Amyntas, A Tale of the Woods/Act II

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Small is the bee, and yet with a small sting
Makes grave and troublesome wounds. But what is smaller
Than love, who lurks in the minutest things,
And strays in the minutest? now beneath
The shadow of an eye-brow; now among
Threads of fine hair; and now in the small wells,
Which a sweet smile forms in a lovely cheek.
And yet what great and mortal wounds are his,
And past all remedy! Alas! all wound
And bleeding havoc is he in my nature;
And millions of sharp spears does he keep stored
In Sylvia's eyes. Oh cruel love! Oh Sylvia,
More hard and without sense, than are the woods,
How rightly dost thou bear that sylvan name!
What foresight his who gave it thee! The woods
Hide with their lovely leaves, lions, and bears,
And snakes; and thou in thy fair bosom hidest
Hate, and disdain, and hard impiety;
Things wilder far than lions, bears, and snakes;
For those are tameable, but to tame thee
Defies the power of present and of prayer.
Ah me! when I would give thee flowers new-blown,
Thou drawest thyself back; perhaps because
Thou hast more lovely flowers in thy own looks.
Ah me! when I present thee sweet young apples,
Thou puttest them away; perhaps because
Thou hast more sweet young apples in thy bosom.
Alas! when I would please thee with sweet honey,
Thou treatest it as nought; perhaps because
Thou hast a sweeter honey in thy lips.
If my poor means can give thee nothing better,
I give thee my own self. And why, unjust one,
Scorn and abhor the gift? I am not one
To be despised, if truly t'other day
I saw myself reflected in the sea,
When the winds hushed, and there was not a wave.
This ruddy sanguine visage, these broad shoulders,
This hairy breast, and these my shaggy thighs,
Are marks of strength and manhood. If thou dost not
Believe them, try them. What dost thou expect
Of those young dainty ones, whose girlish cheeks
Are scarcely tinged with down, and who dispose
Their pretty locks in order,—girls indeed
In strength as well as look? Will any of them
Follow thee through the woods, and up the mountains,
And combat for thy sake with bears and boars?
I am no brute thing; no, nor dost thou scorn me
Because I am thus shaped, but simply and solely
Because I am thus poor. Oh, that the woods
Should take this vile example from the town.
This is indeed the age of gold; for gold
Is conqueror of all, and gold is king.
Oh thou, whoe'er thou wert, that first did shew
The way to make love venal, be thou accurst.
Curst may thine ashes be, and cold thy bones;
And never may'st thou find shepherd or nymph
To say to them in passing "Peace be with ye;"
But may the sharp rains wash them, and the winds
Blow on their bareness; and the herd's foul foot
Trample them, and the stranger. Thou did'st first
Put shame upon the nobleness of love;
And thine was the vile hand that first did put
Bitterness in his cup. A venal love!
A love that waits on gold! It is the greatest,
And most abominable, and filthiest monster,
That ever land or sea shuddered at bearing.
But why in vain lament me? Every creature
Uses the helping arms which nature gave it;
The stag betakes himself to flight, the lion
Ramps with his mighty paws, the foaming boar
Turns with his tusks; and loveliness and grace
Are woman's weapons and her potency.
If nature made me then fitted for deeds
Of violence and rapine, why not I
Use violence for my ends? I will do so:
I will go force from that ungrateful one
What she denies my love. A goatherd, who
Has watched her ways, tells me that she is used
To bathe her in a fountain; and has shewn me
The very spot. There will I plant me close
Among the shrubs and bushes, and so wait
Until she come; then seize my opportunity,
And run upon her. What can she oppose,
The tender thing, either by force or flight,
To one so swift and powerful? She may use
Her sighs and tears, and all that is of force
In beauty to move pity. I will twist
This hand of mine in her thick locks; nor stir
One step till I have drank my draught of vengeance.



As I have told thee, Thyrsis, I knew well
How warmly Amyntàs loved: and heaven knows
How many offices of kindness, I
Have done him, and how many more would do.
Thy prayers have now been added; but as soon
Mightst thou expect to tame a sullen bull,
Or bear, or tyger, as this simple girl,
As foolish as she's fair. She never heeds,
How hot or sharp the darts may be, that strike
From her fair hands; but whether grave or merry,
Goes slaying on; and slays, and knows it not.

Nay, where is to be found the girl so simple,
That if she has but left her leading-strings,
Learns not the art of striking and of pleasing,
And killing with those pleasing arts, and knowing
What arms she wears, and which dispenses death,
And which is healing and restores to life?

