Variations on Pygmalion

Jean-Léon Gérôme


Pigmalion, whose high love-hating mind
Disdain’d to yield servile affection,
Or amorous suit to any woman-kind,
Knowing their wants, and men’s perfection.
Yet Love at length forc’d him to know his fate,
And love the shade, whose substance he did hate.
For having wrought in purest Ivory,
So fair an Image of a Woman’s feature,
That never yet proudest mortality
Could show so rare and beauteous a creature.
(Unless my Mistress all-excelling face,
Which gives to beauty, beauty’s onely grace.)
He was amazed at the wondrous rareness
Of his own workmanship’s perfection.
He thought that Nature nere produc’d such fairness
In which all beauties have their mansion.
And thus admiring, was enamoured
On that fayre Image himself portrayed.
And naked as it stood before his eyes,
Imperious Love declares his Deity.
O what alluring beauties he descries
In each part of his fair imagery!
Her nakedness, each beauteous shape contains.
All beauty in her nakedness remains.
He thought he saw the blood run through the vein
And leap, and swell with all alluring means:
Then fears he is deceiv’d, and then again,
He thinks he see’th the brightness of the beams
Which shoot from out the fairness of her eye:
At which he stands as in an extasy.
Her Amber-coloured, her shining hair,
Makes him protest, the Sun hath spread her head
With golden beams, to make her far more fair.
But when her cheeks his amorous thoughts have fed,
Then he exclaims, such red and so pure white,
Did never blesse the eye of mortal sight.
Then views her lips, no lips did seem so fair
In his conceit, through which he thinks doth fly
So sweet a breath, that doth perfume the air.
Then next her dimpled chin he doth descry,
And views, and wonders, and yet view’s her still.
“Loves eyes in viewing never have their fill.”
Her breasts, like polisht Ivory appear,
Whose modest mount, doe blesse admiring eye,
And makes him wish for such a Pillowbeare.
Thus fond Pigmalion striveth to descry
Each beauteous part, not letting over-slip
One parcel of his curious workmanship.
Until his eye descended so far down
That it descried Love’s pavilion:
Where Cupid doth enjoy his onely crown,
And Venus hath her chiefest mansion:
There would he wink, & winking look again,
Both eyes & thoughts would gladly there remain.
Who ever saw the subtile Citty-dame
In sacred church, when her pure thoughts should pray,
Peer through her fingers, so to hide her shame,
When that her eye her mind would fain bewray.
So would he view, and wink, and view again,
A chaster thought could not his eyes retain.
He wondred that she blusht not when his eye
Saluted those same parts of secrecy:
Conceiting not as it was imagery
That kindly yielded that large liberty.
O that my Mistress were an Image too,
That I might blameless her perfections view.
But when the faire proportion of her thigh
Began appear. O Ovid, would he cry,
Did ere Corinna show such Ivory
When she appear’d in Venus livery?
And thus enamour’d, dotes on his own Art
Which he did work, to work his pleasing smart.
And fondly doting, oft he kissed her lip.
Oft would he dally with her Ivory breasts.
No wanton love-trick would he over-slip,
But still observ’d all amorous behests.
Whereby he thought he might procure the love
Of his dull Image, which no plaints could moue.
Look how the peevish Papists crouch, and kneel
To some dumb Idol with their offering,
As if a senseless carved stone could feel
The ardour of his bootless chattering,
So fond he was, and earnest in his suit
To his remorseless Image, dumb and mute.
He oft doth wish his soul might part in sunder
So that one half in her had residence:
Oft he exclaims, ô beauty’s onely wonder,
Sweet model of delight, fair excellence,
Be gracious unto him that formed thee,
Compassionate his true-love’s ardency.
She with her silence, seems to grant his suit.
Then he all jocund like a wanton lover,
With amorous embracements doth salute
Her slender waist, presuming to discover
The vale of Love, where Cupid doth delight
To sport, and dally all the sable night.
His eyes, her eyes, kindly encountered,
His breast, her breast, oft joined close unto,
His arms’ embracements oft she suffered,
Hands, arms, eyes, tongue, lips, and all parts did woe.
His thigh, with hers, his knee played with her knee,
A happy consort when all parts agree.
But when he saw poor soul he was deceived,
(Yet scarce he could believe his sense had failed)
Yet when he found all hope from him bereaved,
And saw how fondly all his thoughts had erred,
Then did he like to poor Ixion seem,
That clipt a cloud instead of heavens Queen.
I oft have smil’d to see the foolery
Of some sweet Youths, who seriously protest
That Love respects not actual Luxury,
But onely joy’s to dally, sport, and jest:
Love is a child, contented with a toy,
A busk-point, or some savour stills the boy.
Mark my Pigmalion, whose affection’s ardour
May be a mirror to posterity.
Yet viewing, touching, kissing, (common favour,)
Could never satiate his loves ardency:
And therefore Ladies, think that they ne’re love you,
Who doe not unto more then kissing move you.
For my Pigmalion kist, viewd, and imbraced,
And yet exclaims, why were these women made
O sacred Gods, and with such beauties graced?
Have they not power as well to cool, and shade,
As for to heat men’s harts? or is there none
Or are they all like mine? relentless stone.
With that he takes her in his loving arms,
And down within a down-bed softly laid her.
Then on his knees he all his senses charms,
To invocate sweet Venus for to raise her
To wished life, and to infuse some breath,
To that which dead, yet gave a life to death.
Thou sacred Queen of sportive dallying,
(Thus he begins,) Love’s onely Emperess,
Whose kingdom rests in wanton revelling,
Let me beseech thee show thy powerfulness
In changing stone to flesh, make her relent,
And kindly yield to thy sweet blandishment,
O gracious Gods, take compassion.
Instil into her some celestial fire,
That she may equalize affection,
And have a mutual love, and loves desire.
Thou know’st the force of love, then pity me,
Compassionate my true love’s ardency.
Thus having said, he riseth from the floor,
As if his soul divined him good fortune,
Hoping his prayers to pity moved some power.
For all his thoughts did good luck importune.
And therefore straight he strips him naked quite.
That in the bed he might have more delight.
Then thus, Sweet sheets he says, which now doe cover,
The Idol of my soul, the fairest one
That ever lov’d, or had an amorous lover.
Earth’s onely model of perfection,
Sweet happy sheets, deign for to take me in,
That I my hopes and longing thoughts may win.
With that his nimble limbs doe kiss the sheets,
And now he bows him for to lay him down,
And now each part, with her fair parts doe meet,
Now doth he hope for to enjoy loves crown:
Now doe they dally, kiss, embrace together,
Like Leda’s Twins at sight of fairest weather.
Yet all’s conceit. But shadow of that bliss
Which now my Muse strives sweetly to display
In this my wondrous metamorphosis.
Deign to believe me, now I sadly say.
The stony substance of his Image feature,
Was straight transform’d into a living creature.
For when his hands her fair form’d limbs had felt,
And that his arms her naked waist embraced,
Each part like Wax before the sun did melt,
And now, oh now, he finds how he is graced
By his own work. Tut, women will relent
When as they find such moving blandishment.
Doe but conceive a Mother’s passing gladness,
(After that death her onely son hath seized
And overwhelm’d her soul with endless sadness)
When that she sees him gin for to be raised
From out his deadly swoon to life again:
Such joy Pigmalion feels in every vein.
And yet he fears he doth but dreaming find
So rich content, and such celestial bliss.
Yet when he proves & finds her wondrous kind,
Yielding soft touch for touch, sweet kiss for kiss,
He’s well assur’d no faire imagery
Could yield such pleasing love’s felicity.
O wonder not to hear me thus relate,
And say to flesh transformed was a stone.
Had I my Love in such a wished state
As was afforded to Pigmalion,
Though flinty hard, of her you soon should see
As strange a transformation wrought by me.
And now me thinks some wanton itching ear
With lustful thoughts, and ill attention,
List’s to my Muse, expecting for to hear
The amorous description of that action
Which Venus seeks, and ever doth require,
When fitness grants a place to please desire.
Let him conceit but what himself would doe
When that he had obtained such a favour,
Of her to whom his thoughts were bound unto,
If she, in recompense of his loves labour,
Would deign to let one pair of sheets contain
The willing bodies of those loving twain.
Could he, oh could he, when that each to either
Did yield kind kissing and more kind embracing,
Could he when that they felt, and clipt together
And might enjoy the life of dallying,
Could he abstain midst such a wanton sporting
From doing that, which is not fit reporting?
What would he do when that her softest skin
Saluted his with a delightful kiss?
When all things fit for love’s sweet pleasuring
Invited him to reap a Lover’s bliss?
What he would do, the self-same action
Was not neglected by Pigmalion.
For when he found that life had took his seat
Within the breast of his kind beauteous love,
When that he found that warmth, and wished heat
Which might a Saint and coldest spirit move,
The arms, eyes, hands, tongue, lips, & wanton thigh,
Were willing agents in Love’s luxury.
Who knows not what ensues? O pardon me,
Ye gaping ears that swallow up my lines
Expect no more. Peace idle Poesie,
Be not obscene though wanton in thy rimes.
And chaster thoughts, pardon if I do trip,
Or if some loose lines from my pen do slip,
Let this suffice, that that same happy night
So gracious were the Gods of marriage
Mid’st all there pleasing and long wish’d delight
Paphus was got: of whom in after age
Cyprus was Paphos call’d, and evermore
Those Islanders do Venus name adore.
John Marston 1575?-1634.

