Ovid: Metamorphosis

Book 1, Plate 11

The Transformation of Daphne into a Laurel

The first and fairest of his loves, was she
Whom not blind fortune, but the dire decree
Of angry Cupid forc'd him to desire:
Daphne her name, and Peneus was her sire.

Swell'd with the pride, that new success attends,
He sees the stripling, while his bow he bends,
And thus insults him: Thou lascivious boy,
Are arms like these for children to employ?

Know, such atchievements are my proper claim;
Due to my vigour, and unerring aim:
Resistless are my shafts, and Python late
In such a feather'd death, has found his fate.

Take up the torch (and lay my weapons by),
With that the feeble souls of lovers fry.

To whom the son of Venus thus reply'd,
Phoebus, thy shafts are sure on all beside,
But mine of Phoebus, mine the fame shall be
Of all thy conquests, when I conquer thee.

He said, and soaring, swiftly wing'd his flight:
Nor stopt but on Parnassus' airy height.

Two diff'rent shafts he from his quiver draws;
One to repel desire, and one to cause.

One shaft is pointed with refulgent gold:
To bribe the love, and make the lover bold:
One blunt, and tipt with lead, whose base allay
Provokes disdain, and drives desire away.

The blunted bolt against the nymph he drest:
But with the sharp transfixt Apollo's breast.

Th' enamour'd deity pursues the chace;
The scornful damsel shuns his loath'd embrace:
In hunting beasts of prey, her youth employs;
And Phoebe rivals in her rural joys.

With naked neck she goes, and shoulders bare;
And with a fillet binds her flowing hair.

By many suitors sought, she mocks their pains,
And still her vow'd virginity maintains.

Impatient of a yoke, the name of bride
She shuns, and hates the joys, she never try'd.

On wilds, and woods, she fixes her desire:
Nor knows what youth, and kindly love, inspire.

Her father chides her oft: Thou ow'st, says he,
A husband to thy self, a son to me.

She, like a crime, abhors the nuptial bed:
She glows with blushes, and she hangs her head.

Then casting round his neck her tender arms,
Sooths him with blandishments, and filial charms:
Give me, my Lord, she said, to live, and die,
A spotless maid, without the marriage tye.

'Tis but a small request; I beg no more
Than what Diana's father gave before.

The good old sire was soften'd to consent;
But said her wish wou'd prove her punishment:
For so much youth, and so much beauty join'd,
Oppos'd the state, which her desires design'd.

The God of light, aspiring to her bed,
Hopes what he seeks, with flattering fancies fed;
And is, by his own oracles, mis-led.

And as in empty fields the stubble burns,
Or nightly travellers, when day returns,
Their useless torches on dry hedges throw,
That catch the flames, and kindle all the row;
So burns the God, consuming in desire,
And feeding in his breast a fruitless fire:
Her well-turn'd neck he view'd (her neck was bare)
And on her shoulders her dishevel'd hair;
Oh were it comb'd, said he, with what a grace
Wou'd every waving curl become her face!
He view'd her eyes, like heav'nly lamps that shone,
He view'd her lips, too sweet to view alone,
Her taper fingers, and her panting breast;
He praises all he sees, and for the rest
Believes the beauties yet unseen are best:
Swift as the wind, the damsel fled away,
Nor did for these alluring speeches stay:
Stay Nymph, he cry'd, I follow, not a foe.

Thus from the lyon trips the trembling doe;
Thus from the wolf the frighten'd lamb removes,
And, from pursuing faulcons, fearful doves;
Thou shunn'st a God, and shunn'st a God, that loves.

Ah, lest some thorn shou'd pierce thy tender foot,
Or thou shou'dst fall in flying my pursuit!
To sharp uneven ways thy steps decline;
Abate thy speed, and I will bate of mine.

Yet think from whom thou dost so rashly fly;
Nor basely born, nor shepherd's swain am I.

Perhaps thou know'st not my superior state;
And from that ignorance proceeds thy hate.

Me Claros, Delphi, Tenedos obey;
These hands the Patareian scepter sway.

The King of Gods begot me: what shall be,
Or is, or ever was, in Fate, I see.

Mine is th' invention of the charming lyre;
Sweet notes, and heav'nly numbers, I inspire.

Sure is my bow, unerring is my dart;
But ah! more deadly his, who pierc'd my heart.

Med'cine is mine; what herbs and simples grow
In fields, and forrests, all their pow'rs I know;
And am the great physician call'd, below.

Alas that fields and forrests can afford.

No remedies to heal their love-sick lord!
To cure the pains of love, no plant avails:
And his own physick, the physician falls.

She heard not half; so furiously she flies;
And on her ear th' imperfect accent dies,
Fear gave her wings; and as she fled, the wind
Increasing, spread her flowing hair behind;
And left her legs and thighs expos'd to view:
Which made the God more eager to pursue.

The God was young, and was too hotly bent
To lose his time in empty compliment:
But led by love, and fir'd with such a sight,
Impetuously pursu'd his near delight.

As when th' impatient greyhound slipt from far,
Bounds o'er the glebe to course the fearful hare,
She in her speed does all her safety lay;
And he with double speed pursues the prey;
O'er-runs her at the sitting turn, and licks
His chaps in vain, and blows upon the flix:
She scapes, and for the neighb'ring covert strives,
And gaining shelter, doubts if yet she lives:
If little things with great we may compare,
Such was the God, and such the flying fair,
She urg'd by fear, her feet did swiftly move,
But he more swiftly, who was urg'd by love.

He gathers ground upon her in the chace:
Now breathes upon her hair, with nearer pace;
And just is fast'ning on the wish'd embrace.

The nymph grew pale, and in a mortal fright,
Spent with the labour of so long a flight;
And now despairing, cast a mournful look
Upon the streams of her paternal brook;
Oh help, she cry'd, in this extreamest need!

If water Gods are deities indeed:
Gape Earth, and this unhappy wretch intomb;
Or change my form, whence all my sorrows come.

Scarce had she finish'd, when her feet she found
Benumb'd with cold, and fasten'd to the ground:
A filmy rind about her body grows;
Her hair to leaves, her arms extend to boughs:
The nymph is all into a lawrel gone;
The smoothness of her skin remains alone.

Yet Phoebus loves her still, and casting round
Her bole, his arms, some little warmth he found.

The tree still panted in th' unfinish'd part:
Not wholly vegetive, and heav'd her heart.

He fixt his lips upon the trembling rind;
It swerv'd aside, and his embrace declin'd.

To whom the God, Because thou canst not be
My mistress, I espouse thee for my tree:
Be thou the prize of honour, and renown;
The deathless poet, and the poem, crown.

Thou shalt the Roman festivals adorn,
And, after poets, be by victors worn.

Thou shalt returning Caesar's triumph grace;
When pomps shall in a long procession pass.

Wreath'd on the posts before his palace wait;
And be the sacred guardian of the gate.

Secure from thunder, and unharm'd by Jove,
Unfading as th' immortal Pow'rs above:
And as the locks of Phoebus are unshorn,
So shall perpetual green thy boughs adorn.

The grateful tree was pleas'd with what he said;
And shook the shady honours of her head.

From here you may go to the text and image of Book 1, Plate 12, or to the complete page of Plates for Book 1, or to the Baur 1703 Title Page, or to the Ovid Title Page.

Hope Greenberg, University of Vermont, Last update: November 17, 1997.