Part 7 out of 7
For Heaven's unfathom'd power what man can sound,
Or put to his Omnipotence a bound?
He made us to his image, all agree;
That image is the soul, and that must be,
Or not, the Maker's image, or be free.
But whether it were better man had been
By nature bound to good, not free to sin, 550
I waive, for fear of splitting on a rock,
The tale I tell is only of a cock;
Who had not run the hazard of his life,
Had he believed his dream, and not his wife:
For women, with a mischief to their kind,
Pervert with bad advice our better mind.
A woman's counsel brought us first to woe,
And made her man his paradise forego,
Where at heart's ease he lived; and might have been
As free from sorrow as he was from sin. 560
For what the devil had their sex to do,
That, born to folly, they presumed to know,
And could not see the serpent in the grass?
But I myself presume, and let it pass.
Silence in times of suffering is the best,
'Tis dangerous to disturb an hornet's nest.
In other authors you may find enough,
But all they say of dames is idle stuff: 568
Legends of lying wits together bound,
The Wife of Bath would throw them to the ground;
These are the words of Chanticleer, not mine;
I honour dames, and think their sex divine.
Now to continue what my tale begun:
Lay Madam Partlet basking in the sun,
Breast-high in sand: her sisters in a row
Enjoy'd the beams above, the warmth below;
The cock, that of his flesh was ever free,
Sung merrier than the mermaid in the sea:
And so befell, that as he cast his eye
Among the coleworts on a butterfly, 580
He saw false Reynard where he lay full low:
I need not swear he had no list to crow:
But cried _cock, cock_, and gave a sudden start,
As sore dismay'd, and frighted at his heart:
For birds and beasts, inform'd by nature, know
Kinds opposite to theirs, and fly their foe;
So Chanticleer, who never saw a fox,
Yet shunn'd him as a sailor shuns the rocks.
But the false loon, who could not work his will
But open force, employ'd his flattering skill; 590
I hope, my lord, said he, I not offend;
Are you afraid of me, that am your friend?
I were a beast indeed to do you wrong,
I, who have loved and honour'd you so long:
Stay, gentle sir, nor take a false alarm,
For, on my soul, I never meant you harm.
I come no spy, nor as a traitor press,
To learn the secrets of your soft recess:
Far be from Reynard so profane a thought,
But by the sweetness of your voice was brought: 600
For, as I bid my beads, by chance I heard
The song as of an angel in the yard;
A song that would have charm'd the infernal gods,
And banish'd horror from the dark abodes:
Had Orpheus sung it in the nether sphere,
So much the hymn had pleased the tyrant's ear,
The wife had been detain'd, to keep the husband there.
My lord, your sire familiarly I knew,
A peer deserving such a son as you:
He, with your lady-mother (whom Heaven rest!) 610
Has often graced my house, and been my guest;
To view his living features does me good,
For I am your poor neighbour in the wood;
And in my cottage should be proud to see
The worthy heir of my friend's family.
But since I speak of singing, let me say,
As with an upright heart I safely may,
That, save yourself, there breathes not on the ground
One like your father for a silver sound.
So sweetly would he wake the winter day, 620
That matrons to the church mistook their way,
And thought they heard the merry organ play.
And he, to raise his voice, with artful care,
(What will not beaux attempt to please the fair?)
On tiptoe stood to sing with greater strength,
And stretch'd his comely neck at all the length:
And while he strain'd his voice to pierce the skies,
As saints in raptures use, would shut his eyes,
That the sound striving through the narrow throat,
His winking might avail to mend the note, 630
By this, in song, he never had his peer,
From sweet Cecilia down to Chanticleer;
Nor Maro's muse, who sung the mighty Man,
Nor Pindar's heavenly lyre, nor Horace when a swan.
Your ancestors proceed from race divine:
From Brennus and Belinus is your line;
Who gave to sovereign Rome such loud alarms,
That even the priests were not excused from arms.
Besides, a famous monk of modern times
Has left of cocks recorded in his rhymes, 640
That of a parish priest the son and heir
(When sons of priests were from the proverb clear),
Affronted once a cock of noble kind,
And either lamed his legs, or struck him blind;
For which the clerk his father was disgraced,
And in his benefice another placed.
Now sing, my lord, if not for love of me,
Yet for the sake of sweet Saint Charity;
Make hills and dales, and earth and heaven rejoice,
And emulate your father's angel-voice. 650
The cock was pleased to hear him speak so fair,
And proud beside, as solar people are;
Nor could the treason from the truth descry,
So was he ravish'd with this flattery;
So much the more, as from a little elf
He had a high opinion of himself;
Though sickly, slender, and not large of limb,
Concluding all the world was made for him.
Ye princes, raised by poets to the gods,
And Alexander'd up in lying odes! 660
Believe not every flattering knave's report,
There's many a Reynard lurking in the court;
And he shall be received with more regard,
And listen'd to, than modest truth is heard.
This Chanticleer, of whom the story sings,
Stood high upon his toes, and clapp'd his wings;
Then stretch'd his neck, and wink d with both his eyes,
Ambitious as he sought the Olympic prize.
But while he pain'd himself to raise his note,
False Renyard rush'd and caught him by the throat. 670
Then on his back he laid the precious load,
And sought his wonted shelter of the wood;
Swiftly he made his way the mischief done,
Of all unheeded, and pursued by none.
Alas, what stay is there in human state!
Or who can shun inevitable fate?
The doom was written, the decree was pass'd,
Ere the foundations of the world were cast!
In Aries though the sun exalted stood,
His patron-planet, to procure his good; 680
Yet Saturn was his mortal foe, and he,
In Libra raised, opposed the same degree:
The rays both good and bad, of equal power,
Each thwarting other, made a mingled hour.
On Friday morn he dreamt this direful dream,
Cross to the worthy native, in his scheme!
Ah, blissful Venus, Goddess of delight!
How couldst thou suffer thy devoted knight
On thy own day to fall by foe oppress'd,
The wight of all the world who served thee best? 690
Who, true to love, was all for recreation,
And minded not the work of propagation.
Ganfride, who couldst so well in rhyme complain
The death of Richard with an arrow slain,
Why had not I thy muse, or thou my heart,
To sing this heavy dirge with equal art?
That I, like thee, on Friday might complain;
For on that day was Coeur de Lion slain.
Not louder cries, when Ilium was in flames,
Were sent to Heaven by woful Trojan dames, 700
When Pyrrhus toss'd on high his burnish'd blade,
And offer'd Priam to his father's shade,
Than for the cock the widow'd poultry made.
Fair Partlet first, when he was borne from sight,
With sovereign shrieks bewail'd her captive knight:
Far louder than the Carthaginian wife,
When Asdrubal, her husband, lost his life;
When she beheld the smouldering flames ascend,
And all the Punic glories at an end:
Willing into the fires she plunged her head, 710
With greater ease than others seek their bed.
Not more aghast the matrons of renown,
When tyrant Nero burn'd the imperial town,
Shriek'd for the downfall in a doleful cry,
For which their guiltless lords were doom'd to die.
Now to my story I return again:
The trembling widow, and her daughters twain,
This woful cackling cry with horror heard,
Of those distracted damsels in the yard;
And starting up beheld the heavy sight, 720
How Reynard to the forest took his flight,
And 'cross his back, as in triumphant scorn,
The hope and pillar of the house was borne.
The fox! the wicked fox! was all the cry;
Out from his house ran every neighbour nigh:
The vicar first, and after him the crew,
With forks and staves the felon to pursue.
Ran Coll our dog, and Talbot with the band,
And Malkin, with her distaff in her hand:
Ran cow and calf, and family of hogs, 730
In panic horror of pursuing dogs;
With many a deadly grunt and doleful squeak,
Poor swine, as if their pretty hearts would break.
The shouts of men, the women in dismay,
With shrieks augment the terror of the day.
The ducks that heard the proclamation cried,
And fear'd a persecution might betide,
Full twenty miles from town their voyage take,
Obscure in rushes of the liquid lake.
