The Story of Phaeton

The Sun's bright Palace, on high Columns rais'd,
With burnish'd Gold and flaming Jewels blaz'd;
The Folding-Gates diffus'd a Silver Light,
And with a milder Gleam refresh'd the Sight;
Of polish'd Iv'ry was the Cov'ring wrought:
The Matter vied not with the Sculptor's Thought,
For in the Portal was display'd on high
(The Work of Vulcan ) a fictitious Sky;
A waving Sea th' inferiour Earth embrac'd,
And Gods and Goddesses the Waters grac'd.
Ægeon here a mighty Whale bestrode;
Triton , and Proteus (the deceiving God)
With Doris here were carv'd, and all her Train,
Some loosely swimming in the figur'd Main,
While some on Rocks their dropping Hair divide,
And some on Fishes through the Waters glide:
Tho various Features did the Sisters grace,
A Sister's Likeness was in ev'ry Face.
On Earth a diff'rent Landskip courts the Eyes,
Men, Towns, and Beasts in distant Prospects rise,
And Nymphs, and Streams, and Woods, and rural Deities.
O'er all, the Heav'ns refulgent Image shines;
On either Gate were six engraven Signs.
Here Phaeton , still gaining on th' Ascent,
To his suspected Father's Palace went,
Till pressing forward through the bright Abode,
He saw at Distance the illustrious God:
He saw at Distance, or the dazling Light
Had flash'd too strongly on his aking Sight.
The God sits high, exalted on a Throne
Of blazing Gems, with Purple Garments on;
The Hours, in order rang'd on either Hand,
And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand.
Here Spring appears with flow'ry Chaplets bound;
Here Summer in her wheaten Garland crown'd;
Here Autumn the rich trodden Grapes besmear;
And hoary Winter shivers in the Reer.
Phaebus beheld the Youth from off his Throne;
That Eye, which looks on All, was fix'd in One
He saw the Boy's Confusion in his Face,
Surpriz'd at all the Wonders of the Place;
And cries aloud, " What wants my Son? for know
" My Son thou art, and I must call thee so.
" Light of the World, the trembling Youth replies,
" Illustrious Parent! since you don't despise
" The Parent's Name, some certain Token give,
" That I may Clymene 's proud Boast believe,
" Nor longer under false Reproaches grieve.
The tender Sire was touch'd with what he said,
And flung the Blaze of Glories from his Head,
And bid the Youth advance: " My Son, said he,
" Come to thy Father's Arms! for Clymene ,
" Has told thee true; a Parent's Name I own,
" And deem thee worthy to be call'd my Son.
" As a sure Proof, make some Request, and I,
" Whate'er it be, with that Request comply;
" By Styx I swear, whose Waves are hid in Night,
" And roul impervious to My piercing Sight
The Youth transported, asks, without Delay,
To guide the Sun's bright Chariot for a Day.
The God repented of the Oath he took,
For Anguish thrice his radiant Head he shook;
" My Son, says he, some other Proof require,
" Rash was my Promise, rash is thy Desire
" I'd fain deny this Wish which thou hast made,
" Or, what I can't deny, wou'd fain disswade
" Too vast and hazardous the Task appears,
" Nor suited to thy Strength, nor to thy Years
" Thy Lot is Mortal, but thy Wishes fly
" Beyond the Province of Mortality:
" There is not one of all the Gods that dares
" (However skill'd in other great Affairs)
" To mount the burning Axle-tree, but I;
" Not Jove himself, the Ruler of the Sky,
" That hurles the three-fork'd Thunder from above,
" Dares try his Strength; yet who so strong as Jove ?
" The Steeds climb up the first Ascent with Pain,
" And when the middle Firmament they gain,
" If downward from the Heav'ns my Head I bow,
" And see the Earth and Ocean hang below,
" Ev'n I am seiz'd with Horror and Affright,
" And my own Heart misgives me at the Sight.
" A mighty Downfal steeps the Ev'ning Stage,
" And steddy Reins must curb the Horses Rage.
" Tethys her self has fear'd to see me driv'n
" Down headlong from the Precipice of Heav'n.
" Besides; consider what impetuous Force
" Turns Stars and Planets in a diff'rent Course.
" I steer against their Motions; nor am I
" Born back by all the Current of the Sky.
" But how cou'd you resist the Orbs that roul
" In adverse Whirls, and stem the rapid Pole?
