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; 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.