though I’d been reading a not unaccomplished version of Ovid‘s “Metamorphoses“, thrilling already at much of it, for the sake of comparison I happened upon this other utter masterpiece
the pedigree is impeccable, an array of the most illustrious English poets of the eighteenth century in concert around a mighty translation of one of poetry’s crowning works, Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, William Congreve, “and other eminent hands”, according to the web page, do the work, and it is masterly
read on, from the very first book of fifteen, its beginning, its genesis
The Creation of the World
Of bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with coelestial heat;
‘Till I my long laborious work compleat:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhimes,
Deduc’d from Nature’s birth, to Caesar’s times.
Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
And Heav’n’s high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion’d, and unfram’d,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam’d.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois’d, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water’s dark abyss unnavigable.
No certain form on any was imprest;
All were confus’d, and each disturb’d the rest.
For hot and cold were in one body fixt;
And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
But God, or Nature, while they thus contend,
To these intestine discords put an end:
Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv’n,
And grosser air sunk from aetherial Heav’n.
Thus disembroil’d, they take their proper place;
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder’d, by a larger space.
The force of fire ascended first on high,
And took its dwelling in the vaulted sky:
Then air succeeds, in lightness next to fire;
Whose atoms from unactive earth retire.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num’rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
About her coasts, unruly waters roar;
And rising, on a ridge, insult the shore.
Thus when the God, whatever God was he,
Had form’d the whole, and made the parts agree,
That no unequal portions might be found,
He moulded Earth into a spacious round:
Then with a breath, he gave the winds to blow;
And bad the congregated waters flow.
He adds the running springs, and standing lakes;
And bounding banks for winding rivers makes.
Some part, in Earth are swallow’d up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu’d, are lost.
He shades the woods, the vallies he restrains
With rocky mountains, and extends the plains.
And as five zones th’ aetherial regions bind,
Five, correspondent, are to Earth assign’d:
The sun with rays, directly darting down,
Fires all beneath, and fries the middle zone:
The two beneath the distant poles, complain
Of endless winter, and perpetual rain.
Betwixt th’ extreams, two happier climates hold
The temper that partakes of hot, and cold.
The fields of liquid air, inclosing all,
Surround the compass of this earthly ball:
The lighter parts lye next the fires above;
The grosser near the watry surface move:
Thick clouds are spread, and storms engender there,
And thunder’s voice, which wretched mortals fear,
And winds that on their wings cold winter bear.
Nor were those blustring brethren left at large,
On seas, and shores, their fury to discharge:
Bound as they are, and circumscrib’d in place,
They rend the world, resistless, where they pass;
And mighty marks of mischief leave behind;
Such is the rage of their tempestuous kind.
First Eurus to the rising morn is sent
(The regions of the balmy continent);
And Eastern realms, where early Persians run,
To greet the blest appearance of the sun.
Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
Pleas’d with the remnants of departing light:
Fierce Boreas, with his off-spring, issues forth
T’ invade the frozen waggon of the North.
While frowning Auster seeks the Southern sphere;
And rots, with endless rain, th’ unwholsom year.
Scarce had the Pow’r distinguish’d these, when streight
The stars, no longer overlaid with weight,
Exert their heads, from underneath the mass;
And upward shoot, and kindle as they pass,
And with diffusive light adorn their heav’nly place.
Then, every void of Nature to supply,
With forms of Gods he fills the vacant sky:
New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:
New colonies of birds, to people air:
And to their oozy beds, the finny fish repair.
A creature of a more exalted kind
Was wanting yet, and then was Man design’d:
Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast,
For empire form’d, and fit to rule the rest:
Whether with particles of heav’nly fire
The God of Nature did his soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain’d th’ aetherial energy:
Which wise Prometheus temper’d into paste,
And, mixt with living streams, the godlike image cast.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos’d into Man.