Love: An Elegy

by Mark Akenside

Mark Akenside

Too much my heart of Beauty's power hath known,
Too long to Love hath reason left her throne;
Too long my genius mourn'd his myrtle chain,
And three rich years of youth consum'd in vain.
My wishes, lull'd with soft inglorious dreams,
Forgot the patriot's and the sage's themes:
Through each Elysian vale and fairy grove,
Through all the enchanted paradise of love,
Misled by sickly hope's deceitful flame,
Averse to action, and renouncing fame.
At last the visionary scenes decay,
My eyes, exulting, bless the new-born day,
Whose faithful beams detect the dangerous road
In which my heedless feet securely trod,
And strip the phantoms of their lying charms
That lur'd my soul from Wisdom's peaceful arms.
For silver streams and banks bespread with flowers,
For mossy couches and harmonious bowers,
Lo! barren heaths appear, and pathless woods,
And rocks hung dreadful o'er unfathom'd floods:
For openness of heart, for tender smiles,
Looks fraught with love, and wrath-disarming wiles;
Lo! sullen Spite, and perjur'd Lust of Gain,
And cruel Pride, and crueller Disdain;
Lo! cordial Faith to idiot airs refin'd,
Now coolly civil, now transporting kind.
For graceful Ease, lo! Affectation walks;
And dull Half-sense, for Wit and Wisdom talks.
New to each hour what low delight succeeds,
What precious furniture of hearts and heads!
By nought their prudence, but by getting, known,
And all their courage in deceiving shown.
See next what plagues attend the lover's state,
What frightful forms of Terror, Scorn, and Hate!
See burning Fury heaven and earth defy!
See Dumb Despair in icy fetters lie!
See black Suspicion bend his gloomy brow,
The hideous image of himself to view!
And fond Belief, with all a lover's flame,
Sink in those arms that point his head with shame!
There wan Dejection, faltering as he goes,
In shades and silence vainly seeks repose;
Musing through pathless wilds, consumes the day,
Then lost in darkness weeps the hours away.
Here the gay crowd of Luxury advance,
Some touch the lyre, and others urge the dance;
On every head the rosy garland glows,
In every hand the golden goblet flows
The Syren views them with exulting eyes,
And laughs at bashful Virtue as she flies.
But see behind, where Scorn and Want appear,
The grave remonstrance and the witty sneer;
See fell Remorse in action, prompt to dart
Her snaky poison through the conscious heart;
And Sloth to cancel, with oblivious shame,
The fair memorial of recording Fame.
Are these delights that one would wish to gain?
Is this the Elysium of a sober brain?
To wait for happiness in female smiles,
Bear all her scorn, be caught with all her wiles,
With prayers, with bribes, with lies, her pity crave,
Bless her hard bonds, and boast to be her slave;
To feel, for trifles, a distracting train
Of hopes and terrors equally in vain;
This hour to tremble, and the next to glow,
Can Pride, can Sense, can Reason, stoop so low?
When Virtue, at an easier price, displays
The sacred wreaths of honourable praise;
When Wisdom utters her divine decree,
To laugh at pompous Folly, and be free.
I bid adieu, then, to these woful scenes;
I bid adieu to all the sex of queens;
Adieu to every suffering, simple soul,
That lets a woman's will his ease control.
There laugh, ye witty; and rebuke, ye grave!
For me, I scorn to boast that I'm a slave.
I bid the whining brotherhood be gone:
Joy to my heart! my wishes are my own!
Farewell the female heaven, the female hell;
To the great God of Love a glad farewell.
Is this the triumph of thy awful name?
Are these the splendid hopes that urg'd thy aim,
When first my bosom own'd thy haughty sway?
When thus Minerva heard thee boasting, say,
"Go, martial maid, elsewhere thy arts employ,
Nor hope to shelter that devoted boy,
Go teach the solemn sons of Care and Age,
The pensive statesman, and the midnight sage:
The young with me must other lessons prove,
Youth calls for Pleasure, Pleasure calls for Love.
Behold, his heart thy grave advice disdains;
Behold, I bind him in eternal chains."
Alas! great Love, how idle was the boast!
Thy chains are broken, and thy lessons lost;
Thy wilful rage has tir'd my suffering heart,
And passion, reason, forc'd thee to depart.
But wherefore dost thou linger on thy way?
Why vainly search for some pretence to stay,
When crowds of vassals court thy pleasing yoke,
And countless victims bow them to the stroke?
Lo! round thy shrine a thousand youths advance,
Warm with the gentle ardours of romance;
Each longs to assert thy cause with feats of arms,
And make the world confess Dulcinea's charms.
Ten thousand girls with flowery chaplets crown'd,
To groves and streams thy tender triumph sound:
Each bids the stream in murmurs speak her flame,
Each calls the grove to sigh her shepherd's name.
But, if thy pride such easy honour scorn,
If nobler trophies must thy toil adorn,
Behold yon flowery antiquated maid
Bright in the bloom of threescore years display'd;
Her shalt thou bind in thy delightful chains,
And thrill with gentle pangs her wither'd veins,
Her frosty cheek with crimson blushes dye,
With dreams of rapture melt her maudlin eye.
Turn then thy labours to the servile crowd,
Entice the wary, and control the proud;
Make the sad miser his best gains forego,
The solemn statesman sigh to be a beau,
The bold coquette with fondest passions burn,
The Bacchanalian o'er his bottle mourn;
And that chief glory of thy power maintain,
"To poise ambition in a female brain."
Be these thy triumphs; but no more presume
That my rebellious heart will yield thee room:
I know thy puny force, thy simple wiles;
I break triumphant through thy flimsy toils;
I see thy dying lamp's last languid glow,
Thy arrows blunted and unbrac'd thy bow.
I feel diviner fires my breast inflame,
To active science, and ingenuous fame;
Resume the paths my earliest choice began,
And lose, with pride, the lover in the man.

Last updated January 14, 2019