Erasmus Darwin

The Botanic Garden (Part VI)

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THE LOVES OF THE PLANTS.

CANTO II.

Again the Goddess strikes the golden lyre,
And tunes to wilder notes the warbling wire;
With soft suspended step Attention moves,
And Silence hovers o'er the listening groves;
Orb within orb the charmed audience throng,
And the green vault reverberates the song.
"Breathe soft, ye Gales!" the fair CARLINA cries,
Bear on broad wings your Votress to the skies.
How sweetly mutable yon orient hues,
As Morn's fair hand her opening roses strews;
How bright, when Iris blending many a ray
Binds in embroider'd wreath the brow of Day;
Soft, when the pendant Moon with lustres pale
O'er heaven's blue arch unfurls her milky veil;
While from the north long threads of silver light
Dart on swift shuttles o'er the tissued night!
"Breathe soft, ye Zephyrs! hear my fervent sighs,
Bear on broad wings your Votress to the skies!"--
--Plume over plume in long divergent lines
On whale-bone ribs the fair Mechanic joins;
Inlays with eider down the silken strings,
And weaves in wide expanse Dædalian wings;
Round her bold sons the waving pennons binds,
And walks with angel-step upon the winds.
So on the shoreless air the intrepid Gaul
Launch'd the vast concave of his buoyant ball.--
Journeying on high, the silken castle glides
Bright as a meteor through the azure tides;
O'er towns and towers and temples wins its way,
Or mounts sublime, and gilds the vault of day.
Silent with upturn'd eyes unbreathing crowds
Pursue the floating wonder to the clouds;
And, flush'd with transport or benumb'd with fear,
Watch, as it rises, the diminish'd sphere.
--Now less and less!--and now a speck is seen!--
And now the fleeting rack obtrudes between!--
With bended knees, raised arms, and suppliant brow
To every shrine with mingled cries they vow.--
"Save Him, ye Saints! who o'er the good preside;
"Bear Him, ye Winds! ye Stars benignant! guide."
--The calm Philosopher in ether fails,
Views broader stars, and breathes in purer gales;
Sees, like a map, in many a waving line
Round Earth's blue plains her lucid waters mine;
Sees at his feet the forky lightnings glow,
And hears innocuous thunders roar below.
----Rife, great MONGOLFIER! urge thy venturous flight
High o'er the Moon's pale ice-reflected light;
High o'er the pearly Star, whose beamy horn.
Hangs in the east, gay harbinger of morn;
Leave the red eye of Mars on rapid wing;
Jove's silver guards, and Saturn's dusky ring;
Leave the fair beams, which, issuing from afar;
Play with new lustres round the Georgian star;
Shun with strong oars the Sun's attractive throne,
The sparkling zodiack, and the milky zone;
Where headlong Comets with increasing force
Through other systems bend their blazing course.--
For thee Cassiope her chair withdraws,
For thee the Bear retracts his shaggy paws;
High o'er the North thy golden orb shall roll,
And blaze eternal round the wondering pole.
So Argo, rising from the southern main,
Lights with new stars the blue etherial plain;
With favoring beams the mariner protects,
And the bold course, which first it steer'd, directs.
Inventress of the Woof, fair LINA flings
The flying shuttle through the dancing strings;
Inlays the broider'd weft with flowery dyes,
Quick beat the reeds, the pedals fall and rise;
Slow from the beam the lengths of warp unwind,
And dance and nod the massy weights behind.--
Taught by her labours, from the fertile soil
Immortal Isis clothed the banks of Nile;
And fair ARACHNE with her rival loom
Found undeserved a melancholy doom.--
Five Sister-nymphs with dewy fingers twine
The beamy flax, and stretch the fibre-line;
Quick eddying threads from rapid spindles reel,
Or whirl with beaten foot the dizzy wheel.
--Charm'd round the busy Fair five shepherds press,
Praise the nice texture of their snowy dress,
Admire the Artists, and the art approve,
And tell with honey'd words the tale of love.
So now, where Derwent rolls his dusky floods
Through vaulted mountains, and a night of woods,
The Nymph, GOSSYPIA, treads the velvet sod,
And warms with rosy smiles the watery God;
His ponderous oars to slender spindles turns,
And pours o'er massy wheels his foamy urns;
With playful charms her hoary lover wins,
And wields his trident,--while the Monarch spins.
--First with nice eye emerging Naiads cull
From leathery pods the vegetable wool;
With wiry teeth revolving cards release
The tanged knots, and smooth the ravell'd fleece;
Next moves the iron-band with fingers fine,
Combs the wide card, and forms the eternal line;
Slow, with soft lips, the whirling Can acquires
The tender skeins, and wraps in rising spires;
With quicken'd pace successive rollers move,
And these retain, and those extend the rove;
Then fly the spoles, the rapid axles glow;--
And slowly circumvolves the labouring wheel below.
PAPYRA, throned upon the banks of Nile,
Spread her smooth leaf, and waved her silver style.
--The storied pyramid, the laurel'd bust,
The trophy'd arch had crumbled into dust;
The sacred symbol, and the epic song,
(Unknown the character, forgot the tongue,)
With each unconquer'd chief, or fainted maid,
Sunk undistinguish'd in Oblivion's shade.
Sad o'er the scatter'd ruins Genius sigh'd,
