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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

II. Descriptive and Narrative

Grotto of Egeria

(Childe Harold, Canto iv. Stanzas 115–124.)

EGERIA! sweet creation of some heart

Which found no mortal resting-place so fair

As thine ideal breast; whate’er thou art

Or wert,—a young Aurora of the air,

The nympholepsy of some fond despair;

Or, it might be, a beauty of the earth,

Who found a more than common votary there

Too much adoring; whatsoe’er thy birth,

Thou wert a beautiful thought, and softly bodied forth.

The mosses of thy fountain still are sprinkled

With thine Elysian water-drops; the face

Of thy cave-guarded spring, with years unwrinkled,

Reflects the meek-eyed genius of the place,

Whose green, wild margin now no more erase

Art’s works, nor must the delicate waters sleep,

Prison’d in marble; bubbling from the base

Of the cleft statue, with a gentle leap

The rill runs o’er, and round, fern, flowers, and ivy, creep

Fantastically tangled; the green hills

Are clothed with early blossoms, through the grass

The quick-eyed lizard rustles, and the bills

Of summer-birds sing welcome as ye pass;

Flowers fresh in hue, and many in their class,

Implore the pausing step, and with their dyes

Dance in the soft breeze in a fairy mass;

The sweetness of the violet’s deep blue eyes,

Kiss’d by the breath of heaven, seems coloured by its skies.

Here didst thou dwell, in this enchanted cover,

Egeria! thy all heavenly bosom beating

For the far footsteps of thy mortal lover;

The purple Midnight veiled that mystic meeting

With her most starry canopy, and seating

Thyself by thine adorer, what befell?

This cave was surely shaped out for the greeting

Of an enamoured Goddess, and the cell

Haunted by holy Love—the earliest oracle!

And didst thou not, thy breast to his replying,

Blend a celestial with a human heart;

And Love, which dies as it was born, in sighing,

Share with immortal transports? could thine art

Make them indeed immortal, and impart

The purity of heaven to earthly joys,

Expel the venom and not blunt the dart—

The dull satiety which all destroys—

And root from out the soul the deadly weed which cloys?

Alas! our young affections run to waste,

Or water but the desert; whence arise

But weeds of dark luxuriance, tares of haste,

Rank at the core, though tempting to the eyes,

Flowers whose wild odours breathe but agonies,

And trees whose gums are poison; such the plants

Which spring beneath her steps as Passion flies

O’er the world’s wilderness, and vainly pants

For some celestial fruit forbidden to our wants.

Oh Love! no habitant of earth thou art—

An unseen seraph, we believe in thee,

A faith whose martyrs are the broken heart,

But never yet hath seen, nor e’er shall see

The naked eye, thy form, as it should be;

The mind hath made thee, as it peopled heaven,

Even with its own desiring phantasy,

And to a thought such shape and image given,

As haunts the unquench’d soul—parch’d—wearied—wrung—and riven.

Of its own beauty is the mind diseased,

And fevers into false creation;—where,

Where are the forms the sculptor’s soul hath seized?

In him alone. Can Nature show so fair?

Where are the charms and virtues which we dare

Conceive in boyhood and pursue as men,

The unreach’d Paradise of our despair,

Which o’er-informs the pencil and the pen,

And overpowers the page where it would bloom again?

Who loves, raves—’tis youth’s frenzy—but the cure

Is bitterer still: as charm by charm unwinds

Which robed our idols, and we see too sure

Nor worth nor beauty dwells from out the mind’s

Ideal shape of such; yet still it binds

The fatal spell, and still it draws us on,

Reaping the whirlwind from the oft-sown winds;

The stubborn heart, its alchemy begun,

Seems ever near the prize—wealthiest when most undone.

We wither from our youth, we gasp away—

Sick—sick; unfound the boon—unslaked the thirst,

Though to the last, in verge of our decay,

Some phantom lures, such as we sought at first—

But all too late,—so are we doubly curst.

Love, fame, ambition, avarice—’tis the same,

Each idle—and all ill—and none the worst—

For all are meteors with a different name,

And Death the sable smoke where vanishes the flame.