The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Vol II
Part 6 out of 7
A priest with roses crown'd, who held a myrtle wand.
The dome of Mars was on the gate opposed,
And on the north a turret was enclosed,
Within the wall, of alabaster white,
And crimson coral, for the Queen of Night,
Who takes in sylvan sports her chaste delight.
Within these oratories might you see
Rich carvings, portraitures, and imagery:
Where every figure to the life express'd
The godhead's power to whom it was address'd. 470
In Venus' temple on the sides were seen
The broken slumbers of enamour'd men;
Prayers that even spoke, and pity seem'd to call,
And issuing sighs that smoked along the wall;
Complaints, and hot desires, the lover's hell,
And scalding tears that wore a channel where they fell:
And all around were nuptial bonds, the ties,
Of love's assurance, and a train of lies,
That, made in lust, conclude in perjuries.
Beauty, and Youth, and Wealth, and Luxury, 480
And spritely Hope, and short-enduring Joy;
And Sorceries to raise the infernal powers,
And Sigils framed in planetary hours:
Expense, and After-Thought, and idle Care,
And Doubts of motley hue, and dark Despair;
Suspicious, and fantastical Surmise,
And Jealousy suffused, with jaundice in her eyes,
Discolouring all she view'd, in tawny dress'd,
Down-look'd, and with a cuckoo on her fist.
Opposed to her, on the other side advance 490
The costly feast, the carol, and the dance,
Minstrels and Music, Poetry and Play,
And balls by night, and tournaments by day.
All these were painted on the wall, and more;
With acts and monuments of times before:
And others added by prophetic doom,
And lovers yet unborn, and loves to come:
For there the Idalian mount, and Citheron,
The court of Venus, was in colours drawn:
Before the palace-gate, in careless dress, 500
And loose array, sat portress Idleness:
There, by the fount, Narcissus pined alone;
There Samson was; with wiser Solomon,
And all the mighty names by love undone.
Medea's charms were there, Circean feasts,
With bowls that turn'd enamour'd youths to beasts:
Here might be seen, that beauty, wealth, and wit,
And prowess, to the power of love submit:
The spreading snare for all mankind is laid;
And lovers all betray, and are betray'd. 510
The goddess self some noble hand had wrought;
Smiling she seem'd, and full of pleasing thought:
From ocean as she first began to rise,
And smooth'd the ruffled seas and clear'd the skies;
She trode the brine, all bare below the breast,
And the green waves but ill conceal'd the rest;
A lute she held; and on her head was seen
A wreath of roses red, and myrtles green;
Her turtles fann'd the buxom air above;
And, by his mother, stood an infant Love, 520
With wings unfledged; his eyes were banded o'er;
His hands a bow, his back a quiver bore,
Supplied with arrows bright and keen, a deadly store.
But in the dome of mighty Mars the red
With different figures all the sides were spread;
This temple, less in form, with equal grace,
Was imitative of the first in Thrace:
For that cold region was the loved abode
And sovereign mansion of the warrior god.
The landscape was a forest wide and bare; 530
Where neither beast, nor human kind repair;
The fowl, that scent afar, the borders fly,
And shun the bitter blast, and wheel about the sky.
A cake of scurf lies baking on the ground,
And prickly stubs, instead of trees, are found;
Or woods, with knots and knares, deform'd and old;
Headless the most, and hideous to behold:
A rattling tempest through the branches went,
That stripp'd them bare, and one sole way they bent.
Heaven froze above, severe, the clouds congeal, 540
And through the crystal vault appear'd the standing hail.
Such was the face without; a mountain stood
Threatening from high, and overlook'd the wood:
Beneath the lowering brow, and on a bent,
The temple stood of Mars armipotent:
The frame of burnish'd steel, that cast a glare
From far, and seem'd to thaw the freezing air.
A strait long entry to the temple led,
Blind with high walls; and horror over head:
Thence issued such a blast, and hollow roar, 550
As threaten'd from the hinge to heave the door:
In through that door, a northern light there shone;
'Twas all it had, for windows there were none.
The gate was adamant; eternal frame!
Which, hew'd by Mars himself, from Indian quarries came,
The labour of a god; and all along
Tough iron plates were clench'd to make it strong.
A tun about was every pillar there;
A polish'd mirror shone not half so clear.
There saw I how the secret felon wrought, 560
And treason labouring in the traitor's thought;
And midwife Time the ripen'd plot to murder brought.
There the red Anger dared the pallid Fear;
Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer,
Soft smiling, and demurely looking down,
But hid the dagger underneath the gown:
The assassinating wife, the household fiend;
And far the blackest there, the traitor-friend.
On the other side, there stood Destruction bare;
Unpunish'd Rapine, and a waste of War. 570
Contest, with sharpen'd knives, in cloisters drawn,
And all with blood bespread the holy lawn.
Loud menaces were heard, and foul disgrace,
And bawling infamy, in language base;
Till sense was lost in sound, and silence fled the place.
The slayer of himself yet saw I there,
The gore congeal'd was clotted in his hair;
With eyes half closed, and gaping mouth he lay,
And grim, as when he breathed his sullen soul away.
In midst of all the dome, Misfortune sate, 580
And gloomy Discontent, and fell Debate,
And Madness laughing in his ireful mood;
And arm'd complaint on theft; and cries of blood.
There was the murder'd corpse in covert laid,
And violent death in thousand shapes display'd:
The city to the soldiers rage resigned:
Successless wars, and poverty behind:
Ships burnt in fight, or forced on rocky shores,
And the rash hunter strangled by the boars:
The new-born babe by nurses overlaid; 590
And the cook caught within the raging fire he made.
All ills of Mars his nature, flame and steel;
The gasping charioteer, beneath the wheel
Of his own car; the ruin'd house that falls
And intercepts her lord betwixt the walls:
The whole division that to Mars pertains,
All trades of death that deal in steel for gains,
Were there: the butcher, armourer, and smith,
Whose forges sharpen'd falchions, or the scythe.
The scarlet conquest on a tower was placed, 600
With shouts, and soldiers' acclamations graced:
A pointed sword hung threatening o'er his head,
Sustain'd but by a slender twine of thread.
There saw I Mars his ides, the Capitol,
The seer in vain foretelling Caesar's fall;
The last triumvirs, and the wars they move,
And Antony, who lost the world for love.
These, and a thousand more, the fane adorn;
Their fates were painted ere the men were born,
All copied from the heavens, and ruling force 610
Of the red star, in his revolving course.
The form of Mars high on a chariot stood,
All sheath'd in arms, and gruffly look'd the god:
Two geomantic figures were display'd
Above his head, a warrior and a maid,
One when direct, and one when retrograde.
Tired with deformities of death, I haste
To the third temple of Diana chaste.
A sylvan scene with various greens was drawn,
Shades on the sides, and in the midst a lawn: 620
The silver Cynthia, with her nymphs around,
Pursued the flying deer, the woods with horns resound:
Calisto there stood manifest of shame,
And, turn'd a bear, the northern star became:
Her son was next, and, by peculiar grace,
In the cold circle held the second place:
The stag Acteon in the stream had spied
The naked huntress, and, for seeing, died:
His hounds, unknowing of his change pursue
The chase, and their mistaken master slew. 630
Peneian Daphne too was there to see,
Apollo's love before, and now his tree:
The adjoining fane the assembled Greeks express'd,
And hunting of the Caledonian beast.
Oenides' valour, and his envied prize;
The fatal power of Atalanta's eyes;
Diana's vengeance on the victor shown,
The murderess mother; and consuming son;
The Volscian queen extended on the plain;
The treason punish'd, and the traitor slain. 640
The rest were various huntings, well design'd,
And savage beasts destroy'd, of every kind.
The graceful goddess was array'd in green;
About her feet were little beagles seen,
That watch'd with upward eyes the motions of their queen.
Her legs were buskin'd, and the left before,
In act to shoot; a silver bow she bore,
And at her back a painted quiver wore.
She trod a waxing moon, that soon would wane,
And, drinking borrow'd light, be fill'd again: 650
With downcast eyes, as seeming to survey
The dark dominions, her alternate sway.
Before her stood a women in her throes,
And call'd Lucina's aid, her burden to disclose.
All these the painter drew with such command,
That Nature snatch'd the pencil from his hand,
Ashamed and angry that his art could feign
And mend the tortures of a mother's pain.
Theseus beheld the fanes of every god,
And thought his mighty cost was well bestow'd. 660
So princes now their poets should regard;
But few can write, and fewer can reward.
The theatre thus raised, the lists enclosed,
And all with vast magnificence disposed,
We leave the monarch pleased, and haste to bring
The knights to combat, and their arms to sing.
The day approach'd when Fortune should decide
The important enterprise, and give the bride;
For now, the rivals round the world had sought,
And each his number, well appointed, brought.
The nations, far and near, contend in choice,
And send the flower of war by public voice;
That after, or before, were never known
Such chiefs, as each an army seem'd alone:
Beside the champions, all of high degree,
Who knighthood loved, and deeds of chivalry, 10
Throng'd to the lists, and envied to behold
The names of others, not their own, enroll'd.
Nor seems it strange; for every noble knight
Who loves the fair, and is endued with might,
In such a quarrel would be proud to fight.
There breathes not scarce a man on British ground
(An isle for love and arms of old renown'd)
But would have sold his life to purchase fame,
To Palamon or Arcite sent his name:
And had the land selected of the best, 20
Half had come hence, and let the world provide the rest.
A hundred knights with Palamon there came,
Approved in fight, and men of mighty name;
Their arms were several, as their nations were,
But furnish'd all alike with sword and spear.
Some wore coat-armour, imitating scale;
And next their skins were stubborn shirts of mail.
Some wore a breastplate and a light jupon,
Their horses clothed with rich caparison:
Some for defence would leathern bucklers use, 30
Of folded hides; and others shields of pruce.
