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Thy charms than those may far more powerful be,
And Phoebus' self is less a god to me.
Ah! canst thou doom me to the rocks and sea,
O far more faithless, and more hard than they?
Ah! canst thou rather see this tender breast
Dash'd on these rocks, than to thy bosom press'd?
This breast, which once, in vain! you liked so well;
Where the loves play'd, and where the muses dwell
Alas! the muses now no more inspire;
Untuned my lute, and silent is my lyre;
My languid numbers have forgot to flow,
And fancy sinks beneath a weight of wo.
Ye Lesbian virgins, and ye Lesbian dames,
Themes of my verse, and objects of my flames,
No more your groves with my glad songs shall ring,
No more these hands shall touch the trembling string
My Phaon 's fled, and I those arts resign,
(Wretch that I am, to call that Phaon mine!)
Return, fair youth, return, and bring along
Joy to my soul, and vigour to my song:
Absent from thee, the poet's flame expires;
But ah! how fiercely burn the lover's fires!
Gods! can no prayers, no sighs, no numbers move
One savage heart, or teach it how to love?
The winds my prayers, my sighs, my numbers bear
The flying winds have lost them all in air!
Oh when, alas! shall more auspicious gales
To these fond eyes restore thy welcome sails?
If you return-ah, why these long delays?
Poor Sappho dies while careless Phaon stays.
O, launch thy bark, nor fear the watery plain;
Venus for thee shall smooth her native main.
O, launch thy bark, secure of prosperous gales
Cupid for thee shall spread the swelling sails.
If you will fly-(yet ah! what cause can be,
Too cruel youth, that you should fly from me?)
If not from Phaon I must hope for ease,
Ah let me seek it from the raging seas:
To raging seas unpitied I'll remove,
And either cease to live, or cease to love!
Abelard and Eloisa flourished in the twelfth century; they were two of the most distinguished persons of their age in learning and beauty, but for nothing more famous than for their unfortunate passion. After a long course of calamities they retired each to a several convent, and consecrated the remainder of their days to religion It was many years after this separation, that a letter of Abelard's to a friend which contained the history of his misfortune, fell into the hands of Eloisa. This awakening all her tenderness, occasioned those celebrated letters (out of which the following is partly extracted) which give so lively a picture of the struggles of grace and nature, virtue and passion.
In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Where heavenly-pensive contemplation dwells,
And ever-musing melancholy reigns,
What means this tumult in a vestal's veins ?
Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat?
Why feels my heart its long-forgotten heat?
Yet, yet I love!-From Abelard it came,
And Eloïsa yet must kiss the name.
Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
pass these lips, in holy silence seal'd:
Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise,
Where, mix'd with God's, his loved idea lies:
O, write it not, my hand-the name appears
Already written-wash it out, my tears!
In vain lost Eloïsa weeps and prays;
Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.
Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains :
Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn;
Ye grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn;
Shrines where their vigils pale-eyed virgins keep;
And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep;
Though cold like you, unmoved and silent grown,
I have not yet forgot myself to stone.
All is not Heaven's while Abelard has part:
Still rebel nature holds out half my heart;
Nor prayers nor fasts its stubborn pulse restrain,
Nor tears for ages taught to flow in vain.
Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,
That well-known name awakens all my woes;
Oh, name for ever sad! for ever dear!
Still breathed in sighs, still usher'd with a tear.
I tremble too, where'er my own I find,
Some dire misfortune follows close behind.
Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow,
Led through a sad variety of wo:
Now warm in love, now withering in my bloom,
Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!
There stern religion quench'd the unwilling flame; There died the best of passions, love and fame
Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join
Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine.
Nor foes nor fortune take this power away;
And is my Abelard less kind than they?
Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare;
Love but demands what else were shed in prayer;
No happier task these faded eyes pursue;
To read and weep is all they now can do.
Then share thy pain, allow that sad relief:
Ah, more than share it, give me all thy grief.
Heaven first taught letters for some wretch's aid,
Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid;
They live, they speak, they breathe what love inspires,
Warm from the soul, and faithful to its fires,
The virgin's wish without her fears impart,
Excuse the blush, and pour out all the heart,
Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul,
And waft a sigh from Indus to the pole!
Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy flame, When love approach'd me under friendship's name. My fancy form'd thee of angelic kind,
Some emanation of the All-beauteous Mind,
Those smiling eyes, attempering every ray,
Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day.
Guiltless I gazed: Heaven listen'd while you sung,
And truths divine came mended from that tongue.
From lips like those what precept fail'd to move?
Too soon they taught me 'twas no sin to love:
Back through the paths of pleasing sense I ran,
Nor wish'd an angel whom I loved a man.
Dim and remote the joys of saints I see,
Nor envy them that heaven I lose for thee.
How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said;
Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies.
Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,
August her deed, and sacred be her fame;
Before true passion all those views remove;
Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to love?
The jealous god, when we profane his fires,
Those restless passions in revenge inspires,
And bids them make mistaken mortals groan,
Who seek in love for aught but love alone.
Should at my feet the world's great master fall,
Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn them all
Not Cæsar's empress would I deign to prove ;
No, make me mistress to the man I love.
If there be yet another name more free,
More fond than mistress, make me that to thee!
Oh, happy state! when souls each other draw,
When love is liberty, and nature law;
All then is full, possessing and possess'd,
No craving void left aching in the breast:
E'en thought meets thought, ere from the lips it par
And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart.
This sure is bliss (if bliss on earth there be)
And once the lot of Abelard and me.
Alas, how changed! what sudden horrors riso!
A naked lover bound and bleeding lies!
Where, where was Eloïse? her voice, her hand,
Her poniard had opposed the dire command.
Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain:
The crime was common, common be the pain
I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd,
Let tears and burning blushes speak the rest.
Canst thou forget that sad, that solemn day, When victims at yon altar's foot we lay? Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell, When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewell? As with cold lips I kiss'd the sacred veil, The shrines all trembled, and the lamps grew pale; Heaven scarce believed the conquest it survey'd, And saints with wonder heard the vows I made. Yet then, to those dread altars as I drew, Not on the cross my eyes were fix'd, but you: Not grace, or zeal, love only was my call; And if I lose thy love, I lose my all.
Come, with thy looks, thy words, relieve my woe,
Those still at least are left thee to bestow.
Still on that breast enamour'd let me lie,
Still drink delicious poison from thy eye,
Pant on thy lip, and to thy heart be press'd;
Give all thou canst-and let me dream the rest.
Ah, no! instruct me other joys to prize,
With other beauties charm my partial eyes:
Full in my view set all the bright abode,
And make my soul quit Abelard for God.
Ah! think at least thy flock deserves thy care, Plants of thy hand, and children of thy prayer.