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The god well-pleas'd beheld the pompous show, And saw the bright procession pass below; Then veer'd about, and took a wheeling flight, And hover'd o'er them: as the spreading kite, That smells the slaughter'd victim from on high, Flies at a distance if the priests are nigh, And sails around, and keeps it in her eye; So kept the god the virgin choir in view, And in slow winding circles round them flew.
As Lucifer excels the meanest star,
Of, as the full-orb'd Phoebe, Lucifer;
So much did Hersè all the rest outvie,
And gave a grace to the solemnity,
Hermes was fir'd, as in the clouds he hung :
So the cold bullet, that with fury slung
From Balearic engines mounts on high,
Glows in the whirl, and burns along the sky.
At length he pitch'd upon the ground, and show'd
The form divine, the features of a god.
He knew their virtue o'er a female heart,
And yet he strives to better them by art.
He hangs his mantle loose, and sets to show
The golden edging on the seam below;
Adjusts his flowing curls, and in his hand
Waves, with an air, the sleep-procuring wand;
The glittering sandals to his feet applies,
And to each heel the well-trimmed pinion ties.
His ornaments with nicest art display
He seeks th' apartment of the royal maid.
The roof was all with polish'd ivory lin’d,
That, richly mix'd, in clouds of tortoise shin'd.
Three rooms, contiguous, in a range were plac'd,
The midmost by the beauteous Hersè grac'd;
Her virgin sisters lodg'd on either side.
Aglauros first th' approaching god descry'd,
And as he cross'd her chamber, ask'd his name,
And what his business was, and whence he came.
“I come," reply'd the god, "from heaven, to woo
Your sister, and to make an aunt of you;
I am the son and messenger of Jove,
My name is Mercury, my business love;
Do you, kind damsel, take a lover's part,
And gain admittance to your sister's heart.”
She stard him in the face with looks amaz'd,
As when she on Minerva's secret gaz'd,
And asks a mighty treasure for her hire,
And, till he brings it, makes the god retire.
Minerva griev'd to see the nymph succeed;
And now rememb’ring the late impious deed,
When, disobedient to her strict command,
She touch'd the chest with an unhallow'd hand;
In big-swoln sighs her inward rage express'd,
That heay'd the rising Ægis on her breast;
Then sought out Envy in her dark abode,
Defild with ropy gore and clots of blood :
Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies,
In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies.
Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light
Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.
Directly to the cave her course she steerd; Against the gates her martial lance she rear'd; The gates flew open, and the fiend appear'd.
A pois'nous morsel in her teeth she chew'd,
And gorg'd the flesh of vipers for her food.
Minerva loathing, turn'd away her eye ;
The hideous monster, rising heavily,
Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,
And left her mangled offals on the place.
Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,
She fetch'd a groan at such a cheerful sight.
Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye
In foul distorted glances turn'd awry;
A hoard of gall her inward parts possess'd,
And spread a greenness o'er her canker'd breast;
Her teeth were brown with rust; and from her tongue,
In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.
She never smiles but when the wretched weep,
Nor lulls her malice with a moment's sleep,
Restless in spite : while watchful to destroy,
She pines and sickens at another's joy ;
Foe to herself, distressing and distrest,
She bears her own tormentor in her breast.
The goddess gave (for she abhorr'd her sight)
A short command: "To Athens speed thy flight;
On curst Aglauros try thy utmost art,
And fix thy rankest venoms in her heart."
This said, her spear she push'd against the ground,
And mounting from it with an active bound,
Flew off to heav'n: the hag with eyes askew
and mutter'd curses as she flew ;
For sore she fretted, and began to grieve
At the success which she herself must give.
Then takes her staff
, hung round with wreaths of thorn, And sails along, in a black whirlwind borne,
O’er fields and flowery meadows : where she steers
Her baneful course, a mighty blast appears,
Mildews and blights; the meadows are defac'd,
The fields, the flowers, and the whole year laid waste :
On mortals next, and peopled towns she falls,
And breathes a burning plague among their walls.
When Athens she beheld, for arts renown'd,
With peace made happy, and with plenty crown'd,
Scarce could the hideous fiend from tears forbear
To find out nothing that desery'd a tear.
Th' apartment now she entered, where at rest
Aglauros lay, with gentle sleep opprest.
To execute Minerva's dire command,
She strok'd the virgin with her canker'd hand,
Then prickly thorns into her breast convey'd,
That stung to madness the devoted maid :
Her subtle venom still improves the smart,
Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.
To make the work more sure, a scene she drew,
And plac'd before the dreaming virgin's view
Her sister's marriage, and her glorious fate :
Th' imaginary bride appears in state;
The bridegroom with unwonted beauty glows,
For Envy magnifies whate'er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pin'd away
In tears all night, in darkness all the day;
Consum'd like ice, that just begins to run,
When feebly smitten by the distant sun;
Or like unwholesome weeds, that, set on fire,
Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire.
Given up to Envy, (for in ev'ry thought
The thorns, the venom, and the vision wrought)
Oft did she call on death, as oft decreed,
Rather than see her sister's wish succeed,
To tell her awful father what had pass'd:
At length before the door herself she cast;
And, sitting on the ground with sullen pride,
A passage to the love-sick god deny’d.
The god caress’d, and for admission pray'd,
And sooth’d, in softest words, th' envenom'd maid.
In vain he sooth'd ; " Begone!” the maid replies,
"Or here I keep my seat, and never rise.”
“Then keep thy seat for ever!” cries the god,
And touch'd the door, wide-opening to his rod.
Fain would she rise, and stop him, but she found
Her trunk too heavy to forsake the ground;
Her joints are all benumb'd, her hands are pale,
And marble now appears in every nail.
As when a cancer in the body feeds,
And gradual death from limb to limb proceeds ;
So does the chillness to each vital part
Spread by degrees, and creeps into her heart;
'Till hard'ning every where, and speechless grown,
She sits unmov'd, and freezes to a stone.
But still her envious hue and sullen mien,
Are in the sedentary figure seen.
When now the god his fury had allay'd, And taken vengeance of the stubborn maid, From where the bright Athenian turrets rise He mounts aloft, and re-ascends the skies.