One hung a pole-axe at his saddle-bow,
And one a heavy mace to stun the foe;
One for his legs and knees provided well,
With jambeaux arm'd, and double plates of steel:
This on his helmet wore a lady's glove,
And that a sleeve embroider'd by his love.
With Palamon above the rest in place,
Lycurgus came, the surly king of Thrace;
Black was his beard, and manly was his face; 40
The balls of his broad eyes roll'd in his head,
And glared betwixt a yellow and a red:
He look'd a lion with a gloomy stare,
And o'er his eyebrows hung his matted hair:
Big-boned, and large of limbs, with sinews strong,
Broad-shoulder'd, and his arms were round and long.
Four milk-white bulls (the Thracian use of old)
Were yoked to draw his car of burnish'd gold.
Upright he stood, and bore aloft his shield,
Conspicuous from afar, and overlook'd the field. 50
His surcoat was a bear-skin on his back;
His hair hung long behind, and glossy raven black.
His ample forehead bore a coronet,
With sparkling diamonds and with rubies set:
Ten brace, and more, of greyhounds, snowy fair,
And tall as stags, ran loose, and coursed around his chair,
A match for pards in flight, in grappling for the bear:
With golden muzzles all their mouths were bound,
And collars of the same their necks surround.
Thus through the fields Lycurgus took his way; 60
His hundred knights attend in pomp and proud array.
To match this monarch, with strong Arcite came
Emetrius, king of Ind, a mighty name;
On a bay courser, goodly to behold,
The trappings of his horse adorn'd with barbarous gold.
Not Mars bestrod a steed with greater grace;
His surcoat o'er his arms was cloth of Thrace,
Adorn'd with pearls, all orient, round, and great;
His saddle was of gold, with emeralds set,
His shoulders large a mantle did attire, 70
With rubies thick, and sparkling as the fire:
His amber-colour'd locks in ringlets run,
With graceful negligence, and shone against the sun.
His nose was aquiline, his eyes were blue;
Ruddy his lips, and fresh and fair his hue:
Some sprinkled freckles on his face were seen,
Whose dusk set off the whiteness of the skill:
His awful presence did the crowd surprise,
Nor durst the rash spectator meet his eyes;
Eyes that confess'd him born for kingly sway, 80
So fierce, they flash'd intolerable day.
His age in nature's youthful prime appear'd,
And just began to bloom his yellow beard.
Whene'er he spoke, his voice was heard around,
Loud as a trumpet, with a silver sound;
A laurel wreathed his temples, fresh and green;
And myrtle sprigs, the marks of love, were mix'd between.
Upon his fist he bore, for his delight,
An eagle well reclaim'd, and lily white.
His hundred knights attend him to the war, 90
All arm'd for battle; save their heads were bare.
Words and devices blazed on every shield,
And pleasing was the terror of the field.
For kings, and dukes, and barons, you might see,
Like sparkling stars, though different in degree,
All for the increase of arms, and love of chivalry.
Before the king tame leopards led the way,
And troops of lions innocently play.
So Bacchus through the conquer'd Indies rode,
And beasts in gambols frisk'd before their honest god. 100
In this array, the war of either side
Through Athens pass'd with military pride.
At prime, they enter'd on the Sunday morn;
Rich tapestry spread the streets, and flowers the posts adorn.
The town was all a jubilee of feasts;
So Theseus will'd, in honour of his guests;
Himself with open arms the kings embraced,
Then all the rest in their degrees were graced.
No harbinger was needful for the night,
For every house was proud to lodge a knight. 110
I pass the royal treat, nor must relate
The gifts bestow'd, nor how the champions sate:
Who first, who last, or how the knights address'd
Their vows, or who was fairest at the feast;
Whose voice, whose graceful dance did most surprise;
Soft amorous sighs, and silent love of eyes.
The rivals call my Muse another way,
To sing their vigils for the ensuing day.
'Twas ebbing darkness, past the noon of night:
And Phosphor, on the confines of the light, 120
Promised the sun; ere day began to spring,
The tuneful lark already stretch'd her wing,
And flickering on her nest, made short essays to sing.
When wakeful Palamon, preventing day,
Took to the royal lists his early way,
To Venus at her fane, in her own house, to pray.
There, falling on his knees before her shrine,
He thus implored with prayers her power divine:
Creator Venus, genial power of love,
The bliss of men below, and gods above! 130
Beneath the sliding sun thou runn'st thy race,
Dost fairest shine, and best become thy place.
For thee the winds their eastern blasts forbear,
Thy month reveals the spring, and opens all the year.
Thee, goddess! thee the storms of winter fly,
Earth smiles with flowers renewing, laughs the sky,
And birds to lays of love their tuneful notes apply.
For thee the lion loathes the taste of blood,
And, roaring, hunts his female through the wood:
For thee the bulls rebellow through the groves, 140
And tempt the stream, and snuff their absent loves.
'Tis thine, whate'er is pleasant, good, or fair:
All nature is thy province, life thy care:
Thou madest the world, and dost the world repair.
Thou gladder of the mount of Cytheron,
Increase of Jove, companion of the sun!
If e'er Adonis touch'd thy tender heart,
Have pity, goddess, for thou know'st the smart!
Alas! I have not words to tell my grief;
To vent my sorrow would be some relief; 150
Light sufferings give us leisure to complain;
We groan, but cannot speak, in greater pain.
O goddess! tell thyself what I would say,
Thou know'st it, and I feel too much to pray.
So grant my suit, as I enforce my might,
In love to be thy champion, and thy knight;
A servant to thy sex, a slave to thee,
A foe profess'd to barren chastity.
Nor ask I fame or honour of the field,
Nor choose I more to vanquish than to yield: 160
In my divine Emilia make me blest;
Let Fate, or partial Chance, dispose the rest:
Find thou the manner, and the means prepare;
Possession, more than conquest, is my care.
Mars is the warrior's god; in him it lies,
On whom he favours to confer the prize;
With smiling aspect you serenely move
In your fifth orb, and rule the realm of love.
The Fates but only spin the coarser clue,
The finest of the wool is left for you; 170
Spare me but one small portion of the twine,
And let the sisters cut below your line:
The rest among the rubbish may they sweep,
Or add it to the yarn of some old miser's heap.
But, if you this ambitious prayer deny,
(A wish, I grant, beyond mortality,)
Then let me sink beneath proud Arcite's arms,
And I once dead, let him possess her charms.
Thus ended he; then with observance due
The sacred incense on her altar threw: 180
The curling smoke mounts heavy from the fires;
At length it catches flame, and in a blaze expires;
At once the gracious goddess gave the sign,
Her statue shook, and trembled all the shrine:
Pleased Palamon the tardy omen took:
For, since the flames pursued the trailing smoke,
He knew his boon was granted; but the day
To distance driven, and joy adjourn'd with long delay.
Now morn with rosy light had streak'd the sky,
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emily; 190
Address'd her early steps to Cynthia's fane,
In state attended by her maiden train,
Who bore the vests that holy rites require,
Incense, and odorous gums, and cover'd fire.
The plenteous horns with pleasant mead they crown,
Nor wanted aught besides in honour of the Moon.
Now while the temple smoked with hallow'd steam,
They wash the virgin in a living stream;
The secret ceremonies I conceal,
Uncouth, perhaps unlawful, to reveal: 200
But such they were as Pagan use required,
Perform'd by women when the men retired,
Whose eyes profane their chaste mysterious rites
Might turn to scandal, or obscene delights.
Well-meaners think no harm; but for the rest,
Things sacred they pervert, and silence is the best.
Her shining hair, uncomb'd, was loosely spread,
A crown of mastless oak adorn'd her head:
When to the shrine approach'd, the spotless maid
Had kindling fires on either altar laid: 210
(The rites were such as were observed of old,
By Statius in his Theban story told.)
Then kneeling with her hands across her breast,
Thus lowly she preferr'd her chaste request:
Oh, goddess, haunter of the woodland green,
To whom both heaven and earth and seas are seen;
Queen of the nether skies, where half the year
Thy silver beams descend, and light the gloomy sphere!
Goddess of maids, and conscious of our hearts,
So keep me from the vengeance of thy darts, 220
Which Niobe's devoted issue felt,
When hissing through the skies the feather'd deaths were dealt;
As I desire to live a virgin life,
Nor know the name of mother or of wife.
Thy votress from my tender years I am,
And love, like thee, the woods and sylvan game.
Like death, thou know'st, I loathe the nuptial state,
And man, the tyrant of our sex, I hate,
A lowly servant, but a lofty mate:
Where love is duty on the female side; 230
On theirs, mere sensual gust, and sought with surly pride.
Now by thy triple shape, as thou art seen
In heaven, earth, hell, and everywhere a queen,
Grant this my first desire; let discord cease,
And make betwixt the rivals lasting peace:
Quench their hot fire, or far from me remove
The flame, and turn it on some other love;
Or, if my frowning stars have so decreed,
That one must be rejected, one succeed,
Make him my lord, within whose faithful breast 240
Is fix'd my image, and who loves me best.
But, oh! even that avert! I choose it not,
But take it as the least unhappy lot.
A maid I am, and of thy virgin train;
Oh, let me still that spotless name retain!
Frequent the forests, thy chaste will obey,
And only make the beasts of chase my prey!
The flames ascend on either altar clear,
While thus the blameless maid address'd her prayer.
When, lo! the burning fire that shone so bright, 250
Flew off all sudden, with extinguish'd light,
And left one altar dark, a little space;
Which turn'd self-kindled, and renew'd the blaze:
The other victor-flame a moment stood,
Then fell, and lifeless left the extinguish'd wood;
For ever lost, the irrevocable light
Forsook the blackening coals, and sunk to night:
At either end it whistled as it flew,
And as the brands were green, so dropp'd the dew;
Infected as it fell with sweat of sanguine hue. 260
The maid from that ill omen turn'd her eyes,
And with loud shrieks and clamours rent the skies,
Nor knew what signified the boding sign,
But found the Powers displeased, and fear'd the wrath divine.