And who is master, pray, of all those arts?

Thou feignest ignorance to try me. Well:
The master is the same that teaches birds
Their singing and their flight, fishes their swimming,
The ram his butting, tossing to the bull,
And shews the stately-loving peacock how
To open wide the pomp of his eyed plumes.

And this great master's name?


Fine words!

Why so? Art thou not fit to open school
For thousands of thy sex? Though, to say truth,
There is no need of master. Nature is master;
But then the mother and the nurse bear part

Truly thou'rt both a simple and a sad one.—
But to our business. I must own to thee,
I half suspect that Sylvia is not quite
So simple as she seems. I witnessed something
But yesterday which makes me doubt. I found her
In those large meadows neighbouring the city,
Where there's a little isle among the pools.
She looked on one of them, and hung right over
Its clear unruffled glass, as if to see
How beautiful she looked, and how to best
Advantage she might set the dropping curls
About her brow, and on her curls her net,
And on her net some flowers that filled her bosom.
And now she would take out some privet-blossom,
And now a rose, and hold it to her fair
Fine neck, or her vermillion cheeks, to make
Comparison of their hues. Then she would dart
A smile, as if in gladsome victory,
Which seemed to say, "I conquer nevertheless;
And I will wear ye, not for my adorning,
But solely to your shame, that ye may find
How I surpass ye far." As she was thus
Adorning and admiring her, she chanced
To turn her eyes, and finding I had seen her,
Let fall her flowers, and rose covered with blushes.
I laughed to see her blush; she blushed the more
To see me laugh; and yet, having her locks
But partly gathered up, she had recourse
Once or twice more to her fair friend, the lake,
And stole admiring glances: till afraid
That I espied her spyings, she was pleased
To let herself remain thus partly dressed,
Seeing how negligence became her too.
I saw it, and said nothing.

'Tis exactly
As I supposed. Now dost thou understand me?

I understand thee well. But I have heard,
That nymphs and shepherdesses formerly
Were not thus knowing, yet reserved. I was not
In my own youth. The world methinks, grows old,
And growing old, grows sad.

In those good times
The town, I guess, did not so often spoil
The woods and fields; nor on the other hand
Our foresters so often go to town.
Manners and tribes are mingled now-a-days.
But let us leave this talk. Tell me now, Daphine,
Can'st thou not so contrive, some day or other,
That Sylvia shall consent to see Amyntas
Alone,—or if not so, at least with thee?

I know not. She is now more coy than ever.

And he, no doubt, more full of his respect.

Respectful loving is a desperate trade.
He should set up another. The first step
In learning love, is to unlearn respect.
The scholar then must dare, demand, intreat,
Importune, run away with; and if that
Be not sufficient, there is one thing more.
Knowest thou not the stuff that woman's made of?
She flies, and flying would provoke pursuit:
Refuses; and refusing, would be plundered:
Combats; and combating, would be overthrown.
Ah, Thyrsis, 'tis in confidence I speak
To thee. Deride it not; nor above all,
Put it in rhyme. Thou knowest I know how
To give thee for thy verses, something better.

Thou hast no reason to suspect me capable
Of ever uttering syllable thou lik'st not.
But now I pray thee, gentle Daphne mine,
By the sweet memory of thy fresh youth,
That thou wilt help me to help poor Amyntas.
He will die else.

O gallant adjuration!
To remind woman of her younger days;
Of her delights gone by, and present sadness
Well: what wouldst have me do?

Thou wantest not
Wit nor advice, suffice it that thou wilt.

Well then. We two (Sylvia and I,) shall go
To the fountain which is call'd Diana's fountain,
Thou know'st it,—where the plane-tree is, that holds
Sweet shade to the sweet waters, and invites
The nymphs to seat them freshly from the chace.
There, I know well, she will engulf her fair
And naked limbs.

What then?

What then! O brain
Of little wit! Think, and thou'lt know what then.

I see. But then his courage,———I doubt that.

Nay, if he have not that, he must needs stay,
And wait till people fetch him.

And even that
His nature would deserve.

A little now
To talk of thyself, Thyrsis. Come; hast thou
No wish to be in love? Thou art still young,
Not more than four years over the fourth lustre,
If I remember rightly. Would'st thou lead
A life of insipidity and denial?
Man knows not what delight is, till he loves.

The man that avoids love, need not be ignorant
Of the delights of Venus. He but culls
And tastes the sweets of love without the bitter.

