulating train;
And, bending o'er the lake his crested brow,
Starts at the Crocodile, that gapes below.
Where seas of glass with gay reflections smile
Round the green coasts of Java's palmy isle;
A spacious plain extends its upland scene,
Rocks rise on rocks, and fountains gush between;
Soft zephyrs blow, eternal summers reign,
And showers prolific bless the soil,--in vain!
--No spicy nutmeg scents the vernal gales,
Nor towering plaintain shades the mid-day vales;
No grassy mantle hides the sable hills,
No flowery chaplet crowns the trickling rills;
Nor tufted moss, nor leathery lichen creeps
In russet tapestry o'er the crumbling steeps.
--No step retreating, on the sand impress'd,
Invites the visit of a second guest;
No refluent fin the unpeopled stream divides,
No revolant pinion cleaves the airy tides;
Nor handed moles, nor beaked worms return,
That mining pass the irremeable bourn.--
Fierce in dread silence on the blasted heath
Fell UPAS sits, the HYDRA-TREE of death.
Lo! from one root, the envenom'd soil below,
A thousand vegetative serpents grow;
In shining rays the scaly monster spreads
O'er ten square leagues his far-diverging heads;
Or in one trunk entwists his tangled form,
Looks o'er the clouds, and hisses in the storm.
Steep'd in fell poison, as his sharp teeth part,
A thousand tongues in quick vibration dart;
Snatch the proud Eagle towering o'er the heath,
Or pounce the Lion, as he stalks beneath;
Or strew, as marshall'd hosts contend in vain,
With human skeletons the whiten'd plain.
--Chain'd at his root two scion-demons dwell,
Breathe the faint hiss, or try the shriller yell;
Rise, fluttering in the air on callow wings,
And aim at insect-prey their little stings.
So Time's strong arms with sweeping scythe erase
Art's cumberous works, and empires, from their base;
While each young Hour its sickle fine employs,
And crops the sweet buds of domestic joys!
With blushes bright as morn fair ORCHIS charms,
And lulls her infant in her fondling arms;
Soft play Affection round her bosom's throne,
And guards his life, forgetful of her own.
So wings the wounded Deer her headlong flight,
Pierced by some ambush'd archer of the night,
Shoots to the woodlands with her bounding fawn,
And drops of blood bedew the conscious lawn;
There hid in shades she shuns the cheerful day,
Hangs o'er her young, and weeps her life away.
So stood Eliza on the wood-crown'd height,
O'er Minden's plain, spectatress of the sight,
Sought with bold eye amid the bloody strife
Her dearer self, the partner of her life;
From hill to hill the rushing host pursued,
And view'd his banner, or believed she view'd.
Pleased with the distant roar, with quicker tread
Fast by his hand one lisping boy she led;
And one fair girl amid the loud alarm
Slept on her kerchief, cradled by her arm;
While round her brows bright beams of Honour dart,
And Love's warm eddies circle round her heart
--Near and more near the intrepid Beauty press'd,
Saw through the driving smoke his dancing crest,
Heard the exulting shout, "they run! they run!"
"Great GOD!" she cried, "He's safe! the battle's won!"
--A ball now hisses through the airy tides,
(Some Fury wing'd it, and some Demon guides!)
Parts the fine locks, her graceful head that deck,
Wounds her fair ear, and sinks into her neck;
The red stream, issuing from her azure veins,
Dyes her white veil, her ivory bosom stains.--
--"Ah me!" she cried, and, sinking on the ground,
Kiss'd her dear babes, regardless of the wound;
"Oh, cease not yet to beat, thou Vital Urn!
"Wait, gushing Life, oh, wait my Love's return!--
"Hoarse barks the wolf, the vulture screams from far!
"The angel, Pity, shuns the walks of war!----
"Oh, spare ye War-hounds, spare their tender age!--
"On me, on me," she cried, "exhaust your rage!"--
Then with weak arms her weeping babes caress'd,
And sighing bid them in her blood-stain'd vest.