Then shook the sacred shrine, and sudden light
Sprung through the vaulted roof, and made the temple bright.
The Power, behold! the Power in glory shone,
By her bent bow, and her keen arrows known;
The rest, a huntress issuing from the wood,
Reclining on her cornel spear she stood. 270
Then gracious thus began: Dismiss thy fear,
And Heaven's unchanged decrees attentive hear:
More powerful gods have torn thee from my side,
Unwilling to resign, and doom'd a bride:
The two contending knights are weigh'd above;
One Mars protects, and one the Queen of Love:
But which the man, is in the Thunderer's breast;
This he pronounced, 'Tis he who loves thee best.
The fire that, once extinct, revived again,
Foreshows the love allotted to remain: 280
Farewell! she said, and vanish'd from the place;
The sheaf of arrows shook, and rattled in the case.
Aghast at this, the royal virgin stood,
Disclaim'd, and now no more a sister of the wood:
But to the parting goddess thus she pray'd:
Propitious still be present to my aid,
Nor quite abandon your once favour'd maid.
Then sighing she return'd; but smiled betwixt,
With hopes and fears, and joys with sorrows mix'd.
The next returning planetary hour 290
Of Mars, who shared the heptarchy of power,
His steps bold Arcite to the temple bent,
To adore with Pagan rites the power armipotent:
Then prostrate, low before his altar lay,
And raised his manly voice, and thus began to pray:
Strong God of arms, whose iron sceptre sways
The freezing North, and Hyperborean seas,
And Scythian colds, and Thracia's wintry coast,
Where stand thy steeds, and thou art honour'd most!
There most; but everywhere thy power is known, 300
The fortune of the fight is all thy own:
Terror is thine, and wild amazement, flung
From out thy chariot, withers even the strong:
And disarray and shameful rout ensue,
And force is added to the fainting crew.
Acknowledged as thou art, accept my prayer,
If aught I have achieved deserve thy care:
If to my utmost power, with sword and shield,
I dared the death, unknowing how to yield,
And falling in my rank, still kept the field: 310
Then let my arms prevail, by thee sustain'd,
That Emily by conquest may be gain'd.
Have pity on my pains; nor those unknown
To Mars, which, when a lover, were his own.
Venus, the public care of all above,
Thy stubborn heart has soften'd into love:
Now, by her blandishments and powerful charms,
When yielded she lay curling in thy arms,
Even by thy shame, if shame it may be call'd,
When Vulcan had thee in his net enthrall'd; 320
(Oh, envied ignominy, sweet disgrace,
When every god that saw thee wish'd thy place!)
By those dear pleasures, aid my arms in fight,
And make me conquer in my patron's right:
For I am young, a novice in the trade,
The fool of love, unpractised to persuade:
And want the soothing arts that catch the fair,
But, caught myself, lie struggling in the snare:
And she I love, or laughs at all my pain,
Or knows her worth too well; and pays me with disdain. 330
For sure I am, unless I win in arms,
To stand excluded from Emilia's charms:
Nor can my strength avail, unless by thee
Endued with force, I gain the victory!
Then for the fire which warm'd thy generous heart,
Pity thy subject's pains, and equal smart.
So be the morrow's sweat and labour mine,
The palm and honour of the conquest thine:
Then shall the war, and stern debate, and strife
Immortal, be the business of my life; 340
And in thy fane, the dusty spoils among,
High on the burnish'd roof, my banner shall be hung:
Rank'd with my champions' bucklers, and below,
With arms reversed, the achievements of my foe:
And while these limbs the vital spirit feeds,
While day to night, and night to day succeeds,
Thy smoking altar shall be fat with food
Of incense, and the grateful steam of blood;
Burnt-offerings morn and evening shall be thine;
And fires eternal in thy temple shine. 350
The bush of yellow beard, this length of hair,
Which from my birth inviolate I bear,
Guiltless of steel, and from the razor free,
Shall fall a plenteous crop, reserved for thee.
So may my arms with victory be blest,
I ask no more; let Fate dispose the rest.
The champion ceased; there follow'd in the close
A hollow groan: a murmuring wind arose;
The rings of iron, that on the doors were hung,
Sent out a jarring sound, and harshly rung: 360
The bolted gates flew open at the blast,
The storm rush'd in, and Arcite stood aghast:
The flames were blown aside, yet shone they bright,
Fann'd by the wind, and gave a ruffled light.
Then from the ground a scent began to rise,
Sweet smelling, as accepted sacrifice:
This omen pleased, and as the flames aspire
With odorous incense Arcite heaps the fire:
Nor wanted hymns to Mars, or heathen charms:
At length the nodding statue clash'd his arms, 370
And with a sullen sound and feeble cry,
Half sunk, and half pronounced the word of victory.
For this, with soul devout, he thank'd the god,
And, of success secure, return'd to his abode.
These vows thus granted, raised a strife above,
Betwixt the God of War and Queen of Love.
She, granting first, had right of time to plead;
But he had granted too, nor would recede.
Jove was for Venus; but he fear'd his wife,
And seem'd unwilling to decide the strife; 380
Till Saturn from his leaden throne arose,
And found a way the difference to compose:
Though sparing of his grace, to mischief bent,
He seldom does a good with good intent.
Wayward, but wise; by long experience taught,
To please both parties, for ill ends, he sought:
For this advantage age from youth has won,
As not to be outridden, though outrun.
By fortune he was now to Venus trined,
And with stern Mars in Capricorn was join'd: 390
Of him disposing in his own abode,
He soothed the goddess, while he gull'd the god:
Cease, daughter, to complain, and stint the strife;
Thy Palamon shall have his promised wife:
And Mars, the lord of conquest, in the fight
With palm and laurel shall adorn his knight.
Wide is my course, nor turn I to my place,
Till length of time, and move with tardy pace.
Man feels me, when I press the ethereal plains,
My hand is heavy, and the wound remains. 400
Mine is the shipwreck, in a watery sign;
And in an earthy, the dark dungeon mine.
Cold shivering agues, melancholy care,
And bitter blasting winds, and poison'd air,
Are mine, and wilful death, resulting from despair.
The throttling quinsey 'tis my star appoints,
And rheumatisms ascend to rack the joints:
When churls rebel against their native prince,
I arm their hands, and furnish the pretence;
And housing in the lion's hateful sign, 410
Bought senates, and deserting troops are mine.
Mine is the privy poisoning; I command
Unkindly seasons, and ungrateful land.
By me kings' palaces are push'd to ground.
And miners crush'd beneath their mines are found.
'Twas I slew Samson, when the pillar'd hall
Fell down, and crush'd the many with the fall.
My looking is the sire of pestilence,
That sweeps at once the people and the prince.
Now weep no more, but trust thy grandsire's art, 420
Mars shall be pleased, and thou perform thy part.
'Tis ill, though different your complexions are,
The family of heaven for men should war.
The expedient pleased, where neither lost his right;
Mars had the day, and Venus had the night.
The management they left to Chronos' care;
Now turn we to the effect, and sing the war.
In Athens all was pleasure, mirth, and play,
All proper to the spring, and spritely May:
Which every soul inspired with such delight, 430
'Twas jesting all the day, and love at night.
Heaven smiled, and gladded was the heart of man;
And Venus had the world as when it first began.
At length in sleep their bodies they compose,
And dreamt the future fight, and early rose.
Now scarce the dawning day began to spring,
As at a signal given, the streets with clamours ring:
At once the crowd arose; confused and high,
Even from the heaven, was heard a shouting cry;
For Mars was early up, and roused the sky. 440
The gods came downward to behold the wars,
Sharpening their sights, and leaning from their stars.
The neighing of the generous horse was heard,
For battle by the busy groom prepared:
Rustling of harness, rattling of the shield,
Clattering of armour, furbish'd for the field.
Crowds to the castle mounted up the street,
Battering the pavement with their coursers' feet:
The greedy sight might there devour the gold
Of glittering arms, too dazzling to behold: 450
And polish'd steel, that cast the view aside,
And crested morions, with their plumy pride.
Knights, with a long retinue of their squires,
In gaudy liveries march, and quaint attires.
One laced the helm, another held the lance:
A third the shining buckler did advance.
The courser paw'd the ground with restless feet,
And snorting foam'd, and champ'd the golden bit.
The smiths and armourers on palfreys ride,
Files in their hands, and hammers at their side, 460
And nails for loosen'd spears, and thongs for shields provide.
The yeomen guard the streets, in seemly bands;
And clowns come crowding on, with cudgels in their hands.
The trumpets, next the gate, in order placed,
Attend the sign to sound the martial blast;
The palace-yard is fill'd with floating tides,
And the last comers bear the former to the sides.
The throng is in the midst: the common crew
Shut out, the hall admits the better few;
In knots they stand, or in a rank they walk, 470
Serious in aspect, earnest in their talk;
Factious, and favouring this or the other side,
As their strong fancy or weak reason guide:
Their wagers back their wishes; numbers hold
With the fair freckled king, and beard of gold:
So vigorous are his eyes, such rays they cast,
So prominent his eagle's beak is placed.
But most their looks on the black monarch bend,
His rising muscles, and his brawn commend;
His double-biting axe, and beamy spear, 480
Each asking a gigantic force to rear.
All spoke as partial favour moved the mind;
And, safe themselves, at others' cost divined.
Waked by the cries, the Athenian chief arose,
The knightly forms of combat to dispose;
And passing through the obsequious guards, he sate
Conspicuous on a throne, sublime in state;
There, for the two contending knights he sent;
Arm'd cap-a-pie, with reverence low they bent;
He smiled on both, and with superior look 490
Alike their offer'd adoration took.
