HOW Salmacis with weak enfeebling streams
Softens the body, and unnerves the limbs,
And what the secret cause shall here be shown;
The cause is secret, but the effect is known.
The Naiads nurst an infant heretofore,
That Cytherea once to Hermes bore;
From both the illustrious authors of his race
The child was named; nor was it hard to trace
Both the bright parents through the infant’s face;
When fifteen years, in Ida’s cool retreat,
The boy had told, he left his native seat,
And sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil;
The pleasure lessened the attending toil.
With eager steps the Lycian fields he crossed,
And fields that border on the Lycian coast;
A River here he viewed so lovely bright,
It showed the bottom in a fairer light,
Nor kept a sand concealed from human sight.
The stream produced, nor slimy ooze, nor weeds,
Nor miry rushes nor the spiky reeds:
But dealt encircling moisture all around,
The fruitful banks with cheerful verdure crowned,
And kept the spring eternal on the ground
A nymph presides, nor practised in the chase,
Nor skilful at the bow, nor at the race;
Of all the blue-eyed daughters of the main.
The only stranger to Diana’s train;
Her sisters, often, as ’tis said, would cry,
‘Fie, Salmacis, what, always idle! Fie!
Or take thy quiver or thy arrows seize,
And mix the toils of hunting with thy ease.’
But oft would bathe her in the crystal tide,
Oft with a comb her dewy locks divide;
Now in the limpid streams she viewed her face,
And drest her image in the floating glass:
On beds of leaves she now reposed her limbs,
Now gathered flowers that grew about her streams;
And then by chance was gathering, as she stood
To view the boy, and longed for what she viewed.
Fain would she meet the youth with hasty feet,
She fain would meet him, but refused to meet
Before her looks were set with nicest care,
And well deserved to be reputed fair.
‘Bright youth,’ she cries, ‘whom all thy features prove
A God, and, if a God, the God of Love;
But if a mortal, blest thy nurse’s breast,
Blest are thy parents, and thy sisters blest:
But, oh! how blest! how more than blest thy bride,
Allied in bliss, if any get allied:
If so, let mine the stolen enjoyment be;
If not, behold a willing bride to me.’
The boy knew nought of love, and, touched with shame,
He strove, and blushed, but still the blush became;
In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose;
The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows,
And such the moon, when all her silver white
Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light.
The Nymph still begs, if not a nobler bliss,
A cold salute at least, a sister’s kiss;
And now prepares to take the lovely boy
Between her arms. He, innocently coy,
Replies, ‘Oh leave me to myself alone,
You rude, uncivil nymph, or I’ll begone.’
‘Fair stranger then,’ says she; ‘it shall be so’;
And, for she feared his threats, she feigned to go;
But hid within a covert’s neighboring green,
She kept him still in sight, herself unseen.
The boy now fancies all the danger o’er,
And innocently sports about the shore,
Playful and wanton to the stream he trips,
And dips his foot, and shivers as he dips,
The coolness pleases him, and with eager haste
His airy garments on the banks he cast;
His godlike features and his heavenly hue,
And all his beauties were exposed to view.
His naked limbs the nymph with rapture spies,
While hotter passions in her bosom rise,
Flush in her cheeks, and sparkle in her eyes.
She longs, she burns to clasp him in her arms,
And loves, and sighs, and kindles at his charms.
Now all undrest upon the banks he stood,
And clapt his sides and leapt into the flood:
His lovely limbs the silver waves divide,
His limbs appear more lovely through the tide;
As lilies shut within a crystal case,
Receive a glossy lustre from the glass.
‘He’s mine, he’s all my own,’ the Naiad cries,
And flings off all, and after him she flies.
And now she fastens on him as he swims,
And holds him close, and wraps about his limbs.
The more the boy resisted and was coy,
The more she kissed and clipt the strippling boy.
So when the wriggling snake is hatched on high
In eagle’s claws, and hisses in the sky,
Around the foe his twirling tail he flings,
And twists her legs, and writhes about her wings.
The restless boy still obstinately strove
To free himself and still refused her love.
Amidst his limbs she kept her limbs entwined,
‘And why, coy youth,’ she cries, ‘why thus unkind!
Oh, may the Gods thus keep us ever joined!
Oh, may we never, never part again!’
So prayed the nymph, nor did she pray in vain:
For now she finds him, as his limbs she prest,
Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast;
Till, piercing each the other’s flesh, they run
Together, and incorporate in one:
Last in one face are both their faces joined,
As when the stock and grafter twig combined
Shoot up the same, and wear a common mind:
Both bodies in a single body mix,
A single body with a double sex.
The boy, thus lost in woman, now surveyed
The river’s guilty stream, and thus he prayed.
(He prayed, but wondered at his softer tone,
Surprised to hear a voice but half his own.)
You parent gods, whose heavenly names I bear,
Hear your Hermaphrodite, and grant my prayer;
Oh, grant that–whom so’er these streams contain,
If man he entered, he may rise again
Supple, unsinewed, and but half a man!
The heavenly parents answered, from on high
Their two-shaped son, the double votary;
Then gave a secret virtue to the flood,
And tinged its source to make his wishes good.