Part 5 out of 7
count fourscore and eight before they judged him. By the mercy of God, I
am already come within twenty years of his number, a cripple in my
limbs; but what decays are in my mind, the reader must determine. I
think myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting
only my memory, which is not impaired to any great degree; and if I lose
not more of it, I have no great reason to complain. What judgment I had,
increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they are, come
crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to choose or to
reject; to run them into verse, or to give them the other harmony of
prose. I have so long studied and practised both, that they are grown
into a habit, and become familiar to me; in short, though I may lawfully
plead some part of the old gentleman's excuse, yet I will reserve it
till I think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allowance for the
faults of this my present work, but those which are given of course to
human frailty. I will not trouble my reader with the shortness of time
in which I writ it, or the several intervals of sickness. They who think
too well of their own performances, are apt to boast in their prefaces
how little time their works have cost them, and what other business of
more importance interfered; but the reader will be as apt to ask the
question, why they allowed not a longer time to make their works more
perfect? and why they had so despicable an opinion of their judges, as
to thrust their indigested stuff upon them, as if they deserved no
With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first part
of this discourse; in the second part, as at a second sitting, though I
alter not the draught, I must touch the same features over again, and
change the dead colouring of the whole. In general I will only say, that
I have written nothing which savours of immorality or profaneness; at
least, I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. If there
happen to be found an irreverent expression, or a thought too wanton,
they are crept into my verses through my inadvertency; if the searchers
find any in the cargo, let them be staved or forfeited, like contraband
goods; at least, let their authors be answerable for them, as being but
imported merchandise, and not of my own manufacture. On the other side,
I have endeavoured to choose such fables, both ancient and modern, as
contain in each of them some instructive moral, which I could prove by
induction; but the way is tedious, and they leap foremost into sight,
without the reader's trouble of looking after them. I wish I could
affirm with a safe conscience, that I had taken the same care in all my
former writings; for it must be owned, that supposing verses are never
so beautiful or pleasing, yet if they contain anything which shocks
religion, or good manners, they are at best, what Horace says of good
numbers without good sense, _Versus inopes rerum, nugaeque canorae_.
Thus far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing my other right
of self-defence, where I have been wrongfully accused, and my sense
withdrawn into blasphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by a religious
lawyer, in a late pleading against the stage, in which he mixes truth
with falsehood, and has not forgotten the old rule of calumniating
strongly, that something may remain.
I resume the thread of my discourse with the first of my translation,
which was the first Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me
longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the
whole Ilias; provided still that I meet with those encouragements from
the public which may enable me to proceed in my undertaking with some
cheerfulness. And this I dare assure the world beforehand, that I have
found, by trial, Homer a more pleasing task than Virgil (though I say
not the translation will be less laborious); for the Grecian is more
according to my genius, than the Latin poet. In the works of the two
authors, we may read their manners and natural inclinations, which are
wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was
violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was
propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words; Homer was rapid in his
thoughts, and took all the liberties, both of numbers and of
expressions, which his language, and the age in which he lived, allowed
him: Homer's invention was more copious, Virgil's more confined; so that
if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun heroic
poetry; for nothing can be more evident, than that the Roman poem is but
the second part of the Ilias; a continuation of the same story, and the
persons already formed: the manners of AEneas are those of Hector
superadded to those which Homer gave him. The adventures of Ulysses in
the Odysseis are imitated in the first six books of Virgil's AEneas, and
though the accidents are not the same (which would have argued him of a
servile copying, and total barrenness of invention), yet the seas were
the same in which both the heroes wandered, and Dido cannot be denied to
be the poetical daughter of Calypso. The six latter books of Virgil's
poem are the four and twenty Iliads contracted; a quarrel occasioned by
a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieged. I say not
this in derogation to Virgil, neither do I contradict anything which I
have formerly said in his just praise, for his episodes are almost
wholly of his own invention; and the form which he has given to the
telling makes the tale his own, even though the original story had been
the same. But this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design;
and if invention be the first virtue of an epic poet, then the Latin
poem can only be allowed the second place. Mr Hobbs, in the preface to
his own bald translation of the Ilias (studying poetry as he did
mathematics, when it was too late), Mr Hobbs, I say, begins the praise
of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us, that the first
beauty of an Epic poem consists in diction, that is, in the choice of
words, and harmony of numbers. Now, the words are the colouring of the
work, which in the order of nature is last to be considered: the design,
the disposition, the manners, and the thoughts, are all before it; where
any of those are wanting or imperfect, so much wants or is imperfect in
the imitation of human life, which is in the very definition of a poem.
Words indeed, like glaring colours, are the first beauties that arise,
and strike the sight; but if the draught be false or lame, the figures
ill-disposed, the manners obscure or inconsistent, or the thoughts
unnatural, then the finest colours are but daubing, and the piece is a
beautiful monster at the best. Neither Virgil nor Homer were deficient
in any of the former beauties; but in this last, which is expression,
the Roman poet is at least equal to the Grecian, as I have said
elsewhere, supplying the poverty of his language by his musical ear, and
by his diligence. But to return: our two great poets, being so different
in their tempers, one choleric and sanguine, the other phlegmatic and
melancholic; that which makes them excel in their several ways is, that
each of them has followed his own natural inclination, as well in
forming the design, as in the execution of it. The very heroes show
their authors; Achilles is hot, impatient, revengeful--_impiger,
iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,_ &c.: AEneas patient, considerate, careful
of his people, and merciful to his enemies; ever submissive to the will
of Heaven--_quo fata trahunt, retrahuntque, sequamur_. I could please
myself with enlarging on this subject, but am forced to defer it to a
fitter time. From all I have said, I will only draw this inference, that
the action of Homer being more full of vigour than that of Virgil,
according to the temper of the writer, is of consequence more pleasing
to the reader. One warms you by degrees; the other sets you on fire all
at once, and never intermits his heat. 'Tis the same difference which
Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demosthenes and
Tully--one persuades; the other commands. You never cool while you read
Homer, even not in the second book (a graceful flattery to his
countrymen), but he hastens from the ships, and concludes not that book
till he has made you an amends by the violent playing of a new machine.
From thence he hurries on his action with variety of events, and ends it
in less compass than two months. This vehemence of his, I confess, is
more suitable to my temper; and therefore I have translated his first
book with greater pleasure than any part of Virgil. But it was not a
pleasure without pains; the continual agitations of the spirits must
needs be a weakening of any constitution, especially in age, and many
pauses are required for refreshment betwixt the heats, the Iliad of
itself being a third part longer than all Virgil's works together.
This is what I thought needful in this place to say of Homer. I proceed
to Ovid and Chaucer; considering the former only in relation to the
latter. With Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman tongue: from Chaucer
the purity of the English tongue began. The manners of the poets were
not unlike: both of them were well-bred, well-natured, amorous, and
libertine, at least in their writings--it may be also in their lives.
Their studies were the same--philosophy and philology. Both of them were
known in astronomy, of which Ovid's books of the Roman feasts, and
Chaucer's treatise of the Astrolabe, are sufficient witnesses. But
Chaucer was likewise an astrologer, as were Virgil, Horace, Persius, and
Manilius. Both writ with wonderful facility and clearness: neither were
great inventors; for Ovid only copied the Grecian fables, and most of
Chaucer's stories were taken from his Italian contemporaries, or their
predecessors. Boccace's Decameron was first published; and from thence
our Englishman has borrowed many of his Canterbury tales; yet that of
Palamon and Arcite was written in all probability by some Italian wit,
in a former age; as I shall prove hereafter. The tale of Grizzild was
the invention of Petrarch; by him sent to Boccace; from whom it came to
Chaucer. Troilus and Cressida was also written by a Lombard author; but
much amplified by our English translator, as well as beautified; the
genius of our countrymen in general being rather to improve an
invention, than to invent themselves; as is evident not only in our
poetry, but in many of our manufactures. I find I have anticipated
already, and taken up from Boccace before I come to him; but there is so
much less behind; and I am of the temper of most kings, who love to be
in debt, are all for present money, no matter how they pay it
afterwards: besides, the nature of a preface is rambling; never wholly
out of the way, nor in it. This I have learned from the practice of
honest Montaign, and return at my pleasure to Ovid and Chaucer, of whom
I have little more to say. Both of them built on the inventions of other
men; yet since Chancer had something of his own, as the Wife of Bath's
Tale the Cock and the Fox, which I have translated, and some others, I
may justly give our countryman the precedence in that part; since I can
remember nothing of Ovid which was wholly his. Both of them understood
the manners, under which name I comprehend the passions, and, in a
larger sense the descriptions of persons, and their very habits: for an
example, I see Baucis and Philemon as perfectly before me, as if some
ancient painter had drawn them; and all the pilgrims in the Canterbury
tales, their humours, their features, and the very dress, as distinctly
as if I had supped with them at the Tabard in Southwark: yet even there
too the figures in Chaucer are much more lively, and set in a better
light; which though I have not time to prove, yet I appeal to the
reader, and am sure he will clear me from partiality. The thoughts and
words remain to be considered in the comparison of the two poets; and I
have saved myself one half of that labour, by owning that Ovid lived
when the Roman tongue was in its meridian; Chaucer, in the dawning of
our language: therefore that part of the comparison stands not on an
equal foot, any more than the diction of Ennius and Ovid; or of Chaucer
and our present English. The words are given up as a post not to be
defended in our poet, because he wanted the modern art of fortifying.
The thoughts remain to be considered; and they are to be measured only
by their propriety; that is, as they flow more or less naturally from
the persons described, on such and such occasions. The vulgar judges,
which are nine parts in ten of all nations, who call conceits and
jingles wit, who see Ovid full of them, and Chaucer altogether without
them, will think me little less than mad for preferring the Englishman
to the Roman; yet, with their leave, I must presume to say, that the
things they admire are only glittering trifles, and so far from being
witty, that in a serious poem they are nauseous, because they are
unnatural. Would any man, who is ready to die for love, describe his
passion like Narcissus? Would he think of _inopem me copia fecit_, and a
dozen more of such expressions, poured on the neck of one another, and
signifying all the same thing? If this were wit, was this a time to be
witty, when the poor wretch was in the agony of death? This is just John
Littlewit in Bartholomew Fair, who had a conceit (as he tells you) left
him in his misery; a miserable conceit. On these occasions the poet
should endeavour to raise pity; but instead of this, Ovid is tickling
you to laugh. Virgil never made use of such machines, when he was moving
you to commiserate the death of Dido: he would not destroy what he was
building. Chaucer makes Arcite violent in his love, and unjust in the
pursuit of it; yet when he came to die, he made him think more
reasonably: he repents not of his love, for that had altered his
character; but acknowledges the injustice of his proceedings, and
resigns Emilia to Palamon. What would Ovid have done on this occasion?