The geese fly o'er the barn; the bees in arms 740
Drive headlong from their waxen cells in swarms.
Jack Straw at London-stone, with all his rout,
Struck not the city with so loud a shout;
Not when, with English hate, they did pursue
A Frenchman, or an unbelieving Jew:
Not when the welkin rung with 'one and all;'
And echoes bounded back from Fox's hall:
Earth seem'd to sink beneath, and heaven above to fall.
With might and main they chased the murderous fox,
With brazen trumpets, and inflated box, 750
To kindle Mars with military sounds,
Nor wanted horns to inspire sagacious hounds.
But see how Fortune can confound the wise,
And when they least expect it, turn the dice!
The captive-cock, who scarce could draw his breath,
And lay within the very jaws of death;
Yet in this agony his fancy wrought,
And fear supplied him with this happy thought:
Yours is the prize, victorious prince! said he,
The vicar my defeat, and all the village see. 760
Enjoy your friendly fortune while you may,
And bid the churls that envy you the prey
Call back their mongrel curs, and cease their cry,
See, fools, the shelter of the wood is nigh,
And Chanticleer in your despite shall die,
He shall be pluck'd and eaten to the bone.
'Tis well advised, in faith it shall be done;
This Reynard said: but as the word he spoke,
The prisoner with a spring from prison broke;
Then stretch'd his feather'd fans with all his might, 770
And to the neighbouring maple wing'd his flight;
Whom, when the traitor safe on tree beheld,
He cursed the gods, with shame and sorrow fill'd:
Shame for his folly, sorrow out of time,
For plotting an unprofitable crime;
Yet mastering both, the artificer of lies
Renews the assault, and his last battery tries.
Though I, said he, did ne'er in thought offend,
How justly may my lord suspect his friend?
The appearance is against me, I confess, 780
Who seemingly have put you in distress:
You, if your goodness does not plead my cause,
May think I broke all hospitable laws,
To bear you from your palace-yard by might,
And put your noble person in a fright:
This, since you take it ill, I must repent,
Though, Heaven can witness, with no bad intent:
I practised it, to make you taste your cheer
With double pleasure, first prepared by fear.
So loyal subjects often seize their prince, 790
Forced (for his good) to seeming violence,
Yet mean his sacred person not the least offence.
Descend; so help me Jove, as you shall find,
That Reynard comes of no dissembling kind.
Nay, quoth the Cock, but I beshrew us both,
If I believe a saint upon his oath:
An honest man may take a knave's advice,
But idiots only may be cozen'd twice:
Once warn'd is well bewared; no nattering lies
Shall soothe me more to sing with winking eyes, 800
And open mouth, for fear of catching flies.
Who blindfold walks upon a river's brim,
When he should see, has he deserved to swim?
Better, Sir Cock, let all contention cease,
Come down, said Reynard, let us treat of peace.
A peace with all my soul, said Chanticleer;
But, with your favour, I will treat it here:
And, lest the truce with treason should be mix'd,
'Tis my concern to have the tree betwixt.
In this plain fable you the effect may see 810
Of negligence, and fond credulity:
And learn besides of flatterers to beware,
Then most pernicious when they speak too fair.
The cock and fox, the fool and knave imply;
The truth is moral, though the tale a lie.
Who spoke in parables, I dare not say;
But sure he knew it was a pleasing way,
Sound sense, by plain example, to convey.
And in a heathen author we may find,
That pleasure with instruction should be join'd; 820
So take the corn, and leave the chaff behind.
* * * * *
[Footnote 72: 'Alexander'd': an allusion to his famous ode.]
[Footnote 73: 'Ganfride': a mediaeval ballad-monger.]
* * * * *
THE FLOWER AND THE LEAF:
OR, THE LADY IN THE ARBOUR.
Now turning from the wintry signs, the sun,
His course exalted, through the Ram had run,
And whirling up the skies, his chariot drove
Through Taurus, and the lightsome realms of love;
Where Venus from her orb descends in showers,
To glad the ground, and paint the fields with flowers:
When first the tender blades of grass appear,
And buds, that yet the blast of Eurus fear,
Stand at the door of life, and doubt to clothe the year:
Till gentle heat, and soft repeated rains, 10
Make the green blood to dance within their veins:
Then, at their call, embolden'd out they come,
And swell the gems, and burst the narrow room;
Broader and broader yet, their blooms display,
Salute the welcome sun, and entertain the day.
Then from their breathing souls the sweets repair
To scent the skies, and purge the unwholesome air:
Joy spreads the heart, and, with a general song,
Spring issues out, and leads the jolly months along.
In that sweet season, as in bed I lay, 20
And sought in sleep to pass the night away,
I turn'd my weary side, but still in vain,
Though full of youthful health, and void of pain:
Cares I had none, to keep me from my rest,
For love had never enter'd in my breast;
I wanted nothing fortune could supply,
Nor did she slumber till that hour deny.
I wonder'd then, but after found it true,
Much joy had dried away the balmy dew:
Seas would be pools, without the brushing air 30
To curl the waves; and sure some little care
Should weary nature so, to make her want repair.
When Chanticleer the second watch had sung,
Scorning the scorner sleep, from bed I sprung;
And dressing, by the moon, in loose array,
Pass'd out in open air, preventing day,
And sought a goodly grove, as fancy led my way.
Straight as a line in beauteous order stood
Of oaks unshorn a venerable wood;
Fresh was the grass beneath, and every tree, 40
At distance planted in a due degree,
Their branching arms in air with equal space
Stretch'd to their neighbours with a long embrace:
And the new leaves on every bough were seen,
Some ruddy colour'd, some of lighter green.
The painted birds, companions of the spring,
Hopping from spray to spray, were heard to sing.
Both eyes and ears received a like delight,
Enchanting music, and a charming sight.
On Philomel I fix'd my whole desire, 50
And listen'd for the queen of all the quire;
Fain would I hear her heavenly voice to sing;
And wanted yet an omen to the spring.
Attending long in vain, I took the way
Which through a path but scarcely printed lay;
In narrow mazes oft it seem'd to meet,
And look'd as lightly press'd by fairy feet.
Wandering I walk'd alone, for still methought
To some strange end so strange a path was wrought:
At last it led me where an arbour stood, 60
The sacred receptacle of the wood:
This place unmark'd, though oft I walk'd the green,
In all my progress I had never seen:
And seized at once with wonder and delight,
Gazed all around me, new to the transporting sight.
'Twas bench'd with turf, and goodly to be seen,
The thick young grass arose in fresher green:
The mound was newly made, no sight could pass
Betwixt the nice partitions of the grass,
The well-united sods so closely lay; 70
And all around the shades defended it from day;
For sycamores with eglantine were spread,
A hedge about the sides, a covering overhead.
And so the fragrant brier was wove between,
The sycamore and flowers were mixed with green,
That nature seem'd to vary the delight,
And satisfied at once the smell and sight.
The master workman of the bower was known
Through fairy-lands, and built for Oberon;
Who twining leaves with such proportion drew, 80
They rose by measure, and by rule they grew;
No mortal tongue can half the beauty tell;
For none but hands divine could work so well.
Both roof and sides were like a parlour made,
A soft recess, and a cool summer shade;
The hedge was set so thick, no foreign eye
The persons placed within it could espy;
But all that pass'd without with ease was seen,
As if nor fence nor tree was placed between.
'Twas border'd with a field; and some was plain 90
With grass, and some was sow'd with rising grain.
That (now the dew with spangles deck'd the ground)
A sweeter spot of earth was never found.
I look'd, and look'd, and still with new delight;
Such joy my soul, such pleasures fill'd my sight;
And the fresh eglantine exhaled a breath,
Whose odours were of power to raise from death.
Nor sullen discontent, nor anxious care,
Even though brought thither, could inhabit there:
But thence they fled as from their mortal foe; 100
For this sweet place could only pleasure know.
Thus as I mused, I cast aside my eye,
And saw a medlar-tree was planted nigh.