And infant Arts but learn'd to lisp and died.
Till to astonish'd realms PAPYRA taught
To paint in mystic colours Sound and Thought.
With Wisdom's voice to print the page sublime,
And mark in adamant the steps of Time.
--Three favour'd youths her soft attention share,
The fond disciples of the studious Fair,
Hear her sweet voice, the golden process prove;
Gaze, as they learn; and, as they listen, love.
The first from Alpha to Omega joins
The letter'd tribes along the level lines;
Weighs with nice ear the vowel, liquid, surd,
And breaks in syllables the volant word.
Then forms the next upon the marshal'd plain
In deepening ranks his dexterous cypher-train;
And counts, as wheel the decimating bands,
The dews of Ægypt, or Arabia's sands,
And then the third on four concordant lines
Prints the lone crotchet, and the quaver joins;
Marks the gay trill, the solemn pause inscribes,
And parts with bars the undulating tribes.
Pleased round her cane-wove throne, the applauding crowd
Clap'd their rude hands, their swarthy foreheads bow'd;
With loud acclaim "a present God!" they cry'd,
"A present God!" rebellowing shores reply'd--
Then peal'd at intervals with mingled swell
The echoing harp, shrill clarion, horn, and shell;
While Bards ecstatic, bending o'er the lyre,
Struck deeper chords, and wing'd the song with fire.
Then mark'd Astronomers with keener eyes
The Moon's refulgent journey through the skies;
Watch'd the swift Comets urge their blazing cars,
And weigh'd the Sun with his revolving Stars.
High raised the Chemists their Hermetic wands,
(And changing forms obey'd their waving hands,)
Her treasur'd gold from Earth's deep chambers tore,
Or fused and harden'd her chalybeate ore.
All with bent knee from fair PAPYRA claim
Wove by her hands the wreath of deathless fame.
--Exulting Genius crown'd his darling child,
The young Arts clasp'd her knees, and Virtue smiled.
So now DELANY forms her mimic bowers,
Her paper foliage, and her silken flowers;
Her virgin train the tender scissars ply,
Vein the green leaf, the purple petal dye:
Round wiry stems the flaxen tendril bends,
Moss creeps below, and waxen fruit impends.
Cold Winter views amid his realms of snow
DELANY'S vegetable statues blow;
Smooths his stern brow, delays his hoary wing,
And eyes with wonder all the blooms of spring.
The gentle LAPSANA, NYMPHÆA fair,
And bright CALENDULA with golden hair,
Watch with nice eye the Earth's diurnal way,
Marking her solar and sidereal day,
Her slow nutation, and her varying clime,
And trace with mimic art the march of Time;
Round his light foot a magic chain they fling,
And count the quick vibrations of his wing.--
First in its brazen cell reluctant roll'd
Bends the dark spring in many a steely fold;
On spiral brass is stretch'd the wiry thong,
Tooth urges tooth, and wheel drives wheel along;
In diamond-eyes the polish'd axles flow,
Smooth slides the hand, the ballance pants below.
Round the white circlet in relievo bold
A Serpent twines his scaly length in gold;
And brightly pencil'd on the enamel'd sphere
Live the fair trophies of the passing year.
--Here Time's huge fingers grasp his giant-mace,
And dash proud Superstition from her base,
Rend her strong towers and gorgeous fanes, and shed
The crumbling fragments round her guilty head.
There the gay Hours, whom wreaths of roses deck,
Lead their young trains amid the cumberous wreck;
And, slowly purpling o'er the mighty waste,
Plant the fair growths of Science and of Taste.
While each light Moment, as it dances by
With feathery foot and pleasure-twinkling eye,
Feeds from its baby-hand, with many a kiss,
The callow nestlings of domestic Bliss.
As yon gay clouds, which canopy the skies,
Change their thin forms, and lose their lucid dyes;
So the soft bloom of Beauty's vernal charms
Fades in our eyes, and withers in our arms.
--Bright as the silvery plume, or pearly shell,
The snow-white rose, or lily's virgin bell,
The fair HELLEBORAS attractive shone,
Warm'd every Sage, and every Shepherd won.--
Round the gay sisters press the enamour'd bands,
And seek with soft solicitude their hands.
--Ere while how chang'd!--in dim suffusion lies
The glance divine, that lighten'd in their eyes;
Cold are those lips, where smiles seductive hung,
And the weak accents linger on their tongue;
Each roseat feature fades to livid green,--
--Disgust with face averted shuts the scene.
So from his gorgeous throne, which awed the world,
The mighty Monarch of the east was hurl'd,
To dwell with brutes beneath the midnight storm,
By Heaven's just vengeance changed in mind and form.
--Prone to the earth He bends his brow superb,
Crops the young floret and the bladed herb;
Lolls his red tongue, and from the reedy side
Of slow Euphrates laps the muddy tide.
Long eagle-plumes his arching neck invest,
Steal round his arms, and clasp his sharpen'd breast;
Dark brinded hairs in bristling ranks, behind,
Rise o'er his back, and rustle in the wind,
Clothe his lank sides, his shrivel'd limbs surround,
And human hands with talons print the ground.
Silent in shining troops the Courtier-throng
Pursue their monarch as he crawls along;
E'en Beauty pleads in vain with smiles and tears,
Nor Flattery's self can pierce his pendant ears.

