“To a Young Lady, a Very Good Actress”
Powerful is Beauty, when to mortal seats
From Heaven descends the heaven-created good,
When Fancy’s glance the fairy phantom meets,
Nymph of the shade, or Naiad of the flood.
So blooms CELENA, daughter of the skies, 5
Queen of the joys romantic rapture dreams,
Her cheeks are summer’s damask rose, her eyes
Steal their quick lustre from the morning’s beams,
Her airy neck the shining tresses shade;
In every wanton curl a Cupid dwells: 10
To these, distrusting in the Graces’ aid,
She joins the mighty charms of magic spells.
Man, hapless man in vain destruction flies,
With wily arts th’ enchantress nymph pursues;
To varying forms, as varying lovers rise, 15
Shifts the bright IRIS of a thousand hues.
Behold the’ austere Divine, oppress by years,
Colics, and bulk, and tithes ingend’red care
The sound of woman grates his aching ears,
Of other woman than a scripture Fair. 20
Sudden she comes a DEBORAH bright in arms,
Or wears the pastoral RACHEL’S ancient mien;
And now, as glow gay-flushing eastern charms,
He sighs like DAVID’S son for SHEBA’S Queen.
To CHANGE the China trader speeds his pace, 25
Nor heeds the chilly North’s unripening dames;
‘Tis her’s with twinkling eyes, and lengthen’d face,
And pigmy foot, to wake forgotten flames.
She oft, in likeness of th’ EGYPTIAN Crone,
Too well inform’d, relates to wond’ring swains 30
Their amorous plaints preferr’d to her alone:
Her own relentless breast too well explains.
See, at the manor’s hospitable board
Enters a Sire, by infant age rever’d;
From shorten’d tube exhaling fumes afford 35
The incense bland that clouds his forky beard.
Conundrums quaint, and puns of jocund kind,
With rural ditties, warm th’ elated ‘Squire,
Yet oft sensations quicken in his mind,
Other than ale and jocund puns inspire. 40
The forms where bloated Dropsy holds her seat
He views, unconscious of magicians’ guiles,
Nor deems a jaundic’d visage lov’d retreat
Of graces, young desires, and dimpled smiles.
Now o’er the portal of an antique hall 45
A Grecian form the raptur’d patriot awes,
The hoary bust and brow severe recal
LYCURGUS, founder of majestic laws.
Awhile entranc’d, he dreams of old Renown,
And Freedom’s triumph in PLATEAN fields, 50
Then turns – relaxing sees the furrow’d frown,
To melting airs the soften’d marble yields.
I see the lips as breathing life, he cries,
On icy cheeks carnation blooms display’d,
The pensive orbs are pleasure-beaming eyes 55
And SPARTA’S lawgiver a blushing maid.
There, at the curtains of the shudd’ring youth,
Stiff, melancholy, pale, a spectre stands,
Some love-lorn virgin’s shade – O! injur’d truth,
Deserted phantom, and ye plighted hands, 60
He scarce had utter’d – from his frantic gaze
The vision fades – succeeds a flood of light.
O friendly shadows, veil him, as the blaze
Of Beauty’s sun emerging from the night.
Here end thy triumphs, nymphs of potent charms, 65
The laurel’d Bard is Heaven’s immortal care;
Him nor Illusion’s spell nor philter harms,
Nor music floating on the magic air.
The myrtle wand his arm imperial bears,
Reluctant ghosts and stubborn elves obey: 70
Its virtuous touch the midnight fairy fears,
And shapes the wanton in AURORA’S ray.
I ceas’d; the virgin came in native grace,
With native smiles that strengthen Beauty’s chain:
O vain the confidence of mortal race! 75
My laurel’d head and myrtle wand are vain.
Again wild raptures, kindling passions rise,
As once in ANDOVER’S autumnal grove,
When looks that spoke, and eloquence of sighs,
Told the soft mandate of another’s love. 80
4 Nymph “Any of a class of semi-divine spirits; imagined as taking the form of a maiden” (OED); Naiad of the flood “a nymph of fresh water” (OED).
5 Celena Or Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon.
10 Cupid “In Roman Mythology, the god of love” (OED).
16 Iris “The goddess who acted as the messenger of the gods, and was held to display as her sign, or appear as, the rainbow” (OED).
18 Colics “A name given to severe…gripping pains in the belly” (OED); bulk “A heap, cargo” (OED); tithes “A favor” (OED).
21 Deborah A prophet and only female judge from the Bible (Judges 4).
22 Rachel Figure from the Bible, the favorite of Jacob’s two wives (Genesis 30).
24 David’s son for Sheba’s queen An allusion to the enigmatic biblical story of King David’s son, Solomon, and the unnamed Queen of Sheba who visited Jerusalem to test his wisdom (1 Kings 10).
25 Change “A place where merchants or bankers conduct business” (OED).
26 unripening dames Young women.
29 Egyptian Crone Nephthys, an Egyptian goddess of old age, death.
31 amorous plaints “Audible expressions of sorrow” (OED).
37 jocund “Feeling, expressing, or communicating mirth or cheerfulness” (OED).
43 jaundic’d “To affect with envy or jealousy” (OED).
41 Dropsy “A morbid condition characterized by the accumulation of watery fluid, or an insatiable thirst or craving” (OED).
45 portal An entrance.
48 Lycurgus A lawgiver of Sparta.
56 Sparta Prominent city-state in ancient Greece.
58 spectre “An apparition, phantom, or ghost” (OED).
67 philter “A potion, drug, or (occasionally) charm supposed to be capable of exciting sexual attraction or love” (OED).
69 myrtle wand A magic wand, as used by pagans.
72 Aurora A Roman goddess who personifies dawn.
78 Andover A market town in Hampshire, England.
Source: Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1785), pp. 102-107. [Google Books]
Edited by Rachel Rosenthal