[Imitated] From Propertius. Lib: 2: Eleg: 1.

To Maecenas

1 You ask why thus my loves I still rehearse,
2 Whence the soft strain and ever-melting verse:
3 From Cynthia all that in my numbers shines;
4 She is my genius, she inspires the lines;
5 No Phoebus else, no other muse I know;
6 She tunes my easy rhyme and gives the lay to flow.
7 If the loose curls around her forehead play,
8 Or lawless o'er their ivory margin stray;
9 If the thin Coan web her shape reveal,
10 And half disclose those limbs it should conceal;
11 Of those loose curls, that ivory front, I write,
12 Of the dear web whole volumes I indite.
13 Or if to music she the lyre awake,
14 That the soft subject of my song I make,
15 And sing with what a careless grace she flings
16 Her artful hand across the sounding strings.
17 If sinking into sleep she seem to close
18 Her languid lids, I favour her repose
19 With lulling notes, and thousand beauties see
20 That slumber brings to aid my poetry.
21 When less averse and yielding to desires,
22 She half accepts and half rejects my fires;
23 While to retain the envious lawn she tries,
24 And struggles to elude my longing eyes;
25 The fruitful muse from that auspicious night
26 Dates the long Iliad of the amorous fight.
27 In brief, whate'er she do, or say, or look,
28 'Tis ample matter for a lover's book;
29 And many a copious narrative you'll see,
30 Big with important nothing's history.
31 Yet would the tyrant Love permit me raise
32 My feeble voice to sound the victor's praise,
33 To paint the hero's toil, the ranks of war,
34 The laurelled triumph and the sculptured car,
35 No giant-race, no tumult of the skies,
36 No mountain-structures in my verse should rise;
37 Nor tale of Thebes or Ilium there should be,
38 Or how the Persian trod the indignant sea;
39 Not Marius' Cimbrian wreaths would I relate,
40 Nor lofty Carthage struggling with her fate.
41 Here should Augustus great in arms appear,
42 And thou, Maecenas, be my second care;
43 Here Mutina from flames and famine free,
44 And there the ensanguined wave of Sicily,
45 And sceptred Alexandria's captive shore,
46 And sad Philippi red with Roman gore.
47 Then, while the vaulted skies loud Ios rend,
48 In golden chains should loaded monarchs bend,
49 And hoary Nile with pensive aspect seem
50 To mourn the glories of his sevenfold stream,
51 While prows, that late in fierce encounter met,
52 Move through the sacred way and vainly threat.
53 Thee too the muse should consecrate to fame,
54 And with his garlands weave thy ever-faithful name;
55 But nor Callimachus' enervate strain
56 May tell of Jove and Phlegra's blasted plain,
57 Nor I with unaccustomed vigour trace
58 Back to its source divine the Julian race.
59 Sailors to tell of winds and seas delight,
60 The shepherd of his flocks, the soldier of the fight;
61 A milder warfare I in verse display;
62 Each in his proper art should waste the day.
63 Nor thou my gentle calling disapprove:
64 To die is glorious in the bed of love.
65 Happy the youth, and not unknown to fame,
66 Whose heart has never felt a second flame.
67 Oh, might that envied happiness be mine!
68 To Cynthia all my wishes I confine;
69 Or if, alas! it be my fate to try
70 Another love, the quicker let me die.
71 But she, the mistress of my faithful breast,
72 Has oft the charms of constancy confessed,
73 Condemns her fickle sex's fond mistake,
74 And hates the tale of Troy for Helen's sake.
75 Me from myself the soft enchantress stole:
76 Ah! let her ever my desires control.
77 Or if I fall the victim of her scorn,
78 From her loved door may my pale corse be borne.
79 The power of herbs can other harms remove,
80 And find a cure for every ill but love.
81 The Melian's hurt Machaon could repair,
82 Heal the slow chief and send again to war;
83 To Chiron Phoenix owed his long-lost sight,
84 And Phoebus' son recalled Androgeon to the light.
85 Here arts are vain, even magic here must fail,
86 The powerful mixture and the midnight spell.
87 The hand that can my captive heart release
88 And to this bosom give its wonted peace,
89 May the long thirst of Tantalus allay,
90 Or drive the infernal vulture from his prey.
91 For ills unseen what remedy is found,
92 Or who can probe the undiscovered wound?
93 The bed avails not or the leech's care,
94 Nor changing skies can hurt nor sultry air.
95 'Tis hard the elusive symptoms to explore:
96 Today the lover walks, tomorrow is no more;
97 A train of mourning friends attend his pall,
98 And wonder at the sudden funeral.
99 When then my fates that breath they gave shall claim,
100 When the short marble but preserves a name,
101 A little verse, my all that shall remain,
102 Thy passing courser's slackened speed retain
103 (Thou envied honour of thy poet's days,
104 Of all our youth the ambition and the praise!);
105 Then to my quiet urn awhile draw near,
106 And say, while o'er the place you drop a tear,
107 Love and the fair were of his life the pride;
108 He lived while she was kind, and, when she frowned, he died.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [Imitated] From Propertius. Lib: 2: Eleg: 1.
Author: Thomas Gray
Genres: heroic couplet; imitation

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Source edition

Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771. Thomas Gray: English poems. Web. Oxford: Thomas Gray Archive, 2002. http://www.thomasgray.org/texts/poems.shtml

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Typography, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been cautiously modernized. The source of the text is given and all significant editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. This ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 4.0.0.

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