1789
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Pastoral Dialogue.

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

Elizabeth Hands


In this pastoral Elizabeth Hands ventures into the moral eclogue mode, albeit with her usual economy. Damon inquires why Theron looks so unhappy, and is informed that Jessy has been unkind. He then offers sage advice: "O Theron, Theron, scorn the power of love, | Forbid the tender impulses to move: | See how that bee forsakes the blooming spray, | And leaves it for the next that comes this way." Theron, apparently unimpressed with this suggestion, quickly turns the tables on his interlocutor.

Elizabeth Hands worked as a servant in Warwickshire and was one of several laboring-class poets to compose pastoral verse in the later eighteenth-century. While other poems in the volume reveal the poet to be a sharp-tongued wit, as a pastoralist Hands avoids both irony and literal description; simplicity is all. It was probably a mistake to relegate her copious pastoral verse to an "appendix" — she cultivated the genre assiduously and while she modeled herself on Pope, Shenstone, and Cunningham, her individual character stands out. Like Spenser (whom she gives no indication of having read) her pastorals turn on an eidolon, Daphne. As this "Pastoral Dialogue" suggests, Hands took courtship seriously; compare her lines "On Reading Pope's Eloiza to Abelard."



DAMON.
O Theron, say what means that down-cast eye,
What new found grief has taught thy breast to sigh?
Has some intruding swain thy purpose crost?
Or has some favourite ewe her lambkin lost?
Assume thy wonted cheerfulness dear lad,
Or tell thy Damon why thou look'st so sad.

THERON.
Fresh as the spring, and fair as op'ning day,
My Jessy smil'd, and stole my heart away;
But when of love I did to her complain,
She scarcely smil'd, nor answer'd me again:
None e'er could think, but those that feel the smart,
So fair a form could hide so hard a heart.

DAMON.
Ah, silly swain! and was thy beauty made,
For the cool frowns of one false nymph to fade?
O Theron, Theron, scorn the power of love,
Forbid the tender impulses to move:
See how that bee forsakes the blooming spray,
And leaves it for the next that comes this way.

THERON.
Must I, like fickle Jessy, learn to slight?
Yes, — what my Damon says is always right.
See'st thou that nymph, beneath the shady tree?
She looks this way; I wish she look'd at me:
If e'er thy Theron should his heart transfer
From his lost Jessy, it must go to her.

DAMON.
O say no more — no more of her, my friend;
For she is mine — my Doris! — O suspend—
Suspend thy choice, my swain, till thou hast seen
The village maids assemble on the green;
And if you would your fickle heart transfer,
Then take your choice of all the rest but her.

THERON.
Why are you angry now, my friend, my swain!
Your own advice I'll give you back again:
O Damon, Damon, scorn the power of love;
Forego the nymph, your smile to prove:
Forsake her, as the bee forsakes the may,
And I will be the next that comes this way.

[pp. 74-75]