Tereus and Philomela - Canto the Fourth


At such a menace, Rage at first was arm'd;
Then Fear, to Agony, the guilt alarm'd:
From its pacific sheath he took the sword,
His victim the uplifted arm implor'd.
She , at the weapon drawn, wild Hope conceiv'd
At least by Death from shame to be reliev'd.
But he — oh, guilt accurst! — had other views:
He meant the sword, for worse than death to use;
Still on her lip the imprecations hung,
Till the keen blade had sacrific'd her tongue;
Shorn of its root upon the earth it lay,
And quiver'd, as it fell, in Life's delay;
Close at her heel, as if it ask'd her will,
Again with curses deep his ear to fill:
So moves the serpent's tail, though life's no more,
And seems to renovate the use it bore.
Oh, could Invention's odium claim the rest! —
Her mutilated form, again oppress'd,
Was doom'd by force to Passion's impious claim,
Accumulated agony, and shame.
Then to his Court the sated Monster went;
And forg'd the tale that guilty fears invent.
" She died at home, " he said; and then he wept;
From all but Conscience was the secret kept.
Her Sister, in Affliction's colours dress'd,
Of Hope's gay dream by Anguish dispossess'd,
Erects the cenotaph, and greets the Shade,
With hallow'd rites to Love and Sorrow paid —
Not so to be lamented was her doom,
Or so to rest her vengeance in the tomb.
But what can hapless Philomela do?
Or what revenge her tortur'd shame pursue?
Her prison is the bar against her flight,
The walls have reach'd a formidable height;
The lips are mute. — But Grief is full of art,
And Misery can act a subtle part;
Her story the embroider'd vest has told,
The cunning threads her tragedy unfold;
This, to a maid unconscious of the test,
With eloquence of aspect she address'd;
Her interesting wishes prov'd commands,
To waft the robe into her Sister's hands.
The vest explor'd in Progne's ghastly view,
A sudden light upon the gazer threw;
Mute was her grief, and words refus'd their aid,
As if to injure what she felt — afraid;
No leisure for a tear; with frantic rage
Wing'd are the feet, each moment seems an age;
Distemper'd thoughts her sense of right confound;
But Nemesis a minister has found.
It was the night in which, to Bacchus claim'd,
With holy zeal his votaries inflam'd:
Upon their mountains roll the maddening sound,
And spread their Deity's bright name around.
She took in haste the Bacchanalian arms,
And gave a bolder style to all her charms.
The vine is on her head — upon her side
Was thrown the mountain stag's triumphant hide;
Upon her shoulder beam'd the waving spear,
And fell Disorder stamp'd her wild career.
With her own madness arm'd, of Pride and Grief,
In that wild throng she personates their Chief;
To the dark shed, where Tereus had immur'd,
Insatiate fiend, the victim he ensur'd,
As if by chance of undirected whim,
She came like one possess'd, and sung the hymn,
With shriek and clamour, Evoe her cry,
Burst are the portals, and the barriers fly.
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