The spreading branches made a goodly show,
And full of opening blooms was every bough:
A goldfinch there I saw, with gaudy pride
Of painted plumes, that hopp'd from side to side,
Still pecking as she pass'd; and still she drew
The sweets from every flower, and suck'd the dew:
Sufficed at length, she warbled in her throat, 110
And tuned her voice to many a merry note,
But indistinct, and neither sweet nor clear,
Yet such as soothed my soul, and pleased my ear.
Her short performance was no sooner tried,
When she I sought, the nightingale, replied:
So sweet, so shrill, so variously she sung,
That the grove echoed, and the valleys rung;
And I so ravish'd with her heavenly note,
I stood entranced, and had no room for thought,
But all o'er-power'd with ecstasy of bliss, 120
Was in a pleasing dream of paradise.
At length I waked, and looking round the bower,
Search'd every tree, and pry'd on every flower,
If any where by chance I might espy
The rural poet of the melody;
For still methought she sung not far away:
At last I found her on a laurel spray.
Close by my side she sat, and fair in sight,
Full in a line, against her opposite;
Where stood with eglantine the laurel twined; 130
And both their native sweets were well conjoin'd.
On the green bank I sat, and listen'd long;
(Sitting was more convenient for the song):
Nor till her lay was ended could I move,
But wish'd to dwell for ever in the grove.
Only methought the time too swiftly pass'd,
And every note I fear'd would be the last.
My sight and smell, and hearing were employ'd,
And all three senses in full gust enjoy'd.
And what alone did all the rest surpass, 140
The sweet possession of the fairy place;
Single, and conscious to myself alone
Of pleasures to the excluded world unknown:
Pleasures which nowhere else were to be found,
And all Elysium in a spot of ground.
Thus while I sat intent to see and hear,
And drew perfumes of more than vital air,
All suddenly I heard the approaching sound
Of vocal music on the enchanted ground:
A host of saints it seem'd, so full the quire; 150
As if the bless'd above did all conspire
To join their voices, and neglect the lyre.
At length there issued from the grove behind
A fair assembly of the female kind:
A train less fair, as ancient fathers tell,
Seduced the sons of heaven to rebel.
I pass their form, and every charming grace,
Less than an angel would their worth debase:
But their attire, like liveries of a kind,
All rich and rare, is fresh within my mind. 160
In velvet white as snow the troop was gown'd,
The seams with sparkling emeralds set around;
Their hoods and sleeves the same; and purfled o'er
With diamonds, pearls, and all the shining store
Of eastern pomp: their long descending train,
With rubies edged, and sapphires, swept the plain:
High on their heads, with jewels richly set,
Each lady wore a radiant coronet.
Beneath the circles, all the quire was graced
With chaplets green on their fair foreheads placed: 170
Of laurel some, of woodbine many more;
And wreaths of Agnus castus others bore;
These last, who with those virgin crowns were dress'd,
Appear'd in higher honour than the rest.
They danced around: but in the midst was seen
A lady of a more majestic mien;
By stature, and by beauty mark'd their sovereign queen
She in the midst began with sober grace;
Her servants' eyes were fix'd upon her face;
And as she moved or turn'd, her motions view'd, 180
Her measures kept, and step by step pursued.
Methought she trod the ground with greater grace,
With more of godhead shining in her face;
And as in beauty she surpass'd the quire,
So, nobler than the rest, was her attire.
A crown of ruddy gold enclosed her brow,
Plain without pomp, and rich without a show:
A branch of Agnus castus in her hand
She bore aloft (her sceptre of command);
Admired, adored by all the circling crowd, 190
For wheresoe'er she turn'd her face, they bow'd:
And as she danced, a roundelay she sung,
In honour of the laurel, ever young:
She raised her voice on high, and sung so clear,
The fawns came scudding from the groves to hear:
And all the bending forest lent an ear.
At every close she made, the attending throng
Replied, and bore the burden of the song:
So just, so small, yet in so sweet a note,
It seem'd the music melted in the throat. 200
Thus dancing on, and singing as they danced,
They to the middle of the mead advanced,
Till round my arbour a new ring they made,
And footed it about the sacred shade.
O'erjoy'd to see the jolly troops so near,
But somewhat awed, I shook with holy fear;
Yet not so much, but what I noted well
Who did the most in song or dance excel.
Not long I had observed, when from afar
I heard a sudden symphony of war; 210
The neighing coursers, and the soldiers cry,
And sounding trumps, that seem'd to tear the sky:
I saw soon after this, behind the grove
From whence the ladies did in order move,
Come issuing out in arms a warrior train,
That like a deluge pour'd upon the plain;
On barbed steeds they rode in proud array,
Thick as the college of the bees in May,
When swarming o'er the dusky fields they fly,
New to the flowers, and intercept the sky, 220
So fierce they drove, their coursers were so fleet,
That the turf trembled underneath their feet.
To tell their costly furniture were long,
The summer's day would end before the song:
To purchase but the tenth of all their store,
Would make the mighty Persian monarch poor.
Yet what I can, I will; before the rest
The trumpets issued, in white mantles dress'd,
A numerous troop, and all their heads around
With chaplets green of cerrial-oak were crown'd, 230
And at each trumpet was a banner bound;
Which, waving in the wind, displayed at large
Their master's coat of arms, and knightly charge.
Broad were the banners, and of snowy hue,
A purer web the silk-worm never drew.
The chief about their necks the scutcheons wore,
With orient pearls and jewels powder'd o'er:
Broad were their collars too, and every one
Was set about with many a costly stone.
Next these, of kings-at-arms a goodly train 240
In proud array came prancing o'er the plain:
Their cloaks were cloth of silver mix'd with gold,
And garlands green around their temples roll'd:
Rich crowns were on their royal scutcheons placed,
With sapphires, diamonds, and with rubies graced:
And as the trumpets their appearance made,
So these in habits were alike array'd;
But with a pace more sober, and more slow;
And twenty, rank in rank, they rode a-row.
The pursuivants came next, in number more; 250
And, like the heralds, each his scutcheon bore:
Clad in white velvet all their troop they led,
With each an oaken chaplet on his head.
Nine royal knights in equal rank succeed,
Each warrior mounted on a fiery steed;
In golden armour glorious to behold;
The rivets of their arms were nail'd with gold.
Their surcoats of white ermine fur were made;
With cloth of gold between, that cast a glittering shade.
The trappings of their steeds were of the same; 260
The golden fringe even set the ground on flame,
And drew a precious trail: a crown divine
Of laurel did about their temples twine.
Three henchmen were for every knight assign'd,
All in rich livery clad, and of a kind;
White velvet, but unshorn, for cloaks they wore,
And each within his hand a truncheon bore:
The foremost held a helm of rare device;
A prince's ransom would not pay the price.
The second bore the buckler of his knight, 270
The third of cornel-wood a spear upright,
Headed with piercing steel, and polish'd bright.
Like to their lords their equipage was seen,
And all their foreheads crown'd with garlands green.
And after these came, arm'd with spear and shield,
A host so great as cover'd all the field:
And all their foreheads, like the knights before,
With laurels ever-green were shaded o'er,
Or oak, or other leaves of lasting kind,
Tenacious of the stem, and firm against the wind. 280
Some in their hands, beside the lance and shield,
The boughs of woodbine, or of hawthorn held,
Or branches for their mystic emblems took,
Of palm, of laurel, and of cerrial-oak.
Thus marching to the trumpet's lofty sound,
Drawn in two lines adverse they wheel'd around,
And in the middle meadow took their ground.
Among themselves the tourney they divide,
In equal squadrons ranged on either side.
Then turn'd their horses' heads, and man to man, 290
And steed to steed opposed, the jousts began.
They lightly set their lances in the rest,
And, at the sign, against each other press'd:
They met. I sitting at my ease beheld
The mix'd events, and fortunes of the field.
Some broke their spears, some tumbled horse and man,
And round the field the lighten'd coursers ran.
An hour and more, like tides, in equal sway
They rush'd, and won by turns, and lost the day:
At length the nine (who still together held) 300
Their fainting foes to shameful flight compell'd,
And with resistless force o'er-ran the field.