" But you perhaps may hope for pleasing Woods,
" And stately Domes, and Cities fill'd with Gods;
" While through a thousand Snares your Progress lies,
" Where Forms of starry Monsters stock the Skies:
" For, shou'd you hit the doubtful Way aright,
" The Bull with stooping Horns stands Opposite;
" Next him the bright Hamonian Bow is strung,
" And next, the Lion's grinning Visage hung:
" The Scorpion's Claws here clasp a wide Extent,
" And here the Crab's in lesser Clasps are bent
" Nor wou'd you find it easie to compose
" The mettled Steeds, when from their Nostrils flows
" The scorching Fire, that in their Entrails glows.
" Ev'n I their head-strong Fury scarce restrain,
" When they grow warm and restif to the Rein.
" Let not my Son a fatal Gift require,
" But, O! in time, recall your rash Desire;
" You ask a Gift that may your Parent tell,
" Let these my Fears your Parentage reveal;
" And learn a Father from a Father's Care:
" Look on my Face; or if my Heart lay bare,
" Cou'd you but look, you'd read the Father there
" Chuse out a Gift from Seas, or Earth, or Skies,
" For open to your Wish all Nature lies,
" Only decline this one unequal Task,
" For 'tis a Mischief, not a Gift you ask.
" You ask a real Mischief, Phaeson:
" Nay hang not thus about my Neck, my Son:
" I grant your Wish, and Styx has heard my Voice,
" Chuse what you will, but make a wiser Choice.
Thus did the God th' unwary Youth advise;
But he still longs to travel through the Skies.
When the fond Father (for in vain he pleads)
At length to the Vulcanian Chariot leads.
A Golden Axle did the Work uphold,
Gold was the Beam, the Wheels were orb'd with Gold.
The Spokes in Rows of Silver pleas'd the Sight,
The Seat with party-colour'd Gems was bright;
Apollo shin'd amid the Glare of Light.
The Youth with secret Joy the Work surveys,
When now the Morn disclos'd her purple Rays;
The Stars were fled, for Lucifer had chase't
The Stars away, and fled himself at last.
Soon as the Father saw the rosy Morn,
And the Moon shining with a blunter Horn,
He bid the nimble Hours , without Delay,
Bring forth the Steeds; the nimble Hours obey:
From their full Racks the gen'rous Steeds retire,
Dropping ambrosial Foams, and snorting Fire
Still anxious for his Son, the God of Day,
To make him Proof against the burning Ray,
His Temples with Celestial Ointment wet,
Of sov'raign Virtue to repel the Heat;
Then fix'd the beamy Circle on his Head,
And fetch'd a deep foreboding Sigh, and said,
" Take this at least, this last Advice, my Son,
" Keep a stiff Rein, and move but gently on:
" The Coursers of themselves will run too fast,
" Your Art must be to Moderate their Haste.
" Drive 'em not on Directly through the Skies,
" But where the Zodiac 's Winding Circle lies,
" Along the midmost Zone ; but sally forth
" Nor to the distant South, nor stormy North.
" The Horses Hoofs a beaten Track will show,
" But neither mount too high, nor sink too low
" That no new Fires, or Heav'n, or Earth infest;
" Keep the mid Way, the middle Way is best.
" Nor, where in radiant Folds the Serpent twines,
" Direct your Course, nor where the Altar shines.
" Shun both Extreams; the rest let Fortune guide,
" And better for thee than thy self provide!
" See, while I speak, the Shades disperse away,
" Aurorn gives the Promise of a Day;
" I'm call'd, nor can I make a longer Stay.
" Snatch up the Reins; or still th' Attempt forsake,
" And not my Chariot, but my Counsel take,
" While yet securely on the Earth you stand;
" Nor touch the Horses with too rash a Hand.
" Let Me alone to light the World, while You
" Enjoy those Beams which you may safely view.
He spoke in vain; the Youth with active Heat
And sprightly Vigour vaults into the Seat;
And joys to hold the Reins, and fondly gives
Those Thanks his Father with Remorse receives.
Mean while the restless Horses neigh'd aloud,
Breathing out Fire, and pawing where they stood.
Tethys , not knowing what had past, gave way,
And all the Waste of Heav'n before 'em lay.
They spring together out, and swiftly bear
The flying Youth through Clouds and yielding Air;
With wingy Speed outstrip the Eastern Wind,
And leave the Breezes of the Morn behind
The Youth was light, nor cou'd he fill the Seat,
Or poise the Chariot with its wonted Weight:
But as at Sea th'unballass'd Vessel rides,
Cast to and fro, the Sport of Winds and Tides;
So in the bounding Chariot toss'd on high,
The Youth is hurry'd headlong through the Sky.
Soon as the Steeds perceive it, they forsake
Their stated Course, and leave the beaten Track.