The people press on every side to see
Their awful prince, and hear his high decree.
Then signing to their heralds with his hand,
They gave his orders from their lofty stand.
Silence is thrice enjoin'd; then thus aloud
The king-at-arms bespeaks the knights and listening crowd:
Our sovereign lord has ponder'd in his mind
The means to spare the blood of gentle kind;
And of his grace, and inborn clemency, 500
He modifies his first severe decree!
The keener edge of battle to rebate,
The troops for honour fighting, not for hate:
He wills, not death should terminate their strife,
And wounds, if wounds ensue, be short of life:
But issues, ere the fight, his dread command,
That slings afar, and poniards hand to hand,
Be banish'd from the field; that none shall dare
With shorten'd sword to stab in closer war;
But in fair combat fight with manly strength, 510
Nor push with biting point, but strike at length;
The tourney is allow'd but one career,
Of the tough ash, with the sharp-grinded spear;
But knights unhorsed may rise from off the plain,
And fight on foot their honour to regain;
Nor, if at mischief taken, on the ground
Be slain, but prisoners to the pillar bound,
At either barrier placed; nor (captives made),
Be freed, or arm'd anew the fight invade.
The chief of either side, bereft of life, 520
Or yielded to his foe, concludes the strife.
Thus dooms the lord: now, valiant knights and young,
Fight each his fill with swords and maces long.
The herald ends: the vaulted firmament
With loud acclaims and vast applause is rent:
Heaven guard a prince so gracious and so good,
So just, and yet so provident of blood!
This was the general cry. The trumpets sound,
And warlike symphony is heard around.
The marching troops through Athens take their way, 530
The great earl-marshal orders their array.
The fair from high the passing pomp behold;
A rain of flowers is from the windows roll'd.
The casements are with golden tissue spread,
And horses' hoofs, for earth, on silken tapestry tread.
The king goes midmost, and the rivals ride
In equal rank, and close his either side.
Next after these, there rode the royal wife,
With Emily, the cause, and the reward of strife.
The following cavalcade, by three and three, 540
Proceed by titles marshall'd in degree.
Thus through the southern gate they take their way,
And at the list arrived ere prime of day.
There, parting from the king, the chiefs divide,
And wheeling east and west, before their many ride.
The Athenian monarch mounts his throne on high,
And after him the queen and Emily:
Next these, the kindred of the crown are graced
With nearer seats, and lords by ladies placed.
Scarce were they seated, when with clamours loud 550
In rush'd at once a rude promiscuous crowd;
The guards, and then each other overbear,
And in a moment throng the spacious theatre.
Now changed the jarring noise to whispers low,
As winds forsaking seas more softly blow;
When at the western gate, on which the car
Is placed aloft, that bears the god of war,
Proud Arcite entering arm'd before his train,
Stops at the barrier, and divides the plain.
Red was his banner, and display'd abroad 560
The bloody colours of his patron god.
At that self moment enters Palamon
The gate of Venus, and the rising Sun;
Waved by the wanton winds, his banner flies,
All maiden white, and shares the people's eyes.
From east to west, look all the world around,
Two troops so match'd were never to be found;
Such bodies built for strength, of equal age,
In stature sized; so proud in equipage:
The nicest eye could no distinction make, 570
Where lay the advantage, or what side to take.
Thus ranged, the herald for the last proclaims
A silence, while they answer'd to their names:
For so the king decreed, to shun the care,
The fraud of musters false, the common bane of war.
The tale was just, and then the gates were closed;
And chief to chief, and troop to troop opposed.
The heralds last retired, and loudly cried--
The fortune of the field be fairly tried!
At this, the challenger with fierce defy 580
His trumpet sounds; the challenged makes reply;
With clangour rings the field, resounds the vaulted sky.
Their vizors closed, their lances in the rest,
Or at the helmet pointed, or the crest,
They vanish from the barrier, speed the race,
And spurring see decrease the middle space.
A cloud of smoke envelops either host,
And all at once the combatants are lost:
Darkling they join adverse, and shock unseen,
Coursers with coursers jostling, men with men: 590
As labouring in eclipse, a while they stay,
Till the next blast of wind restores the day.
They look anew: the beauteous form of fight
Is changed, and war appears a grisly sight.
Two troops in fair array one moment show'd,
The next, a field with fallen bodies strow'd:
Not half the number in their seats are found;
But men and steeds lie grovelling on the ground.
The points of spears are stuck within the shield,
The steeds without their riders scour the field. 600
The knights, unhorsed, on foot renew the fight;
The glittering falchions cast a gleaming light:
Hauberks and helms are hew'd with many a wound,
Out spins the streaming blood and dyes the ground.
The mighty maces with such haste descend,
They break the bones, and make the solid armour bend.
This thrusts amid the throng with furious force;
Down goes, at once, the horseman and the horse:
That courser stumbles on the fallen steed,
And floundering throws the rider o'er his head. 610
One rolls along, a foot-ball to his foes;
One with a broken truncheon deals his blows.
This halting, this disabled with his wound,
In triumph led, is to the pillar bound,
Where by the king's award he must abide:
There goes a captive led on the other side.
By fits they cease; and leaning on the lance,
Take breath a while, and to new fight advance.
Full oft the rivals met, and neither spared
His utmost force, and each forgot to ward. 620
The head of this was to the saddle bent,
The other backward to the crupper sent:
Both were by turns unhorsed; the jealous blows
Fall thick and heavy, when on foot they close.
So deep their falchions bite, that every stroke
Pierced to the quick; and equal wounds they gave and took.
Borne far asunder by the tides of men,
Like adamant and steel they meet again.
So when a tiger sucks the bullock's blood,
A famish'd lion issuing from the wood 630
Roars lordly fierce, and challenges the food:
Each claims possession, neither will obey,
But both their paws are fasten'd on the prey;
They bite, they tear; and while in vain they strive,
The swains come arm'd between, and both to distance drive.
At length, as Fate foredoom'd, and all things tend
By course of time to their appointed end;
So when the sun to west was far declined,
And both afresh in mortal battle join'd,
The strong Emetrius came in Arcite's aid, 640
And Palamon with odds was overlaid:
For turning short, he struck with all his might
Full on the helmet of the unwary knight.
Deep was the wound; he stagger'd with the blow,
And turn'd him to his unexpected foe;
Whom with such force he struck, he fell'd him down,
And cleft the circle of his golden crown.
But Arcite's men, who now prevail'd in fight,
Twice ten at once surround the single knight:
O'erpower'd, at length, they force him to the ground, 650
Unyielded as he was, and to the pillar bound;
And King Lycurgus, while he fought in vain
His friend to free, was tumbled on the plain.
Who now laments but Palamon, compell'd
No more to try the fortune of the field!
And, worse than death, to view with hateful eyes
His rival's conquest, and renounce the prize!
The royal judge, on his tribunal placed,
Who had beheld the fight from first to last,
Bade cease the war; pronouncing from on high, 660
Arcite of Thebes had won the beauteous Emily.
The sound of trumpets to the voice replied,
And round the royal lists the heralds cried,
Arcite of Thebes has won the beauteous bride!
The people rend the skies with vast applause;
All own the chief, when Fortune owns the cause.
Arcite is own'd even by the gods above,
And conquering Mars insults the Queen of Love.
So laugh'd he, when the rightful Titan fail'd,
And Jove's usurping arms in heaven prevail'd. 670
Laugh'd all the powers who favour tyranny;
And all the standing army of the sky.
But Venus with dejected eyes appears,
And, weeping on the lists, distill'd her tears;
Her will refused, which grieves a woman most,
And, in her champion foil'd, the cause of Love is lost.
Till Saturn said, Fair daughter, now be still,
The blustering fool has satisfied his will;
His boon is given; his knight has gain'd the day,
But lost the prize; the arrears are yet to pay; 680
Thy hour is come, and mine the care shall be
To please thy knight, and set thy promise free.
Now while the heralds run the lists around,
And Arcite! Arcite! heaven and earth resound;
A miracle (nor less it could be call'd)
Their joy with unexpected sorrow pall'd.
The victor knight had laid his helm aside,
Part for his ease, the greater part for pride;
Bare-headed, popularly low he bow'd,
And paid the salutations of the crowd. 690
Then spurring at full speed, ran endlong on
Where Theseus sate on his imperial throne;
Furious he drove, and upward cast his eye,
Where, next the queen, was placed his Emily;
Then passing, to the saddle-bow he bent:
A sweet regard the gracious virgin lent;
(For women, to the brave an easy prey,
Still follow Fortune where she leads the way):
Just then, from earth sprung out a flashing fire,
By Pluto sent, at Saturn's bad desire: 700
The startling steed was seized with sudden fright,
And, bounding, o'er the pommel cast the knight:
Forward he flew, and pitching on his head,
He quiver'd with his feet, and lay for dead.
Black was his countenance in a little space,
For all the blood was gather'd in his face.
Help was at hand: they rear'd him from the ground,
And from his cumbrous arms his limbs unbound;
Then lanced a vein, and watch'd returning breath;
It came, but clogg'd with symptoms of his death. 710
The saddle-bow the noble parts had press'd,
All bruised and mortified his manly breast.
Him still entranced, and in a litter laid,
They bore from field, and to his bed convey'd.
At length he waked, and with a feeble cry,
The word he first pronounced was "Emily."
Mean time the king, though inwardly he mourn'd,
In pomp triumphant to the town return'd,
Attended by the chiefs, who fought the field;
(Now friendly mix'd, and in one troop compell'd.) 720
Composed his looks to counterfeited cheer,
And bade them not for Arcite's life to fear.
But that which gladded all the warrior train,
Though most were sorely wounded, none were slain.
The surgeons soon despoil'd them of their arms,
And some with salves they cure, and some with charms;
Foment the bruises, and the pains assuage,
And heal their inward hurts with sovereign draughts of sage.
