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THE STORY OF PHAETON.
THE sun's bright palace, on high columns raised,
With burnished gold and flaming jewels blazed;
The folding gates diffused a silver light,
And with a milder gleam refreshed the sight;
Of polished ivory was the covering wrought:
The matter vied not with the sculptor's thought,
For in the portal was displayed on high
(The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky;
A waving sea the inferior earth embraced,
And gods and goddesses the waters graced.
Ægeon here a mighty whale bestrode;
Triton, and Proteus, (the deceiving god,)
With Doris here were carved, and all her train,
Some loosely swimming in the figured main,
While some on rocks their dropping hair divide,
And some on fishes through the waters glide:
Though various features did the sisters grace,
A sister's likeness was in every face.
On earth a different landscape courts the eyes,
Men, towns, and beasts, in distant prospects rise,
And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities.
O'er all, the heaven's refulgent image shines;
On either gate were six engraven signs.
Here Phaeton, still gaining on the ascent,
To his suspected father's palace went,
Till, pressing forward through the bright abode,
He saw at distance the illustrious god:
He saw at distance, or the dazzling light
Had flashed too strongly on his aching sight.
'Mr. Addison appears to have been much taken with the native graces of Ovid's poetry. The following translations are highly finished and even laboured (if I may so speak) into an ease, which resembles very much, and almost equals, that of his author.
The god sits high, exalted on a throne Of blazing gems, with purple garments on: The Hours, in order ranged on either hand, And days, and months, and years, and ages, stand. Here Spring appears with flowery chaplets bound; Here Summer in her wheaten garland crowned; Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear And hoary Winter shivers in the rear.
Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne; That eye, which looks on all, was fix'd on one. He saw the boy's confusion in his face, Surprised at all the wonders of the place; And cries aloud, "What wants my son? for know My son thou art, and I must call thee so."
Light of the world," the trembling youth replies,
"Illustrious parent! since you don't despise
The parent's name, some certain token give,
That I may Clymene's proud boast believe,
Nor longer under false reproaches grieve."
The tender sire was touched with what he said,
And flung the blaze of glories from his head,
And bid the youth advance: "My son," said he,
"Come to thy father's arms! for Clymenè
Has told thee true; a parent's name I own,
And deem thee worthy to be called my son.
As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
Whate'er it be, with that request comply;
By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
And roll impervious to my piercing sight."
The youth transported, asks, without delay,
To guide the Sun's bright chariot for a day.
The god repented of the oath he took,
For anguish thrice his radiant head he shook;
My son," says he, "some other proof require,
Rash was my promise, rash is thy desire.
I'd fain deny this wish which thou hast made,
Or, what I can't deny, would fain dissuade.
Too vast and hazardous the task appears,
Nor suited to thy strength, nor to thy years.
Thy lot is mortal, but thy wishes fly
Beyond the province of mortality:
There is not one of all the gods that dares
(However skill'd in other great affairs)
To mount the burning axle-tree, but I;
Not Jove himself, the ruler of the sky,
That hurls the three-forked thunder from above,
Dares try his strength; yet who so strong as Jove?
The steeds climb up the first ascent with pain:
And when the middle firmament they gain,
If downward from the heavens my head I bow,
And see the earth and ocean hang below,
Ev'n I am seized with horror and affright,
And my own heart misgives me at the sight.
A mighty downfal steeps the evening stage,
And steady reins must curb the horses' rage.
Tethys herself has feared to see me driven
Down headlong from the precipice of heaven.
Besides, consider what impetuous force
Turns stars and planets in a different course:
I steer against their motions; nor am I
Borne back by all the current of the sky.
But how could you resist the orbs that roll
In adverse whirls, and stem the rapid pole?
But you perhaps may hope for pleasing woods,
And stately domes, and cities filled with gods;
While through a thousand snares your progress lies,
Where forms of starry monsters stock the skies:
For, should you hit the doubtful way aright,
The Bull with stooping horns stands opposite;
Next him the bright Hæmonian Bow is strung;
And next, the Lion's grinning visage hung:
The Scorpion's claws here clasp a wide extent,
And here the Crab's in lesser clasps are bent.