The Youth was in a Maze, nor did he know
Which way to turn the Reins, or where to go;
Nor wou'd the Horses, had he known, obey.
Then the Sev'n Stars first felt Apollo 's Ray,
And wish'd to dip in the forbidden Sea.
The folded Serpent next the frozen Pole,
Stiff and benum'd before, began to roll,
And rag'd with inward Heat, and threaten'd War,
And shot a redder Light from ev'ry Star;
Nay, and 'tis said Bootes too, that fain
Thou wou'd'st have fled, tho' cumber'd with thy Wane.
Th'unhappy Youth then, bending down his Head,
Saw Earth and Ocean far beneath him spread.
His Colour chang'd, he startled at the Sight,
And his Eyes Darken'd by too great a Light.
Now cou'd he wish the fiery Steeds untry'd,
His Birth obscure, and his Request deny'd:
Now wou'd he Merops for his Father own,
And quit his boasted Kindred to the Sun
So fares the Pilot, when his Ship is tost
In troubled Seas, and all its Steerage lost,
He gives her to the Winds, and in Despair
Seeks his last Refuge in the Gods and Pray'r.
What cou'd he do? his Eyes, if backward cast,
Find a long Path he had already past;
If forward, still a longer Path they find:
Both he compares, and measures in his Mind;
And sometimes casts an Eye upon the East,
And sometimes looks on the forbidden West.
The Horses Names he knew not in the Fright,
Nor wou'd he loose the Reins, nor cou'd he hold 'em right
Now all the Horrors of the Heav'ns he spies,
And monstrous Shadows of prodigious Size,
That, deck'd with Stars, lye scatter'd o'er the Skies
There is a Place above, where Scorpio bent
In Tail and Arms surrounds a vast Extent;
In a wide Circuit of the Heav'ns he shines,
And fills the Space of Two Caelestial Signs.
Soon as the Youth beheld him, vex'd with Heat,
Brandish his Sting, and in his Poison sweat,
Half dead with sudden Fear he dropt the Reins;
The Horses felt 'em loose upon their Mains,
And, flying out through all the Plains above,
Ran uncontroul'd where-e'er their Fury drove;
Rush'd on the Stars, and through a pathless Way
Of unknown Regions hurry'd on the Day.
And now above, and now below they flew,
And near the Earth the burning Chariot drew.
The Clouds disperse in Fumes, the wond'ring Moon
Beholds her Brother's Steeds beneath her own;
The Highlands smoak, cleft by the piercing Rays,
Or, clad with Woods, in their own Fewel blaze.
Next o'er the Plains, where ripen'd Harvests grow,
The running Conflagration spreads Below.
But these are trivial Ills: whole Cities burn,
And peopled Kingdoms into Ashes turn.
The Mountains kindle as the Car draws near,
Athos and Tmolus red with Fires appear;
Oeagrian Hamus (then a single Name)
And Virgin Helicon increase the Flame;
Taurus and Oete glare amid the Sky,
And Ida , spight of all her Fountains, Dry.
Eryx , and Othrys , and Cithaeron , glow,
And Rhodope , no longer cloath'd in Snow;
High Pindus, Mimas , and Parnassus , sweat,
And Ætna rages with redoubled Heat.
Ev'n Scythia , through her hoary Regions warm'd,
In vain with all her native Frost was arm'd.
Cover'd with Flames, the tow'ring Appennine .
And Caucasus , and proud Olympus , shine;
And, where the long-extended Alpes aspire,
Now stands a huge continu'd Range of Fire.
Th'astonisht Youth, where-e'er his Eyes cou'd turn,
Beheld the Universe around him burn:
The World was in a Blaze; nor cou'd he bear
The sultry Vapours and the scorching Air,
Which from below, as from a Furnace, flow'd;
And now the Axle-tree beneath him glow'd:
Lost in the whirling Clouds, that round him broke,
And white with Ashes, hov'ring in the Smoke,
He flew where-e'er the Horses drove, nor knew
Whither the Horses drove, or where he flew.
'T was then, they say, the swarthy Moor begun
To change his Hue, and Blacken in the Sun.
Then Libya first, of all her Moisture drain'd,
Became a barren Waste, a Wild of Sand.
The Water-Nymphs lament their empty Urns,
Baeotia , robb'd of Silver Dirce , mourns,
Corinth Pyrene 's wasted Spring bewails,
And Argos grieves whilst Amymone fails.
The Floods are drain'd from ev'ry distant Coast,
Ev'n Tanais , tho' fix'd in Ice, was lost.
Enrag'd Caicus and Lycormas roar,
And Xanthus , fated to be burnt once more.