The king in person visits all around,
Comforts the sick, congratulates the sound; 730
Honours the princely chiefs, rewards the rest,
And holds for thrice three days a royal feast.
None was disgraced; for falling is no shame;
And cowardice alone is loss of fame.
The venturous knight is from the saddle thrown;
But 'tis the fault of Fortune, not his own,
If crowds and palms the conquering side adorn,
The victor under better stars was born:
The brave man seeks not popular applause,
Nor, overpower'd with arms, deserts his cause; 740
Unshamed, though foil'd, he does the best he can;
Force is of brutes, but honour is of man.
Thus Theseus smiled on all with equal grace,
And each was set according to his place;
With ease were reconciled the differing parts,
For envy never dwells in noble hearts.
At length they took their leave, the time expired,
Well pleased, and to their several homes retired.
Mean while the health of Arcite still impairs;
From bad proceeds to worse, and mocks the leech's cares 750
Swoln is his breast; his inward pains increase,
All means are used, and all without success.
The clotted blood lies heavy on his heart,
Corrupts, and there remains, in spite of art:
Nor breathing veins, nor cupping will prevail;
All outward remedies and inward fail:
The mould of nature's fabric is destroy'd,
Her vessels discomposed, her virtue void;
The bellows of his lungs begin to swell:
All out of frame is every secret cell, 760
Nor can the good receive, nor bad expel.
Those breathing organs thus within oppress'd,
With venom soon distend the sinews of his breast.
Nought profits him to save abandon'd life,
Nor vomit's upward aid, nor downward laxative.
The midmost region batter'd and destroy'd,
When nature cannot work, the effect of art is void.
For physic can but mend our crazy state,
Patch an old building, not a new create.
Arcite is doom'd to die in all his pride, 770
Must leave his youth, and yield his beauteous bride,
Gain'd hardly, against right, and unenjoy'd.
When 'twas declared all hope of life was past,
Conscience (that of all physic works the last)
Caused him to send for Emily in haste.
With her, at his desire, came Palamon;
Then on his pillow raised, he thus begun:
No language can express the smallest part
Of what I feel, and suffer in my heart
For you, whom best I love and value most; 780
But to your service I bequeath my ghost;
Which from this mortal body when untied,
Unseen, unheard, shall hover at your side;
Nor fright you waking, nor your sleep offend,
But wait officious, and your steps attend:
How I have loved, excuse my faltering tongue,
My spirit's feeble, and my pains are strong:
This I may say, I only grieve to die,
Because I lose my charming Emily:
To die, when Heaven had put you in my power, 790
Fate could not choose a more malicious hour!
What greater curse could envious Fortune give,
Than just to die, when I began to live?
Vain men! how vanishing a bliss we crave,
Now warm in love, now withering in the grave!
Never, oh never more to see the sun!
Still dark, in a damp vault, and still alone!
This fate is common; but I lose my breath;
Near bliss, and yet not bless'd before my death.
Farewell; but take me dying in your arms, 800
'Tis all I can enjoy of all your charms:
This hand I cannot but in death resign;
Ah! could I live! but while I live 'tis mine.
I feel my end approach, and thus embraced,
Am pleased to die; but hear me speak my last:
Ah! my sweet foe, for you, and you alone,
I broke my faith with injured Palamon.
But love the sense of right and wrong confounds,
Strong love and proud ambition have no bounds.
And much I doubt, should Heaven my life prolong, 810
I should return to justify my wrong:
For while my former flames remain within,
Repentance is but want of power to sin.
With mortal hatred I pursued his life,
Nor he, nor you, were guilty of the strife;
Nor I, but as I loved; yet all combined,
Your beauty, and my impotence of mind;
And his concurrent flame that blew my fire;
For still our kindred souls had one desire.
He had a moment's right in point of time; 820
Had I seen first, then his had been the crime.
Fate made it mine, and justified his right;
Nor holds this earth a more deserving knight,
For virtue, valour, and for noble blood,
Truth, honour, all that is comprised in good;
So help me Heaven, in all the world is none
So worthy to be loved as Palamon.
He loves you too, with such an holy fire,
As will not, cannot, but with life expire:
Our vow'd affections both have often tried, 830
Nor any love but yours could ours divide.
Then, by my love's inviolable band,
By my long suffering, and my short command,
If e'er you plight your vows when I am gone,
Have pity on the faithful Palamon.
This was his last; for Death came on amain,
And exercised below his iron reign;
Then upward to the seat of life he goes:
Sense fled before him, what he touch'd he froze:
Yet could he not his closing eyes withdraw, 840
Though less and less of Emily he saw;
So, speechless, for a little space he lay;
Then grasp'd the hand he held, and sigh'd his soul away.
But whither went his soul, let such relate
Who search the secrets of the future state:
Divines can say but what themselves believe;
Strong proofs they have, but not demonstrative:
For, were all plain, then all sides must agree,
And faith itself be lost in certainty.
To live uprightly, then, is sure the best, 850
To save ourselves, and not to damn the rest.
The soul of Arcite went where heathens go,
Who better live than we, though less they know.
In Palamon a manly grief appears;
Silent, he wept, ashamed to show his tears:
Emilia shriek'd but once, and then, oppress'd
With sorrow, sunk upon her lover's breast:
Till Theseus in his arms convey'd with care,
Far from so sad a sight, the swooning fair.
'Twere loss of time her sorrow to relate; 860
Ill bears the sex a youthful lover's fate,
When just approaching to the nuptial state.
But like a low-hung cloud, it rains so fast,
That all at once it falls, and cannot last.
The face of things is changed, and Athens now,
That laugh'd so late, becomes the scene of woe:
Matrons and maids, both sexes, every state,
With tears lament the knight's untimely fate.
Nor greater grief in falling Troy was seen
For Hector's death; but Hector was not then, 870
Old men with dust deform'd their hoary hair,
The women beat their breasts, their cheeks they tear.
Why wouldst thou go, with one consent they cry,
When thou hadst gold enough, and Emily?
Theseus himself, who should have cheer'd the grief
Of others, wanted now the same relief;
Old Egeus only could revive his son,
Who various changes of the world had known,
And strange vicissitudes of human fate,
Still altering, never in a steady state; 880
Good after ill, and, after pain, delight,
Alternate like the scenes of day and night:
Since every man who lives, is born to die,
And none can boast sincere felicity,
With equal mind, what happens, let us bear,
Nor joy, nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.
Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend;
The world's an inn, and death the journey's end.
Even kings but play; and when their part is done,
Some other, worse or better, mount the throne. 890
With words like these the crowd was satisfied,
And so they would have been, had Theseus died.
But he, their king, was labouring in his mind,
A fitting place for funeral pomps to find,
Which were in honour of the dead design'd.
And after long debate, at last he found
(As love itself had mark'd the spot of ground)
That grove for ever green, that conscious laund,
Where he with Palamon fought hand to hand:
That where he fed his amorous desires 900
With soft complaints, and felt his hottest fires;
There other flames might waste his earthly part,
And burn his limbs, where love had burn'd his heart.
This once resolved, the peasants were enjoin'd
Sere-wood, and firs, and dodder'd oaks to find.
With sounding axes to the grove they go,
Fell, split, and lay the fuel on a row,
Vulcanian food: a bier is next prepared,
On which the lifeless body should be rear'd,
Cover'd with cloth of gold, on which was laid 910
The corpse of Arcite, in like robes array'd.
White gloves were on his hands, and on his head
A wreath of laurel, mix'd with myrtle spread.
A sword keen-edged within his right he held,
The warlike emblem of the conquer'd field:
Bare was his manly visage on the bier:
Menaced his countenance; even in death severe.
Then to the palace-hall they bore the knight,
To lie in solemn state, a public sight.
Groans, cries, and howlings fill the crowded place, 920
And unaffected sorrow sate on every face.
Sad Palamon above the rest appears,
In sable garments, dew'd with gushing tears:
His auburn locks on either shoulder flow'd,
Which to the funeral of his friend he vow'd:
But Emily, as chief, was next his side,
A virgin-widow, and a mourning bride.
And that the princely obsequies might be
Perform'd according to his high degree,
The steed, that bore him living to the fight, 930
Was trapp'd with polish'd steel, all shining bright,
And cover'd with the achievements of the knight.
The riders rode abreast, and one his shield,
His lance of cornel-wood another held;
The third his bow, and, glorious to behold,
The costly quiver, all of burnish'd gold.
The noblest of the Grecians next appear,
And, weeping, on their shoulders bore the bier;
With sober pace they march'd, and often stay'd,
And through the master-street the corpse convey'd. 940
The houses to their tops with black were spread,
And even the pavements were with mourning hid.
The right side of the pall old Egeus kept,
And on the left the royal Theseus wept;
Each bore a golden bowl, of work divine,
With honey fill'd, and milk, and mix'd with ruddy wine.
Then Palamon, the kinsman of the slain,
And after him appear'd the illustrious train.
To grace the pomp, came Emily the bright,
With cover'd fire, the funeral pile to light. 950
With high devotion was the service made,
And all the rites of Pagan honour paid:
So lofty was the pile, a Parthian bow,
With vigour drawn, must send the shaft below.
The bottom was full twenty fathom broad,
With crackling straw beneath in due proportion strew'd.
The fabric seem'd a wood of rising green,
With sulphur and bitumen cast between,
To feed the flames: the trees were unctuous fir,
And mountain-ash, the mother of the spear; 960
The mourner-yew, and builder oak were there;
The beech, the swimming alder, and the plane,
Hard box, and linden of a softer grain,
And laurels, which the gods for conquering chiefs ordain.
