Chromis, an old fisherman, emulates Proteus in his tales of watery transformations. The poem is dedicated "To The Rev. Dr. Thomas Birch, A.M. F.R.S." A letter is extent in which Browne appeals to Birch for a patronage position.
"ARGUMENT. A Company of Fishers, forc'd in their Boats from the Sea, by bad Weather, take Harbour up a shady Creek, where they divert and refresh themselves. An aged Swain (at their Request) entertains them with a Song, in Praise of their humble happy Profession; in which he passes on, by a designed Variety, to tell the different wonderful Properties of some Rivers, with several curious, remarkable Sea-Fish; and, by Occasion suitable to his Subject, introduces, in two short Episodes, the Stories of Arion and Glaucus: But is interrupted amidst his Song, by the sudden happening of a Calm, which invites them back to their Employments."
Henry Marion Hall: "The only one portraying professional fishermen of the deep sea, and it is manifestly imitated from Sannazaro's third piscatory.... The entire poem is much like the Sannazarian source, only that the contest in that piece is replaced by the solo of the old fisher. The fish lists of Sannazaro are enthusiastically expanded, however, in a manner more like that of Walton and of Walton's sources, all of which is acknowledged by Browne in the footnotes" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 179-80.
If, Birch, dismiss'd awhile from studious Cares,
The favour'd Muse thy peaceful Leisure shares,
Deep-letter'd Clerk, O! vers'd in ev'ry Art,
With Candour read what Friendship bids impart.
By a close Creek, with shelt'ring Rocks confin'd,
While the Seas echo'd to the vexing Wind,
Old Chromis in his dancing Boat withdrew,
To mix in Pastimes with the harbour'd Crew:
Here, while their Oars the idle Nets sustain,
(Drove from their Labours on the madding main)
The Fisher-Sire, in skill experienc'd long,
The Youths now challenge for his promis'd Song,
In a still Shade they sat, with Garlands crown'd,
And the free Goblet went its cheary Round:
When, peerless in his Art the Father-Swain,
Melodious, thus repay'd th' expected Strain.
Happy the Fisher's Life, and humble State:
Calm are his Hours, and free from rude Debate.
No restless Cares he knows of sordid Gain,
Nor Schemes, that rack the moiling Statesman's Brain,
Fearless in Shades he takes his healthy Dreams,
And Labours mild amid refreshing Streams;
Or on the quiet Ocean tries his Oar,
Or sings in Tempests on the shelt'ry Shoar.
His Boat a Cabin yields, his Sails a Bed,
And ready Fruits his homely Table spread;
While Berries, which th' unrifl'd Trees produce,
Refresh his kindly Thirst with plenteous Juice;
Or clust'ring Grapes their liquid Treasures bring,
Cool-temper'd from the neighbour-running Spring.—
Who shares, like him, what bounteous Nature yields;
The Gifts of Rivers, and the sweets of Fields?
Ev'n all is his where-e'er he wanders round,
And Age with undiminish'd Vigour crown'd.
He sung the Dolphin next, a grateful Name!
By lov'd Arion's Story known to Fame.
He, wond'rous Artist! with his magic Lay
Could the Stream's rapid Tide encaptiv'd stay.
The Wolf and Lamb, the Hare and coursing Hound,
Warm in full Chace, stop'd list'ning to the Sound.
With the dread Owl the Daw no longer strove,
And by the Hawk unfearful perch'd the Dove.
Him homeward voy'ging, the rapacious Crew,
For sordid Gold with threaten'd Death pursue:
When the sad Suppliant thus — "Nor Life to gain
I sue, but Leave to tune one fun'ral Strain."
With soft'ning Tones he strikes the mournful Strings,
His melting Lay th' attentive Dolphin brings;
Whom straight to leap he vent'rously assay'd,
While thro' the Waves triumphant Airs he play'd.
Charm'd with his Notes, and passive to his Hand,
The wat'ry Native bore him safe to Land.
Pleas'd with his Gratitude the Sire of Gods
The Fish translated from his parent Floods,
Bid him a sacred Constellation rise,
And in nine glitt'ring Stars possess the Skies.
Thus sung the Sage — and whence the Fishers sprung,
And of their Arts, and of their Loves he sung!
