Love and Chastity

by John Cunningham

John Cunningham


From the high mount, whence sacred groves depend,
Diana and her virgin-troop descend;
And while the buskin'd maids with active care,
The business of the daily chase prepare,
A favourite nymph steps forward from the throng,
And thus, exulting, swells the jocund song:

" Jolly Health springs aloft at the loud sounding horn,
Unlock'd from soft Slumber's embrace;
And Joy sings an hymn to salute the sweet morn,
That smiles on the nymphs of the chase:
The rage of fell Cupid no bosom profanes,
No rancour disturbs our delight,
All the day with fresh vigour we sweep o'er the plains,
And sleep with contentment all night. "

Their clamour rous'd the slighted god of love:
He flies, indignant, to the sacred grove:
Immortal myrtles wreathe his golden hair,
His rosy wings perfume the wanton air;
Two quivers fill'd with darts his fell designs declare.
A crimson blush o'erspread Diana's face,
A frown succeeds — She stops the springing chase,
And thus, forbids the boy the consecrated place.

" Fond disturber of the heart,
From these sacred shades depart:
Here's a blooming troop disdains
Love, and his fantastic chains.
Sisters of the silver bow,
Pure and chaste as virgin snow,
Melt not at thy feeble fires,
Wanton god of wild desires! "

Rage and revenge divide Love's little breast,
Whilst thus the angry goddess he addrest:

" Virgin snow does oft remain
Long unmelted on the plain,
Till the glorious god of day
Smiles, and wastes its pride away.
What is Sol's meridian fire
To the darts of strong desire!
Love can light a raging flame
Hotter than his noontide beam. "

Now, through the forest's brown-embower'd ways,
With careless steps the young Endymion strays:
His form erect! — loose flows his lovely hair,
His glowing cheeks like youthful Hebe's fair!
His graceful limbs with ease and vigour move,
His eyes — his every feature form'd for love:
Around the listening woods attentive hung,
Whilst thus, invoking sleep, the shepherd sung:

" Where the pebbled streamlet glides
Near the wood-nymph's rustic grot,
If the god of Sleep resides,
Or in Pan's sequester'd cot.
Hither if he'll lightly tread,
Follow'd by a gentle dream,
We'll enjoy this grassy bed,
On the bank beside the stream. "

As on the painted turf the shepherd lies,
Sleep's downy curtain shades his lovely eyes;
And now a sporting breeze his bosom shows,
As marble smooth, and white as Alpine snows:
The goddess gaz'd, in magic softness bound;
Her silver bow falls useless to the ground?
Love laugh'd, and, sure of conquest, wing'd a dart,
Unerring, to her undefended heart.
She feels in every vein the fatal fire,
And thus persuades her virgins to retire:

" Ye tender maids! be timely wise,
Love's wanton fury shun;
In flight alone your safety lies;
The daring are undone.

Do blue-ey'd doves, serenely mild,
With vultures fell engage?
Do lambs provoke the lion wild,
Or tempt the tiger's rage?

No, no; like fawns, ye virgins! fly;
To secret cells remove;
Nor dare the doubtful combat try
'Twixt Chastity and Love. "

Last updated September 05, 2017