John Milton

On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough

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John Milton (1608-1674)

On the Death of a Fair Infant
Dying of a Cough


O fairest flower no sooner blown but blasted,
Soft silken Primrose fading timelessly,
Summer’s chief honor if thou hadst outlasted
Bleak winter’s force that made thy blossom dry;
For he being amorous on that lovely dye
xxThat did thy cheek envermeil, thought to kiss
But killed alas, and then bewailed his fatal bliss.


For since grim Aquilo his charioteer
By boistrous rape th’ Athenian damsel got,
He thought it touched his Deity full near,
If likewise he some fair one wedded not,
Thereby to wipe away th’ infamous blot,
xxOf long-uncoupled bed, and childless eld,
Which ’mongst the wanton gods a foul reproach was held.


So mounting up in icy-pearled car,
Through middle empire of the freezing air
He wandered long, till thee he spied from far:
There ended was his quest, there ceased his care.
Down he descended from his Snow-soft chair,
xxBut all unwares with his cold-kind embrace
Unhoused thy Virgin Soul from her fair hiding place.


Yet art thou not inglorious in thy fate;
For so Apollo, with unweeting hand
Whilom did slay his dearly-loved mate
Young Hyacinth born on Eurotas’ strand,
Young Hyacinth the pride of Spartan land;
xxBut then transformed him to a purple flower;
Alack, that so to change thee winter had no power.


Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
Or that thy corpse corrupts in earth’s dark womb,
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,
Hid from the world in a low-delved tomb;
Could Heav’n for pity thee so strictly doom?
xxOh no! for something in thy face did shine
Above mortality that showed thou wast divine.


Resolve me then, O Soul most surely blest
(If so it be that thou these plaints dost hear):
Tell me, bright Spirit, wheree’er thou hoverest—
Whether above that high first-moving Sphere
Or in the Elysian fields (if such there were).
xxOh say me true if thou wert mortal wight
And why from us so quickly thou didst take thy flight.


Wert thou some Star which from the ruined roof
Of shaked Olympus by mischance didst fall;
Which careful Jove in nature’s true behoof
Took up, and in fit place did reinstall?
Or did of late earth’s Sons besiege the wall
xxOf sheeny Heav’n, and thou some goddess fled
Amongst us here below to hide thy nectared head?

Or wert thou that just Maid who once before
Forsook the hated earth, O tell me sooth,
And cam’st again to visit us once more?
Or wert thou that sweet-smiling Youth?
Or that crowned Matron, sage white-robed Truth?
xxOr any other of that heav’nly brood
Let down in cloudy throne to do the world some good?


Or wert thou of the golden-winged boast,
Who, having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth from thy prefixed seat didst post,
And after short abode fly back with speed,
As if to show what creatures Heav’n doth breed,
xxThereby to set the hearts of men on fire
To scorn the sordid world, and unto Heav’n aspire?


But oh, why didst thou not stay here below
To bless us with thy heav’n-loved innocence,
To slake his wrath whom sin hath made our foe,
To turn Swift-rushing black perdition hence,
Or drive away the slaughtering pestilence,
xxTo stand ’twixt us and our deserved smart?
But thou canst best perform that office where thou art.


Then thou, the mother of so sweet a child,
Her false imagined loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb thy sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render him with patience what he lent;
xxThis if thou do he will an offspring give,
That till the world’s last end shall make thy name to live.

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