RIVER, whose soft, muddy banks are overgrown with reeds, I am hastening to my mistress. Stay thy course a while. No bridge hast thou, nor oarless bark to ferry me with a rope across thy stream.
But lately thou wast just a rivulet, I mind me well, and fearlessly I traversed thee on foot, and in thy deepest part thou scarce did wet my ankles. Now, swollen by the melting snows from yonder mountain, thou rushest wildly on and along thy muddy course pourest a foaming mass of waters.
What did it boot me so to press my speed, to have snatched such scanty rest, to have turned night into day, if here I needs must halt, if to the farther bank I have no means to cross? Oh, wherefore, do I lack the wings which bore the heroic son of Danaë when he carried off Medusa's head swarming with dreadful serpents? Now long I for the chariot whence came the seed of Ceres, scattered o’er the stubborn soil. Alas these wonders, save in a poet's dream, were never wrought. Never were they seen of man, and never man will see them. But thou, O stream that overflowest thy wide banks, flow on within thy bounds, and so flow on for ever. Ne'er couldst thou bear the weight of public shame, if it were known thou stayedst a lover's steps.
Verily rivers should help an eager lover on his way, for rivers themselves have known the pangs of love. Pale Inachus, they say, was smitten with the charms of Melie, the Bithynian nymph, and his chill waters warmed with his love for her. Troy had not borne its ten long years of siege, O Xanthus, when Neaera drew thy gaze. What made Alpheus wander through so many lands if not his passion for a maid of Arcady? And thou, Peneus, when
[paragraph continues] Creusa unto Xanthus was betrothed, hid her so ’tis held, within the land of the Phthiotians.
Why should I tell of Asopus, whom warlike Thebe took to her bosom, Thebe fated to give five daughters to the world? And thou, O Acheloüs, if I ask of thee to-day, "Where are thy horns?" thou wouldst with sorrow make reply and say that in his wrath Hercules did break them off. What Hercules would not have done for Calydon, would not have done for all Ætolia, he did for Dejanira and for her alone. The Nile itself, the mighty river that through seven mouths flows to the sea and hides so well the secret of its source, could not with all its waters overwhelm the flame with which he burned for Evadne, Asopus' daughter. Enipeus, so he might embrace the daughter of Salmoneus, commanded his waters to recede, and, obedient to his command, those waters did recede. Nor thee will I forget who, flowing down thy rocky bed, waterest with thy foaming stream the fruitful fields of Argive Tibur; nor thee whom Ilia charmed, albeit in sorry plight was she, her hair, her features torn with her own nails, mourning her uncle's sacrilegious crimes, and the outrage wrought by Mars, wandering bare-footed in solitary places. Her, from his swift-flowing waters, the generous river saw, and raising his head above the flood called hoarsely to her, saying, "Wherefore in sorrow wanderest thou by my banks, O Ilia, seed of Laomedon of Ida? Whither hath thy raiment gone? Whither bendest thou thy lonely steps? Wherefore doth the white fillet bind not thy rangèd hair? Wherefore dost thou weep and mar thy brimming eyes with tears? Why thus in frenzy beat thy naked breast? A heart of stone or brass that man must have, who on a lovely face all stained with tears can look unmoved by pity. Ilia, fear no more; for thee my palace will fling wide its portals, my waters from all harm shall keep thee. Ilia, fear no more; over a hundred nymphs or more thou shalt be queen, for a hundred
nymphs or more beneath my waters dwell. Oh, spurn me not, I pray, thou seed of Troy; gifts richer than my promises thou shalt have."
He spake; and Ilia, with downcast eyes, bathed with tears her heaving bosom. Thrice she essayed to fly; thrice she stayed her steps by the edge of the deep waters, for fear would not suffer her to flee. Howbeit, at last, tearing her hair with hostile hand, with trembling lips thus sorrowfully she spake: "O would to heaven my bones had been gathered up and laid in the tomb of my fathers while yet I was a virgin. Wherefore to marriage dost thou invite me, a vestal yesterday, to-day unworthy to tend the sacred fire of Ilium? Why should I longer tarry? Fen now they point at me with scornful finger and exclaim, 'Behold the adulteress.' Let me die, and with me die the shame that suffers me not to raise my eyes without a blush." She said, and veiling with her robe her lovely weeping eyes, she cast herself despairingly into the swirling flood. The River, so ’tis said, upstayed her, placing his hand beneath her breast, and took her as a bride to the bridal bed.
And thou, like enough, hast burned with love for a maiden; but thou hast woods and forests to hide thy little failings. Even as I speak, thy waters swell still more, and thy bed, broad though it be, is not wide enough to hold the tributary streams that flow to thee from every side. What grievance hast thou against me, thou angry river; why dost thou delay the pleasures of a pair of lovers; why hold me up so roughly on my way? If only thou didst flow with waters of thine own, if only thou wert a river with a name, if thy fame throughout the world were known! But name hast thou none; thy waters come from little tributary brooks; thy source and even thy course are uncertain. Thy spring is the rain and melted snow, and these thou owest to sluggish winter. Either in winter-tide thou rollest thy turgid waters, or else, in summer, thy bed is but a dry and sandy
track. What traveller then has e’er found water enough to quench his thirst and say to thee in thankfulness of heart, "Flow on, flow on for ever!"
Onward thou flowest, harmful to flocks and herds, more harmful still to crops. For these things let others grieve, my own ills suffice for me. Fool that I am, this stream I told how rivers love. It shames me to have spoken of names so great before so miserable a brook. What was I dreaming of, to speak to it of Acheloüs and of Inachus, and of thee, wide-flowing Nile?
Out on thee, muddy torrent. Scorching summers and rainless winters ever be thy lot!
Amnis harundinibus limosas obsite ripas,