The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,207 pages of information about The Age of Fable.
Pure as the expanse of heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake that to me seemed another sky. 
As I bent down to look, just opposite
A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me.  I started back;
It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love.  There had I fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined wi vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me:  ’What thou seest,
What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself;’” etc.

    —­Paradise Lost, Book iv.

No one of the fables of antiquity has been oftener alluded to by the poets than that of Narcissus.  Here are two epigrams which treat it in different ways.  The first is by Goldsmith: 

On A beautiful youth, struck blind by lightning

    “Sure ’twas by Providence designed,
       Rather in pity than in hate,
     That he should be like Cupid blind,
       To save him from Narcissus’ fate.”

The other is by Cowper: 

On an ugly fellow

    “Beware, my friend, of crystal brook
     Or fountain, lest that hideous hook,
       Thy nose, thou chance to see;
     Narcissus’ fate would then be thine,
     And self-detested thou would’st pine,
       As self-enamoured he.”


Clytie was a water-nymph and in love with Apollo, who made her no return.  So she pined away, sitting all day long upon the cold ground, with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders.  Nine days she sat and tasted neither food nor drink, her own tears and the chilly dew her only food.  She gazed on the sun when he rose, and as he passed through his daily course to his setting; she saw no other object, her face turned constantly on him.  At last, they say, her limbs rooted in the ground, her face became a flower [Footnote:  The sunflower.] which turns on its stem so as always to face the sun throughout its daily course; for it retains to that extent the feeling of the nymph from whom it sprang.

Hood, in his “Flowers,” thus alludes to Clytie: 

    “I will not have the mad Clytie,
       Whose head is turned by the sun;
     The tulip is a courtly quean,
       Whom therefore I will shun;
     The cowslip is a country wench,
       The violet is a nun;—­
     But I will woo the dainty rose,
       The queen of every one.”

The sunflower is a favorite emblem of constancy.  Thus Moore uses it: 

    “The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
       But as truly loves on to the close;
     As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
       The same look that she turned when he rose.”

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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