The CHOICE of HERCULES.
1 NOW had the son of Jove mature, attain'd
2 The joyful prime: when youth, elate and gay,
3 Steps into life; and follows unrestrain'd
4 Where passion leads, or prudence points the way.
5 In the pure mind, at those ambiguous years,
6 Or vice, rank weed, first strikes her pois'nous root:
7 Or haply virtue's op'ning bud appears
8 By just degrees; fair bloom of fairest fruit:
9 For, if on youth's untainted thought imprest,
10 The gen'rous purpose still shall warm the manly breast.
11 As on a day, reflecting on his age
12 For highest deeds now ripe, Alcides sought
13 Retirement; nurse of contemplation sage;
14 Step following step, and thought succeeding thought:[Page 8]
15 Musing, with steady pace the youth pursu'd
16 His walk; and lost in meditation stray'd
17 Far in a lonely vale, with solitude
18 Conversing; while intent his mind survey'd
19 The dubious path of life: before him lay
20 Here Virtue's rough ascent, there Pleasure's flow'ry way.
21 Much did the view divide his wavering mind:
22 Now glow'd his breast with generous thirst of fame;
23 Now love of ease to softer thoughts inclin'd
24 His yielding soul, and quench'd the rising flame.
25 When, lo! far off two female forms he spies;
26 Direct to him their steps they seem to bear:
27 Both, large and tall, exceeding human size;
28 Both far exceeding human beauty, fair.
29 Graceful, yet each with different grace, they move:
30 This, striking sacred awe; that, softer, winning love.
31 The first, in native dignity surpass'd;
32 Artless and unadorn'd she pleas'd the more:
33 Health, o'er her looks, a genuine lustre cast;
34 A vest, more white than new-fall'n snow she wore.
35 August she trod, yet modest was her air;
36 Serene her eye, yet darting heav'nly fire.
37 Still she drew near; and nearer still more fair,
38 More mild appear'd: yet such as might inspire
39 Pleasure corrected with an aweful fear;
40 Majestically sweet, and amiably severe.
41 The other dame seem'd ev'n of fairer hue;
42 But bold her mien; unguarded rov'd her eye:
43 And her flush'd cheeks confess'd at nearer view
44 The borrow'd blushes of an artful dye.
45 All soft and delicate, with airy swim
46 Lightly she danc'd along; her robe betray'd
47 Thro' the clear texture ev'ry tender limb,
48 Height'ning the charms it only seem'd to shade:
49 And as it flow'd adown, so loose and thin,
50 Her stature shew'd more tall; more snowy-white, her skin.
51 Oft with a smile she view'd herself askance;
52 Ev'n on her shade a conscious look she threw;
53 Then all around her cast a careless glance,
54 To mark what gazing eyes her beauty drew.
55 As they came near, before that other maid
56 Approaching decent, eagerly she press'd
57 With hasty step; nor of repulse afraid,
58 With freedom bland the wond'ring youth address'd;
59 With winning fondness on his neck she hung;
60 Sweet as the honey-dew flow'd her enchanting tongue.
61 "Dear Hercules, whence this unkind delay?
62 "Dear youth, what doubts can thus distract thy mind?
63 "Securely follow, where I lead the way;
64 "And range thro' wilds of pleasure unconfin'd,[Page 10]
65 "With me retire, from noise, and pain, and care;
66 "Embath'd in bliss, and rapt in endless ease:
67 "Rough is the road to fame, thro' blood and war;
68 "Smooth is my way, and all my paths are peace.
69 "With me retire, from toils and perils free;
70 "Leave honour to the wretch! Pleasures were made for thee.
71 "Then will I grant thee all thy soul's desire;
72 "All that may charm thine ear, and please thy sight:
73 "All that thy thought can frame, or wish require,
74 "To steep thy ravish'd senses in delight.
75 "The sumptuous feast, enhanc'd with music's sound;
76 "Fittest to tune the melting soul to love:
77 "Rich odours, breathing choicest sweets around;
78 "The fragrant bow'r, cool fountain, shady grove:
79 "Fresh flowers, to strew thy couch, and crown thy head;
80 "Joy shall attend thy steps, and ease shall smooth thy bed.
81 "These will I, freely, constantly supply;
82 "Pleasures, not earn'd with toil, nor mix'd with woe:
83 "Far from thy rest repining want shall fly;
84 "Nor labour bathe in sweat thy careful brow.
85 "Mature the copious harvest shall be thine;
86 "Let the laborious hind subdue the soil:
87 "Leave the rash soldier spoils of war to win;
88 "Won by the soldier thou shalt share the spoil:
89 "These softer cares my blest allies employ,
90 "New pleasures to invent; to wish, and to enjoy. "
91 Her winning voice the youth attentive caught:
92 He gaz'd impatient on the smiling maid;
93 Still gaz'd, and listen'd: then her name besought:
94 "My name, fair youth, is Happiness, she said.