How they were rank'd, shall rest untold by me,
With nameless Nymphs that lived in every tree;
Nor how the Dryads, or the woodland train,
Disherited, ran howling o'er the plain:
Nor how the birds to foreign seats repair'd,
Or beasts, that bolted out, and saw the forest bared: 970
Nor how the ground, now clear'd, with ghastly fright
Beheld the sudden sun, a stranger to the light.
The straw, as first I said, was laid below;
Of chips and sere-wood was the second row;
The third of greens, and timber newly fell'd;
The fourth high stage the fragrant odours held,
And pearls, and precious stones, and rich array;
In midst of which, embalm'd, the body lay.
The service sung, the maid with mourning eyes
The stubble fired; the smouldering flames arise: 980
This office done, she sunk upon the ground;
But what she spoke, recover'd from her swound,
I want the wit in moving words to dress;
But by themselves the tender sex may guess.
While the devouring fire was burning fast,
Rich jewels in the flame the wealthy cast;
And some their shields, and some their lances threw,
And gave their warrior's ghost a warrior's due.
Full bowls of wine, of honey, milk, and blood
Were pour'd upon the pile of burning wood, 990
And hissing flames receive, and hungry lick the food.
Then thrice the mounted squadrons ride around
The fire, and Arcite's name they thrice resound:
Hail, and farewell! they shouted thrice amain,
Thrice facing to the left, and thrice they turn'd again:
Still as they turn'd, they beat their clattering shields;
The women mix their cries; and clamour fills the fields.
The warlike wakes continued all the night,
And funeral games were play'd at new returning light;
Who naked wrestled best, besmear'd with oil, 1000
Or who with gauntlets gave or took the foil,
I will not tell you, nor would you attend;
But briefly haste to my long story's end.
I pass the rest; the year was fully mourn'd,
And Palamon long since to Thebes returned:
When, by the Grecians' general consent,
At Athens Theseus held his parliament:
Among the laws that pass'd, it was decreed,
That conquer'd Thebes from bondage should be freed;
Reserving homage to the Athenian throne, 1010
To which the sovereign summon'd Palamon.
Unknowing of the cause, he took his way,
Mournful in mind, and still in black array.
The monarch mounts the throne, and, placed on high,
Commands into the court the beauteous Emily:
So call'd, she came; the senate rose, and paid
Becoming reverence to the royal maid.
And first, soft whispers through the assembly went;
With silent wonder then they watch'd the event:
All hush'd, the king arose with awful grace, 1020
Deep thought was in his breast, and counsel in his face.
At length he sigh'd; and having first prepared
The attentive audience, thus his will declared:
The Cause and Spring of motion, from above,
Hung down on earth the golden chain of Love:
Great was the effect, and high was his intent,
When peace among the jarring seeds he sent.
Fire, flood, and earth, and air by this were bound,
And Love, the common link, the new creation crown'd.
The chain still holds; for though the forms decay, 1030
Eternal matter never wears away:
The same First Mover certain bounds has placed,
How long those perishable forms shall last:
Nor can they last beyond the time assign'd
By that all-seeing, and all-making mind:
Shorten their hours they may; for will is free;
But never pass the appointed destiny.
So men oppress'd, when weary of their breath,
Throw off the burden, and suborn their death.
Then since those forms begin, and have their end, 1040
On some unalter'd cause they sure depend:
Parts of the whole are we; but God the whole;
Who gives us life, and animating soul.
For nature cannot from a part derive
That being, which the whole can only give:
He perfect, stable; but imperfect we,
Subject to change, and different in degree;
Plants, beasts, and man; and as our organs are,
We more or less of his perfection share.
But by a long descent, the ethereal fire 1050
Corrupts; and forms, the mortal part, expire:
As he withdraws his virtue, so they pass,
And the same matter makes another mass:
This law the Omniscient Power was pleased to give,
That every kind should by succession live:
That individuals die, His will ordains;
The propagated species still remains.
The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees,
Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees;
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays, 1060
Supreme in state, and in three more decays:
So wears the paving pebble in the street,
And towns and towers their fatal periods meet:
So rivers, rapid once, now naked lie,
Forsaken of their springs; and leave their channels dry.
So man, at first a drop, dilates with heat,
Then, form'd, the little heart begins to beat;
Secret he feeds, unknowing in the cell;
At length, for hatching ripe, he breaks the shell,
And struggles into breath, and cries for aid; 1070
Then, helpless, in his mother's lap is laid:
He creeps, he walks, and issuing into man,
Grudges their life, from whence his own began:
Reckless of laws, affects to rule alone,
Anxious to reign, and restless on the throne:
First vegetive, then feels, and reasons last;
Rich of three souls, and lives all three to waste.
Some thus; but thousands more in flower of age:
For few arrive to run the latter stage.
Sunk in the first, in battle some are slain, 1080
And others whelm'd beneath the stormy main.
What makes all this, but Jupiter the king,
At whose command we perish, and we spring?
Then 'tis our best, since thus ordain'd to die,
To make a virtue of necessity.
Take what he gives, since to rebel is vain;
The bad grows better, which we well sustain;
And could we choose the time, and choose aright,
'Tis best to die, our honour at the height.
When we have done our ancestors no shame, 1090
But served our friends, and well secured our fame;
Then should we wish our happy life to close,
And leave no more for fortune to dispose:
So should we make our death a glad relief
From future shame, from sickness, and from grief:
Enjoying while we live the present hour,
And dying in our excellence and flower.
Then round our death-bed every friend should run,
And joyous of our conquest early won:
While the malicious world with envious tears 1100
Should grudge our happy end, and wish it theirs.
Since then our Arcite is with honour dead,
Why should we mourn, that he so soon is freed,
Or call untimely, what the gods decreed?
With grief as just, a friend may be deplored
From a foul prison to free air restored.
Ought he to thank his kinsman or his wife,
Could tears recall him into wretched life?
Their sorrow hurts themselves; on him is lost;
And worse than both, offends his happy ghost. 1110
What then remains, but, after past annoy,
To take the good vicissitude of joy?
To thank the gracious gods for what they give,
Possess our souls, and while we live, to live?
Ordain we then two sorrows to combine,
And in one point the extremes of grief to join;
That thence resulting joy may be renew'd,
As jarring notes in harmony conclude.
Then I propose that Palamon shall be
In marriage join'd with beauteous Emily; 1120
For which already I have gain'd the assent
Of my free people in full parliament.
Long love to her has borne the faithful knight,
And well deserved, had fortune done him right:
'Tis time to mend her fault; since Emily
By Arcite's death from former vows is free:
If you, fair sister, ratify the accord,
And take him for your husband, and your lord,
'Tis no dishonour to confer your grace
On one descended from a royal race: 1130
And were he less, yet years of service past,
From grateful souls exact reward at last:
Pity is Heaven's and yours; nor can she find
A throne so soft as in a woman's mind.
He said; she blush'd; and as o'er-awed by might,
Seem'd to give Theseus what she gave the knight.
Then turning to the Theban thus he said:
Small arguments are needful to persuade
Your temper to comply with my command;
And speaking thus, he gave Emilia's hand. 1140
Smiled Venus, to behold her own true knight
Obtain the conquest, though he lost the fight;
And bless'd with nuptial bliss the sweet laborious night.
Eros, and Anteros, on either side,
One fired the bridegroom, and one warm'd the bride;
And long-attending Hymen from above,
Shower'd on the bed the whole Idalian grove.
All of a tenor was their after-life,
No day discolour'd with domestic strife;
No jealousy, but mutual truth believed, 1150
Secure repose, and kindness undeceived.
Thus Heaven, beyond the compass of his thought,
Sent him the blessing he so dearly bought.
So may the Queen of Love long duty bless,
And all true lovers find the same success!
* * * * *
THE COCK AND THE FOX: OR, THE TALE OF THE NUN'S PRIEST.
There lived, as authors tell, in days of yore,
A widow somewhat old, and very poor:
Deep in a cell her cottage lonely stood,
Well thatch'd, and under covert of a wood.
This dowager, on whom my tale I found,
Since last she laid her husband in the ground,
A simple sober life, in patience, led,
And had but just enough to buy her bread:
But huswifing the little Heaven had lent,
She duly paid a groat for quarter rent; 10
And pinch'd her belly, with her daughters two,
To bring the year about with much ado.
The cattle in her homestead were three sows,
A ewe call'd Mally, and three brinded cows.
Her parlour-window stuck with herbs around,
Of savoury smell; and rushes strew'd the ground.
A mapple-dresser in her hall she had,
On which full many a slender meal she made;
For no delicious morsel pass'd her throat;
According to her cloth she cut her coat: 20
No poignant sauce she knew, nor costly treat,
Her hunger gave a relish to her meat:
A sparing diet did her health assure;
Or sick, a pepper posset was her cure.
Before the day was done, her work she sped,
And never went by candlelight to bed:
With exercise she sweat ill humours out,
Her dancing was not hindered by the gout.
Her poverty was glad; her heart content;
Nor knew she what the spleen or vapours meant. 30
Of wine she never tasted through the year,
But white and black was all her homely cheer:
Brown bread, and milk (but first she skimm'd her bowls),
And rashers of singed bacon on the coals;
On holy days, an egg or two at most;
But her ambition never reach'd to roast.
A yard she had with pales enclosed about,
Some high, some low, and a dry ditch without.
Within this homestead lived, without a peer
For crowing loud, the noble Chanticleer; 40
So hight her cock, whose singing did surpass
The merry notes of organs at the mass.
More certain was the crowing of the cock
To number hours, than is an abbey-clock;
And sooner than the matin-bell was rung,
He clapp'd his wings upon his roost, and sung:
For when degrees fifteen ascended right,
By sure instinct he knew 'twas one at night.
High was his comb, and coral-red withal,
In dents embattled like a castle wall; 50
His bill was raven-black, and shone like jet;
Blue were his legs, and orient were his feet;
White were his nails, like silver to behold,
His body glittering like the burnish'd gold.