He would certainly have made Arcite witty on his deathbed. He had
complained he was farther off from possession by being so near, and a
thousand such boyisms, which Chaucer rejected as below the dignity of
the subject. They who think otherwise would, by the same reason, prefer
Lucan and Ovid to Homer and Virgil, and Martial to all four of them. As
for the turn of words, in which Ovid particularly excels all poets, they
are sometimes a fault, and sometimes a beauty, as they are used properly
or improperly; but in strong passions always to be shunned, because
passions are serious, and will admit no playing. The French have a high
value for them; and I confess, they are often what they call delicate,
when they are introduced with judgment; but Chaucer writ with more
simplicity, and followed nature more closely, than to use them. I have
thus far, to the best of my knowledge, been an upright judge betwixt the
parties in competition, not meddling with the design nor the disposition
of it; because the design was not their own, and in the disposing of it
they were eqaal. It remains that I say somewhat of Chaucer in
In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him
in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the
Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense; learned in all
sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects; as he knew what
to say, so he knows also when to leave off--a continence which is
practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, excepting
Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in his
reputation, because he could never forgive any conceit which came in his
way; but swept like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty
enough, but the dishes were ill-sorted; whole pyramids of sweetmeats,
for boys and women; but little of solid meat, for men. All this
proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment; neither did
he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other poets; but
only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was
a fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. For this reason, though
he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed a good
writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in so many
successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased
once a twelvemonth: for, as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat
profanely, not being of God, he could not stand.
Chaucer followed nature everywhere; but was never so bold to go beyond
her: and there is a great difference of being _Poeta_ and _nimis Poeta_,
if we believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest behaviour and
affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us;
but it is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was
_auribus istius temporis accommodata_. They who lived with him, and some
time after him, thought it musical; and it continues so even in our
judgment, if compared with the numbers of Lidgate and Gower, his
contemporaries: there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it,
which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true, I cannot
go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make
us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten
syllables in a verse where we find but nine. But this opinion is not
worth confuting; it is so gross and obvious an error, that common sense
(which is a rule in every thing but matters of faith and revelation)
must convince the reader, that equality of numbers in every verse which
we call Heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in
Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his
verses, which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole
one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say,
that he lived in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought
to perfection at the first. We must be children before we grow men.
There was an Ennius, and in process of time a Lucilius, and a Lucretius,
before Virgil and Horace; even after Chaucer there was a Spenser, a
Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being; and our
numbers were in their nonage till these last appeared. I need say little
of his parentage, life and fortunes: they are to be found at large in
all the editions of his works. He was employed abroad and favoured by
Edward the Third, Richard the Second, and Henry the Fourth, and was
poet, as I suppose, to all three of them. In Richard's time, I doubt, he
was a little dipt in the rebellion of the commons; and being
brother-in-law to John of Gaunt, it was no wonder if he followed the
fortunes of that family; and was well with Henry the Fourth when he had
deposed his predecessor. Neither is it to be admired, that Henry, who
was a wise as well as a valiant prince, who claimed by succession, and
was sensible that his title was not sound, but was rightfully in
Mortimer, who had married the heir of York; it was not to be admired, I
say, if that great politician should be pleased to have the greatest wit
of those times in his interests, and to be the trumpet of his praises.
Augustus had given him the example, by the advice of Maecenas, who
recommended Virgil and Horace to him; whose praises helped to make him
popular while he was alive, and after his death have made him precious
to posterity. As for the religion of our poet, he seems to have some
little bias towards the opinions of Wickliff, after John of Gaunt his
patron; somewhat of which appears in the tale of Piers Plowman: yet I
cannot blame him for inveighing so sharply against the vices of the
clergy in his age: their pride, their ambition, their pomp, their
avarice, their worldly interest, deserved the lashes which he gave them,
both in that, and in most of his Canterbury tales: neither has his
contemporary Boccace spared them. Yet both those poets lived in much
esteem with good and holy men in orders; for the scandal which is given
by particular priests, reflects not on the sacred function. Chaucer's
Monk, his Chanon, and his Fryer, took not from the character of his Good
Parson. A satirical poet is the check of the laymen on bad priests. We
are only to take care, that we involve not the innocent with the guilty
in the same condemnation. The good cannot be too much honoured, nor the
bad too coarsely used; for the corruption of the best becomes the worst.
When a clergyman is whipped, his gown is first taken off, by which the
dignity of his order is secured: if he be wrongfully accused, he has his
action of slander; and it is at the poet's peril, if he transgress the
law. But they will tell us, that all kind of satire, though never so
well deserved by particular priests, yet brings the whole order into
contempt. Is then the peerage of England anything dishonoured, when a
peer suffers for his treason? If he be libelled, or any way defamed, he
has his _Scandalum Magnatum_ to punish the offender. They who use this
kind of argument, seem to be conscious to themselves of somewhat which
has deserved the poet's lash; and are less concerned for their public
capacity, than for their private; at least there is pride at the bottom
of their reasoning. If the faults of men in orders are only to be judged
among themselves, they are all in some sort parties; for, since they say
the honour of their order is concerned in every member of it, how can we
be sure that they will be impartial judges? How far I may be allowed to
speak my opinion in this case, I know not; but I am sure a dispute of
this nature caused mischief in abundance betwixt a king of England and
an archbishop of Canterbury; one standing up for the laws of his land,
and the other for the honour (as he called it) of God's Church; which
ended in the murder of the prelate, and in the whipping of his majesty
from post to pillar for his penance. The learned and ingenious Dr Drake
has saved me the labour of inquiring into the esteem and reverence which
the priests have, had of old; and I would rather extend than diminish
any part of it; yet I must needs say, that when a priest provokes me
without any occasion given him, I have no reason, unless it be the
charity of a Christian, to forgive him. _Prior laesit_ is justification
sufficient in the civil law. If I answer him in his own language,
self-defence, I am sure, must be allowed me; and if I carry it farther,
even to a sharp recrimination, somewhat may be indulged to human
frailty. Yet my resentment has not wrought as far, but that I have
followed Chaucer in his character of a holy man, and have enlarged on
that subject with some pleasure, reserving to myself the right, if I
shall think fit hereafter, to describe another sort of priests, such as
are more easily to be found than the Good Parson; such as have given the
last blow to Christianity in this age, by a practice so contrary to
their doctrine. But this will keep cold till another time. In the mean
while, I take up Chaucer where I left him. He must have been a man of a
most wonderful comprehensive nature, because, as it has been truly
observed of him, he has taken into the compass of his Canterbury tales
the various manners and humours (as we now call them) of the whole
English nation, in his age. Not a single character has escaped him. All
his pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other; and not only
in their inclinations, but in their very physiognomies and persons.
Baptista Porta could not have described their natures better, than by
the marks which the poet gives them. The matter and manner of their
tales, and of their telling, are so suited to their different
edncations, humours, and callings, that each of them would be improper
in any other mouth. Even the grave and serious characters are
distinguished by their several sorts of gravity: their discourses are
such as belong to their age, their calling, and their breeding; such as
are becoming of them, and of them only. Some of his persons are vicious,
and some virtuous; some are unlearned, or (as Chaucer calls them) lewd,
and some are learned. Even the ribaldry of the low characters is
different. The Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook, are several men, and
distinguished from each other, as much as the mincing Lady Prioress, and
the broad-speaking gap-toothed Wife of Bath. But enough of this: there
is such a variety of game springing up before me, that I am distracted
in my choice, and know not which to follow. 'Tis sufficient to say,
according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our
forefathers and great-granddames all before us, as they were in
Chaucer's days: their general characters are still remaining in mankind,
and even in England, though they are called by other names than those of
monks and friars, and chanons, and lady abbesses, and nuns: for mankind
is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature, though every thing is
altered. May I have leave to do myself the justice, (since my enemies
will do me none, and are so far from granting me to be a good poet, that
they will not allow me so much as to be a Christian, or a moral man);
may I have leave, I say, to inform my reader, that I have confined my
choice to such tales of Chaucer as savour nothing of immodesty. If I had
desired more to please than to instruct, the Reeve, the Miller, the
Shipman, the Merchants, the Sumner, and above all the Wife of Bath, in
the prologue to her tale, would have procured me as many friends and
readers as there are beaux and ladies of pleasure in the town. But I
will no more offend against good manners. I am sensible, as I ought to
be, of the scandal I have given by my loose writings; and make what
reparation I am able by this public acknowledgment. If any thing of this
nature, or of profaneness, be crept into these poems, I am so far from
defending it, that I disown it. _Totum hoc indicium volo._ Chaucer makes
another manner of apology for his broad-speaking, and Boccace makes the
like; but I will follow neither of them. Our countryman, in the end of
his characters, before the Canterbury tales, thus excuses the ribaldry,
which is very gross in many of his novels.
"But first, I pray you of your courtesy,
That ye ne arrettee it nought my villainy,
Though that I plainly speak in this mattere,
To tellen you her words, and eke her chere:
Ne though I speak her words properly,
For this ye knowen as well as I,
Who shall tellen a tale after a man,
He mote rehearse as nye as ever he can:
Everich word of it been in his charge,
All speke he, never so rudely, ne large.
Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue,
Or feine things, or find words new:
He may not spare, although he were his brother,
He mote as well say o word as another,
Christ spake himself full broad in holy writ,
And well I wote no villainy is it;
Eke Plato saith, who so can him rede,
the words mote been cousin to the dede."
Yet, if a man should have inquired of Boccace or of Chaucer what need
they had of introducing such characters, where obscene words were proper
in their mouths, but very indecent to be heard,--I know not what answer
they could have made; for that reason, such tale shall be left untold by
me. You have here a specimen of Chaucer's language, which is so
obsolete, that his sense is scarce to be understood; and you have
likewise more than one example of his unequal numbers, which were
mentioned before. Yet many of his verses consist of ten syllables, and
the words not much behind our present English; as, for example, these
two lines in the description of the carpenter's young wife:
"Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt."
