In vain, fair Maid, you ask in vain, My pen should try th' advent'rous strain, And following truth's unalter'd law, Attempt your character to draw. I own indeed, that generous mind That weeps the woes of human kind, That heart by friendship's charms inspired, That soul with sprightly fancy fired, The air of life, the vivid eye, The flowing wit, the keen reply-- To paint these beauties as they shine, Might ask a nobler pen than mine.
Yet what sure strokes can draw the Fair, Who vary, like the fleeting air, Like willows bending to the force, Where'er the gales direct their course, Opposed to no misfortune's power, And changing with the changing hour. Now gaily sporting on the plain, They charm the grove with pleasing strain; Anon disturb'd, they know not why, The sad tear trembles in their eye: Led through vain life's uncertain dance, The dupes of whim, the slaves of chance.
From me, not famed for much goodnature, Expect not compliment, but satire; To draw your picture quite unable, Instead of fact accept a Fable.
One morn, in Æsop's noisy time, When all things talk'd, and talk'd in rhyme, A cloud exhaled by vernal beams Rose curling o'er the glassy streams. The dawn her orient blushes spread, And tinged its lucid skirts with red, Wide waved its folds with glitt'ring dies, And gaily streak'd the eastern skies; Beneath, illumed with rising day, The sea's broad mirror floating lay. Pleased, o'er the wave it hung in air, Survey'd its glittering glories there, And fancied, dress'd in gorgeous show, Itself the brightest thing below: For clouds could raise the vaunting strain, And not the fair alone were vain.
Yet well it knew, howe'er array'd, That beauty, e'en in clouds, might fade, That nothing sure its charms could boast Above the loveliest earthly toast; And so, like them, in early dawn Resolved its picture should be drawn, That when old age with length'ning day Should brush the vivid rose away, The world should from the portrait own Beyond all clouds how bright it shone.
Hard by, a painter raised his stage, Far famed, the Copley of his age. So just a form his colours drew, Each eye the perfect semblance knew; Yet still on every blooming face He pour'd the pencil's flowing grace; Each critic praised the artist rare, Who drew so like, and yet so fair.
To him, high floating in the sky Th' elated Cloud advanced t' apply. The painter soon his colours brought, The Cloud then sat, the artist wrought; Survey'd her form, with flatt'ring strictures, Just as when ladies sit for pictures, Declared "whatever art can do, My utmost skill shall try for you: But sure those strong and golden dies Dipp'd in the radiance of the skies, Those folds of gay celestial dress, No mortal colours can express. Not spread triumphal o'er the plain, The rainbow boasts so fair a train, Nor e'en the morning sun so bright, Who robes his face in heav'nly light. To view that form of angel make, Again Ixion would mistake, And justly deem so fair a prize, The sovereign Mistress of the skies,"
He said, and drew a mazy line, With crimson touch his pencils shine, The mingling colours sweetly fade, And justly temper light and shade.
He look'd; the swelling Cloud on high With wider circuit spread the sky, Stretch'd to the sun an ampler train, And pour'd new glories on the main. As quick, effacing every ground, His pencil swept the canvas round, And o'er its field, with magic art, Call'd forth new forms in every part.
But now the sun, with rising ray, Advanced with speed his early way; Each colour takes a differing die, The orange glows, the purples fly. The artist views the alter'd sight, And varies with the varying light; In vain! a sudden gust arose, New folds ascend, new shades disclose, And sailing on with swifter pace, The Cloud displays another face. In vain the painter, vex'd at heart, Tried all the wonders of his art; In vain he begg'd, her form to grace, One moment she would keep her place: For, "changing thus with every gale, Now gay with light, with gloom now pale, Now high in air with gorgeous train, Now settling on the darken'd main, With looks more various than the moon; A French coquette were drawn as soon."
He spoke; again the air was mild, The Cloud with opening radiance smiled; With canvas new his art he tries, Anew he joins the glitt'ring dies; Th' admiring Cloud with pride beheld Her image deck the pictured field, And colours half-complete adorn The splendor of the painted morn.
When lo, the stormy winds arise, Deep gloom invests the changing skies; The sounding tempest shakes the plain, And lifts in billowy surge the main. The Cloud's gay dies in darkness fade, Its folds condense in thicker shade, And borne by rushing blasts, its form With lowering vapour joins the storm.