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Nor would the horses, had he known, obey.
Then the Seven Stars first felt Apollo's ray
And wished to dip in the forbidden sea.
The folded Serpent next the frozen pole,
Stiff and benumbed before, began to roll,
And raged with inward heat, and threatened war,
And shot a redder light from every star;
Nay, and 'tis said, Boötes, too, that fain
Thou wouldst have fled, though cumbered with thy wain.
The unhappy youth then, bending down his head,
Saw earth and ocean far beneath him spread:
His colour changed, he startled at the sight,
And his eyes darkened by too great a light.
Now could he wish the fiery steeds untried,
His birth obscure, and his request denied:
Now would he Merops for his father own,
And quit his boasted kindred to the sun.
So fares the pilot, when his ship is tossed
In troubled seas, and all its steerage lost,
He gives her to the winds, and in despair
Seeks his last refuge in the gods and prayer.
What could he do? his eyes, if backward cast,
Find a long path he had already past;
If forward, still a longer path they find:
Both he compares, and measures in his mind;
And sometimes casts an eye upon
And sometimes looks on the forbidden west.
The horses' names he knew not in the fright:
Nor would he loose the reins, nor could he hold 'em tight.
Now all the horrors of the heavens he spies,
And monstrous shadows of prodigious size,
That, decked with stars, lie scattered o'er the skies.
There is a place above, where Scorpio, bent
In tail and arms, surrounds a vast extent;
In a wide circuit of the heavens he shines,
And fills the space of two celestial signs.
Soon as the youth beheld him, vexed with heat,
Brandish his sting, and in his poison sweat,
Half dead with sudden fear he dropt the reins;
The horses felt them loose upon their manes,
And, flying out through all the plains above,
Ran uncontrolled where'er their fury drove;
Rushed on the stars, and through a pathless way
Of unknown regions hurried on the day.
And now above, and now below they flew,
And near the earth the burning chariot drew.
The clouds disperse in fumes, the wondering moon
Beholds her brother's steeds beneath her own;
The highlands smoke, cleft by the piercing rays,
Or, clad with woods, in their own fuel blaze.
Next o'er the plains, where ripened harvests grow,
The running conflagration spreads below.
But these are trivial ills; whole cities burn,
And peopled kingdoms into ashes turn.
The mountains kindle as the car draws near,
Athos and Tmolus red with fires appear;
Eagrian Hamus (then a single name)
And virgin Helicon increase the flame;
Taurus and Ete glare amid the sky,
And Ida, spite of all her fountains, dry.
Eryx, and Othrys, and Citharon, glow;
And Rhodope, no longer clothed in snow;
High Pindus, Mimas, and Parnassus sweat,
And Ætna rages with redoubled heat.
Even Scythia, through her hoary regions warmed,
In vain with all her native frost was armed.
Covered with flames, the towering Apennine,
And Caucasus, and proud Olympus, shine;
And, where the long extended Alps aspire,
Now stands a huge, continued range of fire.
The astonished youth, where'er his eyes could turn,
Beheld the universe around him burn:
The world was in a blaze; nor could he bear
The sultry vapours and the scorching air,
Which from below as from a furnace flowed,
And now the axle-tree beneath him glowed:
Lost in the whirling clouds, that round him broke,
And white with ashes, hovering in the smoke,
He flew where'er the horses drove, nor knew
Whither the horses drove, or where he flew.
'Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor begun
To change his hue, and blacken in the sun.
Then Libya first, of all her moisture drained,
Became a barren waste, a wild of sand.
The water-nymphs lament their empty urns,
Boeotia, robbed of silver Dirce, mourns;
Corinth, Pyrenè's wasted spring bewails,
And Argos grieves whilst Amymoné fails.
The floods are drained from every distant coast,
Ev'n Tanaïs, though fixed in ice, was lost.
Enraged Caïcus and Lycormas roar,
And Xanthus, fated to be burnt once more.
The famed Mæander, that unwearied strays
Through mazy windings, smokes in every maze.
From his loved Babylon Euphrates flies;
The big-swoln Ganges and the Danube rise
In thickening fumes, and darken half the skies.
In flames Ismenos and the Phasis rolled,
And Tagus floating in his melted gold.
The swans, that on Cayster often tried
Their tuneful songs, now sung their last, and died.