Thus, to their fame, when finish'd was the fight,
The victors from their lofty steeds alight:
Like them dismounted all the warlike train,
And two by two proceeded o'er the plain,
Till to the fair assembly they advanced,
Who near the secret arbour sung and danced.
The ladies left their measures at the sight,
To meet the chiefs returning from the fight, 310
And each with open arms embraced her chosen knight.
Amid the plain a spreading laurel stood,
The grace and ornament of all the wood:
That pleasing shade they sought, a soft retreat
From sudden April showers, a shelter from the heat:
Her leafy arms with such extent were spread.
So near the clouds was her aspiring head,
That hosts of birds, that wing the liquid air,
Perch'd in the boughs, had nightly lodging there:
And flocks of sheep beneath the shade from far 320
Might hear the rattling hail, and wintry war;
From heaven's inclemency here found retreat,
Enjoy'd the cool, and shunn'd the scorching heat:
A hundred knights might there at ease abide;
And every knight a lady by his side:
The trunk itself such odours did bequeath,
That a Moluccan breeze to these was common breath.
The lords and ladies here, approaching, paid
Their homage, with a low obeisance made;
And seem'd to venerate the sacred shade. 330
These rites perform'd, their pleasures they pursue,
With song of love, and mix with measures new;
Around the holy tree their dance they frame,
And every champion leads his chosen dame.
I cast my sight upon the farther field,
And a fresh object of delight beheld:
For from the region of the West I heard
New music sound, and a new troop appear'd;
Of knights and ladies mix'd, a jolly band,
But all on foot they march'd, and hand in hand. 340
The ladies dress'd in rich symars were seen
Of Florence satin, flower'd with white and green,
And for a shade betwixt the bloomy gridelin.
The borders of their petticoats below
Were guarded thick with rubies on a row;
And every damsel wore upon her head
Of flowers a garland blended white and red.
Attired in mantles all the knights were seen,
That gratified the view with cheerful green:
Their chaplets of their ladies' colours were, 350
Composed of white and red, to shade their shining hair.
Before the merry troop the minstrels play'd;
All in their masters' liveries were array'd,
And clad in green, and on their temples wore
The chaplets white and red their ladies bore.
Their instruments were various in their kind,
Some for the bow, and some for breathing wind;
The sawtry, pipe, and hautboy's noisy band,
And the soft lute trembling beneath the touching hand.
A tuft of daisies on a flowery lea 360
They saw, and thitherward they bent their way;
To this both knights and dames their homage made,
And due obeisance to the daisy paid.
And then the band of flutes began to play,
To which a lady sung a virelay:
And still at every close she would repeat
The burden of the song, _The daisy is so sweet,
The daisy is so sweet_: when she begun,
The troop of knights and dames continued on.
The concert and the voice so charm'd my ear,
And soothed my soul, that it was heaven to hear. 370
But soon their pleasure pass'd: at noon of day
The sun with sultry beams began to play:
Not Sirius shoots a fiercer flame from high,
When with his poisonous breath he blasts the sky:
Then droop'd the fading flowers (their beauty fled)
And closed their sickly eyes, and hung the head;
And rivell'd up with heat, lay dying in their bed.
The ladies gasp'd, and scarcely could respire;
The breath they drew, no longer air but fire; 380
The fainty knights were scorch'd, and knew not where
To run for shelter, for no shade was near;
And after this the gathering clouds amain
Pour'd down a storm of rattling hail and rain;
And lightning flash'd betwixt: the field, and flowers,
Burnt up before, were buried in the showers.
The ladies and the knights, no shelter nigh,
Bare to the weather and the wintry sky,
Were drooping wet, disconsolate, and wan,
And through their thin array received the rain; 390
While those in white, protected by the tree,
Saw pass in vain the assault, and stood from danger free;
But as compassion moved their gentle minds,
When ceased the storm, and silent were the winds,
Displeased at what, not suffering they had seen,
They went to cheer the faction of the green.
The queen in white array, before her band,
Saluting, took her rival by the hand;
So did the knights and dames, with courtly grace,
And with behaviour sweet their foes embrace; 400
Then thus the queen with laurel on her brow--
Fair sister, I have suffer'd in your woe;
Nor shall be wanting aught within my power
For your relief in my refreshing bower.
That other answer'd with a lowly look,
And soon the gracious invitation took:
For ill at ease both she and all her train
The scorching sun had borne, and beating rain.
Like courtesy was used by all in white,
Each dame a dame received, and every knight a knight. 410
The laurel champions with their swords invade
The neighbouring forests, where the jousts were made,
And serewood from the rotten hedges took,
And seeds of latent fire, from flints provoke:
A cheerful blaze arose, and by the fire
They warm'd their frozen feet, and dried their wet attire.
Refresh'd with heat, the ladies sought around
For virtuous herbs, which, gather'd from the ground,
They squeezed the juice, and cooling ointment made,
Which on their sun-burnt cheeks, and their chapt skins they laid: 420
Then sought green salads, which they bade them eat,
A sovereign remedy for inward heat.
The Lady of the Leaf ordain'd a feast,
And made the Lady of the Flower her guest:
When, lo! a bower ascended on the plain,
With sudden seats ordain'd, and large for either train.
This bower was near my pleasant arbour placed,
That I could hear and see whatever pass'd:
The ladies sat with each a knight between,
Distinguish'd by their colours, white and green; 430
The vanquish'd party with the victors join'd,
Nor wanted sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind.
Meantime the minstrels play'd on either side,
Vain of their art, and for the mastery vied:
The sweet contention lasted for an hour,
And reach'd my secret arbour from the bower.
The sun was set; and Vesper, to supply
His absent beams, had lighted up the sky.
When Philomel, officious all the day
To sing the service of the ensuing May, 440
Fled from her laurel shade, and wing'd her flight
Directly to the queen array'd in white:
And, hopping, sat familiar on her hand,
A new musician, and increased the band.
The goldfinch, who, to shun the scalding heat,
Had changed the medlar for a safer seat,
And hid in bushes 'scaped the bitter shower,
Now perch'd upon the Lady of the Flower;
And either songster holding out their throats,
And folding up their wings, renew'd their notes: 450
As if all day, precluding to the fight,
They only had rehearsed, to sing by night.
The banquet ended, and the battle done,
They danced by star-light and the friendly moon:
And when they were to part, the laureate queen
Supplied with steeds the lady of the green,
Her and her train conducting on the way,
The moon to follow, and avoid the day.
This when I saw, inquisitive to know
The secret moral of the mystic show, 460
I started from my shade, in hopes to find
Some nymph to satisfy my longing mind:
And as my fair adventure fell, I found
A lady all in white, with laurel crown'd,
Who closed the rear, and softly paced along,
Repeating to herself the former song.
With due respect my body I inclined,
As to some being of superior kind,
And made my court according to the day,
Wishing her queen and her a happy May. 470
Great thanks, my daughter, with a gracious bow,
She said; and I, who much desired to know
Of whence she was, yet fearful how to break
My mind, adventured humbly thus to speak:
Madam, might I presume and not offend,
So may the stars and shining moon attend
Your nightly sports, as you vouchsafe to tell,
What nymphs they were who mortal forms excel,
And what the knights who fought in listed fields so well.
To this the dame replied: Fair daughter, know, 480
That what you saw was all a fairy show;
And all those airy shapes you now behold,
Were human bodies once, and clothed with earthly mould;
Our souls, not yet prepared for upper light,
Till doomsday wander in the shades of night;
This only holiday of all the year,
We privileged in sunshine may appear:
With songs and dance we celebrate the day,
And with due honours usher in the May.
At other times we reign by night alone, 490
And posting through the skies pursue the moon;
But when the morn arises, none are found;
For cruel Demogorgon walks the round,
And if he finds a fairy lag in light,
He drives the wretch before, and lashes into night.
All courteous are by kind; and ever proud
With friendly offices to help the good.
In every land we have a larger space
Than what is known to you of mortal race;
Where we with green adorn our fairy bowers, 500
And even this grove, unseen before, is ours.