Nor would you
find it easy to compose
The mettled steeds, when from their nostrils flows
The scorching fire, that in their entrails glows.
Ev'n I their head-strong fury scarce restrain,
When they grow warm and restiff to the rein.
Let not my son a fatal gift require,
But, oh! in time recall your rash desire;
You ask a gift that may your parent tell,
Let these my fears your parentage reveal;
And learn a father from a father's care:
Look on my face; or if my heart lay bare,
Could you but look, you'd read the father there.
Choose out a gift from seas, or earth, or skies,
For open to your wish all nature lies,
Only decline this one unequal task,
For 'tis a mischief, not a gift you ask;
You ask a real mischief, Phaëton :
Nay, hang not thus about my neck, my son :
I grant your wish, and Styx has heard my voice,
Choose what you will, but make a wiser choice."
Thus did the god the unwary youth advise;
But he still longs to travel through the skies,
When the fond father (for in vain he pleads)
At length to the Vulcanian chariot leads.
A golden axle did the work uphold,
Gold was the beam, the wheels were orbed with gold.
The spokes in rows of silver pleased the sight,
The seat with party-coloured gems was bright;
Apollo shined amid the glare of light.
The youth with secret joy the work surveys;
When now the morn disclosed her purple rays;
The stars were fled; for Lucifer had chased
The stars away, and fled himself at last.
Soon as the father saw the rosy morn,
And the moon shining with a blunter horn,
He bid the nimble Hours without delay
Bring forth the steeds; the nimble Hours obey:
From their full racks the generous steeds retire,
Dropping ambrosial foams and snorting fire.
Still anxious for his son, the god of day,
To make him proof against the burning ray,
His temples with celestial ointment wet,
Of sovereign virtue to repel the heat;
Then fixed the beamy circle on his head,
And fetched a deep, foreboding sigh, and said,
"Take this at least, this last advice, my son:
Keep a stiff rein, and move but gently on:
The coursers of themselves will run too fast,
Your art must be to moderate their haste.
Drive them not on directly through the skies,
But where the Zodiac's winding circle lies,
Along the midmost zone; but sally forth
Nor to the distant south, nor stormy north.
The horses' hoofs a beaten track will show,
But neither mount too high nor sink too low,
That no new fires or heaven or earth infest;
Keep the mid-way, the middle way is best.
Nor, where in radiant folds the Serpent twines,
Direct your course, nor where the Altar shines.
Shun both extremes; the rest let Fortune guide,
And better for thee than thyself provide!
See, while I speak the shades disperse away,
Aurora gives the promise of a day;
I'm called, nor can I make a longer stay.
Snatch up the reins; or still the attempt forsake,
And not my chariot, but my counsel, take,
While yet securely on the earth you stand;
Nor touch the horses with too rash a hand.
Let me alone to light the world, while you
Enjoy those beams which you may safely view."
He spoke in vain: the youth with active heat
And sprightly vigour vaults into the seat;
And joys to hold the reins, and fondly gives
Those thanks his father with remorse receives.
Meanwhile the restless horses neighed aloud,
Breathing out fire, and pawing where they stood.
Tethys, not knowing what had passed, gave way,
And all the waste of heaven before them lay.
They spring together out, and swiftly bear
The flying youth through clouds and yielding air;
With wingy speed outstrip the eastern wind,
And leave the breezes of the morn behind.
The youth was light, nor could he fill the seat,
Or poise the chariot with its wonted weight:
But as at sea the unballassed vessel rides,
Cast to and fro, the sport of winds and tides;
So in the bounding chariot tossed on high,
The youth is hurried headlong through the sky.
Soon as the steeds perceive it, they forsake
Their stated course, and leave the beaten track.
The youth was in a maze, nor did he know
Which way to turn the reins, or where to go;