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And either songster holding out their throats, The knights adorn'd with laurel crowns are they, And folding up their wings, renew'd their notes : Whom death nor danger never could dismay, As if all day, preluding to the fight,
Victorious names, who made the world obey : They only had rehears'd, to sing by night: Wbo, while they liv'd, in deeds of arms excell'd, The banquet ended, and the battle done,
And after death for deities were held. They danc'd by star-light and the friendly Moon: But those, who wear the woodbine on their brow, And when they were to part, the laureat queen Were knights of love, who never broke their vow; Supply'd with steeds the lady of the green,
Firm to their plighted faith, and ever free Her and her train conducting on the way,
From fears, and fickle chance, and jealousy. The Moon to follow, and avoid the day.
The lords and ladies, who the woodbine bear, This when I saw, inquisitive to know
As true as Tristram and Isotta were." The secret moral of the mystic show,
“But what are those,” said I, “ th’unconquer'd I started from my shade, in hopes to find
nine, Some nymph to satisfy my longing mind : Who crown'd with laurel-wreaths in golden arAnd, as my fair adventure fell, I found
mour shine ? A lady ali in white, with laurel crown'd,
And who the knights in green, and what the train Who clos'd the rear, and softly pac'd along, Of ladies dress'd with daisies on the plain? Repeating to herself the former song,
Why both the bands in worship disagree, With due respect my body I inclin'd,
And some adore the flower, and some the tree?" As to some being of superior kind,
“ Just is your suit, fair daughter," said the And made my court according to the day,
dame: Wishing her queen and her a happy May.
“ Those laurel'd chiefs were men of mighty fame; “Great thanks, my daughter," with a graciousbow, Nine worthies were they cail'd of different rites, She said; and I, who much desir'd to know Three Jews, three Pagans, and three Christian Of whence she was, yet fearful how to break
knights. My mind, adventur'd humbly thus to speak : These, as you see, ride foremost in the field, “Madam, might I presume and not offend, As they the foremost rank of honour held, So may the stars and shining Moon attend And all in deeds of chivalry excell'd : Your nightly sports, as you vouchsafe to tell Their temples wreath'd with leaves, that still What nymphs they were wbo mortal forms excel, renew; And what the knights who fought in listed fields For deathless laurel is the victor’s due: so well.”
Who bear the bows were knights in Arthur's reign, To this the dame reply'd: « Fair daughter, know, | Twelve they, and twelve the peers of Charlerain: That what you saw was all a fairy show :
For bows the strength of brawny arms imply, And all those airy shapes you now behold, Emblems of valour and of victory. Were human bodies once, and cloth'd with earthly Behold an order yet of newer date, mold,
Doubling their number, equal in their state; Our souls, not yet prepar'd for upper light, Our England's ornament, the crown's defence, Till doomsday wander in the shades of night; In battle brave, protectors of their prince : This only holiday of all the year,
Unchang'd by fortune, to their sovereign true, We privileg'd in sunshine may appear :
For which their manly legs are bound with blue. With songs and dance we celebrate the day, These, of the garter call’d, of faith unstain'd; And with due honours usher in the May.
In fighting fields the laurel have obtain'd, At other times we reign by night alone,
And well repaid the honours which they gain'd. And posting through the skies pursue the Moon : The laurel wreaths were first by Cæsar worn, But when the morn arises, none are found; And still they Cæsar's successors adorn : For cruel Demogorgon walks the round,
One leaf of this is immortality, And if he finds a fairy lag in light,
And more of worth than all the world can buy." He drives the wretch before, and lashes into “ One doubt remains," said I, “ the dames in night.
green, “All courteous are by kind; and ever proud What were their qualities, and who their queen?" * With friendly offices to help the good.
