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Grotto of Egeria

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(Childe Harold, Canto iv. Stanzas 115–124.)

  EGERIA! sweet creation of some heart
  Which found no mortal resting-place so fair
  As thine ideal breast; whate’er thou art
  Or wert,—a young Aurora of the air,
  The nympholepsy of some fond despair;
  Or, it might be, a beauty of the earth,
  Who found a more than common votary there
  Too much adoring; whatsoe’er thy birth,
Thou wert a beautiful thought, and softly bodied forth.

  The mosses of thy fountain still are sprinkled
  With thine Elysian water-drops; the face
  Of thy cave-guarded spring, with years unwrinkled,
  Reflects the meek-eyed genius of the place,
  Whose green, wild margin now no more erase
  Art’s works, nor must the delicate waters sleep,
  Prison’d in marble; bubbling from the base
  Of the cleft statue, with a gentle leap
The rill runs o’er, and round, fern, flowers, and ivy, creep

  Fantastically tangled; the green hills
  Are clothed with early blossoms, through the grass
  The quick-eyed lizard rustles, and the bills
  Of summer-birds sing welcome as ye pass;
  Flowers fresh in hue, and many in their class,
  Implore the pausing step, and with their dyes
  Dance in the soft breeze in a fairy mass;
  The sweetness of the violet’s deep blue eyes,
Kiss’d by the breath of heaven, seems coloured by its skies.

  Here didst thou dwell, in this enchanted cover,
  Egeria! thy all heavenly bosom beating
  For the far footsteps of thy mortal lover;
  The purple Midnight veiled that mystic meeting
  With her most starry canopy, and seating
  Thyself by thine adorer, what befell?
  This cave was surely shaped out for the greeting
  Of an enamoured Goddess, and the cell
Haunted by holy Love—the earliest oracle!

  And didst thou not, thy breast to his replying,
  Blend a celestial with a human heart;
  And Love, which dies as it was born, in sighing,
  Share with immortal transports? could thine art
  Make them indeed immortal, and impart
  The purity of heaven to earthly joys,
  Expel the venom and not blunt the dart—
  The dull satiety which all destroys—
And root from out the soul the deadly weed which cloys?

  Alas! our young affections run to waste,
  Or water but the desert; whence arise
  But weeds of dark luxuriance, tares of haste,
  Rank at the core, though tempting to the eyes,
  Flowers whose wild odours breathe but agonies,
  And trees whose gums are poison; such the plants
  Which spring beneath her steps as Passion flies
  O’er the world’s wilderness, and vainly pants
For some celestial fruit forbidden to our wants.

  Oh Love! no habitant of earth thou art—
  An unseen seraph, we believe in thee,
  A faith whose martyrs are the broken heart,
  But never yet hath seen, nor e’er shall see
  The naked eye, thy form, as it should be;
  The mind hath made thee, as it peopled heaven,
  Even with its own desiring phantasy,
  And to a thought such shape and image given,
As haunts the unquench’d soul—parch’d—wearied—wrung—and riven.

  Of its own beauty is the mind diseased,
  And fevers into false creation;—where,
  Where are the forms the sculptor’s soul hath seized?
  In him alone. Can Nature show so fair?
  Where are the charms and virtues which we dare
  Conceive in boyhood and pursue as men,
  The unreach’d Paradise of our despair,
  Which o’er-informs the pencil and the pen,
And overpowers the page where it would bloom again?

  Who loves, raves—’tis youth’s frenzy—but the cure
  Is bitterer still: as charm by charm unwinds
  Which robed our idols, and we see too sure
  Nor worth nor beauty dwells from out the mind’s
  Ideal shape of such; yet still it binds
  The fatal spell, and still it draws us on,
  Reaping the whirlwind from the oft-sown winds;
  The stubborn heart, its alchemy begun,
Seems ever near the prize—wealthiest when most undone.

  We wither from our youth, we gasp away—
  Sick—sick; unfound the boon—unslaked the thirst,
  Though to the last, in verge of our decay,
  Some phantom lures, such as we sought at first—
  But all too late,—so are we doubly curst.
  Love, fame, ambition, avarice—’tis the same,
  Each idle—and all ill—and none the worst—
  For all are meteors with a different name,
And Death the sable smoke where vanishes the flame.

Published in Poetry of Byron

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