Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Severn, the River


By John Milton (1608–1674)

From “Comus, a Mask

THERE is a gentle nymph not far from hence,

That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream.

Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure;

Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,

That had the sceptre from his father Brute.

She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit

Of her enragéd step-dame Guendolen,

Commended her fair innocence to the flood,

That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.

The water-nymphs, that in the bottom played,

Held up their pearléd wrists and took her in,

Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’ hall;

Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,

And gave her to his daughters to imbathe

In nectared lavers, strewed with asphodel:

And through the porch and inlet of each sense

Dropped in ambrosial oils, till she revived,

And underwent a quick immortal change,

Made goddess of the river: still she retains

Her maiden gentleness, and oft at eve

Visits the herds along the twilight meadows,

Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs

That the shrewd meddling elf delights to make,

Which she with precious vialled liquors heals:

For which the shepherds at their festivals

Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,

And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream

Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffodils:

And, as the old swain said, she can unlock

The clasping charm, and thaw the numbing spell,

If she be right invoked in warbled song;

For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift

To aid a virgin, such as was herself,

In hard-besetting need; this will I try,

And add the power of some adjuring verse.

Sabrina fair,

Listen where thou art sitting

Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,

In twisted braids of lilies knitting

The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair:

Listen for dear honor’s sake,

Goddess of the silver lake;

Listen, and save!

Listen, and appear to us,

In name of great Oceanus;

By the earth-shaking Neptune’s mace,

And Tethys’ grave majestic pace;

By hoary Nereus’ wrinkled look,

And the Carpathian wizard’s hook;

By scaly Triton’s winding shell,

And old soothsaying Glaucus’ spell;

By Leucothea’s lovely hands,

And her son that rules the strands;

By Thetis’ tinsel-slippered feet,

And the songs of sirens sweet;

By dead Parthenope’s dear tomb,

And fair Ligea’s golden comb,

Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks,

Sleeking her soft alluring locks;

By all the nymphs that nightly dance

Upon thy streams with wily glance;

Rise, rise, and heave thy rosy head,

From thy coral-paven bed,

And bridle in thy headlong wave,

Till thou our summons answered have.

Listen, and save!

SABRINA rises, attended by Water-nymphs, and sings.
By the rushy-fringéd bank,

Where grows the willow, and the osier dank,

My sliding chariot stays,

Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen

Of turkis blue, and emerald green

That in the channel strays;

Whilst from off the waters fleet

Thus I set my printless feet

O’er the cowslip’s velvet head,

That bends not as I tread:

Gentle swain, at thy request,

I am here.