“ Flora commands," said she, “those nymphs In every land we have a larger space
and knights, Than what is known to you of mortal race: Who liv'd in slothful ease and loose delights; Where we with green adorn our fairy bowers, Who never acts of honour durst pursue, And ev'n this grove, unseen before, is ours. The men inglorious knights, the ladies all untrue: Know farther; every lady cloth'd in white, Who, nurs'd in idleness, and train'd in courts, And, crown'd with oak and laurel every knight, Pass'd all their precious hours in plays and sports, Are servants to the Leaf, by liveries known Till Death behind came stalking on, unseen, Of innocence; and I myself am one.
And wither'd (like the storm) the freshness of Saw you pot her so graceful to behold
their green. In white attire, and crown'd with radiant gold ? These, and their mates, enjoy their present hour, The sovereign lady of our land is she,
And therefore pay their homage to the Flower. Diana call'd, the queen of chastity :
But knights in knightly deeds should persevere, And, for the spotless name of maid she bears, And still continue what at first they were; That agnus castus in her hand appears;
Continue, and proceed in honour's fair career. And all her train, with leafy chaplets crown'd, No room for cowardice, or dull delay; Were for unblam'd virginity renown'd;
From good to better they should urge their way. But those the chief and highest in command For this with golden spurs the chiefs are gracd, Who bear those holy branches in their hand: With pointed rowels arm'u to mend their haste;
For this with lasting leaves their brows are bound; In vain the dairy now with mint is dressid,
The dairy-maid expects no fairy guest Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast. ground:
She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain, From winter winds it suffers no decay,
No silver penny to reward her pain: For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May. For priests, with prayers and other goodly geer, Ev'n when the vital sap retreats below,
Have made the merry goblins disappear; Ev'n when the hoary head is hid in snow; And where they play'd their merry pranks before, The life is in the leaf, and still between
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor: 'The fits of falling snow appears the streaky green. And friars that through the wealthy regions run, Not so the flower, which lasts for little space, Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun, A short-liv'd good, and an uncertain grace; Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls, This way and that the feeble stem is driven, And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls : Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of Heaven. This makes the fairy quires forsake the place, Propp'd by the spring, it lifts aloft the head, When once 'tis hallow'd with the rites of grace: But of a sickly beauty, soon to shed;
But in the walks where wicked elves have been, In summer living, and in winter dead.
The learning of the parish now is seen, For things of tender kind, for pleasure made, The midnight parson posting o'er the green, Shoot up with swift increase, and sudden are With gown tuck'd up, to wakes, for Sunday decay'd.”
There haunts not any incubus but he.
To walk by night, and sanctity so near:
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye,
By force accomplish'd his obscene desire : Blush, as thon may'st, my Little Book, with shame, This done, away he rode, not unespy'd, Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame; For swarming at his back the country cry'd: For such thy Maker chose: and so design'd And once in view they never lost the sight, Thy. simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
But seiz'd, and pinion'd brought to court the
knight. Then courts of kings were held in high renown,
Ere made the common brothels of the town: THE WIFE OF BATH,
There, virgins honourable vows receiv'd,
But chaste as maids in monasteries liv'd :
The king himself, to nuptial ties a slave,
Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage. Gambol'd on beaths, and danc'd on every green ; Now what should Arthur do: He loy'd the And where the jolly troop had led the round,
knight, The grass unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground : | But sovereign monarchs are the source of right: Nor darkling did they glance, the silver light Muvd by the damsel's tears and common cry, Of Phæbe servd to guide their steps aright, He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die. And, with their tripping pleas'd, prolong the But fair Geneura rose in his defence, night.
And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince, Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd, That to his queen the king th' offender gave, Nor longer than she shed her horns they stay'd, And left it in her power to kill or save : From thence with airy flight to foreign lands This gracious act the ladies all approve, convey'd.
Who thought it much a man should die for love;
At last agreed they call'd him by consent
Did thus the judgment of the house declare.
“ Sir knight, though I have ask'd thy life, yet | Like leaky sieves no secrets we can hold: still
Witness the famous tale that Ovid told. Thy destiny depends upon my will:
“ Midas the king, as in his book appears, Nor hast thou other surety than the grace
By Phæbus was endow'd with ass's ears, Not due to thee from our offended race.