Know farther; every lady clothed in white,
And, crown'd with oak and laurel every knight,
Are servants to the Leaf, by liveries known
Of innocence; and I myself am one.
Saw you not her, so graceful to behold,
In white attire, and crown'd with radiant gold?
The sovereign lady of our land is she,
Diana call'd, the Queen of Chastity:
And, for the spotless name of maid she bears, 510
That Agnus castus in her hand appears;
And all her train, with leafy chaplets crown'd,
Were for unblamed virginity renown'd;
But those the chief and highest in command
Who bear those holy branches in their hand:
The knights adorn'd with laurel crowns are they,
Whom death nor danger ever could dismay,
Victorious names, who made the world obey;
Who, while they lived, in deeds of arms excell'd,
And after death for deities were held. 520
But those who wear the woodbine on their brow,
Were knights of love, who never broke their vow;
Firm to their plighted faith, and ever free
From fears and fickle chance, and jealousy.
The lords and ladies, who the woodbine bear,
As true as Tristram and Isotta were.
But what are those, said I, the unconquer'd nine,
Who, crown'd with laurel-wreaths, in golden armour shine?
And who the knights in green, and what the train
Of ladies dress'd with daisies on the plain? 530
Why both the bands in worship disagree,
And some adore the flower, and some the tree?
Just is your suit, fair daughter, said the dame:
Those laurell'd chiefs were men of mighty fame;
Nine worthies were they call'd of different rites,
Three Jews, three Pagans, and three Christian knights.
These, as you see, ride foremost in the field,
As they the foremost rank of honour held,
And all in deeds of chivalry excell'd:
Their temples wreathed with leaves, that still renew; 540
For deathless laurel is the victor's due:
Who bear the bows were knights in Arthur's reign,
Twelve they, and twelve the peers of Charlemagne:
For bows the strength of brawny arms imply,
Emblems of valour, and of victory.
Behold an order yet of newer date,
Doubling their number, equal in their state;
Our England's ornament, the crown's defence,
In battle brave, protectors of their prince;
Unchanged by fortune, to their sovereign true, 550
For which their manly legs are bound with blue.
These, of the Garter call'd, of faith unstain'd,
In fighting fields the laurel have obtain'd,
And well repaid the honours which they gain'd.
The laurel wreaths were first by Cesar worn,
And still they Cesar's successors adorn:
One leaf of this is immortality,
And more of worth than all the world can buy.
One doubt remains, said I, the dames in green,
What were their qualities, and who their queen? 560
Flora commands, said she, those nymphs and knights,
Who lived in slothful ease and loose delights;
Who never acts of honour durst pursue,
The men inglorious knights, the ladies all untrue:
Who, nursed in idleness, and train'd in courts,
Pass'd all their precious hours in plays, and sports,
Till death behind came stalking on, unseen,
And wither'd (like the storm) the freshness of their green.
These, and their mates, enjoy their present hour,
And therefore pay their homage to the Flower: 570
But knights in knightly deeds should persevere,
And still continue what at first they were;
Continue, and proceed in honour's fair career.
No room for cowardice, or dull delay;
From good to better they should urge their way.
For this with golden spurs the chiefs are graced,
With pointed rowels arm'd to mend their haste;
For this with lasting leaves their brows are bound;
For laurel is the sign of labour crown'd,
Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to ground: 580
From winter winds it suffers no decay,
For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May.
Even when the vital sap retreats below,
Even when the hoary head is hid in snow,
The life is in the Leaf, and still between
The fits of falling snow appears the streaky green.
Not so the Flower, which lasts for little space,
A short-lived good, and an uncertain grace;
This way, and that, the feeble stem is driven,
Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of heaven. 590
Propp'd by the spring, it lifts aloft the head,
But of a sickly beauty, soon to shed;
In summer living, and in winter dead.
For things of tender kind, for pleasure made,
Shoot up with swift increase, and sudden are decay'd.
With humble words, the wisest I could frame,
And proffer'd service, I repaid the dame;
That, of her grace, she gave her maid to know
The secret meaning of this moral show.
And she, to prove what profit I had made 600
Of mystic truth, in fables first convey'd,
Demanded, till the next returning May,
Whether the Leaf or Flower I would obey?
I chose the Leaf; she smiled with sober cheer,
And wish'd me fair adventure for the year,
And gave me charms and sigils, for defence
Against ill tongues that scandal innocence:
But I, said she, my fellows must pursue,
Already past the plain, and out of view.
We parted thus; I homeward sped my way, 610
Bewilder'd in the wood till dawn of day;
And met the merry crew who danced about the May.
Then late refresh'd with sleep, I rose to write
The visionary vigils of the night.
Blush, as thou may'st, my little book, with shame,
Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame;
For such thy maker chose; and so design'd
Thy simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
* * * * *
[Footnote 74: This poem is intended to describe, in those who honour the
"Flower," the votaries of perishable beauty; and in those who honour the
"Leaf," the votaries of virtue.]
[Footnote 75: 'Agnus castus:' a flower representing chastity.]
[Footnote 76: 'Cerrial-oak:' Cerrus, bitter oak.]
[Footnote 77: 'Molucca:' one of the Spice Islands.]
[Footnote 78: 'Virelay:' a poem with recurring rhymes.]
* * * * *
THE WIFE OF BATH, HER TALE.
In days of old, when Arthur fill'd the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown;
The king of elves and little fairy queen
Gamboll'd on heaths, and danced on every green;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground:
Nor darkling did they dance, the silver light
Of Phoebe served to guide their steps aright,
And with their tripping pleased, prolong the night.
Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd, 10
Nor longer than she shed her horns they stay'd;
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands convey'd
Above the rest our Britain held they dear,
More solemnly they kept their sabbaths here,
And made more spacious rings, and revell'd half the year.
I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train:
In vain the dairy now with mints is dress'd,
The dairymaid expects no fairy guest, 20
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain:
For priests, with prayers, and other godly gear,
Have made the merry goblins disappear;
And where they play'd their merry pranks before,
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor:
And friars, that through the wealthy regions run,
Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun,
Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls, 30
And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls:
This makes the fairy quires forsake the place,
When once 'tis hallow'd with the rites of grace:
But in the walks where wicked elves have been,
The learning of the parish now is seen,
The midnight parson, posting o'er the green,
With gown tuck'd up, to wakes, for Sunday next,
With humming ale encouraging his text;
Nor wants the holy leer to country girl betwixt.
From fiends and imps he sets the village free, 40
There haunts not any incubus but he.
The maids and women need no danger fear
To walk by night, and sanctity so near:
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
He bids his beads both even-song and morn.
It so befell, in this King Arthur's reign,
A lusty knight was pricking o'er the plain;
A bachelor he was, and of the courtly train.
It happen'd, as he rode, a damsel gay,
In russet robes, to market took her way. 50
Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye,
So straight she walk'd, and on her pasterns high:
If, seeing her behind, he liked her pace,
Now turning short, he better likes her face.
He lights in haste, and, full of youthful fire,
By force accomplish'd his obscene desire:
This done, away he rode, not unespied,
For swarming at his back the country cried:
And once in view they never lost the sight,
But seized, and pinion'd brought to court the knight, 60
Then courts of kings were held in high renown,
Ere made the common brothels of the town:
There, virgins honourable vows received,
But chaste as maids in monasteries lived:
The king himself, to nuptial ties a slave,
No bad example to his poets gave:
And they, not bad, but in a vicious age,
Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage.
Now, what should Arthur do? He loved the knight,
But sovereign monarchs are the source of right: 70
Moved by the damsel's tears and common cry,
He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die.
But fair Geneura rose in his defence,
And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince,
That to his queen the king the offender gave,
And left it in her power to kill or save:
This gracious act the ladies all approve,
Who thought it much a man should die for love;
And with their mistress join'd in close debate,
(Covering their kindness with dissembled hate) 80
If not to free him, to prolong his fate.