The fam'd Maeander , that unweary'd strays
Through mazy Windings, smoaks in ev'ry Maze.
From his lov'd Babylon Euphrates flies;
The big-swoln Ganges and the Danube rise
In thick'ning Fumes, and darken half the Skies
In Flames Ismenos and the Phasis roul'd,
And Tagus floating in his melted Gold.
The Swans, that on Caÿèster often try'd
Their tuneful Songs, now sung their last and dy'd
The frighted Nile ran off, and under Ground
Conceal'd his Head, nor can it yet be found:
His sev'n divided Currents all are dry,
And where they roul'd, sev'n Gaping Trenches lye.
No more the Rhine or Rhone their Course maintain,
Nor Tiber , of his promis'd Empire vain.
The Ground, deep-cleft, admits the dazling Ray,
And startles Pluto with the Flash of Day.
The Seas shrink in, and to the Sight disclose
Wide naked Plains, where once their Billows rose;
Their Rocks are all discover'd, and increase
The Number of the scatter'd Cyclades .
The Fish in Sholes about the Bottom creep,
Nor longer dares the crooked Dolphin leap:
Gasping for Breath, th'unshapen Phoce die,
And on the boiling Wave extended lye.
Nereus , and Doris with her Virgin Train,
Seek out the last Recesses of the Main;
Beneath unfathomable Depths they faint,
And secret in their gloomy Caverns pant.
Stern Neptune thrice above the Waves upheld
His Face, and thrice was by the Flames repell'd.
The Earth at length, on ev'ry Side embrac'd
With scalding Seas, that floated round her Waste,
When now she felt the Springs and Rivers come,
And crowd within the Hollow of her Womb,
Up lifted to the Heav'ns her blasted Head,
And clapt her Hand upon her Brows, and said;
(But first, impatient of the sultry Heat,
Sunk deeper down, and sought a cooler Seat:)
" If you, great King of Gods, my Death approve,
" And I deserve it, let me die by Jove ;
" If I must perish by the Force of Fire,
" Let me transfix'd with Thunderbolts expire
" See, whilst I speak, my Breath the Vapours choak,
(For now her Face lay wrapt in Clouds of Smoak)
" See my singe'd Hair, behold my faded Eye,
" And wither'd Face, where Heaps of Cinders lye!
" And does the Plow for This my Body tear?
" This the Reward for all the Fruits I bear,
" Tortur'd with Rakes, and harrass'd all the Year?
" That Herbs for Cattle daily I renew,
" And Food for Man, and Frankincense for You?
" But grant Me guilty; what has Neptune done?
" Why are his Waters boiling in the Sun?
" The wavy Empire, which by Lot was giv'n,
" Why does it waste, and further shrink from Heav'n?
" If I nor He your Pity can provoke,
" See your own Heav'ns, the Heav'ns begin to smoke!
" Shou'd once the Sparkles catch those bright Abodes,
" Destruction seizes on the Heav'ns and Gods;
" Atlas becomes unequal to his Freight,
" And almost faints beneath the glowing Weight
" If Heav'n, and Earth, and Sea, together burn,
" All must again into their Chaos turn.
" Apply some speedy Cure, prevent our Fate,
" And succour Nature, e'er it be too late.
She ceas'd, for choak'd with Vapours round her spread,
Down to the deepest Shades she sunk her Head.
Jove call'd to witness ev'ry Pow'r above,
And ev'n the God, whose Son the Chariot drove,
That what he acts he is compell'd to do,
Or universal Ruin must ensue.
Strait he ascends the high Æthereal Throne,
From whence he us'd to dart his Thunder down,
From whence his Show'rs and Storms he us'd to pour,
But now cou'd meet with neither Storm nor Show'r.
Then, aiming at the Youth, with lifted Hand,
Full at his Head he hurl'd the forky Brand,
In dreadful Thund'rings. Thus th' Almighty Sire
Suppress'd the Raging of the Fires with Fire
At once from Life, and from the Chariot driv'n,
Th'ambitious Boy fell Thunder-struck from Heav'n.
The Horses started with a sudden Bound,
And flung the Reins and Chariot to the Ground:
The studded Harness from their Necks they broke,
Here fell a Wheel, and here a Silver Spoke,
Here were the Beam and Axle torn away;
And, scatter'd o'er the Earth, the shining Fragments lay
The Breathless Phaeton , with flaming Hair,
Shot from the Chariot, like a falling Star,
That in a Summer's Ev'ning from the Top
Of Heav'n drops down, or seems at least to drop;
Till on the Po his Blasted Corps was hurl'd,
Far from his Country, in the Western World.
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