1712
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nereides: Eclogue XIII.

Nereides: or Sea-Eclogues.

Rev. William Diaper


The thirteenth eclogue consists largely of Chromis's catalogue of the fishes with their several moral characters. He also condemns human aspirations to knowledge in the manner of sea-going simplicity: "Loose not too much the reins to wild desire: | Shrimps may not grow to Crabs, nor Orks to Whales aspire. | We see enough to please our labouring minds, | How Nature sports her self in antic kinds." Muraena, equally simple, declares that where nymphs are concerned, he is one fish who is willing to be caught.



MURAENA, CHROMIS.

MURAENA.
Who knows what Heavens decree for man design'd,
Or what's the certain doom of human kind?
Who knows his former, or his future state,
And secrets teeming in the womb of fate?
Th' Angelic orders sure look down, and smile,
While we still judge amiss, and still for nothing toil.
He finds his own defects, who thinks the most;
That Reason makes us wretched, which we boast,
And men are alway prudent to their cost.
The earth-born mortal, when he round him sees
The flowery pastures, and the budding trees,
Is fondly proud, admires his fancy'd home,
And thinks that all were made for him alone;
That Heaven to him, as Lord, this world entrusts,
And gives a sovereign sway; that all things must
Obey his will, and gratify his lust.
While he forgets the ocean's watry mass,
Whose boundless depths the scanty earth surpass;
Where thousand different kinds of living forms
Lie hid in the abyss, and brave the distant storms.

CHROMIS.
And thousands more as beautiful as these
(Unknown to us) may sport in distant seas.
Who then would vainly strive with curious pride
To find what Heaven has to our search deny'd,
When ignorant of our home we cannot guess
At half the store, and riches we possess?
Better would humbly we ourselves contain
Within our reach, and not indulge our pain.
When once the soul shall quit this earthly case,
And fly unbodied in the endless space,
The essences of things shall all appear,
And naked forms (as in themselves they were)
Nature will then unlock her secret store:
The veil of sense shall hide her face no more.
Mean while enough we are allow'd t' enjoy,
T' improve our reason, and our thoughts employ.
Loose not too much the reins to wild desire:
Shrimps may not grow to Crabs, nor Orks to Whales aspire.
We see enough to please our labouring minds,
How Nature sports her self in antic kinds.
A thousand different forms we hourly view,
And through moist paths the flying shoals pursue.

Who can with all his painful search declare
What curious art indents the branched star,
Or how in harden'd shell by shining streams
It imitates the sun's diffusive beams?

The Shark with pointed teeth is arm'd for prey;
He breaks through all, and clears the liquid way;
While the fond Sucking-fish (a harmless breed)
With fastened lips supply their daily need,
And with a mouth unarm'd they clinging feed.
No lovesick Nymph's or wanton Triton's kiss
Is half so lasting, or so close as his.

The Urchins are by nature fenc'd around;
None dares approach; for with a touch they wound,
Wrapt up within themselves they guarded lie,
And to their own embrace for safety fly.

In vain the fishers for the Glanis wait;
He leaves the hook, and takes the easy bait.
So Ino, when by love I would have won
Siezes my heart, but still secures her own.

Fish vainly curious will each year retire
To fresher streams, and novel floods admire;
Fools to exchange their waves, and native deep
For noisy brooks that o'er the pebbles creep.
They wisely are content, who don't esteem
A tasteless river, or a shallow stream.

When fishers sing, the Puffens to their boats
Unweening press to hear the ruder notes;
Though proudly they escape th' inviting bait,
In softer words they find a surer fate.
Who then will dare approach the Syren's tongue,
Or who untouch'd can hear Leucosia's song?
Though Chromis 'scape the fury of her eyes,
Her voice o'ertakes him, and in vain he flies.

The Sargus, emblem of unbounded lust,
Is alway false; and to his bride unjust;
And, not content o'er all the sea to range,
And thus pollute himself with daily change,
Pursues forbidden love, and fondly dotes
On earth-born kinds, and courts the feeding goats.
But the kind Mullets are a constant Pair;
They (each) still fix to one, and seek no other fair.

The bearded Prawn's a lively instance made
Of mutual kindness, and of friendly aid.
He the gay Pearl attends with studious care,
And in the common prey commands a share.
The Pearl is dull, tho' gaudy in his shell,
(For wit but seldom will with beauty dwell);
But the sly Prawn can secret signs convey,
And with a touch forewarns to seize the prey,
While the deceitful Rays, and spangled sight
To certain death th' admiring throng invite.
(Pleasures indulg'd repented are too late
And they like us to beauty owe their fate!)

MURAENA.
I see a Nymph, who in the liquid maze
Now sporting dives, and with a Dolphin plays,
On whom I could unweary'd ever gaze:
When she appears, I need no other theme
To make my daily care, or nightly dream.
That fair one has enough t' engross the whole,
To take up every thought, and fill the soul.
Ah! might these arms entwine that world of love,
In vain researches I'd no longer rove;
Thus pleas'd, I'd be content to know no more,
Or to forget ev'n what I knew before.
Happily ignorant I would despise
The curious learning of the vainly wise.

[Nichols, Select Collection (1780-84) 5:249-52]