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Confin'd, and pester'd in this pin-fold here,
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,
Unmindful of the crown that virtue gives
After this mortal change to her true servants
Amongst the enthron'd gods on sainted seats.
Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key,
That opes the palace of eternity:
To such my errand is; and but for such,
I would not soil these pure ambrosial weeds
With the rank vapours of this sin-worn mould.
But to my task. Neptune besides the sway
Of every salt flood, and each ebbing stream,
Took in by lot 'twixt high and nether Jove
Imperial rule of all the sea-girt isles,
That like to rich and various gems inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep,
Threats the forlorn and wand'ring passenger;
And here their tender age might suffer peril,
But that by quick command from sov'reign Jove
I was dispatch'd for their defence and guard:
And listen why, for I will tell you now
What never yet was heard in tale or song,
From old or modern bard, in hall or bower.
Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape Crush'd the sweet poison of misused wine, After the Tuscan mariners transform'd, Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed, On Circe's island fell: (Who knows not Circe The daughter of the Sun? whose charmed cup Whoever tasted, lost his upright shape, And downward fell into a groveling swine) This Nymph that gaz'd upon his clust'ring locks, With ivy-berries wreath'd, and his blithe youth, 55 Had by him, ere he parted thence, a son, Much like his father, but his mother more, Whom therefore, she brought up, and Comus
Who ripe, and frolic of his full-grown age, [nam'd, Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields,
Which he to grace his tributary gods
By course commits to several government,
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire
At last betakes him to this ominous wood,
And in thick shelter of black shades imbower'd
Excels his mother at her mighty art,
Offering to every weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass,
To quench the drouth of Phoebus, which as they
And wield their little tridents: but this Isle,
The greatest and the best of all the main,
He quarters to his blue-hair'd deities;
And all this tract that fronts the falling sun
A noble peer of mickle trust and power
Has in his charge, with temper'd awe to guide
An old, and haughty nation proud in arms:
Where his fair offspring nurs'd in princely lore
Are coming to attend their father's state,
And new-intrusted sceptre; but their way
Lies through the perplex'd paths of this drear wood
The nodding horror of whose shady brows
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before, 75
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual sty;
Milton seems in this poem to have imitated Shakspeare's manner more than in any other of his works; and it was very natural for a young author, preparing a piece for the stage, to propose to himself for a pattern the most celebrated master of English dramatic poetry. He has likewise very closely imitated several passages in Beaumont and Fletcher's play of The Faithless Shepherdess.
Which must not be, for that's against my course:
I under fair pretence of friendly ends,
And well plac'd words of glozing courtesy
Baited with reasons not unplausible,
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares.
When once her eye
Hath met the virtue of this magic dust,
I shall appear some harmless villager,
Whom thrift keeps up about his country gear.
But here she comes, I fairly step aside,
And hearken, if I may, her business here.
This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now; methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill-manag'd merriment,
Such as the jocund flute, or gamesome pipe
Stirs up among the loose unletter'd hinds,
When for their teeming flocks and granges full,
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan
And thank the gods amiss. I should be loath
To meet the rudeness, and swill'd insolence
Of such late wassailers; yet 0 where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?
My Brothers when they saw me wearied out
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favour of these pines,
Stepp'd, as they said, to the next thicket side
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable woods provide.
They left me then when the gray-hooded even,
Like a sad votarist in palmer's weed,
Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phoebus' wain.
But where they are, and why they came not back,
Is now the labour of my thoughts; likeliest
They had engag'd their wand'ring steps too far,
And envious darkness, ere thy could return, 194
Had stole them from me; else, O thievish Night,
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars,
That nature hung in heaven, and fill'd their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller?
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth
And on the tawny sands and shelves
Was rife, and perfect in my list'ning ear, Yet nought but single darkness do I find. What might this be? A thousand fantasies Begin to throng into my memory,
Night hath better sweets to prove,
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
Come let us our rites begin,
'Tis only day-light that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne'er report. Hail goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-veil'd Cotytto, to' whom the secret flame
Of midnight torches burns; mysterious dame, 130
That ne'er art call'd, but when the dragon womb
Of Stygian darkness spits her thickest gloom,
And makes one blot of all the air,
Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,
Wherein thou rid'st with Hecat', and befriend 135 Us thy vow'd priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out,
Ere the blabbing eastern scout,
The nice morn on th' Indian steep
From her cabin'd loop-hole peep,
And to the tell-tale sun descry
Our conceal'd solemnity.