I have almost done with Chaucer when I have answered some objections
relating to my present work. I find some people are offended that I have
turned these tales into modern English, because they think them unworthy
of my pains, and look on Chaucer as a dry, old-fashioned wit not worth
reviving. I have often heard the late Earl of Leicester say that Mr
Cowley himself was of that opinion, who, having read him over at my
lord's request declared he had no taste of him. I dare not advance my
opinion against the judgment of so great an author, but I think it fair,
however, to leave the decision to the public. Mr Cowley was too modest
to set up for a dictator, and being shocked, perhaps, with his old
style, never examined into the depth of his good sense. Chaucer, I
confess, is a rough diamond, and must first be polished ere he shines.
I deny not, likewise, that, living in our early days of poetry, he
writes not always of a piece, but sometimes mingles trivial things with
those of greater moment. Sometimes also, though not often, he runs riot,
like Ovid, and knows not when he has said enough. But there are more
great wits besides Chaucer, whose fault is their excess of conceits, and
those ill sorted. An author is not to write all he can, but only all he
ought. Having observed this redundancy in Chaucer (as it is an easy
matter for a man of ordinary parts to find a fault in one of greater), I
have not tied myself to a literal translation, but have often omitted
what I judged unnecessary, or not of dignity enough to appear in the
company of better thoughts. I have presumed farther, in some places, and
added somewhat of my own where I thought my author was deficient, and
had not given his thoughts their true lustre, for want of words in the
beginning of our language. And to this I was the more emboldened,
because (if I may be permitted to say it of myself) I found I had a soul
congenial to his, and that I had been conversant in the same studies.
Another poet, in another age, may take the same liberty with my
writings, if, at least, they live long enough to deserve correction. It
was also necessary sometimes to restore the sense of Chaucer, which was
lost or mangled in the errors of the press. Let this example suffice at
present. In the story of Palamon and Arcite, where the temple of Diana
is described, you find these verses in all the editions of our author:--
"There saw I Dane turned into a tree,
I mean not the goddess Diane,
But Venus' daughter, which that hight Dane:"
Which, after a little consideration, I knew was to be reformed into this
sense, that Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, was turned into a tree. I
durst not make thus bold with Ovid, lest some future Milbourn should
arise, and say I varied from my author because I understood him not.
But there are other judges who think I ought not to have translated
Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion. They suppose there
is a certain veneration due to his old language, and that it is little
less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it. They are farther of
opinion, that somewhat of his good sense will suffer in this
transfusion, and much of the beauty of his thoughts will infallibly be
lost, which appear with more grace in their old habit. Of this opinion
was that excellent person whom I mentioned, the late Earl of Leicester,
who valued Chaucer as much as Mr Cowley despised him. My lord dissuaded
me from this attempt (for I was thinking of it some years before his
death), and his authority prevailed so far with me, as to defer my
undertaking while he lived, in deference to him; yet my reason was not
convinced with what he urged against it. If the first end of a writer be
to be understood, then, as his language grows obsolete, his thoughts
must grow obscure: _multa renascentur quae nunc cecidere, cadentque,
quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, quem penes arbitrium
est et jus et norma loquendi._ When an ancient word for its sound and
significancy deserves to be revived, I have that reasonable veneration
for antiquity to restore it. All beyond this is superstition. Words are
not like landmarks, so sacred as never to be removed; customs are
changed, and even statutes are silently repealed, when the reason ceases
for which they were enacted. As for the other part of the argument,
that his thoughts will lose their original beauty by the innovation of
words; in the first place, not only their beauty, but their being is
lost, where they are no longer understood, which is the present case. I
grant that something must be lost in all transfusion, that is, in all
translations; but the sense will remain, which would otherwise be lost,
or at least be maimed, when it is scarce intelligible, and that but to a
few. How few are there who can read Chaucer, so as to understand him
perfectly! And if imperfectly, then with less profit and no pleasure.
'Tis not for the use of some old Saxon friends that I have taken these
pains with him: let them neglect my version, because they have no need
of it. I made it for their sakes who understand sense and poetry as well
as they, when that poetry and sense is put into words which they
understand. I will go further, and dare to add, that what beauties I
lose in some places, I give to others which had them not originally; but
in this I may be partial to myself; let the reader judge, and I submit
to his decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to complain of them,
who, because they understand Chaucer, would deprive the greater part of
their countrymen of the same advantage, and hoard him up, as misers do
their grandam, gold, only to look on it themselves, and hinder others
from making use of it. In sum, I seriously protest that no man ever had,
or can have, a greater veneration for Chaucer than myself. I have
translated some part of his works, only that I might perpetuate his
memory, or at least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered
him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge that I
could have done nothing without him: _Facile est inventis addere_ is no
great commendation, and I am not so vain to think I have deserved a
greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him singly, with this one
remark: a lady of my acquaintance, who keeps a kind of correspondence
with some authors of the fair sex in France, has been informed by them
that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old as Sibyl, and inspired like
her by the same god of poetry, is at this time translating Chaucer into
modern French; from which I gather that he has been formerly translated
into the old Provencal, (for how she should come to understand old
English I know not). But the matter of fact being true, it makes me
think that there is something in it like fatality; that, after certain
periods of time, the fame and memory of great wits should be renewed, as
Chaucer is both in France and England. If this be wholly chance, 'tis
extraordinary, and I dare not call it more for fear of being taxed with
Boccace comes last to be considered, who, living in the same age with
Chaucer, had the same genius, and followed the same studies. Both writ
novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue. But the greatest
resemblance of our two modern authors being in their familiar style, and
pleasing way of relating comical adventures, I may pass it over, because
I have translated nothing from Boccace of that nature. In the serious
part of poetry, the advantage is wholly on Chaucer's side; for though
the Englishman has borrowed many tales from the Italian, yet it appears
that those of Boccace were not generally of his own making, but taken
from authors of former ages, and by him only modelled; so that what
there was of invention in either of them may be judged equal. But
Chaucer has refined on Boccace, and has mended the stories which he has
borrowed, in his way of telling; though prose allows more liberty of
thought, and the expression is more easy when unconfined by numbers.
Our countryman carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage. I
desire not the reader should take my word, and, therefore, I will set
two of their discourses on the same subject, in the same light, for
every man to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and,
amongst the rest, pitched on the Wife of Bath's tale, not daring, as I
have said, to adventure on her prologue, because it is too licentious.
There Chaucer introduces an old woman of mean parentage, whom a youthful
knight of noble blood was forced to marry, and consequently loathed her.
The crone being in bed with him on the wedding night, and finding his
aversion, endeavours to win his affection by reason, and speaks a good
word for herself, (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollify the
sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from the benefits of poverty,
the advantages of old age and ugliness, the vanity of youth, and the
silly pride of ancestry and titles without inherent virtue, which is the
true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer I returned to Ovid and
translated some more of his fables, and by this time had so far
forgotten the Wife of Bath's tale, that, when I took up Boccace,
unawares I fell on the same argument of preferring virtue to nobility of
blood and titles, in the story of Sigismunda, which I had certainly
avoided for the resemblance of the two discourses, if my memory had not
failed me. Let the reader weigh them both, and if he thinks me partial
to Chaucer, it is in him to right Boccace.
I prefer in our countryman, far above all his other stories, the noble
poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is of the Epic kind, and perhaps not
much inferior to the Ilias, or the AEneis. The story is more pleasing
than either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction as poetical,
the learning as deep and various, and the disposition full as
artful,--only it includes a greater length of time, as taking up seven
years at least; but Aristotle has left undecided the duration of the
action, which, yet, is easily reduced into the compass of a year by a
narration of what preceded the return of Palamon to Athens. I had
thought, for the honour of our nation, and more particularly for his,
whose laurel, though unworthy, I have worn after him, that this story
was of English growth, and Chaucer's own; but I was undeceived by
Boccace, for, casually looking on the end of his seventh Giornata, I
found Dioneo (under which name he shadows himself) and Fiametta (who
represents his mistress, the natural daughter of Robert king of Naples)
of whom these words are spoken: _Dioneo e la Fiametta granpezza
contarono insieme d'Arcita e di Palamone_: by which it appears that this
story was written before the time of Boccace, but the name of its author
being wholly lost, Chaucer is now become an original, and I question not
but the poem has received many beauties by passing through his noble
hands. Besides this tale, there is another of his own invention, after
the manner of the Provencals, called "The Flower and the Leaf," with
which I was so particularly pleased, both for the invention and the
moral, that I cannot hinder myself from recommending it to the reader.
As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done justice to others,
I owe somewhat to myself: not that I think it worth my time to enter the
lists with one Milbourn, and one Blackmore, but barely to take notice,
that such men there are, who have written scurrilously against me
without any provocation. Milbourn, who is in orders, pretends, amongst
the rest, this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood. If
I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his part
of the reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied that he
shall not be able to force himself upon me for an adversary. I contemn
him too much to enter into competition with him. His own translations of
Virgil have answered his criticisms on mine. If (as they say he has
declared in print) he prefers the version of Ogilby to mine, the world
has made him the same compliment: for it is agreed on all hands that he
writes even below Ogilby: that, you will say, is not easily to be done;
but what cannot Milbourn bring about? I am satisfied, however, that
while he and I live together, I shall not be thought the worst poet of
the age. It looks as if I had desired him underhand to write so ill
against me; but upon my honest word I have not bribed him to do me this
service, and am wholly guiltless of his pamphlet. 'Tis true, I should be
glad, if I could persuade him to continue his good offices, and write
such another critique on any thing of mine; for I find by experience he
has a great stroke with the reader, when he condemns any of my poems, to
make the world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains
with my poetry; but nobody will be persuaded to take the same with his.
If I had taken to the church (as he affirms, but which was never in my
thoughts), I should have had more sense, if not more grace, than to have
turned myself out of my benefice by writing libels on my parishioners.
But his account of my manners and my principles are of a piece with his
cavils and his poetry; and so I have done with him for ever.
As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to me is,
that I was the author of Absalom and Achitophel, which he thinks is a
little hard on his fanatic patrons in London.
But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because nothing ill
is to be spoken of the dead; and therefore peace be to the manes of his
Arthurs! I will only say, that it was not for this noble knight that I
drew the plan of an Epic poem on King Arthur, in my preface to the
translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were machines
too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected them, as
Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before him by
Entellus. Yet from that preface he plainly took his hint; for he began
immediately upon the story, though he had the baseness not to
acknowledge his benefactor, but instead of it, to traduce me in a libel.