95 "Well can my friends this envy'd truth maintain:
96 "They share my bliss; they best can speak my praise:
97 "Tho' slander call me Sloth — detraction vain!
98 "Heed not what Slander, vain detractor, says:
99 "Slander, still prompt true merit to defame;
100 "To blot the brightest worth, and blast the fairest name."
101 By this, arriv'd the fair majestic maid:
102 (She all the while, with the same modest pace,
103 Compos'd, advanc'd.) "Know, Hercules," she said
104 With manly tone, "thy birth of heav'nly race;
105 "Thy tender age that lov'd instruction's voice,
106 "Promis'd thee generous, patient, brave and wise;
107 "When manhood should confirm thy glorious choice:
108 "Now expectation waits to see thee rise.
109 "Rise, youth! Exalt thyself, and me: approve
110 "Thy high descent from heav'n; and dare be worthy Jove.
111 "But what truth prompts, my tongue shall not disguise;
112 "The steep ascent must be with toil subdu'd:
113 "Watching and cares must win the lofty prize
114 "Propos'd by heav'n; true bliss, and real good.[Page 12]
115 "Honour rewards the brave and bold alone;
116 "She spurns the timorous, indolent, and base:
117 "Danger and toil stand stern before her throne;
118 "And guard (so Jove commands) the sacred place.
119 "Who seeks her must the mighty cost sustain,
120 "And pay the price of fame; labour, and care, and pain.
121 "Wou'dst thou engage the gods peculiar care?
122 "O Hercules, th' immortal powers adore!
123 "With a pure heart, with sacrifice and pray'r
124 "Attend their altars; and their aid implore.
125 "Or wou'dst thou gain thy country's loud applause,
126 "Lov'd as her father, as her god ador'd?
127 "Be thou the bold assertor of her cause;
128 "Her voice, in council; in the fight, her sword.
129 "In peace, in war, pursue thy country's good:
130 "For her, bare thy bold breast; and pour thy generous blood.
131 "Wou'dst thou, to quell the proud and lift th' opprest,
132 "In arts of war and matchless strength excel?
133 "First conquer thou thyself. To ease, to rest,
134 "To each soft thought of pleasure, bid farewel.
135 "The night alternate, due to sweet repose,
136 "In watches waste; in painful march, the day:
137 "Congeal'd, amidst the rigorous winter's snows;
138 "Scorch'd, by the summer's thirst-inflaming ray.
139 "Thy harden'd limbs shall boast superior might:
140 "Vigour shall brace thine arm, resistless in the fight. "
141 "Hear'st thou, what monsters then thou must engage;
142 "What dangers, gentle youth, she bids thee prove?
143 (Abrupt says Sloth) "ill fit thy tender age
144 "Tumult and wars; fit age, for joy and love.
145 "Turn, gentle youth, to me, to love and joy!
146 "To these I lead: no monsters here shall stay
147 "Thine easy course; no cares thy peace annoy:
148 "I lead to bliss a nearer, smoother way.
149 "Short is my way; fair, easy, smooth, and plain:
150 "Turn, gentle youth! With me eternal pleasures reign. "
151 "What pleasures, vain mistaken wretch, are thine!
152 (Virtue with scorn reply'd:)" who sleep'st in ease
153 "Insensate; whose soft limbs the toil decline
154 "That seasons bliss, and makes enjoyment please.
155 "Draining the copious bowl, ere thirst require;
156 "Feasting, ere hunger to the feast invite:
157 "Whose tasteless joys anticipate desire;
158 "Whom luxury supplies with appetite:
159 "Yet Nature loaths; and you employ in vain
160 "Variety and art to conquer her disdain.
161 "The sparkling nectar, cool'd with summer snows;
162 "The dainty board, with choicest viands spread;
163 "To thee are tasteless all! Sincere repose
164 "Flies from thy flow'ry couch and downy bed.[Page 14]
165 "For thou art only tir'd with indolence:
166 "Nor is thy sleep, with toil and labour bought:
167 "Th' imperfect sleep that lulls thy languid sense
168 "In dull oblivious interval of thought:
169 "That kindly steals th' inactive hours away
170 "From the long, ling'ring space, that lengthens out the day.
171 "From bounteous nature's unexhausted stores
172 "Flows the pure fountain of sincere delights:
173 "Averse to her, you waste the joyless hours;
174 "Sleep drowns thy days, and riot rules thy nights.
175 "Immortal tho' thou art, indignant Jove
176 "Hurl'd thee from heaven, th' immortals blissful place;
177 "For ever banish'd from the realms above,
178 "To dwell on earth, with man's degenerate race:
179 "Fitter abode! On earth alike disgrac'd;
180 "Rejected by the wise, and by the fool embrac'd.