This gentle cock, for solace of his life,
Six misses had, besides his lawful wife.
Scandal that spares no king, though ne'er so good,
Says, they were all of his own flesh and blood,
His sisters both by sire and mother's side;
And sure their likeness show'd them near allied. 60
But make the worst, the monarch did no more,
Than all the Ptolemys had done before:
When incest is for interest of a nation,
'Tis made no sin by holy dispensation.
Some lines have been maintain'd by this alone,
Which by their common ugliness are known.
But passing this, as from our tale apart,
Dame Partlet was the sovereign of his heart:
Ardent in love, outrageous in his play,
He feather'd her a hundred times a day: 70
And she, that was not only passing fair,
But was with all discreet, and debonair,
Resolved the passive doctrine to fulfil,
Though loth; and let him work his wicked will:
At board and bed was affable and kind,
According as their marriage vow did bind,
And as the Church's precept had enjoin'd.
Even since she was a se'ennight old, they say,
Was chaste and humble to her dying day,
Nor chick nor hen was known to disobey. 80
By this her husband's heart she did obtain;
What cannot beauty, join'd with virtue, gain!
She was his only joy, and he her pride,
She, when he walk'd, went pecking by his side;
If spurning up the ground, he sprung a corn,
The tribute in his bill to her was borne.
But oh! what joy it was to hear him sing
In summer, when the day began to spring,
Stretching his neck, and warbling in his throat;
_Solus cum sola_ then was all his note. 90
For in the days of yore, the birds of parts
Were bred to speak, and sing, and learn the liberal arts.
It happ'd that, perching on the parlour-beam
Amidst his wives, he had a deadly dream,
Just at the dawn; and sigh'd, and groan'd so fast,
As every breath he drew would be his last.
Dame Partlet, ever nearest to his side,
Heard all his piteous moan, and how he cried
For help from gods and men: and sore aghast
She peck'd and pull'd, and waken'd him at last. 100
Dear heart, said she, for love of heaven declare
Your pain, and make me partner in your care!
You groan, sir, ever since the morning-light,
As something had disturb'd your noble sprite.
And, madam, well I might, said Chanticleer;
Never was shrovetide cock in such a fear.
Even still I run all over in a sweat,
My princely senses not recover'd yet.
For such a dream I had, of dire portent,
That much I fear my body will be shent: 110
It bodes I shall have wars and woful strife,
Or in a loathsome dungeon end my life.
Know, dame, I dreamt within my troubled breast,
That in our yard I saw a murderous beast,
That on my body would have made arrest.
With waking eyes I ne'er beheld his fellow;
His colour was betwixt a red and yellow:
Tipp'd was his tail, and both his pricking ears
Were black; and much unlike his other hairs:
The rest, in shape a beagle's whelp throughout, 120
With broader forehead, and a sharper snout:
Deep in his front were sunk his glowing eyes,
That yet, methinks, I see him with surprise.
Reach out your hand, I drop with clammy sweat,
And lay it to my heart, and feel it beat.
Now fie, for shame, quoth she; by Heaven above,
Thou hast for ever lost thy lady's love!
No woman can endure a recreant knight,
He must be bold by day, and free by night:
Our sex desires a husband or a friend, 130
Who can our honour and his own defend.
Wise, hardy, secret, liberal of his purse:
A fool is nauseous, but a coward worse:
No bragging coxcomb, yet no baffled knight.
How darest thou talk of love, and darest not fight?
How darest thou tell thy dame thou art affear'd?
Hast thou no manly heart, and hast a beard?
If aught from fearful dreams may be divined,
They signify a cock of dunghill kind.
All dreams, as in old Galen I have read, 140
Are from repletion and complexion bred;
From rising fumes of indigested food,
And noxious humours that infect the blood:
And sure, my lord, if I can read aright,
These foolish fancies you have had to-night
Are certain symptoms (in the canting style)
Of boiling choler, and abounding bile;
This yellow gall, that in your stomach floats,
Engenders all these visionary thoughts.
When choler overflows, then dreams are bred 150
Of flames, and all the family of red;
Red dragons, and red beasts, in sleep we view,
For humours are distinguish'd by their hue.
From hence we dream of wars and warlike things,
And wasps and hornets with their double wings.
Choler adust congeals our blood with fear,
Then black bulls toss us, and black devils tear.
In sanguine airy dreams, aloft we bound;
With rheums oppress'd, we sink in rivers drown'd.
More I could say, but thus conclude my theme, 160
The dominating humour makes the dream.
Cato was in his time accounted wise,
And he condemns them all for empty lies.
Take my advice, and when we fly to ground,
With laxatives preserve your body sound,
And purge the peccant humours that abound.
I should be loath to lay you on a bier;
And though there lives no pothecary near,
I dare for once prescribe for your disease,
And save long bills, and a damn'd doctor's fees. 170
Two sovereign herbs, which I by practice know,
And both at hand (for in our yard they grow),
On peril of my soul shall rid you wholly
Of yellow choler, and of melancholy:
You must both purge, and vomit; but obey,
And for the love of heaven make no delay.
Since hot and dry in your complexion join,
Beware the sun when in a vernal sign;
For when he mounts exalted in the Ram,
If then he finds your body in a flame, 180
Replete with choler, I dare lay a groat,
A tertian ague is at least your lot.
Perhaps a fever (which the gods forefend!)
May bring your youth to some untimely end:
And therefore, sir, as you desire to live,
A day or two before your laxative,
Take just three worms, nor under nor above,
Because the gods unequal numbers love,
These digestives prepare you for your purge;
Of fumetory, centaury, and spurge, 190
And of ground ivy add a leaf or two,--
All which within our yard or garden grow.
Eat these, and be, my lord, of better cheer;
Your father's son was never born to fear.
Madam, quoth he, gramercy for your care,
But Cato, whom you quoted, you may spare:
'Tis true, a wise and worthy man he seems,
And (as you say) gave no belief to dreams:
But other men of more authority,
And, by the immortal powers! as wise as he, 200
Maintain, with sounder sense, that dreams forebode;
For Homer plainly says they come from God.
Nor Cato said it: but some modern fool
Imposed in Cato's name on boys at school.
Believe me, madam, morning dreams foreshow
The events of things, and future weal or woe:
Some truths are not by reason to be tried,
But we have sure experience for our guide.
An ancient author, equal with the best,
Relates this tale of dreams among the rest. 210
Two friends or brothers, with devout intent,
On some far pilgrimage together went.
It happen'd so that, when the sun was down,
They just arrived by twilight at a town;
That day had been the baiting of a bull,
'Twas at a feast, and every inn so full,
That no void room in chamber, or on ground,
And but one sorry bed was to be found:
And that so little it would hold but one,
Though till this hour they never lay alone. 220
So were they forced to part; one staid behind,
His fellow sought what lodging he could find:
At last he found a stall where oxen stood,
And that he rather chose than lie abroad.
'Twas in a farther yard without a door;
But, for his ease, well litter'd was the floor.
His fellow, who the narrow bed had kept,
Was weary, and without a rocker slept:
Supine he snored; but in the dead of night
He dream'd his friend appear'd before his sight, 230
Who, with a ghastly look and doleful cry,
Said, Help me, brother, or this night I die:
Arise, and help, before all help be vain,
Or in an ox's stall I shall be slain.
Roused from his rest, he waken'd in a start,
Shivering with horror, and with aching heart;
At length to cure himself by reason tries;
'Tis but a dream, and what are dreams but lies?
So thinking, changed his side, and closed his eyes.
His dream returns; his friend appears again: 240
The murderers come, now help, or I am slain:
'Twas but a vision still, and visions are but vain.
He dream'd the third: but now his friend appear'd
Pale, naked, pierced with wounds, with blood besmear'd:
Thrice warn'd, awake, said he; relief is late,
The deed is done; but thou revenge my fate:
Tardy of aid, unseal thy heavy eyes;
Awake, and with the dawning day arise:
Take to the western gate thy ready way,
For by that passage they my corpse convey: 250
My corpse is in a tumbril laid, among
The filth and ordure, and enclosed with dung;
That cart arrest, and raise a common cry;
For sacred hunger of my gold, I die:
Then show'd his grisly wound; and last he drew
A piteous sigh, and took a long adieu.
The frighted friend arose by break of day,
And found the stall where late his fellow lay.
Then of his impious host inquiring more,
Was answer'd that his guest was gone before: 260
Muttering he went, said he, by morning light,
And much complain'd of his ill rest by night.
This raised suspicion in the pilgrim's mind;
Because all hosts are of an evil kind,
And oft to share the spoils with robbers join'd.
His dream confirm'd his thought: with troubled look
Straight to the western gate his way he took:
There, as his dream foretold, a cart he found,
That carried compost forth to dung the ground.
This when the pilgrim saw, he stretch'd his throat, 270
And cried out murder with a yelling note.
My murder'd fellow in this cart lies dead,
Vengeance and justice on the villain's head;
You, magistrates, who sacred laws dispense,
On you I call to punish this offence.
The word thus given, within a little space
The mob came roaring out, and throng'd the place.
All in a trice they cast the cart to ground,
And in the dung the murder'd body found;
Though breathless, warm, and reeking from the wound.
Good Heaven, whose darling attribute we find
Is boundless grace and mercy to mankind, 280
Abhors the cruel; and the deeds of night
By wondrous ways reveals in open light:
Murder may pass unpunish'd for a time,
But tardy justice will o'ertake the crime.
And oft a speedier pain the guilty feels;
The hue and cry of Heaven pursues him at the heels,
Fresh from the fact; as in the present case,
The criminals are seized upon the place: 290
Carter and host confronted face to face.
Stiff in denial, as the law appoints,
On engines they distend their tortured joints:
So was confession forced, the offence was known,
And public justice on the offenders done.