Insipid is the sweet undashed with bitter:
And satiates too soon.

Better be satiate
Than ever hungering,—hungering during food,
And after food,

Not if the food so pleases,
And so possesses one, that every relish
Invites, but to another.

Aye, but who
Possesses such a food, and has it always
At hand, to feast his hunger?

Who is he
Finds what he does not look for?

'Tis a search
Too perilous, to look for what so cheats us,
When it is found; and tortures more, when not.
No; no more love for me; no slaveries more
Of sighs and tears before his reckless throne.
I have had sighs and tears enough. Let others
Play their part now.

But not enough of joys.

I wish them not, if they must cost so dear.

Thou wilt be forced to love, whate'er thou wishest.

But how can he be forced, who keeps at distance?

Who keeps love distant?

He who fears and flies.

What use to fly, when the pursuer has wings?

A love new born has but small wings. He scarcely
Can lift himself upon them, much less dare
To spread them to the wind.

Man seldom knows
When Love is born; and when he does, Love is
Full grown at once, and plumed.

Suppose he has seen
Love born before?

Well; we shall see, Thyrsis,
Whether thine eyes will be so prompt for flight,
As thou supposest. I protest to thee,
That should I ever see thee call for help,
When thou dost play the racer and the stag,
I will not move a single step to help thee;
No, not a finger, a syllable, or a wink.

Cruel! And would it give thee pleasure then
To see me dead? If thou wouldst have me love,
Love me thyself. Let both be loved and loving.

Thou mockest me, I fear; perhaps, in truth,
Deserv'st a mistress more complete than I.
Oh! the seductions of enamelled cheeks!

I mock thee not, believe me. It is thou
That rather tak'st this method to refuse me.
It is the way with all of ye. However,
If thou wilt love me not, I wilt love on
Without a love.

Be happy then, dear Thyrsis,
Happier than ever. Live in perfect ease;
For love takes root in ease, and flourishes.

O Daphne! 'twas a God gave me that ease.
For well may he be deemed a God among us,
Whose mighty flocks and herds feed every where,
From sea to sea, both on the cultured smoothness,
And glad amenity of fertile fields,
And o'er the mountainous backs of Apennine.
He said to me, when first he made me his,
"Thyrsis, let others guard my walled folds,
And chace the wolves and robbers; others give
My servants their rewards and punishments;
And others feed my flocks, and others manage
The dairies and the shearings, and dispense
Their wealth. Do thou, since thou art more at ease,
Sing only." Therefore 'tis most just, my song
Turn not upon the sports of earthly love,
But sing the lineage of my great and true
(Which name am I to chuse?) Apollo or Jove,
For in his works and looks, both he resembles;
A lineage worthy of Saturn and of Cœlus.
Thus has a rustic muse, regal reward;
And whether clear or hoarse, he scorns her not.
I sing not of himself, being unable
To honour his great nature worthily,
Except with silence and with reverence.
But not for ever shall his altars be
Without my flowers,—without the sweet uprolling
Of odorous incense. And this faith of mine,
Pure and devout, shall go not from my heart,
Till stags shall go to feed themselves in air,
And the old rivers run from out their paths,
And Persians drink the Soane, and Gauls the Tigris.

Truly thou fliest high. Now please descend
A little to our work.

The point is this;
That thou should'st go into the fountain with her,
And try to awake her tenderness. Meanwhile
I will persuade Amyntas to come after.
And I suspect my task is not less difficult
Than thine, so let us go.

I will; but mind;
Forget not that we have a task besides.

If I discern his countenance at this distance,
It is Amyntas issuing there. 'Tis he.



I wish to know what Thyrsis may have done;
If nothing, then, before I pass to nothing,
I will go slay me right before the eyes
Of this hard girl,
She is displeased to see
The wound in my heart's core,
Struck by her own sweet eyes.
She will be pleased to see
The new wound in my bosom,
Struck by my own poor hand.

I bring thee comfortable news, Amyntas,
Dry up thy tears for ever.

What! Ah, me,
What dost thou say? What bring me? Life or death?

Life and salvation, if thou darest to meet them;
But thou must be a man, and dare indeed.

What dare, and against whom?

Suppose thy lady
Were in the middle of a wood, which girt
With lofty rocks, harboured wild beasts and lions:
Would'st thou go join her?

Aye, as full of joy,
And more, than holiday maiden to a dance.

Suppose her too, in midst of arms and robbers,
Woulds't thou go join her?

Aye, more headlong glad,
Than thirsting stag to fountain.

