1789
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Absence and Death. A Pastoral.

The Death of Amnon. A Poem. With an Appendix: containing Pastorals, and other Poetical Pieces. By Elizabeth Hands.

Elizabeth Hands


A pastoral eclogue in which Daphne (the poet's eidolon) converses with Hebe: "Say first, why heaves thy breast that lab'ring sigh, | And Hebe will alternately reply; | The plaintive sounds shall die along the vales, | And neighb'ring hills resound the moving tales." As the title implies, the poem contrasts the theme of absence from two vantages: Hebe, whose lover (a forester) is dead, looks to the past while Daphne, whose lover (a shepherd) is absent, looks to the future. While simplicity here involves the strictest economy, perhaps we are to imagine that the two women are, like the poet herself, house-servants. Elizabeth Hands was one of several late-century laboring-class poets who cultivated pastoral, giving the genre something of a new lease on life in the era of sentimental poetry.



When ev'ry eye that knew no cause to weep,
And peaceful minds were hush'd in pleasing sleep,
Two virgin nymphs, whom Love had left forlorn,
Ne'er clos'd their weeping eyes, from eve to morn:
For Strephon's absence, Daphne's tears were shed,
And Hebe mourn'd her faithful Collin dead;
Their sorrows were not to each other known,
Alike they mourn'd, and silent was their moan;
Awhile they wept, 'till one the silence broke;
Thus Hebe answer'd, and thus Daphne spoke.

DAPHNE.
Say, gentle maid, whence spring thy anxious fears?
What inward sorrows prompt thy gushing tears?
Thy case thou safely may'st to me impart,
True to my trust, and faithful from the heart;
My grief, I will suspend awhile to hear
Thy tale, and shed a sympathetic tear.

HEBE.
And will not Daphne then her grief impart?
To tell the sorrow, is to ease the heart.
Say first, why heaves thy breast that lab'ring sigh,
And Hebe will alternately reply;
The plaintive sounds shall die along the vales,
And neighb'ring hills resound the moving tales.

DAPHNE.
A shepherd's absence I am doom'd to mourn,
While rigid fate forbids him to return;
Perhaps, like me, he mourns his forc'd delay,
Perhaps some fairer maid may tempt his stay;
Awhile, with flattering gales of hope I steer,
Then, dash'd and shipwreck'd on the rock of fear.

HEBE.
Young Collin did my yielding heart subdue,
A forester he was, and he was true;
He vow'd his heart from me should never rove;
I heard with joy, and gave him love for love:
But my dear swain, my Collin's dead, and I
Now live, but only to despair, and die.

DAPHNE.
My shepherd is the choicest of the swains,
That climb the hills, or traverse o'er the plains;
His radiant eyes beam forth a milder ray,
Than the fair star, that leads the dawning day;
Nor are the flocks, that graze the plains, so fair
As the dear swain that makes those flocks his care.

HEBE.
My forester was comely to behold,
His looks were pleasing as the tale he told;
The frock he wore, was of a fresher green
Than the gay forests, where he oft was seen;
And stately he, among his fellow swains,
As the tall fir, that o'er the forest reigns.

DAPHNE.
How swift the seasons fly throughout the year,
How oft the spring returns without my dear;
Yet should some blissful hour, some distant spring,
My long-mourn'd Strephon to his Daphne bring;
One happy hour with him, wou'd far o'er-pay
All I have suffer'd by his long delay.

HEBE.
No gloomy phantom has my joys o'er-cast,
My hopes are wither'd by a deadly blast;
See the surrounding woods, how ev'ry tree
Has dropp'd its leaves, and seems to mourn with me;
Though spring will quickly re-adorn the grove,
Yet I can never hope to see my love.

[pp. 59-61]