Here may you see that visions are to dread;
And in the page that follows this, I read
Of two young merchants, whom the hope of gain
Induced in partnership to cross the main:
Waiting till willing winds their sails supplied, 300
Within a trading town they long abide,
Full fairly situate on a haven's side.
One evening it befell, that, looking out,
The wind they long had wish'd was come about:
Well pleased, they went to rest; and if the gale
Till morn continued, both resolved to sail.
But as together in a bed they lay,
The younger had a dream at break of day.
A man he thought stood frowning at his side:
Who warn'd him for his safety to provide, 310
Nor put to sea, but safe on shore abide.
I come, thy Genius, to command thy stay;
Trust not the winds, for fatal is the day,
And death unhoped attends the watery way.
The vision said; and vanish'd from his sight:
The dreamer waken'd in a mortal fright:
Then pull'd his drowsy neighbour, and declared
What in his slumber he had seen and heard.
His friend smiled scornful, and with proud contempt
Rejects as idle what his fellow dreamt. 320
Stay, who will stay: for me no fears restrain,
Who follow Mercury, the god of gain;
Let each man do as to his fancy seems,
I wait, not I, till you have better dreams.
Dreams are but interludes which fancy makes;
When monarch Reason sleeps, this mimic wakes:
Compounds a medley of disjointed things,
A mob of cobblers, and a court of kings:
Light fumes are merry, grosser fumes are sad:
Both are the reasonable soul run mad: 330
And many monstrous forms in sleep we see,
That neither were, nor are, nor e'er can be.
Sometimes forgotten things, long cast behind,
Rush forward in the brain, and come to mind.
The nurse's legends are for truths received,
And the man dreams but what the boy believed.
Sometimes we but rehearse a former play,
The night restores our actions done by day;
As hounds in sleep will open for their prey.
In short, the farce of dreams is of a piece: 340
Chimeras all; and more absurd, or less:
You, who believe in tales, abide alone;
Whate'er I get this voyage is my own.
Thus while he spoke, he heard the shouting crew
That call'd aboard, and took his last adieu.
The vessel went before a merry gale,
And for quick passage put on every sail:
But when least fear'd, and even in open day,
The mischief overtook her in the way:
Whether she sprung a leak, I cannot find, 350
Or whether she was overset with wind,
Or that some rock below her bottom rent;
But down at once with all her crew she went:
Her fellow ships from far her loss descried;
But only she was sunk, and all were safe beside.
By this example you are taught again,
That dreams and visions are not always vain:
But if, dear Partlet, you are still in doubt,
Another tale shall make the former out.
Kenelm, the son of Kenulph, Mercia's king, 360
Whose holy life the legends loudly sing,
Warn'd in a dream, his murder did foretell
From point to point as after it befell:
All circumstances to his nurse he told,
(A wonder from a child of seven years old):
The dream with horror heard, the good old wife
From treason counsell'd him to guard his life;
But close to keep the secret in his mind,
For a boy's vision small belief would find.
The pious child, by promise bound, obey'd, 370
Nor was the fatal murder long delay'd:
By Quenda slain, he fell before his time,
Made a young martyr by his sister's crime.
The tale is told by venerable Bede,
Which, at your better leisure, you may read.
Macrobius, too, relates the vision sent
To the great Scipio, with the famed event:
Objections makes, but after makes replies,
And adds, that dreams are often prophecies.
Of Daniel you may read in holy writ, 380
Who, when the king his vision did forget,
Could word for word the wondrous dream repeat.
Nor less of patriarch Joseph understand,
Who by a dream enslaved the Egyptian land,
The years of plenty and of dearth foretold,
When, for their bread, their liberty they sold.
Nor must the exalted butler be forgot,
Nor he whose dream presaged his hanging lot.
And did not Croesus the same death foresee,
Raised in his vision on a lofty tree? 390
The wife of Hector, in his utmost pride,
Dream'd of his death the night before he died;
Well was he warn'd from battle to refrain,
But men to death decreed are warn'd in vain:
He dared the dream, and by his fatal foe was slain.
Much more I know, which I forbear to speak,
For, see, the ruddy day begins to break;
Let this suffice, that plainly I foresee
My dream was bad, and bodes adversity:
But neither pills nor laxatives I like, 400
They only serve to make the well-man sick:
Of these his gain the sharp physician makes,
And often gives a purge, but seldom takes:
They not correct, but poison all the blood,
And ne'er did any but the doctors good.
Their tribe, trade, trinkets, I defy them all;
With every work of pothecary's hall.
These melancholy matters I forbear:
But let me tell thee, Partlet mine, and swear,
That when I view the beauties of thy face, 410
I fear not death, nor dangers, nor disgrace:
So may my soul have bliss, as when I spy
The scarlet red about thy partridge eye,
While thou art constant to thy own true knight,
While thou art mine, and I am thy delight,
All sorrows at thy presence take their flight.
For true it is, as _in principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio_.
Madam, the meaning of this Latin is,
That woman is to man his sovereign bliss. 420
For when by night I feel your tender side,
Though for the narrow perch I cannot ride,
Yet I have such a solace in my mind,
That all my boding cares are cast behind;
And even already I forget my dream.
He said, and downward flew from off the beam;
For daylight now began apace to spring,
The thrush to whistle, and the lark to sing;
Then, crowing, clapp'd his wings, the appointed call,
To chuck his wives together in the hall. 430
By this the widow had unbarr'd the door,
And Chanticleer went strutting out before.
With royal courage, and with heart so light,
As show'd he scorned the visions of the night.
Now roaming in the yard, he spurn'd the ground,
And gave to Partlet the first grain he found;
Then often feather'd her with wanton play,
And trod her twenty times ere prime of day;
And took by turns, and gave, so much delight,
Her sisters pined with envy at the sight. 440
He chuck'd again, when other corns he found,
And scarcely deign'd to set a foot to ground;
But swagger'd like a lord about his hall,
And his seven wives came running at his call.
'Twas now the month in which the world began,
(If March beheld the first created man):
And since the vernal equinox, the sun,
In Aries twelve degrees, or more, had run;
When, casting up his eyes against the light,
Both month, and day, and hour he measured right; 450
And told more truly than the Ephemeris:
For art may err, but nature cannot miss.
Thus numbering times and seasons in his breast,
His second crowing the third hour confess'd.
Then turning, said to Partlet, See, my dear,
How lavish nature has adorn'd the year;
How the pale primrose and blue violet spring,
And birds essay their throats disused to sing:
All these are ours; and I with pleasure see
Man strutting on two legs, and aping me: 460
An unfledged creature, of a lumpish frame,
Endow'd with fewer particles of flame;
Our dame sits cowering o'er a kitchen fire,
I draw fresh air, and nature's works admire:
And even this day in more delight abound,
Than, since I was an egg, I ever found.
The time shall come when Chanticleer shall wish
His words unsaid, and hate his boasted bliss:
The crested bird shall by experience know,
Jove made not him his masterpiece below; 470
And learn the latter end of joy is woe.
The vessel of his bliss to dregs is run,
And Heaven will have him taste his other tun.
Ye wise, draw near, and hearken to my tale,
Which proves that oft the proud by flattery fall:
The legend is as true, I undertake,
As Tristran is, and Launcelot of the lake:
Which all our ladies in such reverence hold,
As if in Book of Martyrs it were told.
A fox, full-fraught with seeming sanctity, 480
That fear'd an oath, but, like the devil, would lie;
Who look'd like Lent, and had the holy leer,
And durst not sin before he said his prayer;
This pious cheat, that never suck'd the blood,
Nor chew'd the flesh of lambs, but when he could,
Had pass'd three summers in the neighbouring wood:
And musing long, whom next to circumvent,
On Chanticleer his wicked fancy bent;
And in his high imagination cast,
By stratagem, to gratify his taste. 490
The plot contrived, before the break of day
Saint Reynard through the hedge had made his way;
The pale was next, but proudly with a bound
He leapt the fence of the forbidden ground:
Yet fearing to be seen, within a bed
Of coleworts he conceal'd his wily head;
Then skulk'd till afternoon, and watch'd his time
(As murderers use) to perpetrate his crime.
Oh, hypocrite, ingenious to destroy!
Oh, traitor, worse than Sinon was to Troy! 500
Oh, vile subverter of the Gallic reign,
More false than Gano was to Charlemagne!
Oh, Chanticleer, in an unhappy hour
Didst thou forsake the safety of thy bower!
Better for thee thou hadst believed thy dream,
And not that day descended from the beam.
But here the doctors eagerly dispute:
Some hold predestination absolute;
Some clerks maintain, that Heaven at first foresees,
And in the virtue of foresight decrees. 510
If this be so, then prescience binds the will,
And mortals are not free to good or ill;
For what he first foresaw, he must ordain,
Or its eternal prescience may be vain:
As bad for us as prescience had not been:
For first, or last, he's author of the sin.
And who says that, let the blaspheming man
Say worse even of the devil, if he can.
For how can that Eternal Power be just
To punish man, who sins because he must? 520
Or, how can he reward a virtuous deed,
Which is not done by us; but first decreed?
I cannot bolt this matter to the bran,
As Bradwardin and holy Austin can;
If prescience can determine actions so
That we must do, because he did foreknow,
Or that, foreknowing, yet our choice is free,
Not forced to sin by strict necessity;
This strict necessity they simple call,
Another sort there is conditional. 530
The first so binds the will, that things foreknown
By spontaneity, not choice, are done.
Thus galley-slaves tug willing at their oar,
Content to work, in prospect of the shore;
But would not work at all if not constrain'd before.
That other does not liberty constrain,
But man may either act, or may refrain.
Heaven made us agents free to good or ill,
And forced it not, though he foresaw the will.
Freedom was first bestow'd on human race, 540
And prescience only held the second place.
If he could make such agents wholly free,
I not dispute, the point's too high for me;
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