Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 67

  "Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen
  Within thy aery shell
  By slow Meander's margent green.
  And in the violet-embroidered vale,
  Where the love-lorn nightingale
  Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well;
  Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
  That likes thy Narcissus are?
  Oh, if thou have
  Hid them in some flowery cave,
  Tell me but where,
  Sweet queen of parly, daughter of the sphere,
  So may'st thou be translated to the skies,
  And give resounding grace to all heaven's harmonies."

Milton has imitated the story of Narcissus in the account which he makes Eve give of the first sight of herself reflected in the fountain:

  "That day I oft remember when from sleep
  I first awaked, and found myself reposed
  Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
  And what I was, whence thither brought, and how
  Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
  Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
  Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
  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 with vain desire,
  Had not a voice thus warned me: 'What thou seest,
  What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself.'"
  Paradise Lost, Book IV

The fable of Narcissus is often alluded to by the poets. Here are two epigrams which treat it in different ways. The first is by Goldsmith:


  "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:


  "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-enamored 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 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.