Nereides: Eclogue XII.

Nereides: or Sea-Eclogues.

Rev. William Diaper

Glaucus, who had once been human, relates to Murex a conversation he had overheard between two fishermen. The first bemoans the ocean-going life and longs to be ashore: "O! might I live content a shepherd swain, | And sit on grassy vales, and view the circling plain!" But his more experienced companion points out the men are inevitably unhappy with their lot, and proceeds to sing the praises of the sea. The poem concludes with a salute to "Lacon," identified as Sir John Leake (1656-1720), admiral of the fleet. If Diaper is influenced by Michael Drayton's Muses Elizium, the source here would be the "Sixt Nymphall," a contention between a forester, a fisherman, and a shepherd.

Henry Marion Hall: "Only one of the collection is a true piscatory. In it Murex asks Glaucus if he has seen the fleet, and learns that it has sailed everywhere under command of the great Lacon (Leake). Near England the scaly god overheard the talk of two half-frozen fishermen, who admired the admiral, and repetition of their conversation makes up the idyll proper. The two men are in a skiff toiling at their nets by night, with fingers cramped by the bitter cold. It is new moon and the snow-covered shores are faintly visible through the gray light. Exasperated by his wretched condition the younger man decries the fate which drives him abroad on the black sea at a time when even the poorest clown lies at his ease. He draws a picture of shepherd life, which he declares far happier than that of fisher-folk. The old man replies: 'All think their Fortune is of all the worst,' and says that fishers are in fact envied by their countrymen" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 161-62.


Seest thou yon fleet, that slowly moves in state?
The sea has scarce a depth to bear the pressing weight.

These every shore has seen; all climates know,
As far as lands extend, or waters flow.
Lacon the chief, who guides the floating host,
As late I heard, when near the British coast,
Unseen I stood, while thus a fishing swain
Half-frozen said, and to his mate began:

"Pity, ye Gods, and thaw the rigid frost,
My hands are stiff, and all my feeling lost.
The Moon with sharpen'd horns looks coldly bright,
And thus augments the chillness of the night.
Bright icy spangles gild the shining oar,
And snowy flakes have whit'ned all the shore.
How curst the fate! How hard the fisher's lot,
To toil for ever thus, and toil for nought?
Midst all the gloom, and horrors of the night,
When rambling elves, and shrieking ghosts affright,
On restless waters we are labouring tost,
To catch the falling ice and hoary frost;
While the soft dames of the luxurious town
On yielding beds are laid, and ev'ry clown
When night draws near, unyokes the willing beast,
Then eats his fill; and thus by Heaven blest,
On smelling heaps of straw he takes unenvy'd rest;
Or else deceives a while the winter-nights
With pleasing tales, and stories feign'd of sprites.
With waking care, when we at length have caught
The mighty prize, we so impatient sought;
The squeamish town rejects it all with scorn,
And empty we with fruitless pain return.

"O! might I live content a shepherd swain,
And sit on grassy vales, and view the circling plain!
How blest were I, would me the gods allow
To goad the ox, and hold the bending plow;
Or on the rising ridge with equal hand
To strow the scatter'd seeds, and stock the furrow'd land!"

Thus he; but th' aged sire, whose hoary head
Had seen more years, with calm experience said:

"Alas! their fortune is of all the worst;
Each man (himself a judge) is truly curst.
Through ignorance we commend a life unknown,
And praise another's state, and grieve our own,
While he as much complains, is pin'd with care,
And gladly would exchange his envy'd share.
The Gods on us a daily feast bestow,
For which no price we pay, no thanks we owe.
The Cod (delicious food!) Mullets and Soles,
And shining Mackerel, swim for us in shoals.
Such fare the wealthy citizen will prize,
Ev'n when they stink, (long kept) and we despise.
While on sour herbs the shepherds poorly feed,
Or sapless cheese, and crusts of mouldy bread;
Or if it chance a straggling lamb be drown'd,
With sighs he eats what he with sorrow found:
He grieves his loss, and ever is in pain
By snowy winters, or by summer's rain.
All do not love in clotting fields to sweat,
Where clayey fallows clog the labouring feet.
But who's not pleas'd to walk on easy sand,
While waving heaps are by the Zephyrs fann'd,
And wanton gales, that whistle in the weeds,
From flowing grass disperse the riper seeds.
Who will not gather the deserted shells,
Or climb steep rocks, and search the hollow cells
For hidden eggs, while all the birds in vain
Fly sorrowing round, and with loud threats complain?
No earthy fumes, or noisy insect here
Disturb, or taint the unmolested air.
Venus protects the sea, from whence she came,
And love in water can preserve his flame.
The Nymph to leavy woods, and shady groves
The sea prefers; the sea the Triton loves;
Lacon the sea prefers to flowery meads,
And o'er unfathom'd depths the navy leads.
While he defends our isle from hostile fleets,
The fisher undisturb'd at leisure sits;
His nets secure fear nought but waves and wind,
Or boisterous Fish, who will not be confin'd.
Lacon will not despise the fisher's cott,
But pleasing looks, and often hails our boat.
If e'er he comes again, he has from me
The choicest spoils of all the rifled sea,
Buckhorn, and salted Cod, Sprats smoak'd and dry,
And Oysters, that unshell'd in pickle lie."

He said, and from him shook the falling ice,
When to him thus th' enliven'd youth replies.

"Lacon! — The name has thaw'd my stagnate blood:
It springs through ev'ry vein; I feel the circling flood.
No midnight chills can harm, nor falling sleet;
Joy fills the soul, and spreads diffusive heat,
Though the bright moon, and every shining star
Encrease the cold, and whet the piercing air:
Who Lacon loves, him may the Nymphs attend,
And from the shelves, and rocks unseen defend.
Who Lacon hate (if there be such) may they
Dash'd in rough storms sink down to fish a grateful prey.
Would he permit, I'd leave my fishing oars,
And venture on the main to distant shores.
I am no stranger to the seas, and know
What 'tis to dance on waves, when winds too rudely blow."

"Fond Youth (returns the Sire) wilt thou compare
These rotten boats to mighty ships of war?
Whose steady bulks can stem the ocean-floods,
And with their masts o'er-look the flitting clouds;
Wert thou to climb that height, a strange surprize
Would loose thy hold, and turn thy swiming eyes.
Ambition suits not him, whose birth is mean;
The Gods despise the proud, and love the humble swain."

He said, and ended thus th' alternate song:
I drove the fish, and the unthinking throng
Press to their boat, and fill the swelling net;
They joyous seize the prey, and all their pain forget.

[Nichols, Select Collection (1780-84) 5:245-49]