The Story of Cephisa

In western climes where the bright God of day
Darts on the gladsome earth a warmer ray,
While smiling Spring led on the jocund hours,
And early months bestrew'd the fields with flow'rs,
In bloom of youth Cephisa , lovely maid,
Trac'd the wide lawns, and thro' the forests stray'd;
Not all the nymphs who swell Diana 's train
From Cynthus ' top, when issuing on the plain,
With hound and horn they raise the chearful cry,
And the rocks echo and the floods reply:
Not all their train for beauty could compare
Their goddess' self scarce like Cephisa fair. —
Struck with the sight of such transcendant charms,
With gifts the shepherds woo'd her to their arms.
The am'rous toys no grace nor favour gain'd:
The gifts, and givers she alike disdain'd;
Resolv'd in happy solitude to rove
A sylvan huntress thro' the leafy grove.
But envious Fate the nymph no respite gives,
In ev'ry heart her lov'd idea lives:
E'en Pan himself, with ardent passion fir'd,
The God of woods, the woodland nymph desir'd;
Still as he views, he pants to clasp the maid,
And softly sighing to himself he said:
" O happy winds, which kiss that snowy breast,
" O happy garments, which those limbs invest,
" But, happier he who gains so rich a prize,
" Pants in those arms, and on that bosom dies! "
Thus he; — the Nymph far other loves employ,
The chace her glory, and the woods her joy;
Oft' as the God is present to her sight,
So oft' the nymph prepares for sudden flight,
Eludes his search, swift skimming o'er the lawn,
As from the beagle flies the bounding fawn.
A bow'r there was, a close sequester'd shade,
By poplar boughs and twining osiers made,
Fast by whose side a chrystal fountain flow'd,
(The banks with flow'rs of various colours glow'd;)
Here oft' at noon the weary fair reclin'd
To court the coolness of the gentle wind,
For here soft Zephyr with a grateful breeze,
Kiss'd the young plants, and whisper'd thro' the trees.
It chanc'd that Pan had mark'd the pebbled bed
Where the stream issu'd from its fountain-head,
Thence pouring on, through mossy windings roll'd,
O'er fertile tracks and sands that glow'd with gold;
Its course the God with curious search pursu'd,
Till pleas'd, at length, the fragrant bow'r he view'd;
But far more pleas'd the beauteous nymph survey'd,
Stretch'd at her ease beneath the cooling shade.
His near approach the pensive nymph alarms,
Who rises hasty, with disorder'd charms,
Springs from her covert like the tim'rous hare,
And, flying, fills with shrieks the ambient air.
With wings of love Pan urges on the course,
Fear lends her strength, while Love supplies his force.
Yet oft' the god, in the mid' chase, delays,
Stops short of conquest and submissive prays.
" O thou. " he cries, " the loveliest of thy kind,
" Why fly'st thou thus, and leav'st thy love behind?
" No savage foe, no plunderer is near,
" Nor mountain-robber with his dreadful spear,
" Nor mean am I tho' woods my lineage claim,
" My sire immortal, and myself the same;
" Nor on the crook, nor plough do I depend,
" Nor on the mountain's top a scanty flock attend; —
" PAN is my name; — the herds on yonder plains.
" My herbage fattens and my care sustains;
" To me the woodland empire is decreed,
" I claim th' invention of the vocal reed;
" Yet vain these arts, these gifts in vain bestow'd,
" Great as I am, and worshipp'd as a God,
" If thou bright nymph with coyness and disdain,
" Repay thy lover, and deride his pain. "
Thus urg'd the sylvan God his am'rous pray'r,
But all his words were lost in empty air.
With double speed the nymph her course renew'd,
With double speed the ravisher pursu'd,
O'er hills and dales they hold the rapid race,
Till, spent at length, and weary'd with the chace,
With secret dread she views the sun descend,
And twilight o'er the earth her veil extend;
For now the swift pursuer nearer drew,
And almost touch'd her garments as she flew;
Wheel'd as she wheel'd, on ev'ry footstep gain'd,
And no relief nor glimpse of hope remain'd,
Fast by a stream, an ancient altar stood,
And close behind it rose a wavy wood,
Whose twining boughs exclude the parting light,
And dusky shades anticipate the night,
Thither, collecting all her force, she flies,
And, " Oh! whatever god (the damsel cries)
" Protects this altar, may that gen'rous pow'r
" Hear and relieve me in this dang'rous hour,
" Give me at least to save my spotless fame,
" And still in death preserve a virgin's name. "
While thus to unknown pow'rs Cephisa pray'd,
Victorious Pan o'ertook the fainting maid.
Around her waste his eager arms he throws,
With love and joy his throbbing bosom glows;
When, wonderful to tell, her form receives
A verdant cov'ring of expanded leaves;
Then shooting downward trembling to the ground
A fibrous root her slender ancles bound.
Strange to herself, as yet, aghast she stands,
And to high Heav'n she rears her spotless hands;
These while she spreads them still in spires extend,
Till in small leaves her taper fingers end;
Her voice she tries; but utt'rance is deny'd,
The smother'd sounds in hollow murmurs dy'd;
At length, quite chang'd, the God with wonder view'd
A beauteous plant arising where she stood;
This from his touch with human sense inspir'd,
Indignant shrinking, of itself retir'd;
Yet Pan attends it with a lover's cares,
And fost'ring aid with tender hand prepares;
The new form'd plant reluctant seems to yield,
And lives the grace and glory of the field.
But still, as mindful of her former state,
The nymph's perfections on her change await,
And tho' transform'd, her virtue still remains,
No touch impure her sacred plant sustains,
From whence the name of Sensitive it gains.
This oft' the nymphs approach with secret dread,
While crimson blushes o'er their cheeks are spread;
Yet the true virgin has no cause for fear,
The test is equal if the maid's sincere.
This in thy walks O — is found,
Thy walks for virgins fair and chaste renown'd.
This from the mild Hesperian clime convey'd,
Shall ever bloom, O W — — in thy shade;
Yet Western nymphs thy wondrous tree avoid,
Lest all their hopes be by a touch destroy'd.
Britannia 's daughters no such terrors know,
With no lewd flames their spotless bosoms glow;
Tho' ev'ry shrub our cultur'd gardens boast,
And all of foreign stock, a countless host;
Should all at once the precious gift receive,
And ev'ry plant become a Sensitive ,
Yet should their fame the dreadful trial stand,
And add new honours to their native land;
Honours their latest progeny shall share,
For ever virtuous, as for ever fair.
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