Two Sister-Nymphs to Ganges' flowery brink
Bend their light steps, the lucid water drink,
Wind through the dewy rice, and nodding canes,
(As eight black Eunuchs guard the sacred plains),
With playful malice watch the scaly brood,
And shower the inebriate berries on the flood.--
Stay in your crystal chambers, silver tribes!
Turn your bright eyes, and shun the dangerous bribes;
The tramel'd net with less destruction sweeps
Your curling shallows, and your azure deeps;
With less deceit, the gilded fly beneath,
Lurks the fell hook unseen,--to taste is death!--
--Dim your slow eyes, and dull your pearly coat,
Drunk on the waves your languid forms shall float,
On useless fins in giddy circles play,
And Herons and Otters seize you for their prey.--
So, when the Saint from Padua's graceless land
In silent anguish sought the barren strand,
High on the shatter'd beech sublime He stood,
Still'd with his waving arm the babbling flood;
"To Man's dull ear," He cry'd, "I call in vain,
"Hear me, ye scaly tenants of the main!"--
Misshapen Seals approach in circling flocks,
In dusky mail the Tortoise climbs the rocks,
Torpedoes, Sharks, Rays, Porpus, Dolphins, pour
Their twinkling squadrons round the glittering shore;
With tangled fins, behind, huge Phocæ glide,
And Whales and Grampi swell the distant tide.
Then kneel'd the hoary Seer, to heaven address'd
His fiery eyes, and smote his sounding breast;
"Bless ye the Lord!" with thundering voice he cry'd,
"Bless ye the Lord!" the bending shores reply'd;
The winds and waters caught the sacred word,
And mingling echoes shouted "Bless the Lord!"
The listening shoals the quick contagion feel,
Pant on the floods, inebriate with their zeal,
Ope their wide jaws, and bow their slimy heads,
And dash with frantic fins their foamy beds.
Sopha'd on silk, amid her charm-built towers,
Her meads of asphodel, and amaranth bowers,
Where Sleep and Silence guard the soft abodes,
In sullen apathy PAPAVER nods.
Faint o'er her couch in scintillating streams
Pass the thin forms of Fancy and of Dreams;
Froze by inchantment on the velvet ground
Fair youths and beauteous ladies glitter round;
On crystal pedestals they seem to sigh,
Bend the meek knee, and lift the imploring eye.
--And now the Sorceress bares her shrivel'd hand,
And circles thrice in air her ebon wand;
Flush'd with new life descending statues talk,
The pliant marble softening as they walk;
With deeper sobs reviving lovers breathe,
Fair bosoms rise, and soft hearts pant beneath;
With warmer lips relenting damsels speak,
And kindling blushes tinge the Parian cheek;
To viewless lutes aërial voices sing,
And hovering Loves are heard on rustling wing.
--She waves her wand again!--fresh horrors seize
Their stiffening limbs, their vital currents freeze;
By each cold nymph her marble lover lies,
And iron slumbers seal their glassy eyes.
So with his dread Caduceus HERMES led
From the dark regions of the imprison'd dead,
Or drove in silent shoals the lingering train
To Night's dull shore, and PLUTO'S dreary reign
So with her waving pencil CREWE commands
The realms of Taste, and Fancy's fairy lands;
Calls up with magic voice the shapes, that sleep
In earth's dark bosom, or unfathom'd deep;
That shrined in air on viewless wings aspire,
Or blazing bathe in elemental fire.
As with nice touch her plaistic hand she moves,
Rise the fine forms of Beauties, Graces, Loves;
Kneel to the fair Inchantress, smile or sigh,
And fade or flourish, as she turns her eye.
Fair CISTA, rival of the rosy dawn,
Call'd her light choir, and trod the dewy lawn;
Hail'd with rude melody the new-born May,
As cradled yet in April's lap she lay.

