Daphne, the daughter of a River God
was first beloved by Phoebus, the great God
of glorious light. 'Twas not a cause of chance
580 but out of Cupid's vengeful spite that she
was fated to torment the lord of light.
For Phoebus, proud of Python's death, beheld
that impish god of Love upon a time
when he was bending his diminished bow,
585 and voicing his contempt in anger said;
"What, wanton boy, are mighty arms to thee,
great weapons suited to the needs of war?
The bow is only for the use of those
large deities of heaven whose strength may deal
590 wounds, mortal, to the savage beasts of prey;
and who courageous overcome their foes.--
it is a proper weapon to the use
of such as slew with arrows Python, huge,
whose pestilential carcase vast extent
595 covered. Content thee with the flames thy torch
enkindles (fires too subtle for my thought)
and leave to me the glory that is mine."
to him, undaunted, Venus, son replied;
"O Phoebus, thou canst conquer all the world
600 with thy strong bow and arrows, but with this
small arrow I shall pierce thy vaunting breast!
And by the measure that thy might exceeds
the broken powers of thy defeated foes,
so is thy glory less than mine." No more
605 he said, but with his wings expanded thence
flew lightly to Parnassus, lofty peak.
There, from his quiver he plucked arrows twain,
most curiously wrought of different art;
one love exciting, one repelling love.
610 The dart of love was glittering, gold and sharp,
the other had a blunted tip of lead;
and with that dull lead dart he shot the Nymph,
but with the keen point of the golden dart
he pierced the bone and marrow of the God.
615 Immediately the one with love was filled,
the other, scouting at the thought of love,
rejoiced in the deep shadow of the woods,
and as the virgin Phoebe (who denies
the joys of love and loves the joys of chase)
620 a maiden's fillet bound her flowing hair,--
and her pure mind denied the love of man.
Beloved and wooed she wandered silent paths,
for never could her modesty endure
the glance of man or listen to his love.
625 Her grieving father spoke to her, "Alas,
my daughter, I have wished a son in law,
and now you owe a grandchild to the joy
of my old age." But Daphne only hung
her head to hide her shame. The nuptial torch
630 seemed criminal to her. She even clung,
caressing, with her arms around his neck,
and pled, "My dearest father let me live
a virgin always, for remember Jove
did grant it to Diana at her birth."
635 But though her father promised her desire,
her loveliness prevailed against their will;
for, Phoebus when he saw her waxed distraught,
and filled with wonder his sick fancy raised
delusive hopes, and his own oracles
640 deceived him.--As the stubble in the field
flares up, or as the stacked wheat is consumed
by flames, enkindled from a spark or torch
the chance pedestrian may neglect at dawn;
so was the bosom of the god consumed,
645 and so desire flamed in his stricken heart.
He saw her bright hair waving on her neck;--
"How beautiful if properly arranged! "
He saw her eyes like stars of sparkling fire,
her lips for kissing sweetest, and her hands
650 and fingers and her arms; her shoulders white
as ivory;--and whatever was not seen
more beautiful must be.
Swift as the wind
from his pursuing feet the virgin fled,
655 and neither stopped nor heeded as he called;
"O Nymph! O Daphne! I entreat thee stay,
it is no enemy that follows thee--
why, so the lamb leaps from the raging wolf,
and from the lion runs the timid faun,
660 and from the eagle flies the trembling dove,
all hasten from their natural enemy
but I alone pursue for my dear love.
Alas, if thou shouldst fall and mar thy face,
or tear upon the bramble thy soft thighs,
665 or should I prove unwilling cause of pain!
"The wilderness is rough and dangerous,
and I beseech thee be more careful--I
will follow slowly.--Ask of whom thou wilt,
and thou shalt learn that I am not a churl--
670 I am no mountain dweller of rude caves,
nor clown compelled to watch the sheep and goats;
and neither canst thou know from whom thy feet
fly fearful, or thou wouldst not leave me thus.
"The Delphic Land, the Pataraean Realm,
675 Claros and Tenedos revere my name,
and my immortal sire is Jupiter.
The present, past and future are through me
in sacred oracles revealed to man,
and from my harp the harmonies of sound
680 are borrowed by their bards to praise the Gods.
My bow is certain, but a flaming shaft
surpassing mine has pierced my heart--
untouched before. The art of medicine
is my invention, and the power of herbs;
685 but though the world declare my useful works
there is no herb to medicate my wound,
and all the arts that save have failed their lord.,"
But even as he made his plaint, the Nymph
with timid footsteps fled from his approach,
690 and left him to his murmurs and his pain.
Lovely the virgin seemed as the soft wind
exposed her limbs, and as the zephyrs fond
fluttered amid her garments, and the breeze
fanned lightly in her flowing hair. She seemed
695 most lovely to his fancy in her flight;
and mad with love he followed in her steps,
and silent hastened his increasing speed.
As when the greyhound sees the frightened hare
flit over the plain:--With eager nose outstretched,
700 impetuous, he rushes on his prey,
and gains upon her till he treads her feet,
and almost fastens in her side his fangs;
but she, whilst dreading that her end is near,
is suddenly delivered from her fright;
705 so was it with the god and virgin: one
with hope pursued, the other fled in fear;
and he who followed, borne on wings of love,
permitted her no rest and gained on her,
until his warm breath mingled in her hair.
710 Her strength spent, pale and faint, with pleading eyes
she gazed upon her father's waves and prayed,
"Help me my father, if thy flowing streams
have virtue! Cover me, O mother Earth!
Destroy the beauty that has injured me,
715 or change the body that destroys my life."
Before her prayer was ended, torpor seized
on all her body, and a thin bark closed
around her gentle bosom, and her hair
became as moving leaves; her arms were changed
720 to waving branches, and her active feet
as clinging roots were fastened to the ground--
her face was hidden with encircling leaves.--
Phoebus admired and loved the graceful tree,
(For still, though changed, her slender form remained)
725 and with his right hand lingering on the trunk
he felt her bosom throbbing in the bark.
He clung to trunk and branch as though to twine.
His form with hers, and fondly kissed the wood
that shrank from every kiss.
730 And thus the God;
"Although thou canst not be my bride, thou shalt
be called my chosen tree, and thy green leaves,
O Laurel! shall forever crown my brows,
be wreathed around my quiver and my lyre;
735 the Roman heroes shall be crowned with thee,
as long processions climb the Capitol
and chanting throngs proclaim their victories;
and as a faithful warden thou shalt guard
the civic crown of oak leaves fixed between
740 thy branches, and before Augustan gates.
And as my youthful head is never shorn,
so, also, shalt thou ever bear thy leaves
unchanging to thy glory.,"
Here the God,
745 Phoebus Apollo, ended his lament,
and unto him the Laurel bent her boughs,
so lately fashioned; and it seemed to him
her graceful nod gave answer to his love.