From tent to tent the impatient warrior flies,
Fear in his heart, and frenzy in his eyes;
Eliza's name along the camp he calls,
Eliza echoes through the canvas walls;
Quick through the murmuring gloom his footsteps tread,
O'er groaning heaps, the dying and the dead,
Vault o'er the plain, and in the tangled wood,
Lo! dead Eliza weltering in her blood!--
--Soon hears his listening son the welcome sounds,
With open arms and sparkling eyes he bounds:--
"Speak low," he cries, and gives his little hand,
"Eliza sleeps upon the dew-cold sand;
"Poor weeping Babe with bloody fingers press'd,
"And tried with pouting lips her milkless breast;
"Alas! we both with cold and hunger quake--
"Why do you weep?--Mama will soon awake."
--"She'll wake no more!" the hopeless mourner cried
Upturn'd his eyes, and clasp'd his hands, and sigh'd;
Stretch'd on the ground awhile entranc'd he lay,
And press'd warm kisses on the lifeless clay;
And then unsprung with wild convulsive start,
And all the Father kindled in his heart;
"Oh, Heavens!" he cried, "my first rash vow forgive!
"These bind to earth, for these I pray to live!"--
Round his chill babes he wrapp'd his crimson vest,
And clasp'd them sobbing to his aching breast.
Two Harlot-Nymphs, the fair CUSCUTAS, please
With labour'd negligence, and studied ease;
In the meek garb of modest worth disguised,
The eye averted, and the smile chastised,
With sly approach they spread their dangerous charms,
And round their victim wind their wiry arms.
So by Scamander when LAOCOON stood,
Where Troy's proud turrets glitter'd in the flood,
Raised high his arm, and with prophetic call
To shrinking realms announced her fatal fall;
Whirl'd his fierce spear with more than mortal force,
And pierced the thick ribs of the echoing horse;
Two Serpent-forms incumbent on the main,
Lashing the white waves with redundant train,
Arch'd their blue necks, and (hook their towering crests,
And plough'd their foamy way with speckled breasts;
Then darting fierce amid the affrighted throngs,
Roll'd their red eyes, and shot their forked tongues,--
--Two daring Youths to guard the hoary fire
Thwart their dread progress, and provoke their ire.
Round sire and sons the scaly monsters roll'd,
Ring above ring, in many a tangled fold,
Close and more close their writhing limbs surround,
And fix with foamy teeth the envenom'd wound.
--With brow upturn'd to heaven the holy Sage
In silent agony sustains their rage;
While each fond Youth, in vain, with piercing cries
Bends on the tortured Sire his dying eyes.
"Drink deep, sweet youths" seductive VITIS cries,
The maudlin tear-drop glittering in her eyes;
Green leaves and purple clusters crown her head,
And the tall Thyrsus stays her tottering tread.
--Five hapless swains with soft assuasive smiles
The harlot meshes in her deathful toils;
"Drink deep," she carols, as she waves in air
The mantling goblet, "and forget your care."--
O'er the dread feast malignant Chemia scowls,
And mingles poison in the nectar'd bowls;
Fell Gout peeps grinning through the flimsy scene,
And bloated Dropsy pants behind unseen;
Wrapp'd in his robe white Lepra hides his stains,
And silent Frenzy writhing bites his chains.
So when PROMETHEUS braved the Thunderer's ire,
Stole from his blazing throne etherial fire,
And, lantern'd in his breast, from realms of day
Bore the bright treasure to his Man of clay;--
High on cold Caucasus by VULCAN bound,
The lean impatient Vulture fluttering round,
His writhing limbs in vain he twists and strains
To break or loose the adamantine chains.
The gluttonous bird, exulting in his pangs,
Tears his swoln liver with remorseless fangs.
The gentle CYCLAMEN with dewy eye
Breathes o'er her lifeless babe the parting sigh;
And, bending low to earth, with pious hands
Inhumes her dear Departed in the sands.
"Sweet Nursling! withering in thy tender hour,
"Oh, sleep," She cries, "and rise a fairer flower!"
