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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Mad Moments: Or First Verse Attempts by a Born Natural (1833). III. To Psyche (Ode I)

Henry Ellison (1811–1880)

(As revised for “The Poetry of Real Life.” 1844.)

  • First made immortal by Apuleius in his “Golden Ass,” the classical story of Psyche and Cupid has exercised a strange fascination over poets of all lands and languages. Psyche is made to represent the human soul as embodied in woman, and Cupid, heavenly love as embodied in man. They are united under the condition (itself a subtle fancy) that their entire intercourse is to be limited to night and darkness, under the inexorable penalty on either of separation on any attempt to see one or other with the bodily eyes. Anger and Desire tempt Psyche to violate the bond of union, and, bearing a lit lamp with her, she enters their bed-chamber and gazes on the sleeping Cupid, but only to lose him.—A. B. G.

  • LET not a sigh be breathed, or he is flown!

    With tip-toe stealth she glides, and throbbing breast

    Towards the bed, like one who dares not own

    Her purpose to herself, yet cannot rest

    From her rash essay: in her trembling hand

    She bears a lamp, which sparkles on a sword:

    In the dim light she seems a wandering dream

    Of loveliness: ’tis Psyche and her lord,

    Her yet unseen, who slumbers like a beam

    Of moonlight, vanishing as soon as scann’d!

    One moment, and all bliss hath fled her heart;

    She with her eyes the vision will dispel,

    And break the dreamy charm no magic art

    Can e’er replace; alas! we learn full well

    How beautiful the Past but to deplore;

    While with seal’d eyes we hurry to the brink,

    Blind as the waterfall: oh, stay thy feet,

    Thou rash one! let thine eye not covet more

    Of bliss than thy heart feels, nor vainly think

    That sight will make thy vision more complete!

    Onward she glides, and gliding, doth infuse

    Her beauty into the dim air, that fain

    Would dally with it; and, as the faint hues

    Flicker around, her charmèd eye-balls strain;

    For there he lies in dreamy loveliness!

    Softly she steals towards him, and bends o’er

    His eyes, sleep-curtained, as a lily droops

    Faint o’er a folded rose: one meek caress

    She would, but dares not take; and as she stoops

    A drop fell from the lamp, she trembling, bore.

    Thereat, sleep-fray’d, dreamlike the god takes wing,

    And soars to his own skies, while Psyche strives

    To clasp his foot, and fain thereon would cling

    But falls insensate; so must he who gives

    His love to sensual forms sink still to earth;

    Whose soul doth cater to a wanton eye.

    Psyche! thou should’st have taken that high gift

    Of love, as it was meant, that mystery

    Had use divine; the gods do test our worth,

    And, ere they grant high boons, our hearts would sift!

    Hadst thou no divine vision of thine own?

    Didst thou not see the object of thy love

    Clothed with a beauty to mere sense unknown?

    And could not that bright image, far above

    The reach of sere decay, content thy thought?

    Which with its glory would have wrapp’d thee round,

    To the grave’s brink, untouched by age or pain!

    Alas! we mar what Fancy’s womb has brought

    Of loveliest forth, and to the narrow bound

    Of sense reduce the Helen of the brain!