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground In a light fantastic round.
Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues, that syllable men's names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience.
O welcome pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemish'd form of Chastity;
I see you visibly, and now believe
That he, the Supreme Good, to' whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glist'ring guardian if need were
To keep my life and honour unassail'd.
Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.
I cannot halloo to my Brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest
I'll venture, for my new enliven'd spirits
Prompt me; and they perhaps are not far off.
Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen 230 Within thy airy shell,
By slow Meander's margent green, And in the violet-embroider'd vale, Where the lovelorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well; 235 Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?
Hid them in some flowery cave,
Comus. Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment? 245 Sure something holy lodges in that breast, And with these raptures moves the vocal air To testify his hidden residence:
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night, 250
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smil'd! I have oft heard
My mother Circe with the Sirens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades
Culling their potent herbs, and baleful drugs, 255
Who as they sung, would take the prison'd soul,
And lap it in Elysium; Scylla wept,
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmur'd soft applause:
Yet they in pleasing slumber lull'd the sense,
And in sweet madness robb'd it of itself:
But such a sacred, and homefelt delight,
Such sober certainty of waking bliss
I never heard till now. I'll speak to her,
And she shall be my queen. Hail, foreign wonder,
Whom certain these rough shades did never breed,
Unless the goddess that in rural shrine
Dwell'st here with Pan, or Silvan by bless'd song
Forbidding every bleak unkindly fog
To touch the prosp'rous growth of this tall wood.
Lady. Nay, gentle Shepherd, ill is lost that praise
That is address'd to unattending ears;
Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift
How to regain my sever'd company,
Compell'd me to awake the courteous Echo
To give me answer from her mossy couch.
Com. What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you
Be barr'd that happiness, might we but hear
The folded flocks penn'd in their wattled cotes,
Or sound of past'ral reed with oaten stops,
Or whistle from the lodge, or village cock
Count the night watches to his feathery dames,
"Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.
But O that hapless virgin, our lost Sister,
Where may she wander now, whither betake her
From the chill dew, amongst rude burs and thistles?
Perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now,
Or 'gainst the rugged bark of some broad elm
Leans her unpillow'd head fraught with sad fears.
What if in wild amazement, and affright,
Or, while we speak, within the direful grasp
Of savage hunger, or of savage heat?
Eld. Bro. Peace, Brother, be not over-exquisite To cast the fashion of uncertain evils;
For grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
What need a man forestall his date of grief,
And run to meet what he would most avoid?
Or if they be but false alarms of fear,
How bitter is such self-delusion?
I do not think my Sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipled in virtue's book,
And the sweet peace that goodness bosoms ever,
As that the single want of light and noise
(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not)
Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,
And put them into misbecoming plight.
Virtue could see to do what virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. And wisdom's self 375
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
Where with her best nurse contemplation
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings, That in the various bustle of resort
Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impair'd. 380
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i' th' centre, and enjoy bright day:
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.
That musing meditation most affects The pensive secresy of desert cell,
And play i' th' plighted clouds. I was awe-struck,
And as I pass'd, I worshipp'd; if those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to heaven,
To help you find them.
What readiest way would bring me to that place?
Com. Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
Lady. To find out that, good Shepherd, I suppose,
In such a scant allowance of star-light,
Would overtask the best land-pilot's art,
Without the sure guess of well-practis'd feet.
Com. I know each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle or bushy dell of this wild wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood;
And if your stray-attendants be yet lodg'd,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark
From her thatch'd pallet rouse; if otherwise
I can conduct you, Lady, to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest.
Lady. Shepherd I take thy word,
And trust thy honest offer'd courtesy,
Far from the cheerful haunt of men and herds,
And sits as safe as in the senate house;
For who would rob a hermit of his weeds,
His few books or his beads, or maple dish,
Or do his gray hairs any violence?
But beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard 395
Of dragon-watch with unenchanted eye,
To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit
From the rash hand of bold incontinence.