At last agreed, they call him by consent
Before the queen and female parliament;
And the fair speaker, rising from the chair,
Did thus the judgment of the house declare:
Sir knight, though I have ask'd thy life, yet still
Thy destiny depends upon my will:
Nor hast thou other surety than the grace
Not due to thee from our offended race.
But as our kind is of a softer mould, 90
And cannot blood without a sigh behold,
I grant thee life; reserving still the power
To take the forfeit when I see my hour:
Unless thy answer to my next demand
Shall set thee free from our avenging hand.
The question, whose solution I require,
Is, What the sex of women most desire?
In this dispute thy judges are at strife;
Beware; for on thy wit depends thy life.
Yet (lest surprised, unknowing what to say, 100
Thou damn thyself) we give thee farther day:
A year is thine to wander at thy will,
And learn from others, if thou want'st the skill.
But, not to hold our proffer turn'd to scorn,
Good sureties will we have for thy return;
That at the time prefix'd thou shalt obey,
And at thy pledge's peril keep thy day.
Woe was the knight at this severe command;
But well he knew 'twas bootless to withstand:
The terms accepted, as the fair ordain, 110
He put in bail for his return again,
And promised answer at the day assign'd,
The best, with Heaven's assistance, he could find.
His leave thus taken, on his way he went
With heavy heart, and full of discontent,
Misdoubting much, and fearful of the event.
'Twas hard the truth of such a point to find,
As was not yet agreed among the kind.
Thus on he went; still anxious more and more,
Ask'd all he met, and knock'd at every door; 120
Inquired of men; but made his chief request,
To learn from women what they loved the best.
They answer'd each according to her mind,
To please herself, not all the female kind.
One was for wealth, another was for place;
Crones, old and ugly, wish'd a better face:
The widow's wish was oftentimes to wed;
The wanton maids were all for sport a-bed.
Some said the sex were pleased with handsome lies,
And some gross flattery loved without disguise: 130
Truth is, says one, he seldom fails to win
Who flatters well; for that's our darling sin:
But long attendance, and a duteous mind,
Will work even with the wisest of the kind.
One thought the sex's prime felicity
Was from the bonds of wedlock to be free;
Their pleasures, hours, and actions all their own,
And uncontroll'd to give account to none.
Some wish a husband-fool; but such are cursed,
For fools perverse of husbands are the worst: 140
All women would be counted chaste and wise,
Nor should our spouses see, but with our eyes;
For fools will prate; and though they want the wit
To find close faults, yet open blots will hit;
Though better for their ease to hold their tongue,
For womankind was never in the wrong.
So noise ensues, and quarrels last for life;
The wife abhors the fool, the fool the wife.
And some men say that great delight have we,
To be for truth extoll'd, and secrecy; 150
And constant in one purpose still to dwell;
And not our husbands' counsels to reveal.
But that's a fable; for our sex is frail,
Inventing rather than not tell a tale.
Like leaky sieves, no secrets we can hold:
Witness the famous tale that Ovid told.
Midas the king, as in his book appears,
By Phoebus was endow'd with ass's ears,
Which under his long locks he well conceal'd,
(As monarchs' vices must not be reveal'd) 160
For fear the people have them in the wind,
Who long ago were neither dumb nor blind:
Nor apt to think from Heaven their title springs,
Since Jove and Mars left off begetting kings.
This Midas knew; and durst communicate
To none but to his wife his ears of state:
One must be trusted, and he thought her fit,
As passing prudent, and a parlous wit.
To this sagacious confessor he went,
And told her what a gift the gods had sent: 170
But told it under matrimonial seal,
With strict injunction never to reveal.
The secret heard, she plighted him her troth,
(And sacred sure is every woman's oath)
The royal malady should rest unknown,
Both for her husband's honour and her own;
But ne'ertheless she pined with discontent;
The counsel rumbled till it found a vent.
The thing she knew she was obliged to hide;
By interest and by oath the wife was tied; 180
But if she told it not, the woman died.
Loath to betray a husband and a prince,
But she must burst, or blab; and no pretence
Of honour tied her tongue from self-defence.
A marshy ground commodiously was near,
Thither she ran, and held her breath for fear;
Lest if a word she spoke of any thing,
That word might be the secret of the king.
Thus full of counsel to the fen she went,
Griped all the way, and longing for a vent; 190
Arrived, by pure necessity compell'd,
On her majestic marrow-bones she kneel'd:
Then to the water's brink she laid her head,
And as a bittour bumps within a reed,
To thee alone, O lake, she said, I tell,
(And, as thy queen, command thee to conceal!)
Beneath his locks the king, my husband wears
A goodly royal pair of ass's ears:
Now I have eased my bosom of the pain,
Till the next longing fit return again. 200
Thus through a woman was the secret known;
Tell us, and in effect you tell the town.
But to my tale; the knight with heavy cheer,
Wandering in vain, had now consumed the year:
One day was only left to solve the doubt,
Yet knew no more than when he first set out.
But home he must, and as the award had been,
Yield up his body captive to the queen.
In this despairing state he happ'd to ride,
As fortune led him, by a forest side: 210
Lonely the vale, and full of horror stood,
Brown with the shade of a religious wood!
When full before him, at the noon of night,
(The moon was up, and shot a gleamy light)
He saw a quire of ladies in a round
That featly footing seem'd to skim the ground:
Thus dancing hand in hand, so light they were,
He knew not where they trod, on earth or air.
At speed he drove, and came a sudden guest,
In hope where many women were, at least 220
Some one by chance might answer his request.
But faster than his horse the ladies flew,
And in a trice were vanish'd out of view.
One only hag remain'd; but fouler far
Than grandame apes in Indian forests are:
Against a wither'd oak she lean'd her weight,
Propp'd on her trusty staff, not half upright,
And dropp'd an awkward courtesy to the knight;
Then said, What makes you, sir, so late abroad
Without a guide, and this no beaten road? 230
Or want you aught that here you hope to find,
Or travel for some trouble in your mind?
The last I guess; and if I read aright,
Those of our sex are bound to serve a knight;
Perhaps good counsel may your grief assuage,
Then tell your pain; for wisdom is in age.
To this the knight: Good mother, would you know
The secret cause and spring of all my woe?
My life must with to-morrow's light expire,
Unless I tell what women most desire. 240
Now could you help me at this hard essay,
Or for your inborn goodness, or for pay;
Yours is my life, redeem'd by your advice,
Ask what you please, and I will pay the price;
The proudest kerchief of the court shall rest
Well satisfied of what they love the best.
Plight me thy faith, quoth she, that what I ask,
Thy danger over, and perform'd thy task,
That thou shalt give for hire of thy demand;
Here take thy oath, and seal it on my hand; 250
I warrant thee, on peril of my life,
Thy words shall please both widow, maid, and wife.
More words there needed not to move the knight
To take her offer, and his truth to plight.
With that she spread a mantle on the ground,
And, first inquiring whither he was bound,
Bade him not fear, though long and rough the way,
At court he should arrive ere break of day;
His horse should find the way without a guide.
She said: with fury they began to ride, 260
He on the midst, the beldam at his side.
The horse what devil drove I cannot tell,
But only this, they sped their journey well:
And all the way the crone inform'd the knight,
How he should answer the demand aright.
To court they came; the news was quickly spread
Of his returning to redeem his head.
The female senate was assembled soon,
With all the mob of women in the town:
The queen sat lord chief-justice of the hall, 270
And bade the crier cite the criminal.
The knight appear'd; and silence they proclaim;
Then first the culprit answer'd to his name:
And, after forms of law, was last required
To name the thing that women most desired.
The offender, taught his lesson by the way,
And by his counsel order'd what to say,
Thus bold began: My lady liege, said he,
What all your sex desire is Sovereignty.
The wife affects her husband to command; 280
All must be hers, both money, house, and land.
The maids are mistresses even in their name;
And of their servants full dominion claim.
This, at the peril of my head, I say,
A blunt plain truth, the sex aspires to sway,
You to rule all, while we, like slaves, obey.
There was not one, or widow, maid, or wife,
But said the knight had well deserved his life.