Of Rivers then; how some descending flow
Engulph'd and swallow'd by the Earth below:
How some to Stone the tender Entrails chill,
Or passing Fowls with pois'nous Vapours kill.
Of Springs that sympathize with Musick's Force,
Dance to its Strains, and bubble from their Source;
Yet calmer murmur as the Notes decay,
And cease their Motion with the finish'd Lay.
What various Tribes to Ocean's Realms belong,
He taught, and number'd is his changing Song.
How, wand'ring from the Main, the Salmon-broods
Their Summer Pleasures seek in fresher Floods;
Unlike the Eel, who once to Ocean borne,
Prefers the saline Wave, nor seeks Return.
With strength incredible, the scaly Race
O'er Rocks and Weires their upward Passage trace:
Bent Head to Tail in an elastick Ring,
Safe o'er the steepest Precipice they spring.
In Tivy's Stream, a Rock of antient Fame
Still bears of Salmon-leap th' according Name.
But when from Winter's Cold they back retire,
And warmer Holds in Ocean's Courts require;
If then prevented by the fisher's Wile,
Who waits th' unfriended Wand'rers to beguile,
Some heedless Rover strays detain'd behind,
Still to the Flood unwillingly confin'd,
The lonely Fish consum'd with pining grows,
And gristley Beaks his hard'ning Mouth enclose:
Yet, in the briny Surge, soon wear away,
And his plump Scales recover'd Health display.
Of Hermit Fish he next employ'd his Strain,
That live retir'd within the Bottom-Main,
And in some vacant Shell dispend their Age,
Studious to shun the Weather's varying Rage.
Of Fish, that oft their native Seas forsake,
And thro' the Air a wingy Passage make;
When swift Bonetoes chase 'em for their Food,
And from the Deep compel the harrass'd Brood.
How dull Remoras stop the Vessel's Force,
With magic Fetters in its wat'ry Course;
Who, cleaving to its Bottom, firmly bind
The Bark immoveable by Wave or wind.
Then sung how Cuttles from their Mouths display
The wiley Bait to draw the nibbling Prey;
While bury'd in th' obscuring Ooze they lie,
To seize securely on th' unwary Fry:
How the hot Sargus, with licentious Flames,
Pursues on shore the Goat's complying Dames;
And how the constant Mullet with her Mate
Sequester'd lives, and follows to his Fate.
And thou, O Glaucus! now a God confess'd,
Ador'd, and of Divinity possess'd,
What wond'rous Herbs thy mystic Change began,
And form'd the dread Immortal of the Man!
To the known Shore the prosp'rous Fisher hies,
And on the Grass displays his captive Prize;
When sudden o'er the slipp'ry Turf they glide,
The Earth familiar as their native Tide,
And swim, a riddling Prodigy! on land,
Launch to the Seas, and 'scape his eager Hand.
Surpriz'd he stood: and while with curious Haste
He plucks the Herbage, and informs his Taste,
A shiv'ring Horror seiz'd his inmost Heart,
And instant Change succeeds thro' ev'ry Part:
His Beard, that late with silver Curls was seen,
Now took the Tincture of the Ocean green;
His scaly Limbs outspread a larger Space,
And oozy Locks his azure Shoulders grace;
The Pow'rs of Seas admit him to their Train,
Decreed a Portion of their liquid Reign.
But first, mysterious Rites they doom, enjoin'd
To purge the gross Allay of Human Kind;
And nine times bid him plunge in Floods profound,
An hundred Floods rush upward at the Sound,
And nine times bear him thro' their dreary Plains.
Purg'd of the human Mixture's faint Remains,
Down to the Ocean-Courts he came,
And only of the Mortal keeps the Name.
The skilful Bard the Scolopendra's Guile
Disclos'd, and how he voids the barby Wile;
His Bowels forth emitting, to regain
His Freedom, and uproot the sticking Bane.
Then sings the Sea Adonis, peaceful Brood,
No Prey pursuing, nor of ought pursu'd;
An inoffensive, unoffended Race,
The Pride and Wonder of the wat'ry Space.
—More had he sung: when lo! the stormy Blast
Grew hush'd, and murmur'd to a Breeze at last;
Fast and more fast the less'ning Waves decline;
And Birds of Calm frequent the level Brine.
Fresh for their Toils they take the favouring Gale,
And seaward hoist apace the speeding Sail.
[Poems (1739) 60-69]