I.

"Born in yon blaze of orient sky,
"Sweet MAY! thy radiant form unfold;
"Unclose thy blue voluptuous eye,
"And wave thy shadowy locks of gold.

II.

"For Thee the fragrant zephyrs blow,
"For Thee descends the sunny shower;
"The rills in softer murmurs slow,
"And brighter blossoms gem the bower.

III.

"Light Graces dress'd in flowery wreaths
"And tiptoe Joys their hands combine;
"And Love his sweet contagion breathes,
"And laughing dances round thy shrine.

IV.

"Warm with new life the glittering throngs
"On quivering fin and rustling wing
"Delighted join their votive songs,
"And hail thee, GODDESS OF THE SPRING."

O'er the green brinks of Severn's oozy bed,
In changeful rings, her sprightly troop She led;
PAN tripp'd before, where Eudness shades the mead,
And blew with glowing lip his sevenfold reed;
Emerging Naiads swell'd the jocund strain,
And aped with mimic step the dancing train.--
"I faint, I fall!"--at noon the Beauty cried,
"Weep o'er my tomb, ye Nymphs!"--and sunk and died.
--Thus, when white Winter o'er the shivering clime
Drives the still snow, or showers the silver rime;
As the lone shepherd o'er the dazzling rocks
Prints his steep step, and guides his vagrant flocks;
Views the green holly veil'd in network nice,
Her vermil clusters twinkling in the ice;
Admires the lucid vales, and slumbering floods,
Fantastic cataracts, and crystal woods,
Transparent towns, with seas of milk between,
And eyes with transport the refulgent scene:--
If breaks the sunshine o'er the spangled trees,
Or flits on tepid wing the western breeze,
In liquid dews descends the transient glare,
And all the glittering pageant melts in air.
Where Andes hides his cloud-wreath'd crest in snow,
And roots his base on burning sands below;
Cinchona, fairest of Peruvian maids
To Health's bright Goddess in the breezy glades
On Quito's temperate plain an altar rear'd,
Trill'd the loud hymn, the solemn prayer preferr'd:
Each balmy bud she cull'd, and honey'd flower,
And hung with fragrant wreaths the sacred bower;
Each pearly sea she search'd, and sparkling mine,
And piled their treasures on the gorgeous shrine;
Her suppliant voice for sickening Loxa raised,
Sweet breath'd the gale, and bright the censor blazed.
--"Divine HYGEIA! on thy votaries bend
Thy angel-looks, oh, hear us, and defend!
While streaming o'er the night with baleful glare
The star of Autumn rays his misty hair;
Fierce from his fens the Giant AGUE springs,
And wrapp'd in fogs descends on vampire wings;
"Before, with shuddering limbs cold Tremor reels,
And Fever's burning nostril dogs his heels;
Loud claps the grinning Fiend his iron hands,
Stamps with his marble feet, and shouts along the lands;
Withers the damask cheek, unnerves the strong,
And drives with scorpion-lash the shrieking throng.
Oh, Goddess! on thy kneeling votaries bend
Thy angel-looks, oh, hear us, and defend!"
--HYGEIA, leaning from the blest abodes,
The crystal mansions of the immortal gods,
Saw the sad Nymph uplift her dewy eyes,
Spread her white arms, and breathe her fervid sighs;
Call'd to her fair associates, Youth, and Joy,
And shot all-radiant through the glittering sky;
Loose waved behind her golden train of hair,
Her sapphire mantle swam diffus'd in air.--
O'er the grey matted moss, and pansied sod,
With step sublime the glowing Goddess trod,
Gilt with her beamy eye the conscious shade,
And with her smile celestial bless'd the maid.
"Come to my arms," with seraph voice she cries,
"Thy vows are heard, benignant Nymph! arise;
Where yon aspiring trunks fantastic wreath
Their mingled roots, and drink the rill beneath,
Yield to the biting axe thy sacred wood,
And strew the bitter foliage on the flood."
In silent homage bow'd the blushing maid,--
Five youths athletic hasten to her aid,
O'er the scar'd hills re-echoing strokes resound,
And headlong forests thunder on the ground.
Round the dark roots, rent bark, and shatter'd boughs,
From ocherous beds the swelling fountain flows;
With streams austere its winding margin laves,
