[Nereides:] Eclogue VIII.
1 Proteus had sent his scaly Herd to feed,
2 And slumber'd on a Bed of slimy Weed;
3 Ino and Cete thither chanc'd to stray,
4 They saw, and seiz'd him as he sleeping lay:
5 Anxious for Flight, now flashing Flame he seems,
6 Now softly glides away in melting Streams.
7 But they fast held him, till he smiling said;
8 With Songs, nay more than Songs you shall be paid.
9 He then began —[Page 37]
10 To sing of Truths unknown, unheard before,
11 While all the Sea was still, and Winds were heard no more.
12 He sung the World's first Birth, and wondrous Frame,
13 How Bodies all from one great Fluid came.
14 Of different Parts compos'd, a liquid Mass
15 Incessant mov'd in the unbounded Space:
16 (The Essence of a Fluid is confest
17 To move, and to be solid is to rest)
18 And as they flow, all Fluids ever bend
19 To fly around, and to a Circle tend;
20 Thus a true Chaos did at first arise
21 From moving Globules of a different Size;
22 But finer Atoms were more free to move,
23 And with the sluggish Parts too active strove
24 Till they had prest them down from those above:
25 'Twas then th'unsullied Light did first appear,
26 And the bright æther shone unmixt with grosser Air. [Page 38]
27 At length by tedious time, and slow Degrees
28 Was form'd the Center of unfathom'd Seas,
29 Made of large Globules, which th'aerial Sphere
30 By Motion thrust from it, and settled here;
31 Then first the Ocean knew his constant place,
32 And th'azure Deep unvail'd his smiling Face.
33 'Tis Motion makes (when different Bodies meet)
34 What Gravity we call, and pressing Weight,
35 While restless Fluids ever drive below
36 Bodies more solid, or — that move too slow.
37 Long rowl'd the Sea, before the Earth appear'd,
38 No Pastures yet were seen, no bleating Flocks were heard,
39 'Till th'Ocean's constant Motion closer prest
40 An earthy Scum, which gathering still encreast;
41 But here th'intrinsick Fluids still remain,
42 And hardest Mettle will its Flux regain.
43 Whene'er dissolv'd the Parts their Freedom know,
44 And with new Joy again they love to flow. [Page 39]
45 He sung, how Heav'n displeas'd with earthy Man,
46 Disturb'd the Seas; how all the Mass began
47 To move enrag'd; The Motion thus encreast,
48 The sinking Earth down to the Center prest;
49 Such was the antient Deluge, when the Flood
50 Pour'd o'er the Plains, and on the Mountains stood;
51 While Earth-born Mortals too absurdly teach
52 That solid Bodies to the Center reach.
53 E'er Land was seen, the Ocean had its Birth,
54 And now th'Abyss supports the shallow Crust of Earth.
55 Thus Proteus sung, and sung — yet more divine,
56 How Souls unbody'd act, and how incline;
57 That Knowledge now is at the best no more,
58 But a Research of what we knew before.
59 The Soul as yet to no dull Body joyn'd,
60 Sees all Idea's in th'eternal Mind;
61 The native Beams are sullied and obscur'd,
62 And quench'd at once, in grosser Clay immur'd,[Page 40]
63 'Till rouz'd at length by Thought, and studious Care,
64 Like latent Sparks with sudden Light they glare.
65 Gladly the conscious Mind the Hint pursues,
66 And rising Images with Wonder views;
67 Now finds she long before Existence had,
68 And that those Truths were rather found than made.
69 Thus Science grafted do's on Ignorance grow;
70 Men lose to find, and turn unwise to know.
71 Folly their fancy'd Knowledge do's create;
72 The greatest Hardship this of human Fate,
73 With Pain they learn, what they with Ease forgat.
74 The God thus ended his mysterious Lay,
75 When ruddy to the Waves, sunk the declining Day.