Niobe In Distress For Her Children Slain By Apollo, From Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book VI. And From A View Of The Painting Of Mr. Richard Wilson

Phillis Wheatley 1753 (West Africa) – 1784 (Boston)



Apollo's wrath to man the dreadful spring
Of ills innum'rous, tuneful goddess, sing!
Thou who did'st first th' ideal pencil give,
And taught'st the painter in his works to live,
Inspire with glowing energy of thought,
What Wilson painted, and what Ovid wrote.
Muse! lend thy aid, nor let me sue in vain,
Tho' last and meanest of the rhyming train!
O guide my pen in lofty strains to show
The Phrygian queen, all beautiful in woe.
  'Twas where Maeonia spreads her wide domain
Niobe dwelt, and held her potent reign:
See in her hand the regal sceptre shine,
The wealthy heir of Tantalus divine,
He most distinguish'd by Dodonean Jove,
To approach the tables of the gods above:
Her grandsire Atlas, who with mighty pains
Th' ethereal axis on his neck sustains:
Her other grandsire on the throne on high
Rolls the loud-pealing thunder thro' the sky.
  Her spouse, Amphion, who from Jove too springs,
Divinely taught to sweep the sounding strings.
  Seven sprightly sons the royal bed adorn,
Seven daughters beauteous as the op'ning morn,
As when Aurora fills the ravish'd sight,
And decks the orient realms with rosy light
From their bright eyes the living splendors play,
Nor can beholders bear the flashing ray.
  Wherever, Niobe, thou turn'st thine eyes,
New beauties kindle, and new joys arise!
But thou had'st far the happier mother prov'd,
If this fair offspring had been less belov'd:
What if their charms exceed Aurora's teint.
No words could tell them, and no pencil paint,
Thy love too vehement hastens to destroy
Each blooming maid, and each celestial boy.
  Now Manto comes, endu'd with mighty skill,
The past to explore, the future to reveal.
Thro' Thebes' wide streets Tiresia's daughter came,
Divine Latona's mandate to proclaim:
The Theban maids to hear the orders ran,
When thus Maeonia's prophetess began:
  'Go, Thebans! great Latona's will obey,
'And pious tribute at her altars pay:
'With rights divine, the goddess be implor'd,
'Nor be her sacred offspring unador'd.'
Thus Manto spoke.  The Theban maids obey,
And pious tribute to the goddess pay.
The rich perfumes ascend in waving spires,
And altars blaze with consecrated fires;
The fair assembly moves with graceful air,
And leaves of laurel bind the flowing hair.
  Niobe comes with all her royal race,
With charms unnumber'd, and superior grace:
Her Phrygian garments of delightful hue,
Inwove with gold, refulgent to the view,
Beyond description beautiful she moves
Like heav'nly Venus, 'midst her smiles and loves:
She views around the supplicating train,
And shakes her graceful head with stern disdain,
Proudly she turns around her lofty eyes,
And thus reviles celestial deities:
'What madness drives the Theban ladies fair
'To give their incense to surrounding air?
'Say why this new sprung deity preferr'd?
'Why vainly fancy your petitions heard?
'Or say why Caeus offspring is obey'd,
'While to my goddesship no tribute's paid?
'For me no altars blaze with living fires,
'No bullock bleeds, no frankincense transpires,
'Tho' Cadmus' palace, not unknown to fame,
'And Phrygian nations all revere my name.
'Where'er I turn my eyes vast wealth I find,
'Lo! here an empress with a goddess join'd.
'What, shall a Titaness be deify'd,
'To whom the spacious earth a couch deny'd!
'Nor heav'n, nor earth, nor sea receiv'd your queen,
'Till pitying Delos took the wand'rer in.
'Round me what a large progeny is spread!
'No frowns of fortune has my soul to dread.
'What if indignant she decrease my train
'More than Latona's number will remain;
'Then hence, ye Theban dames, hence haste away,
'Nor longer off'rings to Latona pay;
'Regard the orders of Amphion's spouse,
'And take the leaves of laurel from your brows.'
Niobe spoke.  The Theban maids obey'd,
Their brows unbound, and left the rights unpaid.
  The angry goddess heard, then silence broke
On Cynthus' summit, and indignant spoke;
'Phoebus! behold, thy mother in disgrace,
'Who to no goddess yields the prior place
'Except to Juno's self, who reigns above,
'The spouse and sister of the thund'ring Jove.
'Niobe, sprung from Tantalus, inspires
'Each Theban bosom with rebellious fires;
'No reason her imperious temper quells,
'But all her father in her tongue rebels;
'Wrap her own sons for her blaspheming breath,
'Apollo! wrap them in the shades of death.'
Latona ceas'd, and ardent thus replies
The God, whose glory decks th' expanded skies.
  'Cease thy complaints, mine be the task assign'd
'To punish pride, and scourge the rebel mind.'
Thi
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 03, 2023

3:54 min read
135

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,376
Words 746
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 105

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was both the second published African-American poet and first published African-American woman. Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent. The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral brought her fame both in England and the American colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley's visit to England with her master's son, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem. Wheatley was emancipated after the death of her master John Wheatley. She married soon after. Two of her children died as infants. After her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley fell into poverty and died of illness, quickly followed by the death of her surviving infant son. more…

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