--So when the Plague o'er London's gasping crowds
Shook her dank wing, and steer'd her murky clouds;
When o'er the friendless bier no rites were read,
No dirge slow-chanted, and no pall out-spread;
While Death and Night piled up the naked throng,
And Silence drove their ebon cars along;
Six lovely daughters, and their father, swept
To the throng'd grave CLEONE saw, and wept;
Her tender mind, with meek Religion fraught,
Drank all-resigned Affliction's bitter draught;
Alive and listening to the whisper'd groan
Of others' woes, unconscious of her own!--
One smiling boy, her last sweet hope, she warms
Hushed on her bosom, circled in her arms,--
Daughter of woe! ere morn, in vain caress'd,
Clung the cold Babe upon thy milkless breast,
With feeble cries thy last sad aid required,
Stretch'd its stiff limbs, and on thy lap expired!--
--Long with wide eye-lids on her Child she gazed,
And long to heaven their tearless orbs she raised;
Then with quick foot and throbbing heart she found
Where Chartreuse open'd deep his holy ground;
Bore her last treasure through the midnight gloom,
And kneeling dropp'd it in the mighty tomb;
"I follow next!" the frantic mourner said,
And living plunged amid the festering dead.
Where vast Ontario rolls his brineless tides,
And feeds the trackless forests on his sides,
Fair CASSIA trembling hears the howling woods,
And trusts her tawny children to the floods.--
Cinctured with gold while ten fond brothers stand,
And guard the beauty on her native land,
Soft breathes the gale, the current gently moves,
And bears to Norway's coasts her infant-loves.
--So the sad mother at the noon of night
From bloody Memphis stole her silent flight;
Wrapp'd her dear babe beneath her folded vest,
And clasp'd the treasure to her throbbing breast,
With soothing whispers hushed its feeble cry,
Pressed the soft kiss, and breathed the secret sigh.--
--With dauntless step she seeks the winding shore,
Hears unappall'd the glimmering torrents roar;
With Paper-flags a floating cradle weaves,
And hides the smiling boy in Lotus-leaves;
Gives her white bosom to his eager lips,
The salt tears mingling with the milk he sips;
Waits on the reed-crown'd brink with pious guile,
And trusts the scaly monsters of the Nile.--
--Erewhile majestic from his lone abode,
Embassador of Heaven, the Prophet trod;
Wrench'd the red Scourge from proud Oppression's hands,
And broke, curst Slavery! thy iron bands.
Hark! heard ye not that piercing cry,
Which shook the waves and rent the sky!--
E'en now, e'en now, on yonder Western shores
Weeps pale Despair, and writhing Anguish roars:
E'en now in Afric's groves with hideous yell
Fierce SLAVERY stalks, and slips the dogs of hell;
From vale to vale the gathering cries rebound,
And sable nations tremble at the sound!--
--YE BANDS OF SENATORS! whose suffrage sways
Britannia's realms, whom either Ind obeys;
Who right the injured, and reward the brave,
Stretch your strong arm, for ye have power to save!
Throned in the vaulted heart, his dread resort,
Inexorable CONSCIENCE holds his court;
With still small voice the plots of Guilt alarms,
Bares his mask'd brow, his lifted hand disarms;
But, wrapp'd in night with terrors all his own,
He speaks in thunder, when the deed is done.
Hear him ye Senates! hear this truth sublime,
"HE, WHO ALLOWS OPPRESSION, SHARES THE CRIME."
No radiant pearl, which crested Fortune wears,
No gem, that twinkling hangs from Beauty's ears,
Not the bright stars, which Night's blue arch adorn,
Nor rising suns that gild the vernal morn,
Shine with such lustre as the tear, that breaks
For other's woe down Virtue's manly cheeks."
Here ceased the MUSE, and dropp'd her tuneful shell,
Tumultuous woes her panting bosom swell,
O'er her flush'd cheek her gauzy veil she throws,
Folds her white arms, and bends her laurel'd brows;
For human guilt awhile the Goddess sighs,
And human sorrows dim celestial eyes.

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Erasmus Darwin