Idyll 23: The Despairing Lover

by John Dryden

John Dryden

With inauspicious love a wretched swain
Pursued the fairest nymph of all the plain;
Fairest indeed, but prouder far than fair,
She plunged him hopeless in a deep despair:
Her heavenly form too haughtily she prized,
His person hated, and his gifts despised;
Nor knew the force of Cupid's cruel darts,
Nor feared his awful power on human hearts;
But either from her hopeless lover fled,
Or with disdainful glances shot him dead;
No kiss, no look to cheer the drooping boy,
No word she spoke—she scorned ev'n to deny.
But as a hunted panther casts about
Her glaring eyes, and pricks her listening ears to scout,
So she to shun his toils her cares employed,
And fiercely in her savage freedom joyed.
Her mouth she writhed, her forehead taught to frown,
Her eyes to sparkle fires to love unknown;
Her sallow cheeks her envious mind did show,
And every feature spoke aloud the curstness of a shrew.
Yet could not he his obvious fate escape:
His love still dressed her in a pleasing shape,
And every sullen frown and bitter scorn
But fanned the fuel that too fast did burn.
Long time unequal to his mighty pain
He strove to curb it, but he strove in vain;
At last his woes broke out, and begged relief
With tears, the dumb petitioners of grief,
With tears so tender as adorned his love,
And any heart but only hers would move.
Trembling before her bolted doors he stood,
And there poured out th' unprofitable flood;
Staring his eyes, and haggard was his look,
Then, kissing first the threshold, thus he spoke:
‘Ah, nymph more cruel than of human race,
Thy tigress heart belies thy angel face;
Too well thou show'st thy pedigree from stone,
Thy grandame's was the first by Pyrrha thrown.
Unworthy thou to be so long desired,
But so my love, and so my fate required.
I beg not now (for 'tis in vain) to live,
But take this gift, the last that I can give.
This friendly cord shall soon decide the strife
Betwixt my lingering love and loathsome life;
This moment puts an end to all my pain;
I shall no more despair, nor thou disdain.
Farewell, ungrateful and unkind, I go
Condemned by thee to those sad shades below;
I go th' extremest remedy to prove,
To drink oblivion, and to drench my love;
There happily to lose my long desires:
But ah, what draught so deep to quench my fires!
Farewell, ye never-opening gates, ye stones
And threshold guilty of my midnight moans:
What I have suffered here ye know too well;
What I shall do, the gods and I can tell.
The rose is fragrant, but it fades in time,
The violet sweet, but quickly past the prime;
White lilies hang their heads and soon decay,
And whiter snow in minutes melts away:
Such is your blooming youth, and withering so;
The time will come, it will, when you shall know
The rage of love; your haughty heart shall burn
In flames like mine, and meet a like return.
Obdurate as you are, O hear at least
My dying prayers, and grant my last request!
When first you ope your doors, and passing by
The sad, ill-omened object meets your eye,
Think it not lost, a moment if you stay;
The breathless wretch—so made by you—survey:
Some cruel pleasure will from thence arise,
To view the mighty ravage of your eyes.
I wish (but O, my wish is vain, I fear)
The kind oblation of a falling tear.
Then loose the knot, and take me from the place,
And spread your mantle o'er my grisly face;
Upon my livid lips bestow a kiss:
O envy not the dead, they feel not bliss!
Nor fear your kisses can restore my breath:
Ev'n you are not more pitiless than death.
Then for my corpse a homely grave provide,
Which love and me from public scorn may hide.
Thrice call upon my name, thrice beat your breast,
And hail me thrice to everlasting rest.
Last, let my tomb this sad inscription bear:
“A wretch whom love has killed lies buried here:
O passengers, Aminta's eyes beware.”’
Thus having said, and furious with his love,
He heaved with more than human force, to move
A weighty stone (the labour of a team),
And raised from thence he reached the neighbouring beam:
Around its bulk a sliding knot he throws,
And fitted to his neck the fatal noose;
Then spurning backward took a swing, till death
Crept up, and stopped the passage of his breath.
The bounce burst ope the door; the scornful fair
Relentless looked, and saw him beat his quivering feet in air;
Nor wept his fate, nor cast a pitying eye,
Nor took him down, but brushed regardless by;
And as she passed, her chance or fate was such
Her garments touched the dead, polluted by the touch.
Next to the dance, thence to the bath did move:
The bath was sacred to the god of love,
Whose injured image with a wrathful eye
Stood threatening from a pedestal on high;
Nodding a while, and watchful of his blow,
He fell, and falling crushed th' ungrateful nymph below.
Her gushing blood the pavement all besmeared,
And this her last expiring voice was heard:
‘Lovers, farewell; revenge has reached my scorn;
Thus warned, be wise, and love for love return.’





Last updated October 12, 2022