You may as well spread out the unsunn'd heaps
Of miser's treasure by an outlaw's den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope
Danger will wink on opportunity,
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjur'd in this wild surrounding waste.
Of night, or loneliness it recks me not;
I fear the dread events that dog them both, Lest some ill-greeting touch attempt the person Of our unowned Sister.
Antiquity from the old schools of Greece To testify the arms of chastity?
Hence had the huntress Dian her dread bow, 445
Fair silver-shafted queen, for ever chaste,
Wherewith she tam'd the brinded lioness
And spotted mountain pard, but set at nought
The frivolous bolt of Cupid; gods and men [woods,
Fear'd her stern frown, and she was queen o' th'
What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield,
That wise Minerva wore, unconquer'd virgin,
Wherewith she freez'd her foes to congeal'd stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dash'd brute violence
With sudden adoration, and blank awe?
So dear to heaven is saintly chastity,
That when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lacky her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in clear dream, and solemn vision,
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear,
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants
Begin to cast a beam on th' outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the soul's essence,
Till all be made immortal: but when lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose
The divine property of her first being.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel vaults and sepulchres,
Ling'ring, and sitting by a new made grave, As loath to leave the body that it lov'd, And link'd itself by carnal sensuality
To a degenerate and degraded state.
Spir. What voice is that? my young lord? speak again.
2. Bro. O brother, 'tis my father's shepherd, sure. Eld. Bro. Thyrsis? whose artful strains have oft delay'd
The huddling brook to hear his madrigal,
And sweeten'd every musk-rose of the dale.
How cam'st thou here, good swain? hath any ram
Slipp'd from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,
Or straggling wether the pent flock forsook? 506
How couldst thou find this dark sequester'd nook?
Spir. O my lov'd master's heir, and his next joy,
I came not here on such a trivial toy
As a stray'd ewe, or to pursue the stealth
Of pilfering wolf; not all the fleecy wealth
That doth enrich these downs, is worth a thought
To this my errand, and the care it brought.
But, O my virgin Lady, where is she?
How chance she is not in your company?
Eld. Bro. To tell thee sadly, Shepherd, without blame,
Or our neglect, we lost her as we came.
Spir. Ay me unhappy! then my fears are true.
Eld. Bro. What fears, good Thyrsis? Pr'ythee
Spir. I'll tell ye; 'tis not vain or fabulous, 520 (Though so esteem'd by shallow ignorance) What the sage poets, taught by th' heavenly muse, Story'd of old in high immortal verse,
Of dire chimeras and enchanted isles,
And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to hell; 525
For such there be, but unbelief is blind.
Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immur'd in cypress shades a sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus and of Circe born, great Comus,
Deep skill'd in all his mother's witcheries.
And here to every thirsty wanderer,
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mix'd, whose pleasing poison
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason's mintage
Character'd in the face; this have I learn'd
Tending my flocks hard by i' th' hilly crofts
That brow this bottom glade, whence night by night
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl 540
Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate
In their obscured haunts of inmost bowers.
Yet have they many baits, and guileful spells,
To inveigle and invite th' unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks
Had ta'en their supper on the savoury herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove
With flaunting honey-suckle, and began,
Wrapp'd in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill, but ere a close
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
And fill'd the air with barbarous dissonance;
At which I ceas'd, and listen'd them awhile,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds,
That draw the litter of close-curtain'd sleep;
At last a soft and solemn breathing-sound
Rose like a steam of rich distill'd perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was 'ware, and wish'd she might
Deny her nature, and be never inore
Still to be so displac'd. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of death: but oh! ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honour'd Lady, your dear sister.
Amaz'd I stood, harrow'd with grief and fear,
And O poor hapless nightingale, thought I,
How sweet thou sing'st, how near the deadly snare.
Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste,
Through paths and turnings often trod by day, 576
Till guided by mine ear I found the place,
Where that damn'd wizard hid in sly disguise
(For so by certain signs I knew) bad met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidíess innocent Lady, his wish'd prey,
Who gently ask'd if he had seen such two,
Supposing him some neighbour villager.
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guess'd
Ye were the two she meant; with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here,
But further know I not.
Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
Sorrow flies far: See here be all the pleasures
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts,
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns
Brisk as the April buds in primrose-season.