Which under his long locks he well conceald, But as our kind is of a softer mold,
As monarchs vices must not be reveal'd, And cannot blood without a sigh behold,
Por fear the people have them in the wind, I grant thee life; reserving still the power
Who long ago were neither dumb nor blind: To take the forfeit when I see my hour:
Nor apt to think from Heaven their title springs, Unless thy answer to my next demand
Since Jove and Mars left off begetting kings. Shall set thee free from our avenging hand. This Midas knew: and durst communicate The question, whose solution I require,
To none but to his wife his ears of state: Is, What the sex of women most desire?
One must be trusted, and he thought her fit, In tbis dispute thy judges are at strife;
As passing prudent, and a parlous wit.
To this sagacious confessor he went,
With strict injunction never to reveal.
Both for her husband's honour and her own; And at thy pledge's peril keep thy day.”
But ne'ertheless she pind with discontent; Woe was the knight at this severe command; The counsel rumbled till it found a vent. But well he knew 'twas bootless to withstand: The thing she knew she was oblig'd to hide; The terms accepted as the fair ordain,
By interest and by oath the wife was ty'd ; He put in bail for his return again,
But if she told it not, the woman dy'd. And promisd answer at the day assign'd,
Loth to betray a husband and a prince, The best, with Heaven's assistance, he could find. But she must burst, or blab; and no pretence
His leave thus taken, on his way he went Of honour ty'd her tongue from self-defence. With heavy heart, and full of discontent,
A marshy ground cominodiously was near,
That word might be the secret of the king.
And, as a bittour bumps within a reed,
ceal): The wanton maids were all for sport a-bed. Beneath his locks the king my husband wears Some said the sex were pleas'd with handsome lies, A goodly royal pair of ass's ears. And some gross flattery lov'd without disguise : Now I have eas'd my bosom of the pain, “Truth is,” says one,“ he seldom fails to win Till the next longing fit return again.' Who flatters well; for that's our darling sin; “ Thus through a woman was the secret known; But long attendance, and a duteous mind, Tell us, and in effect you tell the town. Will work ev'n with the wisest of the kind.” But to my tale: The knight with heavy cheer, One thought the sex's prime felicity
Wandering in vain, had now cousuni’d the year: Was from the bonds of wedlock to be free: One day was only left to solve the doubt, Their pleasures, hours, and actions, all their own, Yet knew no more than when he first set out. And uncontrol'd to give account to uone.
But home he must, and, as th' award had been, Some wish a husband-fool; but such are curst, Yield up his body captive to the queen. For fools perverse of husbands are the worst: In this despairing state he hapt to ride, All women would be counted chaste and wise, As Fortune led him, by a forest side: Nor should our spouses see, but with our eyes ; Lonely the vale, and full of horrour stood, For fools will prate; and though they want the wit Brown with the shade of a religious wood: To find close faults, yet open blots will hit: When full before him at the noon of night,
Though better for their ease to hold their tongue, (The Moon was up, and shot a gleamy light) For woman-kind was never in the wrong.
He saw a quire of ladies in a round, So noise ensues, and quarrels last for life; That featly footing seem'd to skim the ground: The wife abhors the fool, the fool the wife. Thus dancing hand in hand, so light they were, And some men say that great delight have we, He knew not where they trod, on earth or air. To be for truth extoll’d, and secrecy :
At speed he drove, and came a sudden guest, And constant in one purpose still to dwell; In hope where many women were, at least, And not our husbands counsels to reveal.
Some one by chance might answer his request. But that's a fable : for our sex is frail,
But faster than his horse the ladies flew, Inventing rather than not tell a lale.
And in a trice were vanish'd out of view.
