Why mourns my friend! why weeps his downcast eye?

First Line Why mourns my friend! why weeps his downcast eye?
Author William Shenstone
Date 1764

Elegy [Friendship; Love].

Transcribed from Shenstone, William. "Elegy XXVI. Describing the sorrow of an ingenuous mind, on the melancholy event of a licentious amour." The works in verse and prose, of William Shenstone, Esq:... vol. 1, 1764, pp. 97–101. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, GALE|CW0114988158.



Why mourns my friend! why weeps his downcast eye?

That eye where mirth, where fancy, us'd to shine?

Thy chearful meads reprove that swelling sigh;

Spring ne'er enamel'd fairer meads than thine.


Art thou not lodg'd in fortune's warm embrace?

Wert thou not form'd by nature's partial care?

Blest in thy song, and blest in ev'ry grace

That wins the friend, or that enchants the fair?


Damon, said he, thy partial praise restrain;

Not Damon's friendship can my peace restore;

Alas! his very praise awakes my pain,

And my poor wounded bosom bleeds the more.


For oh! that nature on my birth had frown'd!

Or fortune fix'd me to some lowly cell!

Then had my bosom 'scap'd this fatal wound,

Nor had I bid these vernal sweets, farewel.


But led by fortune's hand, her darling child,

My youth her vain licentious bliss admir'd;

In fortune's train the syren flatt'ry smil'd,

And rashly hallow'd all her queen inspir'd.


Of folly studious, ev'n of vices vain,

Ah vices! gilded by the rich and gay!

I chas'd the guileless daughters of the plain,

Nor dropt the chace, till Jessy was my prey.


Poor artless maid! to stain thy spotless name,

Expence, and art, and toil, united strove;

To lure a breast that felt the purest flame,

Sustain'd by virtue, but betray'd by love.


School'd in the science of love's mazy wiles,

I cloath'd each feature with affected scorn;

I spoke of jealous doubts, and fickle smiles,

And, feigning, left her anxious and forlorn.


Then, while the fancy'd rage alarm'd her care,

Warm to deny, and zealous to disprove;

I bade my words the wonted softness wear,

And seiz'd the minute of returning love.


To thee, my Damon, dare I paint the rest?

Will yet thy love a candid ear incline?

Assur'd that virtue, by misfortune prest,

Feels not the sharpness of a pang like mine.


Nine envious moons matur'd her growing shame;

Ere while to flaunt it in the face of day;

When scorn'd of virtue, stigmatiz'd by fame,

Low at my feet desponding Jessy lay.


"Henry, she said, by thy dear form subdu'd,

See the sad reliques of a nymph undone!

I find, I find this rising sob renew'd:

I sigh in shades, and sicken at the sun.


Amid the dreary gloom of night, I cry,

When will the morn's once pleasing scenes return?

Yet what can morn's returning ray supply,

But foes that triumph, or but friends that mourn!


Alas! no more that joyous morn appears

That led the tranquil hours of spotless fame;

For I have steep'd a father's couch in tears,

And ting'd a mother's glowing cheek with shame.


The vocal birds that raise their matin strain,

The sportive lambs, increase my pensive moan;

All seem to chase me from the cheerful plain,

And talk of truth and innocence alone.


If thro' the garden's flow'ry tribes I stray,

Where bloom the jasmins that could once allure,

Hope not to find delight in us, they say,

For we are spotless, Jessy; we are pure.


Ye flow'rs! that well reproach a nymph so frail,

Say, could ye with my virgin fame compare?

The brightest bud that scents the vernal gale

Was not so fragrant, and was not so fair.


Now the grave old alarm the gentler young;

And all my fame's abhorr'd contagion flee;

Trembles each lip, and faulters every tongue,

That bids the morn propitious smile on me.


Thus for your sake I shun each human eye;

I bid the sweets of blooming youth adieu;

To die I languish, but I dread to die,

Lest my sad fate shou'd nourish pangs for you.


Raise me from earth; the pains of want remove,

And let me silent seek some friendly shore;

There only, banish'd from the form I love,

My weeping virtue shall relapse no more.


Be but my friend; I ask no dearer name;

Be such the meed of some more artful fair;

Nor could it heal my peace, or chase my shame,

That pity gave, what love refus'd to share.


Force not my tongue to ask its scanty bread;

Nor hurl thy Jessy to the vulgar crew;

Not such the parent's board at which I fed!

Not such the precept from his lips I drew!


Haply, when age has silver'd o'er my hair,

Malice may learn to scorn so mean a spoil;

Envy may slight a face no longer fair;

And pity, welcome, to my native soil."


She spoke—nor was I born of savage race;

Nor could these hands a niggard boon assign;

Grateful she clasp'd me in a last embrace,

And vow'd to waste her life in pray'rs for mine.


I saw her foot the lofty bark ascend;

I saw her breast with every passion heave;

I left her—torn from every earthly friend;

Oh! my hard bosom, which could bear to leave!


Brief let me be; the fatal storm arose;

The billows rag'd; the pilot's art was vain;

O'er the tall mast the circling surges close;

My Jessy—floats upon the wat'ry plain!


And—see my youth's impetuous fires decay;

Seek not to stop reflection's bitter tear;

But warn the frolic, and instruct the gay,

From Jessy floating on her wat'ry bier!