I shall say the less of Mr Collier, because in many things he has taxed
me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of
mine, which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or
immorality; and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he
be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise,
he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in
the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good
one. Yet it were not difficult to prove, that in many places he has
perverted my meaning by his glosses; and interpreted my words into
blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty; besides that he is
too much given to horse-play in his raillery; and comes to battle like a
dictator from the plough. I will not say, the zeal of God's house has
eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his
good-manners and civility. It might also be doubted whether it were
altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding:
perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of
ancient and modern plays: a divine might have employed his pains to
better purpose than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes; whose
examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly supposed that
he read them not without some pleasure. They who have written
commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have
explained some vices, which without their interpretation had been
unknown to modern times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the
former age and us.
There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called "The Custom of
the Country," than in all ours together. Yet this has been often acted
on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed now,
than they were five-and-twenty years ago? If they are, I congratulate
the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my
fellow-poets, though I abandon my own defence. They have some of them
answered for themselves, and neither they nor I can think Mr Collier so
formidable an enemy that we should shun him. He has lost ground at the
latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of
Conde at the battle of Senneffe: from immoral plays, to no plays; _ab
abusu ad usum non valet consequentia_. But being a party, I am not to
erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written
against me, they are such scoundrels, that they deserve not the least
notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourn are only
distinguished from the crowd, by being remembered to their infamy.
--Demetri, teque Tigelli
Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.
* * * * *
TO HER GRACE THE DUCHESS OF ORMOND,
WITH THE FOLLOWING POEM OF PALAMON AND ARCITE.
The bard who first adorn'd our native tongue,
Tuned to his British lyre this ancient song:
Which Homer might without a blush rehearse,
And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil's verse:
He match'd their beauties, where they most excel;
Of love sung better, and of arms as well.
Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond! to behold
What power the charms of beauty had of old;
Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done,
Inspired by two fair eyes that sparkled like your own. 10
If Chaucer by the best idea wrought,
And poets can divine each other's thought,
The fairest nymph before his eyes he set;
And then the fairest was Plantagenet;
Who three contending princes made her prize,
And ruled the rival nations with her eyes:
Who left immortal trophies of her fame,
And to the noblest order gave the name.
Like her, of equal kindred to the throne,
You keep her conquests, and extend your own: 20
As when the stars in their ethereal race,
At length have roll'd around the liquid space,
At certain periods they resume their place;
From the same point of heaven their course advance,
And move in measures of their former dance;
Thus, after length of ages, she returns,
Restored in you, and the same place adorns;
Or you perform her office in the sphere,
Born of her blood, and make a new Platonic year.
O true Plantagenet! O race divine! 30
(For beauty still is fatal to the line)
Had Chaucer lived that angel-face to view,
Sure he had drawn his Emily from you;
Or had you lived to judge the doubtful right,
Your noble Palamon had been the knight;
And conquering Theseus from his side had sent
Your generous lord, to guide the Theban government.
Time shall accomplish that; and I shall see
A Palamon in him, in you an Emily.
Already have the Fates your path prepared, 40
And sure presage your future sway declared:
When westward, like the sun, you took your way,
And from benighted Britain bore the day,
Blue Triton gave the signal from the shore,
The ready Nereids heard, and swam before,
To smooth the seas; a soft Etesian gale
But just inspired, and gently swell'd the sail;
Portunus took his turn, whose ample hand
Heaved up his lighten'd keel, and sunk the sand,
And steer'd the sacred vessel safe to land. 50
The land, if not restrain'd, had met your way,
Projected out a neck, and jutted to the sea.
Hibernia, prostrate at your feet, adored
In you the pledge of her expected lord;
Due to her isle; a venerable name;
His father and his grandsire known to fame;
Awed by that house, accustom'd to command,
The sturdy kerns in due subjection stand;
Nor bear the reins in any foreign hand.
At your approach, they crowded to the port; 60
And scarcely landed, you create a court:
As Ormond's harbinger, to you they run;
For Venus is the promise of the sun.
The waste of civil wars, their towns destroy'd,
Pales unhonour'd, Ceres unemploy'd,
Were all forgot; and one triumphant day
Wiped all the tears of three campaigns away.
Blood, rapines, massacres, were cheaply bought,
So mighty recompence your beauty brought.
As when the dove returning bore the mark 70
Of earth restored to the long labouring ark,
The relics of mankind, secure of rest,
Oped every window to receive the guest,
And the fair bearer of the message bless'd;
So, when you came, with loud repeated cries,
The nation took an omen from your eyes,
And God advanced his rainbow in the skies,
To sign inviolable peace restored;
The saints, with solemn shouts, proclaim'd the new accord.
When at your second coming you appear, 80
(For I foretell that millenary year)
The sharpen'd share shall vex the soil no more,
But earth unbidden shall produce her store;
The land shall laugh, the circling ocean smile,
And Heaven's indulgence bless the holy isle.
Heaven from all ages has reserved for you
That happy clime, which venom never knew;
Or if it had been there, your eyes alone
Have power to chase all poison, but their own.
Now in this interval, which Fate has cast 90
Betwixt your future glories, and your past,
This pause of power, 'tis Ireland's hour to mourn;
While England celebrates your safe return,
By which you seem the seasons to command,
And bring our summers back to their forsaken land.
The vanquish'd isle our leisure must attend,
Till the fair blessing we vouchsafe to send;
Nor can we spare you long, though often we may lend.
The dove was twice employ'd abroad, before
The world was dried, and she return'd no more. 100
Nor dare we trust so soft a messenger,
New from her sickness, to that northern air:
Rest here a while, your lustre to restore,
That they may see you as you shone before;
For yet the eclipse not wholly past, you wade
Through some remains, and dimness of a shade.
A subject in his prince may claim a right,
Nor suffer him with strength impair'd to fight;
Till force returns, his ardour we restrain,
And curb his warlike wish to cross the main. 110
Now past the danger, let the learn'd begin
The inquiry where disease could enter in;
How those malignant atoms forced their way;
What in the faultless frame they found to make their prey,
Where every element was weigh'd so well,
That Heaven alone, who mix'd the mass, could tell
Which of the four ingredients could rebel;
And where, imprison'd in so sweet a cage,
A soul might well be pleased to pass an age.
And yet the fine materials made it weak: 120
Porcelain, by being pure, is apt to break:
Even to your breast the sickness durst aspire;
And, forced from that fair temple to retire,
Profanely set the holy place on fire.
In vain your lord, like young Vespasian, mourn'd
When the fierce flames the sanctuary burn'd:
And I prepared to pay in verses rude
A most detested act of gratitude:
Even this had been your elegy, which now
Is offer'd for your health, the table of my vow. 130
Your angel sure our Morley's mind inspired,
To find the remedy your ill required;
As once the Macedon, by Jove's decree,
Was taught to dream an herb for Ptolemy:
Or Heaven, which had such over-cost bestow'd,
As scarce it could afford to flesh and blood,
So liked the frame, he would not work anew,
To save the charges of another you.
Or by his middle science did he steer,
And saw some great contingent good appear, 140
Well worth a miracle to keep you here:
And for that end preserved the precious mould,
Which all the future Ormonds was to hold;
And meditated in his better mind
An heir from you, which may redeem the failing kind.
Blest be the Power which has at once restored
The hopes of lost succession to your lord!
Joy to the first and last of each degree--
Virtue to courts, and, what I long'd to see,
To you the Graces, and the Muse to me! 150
O daughter of the rose! whose cheeks unite
The differing titles of the red and white;
Who Heaven's alternate beauty well display,
The blush of morning, and the milky way;
Whose face is Paradise, but fenced from sin:
For God in either eye has placed a cherubin.
All is your lord's alone; even absent, he
Employs the care of chaste Penelope.
For him you waste in tears your widow'd hours,
For him your curious needle paints the flowers; 160
Such works of old imperial dames were taught;
Such, for Ascanius, fair Eliza wrought.
The soft recesses of your hours improve
The three fair pledges of your happy love:
All other parts of pious duty done,
You owe your Ormond nothing but a son;
To fill in future times his father's place,
And wear the garter of his mother's race.
* * * * *
[Footnote 71: 'Duchess of Ormond:' daughter of Duke of Bedford,
afterwards Lieutenant of Ireland, and who had recently visited it.]
* * * * *
PALAMON AND ARCITE:
OR, THE KNIGHT'S TALE.
In days of old, there lived, of mighty fame,
A valiant prince, and Theseus was his name:
A chief, who more in feats of arms excell'd,
The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
Of Athens he was lord; much land he won,
And added foreign countries to his crown.
In Scythia with the warrior queen he strove,
Whom first by force he conquer'd, then by love;
He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame,
With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came. 10
With honour to his home let Theseus ride,
With love to friend, and fortune for his guide,
And his victorious army at his side.
I pass their warlike pomp, their proud array,
Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the way.
But, were it not too long, I would recite
The feats of Amazons, the fatal fight
Betwixt the hardy queen and hero knight;
The town besieged, and how much blood it cost
The female army, and the Athenian host; 20
The spousals of Hippolita the queen;
What tilts and tourneys at the feast were seen;
The storm at their return, the ladies' fear:
But these, and other things, I must forbear.
The field is spacious I design to sow,
With oxen far unfit to draw the plough:
The remnant of my tale is of a length
To tire your patience, and to waste my strength;
And trivial accidents shall be forborne,
That others may have time to take their turn; 30
As was at first enjoin'd us by mine host:
That he whose tale is best, and pleases most,
Should win his supper at our common cost.
And therefore where I left, I will pursue
This ancient story, whether false or true,
In hope it may be mended with a new.
The prince I mention'd, full of high renown,
In this array drew near the Athenian town;
When in his pomp and utmost of his pride,
Marching he chanced to cast his eye aside, 40
And saw a choir of mourning dames, who lay
By two and two across the common way:
At his approach they raised a rueful cry,
And beat their breasts, and held their hands on high,
Creeping and crying, till they seized at last
His courser's bridle, and his feet embraced.
Tell me, said Theseus, what and whence you are,
And why this funeral pageant you prepare?
Is this the welcome of my worthy deeds,
To meet my triumph in ill-omen'd weeds? 50
Or envy you my praise, and would destroy
With grief my pleasures, and pollute my joy?