And pours from vale to vale its dusky waves.
--As the pale squadrons, bending o'er the brink,
View with a sigh their alter'd forms, and drink;
Slow-ebbing life with refluent crimson breaks
O'er their wan lips, and paints their haggard cheeks;
Through each fine nerve rekindling transports dart,
Light the quick eye, and swell the exulting heart.
--Thus ISRAEL's heaven-taught chief o'er trackless lands
Led to the sultry rock his murmuring bands.
Bright o'er his brows the forky radiance blazed,
And high in air the rod divine He raised.--
Wide yawns the cliff!--amid the thirsty throng
Rush the redundant waves, and shine along;
With gourds and shells and helmets press the bands,
Ope their parch'd lips, and spread their eager hands,
Snatch their pale infants to the exuberant shower,
Kneel on the shatter'd rock, and bless the Almighty Power.
Bolster'd with down, amid a thousand wants,
Pale Dropsy rears his bloated form, and pants;
"Quench me, ye cool pellucid rills!" he cries,
Wets his parch'd tongue, and rolls his hollow eyes.
So bends tormented TANTALUS to drink,
While from his lips the refluent waters shrink;
Again the rising stream his bosom laves,
And Thirst consumes him 'mid circumfluent waves.
--Divine HYGEIA, from the bending sky
Descending, listens to his piercing cry;
Assumes bright DIGITALIS' dress and air,
Her ruby cheek, white neck, and raven hair;
Four youths protect her from the circling throng,
And like the Nymph the Goddess steps along.--
--O'er Him She waves her serpent-wreathed wand,
Cheers with her voice, and raises with her hand,
Warms with rekindling bloom his visage wan,
And charms the shapeless monster into man.
So when Contagion with mephitic breath
And withered Famine urged the work of death;
Marseilles' good Bishop, London's generous Mayor,
With food and faith, with medicine and with prayer,
Raised the weak head and stayed the parting sigh,
Or with new life relumed the swimming eye.--
--And now, PHILANTHROPY! thy rays divine
Dart round the globe from Zembla to the Line;
O'er each dark prison plays the cheering light,
Like northern lustres o'er the vault of night.--
From realm to realm, with cross or crescent crown'd,
Where'er Mankind and Misery are found,
O'er burning sands, deep waves, or wilds of snow,
Thy HOWARD journeying seeks the house of woe.
Down many a winding step to dungeons dank,
Where anguish wails aloud, and fetters clank;
To caves bestrew'd with many a mouldering bone,
And cells, whose echoes only learn to groan;
Where no kind bars a whispering friend disclose,
No sunbeam enters, and no zephyr blows,
HE treads, inemulous of fame or wealth,
Profuse of toil, and prodigal of health;
With soft assuasive eloquence expands
Power's rigid heart, and opes his clenching hands;
Leads stern-ey'd Justice to the dark domains,
If not to fever, to relax the chains;
Or guides awaken'd Mercy through the gloom,
And shews the prison, sister to the tomb!--
Gives to her babes the self-devoted wife,
To her fond husband liberty and life!--
--The Spirits of the Good, who bend from high
Wide o'er these earthly scenes their partial eye,
When first, array'd in VIRTUE'S purest robe,
They saw her HOWARD traversing the globe;
Saw round his brows her sun-like Glory blaze
In arrowy circles of unwearied rays;
Mistook a Mortal for an Angel-Guest,
And ask'd what Seraph-foot the earth imprest.
--Onward he moves!--Disease and Death retire,
And murmuring Demons hate him, and admire."
Here paused the Goddess,--on HYGEIA'S shrine
Obsequious Gnomes repose the lyre divine;
Descending Sylphs relax the trembling strings,
And catch the rain-drops on their shadowy wings.
--And now her vase a modest Naiad fills
With liquid crystal from her pebbly rills;
Piles the dry cedar round her silver urn,
(Bright climbs the blaze, the crackling faggots burn),
Culls the green herb of China's envy'd bowers,
In gaudy cups the steamy treasure pours;
And, sweetly-smiling, on her bended knee
Presents the fragrant quintessence of Tea.

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