There is need
Of greater daring then, than even this.

Why, I will go in middle of rapid torrents,
When the great snows get loose, and swell them down
Sheer to the sea. I will go treading fires,
The fires of hell itself, if she be there,
And hell can be where there's a thing so fair.
Now, tell me all.


I pray thee speak.

Sylvia is waiting for thee at a fountain,
Naked and alone.

Oh! what is it thou sayest?
Naked and alone, and me!

Alone; except
Daphne be with her, who is in our interest.

Naked? and waits for me?

Aye, naked; but—

Alas, that but! Thou speakest not; thou killest me.

But she is not aware yet of thy coming.

Oh hard conclusion, which comes poisoning all!
What arts are these to torture me, fierce friend?
Does it seem little to thee I am wretched,
That thus thou would'st increase my misery?

Follow my counsel, and I'll make thee happy.

What counsel?

That thou go directly, and seize
What friendly fortune offers.

God forbid,
That I should do the least thing to displease her.
I never did, except in loving her;
And that I could not help: her beauty made me.
Therefore it is not the less true for that,
That in all things I can, I seek to please her.

Now answer me. Suppose 'twere in thy power
To cease to love her, would'st thou please her so?

Love will not let me answer thee; no, nor suffer
The very imagination of the thing.

Then thou would'st love her in her own despite,
When thou could'st cease to love her, if thou would'st.

No, not in her despite; but I would love her.

Against her will then?

Yes, undoubtedly.

Why then not dare to take against her will
That which however grievous to her at first,
Will, when 'tis taken, be at last, at last,
Both sweet and dear to her?

Ah, Thyrsis, love
Must answer for me. At my heart he speaks,
At my heart's core; but I cannot repeat it.
Custom has made thee talk of love too lightly.
Thou art too used in art, to talk of love.
What ties my heart, ties up my tongue.

Thou wilt
Not go then?

Yes, I will; but not where thou
Would'st have me go.

Where then?

To death:—if all
Thou hast to tell me for my good, be this.

Does this then seem to thee so little? Think:
Dost thou suppose that Daphne would have formed
This plan herself, had she not partly known
Sylvia's own mind? Sylvia may know of it,
And yet not wish to be supposed to know.
Now if thou seekest her express consent,
Dost thou not see thou wilt displease her more?
Where then is all this mighty wish of thine
To please her? If she wishes thy delight
To be thy theft, thy rapine not her gift,
Nor favour, foolish boy, what matters it,
This mode or that?

And who will make me sure,
That she does wish it?

Now art thou a madman.
See if thou dost not wish the very certainty
Which she dislikes, and which she should dislike,
And which thou should'st not look for. Oh but then,
Who is to make thee sure she does not wish!
Now grant she does, and that thou dost not go.
The doubt and risk are equal. Oh! how nobler
To die like a brave man, than like a coward!
Thou'rt dumb: thou'rt conquered. Come, confess as much,
And thy defeat shall be thy cause of victory;
Come, let us go.

Nay, stop.

Why stop? Time flies.

Ah, let us first consider-let us think
What we should do, and how.

Upon the road then.
To think too many things, is to do none.

Tell us, O Love, what school,
What mighty master's rule,
Can teach thine art, so doubtful and so long?
Who shall enable sense
To know the intelligence,
Which takes us heavenward on thy pinions strong?
Not all that learned throng
Among the Attic trees,
Nor Phœbus on his hill
Who sings of loving still,
Could truly tell us of thy mysteries.
Little he spoke, and cold,
Of what we would be told;
Nor had the voice of fire
Fit for the listening of our great desire.
With thee, O Love, with thee,
He raises not his yearnings equally.

It is thyself alone
By whom thou can'st be shewn,
Sole manifester thou of all thy sense:
'Tis thou, that by the rude
Cans't render understood
Those admirable things, deep, sweet, and wise,
Which thine own proper hand
In amorous letters writes in others' eyes:
Thou loosenest the tongues
Of those that serve thee well
Into a beauteous and a bland
Abundant eloquence.
And often (O divine
And wondrous deed of thine!)
In passion-broken words,
And a confused saying,
The struggling heart shall best
Leap forth and be expressed,
And more avail than rhetoric's whole displaying.
Thy very silence wears
The face of ended prayers.

Oh Love, let others read
The old Socratic scrolls,
Two lovely eyes out-master all their schools:
And pens of learned mark
Shall find it but lost time,
Compared with this wild rhyme,
Which a rude hand cuts on the rude tree bark.