Or are you injured, and demand relief?
Name your request, and I will ease your grief.
The most in years of all the mourning train
Began; but swooned first away for pain,
Then scarce recover'd spoke: Nor envy we
Thy great renown, nor grudge thy victory;
'Tis thine, O king, the afflicted to redress,
And fame has fill'd the world with thy success: 60
We wretched women sue for that alone,
Which of thy goodness is refused to none;
Let fall some drops of pity on our grief,
If what we beg be just, and we deserve relief:
For none of us, who now thy grace implore,
But held the rank of sovereign queen before;
Till, thanks to giddy chance, which never bears,
That mortal bliss should last for length of years,
She cast us headlong from our high estate,
And here in hope of thy return we wait: 70
And long have waited in the temple nigh,
Built to the gracious goddess Clemency.
But reverence thou the Power whose name it bears,
Relieve the oppress'd, and wipe the widow's tears.
I, wretched I, have other fortune seen,
The wife of Capaneus, and once a queen:
At Thebes he fell; cursed be the fatal day!
And all the rest thou seest in this array,
To make their moan, their lords in battle lost
Before that town besieged by our confederate host: 80
But Creon, old and impious, who commands
The Theban city, and usurps the lands,
Denies the rites of funeral fires to those
Whose breathless bodies yet he calls his foes.
Unburn'd, unburied, on a heap they lie;
Such is their fate, and such his tyranny;
No friend has leave to bear away the dead,
But with their lifeless limbs his hounds are fed.
At this she shriek'd aloud; the mournful train
Echoed her grief, and grovelling on the plain, 90
With groans, and hands upheld, to move his mind,
Besought his pity to their helpless kind!
The prince was touch'd, his tears began to flow,
And, as his tender heart would break in two,
He sigh'd, and could not but their fate deplore,
So wretched now, so fortunate before.
Then lightly from his lofty steed he flew,
And, raising one by one the suppliant crew,
To comfort each full solemnly he swore,
That by the faith which knights to knighthood bore, 100
And whate'er else to chivalry belongs,
He would not cease, till he revenged their wrongs:
That Greece should see perform'd what he declared;
And cruel Creon find his just reward.
He said no more, but, shunning all delay,
Rode on; nor enter'd Athens on his way:
But left his sister and his queen behind,
And waved his royal banner in the wind:
Where in an argent field the god of war
Was drawn triumphant on his iron car; 110
Red was his sword, and shield, and whole attire,
And all the godhead seem'd to glow with fire;
Even the ground glitter'd where the standard flew,
And the green grass was dyed to sanguine hue.
High on his pointed lance his pennon bore
His Cretan fight, the conquer'd Minotaur:
The soldiers shout around with generous rage,
And in that victory their own presage.
He praised their ardour: inly pleased to see
His host the flower of Grecian chivalry, 120
All day he march'd, and all the ensuing night,
And saw the city with returning light.
The process of the war I need not tell,
How Theseus conquer'd, and how Creon fell:
Or after, how by storm the walls were won,
Or how the victor sack'd and burn'd the town:
How to the ladies he restored again
The bodies of their lords in battle slain:
And with what ancient rites they were interr'd;
All these to fitter times shall be deferr'd. 130
I spare the widows' tears, their woeful cries,
And howling at their husbands' obsequies;
How Theseus at these funerals did assist,
And with what gifts the mourning dames dismiss'd.
Thus when the victor chief had Creon slain,
And conquer'd Thebes, he pitch'd upon the plain
His mighty camp, and, when the day return'd,
The country wasted, and the hamlets burn'd,
And left the pillagers, to rapine bred,
Without control to strip and spoil the dead. 140
There, in a heap of slain, among the rest
Two youthful knights they found beneath a load oppress'd
Of slaughter'd foes, whom first to death they sent--
The trophies of their strength, a bloody monument.
Both fair, and both of royal blood they seem'd,
Whom kinsmen to the crown the heralds deem'd;
That day in equal arms they fought for fame;
Their swords, their shields, their surcoats were the same.
Close by each other laid, they press'd the ground,
Their manly bosoms pierced with many a grisly wound; 150
Nor well alive, nor wholly dead they were,
But some faint signs of feeble life appear:
The wandering breath was on the wing to part,
Weak was the pulse, and hardly heaved the heart.
These two were sisters' sons; and Arcite one
Much famed in fields, with valiant Palamon.
From these their costly arms the spoilers rent,
And softly both convey'd to Theseus' tent:
Whom, known of Creon's line, and cured with care,
He to his city sent as prisoners of the war, 160
Hopeless of ransom, and condemn'd to lie
In durance, doom'd a lingering death to die.
This done, he march'd away with warlike sound,
And to his Athens turn'd, with laurels crown'd,
Where happy long he lived, much loved, and more renown'd.
But in a tower, and never to be loosed,
The woful captive kinsmen are enclosed.
Thus year by year they pass, and day by day,
Till once, 'twas on the morn of cheerful May,
The young Emilia, fairer to be seen 170
Than the fair lily on the flowery green,
More fresh than May herself in blossoms new,
For with the rosy colour strove her hue,
Waked, as her custom was, before the day,
To do the observance due to sprightly May:
For sprightly May commands our youth to keep
The vigils of her night, and breaks their sluggard sleep;
Each gentle breast with kindly warmth she moves;
Inspires new flames, revives extinguish'd loves.
In this remembrance, Emily, ere day, 180
Arose, and dress'd herself in rich array;
Fresh as the month, and as the morning fair:
Adown her shoulders fell her length of hair:
A riband did the braided tresses bind,
The rest was loose and wanton'd in the wind.
Aurora had but newly chased the night,
And purpled o'er the sky with blushing light,
When to the garden walk she took her way,
To sport and trip along in cool of day,
And offer maiden vows in honour of the May. 190
At every turn, she made a little stand,
And thrust among the thorns her lily hand
To draw the rose, and every rose she drew
She shook the stalk, and brush'd away the dew:
Then party-colour'd flowers of white and red
She wove, to make a garland for her head:
This done, she sung and caroll'd out so clear,
That men and angels might rejoice to hear:
Even wondering Philomel forgot to sing;
And learn'd from her to welcome in the spring. 200
The tower, of which before was mention made,
Within whose keep the captive knights were laid,
Built of a large extent, and strong withal,
Was one partition of the palace wall;
The garden was enclosed within the square
Where young Emilia took the morning air.
It happen'd Palamon, the prisoner knight,
Restless for woe, arose before the light,
And with his jailer's leave desired to breathe
An air more wholesome than the damps beneath. 210
This granted, to the tower he took his way,
Cheer'd with the promise of a glorious day:
Then cast a languishing regard around,
And saw, with hateful eyes, the temples crown'd
With golden spires, and all the hostile ground.
He sigh'd, and turn'd his eyes, because he knew
'Twas but a larger jail he had in view:
Then look'd below, and from the castle's height
Beheld a nearer and more pleasing sight:
The garden, which before he had not seen, 220
In spring's new livery clad of white and green,
Fresh flowers in wide parterres, and shady walks between.
This view'd, but not enjoy'd, with arms across
He stood, reflecting on his country's loss;
Himself an object of the public scorn,
And often wish'd he never had been born.
At last, for so his destiny required,
With walking giddy, and with thinking tired,
He through a little window cast his sight,
Though thick of bars, that gave a scanty light: 230
But even that glimmering served him to descry
The inevitable charms of Emily.
Scarce had he seen, but seized with sudden smart,
Stung to the quick, he felt it at his heart;
Struck blind with overpowering light he stood,
Then started back amazed, and cried aloud.
Young Arcite heard; and up he ran with haste,
To help his friend, and in his arms embraced;
And ask'd him why he look'd so deadly wan,
And whence and how his change of cheer began? 240
Or who had done the offence? But if, said he,
Your grief alone is hard captivity;
For love of Heaven, with patience undergo
A cureless ill, since Fate will have it so:
So stood our horoscope in chains to lie,
And Saturn in the dungeon of the sky,
Or other baleful aspect, ruled our birth,
When all the friendly stars were under earth:
Whate'er betides, by Destiny 'tis done;
And better bear like men, than vainly seek to shun. 250
Nor of my bonds, said Palamon again,
Nor of unhappy planets I complain;
But when my mortal anguish caused my cry,
That moment I was hurt through either eye;
Pierced with a random shaft, I faint away,
And perish with insensible decay;
A glance of some new goddess gave the wound,
Whom, like Actaeon, unaware I found.
Look how she walks along yon shady space!
Not Juno moves with more majestic grace; 260
And all the Cyprian queen is in her face.
If thou art Venus (for thy charms confess
That face was form'd in heaven, nor art thou less
Disguised in habit, undisguised in shape),
Oh, help us captives from our chains to 'scape!
But if our doom be past in bonds to lie
For life, and in a loathsome dungeon die,
Then be thy wrath appeased with our disgrace,
And show compassion to the Theban race,
Oppress'd by tyrant power! While yet he spoke, 270
Arcite on Emily had fix'd his look;
The fatal dart a ready passage found,
And deep within his heart infix'd the wound:
So that if Palamon were wounded sore,
Arcite was hurt as much as he, or more:
Then from his inmost soul he sigh'd, and said,
The beauty I behold has struck me dead:
Unknowingly she strikes; and kills by chance;
Poison is in her eyes, and death in every glance.
Oh, I must ask; nor ask alone, but move 280
Her mind to mercy, or must die for love!
Thus Arcite: and thus Palamon replies,
(Eager his tone and ardent were his eyes):
Speak'st thou in earnest, or in jesting vein?
Jesting, said Arcite, suits but ill with pain.
It suits far worse (said Palamon again,
And bent his brows) with men who honour weigh,
Their faith to break, their friendship to betray;
But worst with thee, of noble lineage born,
My kinsman, and in arms my brother sworn. 290
Have we not plighted each our holy oath,
That one should be the common good of both;
One soul should both inspire, and neither prove
His fellow's hindrance in pursuit of love?
To this before the gods we gave our hands,
And nothing but our death can break the bands.
This binds thee, then, to further my design,
As I am bound by vow to further thine:
Nor canst, nor dar'st thou, traitor, on the plain
Appeach my honour, or thine own maintain, 300
Since thou art of my council, and the friend
Whose faith I trust, and on whose care depend:
And would'st thou court my lady's love, which I
Much rather than release would choose to die?