This lovely poem is the first poem in English to deal with the myth apart from Golding’s version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The poem prompted me to a response:

Pink pig male Ian has given up on flesh and blood.
Art has contaminated reality with its more intoxicating visions.
Wielding the chisel of imagination in his right hand,
Pig male Ian drowns in his own eiderdown ocean;
Stimulates the gametes of his geriatric gland
By dreaming up an under-age Galatea made of words
Not ivory. And Ian can be her when he wants to be:
A girl who seduces her maker while his mother watches,
Or the mother, looking on. Fiction allows him
Every metamorphosis. Tonight he’ll fool around with
Her kid brother as she leads him down the garden path.
Ivory was Marston’s pick, for smoothness’ sake.
He understood the sculptor’s feel for texture, gleam and finish.
Modern dolls are made with choice of gloss or soft-touch laminates.
Now it’s ok to succumb at first sight of the one video that gets
Right under the skin. Something about how the tube
Penetrates the tunnel of his journey always brings out the pig
In Ian. Opposite his seat, gaybeards nestle together,
Almost too emphatic. At least we are on the same side,
Their body-language seems to say, whereas for the prick
Who fancies cunt, love is surely war. How seduce that other,
The alienated sex? Better by far to breach his private file,
Aided by the ministrations of his own hands,
Saved from an actual feel, insulated in front of his
Life-sized screen, indulging in such fantasies that offer him
Limitless ingredients, where nothing’s out of bounds.



About anthonyhowelljournal

Poet, essayist, dancer, performance artist....
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