“One only hag remain'd: but fouler far My liege,' said she,"before the court arise, Than grandame apes in Indian forests are ; May I, poor wretch, find favour in your eyes, Against a wither'd oak she lean'd her weight, To grant my just request: 'twas I who taught Propp'd on her trusty staff, not half upright, The knight this answer, and inspir'd his thought. And dropp'd an aukward court'sy to the knight. None but a woman could a man direct Then said, 'What makes you, sir, so late abroad To tell us women, what we most affect. Without a guide, and this no beaten road?
But first I swore him on his knightly troth, Or want you aught that here you hope to find, (And here demand performance of his oath) Or travel for some trouble in your mind?
To grant the boon that next I should desire; The last I guess; and if I read aright,
He gave his faith, and I expect my hire: Those of our sex are bound to serve a knight; My promise is fulfill'd : I sav'd his life, Perhaps good counsel may your grief assuage, And claim his debt, to take me for his wife.' Then tell your pain; for wisdom is in age.' The knight was ask’d, nor could his oath deny, “ To this the knight: Good mother, would But hop'd they would not force him to comply.
The women, who would rather wrest the laws, The secret cause and spring of all my woe? Than let a sister-plaintifflose the cause, My life must with to-morrow's light expire, (As judges on the bench more gracious are, Unless I tell what women most desire.
And more attent, to brothers of the bar) Now could you help me at this hard essay, Cry'd one and all, the suppliant should have right, Or for your inborn goodness, or for pay; And to the grandame hag adjudgd the knight. Yours is my life, redeem'd by your advice,
“ In vain he sigh'd, and oft with tears desir'd, Ask what you please, and I will pay the price: Some reasonable suit might be requir'd. The proudest kerchief of the court shall rest But still the crone was constant to her note: Well satisfy'd of what they love the best.'
The more he spoke, the more she stretch'd her * Plight me thy faith,' quoth she, that what I ask, In vain he proffer'd ail his goods, to save (throat. Thy danger over, and perform'd thy task,
His body destin'd to chat living grave. That thou shalt give for hire of thy demand; The liquorish hag rejects the pelf with scorn; Here take thy oath, and seal it on my hand ; And nothing but the man would serve her turn. I warrant thee, on peril of my life, (wife.' “Not all the wealth of eastern kings,' said she, Thy words shall please both widow, maid, and * Have power to part my plighted lore and me :
More words there needed not to move the And, old and ugly as I am, and poor, To take her offer, and his truth to plight. [knight, Yet never will I break the faith I swore ; With that she spread a mantle on the ground, For mine thou art by promise, during life, And, first inquiring whither he was bound, And I thy loving and obedient wife.' Bade him not fear, though long and rough the way, My love! nay rather my damnation thou," At court he should arrive ere break of day; Said he:nor am I bound to keep my vow; His horse should find the way without a guide, The fiend thy sire hath sent thee from below, She said : with fury they began to ride,
Else how could'st thou my secret sorrows know? He on the midst, the beldam at his side.
Avant, old witch, for I renounce thy bed : The horse, what devil drove I cannot tell,
The queen may take the forfeit of my head, But only this, they sped their journey well : Ere any of my race so foul a crone shall wed.' And all the way the crone inform’d the knight, Both heard, the judge pronounc'd against the How he should answer the demand aright.
knight; “ To court they came; the news was quickly So was he marry'd in his own despite: Of his returning to redeem his head. (spread | And all day after hid him as an owl, The female senate was assembled soon,
Not able to sustain a sight so foul. With all the mob of women of the town :
Perhaps the reader thinks I do him wrong, The queen sate lord chief justice of the hall, To pass the marriage feast and nuptial song : And bade the crier cite the criminal.
Mirth there was none, the man was à-la-mort, The knight appear'd; and silence they proclaim: And little courage had to make his court. Then first the culprit answer'd to his name: To bed they went, the bridegroom and the bride : And, after forms of law, was last requir'd
Was never such an ill-pair'd couple ty'd : To name the thing that women most desir'd. Restless he toss'l, and tumbled to and fro,
“ Th' offender, taught his lesson by the way, And roll'd and wriggled further off for woe. And by his counsel order'd what to say,
The good old wife lay smiling by his side, Thus bold began: 'My lady liege,' said he, And caught him in her quivering arms, and cry'l, "What ail vour sex desire is sovereignty.