But thou, false Arcite, never shall obtain
Thy bad pretence; I told thee first my pain;
For first my love began ere thine was born:
Thou as my council, and my brother sworn,
Art bound to assist my eldership of right,
Or justly to be deem'd a perjured knight. 310
Thus Palamon: but Arcite with disdain
In haughty language thus replied again:
Forsworn thyself: the traitor's odious name
I first return, and then disprove thy claim.
If love be passion, and that passion nursed
With strong desires, I loved the lady first.
Canst thou pretend desire, whom zeal inflamed
To worship, and a power celestial named?
Thine was devotion to the blest above,
I saw the woman and desired her love; 320
First own'd my passion, and to thee commend
The important secret, as my chosen friend.
Suppose (which yet I grant not) thy desire
A moment elder than my rival fire;
Can chance of seeing first thy title prove?
And know'st thou not, no law is made for love?
Law is to things which to free choice relate;
Love is not in our choice, but in our fate;
Laws are but positive; love's power, we see,
Is Nature's sanction, and her first decree. 330
Each day we break the bond of human laws
For love, and vindicate the common cause.
Laws for defence of civil rights are placed,
Love throws the fences down, and makes a general waste;
Maids, widows, wives, without distinction fall;
The sweeping deluge, love, comes on, and covers all.
If, then, the laws of friendship I transgress,
I keep the greater, while I break the less;
And both are mad alike, since neither can possess.
Both hopeless to be ransom'd, never more 340
To see the sun, but as he passes o'er.
Like AEsop's hounds contending for the bone,
Each pleaded right, and would be lord alone:
The fruitless fight continued all the day;
A cur came by, and snatch'd the prize away.
As courtiers, therefore, jostle for a grant,
And when they break their friendship, plead their want;
So thou, if fortune will thy suit advance,
Love on, nor envy me my equal chance;
For I must love, and am resolved to try 350
My fate, or, failing in the adventure, die.
Great was their strife, which hourly was renew'd,
Till each with mortal hate his rival view'd;
Now friends no more, nor walking hand in hand;
But when they met, they made a surly stand;
And glared like angry lions as they pass'd,
And wish'd that every look might be their last.
It chanced at length, Pirithous came to attend
This worthy Theseus, his familiar friend:
Their love in early infancy began, 360
And rose as childhood ripen'd into man.
Companions of the war; and loved so well,
That when one died, as ancient stories tell,
His fellow to redeem him went to Hell.
But to pursue my tale; to welcome home
His warlike brother is Pirithous come:
Arcite of Thebes was known in arms long since,
And honour'd by this young Thessalian prince.
Theseus, to gratify his friend and guest,
Who made our Arcite's freedom his request, 370
Restored to liberty the captive knight,
But on these hard conditions I recite:
That if hereafter Arcite should be found
Within the compass of Athenian ground,
By day or night, or on whate'er pretence,
His head should pay the forfeit of the offence.
To this Pirithous for his friend agreed,
And on his promise was the prisoner freed.
Unpleased and pensive hence he takes his way,
At his own peril; for his life must pay. 380
Who now but Arcite mourns his bitter fate,
Finds his dear purchase, and repents too late?
What have I gain'd, he said, in prison pent,
If I but change my bonds for banishment?
And banish'd from her sight, I suffer more
In freedom than I felt in bonds before;
Forced from her presence, and condemn'd to live:
Unwelcome freedom, and unthank'd reprieve!
Heaven is not, but where Emily abides,
And where she's absent, all is hell besides. 390
Next to my day of birth, was that accursed,
Which bound my friendship to Pirithous first:
Had I not known that prince, I still had been
In bondage, and had still Emilia seen:
For though I never can her grace deserve,
'Tis recompence enough to see and serve.
O Palamon, my kinsman and my friend,
How much more happy fates thy love attend!
Thine is the adventure; thine the victory:
Well has thy fortune turn'd the dice for thee: 400
Thou on that angel's face may'st feed thine eyes,
In prison, no; but blissful paradise!
Thou daily seest that sun of beauty shine,
And lovest at least in love's extremest line.
I mourn in absence, love's eternal night;
And who can tell but since thou hast her sight,
And art a comely, young, and valiant knight,
Fortune (a various power) may cease to frown,
And by some ways unknown thy wishes crown?
But I, the most forlorn of human kind, 410
Nor help can hope, nor remedy can find;
But doom'd to drag my loathsome life in care,
For my reward, must end it in despair.
Fire, water, air, and earth, and force of fates,
That governs all, and Heaven that all creates,
Nor art, nor nature's hand can ease my grief;
Nothing but death, the wretch's last relief:
Then farewell youth, and all the joys that dwell,
With youth and life, and life itself farewell!
But why, alas! do mortal men in vain 420
Of fortune, fate, or Providence complain?
God gives us what he knows our wants require,
And better things than those which we desire:
Some pray for riches; riches they obtain;
But, watch'd by robbers, for their wealth are slain:
Some pray from prison to be freed; and come,
When guilty of their vows, to fall at home;
Murder'd by those they trusted with their life,
A favour'd servant, or a bosom wife.
Such dear-bought blessings happen every day, 430
Because we know not for what things to pray.
Like drunken sots about the street we roam;
Well knows the sot he has a certain home;
Yet knows not how to find the uncertain place,
And blunders on, and staggers every pace.
Thus all seek happiness; but few can find.
For far the greater part of men are blind.
This is my case, who thought our utmost good
Was in one word of freedom understood:
The fatal blessing came: from prison free, 440
I starve abroad, and lose the sight of Emily.
Thus Arcite; but if Arcite thus deplore
His sufferings, Palamon yet suffers more.
For when he knew his rival freed and gone,
He swells with wrath; he makes outrageous moan:
He frets, he fumes, he stares, he stamps the ground;
The hollow tower with clamours rings around:
With briny tears he bathed his fetter'd feet,
And dropp'd all o'er with agony of sweat.
Alas! he cried, I wretch in prison pine, 450
Too happy rival, while the fruit is thine:
Thou livest at large, thou draw'st thy native air,
Pleased with thy freedom, proud of my despair:
Thou may'st, since thou hast youth and courage join'd,
A sweet behaviour and a solid mind,
Assemble ours, and all the Theban race,
To vindicate on Athens thy disgrace;
And after, by some treaty made, possess
Fair Emily, the pledge of lasting peace.
So thine shall be the beauteous prize, while I 460
Must languish in despair, in prison die.
Thus all the advantage of the strife is thine,
Thy portion double joys, and double sorrows mine.
The rage of jealousy then fired his soul,
And his face kindled like a burning coal:
Now cold despair, succeeding in her stead,
To livid paleness turns the glowing red.
His blood, scarce liquid, creeps within his veins,
Like water which the freezing wind constrains.
Then thus he said: Eternal Deities, 470
Who rule the world with absolute decrees,
And write whatever time shall bring to pass,
With pens of adamant on plates of brass;
What! is the race of human kind your care,
Beyond what all his fellow-creatures are?
He with the rest is liable to pain,
And like the sheep, his brother-beast, is slain;
Cold, hunger, prisons, ills without a cure,
All these he must, and guiltless, oft endure.
Or does your justice, power, or prescience fail, 480
When the good suffer, and the bad prevail?
What worse to wretched virtue could befall,
If fate or giddy fortune govern'd all?
Nay, worse than other beasts is our estate;
Them, to pursue their pleasures, you create;
We, bound by harder laws, must curb our will,
And your commands, not our desires, fulfil;
Then when the creature is unjustly slain,
Yet after death, at least, he feels no pain;
But man, in life surcharged with woe before, 490
Not freed when dead, is doom'd to suffer more.
A serpent shoots his sting at unaware;
An ambush'd thief forelays a traveller:
The man lies murder'd, while the thief and snake,
One gains the thickets, and one threads the brake.
This let divines decide; but well I know,
Just, or unjust, I have my share of woe,
Through Saturn seated in a luckless place,
And Juno's wrath, that persecutes my race;
Or Mars and Venus, in a quartile, move 500
My pangs of jealousy for Arcite's love.
Let Palamon oppress'd in bondage mourn,
While to his exiled rival we return.
By this, the sun, declining from his height,
The day had shorten'd to prolong the night;
The lengthen'd night gave length of misery
Both to the captive lover and the free.
For Palamon in endless prison mourns,
And Arcite forfeits life if he returns:
The banish'd never hopes his love to see, 510
Nor hopes the captive lord his liberty.
'Tis hard to say who suffers greater pains:
One sees his love, but cannot break his chains:
One free, and all his motions uncontroll'd,
Beholds whate'er he would, but what he would behold.
Judge as you please, for I will haste to tell
What fortune to the banish'd knight befell.
When Arcite was to Thebes return'd again,
The loss of her he loved renew'd his pain;
What could be worse, than never more to see 520
His life, his soul, his charming Emily?
He raved with all the madness of despair,
He roar'd, he beat his breast, he tore his hair.
Dry sorrow in his stupid eyes appears,
For, wanting nourishment, he wanted tears:
His eye-balls in their hollow sockets sink,
Bereft of sleep, he loathes his meat and drink.
He withers at his heart, and looks as wan
As the pale spectre of a murder'd man:
That pale turns yellow, and his face receives 530
The faded hue of sapless boxen leaves:
In solitary groves he makes his moan,
Walks early out, and ever is alone:
Nor, mix'd in mirth, in youthful pleasures shares,
But sighs when songs and instruments he hears.
His spirits are so low, his voice is drown'd,
He hears as from afar, or in a swound,
Like the deaf murmurs of a distant sound:
Uncomb'd his locks and squalid his attire,
Unlike the trim of love and gay desire; 540
But full of museful mopings, which presage
The loss of reason, and conclude in rage.
This when he had endured a year and more,
Now wholly changed from what he was before,
It happen'd once, that, slumbering as he lay,
He dream'd (his dream began at break of day)
That Hermes o'er his head in air appear'd,
And with soft words his drooping spirits cheer'd:
His hat, adorn'd with wings, disclosed the god,
And in his hand he bore the sleep-compelling rod: 550
Such as he seem'd, when, at his sire's command,
On Argus' head he laid the snaky wand.
Arise, he said, to conquering Athens go,
There fate appoints an end to all thy woe.
The fright awaken'd Arcite with a start,
Against his bosom bounced his heaving heart;
But soon he said, with scarce-recover'd breath,
And thither will I go, to meet my death.
