Saturday, December 12, 2015


A Weeping Hamadryad

Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory 9.2 (tr. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb):
Consider too that a poet, if he wishes to work out and accomplish a worthy result, must leave the society of his friends, and the attractions of the capital; he must relinquish every other duty, and must, as poets themselves say, retire to woods and groves, in fact, into solitude.

adice quod poetis, si modo dignum aliquid elaborare et efficere velint, relinquenda conversatio amicorum et iucunditas urbis, deserenda cetera officia utque ipsi dicunt, in nemora et lucos, id est in solitudinem secedendum est.
If woods and groves are cut down, poets will lose their solitary retreats, and poetry will as a result languish. This is the argument of Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), "To a Gentleman. On his intending to cut down a Grove to enlarge his prospect," Poems by the Most Eminent Ladies of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I (London: W. Stafford, 1785), pp. 52-53:
In plaintive sounds, that turn'd to woe
    The sadly-sighing breeze,
A weeping Hamadryad mourn'd
    Her fate-devoted trees.

Ah! stop thy sacrilegious hand,
    Nor violate the shade,
Where nature form'd a silent haunt
    For contemplation's aid.

Can'st thou, the son of science, bred
    Where learned Isis flows,
Forget that, nurs'd in shelt'ring groves,
    The Grecian genius rose?

Within the plantane's spreading shade,
    Immortal Plato taught;
And fair Lyceum form'd the depth
    Of Aristotle's thought.

To Latian groves reflect thy views,
    And bless the Tuscan gloom;
Where eloquence deplor'd the fate
    Of Liberty and Rome.

Retir'd beneath the beechen shade,
    From each inspiring bough
The Muse's wove th' unfading wreathes,
    That circled Virgil's brow.

Reflect, before the fatal ax
    My threaten'd doom has wrought;
Nor sacrifice to sensual taste
    The nobler growth of thought.

Not all the glowing fruits that blush
    On India's sunny coast,
Can recompense thee for the worth
    Of one idea lost.

My shade a produce may supply,
    Unknown to solar fire;
And what excludes Apollo's rage,
    Shall harmonize his lyre.
On the poem see Richard Pickard, "Environmentalism and 'Best Husbandry': Cutting Down Trees in Augustan Poetry," Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 17 (1998) 103–126 (at 113-117).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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