When you my ravishd predecessor saw, The wife affects her husband to coinmand:
You were not then become this man of straw; All must be hers, both money, house, and land. Had you been such, you might have 'scap'd the The maids are mistresses ev'n in their name;
law. And of their servants full dominion claim.
Is this the custom of king Arthur's court ? This, at the peril of my head, I say,
Are all round-table knights of such a sort ? A blunt plain truth, the sex aspires to sway, Remember I am she who sav'd your life, You to rule all, while we, like slaves, obey.' Your loving, lawful, and complying wife : There was not one, or widow, maid, or wife, Not thus you swore in your unhappy hour, But said the knight had well deserv'd his life. Nor I for this return employ'd my power, Ev'n fair Geneura, with a blush, confess'd
In time of need, I was your faithful friend ; The man had found what women love the best. Nor did I since, nor ever will, offend.
“ Up starts the beldam, who was there unseen: Believe me, my lov'd lord, 'tis much unkind } And, reverence made, accosted thus the queen. What Fury has possess'd your alter'd wind?
Thus on my wedding-night without pretence Its principle is in itself : while ours
Thus, in a brute, their ancient honour ends, Thou art descended from so mean a race,
And the fair mermaid in a fish descends : That never knight was match'd with such dis- | The line is gone ; no longer duke or earl ; grace.
But, by himself degraded, turns a churl.
Of thy great fathers by their virtue known, * And is this all that troubles you so sore ?" And a long trail of light, to thee descending *And what the devil could'st thou wish me more ?"
down. Ah, Benedicite,' reply'd the crone :
If in thy smoke it ends, their glories shine ; "Then cause of just complaining have you none. But infamy and villanage are thine. The remedy to this were soon apply'd,
Then what I said before is plainly show'd,
Nor left us by inheritance, but given
Fabricius from their walls repell’d the foe, Is but a glittering and fallacious good :
Whose noble hands had exercis'd the plough. The nobleman is he whose noble mind
From hence, my lord and love, I thus conclude, Is filld with inborn worth, unborrow'd from his That though my homely ancestors were rude, kind.
Nean as I am, yet I may have the grace The King of Heaven was in a manger laid ; To make you father of a generous race: And took his earth but from an humble maid And noble then am I, when I begin, Then what can birth, or mortal men, bestow? In Virtue cloath'd, to cast the rags of Sin. Since floods no higher than their fountains flow. If poverty be my upbraided crime, We, who for name and empty honour strive, And you believe in Heaven, there was a time Our true nobility from him derive.
When He, the great controller of our fate, Your ancestors, who puff your mind with pride, Deigu'd to be man, and lir'd in low estate: And vast estates to mighty titles ty'd,
Which he, who had the world at his dispose, Did not your honour, but their own, advance ; If poverty were vice, would never choose. For virtue comes not by inheritance.
Philosophers have said, and poets sing,
Broods on his gold, and, griping still at more,
Want is a bitter and a hateful good, Could never villanize his father's fame :
Because its virtues are not understood : But, as the first, the last of all the line
Yet many things, impossible to thought, Would like the Sun even in descending shine ; Have been by need to full perfection brought : Take fire, and bear it to the darkest house, The daring of the soul proceeds from thence, Betwixt king Arthur's court and Caucasus ; Sharpness of wit, and active diligence; If you depart, the flame shall still remain, Prudence at once, and fortitude, it gives, And the bright blaze enlighten all the plain : And, if in patience taken, mends our lives; Nor, till the fuel perish, can decay,
For ev'n that indigence, that brings me low,
Want gives to know the flatterer from the friend. And often rises in the third degree;
If I am old and ugly, well for you,
No lewd adulterer will my love pursue ;
For age and ugliness, as all agree,
Think ere you speak, I grant you leave to choose;