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On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough

by John Milton, 1909


o fairest Flower, no sooner blown but blasted,
Soft silken Primrose fading timelessly,
Summer's chief honour, if thou hadst outlasted
Bleak Winter's force that made thy blossom dry;
For he, being amorous on that lovely dye
  That did thy cheek envermeil, thought to kiss
But killed, alas! and then bewailed his fatal bliss.


for since grim Aquilo, his charioter,
By boisterous rape the Athenian damsel got,
He thought it touched his Deity full near,
If likewise he some fair one wedded not,
Thereby to wipe away the infámous blot
  Of long uncoupled bed and childless eld,
Which, 'mongst the wanton gods, a foul reproach was held.


so, mounting up in icy-pearlèd car,
Through middle empire of the freezing air
He wandered long, till thee he spied from far;
There ended was his quest, there ceased his care;
Down he descended from his snow-soft chair,
  But, all un'wares, with his cold-kind embrace,
Unhoused thy virgin soul from her fair biding-place.


yet thou art not inglorious in thy fate;
For so Apollo, with unweeting hand,
Whilom did slay his dearly-lovèd mate,
Young Hyacinth, born on Eurotas' strand,
Young Hyacinth, the pride of Spartan land;
  But then transformed him to a purple flower:
Alack, that so to change thee Winter had no power!


yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
Or that thy corse corrupts in earth's dark womb,
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed
Hid from the world in a low-delvèd tomb;
Could Heaven, for pity, thee so strictly doom?
  Oh no! for something in thy face did shine
Above mortality, that showed thou wast divine.


resolve me, then, O Soul most surely blest
(If so be it that thou these plaints dost hear)
Tell me, bright Spirit, where'er thou hoverest,
Whether above that high first-moving sphere,
Or in the Elysian fields (if such there were),
  Oh, say me true if thou wert mortal wight,
And why from us so quickly thou didst take thy flight.


wert thou some Star, which from the ruined roof
Of shaked Olympus by mischance didst fall;
Which careful Jove in nature's true behoof
Took up, and in fit place did reinstall?
Or did of late Earth's sons besiege the wall
  Of sheeny Heaven, and thou some Goddess fled
Amongst us here below to hide thy nectared head?


or wert thou that just Maid who once before
Forsook the hated earth, oh! tell me sooth,
And camest again to visit us once more?
Or wert thou [Mercy], that sweet smiling Youth?
Or that crowned Matron, sage white-robèd Truth?
  Or any other of that heavenly brood
Let down in cloudy throne to do the world some good?


or wert thou of the golden-wingèd host,
Who, having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth from thy prefixèd seat didst post,
And after short abode fly back with speed,
As if to shew what creatures Heaven doth breed;
  Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire
To scorn the sordid world, and unto Heaven aspire?


but oh! why didst thou not stay here below
To bless us with thy heaven-loved innocence,
To slake his wrath whom sin hath made our foe,
To turn swift-rushing black perdition hence,
Or drive away the slaughtering pestilence,
  To stand 'twixt us and our deservèd smart?
But thou canst best perform that office where thou art.


then thou, the mother of so sweet a child,
Her false-imagined loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb thy sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render him with patience what he lent:
  This if thou do, he will an offspring give
That till the world's last end shall make thy name to live.

Published in The Complete Poems of John Milton

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