The frighted Nile ran off, and under-ground
Concealed his head, nor can it yet be found:
His seven divided currents all are dry,
And where they rolled seven gaping trenches lie. No more the Rhine or Rhone their course maintain, Nor Tiber, of his promised empire vain.
The ground, deep cleft, admits the dazzling ray, And startles Pluto with the flash of day. The seas shrink in, and to the sight disclose Wide, naked plains, where once their billows rose; Their rocks are all discovered, and increase The number of the scattered Cyclades. The fish in shoals about the bottom creep, Nor longer dares the crooked dolphin leap; Gasping for breath, the unshapen Phocæ die, And on the boiling wave extended lie. Nereus, and Doris with her virgin train, Seek out the last recesses of the main; Beneath unfathomable depths they faint, And secret in their gloomy regions pant. Stern Neptune thrice above the waves upheld His face, and thrice was by the flames repelled.
The Earth at length, on every side embraced With scalding seas, that floated round her waist,
When now she felt the springs and rivers come,
And crowd within the hollow of her womb,
Uplifted to the heavens her blasted head,
And clapt her hand upon her brows, and said;
(But first, impatient of the sultry heat,
Sunk deeper down, and sought a cooler seat:)
"If you, great king of gods, my death approve,
And I deserve it, let me die by Jove;
If I must perish by the force of fire,
Let me transfixed with thunderbolts expire.
See, whilst I speak, my breath the vapours choke,
(For now her face lay wrapt in clouds of smoke,)
See my singed hair, behold my faded
And withered face, where heaps of cinders lie!
And does the plough for this my body tear?
This the reward for all the fruits I bear,
Tortured with rakes, and harassed all the year?
That herbs for cattle daily I renew,
And food for man, and frankincense for you?
But grant me guilty; what has Neptune done?
Why are his waters boiling in the sun?
The wavy empire, which by lot was given,
Why does it waste, and further shrink from heaven?
If I nor he your pity can provoke,
See your own heavens, the heavens begin to smoke!
Should once the sparkles catch those bright abodes,
Destruction seizes on the heavens and gods;
Atlas becomes unequal to his freight,
And almost faints beneath the glowing weight.
If heaven, and earth, and sea together burn,
All must again into their chaos turn.
Apply some speedy cure, prevent our fate,
And succour nature, e'er it be too late."
She ceased; for, choked with vapours round her spread,
Down to the deepest shades she sunk her head.
Jove called to witness every power above,
And ev'n the god whose son the chariot drove,
That what he acts he is compelled to do,
Or universal ruin must ensue.
Straight he ascends the high ethereal throne,
From whence he used to dart his thunder down,
From whence his showers and storms he used to pour,
But now could meet with neither storm nor shower.
Then aiming at the youth, with lifted hand,
Full at his head he hurled the forky brand,
In dreadful thunderings. Thus the almighty sire
Suppressed the raging of the fires with fire.
At once from life and from the chariot driven,
The ambitious boy fell thunder-struck from heaven.
The horses started with a sudden bound,
And flung the reins and chariot to the ground:
The studded harness from their necks they broke,
Here fell a wheel, and here a silver spoke,
Here were the beam and axle torn away;
And, scattered o'er the earth, the shining fragments lay.
The breathless Phaeton, with flaming hair,
Shot from the chariot, like a falling star,
That in a summer's evening from the top
Of heaven drops down, or seems at least to drop;
Till on the Po his blasted corpse was hurled,
Far from his country, in the western world.
PHAETON'S SISTERS TRANSFORMED INTO TREES.
The Latian nymphs came round him, and amazed
Qn the dead youth, transfixed with thunder, gazed ;
And, whilst yet smoking from the bolt he lay,
His shattered body to a tomb convey;
And o'er the tomb an epitaph devise:
"Here he who drove the sun's bright chariot lies
His father's fiery steeds he could not guide,
But in the glorious enterprise he died."
Apollo hid his face, and pined for grief,
And, if the story may deserve belief,
The space of one whole day is said to run,
From morn to wonted even, without a sun :
The burning ruins, with a fainter ray,
Supply the sun, and counterfeit a day,
A day that still did nature's face disclose :
This comfort from the mighty mischief rose.
But Clymenè, enraged with grief, laments,
And, as her grief inspires, her passion vents:
Wild for her son, and frantic in her woes,
With hair dishevelled, round the world she goes,