181 "Fond wretch, that vainly weenest all delight
182 "To gratify the sense reserv'd for thee!
183 "Yet the most pleasing object to the sight,
184 "Thine own fair action, never didst thou see.
185 "Tho' lull'd with softest sounds thou liest along;
186 "Soft music, warbling voices, melting lays;
187 "Ne'er did'st thou hear, more sweet than sweetest song
188 "Charming the soul, thou ne'er didst hear thy praise!
189 "No — to thy revels let the fool repair:
190 "To such, go smooth thy speech; and spread thy tempting "snare.
191 "Vast happiness enjoy thy gay allies!
192 "A youth of follies; and old age, of cares:
193 "Young, yet enervate; old, yet never wise;
194 "Vice wastes their vigour, and their mind impairs.
195 "Vain, idle, delicate, in thoughtless ease
196 "Reserving woes for age their prime they spend;
197 "All wretched, hopeless, in the evil days
198 "With sorrow to the verge of life they tend.
199 "Griev'd, with the present; of the past, asham'd:
200 "They live, and are despis'd: they die, nor more are nam'd.
201 "But with the gods, and godlike men, I dwell:
202 "Me, his supreme delight, th' almighty Sire
203 "Regards well-pleas'd: whatever works excel,
204 "All or divine or human, I inspire.
205 "Counsel with strength, and industry with art,
206 "In union meet conjoin'd, with me reside:
207 "My dictates arm, instruct, and mend the heart;
208 "The surest policy, the wisest guide.
209 "With me, true friendship dwells: she deigns to bind
210 "Those generous souls alone, whom I before have join'd.
211 "Nor need my friends the various costly feast;
212 "Hunger to them th' effects of art supplies;
213 "Labour prepares their weary limbs to rest;
214 "Sweet is their sleep: light, chearful, strong they rise.[Page 16]
215 "Thro' health, thro' joy, thro' pleasure and renown,
216 "They tread my paths; and by a soft descent,
217 "At length to age all gently sinking down,
218 "Look back with transport on a life well-spent:
219 "In which, no hour flew unimprov'd away;
220 "In which, some generous deed distinguish'd every day.
221 "And when, the destin'd term at length compleat,
222 "Their ashes rest in peace; eternal Fame
223 "Sounds wide their praise: triumphant over fate,
224 "In sacred song, for ever lives their name.
225 "This, Hercules, is happiness! Obey
226 "My voice, and live. Let thy celestial birth
227 "Lift, and enlarge, thy thoughts. Behold the way
228 "That leads to fame; and raises thee from earth
229 "Immortal! Lo, I guide thy steps. Arise,
230 "Pursue the glorious path; and claim thy native skies. "
231 Her words breathe fire celestial, and impart
232 New-vigour to his soul, that sudden caught
233 The generous flame: with great intent his heart
234 Swells full; and labours with exalted thought:
235 The mist of error from his eyes dispell'd,
236 Thro' all her fraudful arts in clearest light
237 Sloth in her native form he now beheld;
238 Unveil'd, she stood confess'd before his sight;
239 False Siren! — All her vaunted charms, that shone
240 So fresh erewhile, and fair: now wither'd, pale, and gone.
241 No more, the rosy bloom in sweet disguise
242 Masks her dissembled looks: each borrow'd grace
243 Leaves her wan cheek; pale sickness clouds her eyes
244 Livid and sunk, and passions dim her face.
245 As when fair Iris has awhile display'd
246 Her watry arch, with gaudy painture gay;
247 While yet we gaze, the glorious colours fade,
248 And from our wonder gently steal away:
249 Where shone the beauteous phantom erst so bright,
250 Now lowers the low-hung cloud; all gloomy to the sight.
251 But Virtue more engaging all the while
252 Disclos'd new charms; more lovely, more serene
253 Beaming sweet influence. A milder smile
254 Soften'd the terrors of her lofty mien.
255 "Lead, goddess, I am thine! (transported cry'd
256 Alcides:)" O propitious pow'r, thy way
257 "Teach me! possess my soul; be thou my guide:
258 "From thee, O never, never let me stray! "
259 While ardent thus the youth his vows address'd;
260 With all the goddess fill'd, already glow'd his breast.
261 The heav'nly maid; with strength divine endu'd
262 His daring soul; there all her pow'rs combin'd:
263 Firm constancy, undaunted fortitude,
264 Enduring patience, arm'd his mighty mind.[Page 18]
265 Unmov'd in toils, in dangers undismay'd,
266 By many a hardy deed and bold emprize,
267 From fiercest monsters, thro' her pow'rful aid,
268 He free'd the earth: thro' her he gain'd the skies.
269 'Twas Virtue plac'd him in the blest abode;
270 Crown'd with eternal youth; among the Gods, a God.