A Poetical Epistle

FROM THE NIGHTINGALE TO THE OWL

Y OU in the Palace , Madam, have averr'd
That you alone are the Athenian Bird:
That no such title could to me belong,
Except in fiction of poetic song:
Yet, if my tale with candour you peruse,
My claim to Athens you will not refuse.
Like you , from Attica my honours came,
And Philomela was my virgin name;
Lover of melody this name bespeaks,
As thus interpret all the letter'd Greeks .
Pandion , my Father, was of Athens King;
Hence the fam'd origin from which I spring.
Of two fair daughters Pandion was possess'd,
And in the Offspring was the Parent bless'd.
One only Sister gave me all her heart;
And, when by fortune doom'd with me to part,
Though wedded to the Monarch of proud Thrace ,
No nuptial joys her sorrow could efface;
In vain with Regal honours wealth combin'd,
Still Progne wept her Sister left behind.
While this corroding grief her soul oppress'd,
To her dear Lord her suit she thus address'd:
" Ah, Tereus , go! " she supplicating said,
" To Athens go, and fetch the darling Maid!
Entreat my Sire his Philomel to spare,
Bring her to Thrace , and crown a Sister's prayer. "
On the dire errand Tereus fondly went,
And wrung from Pandion lingering consent,
While I, confiding in fraternal care,
And unsuspicious of the latent snare,
Left the paternal roof with spirits gay,
To meet my dearer Progne on the way.
Oh! had a Parent's love my heart suffic'd,
And I a Sister's fondness less had priz'd!
No such terrific web the Fates had spun,
Nor I by treachery had been undone!
Tereus! the perjur'd wretch in whom I trust!
A savage tyrant — lawless and unjust!
Became enamour'd of my youthful charms,
And dar'd compel me to his brutal arms.
Him I rejected with a fierce disdain;
But prayers and tears, alas, were urg'd in vain!
Then — lest the victim of his barbarous love
Should by accusing speech the traitor prove —
Eternal silence on my lips he hung,
And render'd mute the guilt-betraying tongue;
In a lone tower my days he then confin'd,
And me to solitary grief consign'd:
Then back to Thrace the coward-miscreant fled,
And Progne told — her Philomel was dead;
The hapless Mourner to more woe return'd,
And each domestic bliss with me inurn'd;
While I, a captive, and depriv'd of speech,
Despair my pangs can ever Progne reach.
At length ingenious Art the means contriv'd
To let this Angel know that I surviv'd:
On tapestry the pictur'd tale I wove,
My cruel wrongs, and Tereus' guilty love;
The work to Progne secretly convey'd,
Renew'd affection prompts the speedy aid;
On swiftest wings of love she flew from Thrace ,
Eager to view once more this injur'd face,
And melt in bitter tears the sweet embrace.
On Tereus then dread vengeance we decreed;
Ferocious Progne perpetrates the deed;
With madness fraught, their Infant Son she slew,
And on the festive board the head she threw:
Then utter'd, with a maniac's furious cries,
" You Itys call'd — for thee thy Itys dies!
For thy atrocious crimes thy Son has bled,
And Philomel's revenge — is Itys dead!
Infernal torments we for thee devis'd,
And thy dear Itys was the food disguis'd;
By culinary arts his limbs prepar'd,
Compos'd the feast thy wanton revel shar'd!
Behold those limbs, in various models cast,
Have furnish'd Tereus with a fiend's repast! "
Tereus with frantic rage forsook the board,
And at our bosoms aim'd the threatening sword,
When bless'd Enchantment interpos'd its aid,
To save us both from the avenging blade.
And now! — the free inhabitants of air,
Two happy Birds their harmless loves may share;
No more of man perfidious we complain —
Some faithful Valentine enchants the strain:
For him my Progne twitters from her shed,
And Philomela to the grove is led.
I mean not, Madam, to dispute your claim,
To all you challenge from Minerva's fame;
To your transcendent wisdom I must yield,
Because you perch upon her sacred shield:
And yet — this emblem, once so much esteem'd,
In modern days is less important deem'd.
Since, if Mythology's report be true,
The sapient Basilisk may vie with you,
On one fair ground of semblance we unite,
Both join in homage to fair Cynthia's light.
Yet various haunts preclude the social ties,
And keep us distant from each other's eyes;
Yours — the sequester'd ivy-mantled tower,
Mine the retreat of Love's harmonious bower.
Our tones as various. When you take your flight,
You with your dreadful note appal the night:
Not love , but death , is in your boding shrieks;
My song the lover's plaintive language speaks, —
To him I warble on the blossom'd tree,
And catch the sigh he breathes — inspir'd by me .
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