The Fan : A Poem. Book I. Poem by John Gay

The Fan : A Poem. Book I.

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I sing that graceful toy, whose waving play,
With gentle gales relieves the sultry day.
Not the wide fan by Persian dames display'd,
Which o'er their beauty casts a grateful shade;
Nor that long known in China's artful land,
Which, while it cools the face, fatigues the hand;
Nor shall the muse in Asian climates rove,
To seek in Indostan some spicy grove,
Where stretch'd at ease the panting lady lies,
To shun the fervour of meridian skies,
While sweating slaves catch every breeze of air,
And with wide-spreading fans refresh the fair;
No busy gnats her pleasing dreams molest,
Inflame her cheek, or ravage o'er her breast,
But artificial zephyrs round her fly,
And mitigate the fever of the sky.

Nor shall Bermudas long the muse detain,
Whose fragrant forests bloom in Waller's strain,
Where breathing sweets from every field ascend,
And the wild woods with golden apples bend;
Yet let me in some odorous shade repose,
Whilst in my verse the fair Palmetto grows:
Like the tall pine it shoots its stately head,
From the broad top depending branches spread;
No knotty limbs the taper body bears,
Hung on each bough a single leaf appears,
Which shrivell'd in its infancy remains,
Like a clos'd fan, nor stretches wide its veins,
But as the seasons in their circle run,
Opes its ribb'd surface to the nearer sun;
Beneath this shade the weary peasant lies,
Plucks the broad leaf, and bids the breezes rise.
Stay, wandering muse, nor rove in foreign climes,
To thy own native shore confine thy rhymes.
Assist, ye Nine, your loftiest notes employ,
Say what celestial skill contriv'd the toy;
Say how this instrument of love began,
And in immortal strains display the fan.

Strephon had long confest his amorous pain,
Which gay Corinna rally'd with disdain;
Sometimes in broken words he sigh'd his care,
Look'd pale, and trembled when he view'd the fair;
With bolder freedoms now the youth advanc'd,
He dress'd, he laugh'd, he sung, he rhym'd, he danc'd:
Now call'd more powerful presents to his aid,
And, to seduce the mistress, brib'd the maid;
Smooth flattery in her softer hours apply'd,
The surest charm to bind the force of pride.
But still unmov'd remains the scornful dame,
Insults her captive, and derides his flame.
When Strephon saw his vows dispers'd in air,
He sought in solitude to lose his care:
Relief in solitude he sought in vain,
It serv'd, like music, but to feed his pain.
To Venus now the slighted boy complains,
And calls the goddess in these tender strains.

O potent queen, from Neptune's empire sprung,
Whose glorious birth admiring Nereids sung,
Who 'midst the fragrant plains of Cyprus rove,
Whose radiant presence gilds the Paphian grove,
And curling clouds of incense hide the skies;
O beauteous goddess, teach me how to move,
Inspire my tongue with eloquence of love,
If lost Adonis e'er thy bosom warm'd,
If e'er his eyes or godlike figure charm'd,
Think on those hours when first you felt the dart,
Think how you pin'd in absense of the swain:
By those uneasy minutes know my pain.
Even while Cydippe to Diana bows,
And at her shrine renews her virgin vows,
The lover, taught by thee, her pride o'ercame;
She reads his oaths, and feels an equal flame!
Oh, may my flame, like thine, Acontius prove,
May Venus dictate, and reward my love.
When crowds of suitors Atlanta try'd,
She wealth and beauty, wit and fame defy'd;
Each daring lover with advent'rous pace
Pursu'd his wishes in the dangerous race;
Like the swift hind, the bounding damsel flies,
Strains to the goal, the distanc'd lover dies.
Hippomenes, O Venus, was thy care,
You taught the swain to stay the flying fair,
Thy golden present caught the virgin's eyes,
She stoops; he rushes on, and gains the prize.
Say, Cyprian deity, what gift, what art,
Shall humble into love Corinna's heart,
If only some bright toy can charm her sight,
Teach me what present may suspend her flight.

Thus the desponding youth his flame declares.
The goddess with a nod his passion hears.

Far in Cytherea stands a spacious grove,
Sacred to Venus and the god of love;
Here the luxuriant myrtle rears her head,
Like the tall oak the fragrant branches spread;
Here nature all her sweets profusely pours,
And paints the enamell'd ground with various flowers;
Deep in the gloomy shade a grotto bends,
Wide thro' the craggy rock an arch extends,
The rugged stone is cloth'd with mantling vines,
And round the cave the creeping woodbine twines.

Here busy Cupids, with pernicious art,
Form the stiff bow, and forge the fatal dart;
All share the toil; while some the bellows ply,
Others with feathers teach the shafts to fly:
Some with joint force whirl round the stony wheel,
Where streams the sparkling fire from temper'd steel;
Some point their arrows with the nicest skill,
And with the warlike store their quivers fill.

