In alternate song, Alcon and Chalcis compete for the attentions of the nymph Cete. Alcon declares, "How can the Nymph be either true or kind, | Bred up with waves, and us'd to noisy wind? | Things here are cruel all; with mutual rage, | Devour each other, and for food engage." Cete, pleased with the songs, selects the artful Chalcis for her lover, leaving the despondent Alcon diving "to weep unseen below."
Cete, a Nymph (conscious of beauty) strove
T' expose her charms, and every grace improve;
Now wanton div'd, now with an haughty air
In circling ringlets twist her flowing hair,
Chalcis and Alcon at a distance stood;
Their wistful eyes with sudden transport glow'd.
Too soon they fear'd to lose the pleasing sight,
And would the Nymph to longer stay invite.
Alternate songs the Rival-youths compare,
And, changing, thus engage the listning Fair.
The Lamprey will admit the Serpent's love,
And Nature does th' unequal match approve,
But first she makes the spouse himself disarm,
And leave behind the poison, that would harm:
But we court love with its attending ills;
A deadly draught the bitter potion fills.
Happy the Nymph, happy the Tritons were,
If those were innocent, and these sincere.
The Dolphins are to meaner fish preferr'd,
And made the chief of all the finny herd.
They love promote, and the hid Nymph betray'd,
When Neptune sought in vain the fearful maid:
Though coy she fled, the Dolphins were as fleet,
And told the God, and shew'd the close retreat.
So tell, ye fish, where Cete hides below,
And may the God yet greater gifts bestow.
How can the Nymph be either true or kind,
Bred up with waves, and us'd to noisy wind?
Things here are cruel all; with mutual rage,
Devour each other, and for food engage.
On their own spawn the graceless Tunnies feed,
And joyous feast on the enliven'd seed.
So wayward beauty its own offspring hates,
And kills the passion, which it self creates.
All are not cruel, but some harmless feed,
And eat the slime, or bite the swimming weed;
Nay there are those live by a constant kiss,
And to each other owe their life and bliss.
When fishers for the female Sepia wait,
If she be caught, they need no second bait,
The constant male will still the Fair attend,
And mocks the net, and glories in his end.
When the mild spring, or smiling calms, invite
The wanton fish in love, and gay delight
Are sporting seen, but soon are hid below,
When storms begin, and winds in anger blow.
But, Triton, there are some, who truly brave,
Ev'n court the storms, and mock the rising wave.
So love is heighten'd by opposing frowns;
Scorn cannot heal, but may repeat the wounds.
I hate the shore; for there the troubled deep
Rolls all its filth, and forms a noisome heap.
The dying Dolphins to the shore repair,
Nor would in death pollute the purer Air.
Ev'n when a cooling breeze from airy fields
In summers heat a kind refreshment yields,
I choose to stay, where depthless waters flow,
And sport with fish above, or dive below.
Ah! wretched seas, alway averse to sleep;
Here ravenous fish their constant watches keep:
With restless pain they cut the trackless way,
And seize the spoil, and feast upon the prey.
But though we wake, no hopes the toil repay,
In vain by night we sigh, or sing by day,
Nor may in tuneful song our passion tell,
The Nymphs despise the voice, and dread the louder shell.
Art must be us'd, when force will not prevail.
Snares wily laid, and cunning, seldom fail.
I've seen the Crab, and how with sly deceit,
He patient will the opening Oyster wait:
Then with a stone prevents the closing shell,
And tears the ravish'd prey from its unguarded cell
Th' unhappy fish has all his sweets expos'd,
O'ercome by craft, and can no more be clos'd.
Cete well-pleas'd thus far the Tritons heard,
Then sunk beneath, and as she disappear'd,
On Chalcis smil'd, for Chalcis was preferr'd;
So well he lov'd, that the transported boy
Could scarce sustain the vast impetuous joy.
While luckless Alcon knit his angry brow;
His looks sad rage, and deep resentment show,
And quick he dives to weep unseen below.
[Nichols, Select Collection (1780-84) 5:253-55]