by: Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

      LEST age! when ev'ry purling stream
      Ran undistrubed and clear,
      When no scorned shepherds on your banks were seen,
      Tortured by love, by jealousy, or fear;
      When an eternal Spring dressed ev'ry bough,
      And blossoms fell, by new ones dispossessed;
      These their kind shade affording all below,
      And those a bed where all below might rest.
      The groves appeared all dressed with wreaths of flowers,
      And from their leaves dropped aromatic showers,
      Whose fragrant heads in mystic twines above,
      Exchanged their sweets, and mixed with thousand kisses,
      As if the willing brances strove
      To beautify and shade the grove
      Where the young wanton Gods of Love
      Offer their noblest sacrifice of blisses.
      Calm was the air, no winds blew fierce and loud,
      The sky was darkened with no sullen cloud;
      But all the heav'ns laughed with continued light,
      And scattered round their rays serenely bright.
      No other murmurs filled the ear
      But what the streams and rivers purled,
      When silver waves o'er shining pebbles curled;
      Or when young Zephyrs fanned the gentle breeze,
      Gath'ring fresh sweets from balmy flow'rs and trees,
      Then bore 'em on their wings to perfume all the air:
      While to their soft and tender play,
      The gray-plumed natives of the shades
      Unwearied sing till Love invades,
      Then bill, then sing again, while Love and Music makes the day.
      The stubborn plough had then
      Made no rude rapes upon the virgin Earth;
      Who yielded of her own accord her plenteous birth,
      Without the aids of men;
      As if within her teeming womb
      All Nature, and all sexes lay,
      Whence new creations ev'ry day
      Into the happy world did come;
      The roses filled with morning dew,
      Bent down their loaded heads,
      T'adorn the careless shepherds' grassy beds
      While still young opening buds each moment grew,
      And as those withered, dressed his shaded couch anew;
      Beneath whose boughs the snakes securely dwelt,
      Not doing harm, nor harm from others felt;
      With whom the nymphs did innocently play,
      No spiteful venom in the wantons lay;
      But to the touch were soft, and to the sight were gay.
      Then no rough sound of war's alarms
      Had taught the world the needless use of arms:
      Monarchs were uncreated then,
      Those arbitrary rulers over men:
      Kings that made laws, first broke 'em, and the gods
      By teaching us religion first, first set teh world at odds:
      By teaching us religion first, first set the world at odds:
      Till then ambition was not known,
      That poison to content, bane to repose;
      Each swain was lord o'er his own will alone,
      His innocence religion was, and laws.
      Nor needed any troublesome defense
      Against his neighbor's insolence.
      Flocks, herds, and ev'ry necessary good
      Which bounteous Nature had designed for food,
      Whose kind increase o'erspread the meads and plains,
      Was then a common sacrifice to all th'agreeing swains.
      Right and property were words since made,
      When Pow'r taught mankind to invade:
      When Pride and Avarice became a trade;
      Carried on by discord, noise and wars,
      For which they bartered wounds and scars;
      And to enhance the merchandise, miscalled it Fame,
      And rapes, invasions, tyrannies
      Was gaining of a glorious name:
      Styling their savage slaughters, Victories;
      Honor, the error and the cheat
      Of the ill-natured busy Great,
      Nonsense, invented by the proud,
      Fond idol of the slavish crowd,
      Thou wert not known in those blest days,
      Thy poison was not mixed with our unbounded joys;
      Then it was glory to pursue delight,
      And that was lawful all, that Pleasure did invite,
      Then 'twas the amorous world enjoyed its reign;
      And tyrant Honor strove t'usurp in vain.
      The flow'ry meads, the rivers and the groves,
      Were filled with little gay-winged Loves:
      That ever smiled and danced and played,
      And now the woods, and now the streams invade,
      And where they came all things were gay and glad:
      When in the myrtle groves the lovers sat
      Oppressed with a too fervent heat;
      A thousand Cupids fanned their wings aloft,
      And through the boughs the yielded air would waft:
      Whose parting leaves disvoered all below,
      And every god his own soft power admired,
      And smiled and fanned, and sometimes bent his bow;
      Where'er he saw a shepherd uninspired.
      The nymphs were free, no nice, no coy disdain
      Denied their joys, or gave the lover pain;
      The yielding maid but kind resistance makes;