Even fair Geneura, with a blush, confess'd
The man had found what women love the best.
Upstarts the beldam, who was there unseen, 290
And, reverence made, accosted thus the queen:
My liege, said she, before the court arise,
May I, poor wretch, find favour in your eyes,
To grant my just request? 'twas I who taught
The knight this answer, and inspired his thought;
None but a woman could a man direct
To tell us women what we most affect.
But first I swore him on his knightly troth,
(And here demand performance of his oath) 300
To grant the boon that next I should desire;
He gave his faith, and I expect my hire:
My promise is fulfill'd; I saved his life,
And claim his debt, to take me for his wife.
The knight was ask'd, nor could his oath deny,
But hoped they would not force him to comply.
The women, who would rather wrest the laws,
Than let a sister-plaintiff lose the cause,
(As judges on the bench more gracious are,
And more attent to brothers of the bar) 310
Cried one and all, the suppliant should have right,
And to the grandame hag adjudged the knight.
In vain he sigh'd, and oft with tears desired
Some reasonable suit might be required.
But still the crone was constant to her note;
The more he spoke, the more she stretch'd her throat.
In vain he proffer'd all his goods, to save
His body destined to that living grave.
The liquorish hag rejects the pelf with scorn;
And nothing but the man would serve her turn. 320
Not all the wealth of eastern kings, said she,
Have power to part my plighted love, and me;
And, old and ugly as I am, and poor,
Yet never will I break the faith I swore;
For mine thou art by promise, during life,
And I thy loving and obedient wife.
My love! nay, rather, my damnation thou,
Said he: nor am I bound to keep my vow:
The fiend thy sire hath sent thee from below,
Else how couldst thou my secret sorrows know? 330
Avaunt, old witch! for I renounce thy bed:
The queen may take the forfeit of my head,
Ere any of my race so foul a crone shall wed.
Both heard, the judge pronounced against the knight;
So was he married in his own despite;
And all day after hid him as an owl,
Not able to sustain a sight so foul.
Perhaps the reader thinks I do him wrong,
To pass the marriage feast, and nuptial song:
Mirth there was none, the man was _a-la-mort_, 340
And little courage had to make his court.
To bed they went, the bridegroom and the bride:
Was never such an ill-pair'd couple tied,
Restless, he toss'd and tumbled to and fro,
And roll'd, and wriggled further off, for woe.
The good old wife lay smiling by his side,
And caught him in her quivering arms, and cried,
When you my ravish'd predecessor saw,
You were not then become this man of straw;
Had you been such, you might have 'scaped the law. 350
Is this the custom of King Arthur's court?
Are all round-table knights of such a sort?
Remember, I am she who saved your life,
Your loving, lawful, and complying wife:
Not thus you swore in your unhappy hour,
Nor I for this return employ'd my power.
In time of need I was your faithful friend;
Nor did I since, nor ever will offend.
Believe me, my loved lord, 'tis much unkind;
What fury has possess'd your alter'd mind? 360
Thus on my wedding night--without pretence--
Come turn this way, or tell me my offence.
If not your wife, let reason's rule persuade;
Name but my fault, amends shall soon be made.
Amends! nay, that's impossible, said he,
What change of age or ugliness can be?
Or could Medea's magic mend thy face,
Thou art descended from so mean a race,
That never knight was match'd with such disgrace.
What wonder, madam, if I move my side, 370
When, if I turn, I turn to such a bride?
And is this all that troubles you so sore?
And what the devil couldst thou wish me more?
Ah, Benedicite, replied the crone;
Then cause of just complaining have you none.
The remedy to this were soon applied,
Would you be like the bridegroom to the bride:
But, for you say a long descended race,
And wealth and dignity, and power and place,
Make gentlemen, and that your high degree 380
Is much disparaged to be match'd with me;
Know this, my lord, nobility of blood
Is but a glittering and fallacious good:
The nobleman is he, whose noble mind
Is fill'd with inborn worth, unborrow'd from his kind.
The King of Heaven was in a manger laid,
And took his earth but from an humble maid;
Then what can birth, or mortal men, bestow?
Since floods no higher than their fountains flow.
We, who for name and empty honour strive, 390
Our true nobility from him derive.
Your ancestors, who puff your mind with pride,
And vast estates to mighty titles tied,
Did not your honour, but their own, advance;
For virtue comes not by inheritance.
If you tralineate from your father's mind,
What are you else but of a bastard kind?
Do, as your great progenitors have done,
And, by their virtues, prove yourself their son.
No father can infuse or wit or grace; 400
A mother comes across, and mars the race.
A grandsire or a grandame taints the blood;
And seldom three descents continue good.
Were virtue by descent, a noble name
Could never villanise his father's fame;
But, as the first, the last of all the line,
Would, like the sun, even in descending shine;
Take fire, and bear it to the darkest house,
Betwixt King Arthur's court and Caucasus:
If you depart, the flame shall still remain, 410
And the bright blaze enlighten all the plain:
Nor, till the fuel perish, can decay,
By nature form'd on things combustible to prey.
Such is not man, who, mixing better seed
With worse, begets a base degenerate breed:
The bad corrupts the good, and leaves behind
No trace of all the great begetter's mind.
The father sinks within his son, we see,
And often rises in the third degree;
If better luck a better mother give, 420
Chance gave us being, and by chance we live.
Such as our atoms were, even such are we,
Or call it chance, or strong necessity:
Thus loaded with dead weight, the will is free.
And thus it needs must be; for seed conjoin'd
Lets into nature's work the imperfect kind;
But fire, the enlivener of the general frame,
Is one, its operation still the same.
Its principle is in itself: while ours
Works, as confederates war, with mingled powers; 430
Or man or woman, which soever fails:
And oft the vigour of the worse prevails.
Aether with sulphur blended alters hue,
And casts a dusky gleam of Sodom blue.
Thus, in a brute, their ancient honour ends,
And the fair mermaid in a fish descends:
The line is gone; no longer duke or earl;
But, by himself degraded, turns a churl.
Nobility of blood is but renown
Of thy great fathers by their virtue known, 440
And a long trail of light, to thee descending down.
If in thy smoke it ends, their glories shine;
But infamy and villanage are thine.
Then what I said before is plainly show'd,
The true nobility proceeds from God;
Nor left us by inheritance, but given
By bounty of our stars, and grace of Heaven.
Thus from a captive Servius Tullius rose,
Whom for his virtues the first Romans chose:
Fabricius from their walls repell'd the foe, 450
Whose noble hands had exercised the plough.
From hence, my lord, and love, I thus conclude,
That though my homely ancestors were rude,
Mean as I am, yet I may have the grace
To make you father of a generous race:
And noble then am I, when I begin,
In virtue clothed, to cast the rags of sin.
If poverty be my upbraided crime,
And you believe in Heaven, there was a time
When He, the great controller of our fate, 460
Deign'd to be man, and lived in low estate;
Which He who had the world at his dispose,
If poverty were vice, would never choose.
Philosophers have said, and poets sing,
That a glad poverty's an honest thing.
Content is wealth, the riches of the mind;
And happy he who can that treasure find.
But the base miser starves amidst his store,
Broods on his gold, and, griping still at more,
Sits sadly pining, and believes he's poor. 470
The ragged beggar, though he want relief,
Has not to lose, and sings before the thief.
Want is a bitter and a hateful good,
Because its virtues are not understood;
Yet many things, impossible to thought,
Have been by need to full perfection brought:
The daring of the soul proceeds from thence,
Sharpness of wit, and active diligence:
Prudence at once, and fortitude, it gives,
And, if in patience taken, mends our lives; 480
For even that indigence, that brings me low,
Makes me myself, and Him above, to know.
A good which none would challenge, few would choose,
A fair possession, which mankind refuse.
If we from wealth to poverty descend,
Want gives to know the flatterer from the friend.
If I am old and ugly, well for you,
No lewd adulterer will my love pursue;
Nor jealousy, the bane of married life,
Shall haunt you for a wither'd homely wife; 490
For age and ugliness, as all agree,
Are the best guards of female chastity.