A different toil another forge employs;
Here the loud hammer fashions female toys.
Hence is the fair with ornament supply'd,
Hence sprung the glittering implements of pride;
Each trinket that adorns the modern dame,
First to these little artists ow'd its frame.
Here an unfinish'd diamond-crosslet lay,
To which soft lovers adoration pay;
There was the pollish'd crystal bottle seen,
That with quick scents revives the modish spleen
Here the yet rude unjointed snuff-box lies,
Which serves the rally'd fop for smart replies;
There piles of paper rose in glided reams,
The future records of the lover's flames;
Here clouded canes 'midst heaps of toys are found,
And inlaid tweezer-cases strow the ground.
There stands the toilette, nursery of charms,
Completely furnish'd with bright beauty's arms;
The patch, the powder-box, pulville, perfumes,
Pins, paints, a flattering glass, and black-lead combs.

The toilsome hours in different labour slide,
Some work the file, and some the graver guide;
From the loud anvil the quick blow rebounds,
And their rais'd arms descend in tuneful sounds.
Thus when Semiramis, in ancient days,
Bade Babylon her mighty bulwarks raise;
A swarm of labourers different tasks attend:
Here pullies make the pond'rous oak ascend,
With echoing strokes the cragged quarry groans,
While there the chissel forms the shapeless stones;
The weighty mallet deals resounding blows,
Till the proud battlements her towers enclose.

Now Venus mounts her car, she shakes the reins,
And steers her turtles to Cythera's plains;
Straight to the grot with graceful step she goes,
Her loose ambrosial hair behind her flows:
The swelling bellows heave for breath no more,
All drop their silent hammers on the floor;
In deep suspense the mighty labour stands,
While thus the goddess spoke her mild commands.

Industrious Loves, your present toils forbear,
A more important task demands your care;
Long has the scheme employ'd my thoughtful mind,
By judgement ripen'd, and by time refin'd.
That glorious bird have ye not often seen
Who draws the car of the celestial queen?
Have ye not oft survey'd his varying dyes,
His tall all gilded o'er with Argus' eyes?
have ye not seen him in the sunny day
Unfurl his plumes, and all his pride display,
Then suddenly contract his dazzling train,
And with long-trailing feathers sweep the plain?
Learn from this hint, let this instruct your art;
Thin taper sticks must from one centre part:
Let these into the quadrant's form divide,
The spreading ribs with snowy paper bide;
Here shall the pencil bid its colours flow,
And make a miniature creation grow.
Let the machine in equal foldings close,
And now its plaited surface wide dispose.
So shall the fair her idle hand employ,
And grace each motion with the restless toy,
With various play bid grateful zephyrs rise,
While love in ev'ry grateful zephyr flies.

The master Cupid traces out the lines,
And with judicious hand the draught designs,
The expecting Loves with joy the model view,
And the joint labour eagerly pursue.
Some slit their arrows with the nicest art,
And into sticks convert the shiver'd dart;
The breathing bellows wake the sleeping sire,
Blow off the cinders and the sparks aspire;
Their arrow's point they soften in the flame,
And sounding hammers break its barbed frame:
Of this, the little pin they neatly mold,
From whence their arms the spreading sticks unfold;
In equal plaits they now the paper bend,
And at just distance the wide ribs extend,
Then on the frame they mount the limber skreen,
And finish instantly the new machine.

The goddess pleas'd, the curious work receive,
Remounts her chariot, and the grotto leaves;
With the light fan she moves the yielding air,
And gales, till then unknown, play round the fair.

Unhappy lovers, how will you withstand,
When these new arms shall grace your charmer's hand?
In ancient times, when maids in thought were pure,
When eyes were artless, and the look demure,
When the wide ruff the well-turn'd neck enclos'd,
And heaving breasts within the stays repos'd,
When the close hood conceal'd the modest ear,
Ere black lead-combs disown'd the virgin's hair;
Then in the muff unactive fingers lay,
Nor taught the fan in fickle forms to play.

How are the sex improv'd in amorous arts,
What new-found snares they bait for human hearts!

When kindling war the ravish'd globe ran o'er,
And flatten'd thirsty plains with human gore,
At first, the brandish'd arm the javelin threw,
Or sent wing'd arrows from the twanging yew;
In the bright air the dreadful fauchion shone,
Or whistling slings dismiss'd the uncertain stone.
Now men those less destructive arms despise,
Wide-wasted death from thundering cannon flies,
One hour with more battalions strows the plain,
Than were of yore in weekly battles slain.
So love with fatal airs the nymph supplies,
Her dress disposes, and directs her eyes.
The bosom now its panting beauty shows,
The experienc'd eye resistless glances throws;
Now vary'd patches wander o'er the face,
And strike each gazer with a borrow'd grace;
The fickle head-dress sinks and now aspires
A towery front of lace on branching wires.
The curling hair in tortur'd ringlets flows,
Or round the face in labour'd order grows.

How shall I soar, and on unweary'd wing
Trace varying habits upward to their spring!
What force of thought, what numbers can express,
The inconstant equipage of female dress?
How the strait stays the slender waist constrain,
How to adjust the manteau's sweeping train?
What fancy can the petticoat surround,
With the capacious hoop of whalebone bound?
But stay, presumptuous muse, nor boldy dare
The Toilette's sacred mysteries declare;
Let a just distance be to beauty paid;
None here must enter but the trusty maid.
Should you the wardrobe's magazine rehearse,
And glossy manteaus rustle in thy verse;
Should you the rich brocaded suit unfold,
Where rising flowers grow stiff with frosted gold,
The dazzled muse would from her subject stray,
And in a maze of passions lose her way.

John Gay

John Gay

Barnstaple, England
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