And first behold this cordial julap here,
That flames and dances in his crystal bounds,
With spirits of balm, and fragrant syrups mix'd.
Not that Nepenthes, which the wife of Thone 686
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena,
Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst,
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,
And to those dainty limbs which nature lent
For gentle usage, and soft delicacy?
Shall be unsaid for me: against the threats
Of malice or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call Chance, this I hold firm, Virtue may be assail'd, but never hurt,
Surpris'd by unjust force, but not inthrall'd;
Yea even that which mischief meant most harm,
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory;
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last Gather'd like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change Self-fed, and self-consumed: if this fail, The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble. But come let's on.
Against th' opposing will and arm of Heaven
May never this just sword be lifted up;
But for that damn'd magician, let him be girt
With all the grisly legions that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,
But you invert the covenants of her trust, And harshly deal like an ill borrower
Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms
"Twixt Africa and Ind, I'll find him out,
And force him to restore his purchase back,
Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,
Curs'd as his life.
Of small regard to see to, yet well skill'd
In every virtuous plant and healing herb,
That spreads her verdant leaf to th' morning ray:
He lov'd me well, and oft would beg me sing,
Which when I did, he on the tender grass
Would sit and harken e'en to ecstacy,
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,
And show me simples of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties:
Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he cull'd me out;
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another country, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
Unknown, and like esteem'd, and the dull swain
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon;
I knew the foul enchanter though disguis'd,
Enter'd the very lime-twigs of his spells,
And yet came off: if you have this about you,
(As I will give you when we go) you may
Boldly assault the necromancer's hall;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood,
And brandish'd blade rush on him, break his glass,
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground,
But seize his wand; though he and his curs'd crew
Fierce sign of battle make, and menace high,
Or like the sons of Vulcan vomit smoke,
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.
Eld. Bro. Thyrsis, lead on apace, I'll follow thee,
And some good angel bear a shield before us.
The scene changes to a stately palace, set out with all manner of deliciousness: soft music, tables spread with all dainties. Comus appears with his rabble, and the Lady set in an enchanted chair, to whom he offers his glass, which she puts by, and goes about to rise.
Com. Nay, Lady, sit; if I but wave this wand, Your nerves are all chain'd up in alabaster, 670
With that which you receiv'd on other terms, 695 Scorning the unexempt condition
By which all mortal frailty may subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tir'd all day without repast,
And timely rest have wanted; but, fair virgin, 700 This will restore all soon.
Lady. "Twill not, false traitor,
"Twill not restore the truth and honesty
That thou hast banish'd from thy tongue with lies.
Was this the cottage, and the safe abode
Thou told'st me of? what grim aspects are these,
These ugly-headed monsters? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brew'd enchantments, foul deceiver;
Hast thou betray'd my credulous innocence
With visor'd falsehood, and base forgery?
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here
With liquorish baits fit to ensnare a brute?
Were it a draft for Juno when she banquets,
I would not taste thy treasonous offer; none
But such as are good men can give good things, 715
And that which is not good is not delicious
To a well-govern'd and wise appetite.
Com. O foolishness of men! that lend their ears To those budge doctors of the Stoic fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub. 720
Praising the lean and sallow abstinence.
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth,
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable, 725
But all to please and sate the curious taste?
And set to work millions of spinning worms,
That in their green shops weave the smooth-hair'd
To deck her sons; and that no corner might
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutch'd th' all worshipp'd ore, and precious
To store her children with: if all the world [gems
Should in a pet of temp'rance feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but
Th' all-giver would be unthank'd, would be un-
Not half his riches known, and yet despis'd,
And we should serve him as a grudging master,
As a penurious niggard of his wealth,
And live like Nature's bastards, not her sons,
Who would be quite surcharg'd with her own
And strangled with her waste fertility,
Th' earth cumber'd, and the wing'd air dark'd with
The herds would over-multitude their lords,
The sea o'erfraught would swell, and th' unsought
Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Would grow inur'd to light, and come at last
To gaze upon the sun with shameless brows.
List, Lady, be not coy, and be not cozen'd
With that same vaunted name virginity.
Beauty is Nature's coin, must not be hoarded,
But must be current, and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavoury in th' enjoyment of itself;
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languish'd head.