Sure to be slain; but death is my desire,
Since in Emilia's sight I shall expire. 560
By chance he spied a mirror while he spoke,
And gazing there, beheld his alter'd look;
Wondering, he saw his features and his hue
So much were changed, that scarce himself he knew.
A sudden thought then starting in his mind,
Since I in Arcite cannot Arcite find,
The world may search in vain with all their eyes,
But never penetrate through this disguise.
Thanks to the change which grief and sickness give,
In low estate I may securely live, 570
And see unknown my mistress day by day.
He said; and clothed himself in coarse array:
A labouring hind in show; then forth he went,
And to the Athenian towers his journey bent:
One squire attended in the same disguise,
Made conscious of his master's enterprise.
Arrived at Athens, soon he came to court,
Unknown, unquestion'd in that thick resort:
Proffering for hire his service at the gate,
To drudge, draw water, and to run or wait. 580
So fair befell him, that for little gain
He served at first Emilia's chamberlain;
And, watchful all advantages to spy,
Was still at hand, and in his master's eye;
And as his bones were big, and sinews strong,
Refused no toil that could to slaves belong;
But from deep wells with engines water drew,
And used his noble hands the wood to hew.
He pass'd a year at least attending thus
On Emily, and call'd Philostratus. 590
But never was there man of his degree
So much esteem'd, so well beloved as he.
So gentle of condition was he known,
That through the court his courtesy was blown:
All think him worthy of a greater place,
And recommend him to the royal grace;
That, exercised within a higher sphere,
His virtues more conspicuous might appear.
Thus by the general voice was Arcite praised,
And by great Theseus to high favour raised; 600
Among his menial servants first enroll'd,
And largely entertain'd with sums of gold:
Besides what secretly from Thebes was sent,
Of his own income, and his annual rent:
This well employ'd, he purchased friends and fame,
But cautiously conceal'd from whence it came.
Thus for three years he lived with large increase,
In arms of honour, and esteem in peace;
To Theseus' person he was ever near;
And Theseus for his virtues held him dear. 610
While Arcite lives in bliss, the story turns
Where hopeless Palamon in prison mourns.
For six long years immured, the captive knight
Had dragg'd his chains, and scarcely seen the light:
Lost liberty and love at once he bore:
His prison pain'd him much, his passion more:
Nor dares he hope his fetters to remove,
Nor ever wishes to be free from love.
But when the sixth revolving year was run,
And May within the Twins received the sun, 10
Were it by chance, or forceful destiny,
Which forms in causes first whate'er shall be,
Assisted by a friend, one moonless night,
This Palamon from prison took his flight:
A pleasant beverage he prepared before
Of wine and honey, mix'd with added store
Of opium; to his keeper this he brought,
Who swallow'd unaware the sleepy draught,
And snored secure till morn, his senses bound
In slumber, and in long oblivion drown'd. 20
Short was the night, and careful Palamon
Sought the next covert e'er the rising sun.
A thick-spread forest near the city lay,
To this with lengthen'd strides he took his way,
(For far he could not fly, and fear'd the day).
Safe from pursuit, he meant to shun the light,
Till the brown shadows of the friendly night
To Thebes might favour his intended flight.
When to his country come, his next design
Was all the Theban race in arms to join, 30
And war on Theseus, till he lost his life,
Or won the beauteous Emily to wife.
Thus while his thoughts the lingering day beguile,
To gentle Arcite let us turn our style;
Who little dreamt how nigh he was to care,
Till treacherous fortune caught him in the snare.
The morning lark, the messenger of day,
Saluted in her song the morning gray;
And soon the sun arose with beams so bright,
That all the horizon laugh'd to see the joyous sight: 40
He with his tepid rays the rose renews,
And licks the drooping leaves, and dries the dews;
When Arcite left his bed, resolved to pay
Observance to the month of merry May:
Forth on his fiery steed betimes he rode,
That scarcely prints the turf on which he trode:
At ease he seem'd, and, prancing o'er the plains,
Turn'd only to the grove his horse's reins,
The grove I named before; and, lighted there,
A woodbine garland sought to crown his hair; 50
Then turn'd his face against the rising day,
And raised his voice to welcome in the May.
For thee, sweet month! the groves green liveries wear,
If not the first, the fairest of the year:
For thee the Graces lead the dancing hours,
And Nature's ready pencil paints the flowers:
When thy short reign is past, the feverish sun
The sultry tropic fears, and moves more slowly on.
So may thy tender blossoms fear no blight,
Nor goats with venom'd teeth thy tendrils bite, 60
As thou shalt guide my wandering feet to find
The fragrant greens I seek, my brows to bind.
His vows address'd, within the grove he stray'd,
Till Fate, or Fortune, near the place convey'd
His steps where, secret, Palamon was laid.
Full little thought of him the gentle knight,
Who, flying death, had there conceal'd his flight,
In brakes and brambles hid, and shunning mortal sight:
And less he knew him for his hated foe,
But fear'd him as a man he did not know. 70
But as it has been said of ancient years,
That fields are full of eyes, and woods have ears;
For this the wise are ever on their guard,
For, unforeseen, they say, is unprepared.
Uncautious Arcite thought himself alone,
And less than all suspected Palamon,
Who, listening, heard him, while he search'd the grove,
And loudly sung his roundelay of love:
But on the sudden stopp'd, and silent stood,
As lovers often muse, and change their mood; 80
Now high as heaven, and then as low as hell;
Now up, now down, as buckets in a well:
For Venus, like her day, will change her cheer,
And seldom shall we see a Friday clear.
Thus Arcite having sung, with alter'd hue
Sunk on the ground, and from his bosom drew
A desperate sigh, accusing Heaven and Fate,
And angry Juno's unrelenting hate.
Cursed be the day when first I did appear;
Let it be blotted from the calendar, 90
Lest it pollute the month, and poison all the year!
Still will the jealous queen pursue our race?
Cadmus is dead, the Theban city was:
Yet ceases not her hate: for all who come
From Cadmus are involved in Cadmus' doom.
I suffer for my blood: unjust decree!
That punishes another's crime on me.
In mean estate I serve my mortal foe,
The man who caused my country's overthrow.
This is not all; for Juno, to my shame, 100
Has forced me to forsake my former name;
Arcite I was, Philostratus I am.
That side of heaven is all my enemy:
Mars ruin'd Thebes: his mother ruin'd me.
Of all the royal race remains but one
Besides myself, the unhappy Palamon,
Whom Theseus holds in bonds, and will not free;
Without a crime, except his kin to me.
Yet these, and all the rest, I could endure;
But love's a malady without a cure: 110
Fierce love has pierced me with his fiery dart;
He fires within, and hisses at my heart.
Your eyes, fair Emily, my fate pursue;
I suffer for the rest, I die for you!
Of such a goddess no time leaves record,
Who burn'd the temple where she was adored:
And let it burn, I never will complain,
Pleased with my sufferings, if you knew my pain.
At this a sickly qualm his heart assail'd,
His ears ring inward, and his senses fail'd. 120
No word miss'd Palamon of all he spoke,
But soon to deadly pale he changed his look:
He trembled every limb, and felt a smart,
As if cold steel had glided through his heart;
No longer staid, but starting from his place,
Discover'd stood, and show'd his hostile face:
False traitor, Arcite! traitor to thy blood!
Bound by thy sacred oath to seek my good,
Now art thou found forsworn, for Emily;
And darest attempt her love, for whom I die. 130
So hast thou cheated Theseus with a wile,
Against thy vow, returning to beguile
Under a borrow'd name: as false to me,
So false thou art to him who set thee free.
But rest assured, that either thou shalt die,
Or else renounce thy claim in Emily:
For though unarm'd I am, and (freed by chance)
Am here without my sword, or pointed lance,
Hope not, base man, unquestioned hence to go,
For I am Palamon, thy mortal foe. 140
Arcite, who heard his tale, and knew the man,
His sword unsheath'd, and fiercely thus began:
Now by the gods who govern heaven above,
Wert thou not weak with hunger, mad with love,
That word had been thy last, or in this grove
This hand should force thee to renounce thy love.
The surety which I gave thee, I defy:
Fool, not to know that love endures no tie,
And Jove but laughs at lovers' perjury.
Know I will serve the fair in thy despite; 150
But since thou art my kinsman, and a knight,
Here, have my faith, to-morrow in this grove
Our arms shall plead the titles of our love:
And Heaven so help my right, as I alone
Will come, and keep the cause and quarrel both unknown;
With arms of proof both for myself and thee;
Choose thou the best, and leave the worst to me.
And, that at better ease thou may'st abide,
Bedding and clothes I will this night provide,
And needful sustenance, that thou may'st be 160
A conquest better won, and worthy me.
His promise Palamon accepts; but pray'd
To keep it better than the first he made.
Thus fair they parted till the morrow's dawn,
For each had laid his plighted faith to pawn.
Oh, Love! thou sternly dost thy power maintain,
And wilt not bear a rival in thy reign;
Tyrants and thou all fellowship disdain!
This was in Arcite proved, and Palamon,
Both in despair, yet each would love alone. 170
Arcite return'd, and, as in honour tied,
His foe with bedding, and with food supplied;
Then, ere the day, two suits of armour sought,
Which, borne before him on his steed, he brought:
Both were of shining steel, and wrought so pure,
As might the strokes of two such arms endure.
Now, at the time, and in the appointed place,
The challenger and challenged, face to face,
Approach; each other from afar they knew,
And from afar their hatred changed their hue. 180
So stands the Thracian herdsman with his spear,
Pull in the gap, and hopes the hunted bear,
And hears him rustling in the wood, and sees
His course at distance by the bending trees;
And thinks, Here comes my mortal enemy,
And either he must fall in fight, or I:
This while he thinks, he lifts aloft his dart;
A generous chilness seizes every part:
The veins pour back the blood, and fortify the heart.
Thus pale they meet; their eyes with fury burn; 190
None greets; for none the greeting will return:
But in dumb surliness, each arm'd with care
His foe profess'd, as brother of the war:
Then both, no moment lost, at once advance
Against each other, arm'd with sword and lance:
They lash, they foin, they pass, they strive to bore
Their corslets and the thinnest parts explore.
Thus two long hours in equal arms they stood,
And wounded, wound, till both were bathed in blood;
And not a foot of ground had either got, 200
As if the world depended on the spot.