Yet since I see your mind is worldly bent,
I'll do my best to further your content.
And therefore of two gifts in my dispose,
Think ere you speak, I grant you leave to choose:
Would you I should be still deform'd and old,
Nauseous to touch, and loathsome to behold;
On this condition to remain for life,
A careful, tender, and obedient wife, 500
In all I can contribute to your ease,
And not in deed, or word, or thought displease:
Or would you rather have me young and fair,
And take the chance that happens to your share?
Temptations are in beauty, and in youth,
And how can you depend upon my truth?
Now weigh the danger with the doubtful bliss,
And thank yourself, if aught should fall amiss.
Sore sigh'd the knight, who this long sermon heard;
At length, considering all, his heart he cheer'd, 510
And thus replied: My lady, and my wife,
To your wise conduct I resign my life:
Choose you for me, for well you understand
The future good and ill, on either hand:
But if an humble husband may request,
Provide, and order all things for the best;
Yours be the care to profit, and to please;
And let your subject servant take his ease.
Then thus in peace, quoth she, concludes the strife,
Since I am turn'd the husband, you the wife: 520
The matrimonial victory is mine,
Which, having fairly gain'd, I will resign:
Forgive if I have said or done amiss,
And seal the bargain with a friendly kiss.
I promised you but one content to share,
But now I will become both good and fair:
No nuptial quarrel shall disturb your ease;
The business of my life shall be to please:
And for my beauty, that, as time shall try--
But draw the curtain first, and cast your eye. 530
He look'd, and saw a creature heavenly fair,
In bloom of youth, and of a charming air.
With joy he turn'd, and seized her ivory arm;
And like Pygmalion found the statue warm.
Small arguments there needed to prevail;
A storm of kisses pour'd as thick as hail.
Thus long in mutual bliss they lay embraced,
And their first love continued to the last:
One sunshine was their life, no cloud between;
Nor ever was a kinder couple seen. 540
And so may all our lives like theirs be led;
Heaven send the maids young husbands fresh in bed!
May widows wed as often as they can,
And ever for the better change their man!
And some devouring plague pursue their lives,
Who will not well be govern'd by their wives!
* * * * *
[Footnote 79: 'Bittour:' bittern.]
* * * * *
THE CHARACTER OF A GOOD PARSON.
A parish priest was of the pilgrim train;
An awful, reverend, and religious man.
His eyes diffused a venerable grace,
And charity itself was in his face.
Rich was his soul, though his attire was poor;
(As God had clothed his own ambassador;)
For such, on earth, his bless'd Redeemer bore.
Of sixty years he seem'd; and well might last
To sixty more, but that he lived too fast;
Refined himself to soul, to curb the sense; 10
And made almost a sin of abstinence,
Yet, had his aspect nothing of severe,
But such a face as promised him sincere.
Nothing reserved or sullen was to see;
But sweet regards, and pleasing sanctity:
Mild was his accent, and his action free.
With eloquence innate his tongue was arm'd;
Though harsh the precept, yet the preacher charm'd.
For letting down the golden chain from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky; 20
And oft, with holy hymns, he charm'd their ears:
(A music more melodious than the spheres.)
For David left him, when he went to rest,
His lyre; and after him he sung the best.
He bore his great commission in his look:
But sweetly temper'd awe; and soften'd all he spoke.
He preach'd the joys of heaven, and pains of hell;
And warn'd the sinner with becoming zeal;
But on eternal mercy loved to dwell.
He taught the gospel rather than the law, 30
And forced himself to drive: but loved to draw.
For fear but freezes minds; but love, like heat,
Exhales the soul sublime, to seek her native seat.
To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard,
Wrapp'd in his crimes, against the storm prepared;
But, when the milder beams of mercy play,
He melts, and throws his cumbrous cloak away,
Lightning and thunder (heaven's artillery)
As harbingers before the Almighty fly:
Those but proclaim his style, and disappear; 40
The stiller sound succeeds, and God is there.
The tithes, his parish freely paid, he took;
But never sued, or cursed with bell and book.
With patience bearing wrong; but offering none:
Since every man is free to lose his own.
The country churls, according to their kind,
(Who grudge their dues, and love to be behind),
The less he sought his offerings, pinch'd the more,
And praised a priest contented to be poor.
Yet of his little he had some to spare, 50
To feed the famish'd, and to clothe the bare;
For mortified he was to that degree,
A poorer than himself he would not see.
True priests, he said, and preachers of the Word,
Were only stewards of their sovereign Lord:
Nothing was theirs; but all the public store;
Intrusted riches, to relieve the poor:
Who, should they steal for want of his relief,
He judged himself accomplice with the thief.
Wide was his parish; not contracted close 60
In streets, but here and there a straggling house;
Yet still he was at hand, without request,
To serve the sick; to succour the distress'd:
Tempting, on foot, alone, without affright,
The dangers of a dark tempestuous night.
All this the good old man perform'd alone,
Nor spared his pains; for curate he had none:
Nor durst he trust another with his care;
Nor rode himself to Paul's, the public fair,
To chaffer for preferment with his gold, 70
Where bishoprics and sinecures are sold:
But duly watch'd his flock, by night and day,
And from the prowling wolf redeem'd the prey;
And hungry sent the wily fox away.
The proud he tamed, the penitent he cheer'd;
Nor to rebuke the rich offender fear'd.
His preaching much, but more his practice wrought;
(A living sermon of the truths he taught);
For this by rules severe his life he squared,
That all might see the doctrine which they heard. 80
For priests, he said, are patterns for the rest:
(The gold of heaven, who bear the God impress'd):
But when the precious coin is kept unclean,
The Sovereign's image is no longer seen.
If they be foul on whom the people trust,
Well may the baser brass contract a rust.
The prelate for his holy life he prized;
The worldly pomp of prelacy despised:
His Saviour came not with a gaudy show;
Nor was his kingdom of the world below. 90
Patience in want, and poverty of mind,
These marks of Church and Churchmen he design'd,
And living taught, and dying left behind.
The crown he wore was of the pointed thorn:
In purple he was crucified, not born.
They who contend for place and high degree,
Are not his sons, but those of Zebedee.
Not but he knew the signs of earthly power
Might well become Saint Peter's successor;
The holy father holds a double reign, 100
The prince may keep his pomp, the fisher must be plain.
Such was the saint, who shone with every grace,
Reflecting, Moses'-like, his Maker's face.
God saw his image lively was express'd;
And his own work, as in creation, bless'd.
The Tempter saw him too, with envious eye;
And, as on Job, demanded leave to try.
He took the time when Richard was deposed,
And high and low with happy Harry closed.
This prince, though great in arms, the priest withstood: 110
Near though he was, yet not the next of blood.
Had Richard, unconstrain'd, resign'd the throne,
A king can give no more than is his own:
The title stood entail'd, had Richard had a son.
Conquest, an odious name, was laid aside,
Where all submitted, none the battle tried.
The senseless plea of right by Providence
Was, by a flattering priest, invented since;
And lasts no longer than the present sway;
But justifies the next who comes in play. 120
The people's right remains; let those who dare
Dispute their power, when they the judges are.
He join'd not in their choice, because he knew
Worse might, and often did, from change ensue.
Much to himself he thought; but little spoke;
And, undeprived, his benefice forsook.
Now, through the land, his cure of souls he stretch'd;
And like a primitive apostle preach'd:
Still cheerful; ever constant to his call;
By many follow'd; loved by most, admired by all. 130
With what he begg'd, his brethren he relieved:
And gave the charities himself received.
Gave, while he taught; and edified the more,
Because he showed, by proof, 'twas easy to be poor.
He went not with the crowd to see a shrine;
But fed us, by the way, with food divine.
In deference to his virtues, I forbear
To show you what the rest in orders were:
This brilliant is so spotless and so bright,
He needs no foil, but shines by his own proper light. 140
* * * * *
[Footnote 80: This poem is intended as a palinode for some of Dryden's
former misdeeds, and partly as a covert panegyric on the Nonjuring
* * * * *