      Trembling and blushing are not marks of shame,
      But the effect of kindling flame:
      Where from the sighing burning swain she takes,
      While she with tears all soft, and downcast eyes,
      Permits the charming conqueror to win the prize.
      The lovers thus, thus uncontrolled did meet,
      Thus all their joys and vows of love repeat:
      Joys which were everlasting, ever new
      And every vow inviolably true:
      Not kept in fear of Gods, no fond religious cause,
      Nor in obedience to the duller laws.
      Those fopperies of the gown were then not known,
      Those vain, those politic curbs to keep man in,
      Who by a fond mistake created that a sin
      Which freeborn we, by right of Nature claim our own.
      Who but the learned and dull moral fool
      Could gravely have foreseen, man ought to live by rule?
      Oh cursed Honor! thou who first didst damn
      A woman to the sin of shame;
      Honor! that robb'st us of our gust,
      Honor! that hindered mankind first,
      At Love's eternal spring to squench his amorous thirst.
      Honor! who first taught lovely eyes the art
      To wound, and not to cure the heart:
      With love to invite, but to forbid with awe,
      And to themselves prescribe a cruel law;
      To veil 'em from the lookers on,
      When they are sure the slave's undone,
      And all the charming'st part of beauty hid;
      Soft looks, consenting wishes all denied.
      It gathers up the flowing hair,
      That loosely played with wanton air.
      The envious net, and stinted order hold
      The lovely curles of jet and shining gold;
      No more neglected on the shoulders hurled:
      Now dressed to tempt, not gratify the world:
      Thou, miser Honor, hoard'st the sacred store,
      And starv'st thyself to keep thy votaries poor.
      Honor! that put'st our words that should be free
      Into a set formality.
      Thou base debaucher of the generous heart,
      That teachest all our looks and actions art;
      What love designed a sacred gift,
      What Nature made to be possessed;
      Mistaken Honor made a theft,
      For glorious love should be confessed:
      For when confined, all the poor lover gains
      Is broken sighs, pale looks, complaints and pains.
      Thou foe to Pleasure, Nature's worst disease,
      Thou tyrant over mighty kings,
      What mak'st thou here in shepherds' cottages;
      Why troublest thou the quiet shades and springs?
      Be gone, and make thy famed resort
      To princes' palaces;
      Go deal and chaffer in the trading court,
      That busy market for fantastic things;
      Be gone and interrupt the short retreat
      Of the illustrious and the great;
      Go break the politician's sleep,
      Disturb the gay ambitious fool,
      That longs for scepters, crowns, and rule,
      Which not his title, nor his wit can keep;
      But let the humble honest swain go on
      In the blessed paths of the first rate of man,
      That nearest were to gods allied
      And formed for love alone, disdained all other pride.
      Be gone! and let the Golden Age again
      Assume its glorious reign;
      Let the young wishing maid confess
      What all your arts would keep concealed:
      The mystery will be revealed,
      And she in vain denies, whilst we can guess,
      She only shows the jilt to teach man how
      To turn the false artillery on the cunning foe.
      Thou empty vision hence, be gone,
      And let the peaceful swain love on;
      The swift paced hours of life soon steal away:
      Stint not, ye gods, his short lived joy.
      The Spring decays, but when the Winter's gone,
      The trees and flow'rs anew come on;
      The sun may set, but when the night is fled,
      And gloomy darkness does retire,
      He rises from his wat'ry bed:
      All glorious, gay, all dressed in amorous fire.
      But Sylvia, when your beauties fade,
      When the fresh roses on your cheeks shall die,
      Like flow'rs that wither in the shade,
      Eternally they will forgotten lie,
      And no kind Spring their sweetness will supply.
      When snow shall on those lovely tresses lie,
      And your fair eyes no more shall give us pain,
      But shoot their pointless darts in vain,
      What will your duller honor signify?
      Go boast it then! and see what numerous store
      Of lovers will your ruined shrine adore.
      Then let us, Sylvia, yet be wise,
      And the gay hasty minutes prize:
      The sun and Spring receive but our short light,
      Once set, a sleep brings an eternal night.



  • Aphra Behn - A biography of the British poet and dramatist.
  • Aphra Behn - A biography of the British dramatist and spy for England, code-named "Astrea" or Agent 160.
  • Purchase books by Aphra Behn


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