Fell Arcite like an angry tiger fared,
And like a lion Palamon appear'd:
Or, as two boars, whom love to battle draws,
With rising bristles, and with frothy jaws,
Their adverse breasts with tusks oblique they wound;
With grunts and groans the forest rings around.
So fought the knights, and fighting must abide,
Till fate an umpire sends their difference to decide.
The power that ministers to God's decrees, 210
And executes on earth what Heaven foresees,
Call'd providence, or chance, or fatal sway,
Comes with resistless force, and finds or makes her way.
Nor kings, nor nations, nor united power,
One moment can retard the appointed hour;
And some one day, some wondrous chance appears,
Which happen'd not in centuries of years:
For sure, whate'er we mortals hate, or love,
Or hope, or fear, depends on Powers above;
They move our appetites to good or ill, 220
And by foresight necessitate the will.
In Theseus this appears; whose youthful joy
Was beasts of chase in forests to destroy:
This gentle knight, inspired by jolly May,
Forsook his easy couch at early day,
And to the wood and wilds pursued his way.
Beside him rode Hippolita the queen,
And Emily attired in lively green,
With horns, and hounds, and all the tuneful cry,
To hunt a royal hart within the covert nigh: 230
And as he follow'd Mars before, so now
He serves the goddess of the silver bow.
The way that Theseus took was to the wood
Where the two knights in cruel battle stood:
The lawn on which they fought, the appointed place
In which the uncoupled hounds began the chase.
Thither forth-right he rode to rouse the prey,
That, shaded by the fern, in harbour lay;
And thence dislodged, was wont to leave the wood
For open fields, and cross the crystal flood. 240
Approach'd, and looking underneath the sun,
He saw proud Arcite, and fierce Palamon,
In mortal battle doubling blow on blow,
Like lightning flamed their falchions to and fro,
And shot a dreadful gleam; so strong they strook,
There seem'd less force required to fell an oak:
He gazed with wonder on their equal might,
Look'd eager on, but knew not either knight:
Resolved to learn, he spurr'd his fiery steed
With goring rowels to provoke his speed. 250
The minute ended that began the race,
So soon he was betwixt them on the place;
And, with his sword unsheath'd, on pain of life
Commands both combatants to cease their strife:
Then with imperious tone pursues his threat:
What are you? why in arms together met?
How dares your pride presume against my laws,
As in a listed field to fight your cause?
Unask'd the royal grant; no marshal by,
As knightly rites require; nor judge to try? 260
Then Palamon, with scarce recover'd breath,
Thus hasty spoke: We both deserve the death,
And both would die; for look the world around,
A pair so wretched is not to be found;
Our life's a load; encumber'd with the charge,
We long to set the imprison'd soul at large.
Now, as thou art a sovereign judge, decree
The rightful doom of death to him and me;
Let neither find thy grace, for grace is cruelty.
Me first, oh, kill me first, and cure my woe; 270
Then sheath the sword of justice on my foe:
Or kill him first; for when his name is heard,
He foremost will receive his due reward.
Arcite of Thebes is he; thy mortal foe:
On whom thy grace did liberty bestow,
But first contracted, that if ever found
By day or night upon the Athenian ground,
His head should pay the forfeit; see return'd
The perjured knight, his oath and honour scorn'd.
For this is he, who, with a borrow'd name 280
And proffer'd service, to thy palace came,
Now call'd Philostratus: retain'd by thee,
A traitor trusted, and in high degree,
Aspiring to the bed of beauteous Emily.
My part remains; from Thebes my birth I own,
And call myself the unhappy Palamon.
Think me not like that man; since no disgrace
Can force me to renounce the honour of my race.
Know me for what I am: I broke my chain,
Nor promised I thy prisoner to remain: 290
The love of liberty with life is given,
And life itself the inferior gift of Heaven.
Thus without crime I fled; but further know,
I, with this Arcite, am thy mortal foe:
Then give me death, since I thy life pursue;
For safeguard of thyself, death is my due.
More would'st thou know? I love bright Emily,
And, for her sake, and in her sight will die:
But kill my rival too; for he no less
Deserves; and I thy righteous doom will bless, 300
Assured that what I lose, he never shall possess.
To this replied the stern Athenian prince,
And sourly smiled: In owning your offence
You judge yourself; and I but keep record
In place of law, while you pronounce the word.
Take your desert, the death you have decreed;
I seal your doom, and ratify the deed:
By Mars, the patron of my arms, you die!
He said; dumb sorrow seized the standers-by.
The queen above the rest, by nature good, 310
(The pattern form'd of perfect womanhood)
For tender pity wept: when she began,
Through the bright quire the infectious virtue ran.
All dropt their tears, even the contended maid;
And thus among themselves they softly said:
What eyes can suffer this unworthy sight!
Two youths of royal blood, renown'd in fight,
The mastership of Heaven in face and mind,
And lovers, far beyond their faithless kind:
See their wide streaming wounds; they neither came 300
For pride of empire, nor desire of fame:
Kings fight for kingdoms, madmen for applause;
But love for love alone; that crowns the lover's cause.
This thought, which ever bribes the beauteous kind,
Such pity wrought in every lady's mind,
They left their steeds, and, prostrate on the place,
From the fierce king implored the offenders' grace.
He paused a while, stood silent in his mood
(For yet his rage was boiling in his blood);
But soon his tender mind the impression felt, 330
(As softest metals are not slow to melt,
And pity soonest runs in softest minds):
Then reasons with himself; and first he finds
His passion cast a mist before his sense,
And either made, or magnified the offence.
Offence! of what? to whom? who judged the cause?
The prisoner freed himself by nature's laws:
Born free, he sought his right: the man he freed
Was perjured, but his love excused the deed.
Thus pondering, he look'd under with his eyes, 340
And saw the women's tears, and heard their cries;
Which moved compassion more; he shook his head,
And, softly sighing, to himself he said:
Curse on the unpardoning prince, whom tears can draw
To no remorse; who rules by lions' law;
And deaf to prayers, by no submission bow'd,
Rends all alike; the penitent, and proud!
At this, with look serene, he raised his head;
Reason resumed her place, and passion fled:
Then thus aloud he spoke: The power of love, 350
In earth, and seas, and air, and heaven above,
Rules, unresisted, with an awful nod;
By daily miracles declared a god:
He blinds the wise, gives eyesight to the blind;
And moulds and stamps anew the lover's mind.
Behold that Arcite, and this Palamon,
Freed from my fetters, and in safety gone,
What hinder'd either in their native soil
At ease to reap the harvest of their toil?
But Love, their lord, did otherwise ordain, 360
And brought them in their own despite again,
To suffer death deserved; for well they know,
'Tis in my power, and I their deadly foe.
The proverb holds, that to be wise and love,
Is hardly granted to the gods above.
See how the madmen bleed! behold the gains
With which their master, Love, rewards their pains!
For seven long years, on duty every day,
Lo, their obedience, and their monarch's pay:
Yet, as in duty bound, they serve him on; 370
And, ask the fools, they think it wisely done;
Nor ease, nor wealth, nor life itself regard,
For 'tis their maxim, Love is love's reward.
This is not all; the fair, for whom they strove,
Nor knew before, nor could suspect their love;
Nor thought, when she beheld the sight from far,
Her beauty was the occasion of the war.
But sure a general doom on man is past,
And all are fools and lovers, first or last:
This both by others and myself I know, 380
For I have served their sovereign long ago;
Oft have been caught within the winding train
Of female snares, and felt the lover's pain,
And learn'd how far the god can human hearts constrain.
To this remembrance, and the prayers of those
Who for the offending warriors interpose,
I give their forfeit lives; on this accord,
To do me homage as their sovereign lord;
And, as my vassals, to their utmost might,
Assist my person, and assert my right. 390
This freely sworn, the knights their grace obtain'd;
Then thus the king his secret thoughts explain'd:
If wealth, or honour, or a royal race,
Or each, or all, may win a lady's grace,
Then either of you knights may well deserve
A princess born; and such is she you serve:
For Emily is sister to the crown,
And but too well to both her beauty known:
But should you combat till you both were dead,
Two lovers cannot share a single bed: 400
As, therefore, both are equal in degree,
The lot of both be left to destiny.
Now hear the award, and happy may it prove
To her, and him who best deserves her love.
Depart from hence in peace, and, free as air,
Search the wide world, and where you please repair;
But on the day when this returning sun
To the same point through every sign has run,
Then each of you his hundred knights shall bring,
In royal lists, to fight before the king; 410
And then the knight, whom fate or happy chance
Shall with his friends to victory advance,
And grace his arms so far in equal fight,
From out the bars to force his opposite,
Or kill, or make him recreant on the plain,
The prize of valour and of love shall gain;
The vanquish'd party shall their claim release,
And the long jars conclude in lasting peace.
The charge be mine to adorn the chosen ground,
The theatre of war, for champions so renown'd; 420
And take the patron's place of either knight,
With eyes impartial to behold the fight;
And Heaven of me so judge as I shall judge aright.
If both are satisfied with this accord,
Swear by the laws of knighthood on my sword.
Who now but Palamon exults with joy?
And ravish'd Arcite seems to touch the sky:
The whole assembled troop was pleased as well,
Extol the award, and on their knees they fell
To bless the gracious king. The knights, with leave, 430
Departing from the place, his last commands receive;
On Emily with equal ardour look,
And from her eyes their inspiration took.
From thence to Thebes' old walls pursue their way,
Each to provide his champions for the day.
It might be deem'd, on our historian's part,
Or too much negligence, or want of art,
If he forgot the vast magnificence
Of royal Theseus, and his large expense,
He first enclosed for lists a level ground, 440
The whole circumference a mile around;
The form was circular; and all without
A trench was sunk, to moat the place about.
Within an amphitheatre appear'd,
Raised in degrees; to sixty paces rear'd:
That when a man was placed in one degree,
Height was allow'd for him above to see.
Eastward was built a gate of marble white;
The like adorn'd the western opposite.
A nobler object than this fabric was, 450
Rome never saw; nor of so vast a space.
For rich with spoils of many a conquer'd land,
All arts and artists Theseus could command;
Who sold for hire, or wrought for better fame;
The master-painters, and the carvers came.
So rose within the compass of the year
An age's work, a glorious theatre.
Then o'er its eastern gate was raised above
A temple, sacred to the Queen of Love;
An altar stood below: on either hand 460